Happy 100th Birthday, Albert Camus!
Albert Camus grew up in an impoverished French household in colonized Algeria, and managed to become one of the most celebrated French novelists of the 20th Century — although his mother was never able to read a single thing he wrote. He was a member of the French Resistance, working as the editor of Combat, an illegal, underground newspaper during the Nazi occupation; when France was liberated, Camus’s editorials trumpeted the possibility of a more democratic, just, and socialist nation. During and immediately after the war he was close friends with Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, but they ended up parting ways when Camus rejected the left’s support of the Soviet Union; after some arguments on the topic, Sartre lashed out in a bitter and vicious review of Camus’s The Rebel, which served to permanently end their friendship. Ronald Aronson, author of Camus and Sartre: The Story of a Friendship and a Quarrel that Ended It, credits both the men’s differences in principle and Sartre’s personal resentment of Camus with the fight.
Although Camus was never recognized for his philosophy as much as for his writings, his essays were fervently moral and reflected his conviction that violence not only destroyed human dignity, but destroyed any attempts to make meaning out of a chaotic world. After his early death in an automobile accident, a Catholic priest who had been his close friend asserted that Camus’s moral convictions had led him to Catholicism shortly before he passed away. We’ll never fully know, but his secular philosophy inspired numerous Christians in the upheaval of the 1960s and 1970s, from Martin Luther King, Jr., to Fr. Daniel Berrigan.