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.

 

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Obama Won the Presidency But the Left Won Even More

To the shock of no one actually paying attention to the 2012 election, President Obama won his reelection bid along with the popular vote.  This was not surprising to anyone following the polls showing the lead he had in the electoral college vote.  But there was a series of even bigger victories worth noting for progressive ideology and a positive (albeit incremental) move for the country as a whole to the political left.

Four More Years
Four More Years

Taking a look at the highlighted ballot measures for individual states reveals how successful progressive beliefs were in this election and how far and fast the country has moved, particularly on the issue of gay rights.  The most eye-catching measures may have been the legalization of marijuana in Washington and Colorado.  This change in drug policy is long overdue in America and these victories bring the country one step closer to alleviating the problem and cost of incarcerating people for this non-violent crime, not to mention hurting the wallets of the violent drug cartels in Mexico.  There is still work to do here since it is illegal on the federal level but there is little doubt now where the U.S. is heading on this issue.  The prohibition of pot is coming to an end and it is only a matter of time before changes on the national level are made.

The state of Florida delivered two victories for the left on ballot measures.  Voters decided blocking women from obtaining abortions using public funding was the wrong way to go and this highly controversial issue is put to rest for now but certainly hasn’t seen its final challenge.  The other issue voted down was the limiting of the Affordable Care Act, particularly voiding the individual mandate for the state.  This went down in Florida but was successfully passed in three other heavily conservative states.  These measures are just for show, of course, as they are likely to be challenged in the courts and struck down as federal precedent will override intrusive state laws.  Three victories for the right, in some respect, but only short-lived ones at best.

But the biggest progressive victory of the night was, without a doubt, gay rights.  Minnesota voters turned down the chance to put a ban on gay marriage in their state constitution, the first defeat in the country of this type of measure.  What’s important here is the fact most of the previous measures of this kind were passed with 60% or more of the vote.  This will likely be the first of many defeats to come for these state constitution amendments.  Three states also took the further step of legalizing gay marriage.  This group of victories was capped by the election of the first gay Senator in U.S. history, Tammy Baldwin.  It should be noted Baldwin’s election comes in the state of Wisconsin where conservatives were recently celebrating victory in Governor Scott Walker’s recall election.  The tide turned quickly in Wisconsin and has clearly turned on the issue of gay rights in the United States.

Tammy Baldwin
Tammy Baldwin

There was one curious loss for the left on election night and it came in a state believed to be one of the most progressive in the country: California.  A ballot measure to ban the death penalty appears to be headed for defeat by a comfortable margin, a victory for those on the right who believe every life is precious and only God can judge when someone lives and dies.  Now they can properly kill people just as God intended.  I think that’s what was intended.  Seemingly intended.  Wait a sec, I’m choking on the confusion of the right’s rhetoric compared to their policy positions.  Regardless, the state of California has decided to continue shouldering the enormous economic cost of keeping prisoners on death row instead of the cheaper and more moral route of life sentences.  The likelihood of this conservative position lasting over time is still slim despite this outcome.

Overall, election night was good for the Democratic Party and great for the progressive minded.  The United States took a small but significant step in the right direction politically and will assuredly continue this progression in the foreseeable future.