The Prospects for Individuation Reconsidered
Marxism came of age in a philosophical atmosphere dominated by evolutionary positivism. To be sure, the prevalent strains within the Marxian philosophy were occasionally opposed by recourse to neo-Kantianism (Bernstein) and, after World War I, neo-Hegelianism (Lukács). More rarely, so-called "irrationalist" tendencies figured tangentially in Marxian discourse—for example, in Gramsci's appreciation of Bergson and Sorel. Yet neither a refurbished rationalism nor an historicized evolutionary positivism proved capable of unraveling the complex of theoretical problems surrounding the presentation of subjectivity, human practice, and historical necessity in Marxism . On the one hand, the orthodox Marxists contradicted Marx's own insistence on the centrality of class struggle, and his own comprehension of purposive labor, by reducing consciousness to a reflection of external conditions. On the other hand, an optimistic assessment of man's inherent responsiveness to enlightened interest no longer provided any convincing guarantee that historical truth might triumph, especially with the shadow of fascism falling across Europe. When they were discussed at all by Marxists, the issues of subjectivity and historical necessity too often remained confused, or the object of merely suggestive marginalia.
The philosophies of existence which had grown up in the meantime offered a different perspective on these issues, one rarely explored in prewar Marxist discussions. Contemporaneously with Marx, Kirkegaard had argued, against Hegel, for the insurmountability of the suffering human subject; when dialectical thought lost this anchor, it lost its authentic opening onto religion and ethics, areas which Hegel had treated from the lofty standpoint of Absolute
Knowledge. Later in the nineteenth century, Nietzsche had dissected human dependence, self-deception, and the solace of unfreedom, arguing against purely external, deterministic theories of bondage. Both Kierkegaard and Nietzsche interpreted human life as a perpetual process, falsified when conceptually hypostatized, whether through necessary categories of reason, or a positivist determinism, both mythical guarantors of a counterfeit certainty. At the turn of the century, Wilhelm Dilthey took a parallel route, arguing that the special character of cultural meaning, and its foundation in "the enigma of life," dictated an interpretive logic peculiar to the "human sciences," such as history and philosophy.
Contemporary social theorists shared a similar range of concerns. Democrats were alarmed at the emergence of the modern party as an hierarchical institution, confounding earlier hopes for enlightened emancipation through increased participation in politics; conservatives were similarly alarmed by the rise of the masses, and suggested that the rational pursuit of interest disappeared in an emotional contagion whenever groups of men acted in a revolutionary situation. Bureaucratic strangulation, passions unhinged from reason, blind submission to authority, the suffocation of creative innovation —such were some of the themes explored by thinkers like Max Weber, Robert Michels, Georg Simmel, Gustave LeBon, and Sigmund Freud. Although not all of them were equally concerned about the implications of their insights for Marxism , most of them had something to contribute to the debate over the role of human agency in history and the outlook for individuation. The implications were not reassuring.
The best of twentieth-century Marxist thought attempted to confront these implications. The ambiguous—and frequently barbaric—chronicle of socialism in this century in itself has warranted a radical rethinking of the entire Marxian project, while the challenge mounted by philosophers as diverse as Nietzsche, Husserl, and Heidegger sooner or later had to enter into the discussion, if only to be criticized rather than merely ignored.
Although several nineteenth-century thinkers had questioned the rationalism and idealism of the Enlightenment, none had quite the
impact of Friedrich Nietzsche. As Max Weber put it after World War I, "One can measure the honesty of a contemporary scholar, and above all, of a contemporary philosopher, in his posture toward Nietzsche and Marx."
In the present context, Nietzsche's thought assumes a special significance, since his starting point is the reflective individual. With Nietzsche, subjectivity claimed not just an epistemological priority—"the subject alone is demonstrable"—but also the dignity of a duty: "We, however, want to become those we are —human beings who are new, unique, incomparable, who give themselves laws, who create themselves." On the other hand, Nietzsche, like Marx, acknowledged individuation to be an historical result, calling the "sovereign individual" the "ripest fruit" of "this tremendous process." This meant, as Nietzsche admitted, that "the 'subject' is not something given, it is something added and invented."
While he promulgated an important series of affirmative doctrines, such as the will to power and eternal recurrence, his decisive significance for social theory derives not so much from his positive ontology, which valued whatever enhances life, as from his negative teaching, and, above all, his insight into the modern epoch. Nietzsche's basic assessment of his age is clear enough: "Disintegration characterizes this time, and thus uncertainty: nothing stands firmly on its feet or on a hard faith in itself. . . . Everything on our way is slippery and dangerous, and the ice that still supports us has become thin: all of us feel the warm, uncanny breath of the thawing wind; where we still walk, soon no one will be able to walk." The image of foreboding is indicative: modern men confronted a chaos of "very diverse value judgements," none of them compelling or essential any longer as "the basis, 'the condition of existence.'" Recognition of this situation engendered what Nietzsche called a "radical nihilism."
Previously, societies, through their conventions, traditions, and religions, had provided an objective pattern which the individual could follow. But just as Nietzsche believed that the chaos of the modern era betrayed the arbitrary and insubstantial artifice of all normative order, so he believed that the contemporary epoch, by throwing the individual back on his own resources, revealed the fragility and insubstantial artifice of all psychic order. In the past, "to be alone, to experience things by oneself, neither to obey nor to rule, to be an individual—that was not a pleasure but a punishment; one was sentenced 'to individuality.'" Even in the modern era, individu-
ation proved a fate most men would prefer escaping. The realization, through the dissolution of all objective norms, of a limitless individual freedom seemed more frightening than liberating—in direct contradiction to the expectations of the Enlightenment. Why this fear? Primarily because the solitary ego, despite the assurances of modern philosophy, afforded no more substantial foundation than objective norms for the orientation of life. According to Nietzsche, the individual intrinsically embodied little more than a number of ceaselessly demanding drives and impulses. The challenge was to govern this unruly subjective commonwealth and to forge a unique psychic order without resorting to the discredited customary fictions.
But most people declined the challenge to become truly unique individuals; the way was difficult, the rewards uncertain. Instead, they devised strategies for escaping the "prison" of individuality. One could blindly reaffirm old faiths, for example, and Nietzsche charged that most modern world views simply resurrected the "Christian moral hypothesis" of man's dignity and perfectibility in various new disguises. Nietzsche himself, by contrast, welcomed the chaotic conflict of contemporary life, even if he doubted the capacity of most men to withstand the ambiguity and tension such ethical pluralism entailed. The collapse of traditional moral codes, and above all the decline of Judeo-Christian monotheism—the "death of God"—created a situation of unprecedented possibilities which he described in such hopeful imagery as a "new dawn," an "open sea" permitting "all the daring of the lover of knowledge."
In the prologue to Thus Spoke Zarathustra , Nietzsche expressed the central tension in his thought between hopes for a rebirth of creative vitality and fears of a totally pacified existence:
And thus spoke Zarathustra to the people: "The time has come for man to set himself a goal. The time has come for man to plant the seed of his highest hope. His soil is still rich enough. But one day this soil will be poor and domesticated. . . .
"I say unto you: one must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star. I say unto you: you still have chaos in yourselves.
"Alas, the time is coming when man will no longer give birth to a star. Alas, the time of the most despicable man is coming, he that is no longer able to despise himself. Behold, I show you the last man. . . .
"The earth has become small, on it hops the last man, who makes everything small. His race is as ineradicable as the flea-beetle; the last man lives longest. . . . "
Nietzsche's social thought reflected his fears. While he formulated the ideal of an individuated existence, he restricted its enjoyment to those few noble souls able to form and follow their own laws. Most of the "rabble," on the other hand, remained servants of circumstance, bound to routine and unquestioned conventions. At best, he hoped for a "new nobility," appreciative of each other's creative exploits, able to promulgate new values and new polytheistic myths, perhaps even capable of rescuing modern life from the aimless drift that might otherwise result from democratic mediocrity.
