Jean-Paul Sartre


Jean-Paul-Charles-Aymard Sartre (Paris, June 21, 1905 – Paris, April 15, 1980) was a French philosopher, writer, playwright and literary critic, considered one of the most important representatives of existentialism, which in him takes the form of an atheistic humanism in which each individual is radically free and responsible for his or her choices, but from a subjectivist and relativist perspective. Later Sartre would become an advocate of Marxist ideology, the philosophy of praxis and, albeit with profound “distinctions,” the consequent historical materialism as well. He shared private and professional life with Simone de Beauvoir.

In 1964 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, which he refused, however, justifying the refusal on the grounds that only after death could a judgment be made on the actual worth of a literary person. In 1945 he had already refused the Legion of Honor and, later, the professorship at the Collège de France.

Sartre was one of the most important intellectuals of the 20th century, influential, beloved and criticized at the same time, and a scholar whose ideas were always inspired by political thought oriented toward the international left (in the Cold War years he sometimes supported the motives of the then Soviet Union, while also harshly criticizing its policies in several of his writings). He shared with Simone de Beauvoir – whom he met in 1929 at the École Normale Supérieure – his sentimental and professional life, although they both had other contemporary relationships. He also had cultural collaborative relationships with many contemporary intellectuals, such as Albert Camus and Bertrand Russell, with whom he founded the human rights organization called the Russell-Sartre Tribunal.

According to Bernard-Henri Lévy, Sartre”s theater is still striking for its lyrics, which contain disturbing prophecies about the crisis of capitalist and consumerist Western civilization, and for its power. He was also the author of novels and important essays. Sartre died in 1980 at the height of his success as a “committed” intellectual, when by then he had become an icon of the rebellious and nonconformist postwar youth, particularly of the Maoist fraction, of which he had become a leader along with Pierre Victor (a pseudonym for Benny Lévy), moving from militancy in the French Communist Party to an anarcho-communist position of independence, abandoning both Marxism-Leninism and its derivations. An estimated 50,000 people attended his funeral. He is buried in Montparnasse Cemetery in Paris.

Childhood and adolescence (1905-1923)

Jean-Paul-Charles-Aymard Sartre was born on June 21, 1905, in Paris; an only child from a bourgeois family: his uncle had graduated from the prestigious École polytechnique, his father was a military man from a Catholic family, and his mother Anne-Marie Schweitzer was descended from a family of Alsatian and Lutheran intellectuals and professors, the Schweitzers (she was a cousin of Albert Schweitzer, the famous Protestant missionary and activist).

His father Jean-Baptiste Sartre died of yellow fever when Jean-Paul was 15 months old. Embodying the father figure was his grandfather, Charles Schweitzer, a man with a strong personality, who imparted his first education before Jean-Paul, at the age of ten, began attending public school. From 1907 to 1917 little “Poulou,” as he was nicknamed at home, then lived with his mother at his maternal grandparents” house. These were ten happy years in which he was adored, pampered and rewarded every day, which contributed to a certain narcissism in him. In the large library of the Schweitzer home, he discovered literature at a very early age. He preferred reading to hanging out with other children. Throughout his life Sartre would always show traits of slight egocentrism and sometimes asociality, a fact that led to speculation that he had the neurological condition called Asperger”s syndrome (Sartre himself spoke of Gustave Flaubert describing him as an autistic person, and later wrote, in this regard, “Flaubert is me”).

From an early age he suffered from strabismus; moreover, when he was three years old, he almost completely lost the sight in his right eye, already weak from the congenital defect, due to a childhood illness. The childhood period was narrated by Sartre himself in his autobiography The Words.

In 1917 his mother remarried Joseph Mancy, an engineer in the Navy, whom Sartre, then 12 years old, would always hate. They moved to La Rochelle, where Sartre remained until he was 15: three years of suffering for him, who went from a happy family environment to contact with high schoolers who seemed violent and cruel. Because of his temper, physical appearance, and below-average height, Sartre indeed became a victim of his classmates, their pranks and verbal bullying.

Around the summer of 1920, ill, Jean-Paul Sartre was rushed to Paris. Concerned about the influence on her son of the bad behavior of high school students in La Rochelle, his mother decided to let him continue his studies in Paris, at the Lycée Henri IV, where he had studied before moving to La Rochelle. In Paris he found as a fellow student Paul Nizan, with whom he formed a solid friendship that lasted until Nizan”s death in 1940. After his baccalaureate, Sartre prepared for the entrance exam to the École Normale Supérieure, studying at the Lycée Louis-le-Grand.

The Early Years and the Resistance (1923-1945)

He studied at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris, where he graduated in 1929 with a degree in philosophy (but also studied psychology, especially Gestalt and the fundamentals of Freudian psychoanalysis), and then taught at high schools in Le Havre, Laon and finally Paris. It was there that he met the future feminist writer Simone de Beauvoir (the English word for beaver, beaver, also has an assonance with the surname Beauvoir) with whom he shared an intimate life, work and political commitment, although they would never live together permanently.

Having won a scholarship in 1933, he had the opportunity to specialize in Berlin, being able to come into direct contact with the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl and the ontology of Martin Heidegger, and reading Marx and Rousseau, among others.

Close to the French Communist Party, he was nonetheless drafted, and after the French capitulation on June 21, 1940, which occurred on the very day of his birthday, he was taken prisoner by the Germans in Lorraine with other soldiers and interned in a concentration camp for enemy soldiers in Trier; here, together with other intellectual prisoners of war, including two Catholic priests, he wrote and staged, for Christmas 1940, the opera Bariona or the Son of Thunder. He refused to enlist in the army of the Vichy government”s collaborationists, and in March 1941, thanks to a doctor”s reference to blindness in one eye, accompanied by a forged identity document in which he passed himself off as a civilian, he managed to be freed, effectively escaping from captivity and thus being able to participate in the French resistance in the Combat formation (the same one in which Albert Camus also militated). He also wrote for the newspaper of the same name, the organ of the formation, serving for a time, at the request of Camus (who was its editor-in-chief), as an envoy to the United States of America.

The Glory Years (1945-1956)

Following the Liberation, Sartre experienced enormous success and dominated the French literary scene for more than a decade. Promoting political-cultural engagement as an end in itself, the dissemination of his ideas took place especially through the magazine he founded in 1945, Les Temps Modernes. Sartre shared his “pen” there with, among others, Simone de Beauvoir, Merleau-Ponty and Raymond Aron.

In the long editorial of the first issue, he posited the principles of a responsibility of the intellectual in his time and of an engaged literature. For him, the writer is present “whatever he does, marked, compromised until his farthest retirement from activity The writer is ”in situation” in his age.” This Sartrian position will dominate all intellectual debates in the second half of the 20th century. The magazine is always regarded as the most prestigious among French magazines internationally.

Symbolic of this surreal glory and of the cultural hegemony of Saint-Germain-des-Prés over the world is his famous lecture in October 1945, where an immense crowd, amidst bickering and fainting, tries to enter the small hall that had been reserved. Sartre on that occasion presented a synthesis of his philosophy, existentialism, at this stage already modified by influences from Marxist thought, which would later be transcribed in the work Existentialism is a Humanism. Its publication, by the publisher Nagel, is done unbeknownst to Sartre, who judges the transcription ex abrupto, necessarily simplifying.Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Sartre”s residence on the rive gauche, thus becomes the Parisian quarter of existentialism, and at the same time a place of cultural and nightlife, in which people celebrate in the existential manner. Existentialism thus becomes a real fashion, more or less faithful to Sartrian ideas, and of which the author seems somewhat overtaken by the breadth the latter takes.

However, Sartre became the most admired intellectual of the time, and even wrote song lyrics (as for Juliette Gréco), entering the popular imagination of France and the world as the symbol of the committed intellectual.

Meanwhile, Sartre affirms his political commitment by clarifying his position, through his articles in Les Temps modernes: Sartre espouses, like many intellectuals of his time, the cause of the Marxist revolution, but, at least from 1956 onward, without thereby conceding his favors to the Communist Party, at the behest of a USSR that cannot satisfy the demand for freedom. Sartre and his friends therefore continue to seek a third way, that of the double rejection of capitalism and Stalinism.

In December 1946, the magazine takes a stand against the Indochina War. In 1947, Sartre in his articles attacks Gaullism and the RPF, which he regards as a fascist movement.

The following year, the advancing Cold War leads Les Temps modernes to fight U.S. imperialism while affirming a neutralist pacifism; it publishes with Maurice Merleau-Ponty a manifesto in favor of a socialist and neutral Europe.

It is then that Sartre decides to translate his thought into political expression, founding with an acquaintance a new political party, the Rassemblement Démocratique Révolutionnaire, which aspires to represent the “third force” alternative to the U.S.-USSR line-up. Despite the success of a few rallies, the RDR would never reach enough adherents to become a real party. Sensing a pro-American drift on the part of his co-leader, Sartre resigns in October 1949. At this point rapprochement with the Communists began to become an option for him.

Also in 1949, he became a member of an international committee, along with Pablo Picasso, Tristan Tzara, Pablo Neruda and Paul Robeson, to secure the release of the Turkish poet and communist Nazım Hikmet, imprisoned by his own country”s government, a goal achieved the following year. With Picasso himself, Simone de Beauvoir, Frida Kahlo and others, he addressed an appeal to the United States in 1953 for Mr. and Mrs. Rosenberg, sympathizers of the Communist Party of the United States of America, who were sentenced to death and later executed for alleged espionage on behalf of the USSR.

The Korean War, which broke out in June 1950, accelerated this development toward rapprochement with the French Communist Party (PCF). For Sartre, the war implies that everyone must now choose their own camp. Merleau Ponty, in disagreement, then leaves, after Raymond Aron, les Temps Modernes, of which he was an important member.

On May 28, 1952, the PCF organized a demonstration against General Ridgway”s visit, which ended in repression and bloodshed, with the death of two militants and the arrest of Jacques Duclos, secretary of the PCF. The event shocked Sartre so much that he will speak of it as a genuine “conversion”: he now begins to support the PCF body and soul. He writes the article Communists and Peace: here he makes it clear that the proletariat could not live without its party, the Communist Party, and that we must therefore assimilate the Communist Party to the proletariat. The PCF thus becomes the only party in whose favor one must strive.

The following years would be filled with political and philosophical activity for Sartre, alongside the Marxist and Maoist left, and then anarcho-communist.

The Algerian War and the commitment to human rights (1956-1960)

From 1956 to 1962, Sartre and his magazine waged a radical struggle on behalf of the Algerian anti-colonialist nationalist cause. In March 1956, when the communists voted in favor of full powers to Guy Mollet in Algeria, Sartre and his friends denounced the myth of a French Algeria by talking about the colonialist reality. So they committed themselves to independence, also expressing solidarity with the Front de Libération Nationale. Les temps modernes also had the testimony of Robert Bonneau, a recalled soldier, who recounted the barbaric methods adopted during the war in Algeria, such as torture, massacres and ethnic cleansing, appear in the spring of 1957.

He supported the complaint of Algerian Henri Alleg, a victim of torture:

In September 1960 he supported the manifesto of the right to non-submission (called the 121 manifesto) and declared his solidarity with the FLN”s calls for help. During the trial of Francis Jeanson, a Temps Modernes journalist accused of being an FLN “bag carrier,” he proclaims his absolute support for the accused. This statement causes a scandal, and despite protests from various organizations, Charles de Gaulle did not want persecution against Sartre. Already in 1957 he had supported, with Simone de Beauvoir, but also with the militant journalist Georges Arnaud and the lawyer Jacques Vergès, the cause of the Algerian activist (tortured by the military and later imprisoned in France) Djamila Bouhired, who avoided the death penalty for terrorism and was later amnestied. With Simone de Beauvoir and Louis Aragon he also supported another Algerian activist, Djamila Boupacha.

This commitment of his, no less, carries its own risks: in January 1962, the OAS, an extreme right-wing French nationalist group, carried out an attack by blowing up part of his residence, which Sartre had abandoned precisely for fear of reprisals.

During this period he also wrote the preface to Frantz Fanon”s famous text The Damned of the Earth (which has become the manifesto of Third Worldist anti-colonialism), in which he writes:

Health problems and later years (1960-1980)

In the 1960s his health deteriorates rapidly. Sartre is prematurely worn out from his constant literary and political hyperactivity, as well as from tobacco, alcohol, which he consumes in large quantities, and drugs that keep him fit and stimulants such as amphetamines and corydrane, a drug consisting of aspirin and amphetamines, in his youth also the hallucinogen mescaline (he later replaced corydrane with hashish and plain coffee, as the drug was dangerous to his ill health), and anti-anxiety drugs.

Meanwhile, on the theoretical level, the philosopher Sartre is concerned with producing the economic and social theory that will serve to reconcile socialism and freedom. He embarks on this enterprise, which will remain unfinished, with the publication of the first part of the Critique of Dialectical Reason in 1960.

After that, existentialism seems to lose steam: during the 1960s, Sartre”s influence on French literature and intellectual ideologies diminishes little by little, especially in confrontation with structuralists such as anthropologist Lévi-Strauss, philosopher Foucault or psychoanalyst Lacan. Structuralism is in some ways the opponent of existentialism: indeed in structuralism there is not much room for human freedom, each man being harnessed to the structures above him over which he has no hold. Sartre is elsewhere, he does not care to discuss this new current: he is entirely committed to a personal project, represented by the analysis of the 19th century and literary creation, and above all by the criticism of an author whose Parnassian style he never shared, Flaubert, but toward whom he nevertheless feels admiration and interest.

In the 1960s, he founded with the reform-minded socialist mathematician and philosopher Bertrand Russell the Russell-Sartre Tribunal, which was to symbolically adjudicate war crimes in Vietnam, and which would later also rule on the 1973 Chilean coup implemented against democratic socialist Salvador Allende and other human rights violations.

In 1964, a fact that would have great worldwide resonance, he refused the Nobel Prize because, in his view, “no man deserves to be enshrined alive.” Among the reasons for the Nobel was the literary value of his autobiography The Words. He had already refused the Legion of Honor in 1945, and again a professorship at the College of France. These honors, according to him, would have alienated his freedom, making the writer an institution. These gestures of his will remain famous as they can illuminate the spirit and state of mind of the intellectual, who declared, even though he was sympathetic to the Communist bloc (and stated that the Nobel was in his opinion, however, too pro-American an award), that he would also refuse the Lenin Peace Prize or another honor from the Communist world, should the USSR or other countries grant it to him. To escape the media siege on the occasion of the rejected Nobel, he took refuge in the country home of Simone de Beauvoir”s sister Hélène.

In 1968 he demonstrated at the French May, and was arrested for civil disobedience, and shortly thereafter let go; he avoided trial, however, obtaining an immediate presidential pardon from his main political opponent at the time, Charles de Gaulle, who stated, “You don”t imprison Voltaire,” with a comparison between Sartre and Voltaire, the leading intellectual of the Enlightenment.

In his later years he hired as his personal secretary the young Pierre Victor, also known as Benny Lévy, who assisted him during his last days, and adopted, as early as 1964, a young 29-year-old woman from a Jewish family, Arlette Elkaïm (later known as Arlette Elkaïm-Sartre), who had been for a very short time one of his mistresses, only to become his daughter instead. She received journalists in her apartment, among her many owned volumes (including many escapist novels, especially “detective” novels)

In 1974 he visited in Stammheim-Stuttgart Prison in West Germany the leader of the Rote Armee Fraktion (a German group dedicated to Marxist armed struggle, similar to the Italian Red Brigades and also known as the “Baader-Meinhof group), Andreas Baader, in prison for terrorism through a number of explosive attacks and self-financing robberies; Sartre met Baader during a collective hunger strike of “political” prisoners, and criticized the harsh conditions of imprisonment imposed on him (Baader would die mysteriously–like other members of the group–in prison in 1977, either by suicide or, according to others, possibly assassinated); although he later told German television that he disagreed with the ideas and practices of the RAF, the philosopher claimed that he visited for humanitarian reasons, and that Baader was being tortured, keeping him in inhumane isolation contrary to human rights conventions. He then unsuccessfully asked Baader to end the season of terrorism, as guerrilla warfare and violent acts might work against military dictatorships in South America, but not in Europe. He repeatedly expressed solidarity with the ”77 movement active in Italy, for example in the case of the so-called April 7 Trial.

In 1973 he had suffered a severe stroke, followed by a retinal hemorrhage in his left eye, the only completely healthy one. Although he retained peripheral vision, he was no longer able to read or write in the way he was accustomed to and was forced to dictate his writings or record them. In addition to these serious vision problems, which would lead to almost complete blindness in the late 1970s, he suffered from aging-related hearing loss and respiratory disorders; the stroke also left him with partial paralysis in his face and one arm, and difficulty walking. However, rejection, revolt, and intransigence are always seen in Sartre”s actions, despite the onset of this long period of physical decline. In the same year he participated in the founding of the newspaper Libération.

After a long physical decline, Sartre died of pulmonary edema in Paris on April 15, 1980 at 9 p.m. at Broussais Hospital where he had been admitted since March 20 due to respiratory problems, followed later by acute renal failure with uremia, gangrene and coma (on April 14). President Valery Giscard d”Estaing proposed a state funeral and immediate burial at the Pantheon (an honor accorded only-with the exceptions of heads of state who died in their functions and personalities of the French Revolution such as Marat and Mirabeau-to Victor Hugo in 1885), but the family refused, not deeming this in keeping with Sartre”s personality.

After a civic commemoration in the presence of a massive crowd, he was buried in Montparnasse Cemetery. Sartre was not buried at the Père-Lachaise cemetery, in the family tomb, by his explicit request; after a temporary burial, four days after the funeral the body was cremated at the special facility at Père-Lachaise itself, but the ashes were interred in the final tomb at Montparnasse, where his companion Simone de Beauvoir, who died in 1986, would also be buried; she described his last years with the philosopher in the book The Farewell Ceremony (it is already beautiful that our lives could have been in tune for so long.”

Sartre”s thought represents the pinnacle of twentieth-century existentialism and remains interesting for its effort to combine Marxism and communism with respect for humanistic-type freedom, individualism with collectivism and socialism, ideals often misunderstood with historical reality. Besides Husserl and Heidegger, Karl Marx exerts a strong influence on him, especially in the post-1950 phase:


During the last phase of his thought, Sartre confronted dialectical historicism and historical materialism. The latter is also shared by the French philosopher, albeit with very important “distinctions,” as Sartre advocates the pre-eminence of free will over determinism.

He would always remain very much influenced by the thought of Edmund Husserl, although he would later make use of it in an original way, for from his earliest studies he imprinted on it a strong psychologistic critique, which would later only be supplanted by a political one after 1946. An important source of inspiration for Sartre, was Heidegger”s philosophy of Being and Time and, albeit in its (often harsh) criticism and overcoming, Hegel”s thought. The first phase of Sartre”s thought is marked by the work Being and Nothingness, published in 1943, which remains the main work testifying to his atheistic existentialism. The main theme posed in it is every man”s fundamental freedom to realize himself as a god-man and the inescapability of always remaining a god-failure. What highlights failure is the anguish that grips man in experiencing his existence as a phony freedom based on nothingness:

In the last autobiographical pages of the volume The Words, Sartre describes the far from painless path that led him to atheism.

Early existentialism: Nausea and pessimism

In the early stage, Sartre is inspired by Heidegger, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Jaspers and Kierkegaard; narratively, the novelist Sartre is influenced by Louis-Ferdinand Céline. His conception tends toward pessimism.Nausea (1932~1938) is the most famous existentialist novel, along with Albert Camus”s The Stranger, and Sartre”s first published work, as well as the principal work of early Sartrean existentialism. Here life is seen as lacking necessary meaning, and there is also the estrangement of consciousness vis-à-vis nature, seen as brutality devoid of consciousness; a kind of dualism is proposed between what is conscious and what is unconscious: the “For Itself” (Pour Soi) is consciousness, which is “nothing” (“neant”), as it is lack: it is in fact pure possibility. It is directed, as intentional consciousness to “being in itself “(En soi). “Being,” as “being-in-itself” is static, monolithic and inert, and constitutes the reference of the intentionality of consciousness. This in its intentionality tends toward “being-in-itself,” without ever reaching it. Sartre laments that reality does not give meaning from itself, but that it is man”s consciousness that must give it meaning. There is no necessary being (i.e., “God”) who can give meaning from the outside to this existential condition.

At this time, the Sartrian vision remains pessimistic and nihilistic.In response to this pessimism, Sartre will conceive of “committed morality” (as the morality of the situation) in the later phase of existentialism, expressed in part already in Being and Nothingness, but especially in Existentialism is a Humanism.

Humanism and the Second Existentialism (1946)

In Existentialism is a Humanism, originally a lecture, Sartre introduces his existentialism and responds to criticisms made from many quarters. It constitutes an “extremely clear,” albeit simple (but not simplistic) introduction to existentialism. However, the excessive popularity of this text has led Sartre almost to disavow it philosophically, claiming that it can constitute no more than an introduction to his thought.

Sartre believed that the notion of the meaning of history dear to Hegel, marked by the concept of necessity, also present in Marx (but mitigated in him by the “philosophy of praxis”) had nothing necessary and ineluctable: it was therefore strongly rejected. According to Sartre, man”s freedom is such in his own becoming that no one can predict, even in broad strokes, what direction History will take tomorrow. This leads to the rejection of the uncritical optimism of various Marxists about “singing tomorrows” that may certainly never come, but also of pessimism.

Sartre states that “existence precedes essence” and “man is condemned to be free,” famous phrases from Existentialism is a humanism . Existence-the sensible form, which for Sartre is the practical result of the action of thought-is held to be superior to Essence (the reason why being is like that and not something else, such as the Platonic Idea), which is traditionally identified with Being (i.e., that it is), and which manifests itself instead in theoretical thought. For Sartre, therefore, it is existence, that is, the accomplished fact, that really matters; it is man and his activity that is most important, rather than abstract theoretical speculation, if it remains mere thought. Moreover, it is existence in the present, in action, that counts, not what one has been in the past.

If existence comes before essence, it is necessary to start from subjectivity. Man is compelled to invent man, and on him falls the total responsibility for existence; he must seek a purpose outside himself, only then will he be realized. This is in line with Being and Nothingness, in which Sartre had identified being (having completely ousted being (understood as “being-in-itself”), man is then at the center of everything, as in Renaissance humanism. Eventually, with adherence to Marxism, it will be the essence of matter that transcends everything within Sartrean philosophy.

During his wartime imprisonment (1940-1941) Sartre had read Martin Heidegger”s Being and Time, an ontological research conducted with the vision and method of the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl (who was Heidegger”s teacher). Heidegger”s work was actually prodromal to Being and Nothingness, whose subtitle reads “Phenomenological Essay on Ontology.”

Sartre”s essay is influenced by Heidegger, although the French author harbored deep skepticism about any form in which humanity could achieve some sort of personal state of fulfillment comparable to the Heideggerian hypothesis of re-encounter with Being. In his bleakest description in Being and Nothingness, man is a creature obsessed with a vision of “fulfillment,” which Sartre calls ens causa sui, and which religions make coincide with God. Having come into the world in the material reality of one”s own body, in a hopelessly material universe, one feels embedded in being (with a lowercase “e”). Consciousness is in a state of cohabitation with its material body, but it has no objective reality; it is nothing (in the etymological sense of nulla res, ”no thing”). Consciousness has the aptitude to conceptualize possibilities, and to make them appear, or to annihilate them.

Sartre criticizes any ethics based on objective principles, such as the Christian natural moral law or the Kantian categorical imperative. If in fact God does not exist, and Sartre, being an atheist denies his existence, (because if he existed, man would not be free), there can be no absolute norms. Both Christian morality and Kantian morality are thus equally criticized. In this regard, Sartre particularly takes the example of a young man who has to choose between taking care of his mother or joining the French Resistance in London. In both cases, the maxim of his action is not moral, since he must necessarily sacrifice an “end in itself” by reducing it to the degree of a “means”: abandoning his mother is the means to get to London, abandoning the fighters is instead the means to take care of his mother.

Sartre illustrates the “theory of cowards and scoundrels”: “Those who will hide their total freedom from themselves, in earnest or with determinist excuses, I will call them cowards; the others who will try to show that their existence is necessary, while it is the very contingency of man”s appearance on earth, I will call them scoundrels.”

Man is fully responsible for every choice he makes, although there are still causes for every negative or positive action, which must be identified and analyzed; human beings find their greatest fulfillment in social and political commitment to the betterment of their own and others” conditions.

For Sartre, “there is no more optimistic doctrine” than his new existentialism, which rejects pessimism and nihilism as it is “morality of action and commitment.” Human and anti-transcendent choice alone is itself subjective “good,” even when it does not lead to objective good. To this moral dilemma (moreover, if man is responsible for himself for his choices because he is not a puppet of Fate, but his choices are all right from his point of view, it becomes as if he is not responsible before others) he will respond by adhering to Marxism, but in the 1946 essay he writes:

In essence, from a personal perspective we always choose what we believe to be the good.

Necessity as a “good”

Existentialism thus takes the form of a subjectivist and, to a certain extent, relativist doctrine, even Sartre will later rationally choose to commit his subjectivity to the Marxist perspective and historical materialism, where it is necessity that utilistically justifies the choice.

After World War II, along with the conspicuous production of high-level dramatic works, Sartre”s attention turns to political action, but it can be said that in them existentialism and politics find their intellectual synthesis. By joining communism, Sartre put himself on the line for it and began a role as an engagé who would serve as a model for many leftist intellectuals between the 1950s and 1980s. The rest of his life is marked by an attempt to reconcile existentialist ideas with the principles of Marxism, convinced that socio-economic forces determine the course of human existence and that economic redemption for the working class can also become cultural. Like Elio Vittorini, by whom he would be interviewed for The Polytechnic, Sartre hoped for a culture that would not merely console from pain but would eliminate and fight it, a culture “capable of fighting against hunger and suffering.”

It is in this perspective that the project of the Critique of Dialectical Reason (to be published in 1960) was born, his adherence to Marxism beginning with The Communists and Peace (1951) and simultaneously his break with other intellectuals. The Critique, however, is by no means aligned with Soviet communist doctrine, but proposes a vision of society that leaves individuality wide spaces for freedom and affirmation, albeit from a perspective that also coexists with determinism. In the pursuit of the “dialectical unity of the subjective and the objective,” subjectivity is in fact dependent on socio-environmental objectivity as its “field of possibilities.”

Man”s conditional freedom is in relation to a broad undercurrent of necessity. The fundamental assumptions of Being and Nothingness are therefore in the Critique of Dialectical Reason scaled down and overcome with the theoretical assumption of Marxian historical materialism. It is indeed the realm of the “practical-inerte” (the essence of matter) that imposes itself, dominates, determines necessity and imposes it on man as well. Sartre thus comes to write:

Sartre accepts the thought of Marx, whose early thought he prefers, found particularly in the Economic-Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, and the Theses on Feuerbach (1845). In the latter short paper appears the “philosophy of praxis,” much appreciated by Sartre. However, the French philosopher does not accept much of Engels” dialectical materialism. In this regard, Sartre states, “the mode of production of material life generally dominates the development of social, political and intellectual life.” He also adds that “this dialectic may indeed exist, but it must be recognized that we do not have the slightest proof of it”; from determinism derives Engels” doctrine of dialectics, which is, according to Sartre, defined by classical Marxists “as a dogma” uncritically, whereby the Marxism of his era “no longer knows anything: its concepts are diktats; its aim is no longer to acquire cognitions, but to constitute itself a priori as absolute knowledge,” dissolved men “in a bath of sulfuric acid,” while existentialism was instead able “to be reborn and maintained because it affirmed the reality of men.”

Sartre then states that revolutionary periods are divided into three stages: 1) the genesis of the “merging group”; 2) the dominance of the “Fraternity-Terror,” which results in the “institutionalization of the leader”; and 3) the re-formation of state institutions. Before “uniting in inwardness” in the fusing group, individuals are “united in outwardness,” dispersed, fragmented, atomized, estranged in the “serial collectives,” and such they become again in the third phase, the post-revolutionary political restoration. With respect to the French Revolution, the fundamental model of every revolution, the three phases are: the storming of the Bastille, Robespierre”s Terror, and Thermidor. In the philosopher”s view, human history continuously varies from “series” to “group” and from “group” to “series.”

Sartre and communism

Sartre”s relationship with politics in the narrow sense, with communism and communist parties was similar to that of many other Cold War-era intellectuals, oscillating between adherence and estrangement, often because of problems arising from the dictatorial choices of communist regimes linked to the Soviet Union. They often sought anti-capitalist and third-worldist alternatives, becoming disillusioned with new non-Soviet experiences such as Maoism and Castroism, and eventually taking refuge in social democracy or libertarianism (in Sartre”s case anarcho-communism) in order to reconcile their humanist commitment with their opposition to capitalism and right-wingers. Often these intellectuals attempted a reform of communism from within, also supporting “moderate” dissidence in communist countries.

Beginning in 1952, Sartre engaged in a “marriage of reason” with the Soviets: in particular, he attended the National Peace Congress in Vienna in November 1952, organized by the USSR, and his presence gave the event unhoped-for consideration. Sartre even went so far as to self-censor himself by having the revival of his play The Dirty Hands, which the Communists considered to be anti-Bolshevik in that it alluded to the assassination of Lev Trockij, and which was scheduled to be staged at that time in Vienna. Sartre would remain a member of the PCF for four years. This alignment of Sartre with the communists separates Sartre himself and Albert Camus (who embraces anarchism instead of Marxism), who were previously very close. For Camus, Marxist ideology should not take precedence over Stalinist crimes, whereas for Sartre these facts should not be used as a pretext for abandoning revolutionary commitment. Indeed, as early as 1950, Sartre and Merleau-Ponty publicly denounced the gulag system.

In 1954, upon returning from a trip to the USSR, Sartre instead gave the leftist newspaper Libération a series of six articles illustrating the glory of the USSR. Again in 1955 he wrote a play (the Nekrassov) that flogged the anti-communist press. After the Khrushchev report, Sartre began to have doubts about the USSR, and stated that he found “the existence of Soviet concentration camps inadmissible, but I find the daily use of them by the bourgeois press equally inadmissible…. Khrushchev denounced Stalin without providing sufficient explanation, without availing himself of historical analysis, without prudence,” refusing to condemn the Soviet experience in toto because it was considered a passing phase that had, at the very least, an ideal goal yet to be achieved. However, in an article on torture in the Algerian War, commenting on Henri Alleg”s essay, he will express his clear condemnation of the most deteriorating Stalinist practices, such as the gulags, persecution of dissidents and censorship, uncomfortable legacies of tsarism.

Sartre reflected on the disagreement he had with Merleau-Ponty over the USSR:

and then arguing that there was a capital difference between Soviet crimes and bourgeois crimes, even though the former seemed odious in a regime created to avoid the latter, Soviet crimes were faults of the historical moment, while bourgeois crimes would be perpetuated forever in the capitalist system, so the camps “”Are their colonies. To which Merleau replies, ”So our colonies, mutatis mutandis, are our labor camps.””

In the short essay The Ghost of Stalin. From the Khrushchev Report to the Hungarian Tragedy, which nonetheless marks the beginning of the break from the French Communists, he adds that Stalinism had not deviated too far from socialism and that

In the future he would move further away from real socialism and disavow these positions like so many, driven by contingent events. His association with the PCF and active support for the USSR had already ended in the aftermath of the events of the fall of 1956, when Soviet tanks smothered the Hungarian revolution. The uprising made many communists reflect that there was a proletariat outside the Communist Party with demands not only unrepresented or misrecognized, but even denied and opposed. Sartre, after signing a petition from left-wing intellectuals and communist protesters, granted a lengthy interview to the weekly l”Express (a Mendésist newspaper) on November 9 to blatantly disassociate himself from the party. In 1956 Sartre decided on a change of strategy but did not change his views: socialist, anti-bourgeois, anti-American, anti-capitalist, and above all anti-imperialist; the struggle of the committed intellectual continued and took a new shape following the events of the Algerian War.

