Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 398
The Rebel is a novel-length essay in which the author, Albert Camus, explores the nature of what it is to be a rebel and the history of revolution, particularly within the context of Western Europe. Due to its non-fiction form, The Rebel doesn't depict a cast of fictional characters. However, Camus does use numerous examples of rebels, cultural icons, and revolutionary leaders from history to aid his analysis. In this response, I will touch on just a few of the historical figures Camus references in his essay and how they relate to his overall thesis.
In The Rebel, Camus presents his view that a drive towards revolt is a fundamental feature of the human condition. He offers examples from different points in history where humans have fought to free themselves from the power structures that they felt inhibited their freedom and liberty.
However, in Camus's view, this rebellious human spirit tends to lead to negative outcomes like murder, dictatorships, and totalitarian rule. As such, his essay has an ethical component: he wants readers to consider that the fight for justice is certainly important, but it is also important not to forget the fundamental value of human life while pursuing revolutionary ambitions.
Some of the cultural figures Camus references in The Rebel include: the Marquis de Sade, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and Friedrich Nietzsche.
Camus uses the Marquis de Sade as an example of the dangers represented by metaphysical rebels. He presents Sade as an individual focused on libertinism (as opposed to liberty) and as a man who rejected religious belief in favor of a focus on sexual pleasure. Camus uses Sade to demonstrate how such rebels eventually become distracted from their original rebellious spirit, adopting a position in which their beliefs allow them to ignore the importance of ethical behavior.
The Rebel also provides examples from the writings of Fyodor Dostoevsky and Friedrich Nietzsche to evidence the threat posed by a nihilistic world view. Camus held great respect for Nietzsche, as the philosopher's work influenced his own philosophical development (Selfer 1997: 65).
But Camus also recognized that the nihilism represented in Nietzsche's rejection of God—and most especially his desire for humanity to create an elite group of humans—was ripe for malicious political interpretation. This occurred during World War II. The Nazis drew upon Nietzsche's concept of the will to power in order to justify truly horrific mass violence and persecution.