Social Protest Lit.: Albert Camus’ “Reflections on the Guillotine”

indexShort essay by Albert Camus entitled “Reflections on the Guillotine” from Book IV called “Out of The Depths.” This chapter is focused on man’s pursuit of remedy for social injustice:

In relation to crime, how can our civilization be defined? The reply is easy: for thirty years now, State crimes have been far more numerous than individual crimes. I am not even speaking of war, general and localized, although bloodshed too is an alcohol that eventually intoxicates like the headiest of wines. But the number of individuals killed directly by the State has assumed astronomical proportions and infinitely outnumbers private murders. There are fewer and fewer condemned by common law and more and more condemned to death, whereas the eventuality would have seemed ridiculous at the beginning of the century. Alphonse Karr’s witty remark, “Let the noble assassins begin” has no meaning now. Those who cause the blood to flow are the same ones who believe they have right, logic, and history on their side.

Hence our society must now defend herself not so much against the individual as against the State. It may be that the proportions will be reversed in another thirty years. But, for the moment, our self-defense must be aimed at the State first and foremost. Justice and expediency command the law to protect the individual against the State given over to the follies of sectarianism or of pride. “Let the State begin and abolish the death penalty” ought to be our rallying cry today.