I have always been afraid of reading Albert Camus’s The Rebel mainly because most commentators have suggested that it is philosophically weak and I have not wanted to face up to the weakness of the writer who I trust and admire the most. I read parts of it many years ago but only with one eye open fearing the worst.
I have now started giving it a closer reading and find that its weakness lies, perhaps, in its lack of academic rigour but I don’t think this detracts from its insights. There are moments where it could be Popper or Berlin writing it and I assume that Camus had not read these philosophers. Berlin wrote most of his work at the same time and The Open Society and Its Enemies was published earlier, but I don’t think it would have by then been translated into French.
There are many ideas which I could reproduce here but the one that strikes me as perhaps the most apposite considering South Africa at the moment is when Camus states that Montesquieu pointed out the abuses of power are greatest when laws do not anticipate it. Sadly our law makers at the end of apartheid simply did not want to anticipate the fact that the ANC might abuse its powers. I think this was understandable at the time but just how we are going to rectify this is impossible to tell. Our legal and political system needs desperate reform but we simply do not have the legal mechanisms in place to do this.
The question is how, for one, can we make the legislature more accountable? We got rid of the single-member district system because of the National Party’s abuse of it. However, the ‘party list’ system as we have discovered also contains its problems. I am not sure if there is a happy medium between these two systems but even if there is how, in the current climate, would this be adopted by a two thirds majority? It seems like we are stuck with this failure to anticipate.