It does not follow from this that the plagues that humankind brings down upon itself are “natural” or unavoidable. But assigning responsibility for them—and thus preventing them in the future—may not be an easy matter. And with Hannah Arendt we have been introduced to a further complication: the notion of the “banality of evil” (a formulation that Camus himself would probably have taken care to avoid), the idea that unspeakable crimes can be committed by very unremarkable men with clear consciences.6
These are now commonplaces of moral and historical debate. But Albert Camus came to them first, in his own words, with an originality of perspective and intuition that eluded almost all his contemporaries. That is what they found so disconcerting in his writing. Camus was a moralist who unhesitatingly distinguished good from evil but abstained from condemning human frailty. He was a student of the “absurd” who refused to give in to necessity.7 He was a public man of action who insisted that all truly important questions came down to individual acts of kindness and goodness. And, like Tarrou, he was a believer in absolute truths who accepted the limits of the possible: “Other men will make history…. All I can say is that on this earth there are pestilences and there are victims—and as far as possible one must refuse to be on the side of the pestilence.”
Nations reel and stagger on their way; they
make hideous mistakes; the commit frightful
wrongs; they do great and beautiful things.
And shall we not best guide humanity by
telling the truth about all this, so far as the
truth is ascertainable?
The Propaganda of History, 1935
If I had a class right now, I’d like to argue over this quote from scholar Yael Tamir:
“The liberal tradition, with its respect for personal autonomy, reflection, and choice, and the national tradition, with is emphasis on belonging, loyalty, and solidarity, although generally seen as mutually exclusive, can indeed accommodate one another.” p.130
The second to last paragraph of the book is money, too:
“In a world made up of nations, there is no more powerful way to fight the forces of prejudice, intolerance, and injustice than by a dedication to equality, citizenship, and equal rights, as guaranteed by a nation of laws.” p. 137
“Now she is silent. She stares off into the middle distance in an odd, abstracted manner that has developed in her over the past year or so. She’s lone inside that faraway look on her face, but this alone is different from the alone I’m very familiar with, the one that distorts her features into a mask of bitterness, the one in which she’s counting up her grievances and disappointments. This alone is soft not bitter, full of interest, not a trace of self-pity in it. Now when her eyes narrow it is to take in more clearly what she knows, concentrate on what she has lived. She shakes herself as though from a penetrating dream. “People have a right to their lives.” (Page 61)
“And I’m willing, I’m willing. When I see the furious self-pity vanish from her face I allow my own to evaporate. If in the middle of provocative exchange she says, “Well, that’s the mother you got, it would have been better with another one, too damned bad this is the one you got,” and I nod, “You can say that again,” we both start laughing at the same time. Neither one of us, it seems, wishes to remain belligerent one sentence longer than the other. We are, I think, equally amazed that we have lived long enough to be responsive for whole minutes at a time simply to being in the world together rather than concentrating on what each of us is or is not getting from each other. ” (Page 199)
Anais Nin, Cities of the Interior (Chicago: Swallow Press, 1974). Elizabeth Strout, My Name is Lucy Barton (NY: Random House, 2016). Charles S. Anderson, Old Advertising Cuts from A-Z (Niles, MI: French Paper Company, 1989). Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence (San Diego: Canterbury Classics, 2014).
This child’s presence called up both in Vronsky and Anna a feeling akin to the feeling of a sailor who sees by the compass that the direction in which is he swiftly moving is far from the right one, but that to arrest his motion is not in his power, that every instant is carrying him further and further away, and that to admit to himself his deviation from the right direction is the same as admitting his certain ruin.