Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Bush, Camus, and Sartre

There’s nothing earth-shattering in the knowledge that George W. Bush doesn’t know what in the hell he’s talking about, but sometimes the irony is too sweet to ignore. Here’s a tidbit from Ronald Aronson, the author of Camus and Sartre: The Story of a Friendship and the Quarrel that Ended It. He is also a professor of humanities at Wayne State University.

A careful reading of "The Fall" reveals that President Bush's quote from Albert Camus in Brussels was an astonishing mistake. Many of our European friends may now be laughing up their sleeves at the United States' head of state. To those who know Camus, a White House speechwriter may have created a spectacle, in which the president unwittingly parodied himself.

The quote, "freedom is a long-distance race," was ripped from its context, one that establishes beyond doubt that Camus' words were not meant straightforwardly. No, a careful reading makes clear they were intended as a spoof of the thought of his former good friend, Jean-Paul Sartre.


The paragraph from which the president quoted begins by having Clamence extolling slavery, as Camus believed Sartre had done by aligning himself with the French Communist Party. Then Camus has Clamence condemn himself of hypocrisy, for which Camus criticized Sartre in his journal, by saying that that he "was always talking of freedom. At breakfast I used to spread it on my toast, I used to chew it all day long, and in company my breath was delightfully redolent of freedom. With that key word I would bludgeon whoever contradicted me; I made it serve my desires and my power."


Camus' character, while sounding resolute and tireless about pursuing freedom, making it seem daunting and thankless but the mark of a true human being, is really prattling on about freedom. He is intimidating people with it, using it for purposes of self-interest and does not at all believe in it. The grand-sounding phrase about freedom being a "long-distance race" is just another piece of flimflam. Camus, a writer who pondered every phrase, every word, might turn in his grave upon hearing Bush misunderstand his meaning.

Prattling on indeed. Bush is an “ignoranus” – he’s not only stupid, he’s an asshole too.

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