In 1968 he attacked Brezhnev and supported Alexander Dubček”s Prague Spring, which was crushed again by the Soviets. In 1977 Sartre attended a rally of Soviet dissidents in Paris.

Regarding progress he said that:

In the 1950s, in the Paris of Third Worldist circles, Sartre also met a young Cambodian named Saloth Sar, with whom he shared militancy in the French Communist Party, who would later become known in the news many years later under the battle name of Pol Pot, leader of the Khmer Rouge guerrillas and fierce president of Democratic Kampuchea from 1975 to 1979.

Sartre was also accused, by conservative and anti-communist area commentators, including Paul Johnson, Francesco Alberoni and Vittorio Messori, of having indirectly influenced the ideology of the aforementioned Khmer Rouge, through former student Pol Pot who took it to extremes by fusing it with an exaggerated totalitarian nationalism, with repeated violations of human rights as had already been seen with Stalin and the degeneration of Soviet communism, although according to most commentators the action of the Communist Party of Kampuchea (also funded and supported by the West as anti-Soviet) is obviously not to be blamed on Sartrian ideology and philosophy.

He, however, never knew anything about the Cambodian dictatorship and genocide (which, moreover, was little known in the West before 1980), having died when the scanty news began to filter through; he was criticized for not having publicly condemned, in his last year of life (in which he had in any case retired from public life due to serious health problems), Pol Pot and the other Khmer Rouge, which, by the way, was shared by most Western left-wing media and intellectuals (including Noam Chomsky), the public being focused on Vietnam and unaware, except for a few witnesses, of the Cambodian reality seen instead benevolently. (Only in the 1980s would Pol Pot”s regime be fully understood in its horror and universally condemned.) For looking sympathetically at Stalin”s Soviet Union (at least before destalinization and Nikita Khrushchev”s denunciation of the Bolshevik leader”s crimes), at Mao Zedong”s revolution-for a long time Sartre will support Maoism, in the hope that it could be a non-bureaucratic and popular communism, a hope that would go unfulfilled-and because of his later broken friendship with Fidel Castro, Sartre was accused of supporting dictatorships, in deference to ideology. These were the times of his militancy among the youth of the Gauche prolétarienne.

An active supporter of the Cuban revolution since 1960, a friend of Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, he later broke with the Líder Máximo in 1971 because of the so-called Padilla affaire; Sartre signed with de Beauvoir, Alberto Moravia, Mario Vargas Llosa, Federico Fellini and other intellectuals (with the exception of Gabriel García Márquez) a letter criticizing the Cuban government for arresting and then forcing a public self-criticism of the poet Heberto Padilla, accused of writing against the Revolution and Castrism. For Sartre, this act was an abuse of power and an attack on freedom of expression, not a defense against counterrevolutionaries. He would later say of Fidel Castro, “Il m”a plu, c”est assez rare, il m”a beaucoup plu” (”I liked him, which is rather rare, I liked him very much”). Discussed is the reciprocal influence between Guevara”s political doctrine and the Marxist-existentialist doctrine of Sartre and the Sartrians, though certainly both emphasized the humanist question (for Marx being part of the superstructure, thus “superfluous,” or derived from the structure, but secondary) more than the economic one.

Although he esteemed Mao Tse-tung and Lenin, Sartre would later distance himself from the regimes that grew out of their revolutions, and some criticisms of the realization of real socialism were uttered by him; according to the philosopher, history was proceeding toward progress, and mistakes could not stop it. Like capitalism, socialism made serious mistakes, but according to him it would improve with time and lead to the betterment of society, while capitalism would lead the world to collapse:

He failed, however, to break away from a utopian vision of the Cultural Revolution until after 1975, relegating the violence of the Red Guards to a spontaneous degeneration, not attributable to Mao, but foresaw the bureaucratic Denghist involution of China:

Adherence to anarcho-communism

Sartre strongly supported Salvador Allende”s democratic socialist government in Chile. He was at the forefront in denouncing the 1973 Chilean coup; in 1978 he signed with other names in culture (Paco Ibáñez, Georges Moustaki, Yves Montand, Roland Barthes and Louis Aragon) a petition for a boycott of the World Cup in Argentina in protest of the crimes of Jorge Rafael Videla”s military junta.

Following events such as the persecution of homosexuals in Cuba, in the last years of his life Sartre broke away from statist communism and moved closer to anarchist communism (the anarchist ideal, though in a more individualistic sense, had attracted him even as a young man, initially leading him to criticize Lenin). Sartre did not disavow Marx, but placed him alongside thinkers of this current, such as Bakunin and Proudhon: the failures of real socialism had now taught that the “popular” state was a utopia; he did not disavow the premises but the political realization.

Still on the subject of anarchism, in 1978 he denounced the anarcho-insurrectionist Alfredo Maria Bonanno for libel for circulating a false “political testament of Sartre,” in which he incited violent attacks on society through attacks and insurrections, an idea with which Sartre did not want to be associated. It can be said that, like many 20th century intellectuals (a path from the left similar to that of Noam Chomsky), he hoped to reconcile freedom with realized communism, but was disappointed. In fact, it is mainly in praxis — and not in theory — that Sartrian existentialist thought meets historical materialism, remaining instead an individualist thought at the speculative level, but as he is an authentic “thinker of modernity,” the real is somehow rational and must Hegelianly be rationalized.

Other stances

Among other criticisms made of Sartre was that he did not oppose the death penalty for serious political crimes in the Soviet bloc countries (although in 1950 he had been among the intellectuals who had requested a pardon for the Czechoslovak dissident jurist Milada Horáková, along with Einstein, Churchill, Eleanor Roosevelt and other French existentialists), as an “extreme sanction” for counterrevolutionary elements, to be used in case-limits and only to “save the revolution” or in times of war; he, moreover, considered it unjust for common crimes and was against its use, but he always refrained from explicit abolitionist campaigns, unlike Camus, which was not forgiven by his detractors, who accused him of ambiguity. Sartre sometimes wrote about the subject (in the works Behind Closed Doors and Dead Without a Grave his opposition on humanitarian grounds is evident) and then expressed, referring to a case in which it was necessary, giving the specific example of the torturers of the Batista regime who were executed in 1960 by the popular courts in Castro”s Cuba, his own internal conflicting unease between necessity and ideal: “I am so opposed to the death penalty that it creates problems for me.”

Sartre and de Beauvoir will also speak out against the Islamic fundamentalism of the Iranian revolution (1979), despite being opposed to the Shah”s previous pro-American regime against which they signed appeals (along with Amnesty International and the Red Cross), and having previously visited Ayatollah Khomeini in his exile in Paris; notably Simone de Beauvoir would organize demonstrations against the imposition of the chador on Iranian women, and both would politically support Iran”s communist party, the Tudeh (in exile in the West).

Another charge was that he partly justified the use of terrorism as a last political weapon against enemy military forces, a “terrible weapon, but the oppressed poor have no other,” he said referring to the terrorism of Palestinians in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Essentially, Sartre always tried to pose as a mediator between the parties and called the establishment of the State of Israel positive, “which allows us to preserve hope.” Indeed, he repeatedly argued that the left should not choose between two causes that were both moral and that it was solely up to the Jews and the Arabs to resolve their conflict through discussion and negotiation. He tried to create a dialogue, putting his name and intellectual prestige on the line in promoting private and public meetings between representatives of the two sides, such as the 1970 Israeli-Palestinian Committee. His efforts proved fruitless, however, especially in the face of the sharp increase in Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories since 1977 and the consequent escalation of the conflict.

Sartre was accused of advocating and wanting to spread a libertine and scandalous ethic. Life and radical thought merged together: he never lived permanently with Simone de Beauvoir (although he would have liked to marry her at one point) and they would have contemporary relationships and even ménage à trois (something that would give rise to the 1968 and revolutionary myth of the open Sartre-de Beauvoir couple) between Jean-Paul, Simone and occasional female lovers of de Beauvoir, who was openly bisexual. “Ours is a necessary love, it is convenient for us to know even contingent loves,” he stated about his relationship with the writer. He strenuously defended her even when she was banned from teaching for a lesbian affair with a still underage 17-year-old student in 1940. At certain times in his life, Sartre described himself-he claimed, critically, to be so toward the end of his life-as excessively attracted to sex.

In 1947 Jean Kanapa, a byline of the French Communist Party”s newspaper (with which the philosopher would later attempt conciliation), l”Humanité, attacked Sartre in an essay titled Existentialism is not a humanism, which stated that “the social meaning of existentialism is the present necessity for the exploiting class to numb its opponents” and that Jean-Paul Sartre was a “pederast corrupting youth.” Even in the publications of the Italian Communist Party, Sartre was challenged (except to backtrack in the following decade) in the early 1950s, accused of being a “degenerate” and of “taking pleasure in pederasty and onanism.”

In an editorial article published in No. 12 of the journal Tout, Sartre wrote in 1969, “As for the family, it will disappear (…) only when we have begun to get rid of the taboo of incest (freedom must be paid at this price.

Between 1977 and 1979, on the other hand, at a time when the reform of the Penal Code was being debated in the French Parliament, many French intellectuals argued for the abolition of the Age of Consent Act; in 1977, many philosophers and thinkers, including Jean-Paul Sartre himself, Simone de Beauvoir, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Françoise Dolto, Louis Althusser, Serge Quadruppani, André Glucksmann, Louis Aragon, Gilles Deleuze, Philippe Sollers, and Roland Barthes, signed several petitions addressed to the Parliament calling for the repeal of several articles of law and the decriminalization of any consensual relationship between adults and minors under the age of fifteen (the age of consent in France) if the minor was considered capable of giving consent, in the so-called Pétitions françaises contre la majorité sexuelle.

These accusations of immorality levelled against Sartre return periodically, even after the philosopher”s death.

The existentialist man

In Sartre”s existentialism, the same paradox of Heidegger and Jaspers is realized: the transformation of the concept of possibility into impossibility. According to Sartre, man is defined as “the being who plans to be God” (in “Being and Nothingness”), but this activity results in a checkmate: what for Heidegger and Jaspers is nullified by factual reality, in Sartre is nullified by the multiplicity of choices and the impossibility of discriminating their groundedness and validity.Among the philosophical cornerstones of this existentialism are various concepts:

Commitment is not a way of making oneself indispensable, and it does not matter who the committed person is; it is interchangeable, therefore:

Man does not live except in relation to the other (although a certain elitism and misanthropy are present at times in Sartre), and the Sartrian “I” is no longer subjective but objective, in that it is referred to every man in a universal key, and, in short, we are like a room with a window that faces the outside world, and it is up to us, and us alone, to decide to open it.

Existentialism, then, according to Sartre himself, is meant to be a philosophy of responsibility: man has no excuse when faced with choice; his characteristic is free will. In short, no one can justify himself, and invoke the necessity of a particular position, perhaps masquerading behind various forms of determinisms (God”s will, or historical laws

Thought (already action in itself) must be followed by practical action, not power but only act counts, thus rejecting quietism, here understood as renunciatory pessimism (Sartre does not in fact mean quietism in the theological sense, but in this particular sense):

The last Sartre: hope, brotherhood and “godlessness”

Controversial is Sartre”s relationship with religion: Sartre is an atheist, but he is an atheist because “Sartre”s God” is an “absent God,” whom man is forced to replace, having no possibility of the alternative of faith, which would cause reason to be abandoned:

In 1980, a few months before his death, Sartre was interviewed by secretary Pierre Victor, also known by his real name, Benny Lévy. The content of the interviews, centered on the themes of hope, freedom and power, published by Le Nouvel Observateur, baffled readers accustomed to his atheistic existentialism, but the philosopher confirmed the authenticity of the texts (however, made public only after his death in their entirety), in which one reads, among other things, a sort of “deist” conversion but also an endorsement of Judaism, which was more of an idea of Lévy, who was Jewish by family, unlike Sartre, who was born into a Catholic and Protestant family and whose conversions to Judaism do not result, to the point of raising suspicions of a manipulation or misrepresentation of Sartre”s words by the converted Lévy; However, Sartre was always interested in Judaism, especially with regard to the question of anti-Semitism, deeply appreciating the role of secular Jews and delving into the relationship between Messianism and the idea of permanent revolution in Steven Schwarzschild (German-American rabbi and philosopher, exponent of Holocaust theology, pacifist Jewish socialism, Noachism, and critic of Zionism). Sartre affirmed, among other things, on his personal idea of the “problem of God” (always referring to the obsession of man as a “failed God” and the absence and silence of the God of tradition from the modern human horizon and its experience):

This quote was seen as a profession of faith, although it was probably just an observation of the human state of mind, of men educated in religion, but falling into nihilism once they see the vanity of it and the current lack of new values, linked to the youthful thinking of uncomfortable and suffered atheism, which prevent them from reading this as a “religious conversion.”

