Bush vs. Camus.

The law, lawyers, and the court.
Jan. 3 2006 4:01 PM

Bush vs. Camus

What Albert Camus and the "little-ease" say about U.S. torture policies.

(Continued from Page 1)

Camus was himself famously unable to take a clear stance on the French colonial war in Algeria—he was, after all, French and Algerian. The Fall is, among other things, an expression of anguish about the difficulty of making any claim to innocence. The repulsive figure of Clamence wants to implicate the whole of humanity in his own guilt—just as President Bush seems to want to implicate the American people in the decision to torture. Camus offers no clear or satisfying message in response to Clamence's insinuating vileness.

Clamence wants to proclaim the guilt of everyone—only generalized guilt can assuage his own culpability. In the wake of the Algerian war, the French were forced to continue to face up to their complicity in torture: Memoirs and histories have only confirmed Alleg's testimony and Sartre's verdict. It is not too difficult to foresee a day when Americans will also have to assess, in a sober retrospect we can't yet have, how their rulers dragged them into the torture regime.

Advertisement

As for Camus, earlier on, in an essay published in the newspaper Combat in 1946, he summed up the moral ground he was seeking in an arresting phrase: "Ni victimes ni bourreaux." In Dwight MacDonald's translation for the review Politics, Camus' phrase is "neither victims nor executioners." The word bourreau means torturer as well as executioner. "Neither victims nor torturers." From the one—from the legitimate American sense of victimization following 9/11—we have passed to the other. To the complicity with torture proposed by Bush and his rationalizers, there seems to me only one response: an absolute "no." As to Clamence's wily insinuations, so to our administration's renditions, secret prisons, and enhanced interrogations: no.

Peter Brooks teaches English and law at the University of Virginia.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Smash and Grab

Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?

Stop Panicking. America Is Now in Very Good Shape to Respond to the Ebola Crisis.

The 2014 Kansas City Royals Show the Value of Building a Mediocre Baseball Team

The GOP Won’t Win Any Black Votes With Its New “Willie Horton” Ad

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Technocracy

Forget Oculus Rift

This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.

One of Putin’s Favorite Oligarchs Wants to Start an Orthodox Christian Fox News

These Companies in Japan Are More Than 1,000 Years Old

Trending News Channel
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 20 2014 8:14 PM You Should Be Optimistic About Ebola Don’t panic. Here are all the signs that the U.S. is containing the disease.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 20 2014 7:23 PM Chipotle’s Magical Burrito Empire Keeps Growing, Might Be Slowing
  Life
Outward
Oct. 20 2014 3:16 PM The Catholic Church Is Changing, and Celibate Gays Are Leading the Way
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I Am 25. I Don't Work at Facebook. My Doctors Want Me to Freeze My Eggs.
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 20 2014 9:13 PM The Smart, Talented, and Utterly Hilarious Leslie Jones Is SNL’s Newest Cast Member
  Technology
Technocracy
Oct. 20 2014 11:36 PM Forget Oculus Rift This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Oct. 20 2014 11:46 AM Is Anybody Watching My Do-Gooding? The difference between being a hero and being an altruist.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.