The Crisis of Man 1946 In spring 1946 Albert Camus was invited by the foreign ministry’s French cultural relations department to give a series of lectures in North America. During the sea crossing, he drafted “The Crisis of Man,” which he read out in French in public for the first time on March 28, 1946, at an evening event at Columbia University, New York, addressed also by “Vercors” ( Jean Bruller) and “Thimerais” (Léon Motchane). Camus gave this lecture again throughout his visit to the United States, in a slightly expanded version, the typescript of which was discovered recently in the archives of Dorothy Norman (Beinecke Library, Yale University). This is the version reproduced in translation here. The chief editor of the journal
Twice a Year, Norman published “The Crisis of Man” at the end of 1946, in a translation by Lionel Abel.
Ladies and gentlemen,
When it was suggested to me that I should give some lectures in the United States of America, I had scruples and hesitated. I am not the right age for giving lectures, and feel more at ease in reflection than categorical assertion, because I do not claim to possess what is generally called truth. When I expressed my scruples, I was told very politely that the important thing was not for me to have any personal opinion. The important thing was for me to be able to pro- vide those few elements of information about France which would allow my audience to form their own opinion. Whereupon I was advised to inform my listeners about the current state of French theater, literature and even philosophy. I replied that it would perhaps be just as interesting to speak about the extraordinary efforts of French railwaymen, or about how miners in the Nord are now working. It was pointed out to me very pertinently that one should never strain one’s talent, and that it was right for special interests to be addressed by people competent to do so. With a long-standing interest in literary matters while I certainly knew nothing about shunting, it was natural that I should be told to talk about literature rather than about railways.
At once I was enlightened. The important thing in fact was to talk about what I knew, and to give some idea of France. This is exactly why I have chosen precisely to speak neither about literature nor about theater. For literature, theater, philosophy, intellectual study and the efforts of an entire people are merely the reflections of a fundamental interrogation, a struggle for life and man, which constitute for us the whole problem of today. The French feel that man is still threatened, and they feel too that they will not be able to go on living if a certain idea of man is not rescued from the crisis with which our world is wrestling. And that is why, out of loyalty to my country, I have chosen to speak about the crisis of man. And as the idea was to talk about what I knew, I thought I could not do better than to retrace as clearly as possible the spiritual experience of men of my generation, since that experience has covered the full extent of the world crisis, and can shed some dim light both upon absurd fate and upon one aspect of today’s French sensibility.
I should first like to situate this generation. Men of my age in France and in Europe were born just before or during the first great war, reached adolescence at the time of the world economic cri- sis and were twenty in the year when Hitler came to power. To complete their education, they were then offered the war in Spain, Munich, the 1939 war, defeat and four years of occupation and clandestine struggle. So I suppose it is what people call an interest- ing generation, which is why I was right to think it will be more instructive for you if I speak not in my own name, but in that of a certain number of Frenchmen who are thirty today, and whose intelligence and hearts were formed during the terrible years when, along with their country, they fed off shame and lived off rebellion.
Yes, it is an interesting generation, first and foremost because, confronted by the absurd world that its elders were creating for it, it believed in nothing and lived in rebellion. The literature of its age was rebelling against clarity, stories and even sentences. Painting was rebelling against subjects, reality and mere harmony. Music was rejecting melody. As for philosophy, it taught that there was no truth, only phenomena; that there might be Mr. Smith, Mon- sieur Durand and Herr Vogel, but there could be nothing in com- mon between these three specific phenomena. The moral stance of this generation was still more categorical: nationalism appeared to it like an outworn truth, religion like an exile; twenty-five years of international politics had taught it to doubt all pure creeds, and to think that nobody was ever wrong since everybody could be right. As for the traditional morality of our society, it appeared to us what it still is: that is to say, a monstrous hypocrisy.
