Rebels in Search of a Cause

René J. Dubos, “The Unbelievable Future,” So Human an Animal: How We Are Shaped by Surroundings and Events (New York: Scribner, 1968), pp. 3-4:

Honoré Daumier – The Uprising (L’Emeute)

The social role of the rebel is symbolized by Honoré Daumier’s picture L’Emeute (The Uprising) in the Philips Memorial Gallery in Washington, D.C. The painting represents a revolutionary outbreak in nineteenth-century Paris. A handsome young man, with outstretch arms and clenched fist, is leading a crowd which appears hypnotized by his charismatic determination. His expression is intense, yet his dreamer’s eyes are not focused on any particular object, person, or goal. He contemplates a distant future so indistinct that he probably could not describe the precise cause for which he and his followers are risking their lives.

Daumier’s painting does not portray a particular type of rebel, or a particular cause for rebellion. Its theme is a rebellious man ready to confront evil and to undertake dangerous tasks even if the goal is unclear and the rewards uncertain. The rebel is the standard-bearer of the visionaries who gradually increase man’s ethical stature; because there is always evil around us, he represents one of the eternal dimensions of mankind.

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