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'Sartre was always wrong' – or was he?

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With the one hundredth anniversary of the birth of Jean-Paul Sartre, reactions to his writings, to his personality, to his relationship towards communism and to socialist thought warrant particular scrutiny and are the object of this article. A striking feature of these reactions is that they all view Sartre as an intellectual who lost his way. Even those critics who, like Bernard-Henri Lévy, attempt to salvage something from his æuvre end up making a sharp distinction between Sartre the 'rebel' and Sartre the 'totalitarian'. But rereading the full range of Sartre's work from the Cold War period, as well as his philosophical writings, suggests another view, one which goes beyond the rather simplistic notion of égarement [aberration] and suggests instead a number of constant themes in his thinking. First is his hatred of the bourgeois milieu in which he grew up. Another is his deeply felt sympathy for the exploited peoples of the Third World as well as for the working class in the developed world. He chose to side with the victims of capitalism even though these included people with whom he would not normally have felt much affinity. Faced with the historic failures of the socialist world, Sartre desperately sought another kind of socialism. It is this quest that people continue to hold against him. This article focuses on his quest and on the arguments put forward by those who oppose him.


Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.3167/147335306780579606

Publication date: March 1, 2006

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