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.

TODAY IN SLATE

Foreigners

More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

What Charles Barkley Gets Wrong About Corporal Punishment and Black Culture

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows

Why Do Some People See the Virgin Mary in Grilled Cheese?

The science that explains the human need to find meaning in coincidences.

Jurisprudence

Happy Constitution Day!

Too bad it’s almost certainly unconstitutional.

Is It Worth Paying Full Price for the iPhone 6 to Keep Your Unlimited Data Plan? We Crunch the Numbers.

What to Do if You Literally Get a Bug in Your Ear

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 17 2014 8:15 AM Ted Cruz Will Not Join a Protest of "The Death of Klinghoffer" After All
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 16 2014 4:16 PM The iPhone 6 Marks a Fresh Chance for Wireless Carriers to Kill Your Unlimited Data
  Life
The Eye
Sept. 16 2014 12:20 PM These Outdoor Cat Shelters Have More Style Than the Average Home
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus Video
Sept. 16 2014 2:06 PM A Farewell From Emily Bazelon The former senior editor talks about her very first Slate pitch and says goodbye to the magazine.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 17 2014 9:03 AM My Father Was James Brown. I Watched Him Beat My Mother. And Then I Found Myself With Someone Like Dad.
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 8:27 AM Only Science Fiction Can Save Us! What sci-fi gets wrong about income inequality.
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 17 2014 10:20 AM White People Are Fine With Laws That Harm Blacks The futility of fighting criminal justice racism with statistics.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.