A more direct assault on the value of universal enlightenment can scarcely be imagined. Not only was the "truth" to be conveyed called into question; the human subject of enlightenment, deprived of any necessary interest in rationality and freedom, and described as the locus of conflicting drives and appetites, also became a questionable medium for coming to understand any truths whatsoever. Moreover, if all the conceptual paraphernalia of our thinking, be it scientific, religious, or moral, was purely conventional, did not the quest for truth lead not necessarily to liberation but perhaps also to a destructive skepticism, a paralyzing doubt?
Nietzsche's challenge to Marxism grew out of this ambivalent outlook on enlightenment. Marx, as we have seen, relied on an understanding of history and human agency that linked the pursuit of material interest with the ideal of individual emancipation. Nietzsche, by contrast, portrayed human beings as creatures driven, for the most part, by fear: fear of reasoning, of freedom, of truth, of novelty, of individuation, of the tensions created by a multifaceted personality. Interest, one of the key faculties Marx believed operative in social action, Nietzsche dismissed as relatively unimportant: "Man is an indifferent egoist: even the cleverest thinks his habits more important than his advantage." Most individuals, left to their own devices, craved security, order, certainty, the familiar, tried-and-true routine that seemed to provide a steady foundation for life. Nor did discomfort and material distress necessarily dissolve such patterns of behavior: "In an age of disintegration . . . happiness appears . . . in agreement with a tranquilizing . . . medicine and way of thought, pre-eminently as the happiness of resting, of not being disturbed."
Nietzsche also viewed with suspicion any theory of history as a purposeful progression, in large part because he suspected these theories of mollifying the fears of the craven. A philosophy of history
like Marx's appeared primarily as one more ideological avenue for escaping the perils and promise of the current era: "One wants to get around the will, the willing of a goal, the risk of positing a goal for oneself; one wants to rid oneself of the responsibility (one would accept fatalism)." Moreover, because he feared that a pacified existence was what most men wanted, Nietzsche was doubly disturbed by the "economic optimism" animating the democratic credo of the socialists: "Once we possess that common economic management of the earth that will soon be inevitable," wrote Nietzsche in a note dating from 1887, "mankind will be able to find its best meaning as a machine in the service of this economy—as a tremendous clock-work, composed of ever smaller, ever more subtly 'adapted' gears; as an ever-growing superfluity of all dominating and commanding elements; as a whole of tremendous force; whose individual factors represent minimal forces, minimal values ." Along this path lay not Marx's social individual but Nietzsche's last man, as ineradicable as a flea-beetle.
Phenomenology and the Question of Individuality
The reconsideration of subjectivity and the fate of the individual took several divergent and even contradictory forms in twentieth-century European philosophy. One of the most influential approaches was phenomenology, the philosophical discipline founded by Edmund Husserl. Where Nietzsche had given a stormy diagnosis of the modern world and its ills, Husserl, who was primarily interested in logic and epistemology, soberly inventoried the ego's constitutive capacity, its ability to invest a world with significance.
In his Logical Investigations of 1900, he had attempted to establish the objectivity of logical categories through an analysis of the invariant aspects of subjective experience. Despite its demonstration of an objective logic, the phenomenological method of "direct intuition" and insight into "essential structures" led naturally over the following decades to a broader exploration of the "stream of consciousness," and, in Husserl's case, to a form of transcendental idealism; by the time of the Cartesian Meditations of 1930, he was claim-
ing that "all that exists for the pure ego becomes constituted in it itself." Nevertheless, through the key concept of intentionality, Husserl's phenomenology pointed beyond the strict subject/object dualism characteristic of Cartesian rationalism. By "intentionality," Husserl meant to specify consciousness as an inherent relation to an object: consciousness was always consciousness of something, and that in a specific manner. For example, one might doubt, surmise, hope or fear, judge, approve, or merely be presented with, an object. The notion of intentionality suggested that consciousness gained its element of intelligibility through a double relation, to the world of objects, which could appear under a variety of different aspects, and to the world of subjective acts, which could apprehend the world of objects in a number of different ways, and with different aims in mind. Husserl thus described a more or less stable structure of objectivity, grasped through the fluctuating relations of a dynamic subjectivity.
Although Husserl's focus on logic largely removed history from his purview, the rise of fascism led him to a reconsideration of the foundations of philosophy. The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology , published posthumously, but written between 1934 and 1937, raised the question of a crisis as to the meaning of man. At a time when political philosophers were advocating a return to natural law (legal positivism seemed the unwitting ally of fascism), Husserl resurrected the Kantian notion of a teleological Idea of humanity. Humanity, according to Husserl, had forgotten its proper goal, the attainment of rationality and freedom, and had thus betrayed the essence of the meaning of man.
The crisis in science alluded to in Husserl's title concerned not the methodology of the objective sciences, such as physics, but rather the illicit importation of natural scientific method into the sphere of human life itself. In lieu of a reasoned reflection on man's meaning, science provided a ready-made human self-understanding. But this objectivistic self-understanding created a crisis in human existence, for "men treated as facts become facts," and a fact could hardly be expected to comprehend its own transcendental essence. Under the sway of universal objectivism, the tasks of rationality and freedom had thus been displaced by mathematical-physical knowledge, a critical human accomplishment to be sure, but one that increasingly had forgotten its human origins. Phenomenology's role in this situa-
tion became the restoration of the teleology immanent in subjectivity to its proper place. By demonstrating the grounding of any human logos, including the mathesis universalis of physics, in transcendental subjectivity, phenomenology uncovered the teleological Idea of man as an historical goal still outstanding.
Rationality in the Crisis thus became a task to be accomplished, rather than an innate endowment of the transcendental ego. Moreover, Husserl insisted that rationality, properly understood, transcended the narrow ratio of mathematical-physical objectivism, encompassing as well man's autonomous freedom to shape himself and his environment. Only philosophy—only phenomenology—provided an adequate ratio for the self-reflection of mankind. Through a "bracketing" of the account of the world given by natural science, phenomenology reached the "life-world," that mundane environment of human existence, where Husserl already discovered the ongoing teleological accomplishments of subjectivity, filling the world with meaning, prior to objective understanding. Whether this life-world, precisely distinguished by him as the pregiven foundation of all higher theory, could be reconciled with his previous idealistic theory, which insisted on the transcendental constitution of the world by the ego, remained unresolved at his death. What Husserl himself desired is less debatable: "I want to establish, against mysticism and irrationalism, a kind of super-rationalism [Überrationalismus ] which transcends the old rationalism as inadequate and yet vindicates its inmost objectives."
Husserl left a varied legacy to future philosophers; realists and existentialists as well as idealists could find support in some stage of his elaboration of the phenomenological method. But the relevance of phenomenology for social theory first became clear not through his own work, but through that of Max Scheler, and particularly through Martin Heidegger's Being and Time , published in 1927 in Husserl's Jahrbuch fur Phänomenologie und phänomenologische Forschung .
Being and Time had an immediate impact. On a purely philosophical level, the book criticized traditional metaphysics from Aristotle to Hegel in the name of a truly "fundamental ontology" that overcame the traditional equation of being with substance. Confronting such forebears as Kant and Descartes, Heidegger set out to destroy previous ontologies, in preparation for posing anew the
question fundamental to his own thought: "What is the meaning of Being?" Yet Being and Time also contained a detailed analysis of human being: by proposing a novel interpretation of what being human meant, he linked the ontological dispute over substance to an indictment of everyday life in the modern world. The potential for human excellence was being diminished while life was leveled down to dull uniformity: this was one message dearly transmitted through an elaborately technical philosophical prose.
Like Husserl in the Crisis , Heidegger in Being and Time wished to retrieve the capacity for transcendence inherent in human existence from its fixation within a deceptively self-evident world of objective entities. To this end, he distinguished between "authentic" (eigentlich ) and "inauthentic" ways of being human. Where the inauthentic person assumed the world he inherited as a given, the authentic individual confronted this world as a set of possibilities grasped through his own decisions, acts, and commitments. To be sure, Heidegger, like Nietzsche, presumed that most people would forfeit the creative powers and freedom inherent in being human, preferring instead the anonymous security afforded by the conformity and stereotyped possibilities of "the crowd" (das Man ) To cast one's lot with the crowd was to abdicate individuation to interchangeability: "Everyone is other and no one is himself." Heidegger also drew a sharp distinction between the "concern" (Besorgen ) with which a person pursued his everyday life, and the "care" (Sorgen ) with which an authentic individual resolved on a unique (eigenst ) way of being. In his concern with daily affairs, a person could disburden and literally lose himself in mundane matters. By contrast, in caring about his world, the authentic individual realized and acted upon his inherent capacity to form his own (eigen ) life, by choosing among the factual possibilities disclosed by his thoughtful resolve.