So we were thus in negation. Of course, this was not new. Other generations, other countries have lived through this experience in other periods of History. But what is new is that these same men, strangers to all values, had to resolve their personal position regard- ing murder and terror. It was then that they came to think that there perhaps did exist a Crisis of Man, because they had to live in the most agonizing of contradictions. For basically they entered war as you enter Hell, if it is true that Hell is renunciation. They did not like war or violence, but they had to accept war and inflict violence. They felt hatred only for hatred. Yet they had to learn that difficult knowledge. In total contradiction with themselves, without having any traditional value at their disposal, they had to resolve the most painful of problems ever posed to men. So here you have, on the one hand, a remarkable generation as I have just defined it and, on the other, a crisis embracing the world and human consciousness, which I shall now seek to characterize as clearly as possible.
So what is this crisis? Well, rather than characterizing it in gen- eral, I should like to illustrate first by four brief stories from a time that the world has begun to forget, but that still sears our hearts.
1. In the Gestapo building in a European capital, after a night of questioning, two suspects still bleeding have been left tied up and the building’s concierge dutifully clears up around them, her mind at peace since she has doubtless eaten her breakfast. Reproached by one of the victims, she replies indignantly with a phrase which, translated into French, might go more or less like this: “I never inter- fere with what my tenants do.”
2. In Lyon, one of my comrades is dragged from his cell for a third bout of questioning. Since his ears have been torn during an earlier interrogation, he is wearing a bandage around his head. The German officer taking him is the very same one who was already there at the earlier sessions, yet it is he who asks with a trace of affec- tion and concern in his voice: “And how are your ears, then?”
3. In Greece, following a Partisan operation, a German officer is getting ready to have three brothers whom he has taken as hostages shot. Their elderly mother throws herself at his feet and he agrees to spare one of them, provided she herself makes the choice. Since she is unable to decide, aim is taken at them. She picks the eldest, because he is head of the family; but by doing so she condemns the two others, just as the German officer wished.
4. A group of deported women, including one of my comrades, is repatriated to France via Switzerland. Barely have they entered Swiss territory than they notice a civil burial. And the sight alone causes them to break out in hysterical laughter. “Look how they treat the dead here,” they say.
If I have chosen these stories, it is not because of their sensational character. I know that the world’s feelings must be spared, since it usually prefers to close its eyes in order to keep its peace of mind. But it is because they allow me to reply otherwise than with a con- ventional “yes” to the question: “Is there a Crisis of Man?” They allow me to reply, as all the men about whom I was speaking replied: yes, there is a Crisis of Man, since the death or torture of a human being can in our world be examined with a feeling of indif- ference or friendly interest, or experimentation, or mere passivity. Yes, there is a Crisis of Man, since the execution of a human being can be envisaged otherwise than with the horror and shock it ought to provoke; since human pain is accepted as a somewhat tedious chore, on the same level as buying food or queuing for every gram of butter.
It is too easy, in this respect, to blame Hitler alone and say that, since the beast is dead, the poison has disappeared. For we well know that the poison has not disappeared; that we all carry it in our very hearts; and that this can be felt in the way in which nations, parties and individuals still look at each other with a residue of anger. I have always thought that a nation stuck by its traitors along with its heroes. But a civilization too, and white civilization in particular, is as responsible for its perversions as for its successes. From this viewpoint we all stick by Hitlerism, and we need to seek the more general causes which made possible the terrible evil that began to ravage the face of Europe.
So let us attempt, with the help of the four stories I have recounted, to enumerate the clearest symptoms of this crisis. They are, first and foremost:
1. The rise of terror, following a perversion of values such that a man or a historical force is no longer judged in terms of their dignity, but in terms of their success. The modern crisis consists entirely in the fact that no Westerner is certain of his immediate future; we all experience more or less clearly the anguish of being ground down in one way or another by History. If you want that wretched man, that Job of Modern Times, not to perish of his wounds on his dung heap, you must first lift that burden of fear and anguish, so that he will rediscover the freedom of spirit without which he will solve none of the problems posed to modern consciousness.
2. This crisis is next based on the impossibility of persuasion. Men live and are able to live only with the idea that they have some- thing in common, where they can always meet. You always believe that by addressing a man as a human being, you can get human reac- tions from him. But we have discovered this: there are men you can- not persuade. It was impossible for a concentration-camp victim to hope to explain to the SS who were beating him that they ought not to do it. The Greek mother I spoke of could not persuade the Ger- man officer that it was unfitting to impose on her the heartbreak to which he was subjecting her. The fact was that the SS or the German officer no longer represented a man or men, but an instinct raised to the level of an idea or a theory. Passion, even murderous passion, would have been preferable. Because passion comes to an end, and another passion, another cry coming from flesh or the heart, can persuade it. But the man who is capable of showing friendly concern for ears he has previously torn, that man is not a man of passion, he is a mathematician whom nothing can stop or persuade.
3. It is also replacement of the natural object by the form—in other words, the rise of bureaucracy. More and more, contemporary man interposes between nature and himself an abstract and compli- cated machine which thrusts him into solitude. It is when there is no bread left that coupons appear. The French get only 1,200 calories of food per day, but they have at least six different documents and a hundred stamps on those documents. And it is the same every- where in the world, where bureaucracy has continued to proliferate. In order to come from France to America, I used up a lot of paper in both countries. So much paper that doubtless I could even have managed to print this lecture in a sufficient number of copies to dis- tribute it here without needing to come myself. By dint of papers, offices and functionaries, a world is created in which human warmth disappears; in which no man can touch another, other than through the maze of what are called formalities. The German officer who caressed my comrade’s torn ears thought he could do so because when he had torn them it was part of his job as a functionary, so it could not be wrong. In short, people no longer die, no longer love and no longer kill except vicariously. That is what, I suppose at least, you might call good organization.
4. It is also replacement of real man by political man. There are no more possible individual passions, but only collective passions— in other words, abstract passions. We are all introduced willingly or forcibly into politics. What counts is no longer respecting or sparing a mother’s suffering; what counts is securing the victory of a doc- trine. And human pain is no longer an outrage, but just a figure on a bill whose dreadful total is not yet calculable.
5. It is obvious that all these symptoms can be summed up in a single one, involving the worship of both efficiency and abstraction. This is why in today’s Europe man knows only solitude and silence. It is because he cannot meet other men on the basis of shared values. And since he is no longer protected by a respect for man based on his values, the only alternative henceforth offered him is to be victim or executioner.
This is what men of my generation have understood, and this is the crisis they found and still find confronting them. And we had to resolve it with the values at our disposal: in other words, with noth- ing but awareness of the absurdity surrounding us. This is how we had to enter war and terror, with neither consolation nor certainty. We knew only that we could not yield to the beasts emerging in every corner of Europe. But we could not justify this obligation we were under. Moreover, the more aware among us perceived that they did not yet have, in the realm of thought, any principle which might allow them to oppose terror and repudiate murder.
For if you basically believe in nothing, if nothing has any mean- ing and we can proclaim no value, then everything is allowed and nothing is important. Then there is neither good nor evil, and Hit- ler was neither wrong nor right. You can send millions of innocent people to the gas chamber just as you can dedicate yourself to car- ing for lepers. You can tear ears with one hand, only to caress them with the other. You can do your housework in front of torture vic- tims. And you can equally well honor the dead or throw them into the dustbin. That is all equivalent. And since we thought nothing had any meaning, we were obliged to conclude that the person who succeeds must be right. And that is so true that even today plenty of intelligent, skeptical people will tell you that if by chance Hitler had won this war, History would have paid homage to him and consecrated the dreadful pedestal upon which he had perched. And we indeed cannot doubt that History such as we conceive it would have consecrated Mr. Hitler and justified terror and murder, just as we all consecrate and justify them as soon as we venture to think that nothing has any meaning.
Some among us, it is true, believed it possible to think that, in the absence of any higher value, one could at least think that His- tory did have a meaning. At any rate, they often acted as if they thought that. They used to say that this war was necessary because it would liquidate the age of nationalisms and prepare the time of Empires, which would be succeeded—perhaps after conflict—by the universal Society and Paradise on earth.
Thinking that, however, they used to arrive at the same result as if, like us, they had thought that nothing had any meaning. For if History has a meaning, it is a total meaning or it is nothing. Those men thought and acted as if History obeyed a sovereign dialectic, and as if we were all advancing together toward a definitive end. They thought and acted according to Hegel’s hateful principle: “Man is made for History and not History for Man.” In truth, all the political and moral realism guiding the destinies of the world today obeys, often without knowing it, a German-style philosophy of history according to which the whole of humanity is advancing along rational paths toward a definitive universe. Nihilism has been replaced by absolute rationalism and in both cases the results are the same. For if it is true that History obeys a sovereign and fatal logic, if it is true according to that same German philosophy that the feudal State must inevitably succeed the anarchic state, then nations succeed feudalism and Empires nations, to end up with the universal Society, then everything that serves that inevitable march is good and the accomplishments of History are definitive truths. And as these accomplishments can be served only by the ordinary means of wars, plots and murders both individual and collective, all acts are justified not insofar as they are good or bad, but insofar as they are effective or not.
Thus it is that in today’s world the men of my generation have for years been subjected to the twofold temptation of thinking that nothing is true or thinking that the sole truth lies in surrender to historical fatality. This is how many people have succumbed to one or other of these temptations. And this is how the world has remained in thrall to the will for power: in other words, ultimately to terror. For if nothing is true or false, if nothing is good or bad, and if the only value is efficiency, then the rule must be to prove yourself the most efficient—in other words, the strongest. The world is no longer divided between just men and unjust men, but between masters and slaves. The one who is right is the one who enslaves. The cleaning woman is right rather than the torture vic- tims. The German officer who tortures and the one who executes, the SS transformed into gravediggers, those are the rational men of this new world. Just look at things around you and see if that is not still true now. We are in the toils of violence and stifling there. Whether it is within nations or in the world, mistrust, resentment, greed, the race to power are busy manufacturing a grim and des- perate universe, where every man finds himself obliged to live in the present, the very word “future” representing for him distress in all its forms; delivered up to abstract powers; wasted and stupefied by a headlong life; separated from natural truths, calm leisure and simple happiness. Will you perhaps, however, in this still happy America not see this, or see it only dimly? But the men I am speak- ing to you about have seen it for years, felt this evil in their flesh, read it on the faces of those they love; and from the depths of their sick hearts there now arises a terrible revolt that will end by car- rying us all away. Too many monstrous images still haunt them for them to imagine it will be easy; but they have felt the horror of these years too deeply to accept prolonging it. It is here that the real problem begins for them.
If the features of this crisis are indeed the will to power, terror, the replacement of real man by political and historical man, the reign of abstractions and fatality, futureless solitude—and if we wish to resolve this crisis—these are features we must change. And our generation found itself facing this huge problem, with all its negations. So it was from those very negations that it had to draw the strength to struggle. It was quite useless to tell us, “You must believe in God, or Plato, or Marx,” because we precisely did not have that kind of faith. The only question was to know if we were going to accept this world in which it was no longer possible to be anything but victim or executioner. And, of course, we wanted to be neither, since we knew at the bottom of our hearts that this dis- tinction was illusory; and that ultimately there were no longer any- thing but victims, and that murderers and those they killed were eventually reunited in the same defeat. However, the problem was no longer whether or not to accept this condition and the world, but to know what reason we might have for opposing it.
This is why we sought a reason in our revolt itself, which had led us—for no apparent reason—to opt for the struggle against evil. And we thus understood that we had revolted not just for ourselves, but for something that was common to all men.
How was this?
