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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Albert Camus’s The Rebel analyzes the concept of rebellion in historical context and questions how it’s framed in modern life. The book begins with the author’s intention—to better understand why people continuously rebel throughout history. Camus wonders whether murder is ever justified—either when committed as a government agent or on one’s own whim. This question leads naturally to an exploration of how much one’s intention matters in the grand scheme of committing acts of rebellion or murder. Throughout the remainder of Part 1 of the book, Camus explores the history of rebellion, shares some examples of different ways in which rebellion is manifested, and further ties together the concepts of rebellion and murder.

In Part 2 of the book, Camus refers to the Bible, Greek mythology, the history of Rome, and the works of European philosophers to delve into the ways in which rebellion relates to philosophical theories, such as nihilism. Nietzsche introduced the theory of nihilism as a way to explain that there is no larger meaning to life, regardless of how we live it. Camus analyzes whether losing belief in God or a force larger than one’s self could be a catalyst for rebellion.

Part 3 examines the French Revolution. Camus takes important people and situations and reexamines them under his theories of rebellion and corruption. In each scenario, Camus asks when someone’s hope for a better future turned from positive to violent and what the reason was for each shift. As this section continues, Camus compares rebellion with revolution, arguing that rebellion is a natural instinct born of positive intentions while revolution is an irrational act born of a mob mentality to both be a part of a group—ultimately at odds with rebelling—while speaking out against a different group.

Freedom, "that terrible word inscribed on the chariot of the storm," is the motivating principle of all revolutions. Without it, justice seems inconceivable to the rebel's mind. There comes a time, however, when justice demands the suspension of freedom.

In Part 4, Camus compares artists to rebels, arguing that their intentions are the same—to set oneself apart as an individual with value. Part 5 brings Camus to his present day—the mid-1950s—in the wake of WWII. While some countries have attempted to return to stasis, others are more unstable than ever before, and death has become a recognizable part of everyday life. Camus again asks if murder is ever justifiable, using war to frame his query.

As Camus closes the book, he suggests that rebellion in its pure form, without the group-think that leads to war and revolution, will propel the world forward in a positive way. He hopes that the war-torn countries left to put themselves back together do not forget the pain of war and come together in good intentions, rather than corrupt desires. Camus uses collective bargaining as an example of ways that people can rebel together without murder to further their cause.

The rebel undoubtedly demands a certain degree of freedom for himself; but in no case, if he is consistent, does he demand the right to destroy the existence and the freedom of others. He humiliates no one. The freedom he claims, he claims for all; the freedom he refuses, he forbids everyone to enjoy. He is not only the slave against the master, but also man against the world of master and slave. Therefore, thanks to rebellion, there is something more in history than the relation between mastery and servitude. Unlimited power is not the only law. It is in the name of another value that the rebel affirms the impossibility of total freedom while he claims for himself the relative freedom necessary to recognize this impossibility.

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