FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Bush and Camus on Freedom

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

 

 

More articles by:

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

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
December 13, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
The FBI: Another Worry in the National Security State
Rob Urie
Establishment Politics are for the Rich
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: That’s Neoliberalism for You
Paul Street
Midnight Ramble: A Fascist Rally in Hershey, Pennsylvania
Joan Roelofs
The Science of Lethality
Joyce Nelson
Buttigieg and McKinsey
Joseph Natoli
Equally Determined: To Impeach/To Support
Charles Pierson
The National Defense Authorization Act Perpetuates the Destruction of Yemen
REZA FIYOUZAT
An Outrageous Proposal: Peace Boats to Iran
Lee Hall
Donald Trump Jr., Mongolian Sheep Killer
Andrew Levine
A Plague on Both Their Houses, Plus a Dozen Poxes on Trump’s
David Rosen
Mortality Rising: Trump and the Death of the “American Dream”
Dave Lindorff
The Perils of Embedded Journalism: ‘Afghan Papers’ Wouldn’t Be Needed If We Had a Real Independent News Media
Brian Cloughley
Human Rights and Humbug in Washington
Stephen Leas
Hungry for a Livable Planet: Why I Went On Hunger Strike and Occupied Pelosi’s Office
Saad Hafiz
Pakistan Must Face Its Past
Lawrence Davidson
Deteriorating Climates: Home and Abroad
Cal Winslow
The End of the Era: Nineteen Nineteen
Louis Proyect
If Time Magazine Celebrates Greta Thunberg, Why Should We?
Thomas Drake
Kafka Down Under: the Threat to Whistleblowers and Press Freedom in Australia
Thomas Knapp
JEDI Mind Tricks: Amazon Versus the Pentagon and Trump
Jesse Jackson
Trump’s War on the Poor
Michael Welton
Seeing the World Without Shadows: the Enlightenment Dream
Ron Jacobs
The Wind That Shook the Barley: the Politics of the IRA
Rivera Sun
Beyond Changing Light Bulbs: 21 Ways You Can Stop the Climate Crisis
Binoy Kampmark
The Bloomberg Factor: Authoritarianism, Money and US Presidential Politics
Nick Pemberton
Ideology Shall Have No Resurrection
Rev. Susan K. Williams Smith
What Trump and the GOP Learned From Obama
Ramzy Baroud
‘Elected by Donors’: the University of Cape Town Fails Palestine, Embraces Israel
Cesar Chelala
Unsuccessful U.S. Policy on Cuba Should End
Harry Blain
The Conservatism of Impeachment
Norman Solomon
Will the Democratic Presidential Nomination Be Bought?
Howard Lisnoff
The One Thing That US Leaders Seem to Do Well is Lie
Jeff Cohen
Warren vs. Buttigieg Clash Offers Contrast with Sanders’ Consistency
Mel Gurtov
The Afghanistan Pentagon Papers
Gaither Stewart
Landslide … to Totalitarianism
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
How Blaming Nader in 2000 Paved the Way for Today’s Neo-Fascism
Steve Early
In Re-Run Election: LA Times Journalist Wins Presidency of NewsGuild 
David Swanson
If You’re Not Busy Plotting Nonviolent Revolution for Peace and Climate, You’re Busy Dying
Nicky Reid
Sorry Lefties, Your Impeachment is Bullshit
John Kendall Hawkins
The Terror Report You Weren’t Meant to See
Susan Block
Krampus Trumpus Rumpus
Martin Billheimer
Knight Crawlers
David Yearsley
Kanye in the West
Elliot Sperber
Dollar Store 
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail