FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Bush and Camus on Freedom

by GARY LEUPP

We know there are many obstacles, and we know the road is long. Albert Camus said that, “Freedom is a long-distance race.” We’re in that race for the duration — and there is reason for optimism. Oppression is not the wave of the future; it is the desperate tactic of a few backward-looking men. Democratic nations grow in strength because they reward and respect the creative gifts of their people. And freedom is the direction of history, because freedom is the permanent hope of humanity.

George W. Bush, Brussels, February 22, 2005

It’s just painful to hear and see a smirking Bush invoking Albert Camus, the French writer who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1957, from a podium in Belgium. No doubt the speechwriter thought, “Okay, the prez will be in Brussels, surrounded by Old Europe elites. He’ll state, forgivingly, that our disagreements with Europe are all in the past. But he’ll lecture the Europeans about how the war on Iraq that they’ve opposed so strenuously is all about freedom, and not as they suspect about empire-building. The European snobs read literature. So we’ll include this Camus quote to show that Bush reads too, and he respects even great French authors who favor freedom. How conciliatory!”

What an insult to Camus, whose notion of freedom was very different from that of the president! His was the radical freedom that comes from abandoning myth and dogma, and questioning the existence of any meaning in the universe other than that which the human mind creates. The powerful novel The Stranger ends with its hero, convicted of murdering a man in a moment of confusion, a protagonist who throughout the narrative has been thoroughly dispassionate, finally exploding in indignation at the attempt of a priest to comfort him before his execution.

“I hurled insults at [the priest]. I told him not to waste his rotten prayers on me; it was better to burn than to disappear. I’d taken him by the neckband of his cassock, and, in a sort of ecstasy of joy and rage, I poured out on him all the thoughts that had been simmering in my brain. He seemed so cocksure, you see. And yet none of his certainties was worth one strand of a woman’s hair.” As the startled priest is removed from his cell, the convicted murderer stares out through his prison bars, opening himself to the “benign indifference of the universe.”

Camus’ freedom involves rejecting religion and accepting that meaningless universe. It also means abandoning any notion of a “direction of history.” Indeed, Camus’ critique of Marxism, in his philosophical work The Rebel, imputes to Marx a theory of historical inevitability and utopianism subconsciously rooted in biblical millenarianism. (I think he’s wrong about that, but the discussion is thought provoking.)

For Bush, a cocksure man full of worthless certainties, who seeks to impose fundamentalist Christian morality, sideline science and actually diminish freedom in the name of the “war on terror,” to invoke Camus is an outrage. Surely some in the Brussels audience wanted to puke.

Here are some really pertinent passages from Camus. On the morality of the “war on terror:” “By definition, a government has no conscience. Sometimes it has a policy, but nothing more.”

On the manipulation of the U.S. press by the administration: “A free press can of course be good or bad, but most certainly, without freedom it will never be anything but bad”

On censorship: “The aim of art, the aim of a life can only be to increase the sum of freedom and responsibility to be found in every man and in the world. It cannot, under any circumstances, be to reduce or suppress that freedom, even temporarily.”

On bad leaders: “A man without ethics is a wild beast loosed upon this world.” “The evil that is in the world almost always comes of ignorance, and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence if they lack understanding.” “Stupidity has a knack of getting its way.”

GARY LEUPP is Professor of History at Tufts University, and Adjunct Professor of Comparative Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa Japan; Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch’s merciless chronicle of the wars on Iraq, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia, Imperial Crusades.

He can be reached at: gleupp@granite.tufts.edu

 

 

Gary Leupp is Professor of History at Tufts University, and holds a secondary appointment in the Department of Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa JapanMale Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: gleupp@tufts.edu

More articles by:
June 28, 2016
Jonathan Cook
The Neoliberal Prison: Brexit Hysteria and the Liberal Mind
Paul Street
Bernie, Bakken, and Electoral Delusion: Letting Rich Guys Ruin Iowa and the World
Anthony DiMaggio
Fatally Flawed: the Bi-Partisan Travesty of American Health Care Reform
Mike King
The “Free State of Jones” in Trump’s America: Freedom Beyond White Imagination
Antonis Vradis
Stop Shedding Tears for the EU Monster: Brexit, the View From the Peloponnese
Omar Kassem
The End of the Atlantic Project: Slamming the Brakes on the Neoliberal Order
Binoy Kampmark
Brexit and the Neoliberal Revolt Against Jeremy Corbyn
Ruth Hopkins
Save Bear Butte: Mecca of the Lakota
Celestino Gusmao
Time to End Impunity for Suharto’’s Crimes in Indonesia and Timor-Leste
Thomas Knapp
SCOTUS: Amply Serving Law Enforcement’s Interests versus Society’s
Manuel E. Yepe
Capitalism is the Opposite of Democracy
Winslow Myers
Up Against the Wall
Chris Ernesto
Bernie’s “Political Revolution” = Vote for Clinton and the Neocons
Stephanie Van Hook
The Time for Silence is Over
Ajamu Nangwaya
Toronto’s Bathhouse Raids: Racialized, Queer Solidarity and Police Violence
June 27, 2016
Robin Hahnel
Brexit: Establishment Freak Out
James Bradley
Omar’s Motive
Gregory Wilpert – Michael Hudson
How Western Military Interventions Shaped the Brexit Vote
Leonard Peltier
41 Years Since Jumping Bull (But 500 Years of Trauma)
Rev. William Alberts
Orlando: the Latest Victim of Radicalizing American Imperialism
Patrick Cockburn
Brexiteers Have Much in Common With Arab Spring Protesters
Franklin Lamb
How 100 Syrians, 200 Russians and 11 Dogs Out-Witted ISIS and Saved Palmyra
John Grant
Omar Mateen: The Answers are All Around Us
Dean Baker
In the Wake of Brexit Will the EU Finally Turn Away From Austerity?
Ralph Nader
The IRS and the Self-Minimization of Congressman Jason Chaffetz
Johan Galtung
Goodbye UK, Goodbye Great Britain: What Next?
Martha Pskowski
Detained in Dilley: Deportation and Asylum in Texas
Binoy Kampmark
Headaches of Empire: Brexit’s Effect on the United States
Dave Lindorff
Honest Election System Needed to Defeat Ruling Elite
Louisa Willcox
Delisting Grizzly Bears to Save the Endangered Species Act?
Jason Holland
The Tragedy of Nothing
Jeffrey St. Clair
Revolution Reconsidered: a Fragment (Guest Starring Bernard Sanders in the Role of Robespierre)
Weekend Edition
June 24, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
A Blow for Peace and Democracy: Why the British Said No to Europe
Pepe Escobar
Goodbye to All That: Why the UK Left the EU
Michael Hudson
Revolts of the Debtors: From Socrates to Ibn Khaldun
Andrew Levine
Summer Spectaculars: Prelude to a Tea Party?
Kshama Sawant
Beyond Bernie: Still Not With Her
Mike Whitney
¡Basta Ya, Brussels! British Voters Reject EU Corporate Slavestate
Tariq Ali
Panic in the House: Brexit as Revolt Against the Political Establishment
Paul Street
Miranda, Obama, and Hamilton: an Orwellian Ménage à Trois for the Neoliberal Age
Ellen Brown
The War on Weed is Winding Down, But Will Monsanto Emerge the Winner?
Gary Leupp
Why God Created the Two-Party System
Conn Hallinan
Brexit Vote: a Very British Affair (But Spain May Rock the Continent)
Ruth Fowler
England, My England
Jeffrey St. Clair
Lines Written on the Occasion of Bernie Sanders’ Announcement of His Intention to Vote for Hillary Clinton
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail