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Camus Writes To A German Friend

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The French existentialist Albert Camus wrote a series of letters to a German friend during World War II. The friend had become a Nazi. Here are a couple of excerpts that remind me of our time and place:

You said to me: “The greatness of my country is beyond price. Anything is good that contributes to its greatness. And in a world where everything has lost its meaning, those who, like us young Germans, are lucky enough to find meaning in the destiny of our nation must sacrifice everything else.” I loved you then, but at that point we diverged. “No”, I told you, “I cannot believe that everything must be subordinated to a single end. There are means that cannot be excused. And I should like to be able to love my country and still love justice. I don’t want just any greatness for it, particularly a greatness born of blood and falsehood. I want to keep it alive by keeping justice alive.” You retorted: “Well, you just don’t love your country.” …

We had much to overcome, first of all, the constant temptation to emulate you. For there is always something in us that yields to instinct, to contempt for intelligence, to the cult of efficiency. Our great virtues eventually become tiresome to us. We become ashamed of our intelligence, and sometimes we imagine some barbarous state where truth would be effortless. But the cure for this is easy; you are there to show us what such imagining would lead to, and we mend our ways. …

When you place the greatness of your country above all other things, or the pursuit of a particular social order above every end, then National Socialism could well be the end point of your logic. A greatness dependent on the manifestation of lies and raw power is no greatness at all. When you grow impatient with difficulty, with ambiguity, and weakness, that is when the Tempter comes to offer you the world if you will just bow down and worship him.

More Camus:

You never believed in the meaning of this world, and you therefore deduced the idea that everything was equivalent and that good and evil could be defined according to one’s wishes. You supposed that in the absence of any human or divine code the only values were those of the animal world — in other words, violence and cunning. Hence you concluded that man was negligible and that his soul could be killed, that in the maddest of histories the only pursuit for the individual was the adventure of power and his own morality, the realism of conquests.

That was what the Nazis believed. There are many people among us today who believe that good and evil can be defined according to one’s wishes, but they have a groundless faith that something will protect the nihilistic society they’re bringing about — that is, a society without a binding moral code — from National Socialism.

Within these two quotes by Camus I see the similarities between many of the #MAGA true believers and the Social Justice Warriors. And there’s this last Camus quote from the German friend letters. Here, he’s talking about a chaplain provided to French Resistance fighters headed for execution. A French teenager jumped out the back of the truck, and the chaplain alerted the German soldiers, who captured him. Camus wrote:

“I am ashamed for that man, and I am pleased to think that no French priest would have been willing to make his God abet murder.” [said the French priest who told Camus this story] That was true. The chaplain simply felt as you do. It seemed natural to him to make even his faith serve his country. Even the gods are mobilized in your country. They are on your side, as you say, but only as a result of coercion. You no longer distinguish anything; you are but a single impulse. And now you are fighting with the resources of blind anger, with your mind on weapons and feats of arms rather than on ideas, stubbornly confusing every issue and following your obsession.

Let the reader understand.

The small decisions of conscience we make everyday prepare our consciences for the big decisions to come. Guard your heart and mind.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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