The Caribbean

You Say You Want a Revolution

For Albert Camus, the French Revolution initiated the modern age, killing God in the person of His representative on earth, the monarch. After which "Utopia replaces God by the future," as Camus nicely phrases it in L'Homme Revoke. God's anointed could no longer justify arbitrary action in this world by divine transcendence, and man (read "the people" today) became deified, with what results we know. The firing squad replaces the altar, even in Iran; and we no longer need a figure from the shadows like the Ayatollah to remind us that God has become the people.

At this point in the amputation of noumenal values the rebel turns into the terrorist, and abandons existence; as Camus puts it, "To be nothing—that is the cry of the mind exhausted by its own rebellion." Having watched two attempts at revolution in ex-British colonies (Malaya and Grenada), both abortive, I realize Camus is right; there is always a Robespierre waiting to be born. But surely he is wrong in completely ignoring the British revolution of 1642-1649, perhaps because he knew little about it. In this case, not only was the king by divine right beheaded, but his principal cleric. Archbishop Laud, went under the axe four years before him. Since then no prelate has held political office in England, though that gaitered buffoon (and Laud's successor), the Red Dean of Canterbury, made an ineffectual try.


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