Albert Camus: 'Neither Victims nor Executioners' (1946)

"What with the general fear of a war now being prepared by all nations and the specific fear of murderous ideologies, who can deny that we live in a state of terror? We live in terror because persuasion is no longer possible; because man has been wholly submerged in History.."... "Our twentieth century is the century of fear... To come to terms, one must understand what fear means: what it implies and what it rejects. It implies and rejects the same fact: a world where murder is legitimate, and where human life is considered trifling. This is the great political question of our times, and before dealing with other issues, one must take a position on it..."

"Let us, then, admit that our refusal to legitimise murder forces us to reconsider our whole idea of Utopia. This much seems clear: Utopia is whatever is in contradiction with reality. From this standpoint, it would be completely Utopian to wish that men should no longer kill each other. That would be absolute Utopia. But a much sounder Utopia is that which insists that murder be no longer legitimised. Indeed, the Marxian and the capitalist ideologies, both based on the idea of progress, both certain that the application of their principles must inevitably bring about a harmonious society, are Utopian to a much greater degree..."

Albert Camus: 1913-1960
NB: Although Camus fought during the Second World War in the Resistance and would not have considered himself a pacifist, all his writing displays a concern with the problem of killing - suicide and murder, different aspects of the same 'encounter between human inquiry and the silence of the universe'. In his essays, novels and plays he grappled with the problem of the individual caught in history's illogical web, and it was man and humanity that he affirmed. The world had seen enough of men and women dying for causes; it was time to live for one. 'Neither Victims nor Executioners' appeared serially in the autumn of 1946 in Combat, the daily newspaper of the Resistance.

Neither Victims nor Executioners:
The seventeenth century was the century of mathematics, the eighteenth that of the physical sciences, and the nineteenth that of biology. Our twentieth century is the century of fear. I will be told that fear is not a science. But science must be somewhat involved since its latest theoretical advances have brought it to the point of negating itself while its perfected technology threatens the globe itself with destruction. Moreover, although fear itself cannot be considered a science, it is certainly a technique. The most striking feature of the world we live in is that most of its inhabitants - with the exception of pietists of various kinds - are cut off from the future. Life has no validity unless it can project itself toward the future, can ripen and progress. Living against a wall is a dog's life. True - and the men of my generation, those who are going into the factories and the colleges, have lived and are living more and more like dogs.

This is not the first time, of course, that men have confronted a future materially closed to them. But hitherto they have been able to transcend the dilemma by words, by protests, by appealing to other values which lent them hope. Today no one speaks any more (except those who repeat themselves) because history seems to be in the grip of blind and deaf forces which will heed neither cries of warning, nor advice, nor entreaties. The years we have just gone through have killed something in us. And that something is simply the old confidence man had in himself, which led him to believe that he could always elicit human reactions from another man if he spoke to him in the language of a common humanity. We have seen men lie, degrade, kill, deport, torture - and each time it was not possible to persuade them not to do these things because they were sure of themselves and because one cannot appeal to an abstraction, i.e. the representative of an ideology.

Mankind's dialogue has just come to an end. And naturally a man with whom one cannot reason is a man to be feared. The result is that - besides those who have not spoken out because they thought it useless - a vast conspiracy of silence has spread all about us, a conspiracy accepted by those who are frightened and who rationalise their fears in order to hide them from themselves, a conspiracy fostered by those whose interest it is to do so. 'You shouldn't talk about the Russian culture purge - it helps reaction.' 'Don't mention the Anglo-American support of Franco - it encourages communism.' Fear is certainly a technique.

What with the general fear of a war now being prepared by all nations and the specific fear of murderous ideologies, who can deny that we live in a state of terror? We live in terror because persuasion is no longer possible; because man has been wholly submerged in History; because he can no longer tap that part of his nature, as real as the historical part, which he recaptures in contemplating the beauty of nature and of human faces; because we live in a world of abstractions, of bureaus and machines, of absolute ideas and of crude messianism. 

We suffocate among people who think they are absolutely right, whether in their machines or in their ideas. And for all who can live only in an atmosphere of human dialogue and sociability, this silence is the end of the world. To emerge from this terror, we must be able to reflect and to act accordingly. But an atmosphere of terror hardly encourages reflection. I believe, however, that instead of simply blaming everything on this fear, we should consider it as one of the basic factors in the situation, and try to do something about it. No task is more important... Read the full essay

Review of Albert Camus's Algerian Chronicles// PDF of Reflections on the Guillotine

'In our world their will be no emotions except fear, rage and triumph: the sex instinct will be eradicated we shall abolish the orgasm, there will be no loyalty except to the party.. but always there will be the intoxication of power always at every moment there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless…, If you want to imagine the future; imagine a boot stepping on a human face forever. The moral of this story is.. don’t let it happen.' Eric Arthur Blair, (George Orwell) was born in Motihari, Bihar, on 25 June 1903, and died in London on 21 January 1950

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