In this world stripped of values, in this desert of the heart in which we lived, what did our revolt actually mean? It made us into men who said “no.” But we were at the same time men who said “yes.” We said “no” to that world, to its essential absurdity, to the abstractions which threatened us, to the civilization of death being prepared for us. By saying “no” we affirmed that things had gone on long enough; that there was a limit which could not be crossed. But at the same time we affirmed everything below
that limit; we affirmed that there was something in us which rejected what was outrageous, and which could no longer be humiliated. And natu- rally that was a contradiction which could not fail to make us reflect. We thought that the world was living and struggling without real values. But all the same we were struggling against Germany. The Frenchmen of the Resistance whom I knew, and who used to read Montaigne on the train while carrying leaflets, proved that in our country, at least, it was possible to understand skeptics at the same time as having an idea of honor. And consequently, by the very fact of living, hoping and struggling, we were all affirming something.
But did that something have a general value? Did it go beyond an individual opinion? Could it serve as a rule of conduct? The answer is very simple. The men I am referring to were ready to die in the course of their revolt. And that death proved that they were sacri- ficing themselves for the sake of a virtue which transcended their personal existence and went beyond their individual fate. What we rebels were defending against a hostile fate was a value common to all men. When men were tortured in front of a cleaner, when ears were methodically ripped, when mothers were forced to con- demn their own children to death, when decent men were buried like swine, those rebels judged that something in them was being negated, something that did not belong just to them, but was a com- mon good in which men have a ready-made solidarity.
Yes, it was the great lesson of those terrible years that the injury done to a student in Prague affected a worker from the Paris sub- urbs, and that the blood shed somewhere on the banks of a river in Central Europe would bring a Texas farmer to shed his own on the soil of those Ardennes which he now saw for the first time. And that itself was absurd and crazy—impossible, almost, to imagine. But at the same time, in that absurdity there was this lesson that we were in a collective tragedy, where what was at stake was a common dig- nity, a shared human communion, which had to be defended and maintained. Thenceforth we knew how to act; and we learned how, in the most absolute moral destitution, man can find values capable of regulating his conduct. For if this shared communication among men, in mutual acknowledgment of their dignity, was truth, then it was that very communication which we had to serve.
And in order to maintain this communication, men had to be free, since there is nothing in common between a master and a slave, and it is impossible to speak and communicate with a man enslaved. Yes, servitude is a silence and the most terrible of all.
And in order to maintain this communication, we had to make injustice disappear, because there is no contact between the oppressed and the profiteer. Envy too belongs to the realm of silence.
And in order to maintain this communication, we had to out- law lying and violence, for the man who lies shuts himself off from other men, and the one who tortures and coerces imposes defini- tive silence. Thus from the “no” asserted by the very activity of our revolt we derived an ethics of freedom and sincerity. Yes, it was that very communication with which we had to combat the world of murder. This is what we now knew, and what we must retain today in order to defend ourselves from murder. Which is why, we now know, we must struggle against injustice, servitude and terror, because those three scourges are the ones causing silence to prevail among men, erecting barriers between them, hiding them from one another and preventing them from finding the one value that might save them from this despairing world, which is the long fraternity of men struggling against their fate. After this long night, now and at last we know what we must do, confronted by this world torn apart by its crisis.
What must we do? We must:
1. Call things by their name and face up to the fact that we are killing millions of men whenever we agree to think certain thoughts. A person does not think badly because he is a murderer. He is a murderer because he thinks badly. So he can be a murderer without apparently ever having killed. And so we are all more or less mur- derers. Hence, the first thing to do is purely and simply to reject by thought and by action every form of realist, fatalist thought.
2. The second thing to do is clear the world of the terror that dominates it and prevents it from thinking well. And since I have heard that the United Nations is holding an important session in this very city,3 we might suggest that the first written text of that world organization should proclaim solemnly, after the Nuremberg Trials, abolition of the death penalty throughout the Universe.
3. The third thing to do is put politics whenever possible back in its proper place, which is a secondary one. It is not actually a mat- ter of giving this world a gospel, or a political or moral catechism. The great misfortune of our time is precisely that politics claims to provide us simultaneously with a catechism, a complete philosophy, and even sometimes an art of love. But the role of politics is to do the housework, not to settle our domestic problems. For my own part, I do not know if an absolute exists. But I do know it is not one of a political kind. The absolute is not the business of everybody: it is the business of each individual. And all must regulate their reciprocal relations in such a way that everyone has the inner leisure to ponder on the absolute. Our life does no doubt belong to others, and it is right to give it when that is necessary. But our death belongs only to ourselves. Which is my definition of freedom.
