A moral struggle has been quietly going on in France between Nicolas Sarkozy and Albert Camus’s estate. Last month Sarkozy proposed that Camus be reburied in the Pantheon, alongside such eminent people as Voltaire and Pasteur. Problem is, Camus’s son has reservations about this idea, seeing it as the notoriously anti-intellectual Sarkozy’s attempt to appropriate the legacy of his father.
As a writer and public intellectual, Camus was the anti-Sarkozy. As Jeffrey C. Isaac argued in his book Arendt, Camus, and Modern Rebellion, much of Camus’s work was a response to the political and intellectual crises brought about by modernity. Always suspicious of authority, his literary talents were often put to use to show the emptiness of political power and the promises it made. An individualist, yet also as a man whose sympathies laid with the democratic Left, Camus would likely have seen right through Sarkozy’s political maneuvering.
Sarkozy has been at odds with France’s intellectual establishment since before his election and one can see the rationale behind proposing such a step. But it also seems that his reputation as the bane of French intellectuals has become so overt that a small measure like this would not do much to sway their opinion. That Camus belongs in the Pantheon is beyond question; in the end, one has to ask whether Camus’s reputation as one of twentieth-century France’s greatest intellectuals should suffer as a result of its misuse by a politician.