Excerpts from Camus’s Essays

I recently finished a selection of Lyrical and Critical Essays by Albert Camus. The lyrical essays were way too lyrical for my tastes, and the critical ones were kind of a grab bag, much of which didn’t much grab my attention. But I did pick out a quote or two that I thought were worth holding on to.

Here’s one, for instance, that reminded me of Alasdair MacIntyre’s argument in After Virtue:

For the Greeks, values existed a priori and marked out the exact limits of every action. Modern philosophy places its values at the completion of action. They are not, but they become, and we shall know them completely only at the end of history. When they disappear, limits vanish as well, and since ideas differ as to what these values will be, since there is no struggle which, unhindered by these same values, does not extend indefinitely, we are now witnessing the Messianic forces confronting one another, their clamors merging in the shock of empires. Excess is a fire, according to Heraclitus. The fire is gaining ground; Nietzsche has been overtaken. It is no longer with hammer blows but with cannon shots that Europe philosophizes.

And here’s Camus on the joys of voluntary simplicity:

From time to time I meet people who live among riches I cannot even imagine. I still have to make an effort to realize that others can feel envious of such wealth. A long time ago, I once lived a whole week luxuriating in all the goods of this world: we slept without a roof, on a beach, I lived on fruit, and spent half my days alone in the water. I learned something then that has always made me react to the signs of comfort or of a well-appointed house with irony, impatience, and sometimes anger. Although I live without worrying about tomorrow now, and therefore count myself among the privileged, I don’t know how to own things. What I do have, which always comes to me without my asking for it, I can’t seem to keep. Less from extravagance, I think, than from another kind of parsimony: I cling like a miser to the freedom that disappears as soon as there is an excess of things.

And here’s a moment of Zen:

The most loathsome materialism is not the kind people usually think of, but the sort that attempts to let dead ideas pass for living realities, diverting into sterile myths the stubborn and lucid attention we give to what we have within us that must forever die.

I’ve long been neglecting to cover here one of the largest and most effective tax resistance campaigns of recent times: the poll tax rebellion in Thatcher’s Britain in the late 1980s and early 1990s. I’ve got a copy of Danny Burns’s book on the Poll Tax Rebellion that’s been slowly climbing towards the top of my to-read list, so I hope to correct this fault before long.

Meanwhile, from The Glasgow Herald, :

Poll tax notices go up in smoke

By Benedict Broghan

Undaunted by Esther Rantzen’s charity show, the poll tax non-payment campaign continued its high profile attacks with a public burning of Strathclyde Regional Council’s final reminder notices in Glasgow’s George Square.

At least 75 of the notices were burned by members of the Strathclyde Anti-Poll Tax Federation. They were led by Glasgow district councillor Mr. Chic Stevenson and the federation’s secretary and Labour outcast Mr. Tommy Sheridan.

Mr. Stevenson, who represents Queenslie, said: “I have a duty to those thousands who either can’t or won’t pay Thatcher’s tax. Thatcher will only take notice if enough of us refuse to pay her immoral tax. There are one million people who have refused to pay the poll tax. At this point, some may have doubts as to what to do next.

“People should burn their notices and keep up the fight. In Strathclyde alone there are 236,000 non-payers.”

The demonstration, attended by about 20 people, took place against the background of Miss Rantzen’s pipe-band and balloon ChildLine charity’s Scottish launch.

Mr. Sheridan, shouting to be heard over Miss Rantzen’s speech, said: “These reminder notices are only intended to frighten people. There will not be mass wage arrestments. There will not be mass warrant sales. The trades union movement will stop them. And this federation will stop them.”