The reign of beasts has begun

Albert Camus
Photo: UPI via Library of Congress

The world was plunged into darkness on 1st September 1939 when Germany invaded Poland, an act of aggression that led France and the United Kingdom to declare war. Amidst this global turmoil, a young Albert Camus, then a journalist for socialist newspaper Alger-Républicain, found himself wrestling with the unfolding chaos, haunted by the memory of his father’s death in the First World War. Though Camus attempted to enlist in the French army, he was turned away due to a prior bout of tuberculosis. Within a year, he would leave Algeria for Paris, setting off a chain of events that would eventually lead to his involvement in the French Resistance and the creation of some of his most seminal works. On 7th September 1939, caught in the throes of these seismic shifts, Camus wrote the following diary entry.

The Diary Entry

September 7

We used to wonder where war lived, what it was that made it so vile. And now we realize that we know where it lives, that it is inside ourselves. For most people, it’s the embarrassment, the need to make a choice, the choice which makes them go but feel remorse for not having been brave enough to stay at home, or which makes them stay at home but regret that they can’t share the way the others are going to die.

It’s there, that’s where it really is, and we were looking for in it the blue sky and the world’s indifference. It is in this terrible loneliness both of the combatants and of the noncombatants, in this humiliated despair that we all feel, in the baseness that we feel growing in our faces as the days go by. The reign of beasts has begun.

The hatred and the violence that you can already feel rising up in people. Nothing pure left in them. Nothing unique. They think together. You meet only beasts, bestial European faces. The world makes us feel sick, like this universal wave of cowardice, this mockery of courage, this parody of greatness, and this withering away of honor. 

Further Reading

In 1963, three years after the death of Albert Camus, the first of three volumes of his notebooks, all of which contain a number of dated diary entries, was published by Alfred Knopf, titled, Notebooks 1935–1942. The other volumes—Notebooks 1942–1951 and Notebooks 1951–1959—soon followed, translated from the French by Philip Thody.


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