Albert Camus: The Writer as a Guardian of Civilization

Evan Swensen
3 min readJan 10, 2024

Albert Camus once profoundly stated, “The purpose of a writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself.” This sentiment captures the essence of his belief in the restorative power of literature and its crucial role within the tapestry of society. Camus, a philosopher, author, and journalist, wielded his pen as if it were a key to unlocking the collective conscience of humanity.

Born into the throes of poverty in French Algeria, Camus’ early life was marred by struggle. His father passed away in World War I before he could form any memories of him, and his mother, partially deaf and illiterate, worked as a cleaning woman to support her family. Despite these hardships, Camus excelled academically, earning a scholarship to the University of Algiers. However, his educational journey was not without tribulation. Tuberculosis thwarted his studies, casting a shadow of mortality over his youth. This confrontation with death seeped into his writing, instilling a poignant urgency that underscored his philosophy of absurdism. In novels such as The Stranger, Camus explored the absurdity of the human condition, inviting readers to ponder the meaning of existence.

Another pivot in Camus’ life was his fraught relationship with fellow philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre. Initially allies in thought, their views diverged post-World War II. Camus’ denouncement of Soviet communism created an unbridgeable chasm between them, with Sartre embracing Marxism. This ideological rift was emblematic of the broader intellectual debates of the time. Camus’ stance reflected his unwavering commitment to individual morality over collective ideology, a theme prevalent in his essay The Rebel.

Camus’ impact on society resonates beyond the realm of existential philosophy. His writings on freedom, justice, and the human condition during and after the French Resistance movement provided intellectual scaffolding for civil liberties discourse. His voice was one of moral clarity during the Algerian War for independence, advocating for a peaceful solution. His novel The Plague serves as a timeless allegory for resistance against the inevitability of suffering, and it saw a resurgence in readership during global crises, underlining the universality and enduring relevance of his work.

In summing up Camus’ legacy, one reflects on the transformative power of his prose, which continues to challenge and inspire. His body of work serves as a beacon, guiding through the tumultuous sea of moral ambiguity. Camus demonstrated that writing could “keep civilization from destroying itself” by compelling individuals to confront their humanity.

Aspiring writers should take heart from Camus’ example. Writing is not merely a craft but a tool of influence, capable of swaying the course of human events and shaping the contours of society. Ideas are sown into the fertile grounds of the collective mind through the written word, where they may bloom into movements that define generations.

In closing, one must heed the call to engage with Camus’ works and embrace the power of writing to articulate the unsaid, challenge the status quo, and, ultimately, contribute to safeguarding civilization itself.

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Evan Swensen

Book publisher, editor, author, Author Masterminds charter member, founder of Readers and Writers Book Club, and bush pilot.