But what led a person to care about his world? What aspects of human existence could potentially break the spell of everyday life and its seductive concerns? On Heidegger's account, the crucial moments came in fleeting moods, in nagging fears—in anxiety, in the sense of impending death, ultimately in the "call" of conscience. Where everyday life preoccupied, the thought of death disturbed: and in the experience of anxiety before death as a person's ultimate possibility. Heidegger detected the voice of conscience, calling the
individual to care about his world, and to accept responsibility for his own life. By setting a final limit to the possibilities of existence, the anticipation of death also revealed the finitude and temporal unity of a person's life span. The authentic individual faced the future knowing it was finite, and yet grasped the past as something to be assimilated in the present, through a free choice among possible ways of being.
While the anticipation of death thus individualized a person and disclosed authenticity as an essential possibility of being human, the authentic individual returned to a public world of shared endeavors, where he fashioned a unique historical "fate" for himself. Indeed, this unfolding of the individual's "finite freedom" finally overcame the powerlessness of an isolated witness before death only by submitting to the shared "destiny" of a people, a power liberated "in communicating and in struggling." Only with historical destiny on the horizon did the authentic individual become empowered with a firm resolve that confirmed his own commitments; only by "surrendering" his isolatated individuality could a person "win" himself as an "authentic self."
The implications of Being and Time were far-reaching. In addition to discarding the Cartesian dualism dividing mind and body, Heidegger was concerned to show the formative significance of states of mind, such as moods, emotions, fears; instead of assuming rational judgment as a distinctive and universal human attribute, he presented it as merely one mode of existence, one way of approaching the world. In opposition to any transcendental idea of Reason, Heidegger substituted an interpretation of human beings as the sole source of reasons: through their own transcending freedom, by the ways of being human they chose, it was men alone who brought reason to life.
Despite the conservative implications of his understanding of historical destiny, the importance of Heidegger's philosophy for radical theory was undeniable, although few Marxists of the period were prepared to acknowledge it; Lucien Goldmann has even argued that Being and Time contains a covert response to, and hidden affinity with, Lukács's History and Class Consciousness . By suggesting that a practical concern with worldly affairs only obstructed caring enough about the world to risk changing it or making it one's own, Heidegger implicitly called into question the convergence of inter-
est, labor, and insight Marx had assumed, as well as the individuating tendencies Marx had found at work in modern society. Moreover, by pointing out the consolations a person derived from forfeiting his distinctiveness, Heidegger challenged the Marxist understanding of alienation: what in Marx represented primarily dispossession, in Heidegger appeared as "tr anquilization" as well. To the extent that anonymity and unfreedom appeared comforting, while individuality and freedom appeared burdensome, the understanding of individual emancipation had to be revised.
Whatever difficulties fundamental ontology as a whole confronted, in all these particulars Heidegger helped redraw the boundaries for theoretical discussions within the human studies. He also transformed their style. If positivism had imported a dry factuality into Marxism , Heidegger's philosophy would impart a flavor of ontological salvation. The promise of authentic Being, wed to revolutionary Marxism , produced an aura of messianic hope that attracted neo-Marxist thinkers as diverse as Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Herbert Marcuse.
The Possibility of Critical Theory
The implications of the new philosophies of subjectivity and individuality were infrequently explored within most Marxist circles. Yet they played an important role in shaping contemporary social theory and psychology. Freud's psychoanalysis, for example, paralleled Nietzsche's philosophy in its exploration of the chaotic impulses animating the psyche and the ways in which the ego could harness the instincts; through his therapy, Freud tried to equip patients with a rationality flexible enough to withstand the tensions and anxieties endemic to the godless world Nietzsche had described.
Nietzsche's thought also had a crucial impact on the sociology elaborated by Max Weber, who felt that the value of modern progress had been decisively thrown into doubt. Scientific mastery entailed what Weber called "the disenchantment of the world," the obliteration of the last bases of transcendental belief alongside the rationalization of world views. At the "end of this tremendous development," Weber concluded, no one can know "whether entirely new prophets will arise, or there will be a great rebirth of old ideas
and ideals, or, if neither, mechanized petrification." Ironically, for Weber as for Neitzsche, the triumph of scientific rationality starkly illuminated the irrational aspects of human existence. Weber felt it illusory to interpret history using a purposeful model of agency: "The action of men is not interpretable in such purely rational terms," for "not only irrational 'prejudices,' errors in thinking and factual errors but also 'temperament,' 'moods' and affects disturb his freedom." Weber also cautioned against any one-sided recourse to the category of material interest: "Interests (material and ideal ones), not ideas, determine the actions of men directly. The Welt bilder that were created by 'ideas,' however, very often were the switchmen who determined the lines alongside which the dynamism of interests pushed human action onwards."
For both Weber and Freud, the new philosophies of subjectivity implied a new skepticism in theory, and stoicism in practice. Like Nietzsche, Weber saw contemporary society as a battleground for conflicting values, with no hope for a scientific mediation among them: "Fate, and certainly not 'science' holds sway over these gods and their struggle." "Chained to the course of progress," the social theorist in Weber's view could only catalog the forms of fate: "What is hard for modern man is to measure up to workaday existence"—a sentiment Freud shared. The difficulty, as Freud and Weber both well knew, was to accomplish this submission to fate without sacrificing all sense of personal worth and responsibility: the autonomous individual, where he survived at all, became for Freud and Weber the shrewd banker of an increasingly scarce resource—the rational understanding of reality.
As elucidated by psychoanalysis and interpretive sociology, the implications of the new philosophies of subjectivity scarcely seemed reassuring for Marxism . Yet Lukács, as we have seen, felt able to surmount Weber's stoicism from the practical standpoint of the proletariat, which dissolved skepticism by deciphering an immanent meaning of history. From this vantage point, Weber's former colleague explained the rationalization of life as a transient phenomenon engendered by the reification of commodity exchange under capitalism.
This resolution of the dilemma proved attractive for those few Marxist thinkers alive to the implications of the new philosophies. In the thirties, the most important such thinkers were the exponents of
"critical theory," Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno, and Herbert Marcuse. Marcuse had studied under Heidegger, and briefly proposed a merger between Marxism and fundamental ontology, while Adorno devoted early studies to Kierkegaard and Husserl. Indeed, while Communists such as Lukács had their interest in the new philosophy censored by the orthodoxy imposed under Stalin, the critical theorists, as independent Marxists, were able to devote considerable attention to contemporary developments in philosophy and social theory; they were also forced to confront a rapidly deteriorating political situation in Europe that created further difficulties for a Marxist rationalism presumably rooted in the real tendencies of history.
In the new metaphysics, Horkheimer found first of all a response to the ethical pluralism depicted by Nietzsche and Weber: "Now that faith in the absolute validity of any developed system had disappeared, the whole series of cultural forms, their rhythm, independence and regularities, became the instrument of intellectual formation." With relativism an apparently accomplished fact, and the individual assumed as a primordial given, philosophers turned to such primitive general categories as life and existence to unify and evaluate the competing cultural forms. But Horkheimer, in a line of argument recalling Marx's critique of Max Stirner, assailed the preoccupation with existence for "belittling the importance of a theoretical comprehension of social processes" and for validating the narrow individualism generated within bourgeois society. In this respect, the new metaphysics served a social function: in his dreams of authenticity, "the isolated, insignificant individual can identify himself with superhuman forces, with omnipotent nature, with the stream of life or an inexhaustible world-ground"; the monadic individual could thus, in imagination, surmount the obstacles imposed by an uncongenial world. The "freedom of the personality" promised by the new metaphysics thus acted in private life "as an opiate; in society, as a fraud"—for a society of authentic ones would leave the objective forms of domination untouched. As Adorno put it, the obsession with authenticity was "nothing other than a defiant and obstinate insistence on the monadological form which social oppression imposes on man."
