Sartre’s anarchist philosophy »IAI TV
Every philosopher must run the glove of time. Philosophical ideas fall for and against, but the litmus test is whether we continue to debate a philosopher’s ideas long after he has left the scene. The anniversary of the birth of Jean-Paul Sartre, almost forty years after his death, is a good time to look back on the legacy of a philosopher whose work helped define an era, and whose ideas continue. to resonate with today’s political climate. Professor Richard Falk places Sartre alongside Noam Chomsky and Edward Said as one of the few figures worthy of the title of “public intellectual”. Yet towards the end of his life, even as Sartre turned more towards political engagement, he lamented that his policies were not radical enough; perhaps this is why Sartre’s political philosophy is so strongly contested.
Since the publication of Critique of dialectical reason in 1960, academics broadly interpreted Sartre’s political philosophy as “existential Marxism”: a critical appropriation of Marxism. Sartre encouraged this reception by often professing his affinity with Marxism, even claiming that existentialism was a parasite of Marxism, a point he later retracted. But commentators who emphasize Marx’s influence overlook any signs of Sartre’s skepticism. Far from being a supporter of the French Communist Party, he immediately rejects the dogmatic Marxism of the dialectical materialism which underlies his ideology.
“If you read my books, you will realize that I have not changed profoundly, and that I have always remained an anarchist.”
While Marx’s influence is overestimated, the role of anarchism deserves far more airtime than it currently gets. Sartre said it himself: “if you read my books, you will realize that I have not changed profoundly, and that I have always remained an anarchist”. Sartre’s anarchist endeavors not only underscore his political positions, from his earliest writings through the postwar period, but they also provide a much more radical basis for his ideas.
The clearest anarchist element in Sartre’s political thought is the pursuit of a society free from authoritarianism. In the early 1950s, Sartre began to sketch his vision of an ideal society, brought about by the overthrow of existing systems of oppression by revolutionary activity. In the Criticism, Sartre argues that the authority-oppression paradigm is made possible by institutionalization, where groups become conditioned to avoid individual freedom, embracing serialities and their concomitant social powerlessness. Individual freedom is immobilized by this process but not overcome; the potential for reform as a merging group and orientation of their praxis towards an ideal survives.
Sartre’s anarchist contemporaries condemn institutions based on coercion and authoritarianism. State and centralized authority came under their scrutiny, with many believing that the state was illegitimate, had no right to exist, and its abolition would eliminate many social evils. The same concerns are found today in the activities of the Occupy movement, the Invisible Committee and Tarnac 9, all of which are known as insurrectional anarchism. Sartre’s account of group formation demonstrates that not only did he share such concerns about coercion and authority, but he fought forcefully against the oppression of institutionalized authority long before the anarchists. contemporaries do not take the cause. Sartre’s revolutionary solution also involved the eradication of the existing order.
Yet it is the degree of coercion that interests Sartre the most. The philosopher’s criticism of the state was that it attempted to convert human beings into automatons, extending the machine metaphor to associate institutionalized bureaucracy with bad analytical reason. According to him, the practico-inert surrounds and conditions human existence through its visible and invisible devices, representing a servitude to mechanical forces designed to crush individual freedom.
“I have always been in agreement with the anarchists, who are the only ones to have conceived a whole man to be developed by social action and whose main characteristic is freedom”.
Instead of a state, anarchism advocates peaceful coexistence based on social freedom and our capacity for mutual aid, cooperation, respect and community relations. Sartre agreed, arguing that only individuals are sovereign, but that humans are united to each other and to the world around them through their interactions, especially in the workspace. According to Sartre, work is an essential attitude of human reality, founded on a need to collaborate with others on the basis of an agreed mutual dependence. As he pointed out, “I have always agreed with the anarchists, who are the only ones to have conceived a whole man to be developed through social action and whose main characteristic is freedom”. If the individual is primordial, dependence gives rise to being-outside-oneself essential to the Sartrean conception of selfhood.
Sartre conceived of the relationship between humans and elements of the social sphere as an “interest”. Interest is a univocal relationship of interiority which ensures the connection of man to his environment. On the other hand, subjectivity is derided like an abstraction: a verdict obliging everyone to voluntarily carry out the orders pronounced by the company. For Sartre, interest is not our subjective, inner decisions about our existence; it is rather the discovery of our being-outside-oneself. There are no innate ideas or fixed essences, no âwheels in the headâ that direct our actions, as Max Stirner suggested. Instead, we are at all times determined by others.
The last element of anarchist thought that I think finds an echo in Sartre’s political philosophy is the immediate and practical proposal for change: a socio-political theory that embraces, among other things, a notion of praxis. The indications of this praxis are adopted by anarchists today, including the decentralization of political and economic authority, worker self-management and freedom of speech. Several themes recur regularly in Sartre’s work, and the theory of praxis must be among the most widespread.
One of the fundamental aspects of Criticism It is Sartre’s desire to expose the deep dialectical relationship that unites praxis with the outside world. And in reviewing Sartre’s previous work, we see that the intention of the revolution is not just to change the world, but to recreate our collective situation. To accomplish this task, praxis becomes indispensable, since praxis not only constitutes individual authenticity, it also eradicates the impotence of the practico-inert.
But what does Sartre mean by praxis? Although the concept is somewhat nebulous, it should be understood as the historical set determining our power at any given time because it conditions our attitude towards a whole plethora of dichotomies, such as the possible and the impossible. This happens because praxis prescribes the limits of our actions as well as our possibilities for the future. For Sartre, the collectivity is faced with the choice of submitting to the course of the world or of helping to shape it. The force separating these paths is action. The action obliges the individual to contextualize the event in a future possessed by all.
After exploring all of these common traits, one thing is certain; Sartre’s political philosophy extends far beyond Marxism. Intrinsically linked to anarchist thought, Sartre believes that only bureaucratization, decentralization, and democratization, where the dominant forces relinquish their grip on the social structure, can overcome the hegemonic, hierarchical and oppressive nature of contemporary society.