On the other hand, some inconsistencies emerge, suggesting instrumentalization and forcing in a theistic direction by the philosopher”s secretary:

Sartre would also reject the urging of his closest friends not to manifest such ideas, including that of his partner, Simone de Beauvoir, who in 1982 commented in “National Review” about Lévy”s posthumous interviews, “How could one explain this senile act of a turncoat? All my friends, all ”le Sartreans,” and the editorial staff of Les Temps Modernes supported me in my consternation.”

For some Sartre scholars, this is an enigma that has yet to be satisfactorily explained, although a certain tension toward the Absolute and toward religious topics, in a sentimental sense and in a manner that is not rational except of transformation of the Christian Weltanschauung of his Catholic-Protestant upbringing into a secular existentialist vision, can be found in much of his work, the best known example being Bariona or the Son of Thunder (taking up Feuerbach and Nietzsche, he then states that “God existed as a human creation,” ergo he did not really exist but was useful on a practical level in certain human moments; he will later say:

Critics also observe an analogy with other stories of alleged conversions, often falsified, such as Voltaire, Camus, Gramsci, Leopardi and others. Lawyer and feminist activist Gisèle Halimi, a friend of the philosopher since 1957, returned in 2005 to Lévy”s published remarks, stating, “This interview is unquestionably a forgery Sartre was no longer in possession of his full mental faculties,” referring to the peremptoriness of the disputed sentence, which was completely denied, and the documented loss of lucidity that afflicted Sartre in the last month of his life.

In his work, faith is seen as a passion, not a rational construction; but this passion is not gratuitous, as it is paid for with anguish, “checkmate,” silence and emptiness, with the “absence of God,” proclaimed by Nietzsche and reiterated in 1974 by Sartre, in an interview with Simone de Beauvoir. It is harmful, since, in pursuit of it, the subject renounces his own essential capacity, namely the construction of morality and engagement in history. Despite this, man cannot help but assume for himself the point of view of God, to think “as if God existed,” because the nature of the God believed is the same nature of man, specified by the contingency and penury of the failed project. Sartre”s problem is not so much eschatological, soteriological, and transcendent (problems that occupy him little, agnostically), but immanent: Sartre wants a morality to follow, a replacement human ideal, to take the place of the fallen and unacceptable God, in a world that is now atheistic because it is materialistic (and could not be otherwise).

In some of these speeches, he seemed to completely disavow the practical validity of Marxism-Leninism (as he had already done a few years earlier, approaching anarcho-communism and a more libertarian Marxism, but in a now sharper way), also rejecting part of existentialist thought, his own and de Beauvoir”s, as well as criticizing the political use of violence, previously considered permissible in extreme and particular cases, where it was the only option left; he also reiterated his distrust of “bourgeois democracy,” where voting is turned into a mere “mass ritual,” in which he sees insurmountable limits.

Sartre also makes some self-criticism, as well as on issues of revolutionary violence, judging his adherence to Maoism as a form of critique of Stalinism as questionable, reiterating his basic anarchist choice and making it clear that his sympathy for China was due to some “popular” aspects of the Great Cultural Revolution (which he never saw in person), which he had already begun to disavow by 1973, when egalitarianism turned out to be demagogy and lack of freedom.

He will also say himself, in the 1970s, fascinated by the actions of radical Italian nonviolent leader Marco Pannella, who belonged to the liberal left and was an avowed anti-Soviet.

At this stage, he also argues that human life always results in failure but that this has never led him to despair, reiterating that his philosophy stems from a need stemming from his philosophical roots, Hegel and Christianity with no more faith. In the end, Sartre appeals to humanity to rediscover brotherhood, as in one family, overcoming class struggle and confrontation

Ronald Aronson commented that the interviews should not be taken out of a certain context and are not attributable to late conversions or speeches of a mind damaged by illness (although depression over his inability to write in his own hand may have been an influence, as well as the political disappointments he suffered from the big ideas in which he had placed his trust), but on the contrary represent an evolution of classic Sartrian thought, which has always been in “becoming,” in its own consistent way, always trying to avoid failure, the supreme drama for human beings:

John Gerassi argues that Sartre knew what he was saying and that his goal was to “create a scandal,” considering that recorded conversations with Simone de Beauvoir during the same period are of a different tone instead.

Sartre has often been blamed for a certain intellectualism that is hardly reconcilable with his socio-political, Marxist and pro-mass culture convictions. His main philosophical essay, Being and Nothingness, appears at times to be played on a theorization of consciousness that too closely resembles the learned metaphysics he would like to combat.

In addition to criticisms of the communist and Marxist political outlook, he received those of disengaged existentialists, such as Eugène Ionesco and Emil Cioran; the latter, in Summary of Decomposition, draws a caustic and anonymous portrait of him: “impresario of ideas,” a “thinker without destiny,” in whom “everything is remarkable except authenticity,” “infinitely vacuous and wonderfully broad,” but precisely for this reason capable, with a work that “degrades nothingness” like a commodity, of satisfying “boulevard nihilism and the bitterness of the faceless.”

Among the purely philosophical criticisms is that of the other great theorist of existentialism, Martin Heidegger, who accuses it of dwelling on merely “existential” issues, instead of turning to a truly existential view, that is, one that deals with the relationship of being (i.e., Essence) to Being. With his work Being and Time, the German thinker, often accused of compromising with Nazism, claims instead to have charted the movement”s true points of reference. For Heidegger, Being and Essence are two different things, and both hierarchically precede Existence.

Heidegger responds to Sartre on the role of the intellectual and criticizing humanism: “Thought is not only engagement dans l”action for and through being, in the sense of the real of the present situation. Thought is engagement for and through the truth of being what matters is being, not man.”

Being and Nothingness was also attacked by nonexistentialist Marxists and Catholics. Catholics saw in it an atheistic and materialistic philosophy, while Marxists accused it of idealism, individualism and pessimism. In the essay Existentialism is a Humanism, Sartre defended himself by rejecting these interpretations, arguing that he proposed a philosophy of the free man with relationships and responsibilities toward other human beings.

Sartre was also attacked by Louis-Ferdinand Céline in the pamphlet À l”agité du bocal, a response to Sartre”s text Portrait of the Anti-Semite, in which the thinker attacked anti-Semitism and criticized the writer of Journey to the End of the Night (a book that Sartre had greatly admired upon its release in 1932) of ending up writing anti-Semitic pamphlets for economic reasons.


Sartre appeared as an actor as himself in three plays:

Articles in The Journal of Philosophy


  1. Jean-Paul Sartre
  2. Jean-Paul Sartre