Horkheimer and Adorno were nevertheless ambivalent in their assessment of existentialism and the philosophies of life. Adorno, for
example, praised Nietzsche as a philosopher "whose reflection penetrated even the concept of truth," while Horkheimer esteemed Husserl as the "last genuine theoretician of knowledge." "What is true in the concept of existence," wrote Adorno in Negative Dialectics , "is the protest against a condition of society and scientific thought that would expel unregimented experience—a condition that would virtually expel the subject as a moment of cognition." Moreover, Adorno vindicated some of Nietzsche's most troubling insights: "The individual's rational economic behavior undoubtedly derives from something more than economic calculation and the profit motive. . . . Fear constitues a more crucial subjective motive of rationality."
Perhaps because he dreaded the total eclipse of the autonomous subject, Adorno developed a particularly nuanced understanding of individuation and its problems. Within bourgeois society, individuation occurred as isolation from other human beings; "the capacity for seeing them as such and not as functions of one's own will withers, as does that, above all, of fruitful contrast, the possibility of going beyond oneself by assimilating the contradictory." But the cult of authenticity expressed in the philosophy of Heidegger ironically obscured this constriction of individuality, in part by ignoring the extent to which "the individual owes his crystallization to the forms of political economy." Thus the new philosophies of subjectivity did not always grasp the ambiguities of individuation: "Within repressive society, the individual's emancipation not only benefits but damages him. Freedom from society robs him of the strength for freedom." The individuals in contemporary society, reduced to "monadological individual interest and its precipitate, character," quickly capitulate to dictatorship, "the moment organization and terror overtake them." Adorno thus claimed to uncover a hidden link between a fearful individualism and fascism. The autonomous individual was nevertheless an important, if precarious, sanctuary for critical thought: what remained, for Adorno as for Marx, was to restore individuation to its proper social context, and thus to "make an end of the fatality which individualizes men, only to break them completely in their isolation."
The rise of fascism in the thirties forced the critical theorists to reassess the basis of their hopes for a more rational society. The credos of the Enlightenment had been called into question by the very
process of historical development: "As industrial society progresses and is supposed to have overcome its own law of impoverishment, the notion which justified the whole system, that of man as a person, a bearer of reason, is destroyed." But if "man as a bearer of reason" was destroyed, how could hopes for a communist society be sustained? In an early essay on "Philosophy and Critical Theory," Marcuse had called reason the "fundamental category of philosophical thought," and asserted that in critical theory "the philosophical construction of reason is replaced by the creation of a rational society. " But what if, Marcuse asked, "the development outlined by the theory does not occur?" What if the proletariat failed to fulfill Marx's expectations? Moreover, if "man as a bearer of reason" seemed an increasingly endangered species, what warrant was there for believing the "development outlined by the theory" ever would occur?
Horkheimer at first held fast to the theory of knowledge and history defended by Lukács in History and Class Consciousness: critical theory was inherently historical and derived the "idea of a reasonable organization of society" from an analysis of the "goals of human activity." The road leading to the future signified for Horkheimer as for Lukács a "concrete historical" as well as a "logical" process. Since the truth value of the theory hinged on its practical realization, the theorist of necessity addressed himself to "the development of the masses. . . . The theoretician and his specific object are seen as forming a dynamic unity with the oppressed class." Critical theory thus aimed at enlightening the "right interest" of the oppressed.
The rationalist assumptions behind this model of interest and class consciousness, only implicit in Lukács and Marx, became explicit at several points in Horkheimer's essays from the thirties. Once dialectical thought has integrated the "empirical constituents" of a situation into a "structure of experience" which can inform "the historical interests with which dialectical thought is connected," Horkheimer seemed to feel confident that any man could become a "bearer of reason": "When an active individual of sound common sense perceives the sordid state of the world, desire to change it becomes the guiding principle by which he organizes given facts and shapes them into a theory. . . . This, in turn, discloses both his sound common sense and the character of the world. Right thinking
depends as much on right willing as right willing on right thinking." Despite his appreciation of the new situation in theory and practice, Horkheimer thus remained tied to the rationalist tradition he had inherited from Marx through Lukács: against the prevailing stu-pefaction of the spirit, he could only offer the hope of a subjectively inherent ratio . "The thrust towards a rational society, which admittedly seems to exist today only in the realm of fantasy, is really innate in every man."
Yet by linking the validity of critical theory to concrete historical factors, he left open the possibility that its hopes might prove groundless. And indeed, confronted with the events of World War II and its aftermath, Horkheimer became extremely pessimistic: "To protect, preserve, and where possible, extend the limited and ephemeral freedom of the individual in the face of the growing threat to it is far more urgent a task than to issue abstract denunciations of it or to endanger it by actions that have no hope of success." Faced with an apparently docile proletariat in the West and Stalinist regimes in the East, other critical theorists looked elsewhere for support. Herbert Marcuse, for one, elaborated a psychoanalytic variant on philosophical anthropology, focusing on man as a creature of repressed innate needs; on this "biological basis," Marcuse ultimately rested his hopes for a revolution driven by "the vital need to be freed from the administered comforts and the destructive productivity of the exploitative society."
Theodor Adorno, by contrast, forthrightly faced the implications of the practical impasse in critical theory: grounded as it was in history, the theory could claim no transcendental foundation. Rejecting the pursuit of First Philosophy, specifically in the Heideggerian form of fundamental ontology, Adorno in Negative Dialectics denounced the spell of identity theory on philosophy: "Dialectics is the consistent sense of nonidentity. It does not begin by taking a standpoint." Enduring the vertigo such a position implied, Adorno depicted the theory as a revolving series of critiques, based only on relative standpoints which reflected the disintegration of modern life; the possibility of transcendence was now locked in "the fragments which decay has chipped, and which bear the objective meanings." The concept of freedom, for example, "can be defined in negation only, corresponding to the concrete form of a specific un-freedom." As for historical materialism, and hopes for a communist
future, they are reduced to an imageless desire for "the resurrection of the flesh. . . . The perspective vanishing point of historic materialism would be its self-sublimation, the spirit's liberation from the primacy of material needs in their state of fulfillment." Adorno thus conceded Marx's practical concerns to the realm of utopian imagery: a critical philosophy—and in this respect. Adorno and Horkheimer agreed—lived on only in the immanent critique practiced by those thinking individuals still committed to reason.
The unflinching loyalty of the critical theorists to a Hegelio-Marxist form of rationalism helped keep a critical Marxist philosophy alive throughout the thirties and forties. At the same time, though, their allegiance, however qualified, to Hegelian modes of thought, as well as their apparent belief that Freud had essentially solved "the problem of the subject," helped limit their philosophical reconsideration of subjectivity.
Instead, the most sustained encounter between Marxism and the new philosophical understanding of subjectivity unfolded in the thought of Jean-Paul Sartre and Maurlce Merieau-Ponty, who were unaware of the critical theorists. Both Sartre and Merleau-Ponty had been educated in the phenomenological tradition of Heidegger and Husserl, influenced by the renaissance of French interest in Hegel in the thirties, and shaped by the experience of the French Resistance during the forties. Philosophically, they were committed to "existentialism," a term they used to define a historical movement (involving Kierkegaard and Heidegger, among others) and to describe their own efforts at illuminating the structure of human existence—a structure encompassing irrational inertia as well as the possibility of rational action. Politically, however, they maintained a lively interest in socialism, although both kept their distance from socialist politics, although both also preserved a distance from orthodox Marxism . Despite shortcomings and flaws, their social theories remain the most provocative examples of a Marxism built on new subjective foundations.
The Fear of Freedom
The chief proponent of an "existential Marxism " has been Jean-Paul Sartre, novelist and playwright, polemicist and philosopher. Despite a relatively late conversion to Marxism , in the early fifties, Sartre has created one of the most idiosyncratic bodies of contemporary Marxian literature, while providing a paradigm of the politically engaged philosopher.
He differed from his colleague Merleau-Ponty not only in his attempt to reconcile existentialism and Marxism systematically but also in his insistence on man as a creature of passions, often fearful of freedom, and distrustful of reason. While Mereeau-Ponty, by virtue of his philosophy of perception, was led to abandon Marxism as a deterministic science or a rationalist philosophy, he maintained a fundamental trust in men's sociable and rational inclinations. Sartre, by contrast, thanks in part to his philosophy of interpersonal relations and doctrine of absolute freedom, discarded the relatively sanguine outlook on human proclivities traditionally held by Marxists. More than a vessel of ambiguous meaning and situated freedom, the human being was also an agent who frequently forfeited creativity and freedom of choice in favor of familiar habits. In such circumstances, neither rationality nor freedom could necessarily be accounted a universal desideratum.
In formulating his existential Marxism , Sartre started from the philosophical anthropology he detailed in Being and Nothingness . By painting man as a basically solitary and antisocial animal, in search of a substantial and unyielding identity, Sartre was led to portray social life as an incessant series of conflicts, each threatening to deprive the individual of a hermetically secure sense of self and to limit his access to scarce resources. Such an understanding added some curious twists to Sartre's phenomenology of the social world in
the Critique of Dialectical Reason , where he attempted to vindicate Marx's dialectical understanding by tracing the rise of social forms from individual interaction.
Yet despite his inclination to an almost Hobbesian view of human nature, a view sharply at variance with Marx's own, Sartre has nonetheless illuminated several areas of Marxian social theory, not so much in his explicitly Marxist works as in his essays, biographies, and early philosophy. By analyzing the individual in "bad faith" as averting freedom and rational reflection, he has clarified some of the most important implications of Nietzsche's and Heidegger's philosophies, while by posing the problem of an authentic individuality as a precondition of enlightened social action, he has also attempted to surmount one of the most difficult dilemmas disclosed by their thought.
The individual, raised within a context of inherited norms and habitual expectations, can either creatively shape his own identity or seek solace in previously defined roles. In shirking the task of genuine self-definition, the individual, suggested Sartre, in effect passively supported the prevailing social reality; by refusing to depart from established patterns of behavior, the individual necessarily failed to reflect on inherited norms critically. Similarly, if the individual were to transform society, he would also have to transform himself, by overcoming feelings of inertia and fear and asserting his own transcending freedom. Sartre here contended that the individual, susceptible to a reified yet comforting vision of personal possibilities, could not be presumed a rational agent; rather, rationality itself appeared as a disposition chosen and acted upon, sometimes at great risk to the individual's routinized sense of self.
Despite such hints at a Marxism critical of rationalist assumptions, Sartre's work has vacillated between modest accomplishments and portentous failures. While from a Marxist perspective, his Critique of Dialectical Reason represents the most striking fruit of his intellectual odyssey, the structure and distinctive concerns of the Critique cannot be properly assessed without examining his original philosophy. It was on this basis that he formulated his critique of rationalism, his theory of "the Other," and his program for an "existential psychoanalysis"; and it was from these sources that he derived the most provocative, as well as the most problematic, aspects of his later social theory.
Freedom as Foundation and Problem
The touchstone of Sartre's original philosophizing lay in his concept of freedom. It was the freedom of others that enslaved Sartrean man; it was his own freedom that plunged that man into anguish; it was freedom that he fled; it was freedom that ultimately reduced his hopes for a stable identity to nothingness. His early defense of absolute ontological freedom would eventually force Sartre to a consideration of the social world—especially since the evidence of empirical social bondage seemed a persuasive argument against innate human freedom. Sartre's concept of freedom thus formed the key link between his early and later philosophy. If man was by nature free, why did he everywhere appear in chains?
Sartre originally asserted a pervasive human freedom in Psychology of Imagination , published in 1940. There he inquired into the conditions that made imagination as a phenomenon possible. If man existed totally immersed in a world that determined his every response, it was difficult to account for the origin and place of imagination, that human capacity for elaborating ideas not directly derived from the perception of existing objects. If man were free by nature, however, the grounds of imagination would be secured; and Sartre himself argued this case. "It is because he is transcendentally free that man can imagine."
This line of argument, which Sartre elaborated in Being and Nothingness , derived from the rationalist and idealist traditions in modern philosophy. In his essay on imagination, he explicitly linked the problem of doubt with that of imagination, thus rejoining the Cartesian deduction of man's power of doubting from the primary datum of free will. The modern tradition inaugurated by Descartes had portrayed man as innately free, at least in his soul (or in the noumenal realm beyond empirical appearance). Simultaneously, however, thinkers within this tradition distinguished inner freedom from external necessity. In Kant's account, for example, while man always remained inwardly free, he was compelled to act in a phenomenal world governed by natural laws. Idealism thus tended to approach freedom both as an end yet to be empirically attained, as well as an innate endowment of the human spirit.
On several occasions, Sartre presented himself as the heir to this tradition. He tellingly praised Descartes for realizing that "to be free
is not to be able to do what one wants, but to want what one can." Indeed, he found many points of contact between existential phenomenology and the rationalist heritage; after all, had not Heidegger himself spoken of freedom as the "ground of all grounds"? In claiming that man provided the grounds for his own behavior by freely assigning himself intentions and motives, Sartre adapted an amalgam of rationalist and Heideggerean positions. Nothing external made a man be what he was: rather, man's essential freedom forced human reality" to make itself instead of to be ."
Yet this synthesis threatened to rob the concept of freedom of its traditional force in criticizing unnecessary external constraints. In Being and Nothingness , Sartre defined consciousness, or the "for-itself" of human being, in terms of freedom and transcendence: in his consciousness and his action, the human being was inherently free. On this basis, he claimed that causes could only have an effect on action thanks to the meaning assigned them within a purposive plan devised by a conscious actor:"No factual state whatever it may be (the political and economic structure of society, the psychological 'state,' etc.) is capable by itself of motivating any act whatsoever." The implications of this position were sometimes startling. For example, Sartre argued that a man remained free even when in chains—and not simply because any man was free by definition. Since the prisoner could always choose to accept his condition, according to Sartre, a free choice could always remove fromthe chains the significance of obstructing freedom. Of course, to note that the prisoner endowed his chains with an oppressive significance by thinking of escape did not mean that the prisoner chose these chains, or brought them into existence. Yet while he granted the independent existence of factual barriers to the expression of free will, Sartre minimized their importance, by emphasizing the role of a person's intentions in defining what counted as a barrier. In some passages of Being and Nothingness , he verged on an extreme form of subjective idealism: "Since human reality is act, it can be conceived only as being at its core a rupture with the given. It is the being which causes there to be a given by breaking with it and illuminating it in the light of the not yet existing." Given such formulations, it is not surprising that by the end of Being and Nothingness , he was finding freedom everywhere.
Ironically, Sartre's greatest early contribution to the critique of
rationalism stemmed precisely from his revision of the traditional notion of freedom. By finding freedom everywhere, he also uncovered the fear of freedom. Enlightenment rationalism and its German idealist executors had presumed that freedom formed an obvious human good, desired by all; it represented an end in itself. As Hegel put it, "Freedom is itself its own object of attainment and the sole purpose of Spirit. It is the ultimate purpose toward which all world history has continually aimed." The contrast with Sartre's philosophy could hardly be more striking. Early in Being and Nothingness , Sartre described the consciousness of freedom as anguish: "In anguish I apprehend myself at once as totally free and as not being able to derive the meaning of the world except as coming from myself." Far from being an unqualified good, freedom in Sartre's world imposed a crushing burden of responsibility. The attempt to escape from freedom, through what Sartre called "bad faith," thus became a central theme of Being and Nothingness .
In bad faith, the individual denied his inherent freedom and tried instead to act like a thing with a fixed and unchanging essence. To use his terms (borrowed from Hegel), the "for-itself" of human being aspired to the substance and unproblematic identity of the "in-itself" of nonconscious being. In fact, Sartre suggested that every man desired the self-sufficient transcendence which Hegel had attributed to God, the "absolute Being" of the "in-itself-for-itself": "The supreme value toward which consciousness at every instant surpasses itself by its very being is the absolute being of the self, with its characteristics of identity, of purity, of permanence, etc., and as its own foundation."
Several avenues of flight from freedom were open to the individual in bad faith. The individual, as a "being-for-others," appeared in public as a personality with certain habitual traits: in the eyes of a friend, he was somebody, had a familiar past, and sustained a recognizable character. In a quest for stable identity, the individual in bad faith might therefore try to assume the fixed image others had of him. Values afforded another avenue of escape. By assigning a person a raison d'etre, traditional religious and moral codes provided an impersonal standard to orient the individual's treadmill transcendence and to underwrite its significance. Finally, social institutions also offered a refuge from freedom, in the shape of social roles and functional involvement in collective projects. By
playing out a role, the individual might fleetingly attain a "repose in self." But all these attempts at flight eventually had to fail. Consciousness for Sartre embraced the paradox of "being what it is not and not being what it is." Because it was defined by transcendence—and was thus inherently free—consciousness could never completely coincide with itself, as the individual in search of a fixed identity wished. As a result, "human reality" was "by its nature an unhappy consciousness with no possibility of surpassing its unhappy state."
For Sartre, the desire for freedom thus became a problem rather than an assumption. As his accounts of man's flight from freedom indicate, he abandoned the supposition that freedom formed a selfevident end in itself. In bad faith, the individual freely attempted to alienate his own inalienable freedom. Yet even here, and despite his heterodoxy, Sartre ultimately remained true to the program of Enlightenment rationalism. While the willingness of man to accept fully his ineluctable freedom appeared problematical, Sartre never doubted that genuinely accepting responsibility for one's self, and acting consciously in freedom, represented the hallmarks of human beings beyond bad faith. For him, as for the rationalists, men only became truly human when they recognized, affirmed, and purposefully realized their own freedom.
Authenticity and Man's Social Situation
Sartre approached the individual's genuine "self-recovery" and appropriation of freedom through the concept of authenticity, a term borrowed from Heidegger. In Being and Time , Heidegger used the word authenticity (Eigentlichkeit ) to denote the recovery by a human being of its self as its own (eigen ). Rather than losing itself in anonymous social roles, or falling heedlessly into the ephemeral interests of everyday life, a human being in authentically existing recalled its own transcendence, and how this transcendence imbued a world of factual entities with significance. In authentic resolve, the individual acknowledged the world given him as essentially his own , to be assimilated and made over through his own projects, his own choice among the possibilities contingently open to him.
Because Sartre objected to the ethical aura of the term in Being and Time , as well as to Heidegger's focus on death as the most unique possibility of a person, the concept of authenticity did not play a prominent role in Being and Nothingness . Yet the notion nonetheless assumed some importance in Sartre's account as a marginal concept. At the conclusion of his analysis of bad faith, he remarked in a footnote that "it is indifferent whether one is in good or bad faith; because bad faith reapprehends good faith and slides to the very origin of the project of good faith, that does not mean that we cannot radically escape bad faith. But this presupposes a self-recovery of being which was previously corrupted. This selfrecovery we shall call authenticity, the description of which has no place here."
Despite this disclaimer. Being and Nothingness did provide some clues as to what an authentic "self-recovery of being" might involve for Sartre. Two complementary components of being appeared crucial to such a "self-recovery." On the one hand, since the individual existed in a world populated by other people, he encountered interpretations by other people of his behavior, present and past; such interpretations comprised a public persona the individual could never wholly ignore or disown. On the other hand, the individual maintained this public self only by freely choosing it; his social persona never subsisted as an immutable datum, like the qualities of a rock.
These two aspects of Sartrean selfhood suggested that any authentic "self-recovery of being" had to affirm the individual's being someone, as well as his being free. The individual had to assume freely what he was in the mode of not being "it." As Sartre expressed the thought, "I can neither abstain totally in relation to what I am (for the Other)—for to refuse is not to abstain but still to assume—nor can I submit to it passively (which in a sense amounts to the same thing). Whether in fury, hate, pride, shame, disheartened refusal or joyous demand, it is necessary for me to choose to be what I am." Any such choice involved a "project of myself toward the future," so that for Sartre, as for Heidegger, the self-recovery of a human being as transcendence was oriented toward the future. Authenticity thus entailed a fundamental choice of being—a way of being that neither fled the subject's freedom, its past, or its being-for-others.
Sartre's main discussion of authenticity occurred not in Being and Nothingness , but in an essay on the Jewish question published in 1946. Even here, Sartre only outlined the concept briefly. "If it is agreed that man may be defined as a being having freedom within the limits of a situation, then it is easy to see that the exercise of this freedom may be considered as authentic or inauthentic according to the choices made in the situation. Authenticity, it is almost needless to say, consists in having a true and lucid consciousness of the situation, in assuming the responsibility and risks that it involves, in accepting it in pride or humiliation, sometimes in horror."
Such a concept of authenticity implied the possibility of distinguishing authentic from inauthentic choices made within a social situation. An "authentic" choice would somehow evince a "clear and lucid consciousness" of the social situation, although how an authentic choice might so distinguish itself remained ambiguous. But an individual's lucid recognition of his social situation might not be accompanied by a recognition of his freedom, or of his past; since authenticity for Sartre apparently depended on a recognition of the subject's freedom and its past and its being-for-others (its social situation), authenticity could not be attributed to the individual solely on the basis of a "clear and lucid" recognition of his social situation. Moreover, he failed to offer any hints as to what recognition might entail in this context, apart from a purely subjective witness.
Such difficulties cast considerable doubt on any declaration of authentic behavior. Yet the concept retained a certain measure of plausibility in Sartre's hands, since far fewer problems attended the identification of inauthenticity. Here, one had only to show that an individual was not recognizing either his freedom or his past or his being-for-others; failure and flight in any one area sufficed for a verdict of inauthenticity. Although even such negative assessments were tricky, Sartre proceeded in his essay to construct a brilliant and nuanced argument about the patterns of Jewish behavior in the face of anti-Semitism. The subtlety of his essay did not, however, resolve the difficulties surrounding its central critical concept.
Although Sartre's concept of authenticity faced grave problems in its empirical application, the real value of the concept might lie in the ethical realm: perhaps Sartrean authenticity was best understood as a prescription for action, rather than an analytic tool. He
hinted at such an ethical application in the 1946 essay, when he wrote that "the choice of authenticity appears to be a moral decision." He made this claim with the knowledge that authenticity could not be considered a political or social decision, inasmuch as his own essay revealed a lack of specific political or social content pertinent to the choice of authenticity—a lack of content recalling Kant's formalization of morality through the categorical imperative. Indeed, if authenticity could be considered a moral concept, then it had to be one of uttermost inwardness, all talk of "social situations" to the contrary. While authenticity enjoined the subject from certain modes of behavior, on Sartre's own admission it did not prescribe any specific alternative course of action. But this meant that, even speaking ethically, he lacked concrete criteria for prescribing as well as identifying authentic acts.
Despite the difficulties surrounding the concept, the notion of authenticity fulfilled a critical function in Sartre's thought. His early writing approached freedom as a problematic endowment to be "worked through" and struggled with, rather than simply taken for granted as a desirable good; the notions of authenticity and inauthenticity tried to clarify the terms of this struggle, by critically classifying the various modes of fleeing as well as facing freedom. In elaborating these concepts, Sartre was also forced to reconsider the relation of social existence to freedom. Once again, his philosophy encountered the social realm through its own immanent exposition.
His descriptions of authentic behavior repeatedly suggested that the individual's past and publicly recognized self situated the individual's freedom. Yet this tendency in Sartre's thinking seemed to contradict the claims of absolute freedom defended in Being and Nothingness . To be sure, even in his essay on the Jewish question, he spoke of anti-Semitism as a "free and total" choice of oneself. On the other hand, Being and Nothingness had already contained passing references to the indissolubility of constraints in the external world: the "fact of my condition . . . is what causes the for-itself, while choosing the meaning of its situation and while constituting itself as the foundation of itself in a situation, not to choose its position." Sartre's two tendencies were incompatible. Either the individual made a "free and total choice" that "caused there to be a given" reality, or the individual faced a limited choice among possibilities forced upon him by his situation.
In his essay on the Jewish question, Sartre undertook a preliminary clarification, by restating his concept of "situation."
For us, man is defined first of all as a being 'in a situation.' That means that he forms a synthetic whole with his situation—biological, economic, political, cultural, etc. He cannot be distinguished from his situation, for it forms him and decides his possibilities; but, inversely, it is he who gives it meaning by making his choices within it and by it. To be in a situation, as we see it, is to choose oneself in a situation, and men differ from one another in their situation and also in the choices they themselves make of themselves. What men have in common is not a 'nature,' but a condition, that is, an ensemble of limits and restrictions: the inevitability of death, the necessity of working for a living, of living in a world inhabited by other men.
This account implied a modification of Sartre's previous position. If he was to reconcile successfully the two tendencies of his thought, he had to moderate his doctrine of freedom sufficiently to admit a moment of passivity into consciousness and the for-itself: the voluntary had to accommodate the involuntary. Naturally, any such accommodation would compromise the radical ontology of freedom that dominated Being and Nothingness , unless Sartre could somehow derive the dependency of the for-itself from the free acts of that for-itself. The Critique of Dialectical Reason in fact attempted just such an ontological derivation. But in the meantime, his developing social thought was left to oscillate uneasily between admissions of situational dependency and assertions of absolute freedom. This was the ambiguous orientation Sartre brought to Marxism .
Revolution and Transcendence
According to Simone de Beauvoir, Sartre evinced a sympathy for the oppressed long before he actively adopted any form of radical politics. Even such early works as Being and Nothingness contained passages on the proletariat marked by indignation, if not Marxist theory. But Sartre's explicit commitment to a socialist politics developed only gradually, as did his interest in Marxist philosophy. His ontology of freedom, as well as his experiences with the Resistance during World War II at first led him to maintain a politically
ambiguous philosophy of engagement in the immediate postwar period. Based on the notion of man as perpetual free action, his primary political strictures centered around the view that a humane politics should maximize individual liberty. Only a democratic order could allow man to express fully his intrinsic freedom.
His role in Les Temps modernes brought him into close contact with postwar French political arguments. These debates, conducted at first in a hopeful atmosphere of open possibilities, encouraged optimism among the noncommunist left, at least until the onset of the cold war helped dash the aspirations of independent radicals like himself. By making the strategic position of noncommunist leftists virtually untenable, the cold war cast a pall over independent left-wing political thought. In a situation of oppressive adversity, a realistic politics seemed to force a choice either for or against Communism—but surely nothing in between. Nevertheless, in 1948 Sartre helped found the one political party he has unconditionally supported, a short-lived grouping of democratic leftists called the Rassemblement Democratique Revolutionnaire; at the time, he wrote that "our aim is the integration of the free individual in a society conceived as the unity of the free activity of individuals." Both Sartre and Albert Camus contributed to the party's journal, La Gauche , but by 1949 the Rassemblement had collapsed for lack of popular support.
The dissolution of the Rassemblement, coupled with the outbreak of the Korean War, inaugurated Sartre's drift toward the French Communist Party. Although he never joined the party, he did for a while become one of its most outspoken fellow travelers. By 1952, he was arguing the need to support Communist policies, since the party represented the only viable vehicle of revolutionary practice in a period of cold war. Nevertheless, Sartre claimed the right to support the party for his reasons rather than theirs, and at no point did he ratify the party's sanctioned version of dialectical materialism. As a result, the Communists remained cool toward Sartre.
After Russia crushed the Hungarian uprising of 1956, Sartre assumed an increasingly critical stance toward institutionalized communism, although he steadfastly refused to embrace any form of anticommunism. He was one of the first prominent European intellectuals to speak out strongly against European colonialism, and during the sixties he bestowed his sympathies on the various new
left groups dotting the French political landscape. But through it all, he reserved for himself a critical distance, the final luxury, perhaps, of the self-consciously declassé intellectual.
Sartre's attitude toward Marxism as a social philosophy can be separated into two phases. In the first, prior to 1950, he attacked Marxism while generally exempting Marx himself from his critique; in the second, he associated Marxism with his own reading of Marx and declared that this Marxism possessed a vantage point superior to all other current forms of philosophy. At no point, however, did he drastically modify his own basic outlook on human existence; indeed, his original criticisms of (orthodox) Marxism became the basis of his own (existential) version. The difference lay in his attempt, after 1950, to rescue what he found true in Marxism by suggesting what it ought to be—an attempt that culminated in his Critique of Dialectical Reason .
Sartre's first important essay on Marxism was "Materialism and Revolution," an attack on orthodox Marxism from the perspective of existentialism. Published in 1946 in Les Temps modernes , this essay outlined his objections to philosophical materialism—objections never withdrawn. He focused his criticism on crude materialism, which he took to embrace three central claims: neither God nor any other form of transcendence existed; mind could be reduced to matter; and the world, including subjectivity, could be reduced to a system of objects connected by universal law-governed relationships. Sartre pointed out that these materialist theses involved a metaphysic, despite claims to the contrary by orthodox Marxists. The main trouble with this materialist metaphysic, at least as a philosophy of revolution, was its inconsistency with the phenomenon of revolutionary action itself: philosophical materialism could not properly interpret revolutionary behavior.
Dialectical materialism ascribed the development of revolution to a state of the world; yet it failed to explain how a revolutionary transcendence of a given social order could possibly emerge from a state of things. A revolution represented a movement of human transcendence, aiming purposefully beyond a given social situation toward another end, that of the classless society, for instance. Things themselves, Sartre argued, could never intend or accomplish such a teleological end; only human beings could bring transcendence, a meaningful project, and the leverage of freedom to the world of things.
Only men, not things, could comprise a revolutionary transcendence. As Sartre dryly remarked, "A state of the world will never be able to produce class consciousness." Insofar as Marxism embraced philosophical materialism as its ideology, it became a contradiction in action, a theory unable to account for its own practice.
Sartre concluded that revolutionaries should abandon materialism in favor of a "philosophy of transcendence." Only such a philosophy could correctly interpret revolutionary practice, which displaced the reigning "society of laws" by a "community of ends." A revolutionary philosophy of freedom would meet the following requirements: (1) show that men laid the contingent foundation of all transcendent values; (2) assume that any set of values could be overthrown in favor of new values; (3) illuminate how any set of values formed part of a social order and tended to preserve it; (4) suggest that any social order was mutable, even if the expression of new values had to be invented in practice, through the very effort of transcending given values. In all these particulars, Sartre suggested that his own existentialism just might be the philosophy to replace a discredited materialism.
As he made clear, adopting a philosophy of transcendence as the foundation of revolutionary theory entailed an abandonment of causal thinking. He drove this point home by examining the labor process. If the worker "discovers the relation between cause and effect," he argued, "it is not by submitting to it, but in the very act which transcends the material state . . . toward a certain end which illuminates and defines this state from within the future." At the level of human affairs, causality was subsumed under freedom, for it was the free project which illuminated the law-governed nature of the world. The revolutionary dynamic of history similarly resided, not in laws of nature, but in human transcendence. Sartre never surrendered this perspective. As he argued in the Critique of Dialectical Reason , dialectic is not a determinism.
The Will to Revolution
In opposition to deterministic explanations of revolutionary behavior, Sartre offered his own interpretation of the genesis of revolutionary practice. His alternative account first appeared in Being and Nothingness , in the context of his discussion of freedom. He
there tried to show that the individual's relation to his historical environment was precisely the opposite of that usually assumed by materialism. Taking the worker's experience of hardship as his example, he argued that such suffering, far from causing indignation, was only meaningfully established qua suffering through the worker's free projection of an alternative way of life, beyond hardship. To be sure, from the standpoint of the present historical situation, hardship was an inherent aspect of the worker's existence, rather than a contingent misfortune that could be ignored. But the intolerability of such suffering only appeared in the light of a project aimed at changing this situation.