4. The fourth thing to do is seek out and create, on the basis of negation, the positive values which will permit reconciliation of negative thought with the possibilities of positive action. That is the task of philosophers, of which I have given only an outline.
5. The fifth thing to do is understand fully that this attitude amounts to creating a universalism in which all men of goodwill may come together. In order to escape solitude, you must speak; but you must speak plainly and—on every occasion—never lie but speak all the truth that you know. But you can speak the truth only in a world where it is defined and based on values common to all men. It is not Mr. Hitler who can decide that this is true or this is not. No man in the world today or tomorrow will ever be able to decide that his truth is good enough to be able to impose it on others. For only the common consciousness of men can assume that ambition. And it is necessary to rediscover the values which nurture that common consciousness. The freedom we have to win, finally, is the right not to lie. Only on that condition shall we know our reasons for living and dying.
For our part, this is where we are. And doubtless it was perhaps not worth going so far in order to get there. But, after all, the History of men is the history of their mistakes, not of their truth. Truth is probably like happiness: it is quite simple and has no history.
Does this mean that all our problems are thereby solved? Of course not. This world is not better or more reasonable. We have still not escaped from absurdity. But at least we have a reason to strive to change our behavior, and it is that reason which we for- merly lacked. The world would still be despairing if man did not exist, but there is man and his passions, his dreams and his com- munity. There are some of us in Europe who in this way combine a pessimistic view of the world and a profound optimism about man. We do not claim to escape History, for we are in History.
We claim only to struggle in History in order to preserve that Human share of History which does not belong to it. We wish only to rediscover the paths of that civilization where man, without turning away from History, will no longer be enslaved to it; where the service that every man owes to all men will find itself balanced by meditation, leisure and the share of happiness that everyone owes to himself.
I think I can safely say that we shall always refuse to worship events, facts, wealth, power, History as it is made and the world as it goes. We wish to see the human condition as it is. And what it is, we know. It is that terrible condition which demands truckloads of blood and centuries of history to achieve an imperceptible modifi- cation in the fate of men. Such is the law. For years during the eigh- teenth century heads fell in France like hail, the French Revolution inflamed every heart with enthusiasm and terror. And ultimately, at the beginning of the next century, we achieved the replacement of legitimate monarchy by constitutional monarchy. We French of the twentieth century know that terrible law only too well. There was the war, the occupation, the massacres, thousands of prison walls, a Europe frantic with pain—and all that in order for some of us finally to gain the two or three slight differences which will help them despair less. It is optimism which would be the outrage here. We know that those who are dead today were the best, since it was they who selected themselves. And we who are still alive are obliged to tell ourselves that we are alive only because we did less than others.
This is the reason why we continue to live in contradiction. The only difference is that this generation can now combine that con- tradiction with an immense hope in man. Since I have wished to inform you about an aspect of French sensibility, it will suffice for you not to forget this: in France and in Europe today there is a gen- eration which thinks, basically, that the person who places hope in the human condition is a madman, but that the one who despairs of events is a coward. It rejects absolute explanations and the sway of political philosophies, but is willing to affirm man in his flesh and his pursuit of freedom. It does not believe it possible to realize universal happiness and satisfaction, but it does believe it possible to diminish the pain of men. It is because the world is unhappy in its essence that we must, this generation thinks, do something for happiness; because it is unjust that we must strive for justice; finally, because it is absurd that we must give it all these reasons.
To conclude, what does this mean? It means one must be modest in one’s thoughts and action, keep one’s place and do one’s job well. It means we all have to create, outside parties and governments, communities of reflection that will initiate dialogue between nations and affirm through their lives and their conversations that this world must stop being one of policemen, soldiers and money to become one of men and women, fruitful work and thoughtful leisure.
