Camus, His Mother, and the Algerian Revolt

At a press conference in Stockholm after the Nobel ceremony, Camus made a statement widely misreported as “I believe in justice, but I will defend my mother before justice.” Goldhammer and Alice Kaplan—in her introduction to this edition—perform a considerable service in pointing out that Camus said nothing so simplistic. What he said was: “People are now planting bombs in the tramways of Algiers. My mother might be on one of those tramways. If that is justice, then I prefer my mother.” He was not sentimentally exalting his mother above justice; he was rejecting the equation of justice with revolutionary terrorism.


Poor Albert Camus. A hero of the French Resistance in World War II, he'd fallen on hard times politically in the late 1950s. Jean-Paul Sartre and Franz Fanon mocked him like playground bullies for his anguished response to the Algerian uprising. A pied-noir himself, Camus understood French Algerians without liking them much. Sartre and Fanon were more doctrinaire and, consequently, more effective in the public debate about the Algerian revolt. Even a bright spot for Camus, his 1957 Nobel Prize for literature, turned into a PR disaster.

Then, as now, polemics and ideology distorted discourse in the public sphere.

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