Albert Camus and Violence: genealogy of an inner conflict
citation Camus

The question of Albert Camus’ relation to violence means examining a source of tension – the feeling of being torn between the necessity of sometimes resorting to force and the will never to justify doing so. It is this feeling of being torn that accompanies Albert Camus throughout his intellectual itinerary and that I have chosen to study. Was Camus an existentialist? a philosopher? a writer or playwright? These are questions that come back again and again, be it in scholarly research or works destined for the general public. I wanted to study another facet of the writer, one as yet little explored, that of the artist who takes hold of a contemporary issue, one of burning importance during the particular historical context. Was violence then a burning issue? Albert Camus was born in 1913 in Algeria; his father died a few months later on the battlefield of World War I. After studying philosophy in Algeria in the 1930s, Camus branched into literature and journalism, but always with history in mind, the period between the Spanish Civil War and the rise of fascism. Then came the Second World War and Camus found himself forced to take the side of freedom and entered the Resistance. Later on, decolonization brought its lot of violence and combat, particularly in Algeria, where Camus was born and the country to which he remained deeply attached. The intellectual itinerary of the 1957 Nobel Literary prizewinner is marked by a number of violent episodes: in what way did he take on this subject in his works, as well as his life? Only a precise genealogy of his thoughts and commitments on the theme of violence can enable us to answer that question. An overall study of the artist’s work is necessary – as is a detailed analysis of his choices of commitments and the positions he took in public. He had of course already started out on that path in the 1930s, studying philosophy and sensitive to these early influences. This period of first writings and commitment would become a resource he would return to throughout his life.

Then came the shock of the Second World War. Already implicit in his work, violence then took on a central role, particularly in his thoughts a propos of entering the Resistance. After the war, revisiting the experience, reconsidering his relation to violence through that experience and his vision of revolution, a matter of fighting nihilism, which he thought was taking on a new form – historicism, making history an insurmountable absolute. The few perspectives he was able to elicit at that time were soon shaken by the upheaval caused by the decolonization of the 1950s. The feeling of being torn apart would continue with the problem of his country, Algeria.



  • 7 November 1913: birth of Albert Camus in Mondovi.
  • 11 October 1914: death of Lucien Camus, the writer’s father, following wounds received in the Battle of the Marne.
  • May 1937: publication of his first work: L’Envers et l’Endroit, Éditions Charlot in Algiers.
  • October 1938: After philosophy studies (Hypokhâgne and licence) which cannot lead to the agrégation because of his tuberculosis, Camus becomes a journalist at Alger républicain, faithful to the 1936 Front populaire program.
  • 1939: publication of Noces; a collection of texts, Éditions Charlot.
  • 1940-1942: Camus spends his time between the city, for the purpose of rest but creativity as well, and Algeria. He marries Francine Faure in Lyon, December 3, 1940.
  • 1942: a busy year – he finishes the play Caligula, and publications of L’Étranger [“The Stranger”] (in May) and Le Mythe de Sisyphe (in September).
  • 1943: After a period of reflection and creation, Camus decides to enter the Resistance. He publishes the first Lettres à un ami allemand [“Letters to a German Friend”] in the form of a manifesto of his commitment and becomes one of the main editors of the review Combat (December).
  • 1944: On the liberation of Paris, Camus becomes one of the important voices of the Resistance, thanks to his famous editorials in Combat.
  • 1945: Camus takes a position in favor of a purge, but refuses the death penalty on principle. He is one of the only journalists at the time, in France, to deal with the repression of the riots of Sétif and Guelma; in the same way, he denounces the use of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. It is also the year of birth of his children, the twins Catherine and Jean.
  • 1947: publication of La Peste [“The Plague”], the first success. He leaves the editorial staff of Combat definitively.
  • 1949: creation of the play Les Justes [“The Just Assassins”] at the Théâtre Hébertot.
  • October 1951: publication of the essay L’Homme révolté [“The Rebel”], which created more polemics than any other
  • 1954: publication of L’Été [“Summer”], collection of short essays.
  • 1956: January 22, along with several close friends, Camus launches a call for a civilian truce in Algeria; since 1954, rebel movements have been followed by repression. He resigns from his post as collaborator at the journal L’Exprès.
  • 1957: October 16, Albert Camus receives the Nobel Prize for literature for the whole of his works.
  • 1958-59: Camus works on his new novel: Le Premier homme [“The First Man”], among others.
  • 1960: Camus is killed in an automobile accident at Villeblevin in the Yonne department, with his friend Michel Gallimard.