That is where I think we shall have to direct our effort, reflec- tion and, if necessary, sacrifice. The decadence of the Greek world began with the assassination of Socrates. And many a Socrates has been killed in Europe in the past few years. This is an indication. It indicates that only the Socratic spirit of leniency toward others and strictness toward oneself is dangerous for civilizations of murder. So it indicates that this spirit alone can regenerate the world. Any other effort, however admirable, directed toward power and dom- ination can only mutilate man even more seriously. In any case, this is the modest revolution we French and Europeans are living through at this time.
Perhaps you will have been surprised that a French writer on an official visit to America should not have felt obliged to present you with an idyllic picture of his country; and, moreover, should so far have made no effort at what is conventionally called propaganda. But perhaps when you reflect on the problem I have outlined to you, you will find this more natural. Propaganda is made, I sup- pose, to provoke feelings in people which they have not yet known. But the Frenchmen who have shared our experience are actually asking to be neither pitied nor loved to order. The only national problem which they confronted did not depend on the world’s opin- ion. For five years, the question for us was to know if we could save our honor; in other words, retain the right to speak when our turn came after the war was over. And we did not need anyone else to acknowledge that right; we needed only to acknowledge it our- selves. That was not easy, but if we did eventually acknowledge that right, it was because we know—and alone know—the real scale of our sacrifices.
But that right for us is not the right to give lessons. It is only the right to escape the humiliating silence of those who were beaten and defeated for having too long despised man. Beyond that, I beg you to believe that we shall know how to keep our place. Perhaps, as people say, there is a possibility that the history of the next fifty years may be made partly by nations other than France. I know nothing about that personally. But what I do know is that this nation which lost 1,620,000 men twenty-five years ago, and has just lost sev- eral hundreds of thousands of volunteers, must acknowledge that it, or someone, perhaps overtaxed its strength. That is a fact. And the opinion of the world, its respect or its scorn, can change nothing about that fact. Which is why it strikes me as ridiculous to solicit or persuade that opinion. But it does not strike me as ridiculous to emphasize before that opinion how much the crisis of the world depends precisely on these disputes over precedence and power.
To summarize this evening’s debates and, speaking for the first time in my own name, I should like to say just this: whenever any- one judges France or any other country, or any other question, in terms of power, they will introduce a bit further into the world a conception of man culminating in his mutilation; they will rein- force the thirst for domination and ultimately side with murder. Everything is interconnected in the world, as in ideas. And the per- son who says or writes that the end justifies the means, the person who says and writes that greatness is measured by strength, that person is absolutely responsible for the hideous piles of crimes dis- figuring contemporary Europe.
There you have a clear definition, I think, of the entire mean- ing of what I felt I needed to tell you. And it was indeed my duty, I suppose, to remain faithful to the voice and experience of our com- rades in Europe, so that you would not be tempted to judge them too hastily. For they no longer judge anyone, apart from murderers. And they look at all nations with the hope and the certainty to find in them the human truth that each of them contains.
Regarding in particular you young Americans listening to me this evening, I can tell you that the men about whom I have been speaking respect the humanity in you, and the taste for freedom and happiness that was discernible in the faces of the great Ameri- cans. Yes, they expect from you what they expect from all men of goodwill: a sincere contribution to the spirit of dialogue that they intend to establish in the world. Seen from afar, our struggles, our hopes and our demands must perhaps strike you as confused or futile. And it is true that, on the path of wisdom and truth, if there is one, these men have not chosen the straightest and simplest way. But the fact is that the world, and History, have offered them nothing straight or simple. The secret they could not find in their condition, they tried to forge with their own hands. And they will perhaps fail. But I am convinced that their failure will be that of the world itself. In this Europe still poisoned by mute violence and hatred, in this world rent by terror, they are striving to save what can still be saved of man. And that is their sole ambition. But the fact that this final effort has succeeded in finding one of its expres- sions again in France, and if I have been able this evening to give you some faint idea of the passion for justice inspiring all French- men, that is our sole consolation and will be my simplest pride.
Copyright © 2022 by Albert Camus. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.