Last Updated September 5, 2023.
The Rebel is a book by French writer and philosopher Albert Camus. The book is composed of a singular essay about the history and philosophical foundations of rebellions in Europe. In particular, The Rebel analyzes the act of rebellion as an individual and as a collective. Camus references many philosophers and historical figures to compose a multi-perspective view of man's desire to rebel, which, in essence, is the human desire to reach spiritual, social, and political liberation from the systems that oppress us.
These oppressive systems could be something as fundamental as the human condition (i.e. pain and tragedy), or something on the macro level, such as dictatorships and the political suppression of ideas. Camus also references art and literary movements that contributed to the development of rebellion.
Rebellion also stems from our desire to create a perfect society. When people see flaws in the justice or political system, they are measuring reality with what they believe is ideal. When reality does not match a person's idea of a harmonious, fair society, then rebellion inevitably becomes a reaction to that. Camus uses well-known revolutions in history, most prominently the French Revolution, as an example for his theories. He believed that revolutionary action stems from our mortal desire to kill God or the idea of a cosmic king that controls our lives.
This is why, Camus posited, that the French revolutionaries overthrew and guillotined Louis XVI, who was the last king of France before monarchy was abolished as a result of the revolution. The kings and queens of the past represented god-like figures on earth. When the people realized that the noblemen were made of flesh and blood just like them, the illusion of the hierarchy—king and subject, or god and believer—was shattered. In this sense, rebellion is not just a political act, but a spiritual one as well.