"Materialism and Revolution" expanded this interpretation of revolutionary action, although Sartre insisted more strongly than before on the objective, situational components that defined a revolutionary. According to him, a revolutionary had to be a worker who was oppressed by a dominant class; still, such social attributes remained insufficient in themselves to make anyone a revolutionary. Rather, a revolutionary was always characterized in addition by his "going beyond the situation in which he is placed," toward a "radically new situation"; the revolutionary comprehended his situation as mutable precisely through his project for the future.
The truth of Sartre's point concerned the teleological character of practice: any attempt to reshape the world always involves a meaningful project, irreducible to antecedent conditions. But his doctrine of freedom complicated the argument. In Being and Nothingness , he often implied that being anything—a revolutionary or a waiter—not only involved transcendence, but also could be reduced to transcendence; "being a revolutionary" would then involve a freely assumed attitude. In "Materialism and Revolution," he countered this implicit bias by stating explicitly that freedom, properly grasped, merely provided a "necessary condition" of intentional action. Without some such proviso, revolutionary practice would resemble a pure act dictated by conscience, rather than a creative but objectively circumscribed response to a given social situation.
Sartre, however, was not entirely consistent in elaborating a social theory and his own version of Marxism . In The Communists and the Peace , originally published as a series of essays in Les Temps modernes between 1952 and 1954, he apotheosized "the act" and "praxis" as the tangible signs of human freedom. In these articles, he defended his decision to support the Communist Party, claiming
it was the only realistic vehicle of French working-class aspirations. Simultaneously, he tried to buttress this political position with his own philosophical arguments. The idiosyncratic result satisfied neither the Communists nor the independent left—and with good reason.
According to Sartre in The Communists and Peace , refusal—a negation of the given reality—stood at the core of all revolutionary behavior. The worker's "human reality is . . . not in what he is , but in his refusal to be such ." Sartre linked this refusal to a projectively oriented revolutionary élan, "which postulates [its] ends all at once in order to call for their immediate realization." These theses, familiar from Being and Nothingness , now came to define Marxism according to Sartre's version. The meaning of communism for him became, as Merleau-Ponty accurately described it, "the categorical will to bring into being what never was." In his own works, Merleau-Ponty insisted upon the relative permanence of institutions and social conventions; the individual's choice of action did not spring purely from the future, but also—and perhaps even more importantly—gestated in a personal and social past. Sartre by contrast spoke primarily of refusal, rupture, and violence; he abandoned the Marxian/Hegelian synthesis of realism and idealism in favor of the subjective gesture of defiance, which constituted the Sartrean revolutionary.
For this philosophy, action became the touchstone of human freedom, the forceable evidence of transcendence. The individual's action ratified his decisions and committed him to his choices. The Sartrean act indeed assumed the dimensions of an absolute: "Everything which is praxis is real" exulted Sartre at one point in The Communists and Peace . But action also fulfilled more mundane functions in his world; for example, through action the worker came to believe in the communist project: "Action is in and of itself a kind of confidence." Sartre's worker "does not decide to act, he acts, he is action." In this perpetual practice and restless freedom, Sartre discovered the image of proletarian upheaval.
In Praise of Leninism
So far, The Communists and Peace might merely seem an extreme paean to human freedom and subjective volition, little different
from earlier Sartrean fare. But Sartre's essay also attempted to harness his existential philosophy of freedom to claims of Communist political supremacy. It was a curious spectacle.
Indeed, what really distinguished his argument was the deceptive ease with which he banished by one assertion what he seemed to grant with another. Thus he refused the individual worker any genuine capacity to choose freely the "right" transcendent project (communism), even while claiming that the essence of the revolutionary act resided in a free choice. The worker's social situation at one point was declared powerless to motivate the worker in any way; at another point it virtually consumed the worker's own initiative. Although Sartrean freedom, as an ontological structure of human being, might have been thought inalienable, in The Communists and Peace Sartre suddenly discovered the social alienation of freedom. Clearly, his new apologetics faced several theoretical difficulties, centering on the relationship between ontological freedom and the limits imposed, on consciousness as well as on action, by a person's social situation.
Presumably Sartre was speaking about a factual circumstance when he wrote that "the historical whole determines our powers at any given moment, it prescribes their limits in our field of action and our real future; it conditions our attitude toward the possible and the impossible, the real and the imaginary, what is and what should be, time and space. From there on, we in turn determine our relationship with others, that is to say the meaning of our life and the value of our death . . . " Yet the situational bounding and determination of human action described in this passage conflicted with the claims of freedom and refusal found elsewhere in The Communists and Peace . Even more clearly than Sartre's essay on antiSemitism, this work displayed a barely contained tension between assertions of ontological freedom and descriptions of factual unfreedom. Could it be that Sartrean man freely chose his own social bondage? Sartre himself at one point seemed willing to argue as much; when the worker "makes himself [N.B.] the agent of production, he feels himself acted upon; in the depths of his subjectivity, he experiences himself as an object. . . . He takes refuge in passivity because he has been deprived of all [N.B.] initiative."
This statement, proffered in support of a Leninist version of Marxist politics, was extraordinary coming from Sartre. After a career of ferreting out freedom in every nook and cranny of human
endeavor, he apparently found no great contradiction in asserting that "the masses are the object of history; they never act by themselves. . . . " The political conclusion was inescapable. If the working class could not attain its own freedom, it had to be led to it: by the Communist Party, of course. "The inertia of the masses . . . is such that movement comes to them from outside." Moreover, only working-class confidence in the party's leaders could assure the proletariat of "coherence and power." How could it be otherwise? Especially when Sartre declared that "all objective structures of the social world present themselves as an initial confusion to the worker's subjectivity." The end result was an odd amalgam of existentialism and Leninism that raised more questions than it answered.
In The Communists and Peace , Sartre reduced the proletariat to a passive objectivity, a precipitate reduction that his own thought should have warned him against. At one point he remarked that "the proletariat as subjective experience is identical [N.B.] with the process of production unwinding in the ideal milieu of subjectivity." Yet Being and Nothingness had denied the very possibility of so identifying objectivity and subjectivity. While The Communists and Peace quite legitimately attempted to incorporate the experience of subjective dependency and inertia into Sartre's thought—a crucial extension if he was to make any philosophical sense out of Marxism —the work's involved argument, now asserting ontological freedom, now claiming social dependency, served as a cover for bad philosophy and bad politics. The evidence of Communist brutality in the Hungarian revolt of 1956 soon turned Sartre away from apologies for institutionalized communism. But The Communists and Peace remains his unique contribution to that strain of Marxian literature which lumps together the proletariat, the Communist Party, and the party's leaders in One Big Happy Family: Father knows best.
Although Sartre's early Marxism left a host of philosophical issues unresolved, The Communists and Peace reaffirmed the ontological primacy of human freedom, even as it portrayed an objective human realm with the power to eclipse human freedom. As he wrote at the time, "Intentions without consciousness, actions without subjects, human relationships without men, participating at once in material necessity and finality: such are generally our undertakings when they develop freely in the dimension of objectivity."
He now faced the prospect of squaring such observations of unfreedom with his assumptions about the freedom innate in being human.
He had several options. He could have consistently claimed that social unfreedom was itself freely chosen by the individual; while there seemed to be some warrant for this move in his previous account of bad faith, it was not the kind of argument he could rest content with. Then again, he could have dropped one pole of his thought, either the ontological or the social; yet abandoning one aspect would have spelled the ruin of Sartrean ontology, or the collapse of Sartrean social theory—neither a palatable prospect. A more arresting option lay in a systematic attempt at reconciliation, consisting of a demonstration that the ontological freedom of human beings constituted contingent social arrangements that, once fixed, factually limited the freedom of human beings. Human freedom itself would then be revealed as the ontological foundation of human unfreedom. This approach to the problem could also claim the dignity of elaborating Marx's own implied resolution of the dilemma.
Sartre approached the Critique of Dialectical Reason from two interrelated but distinct perspectives. On the one hand, his philosophy of absolute ontological freedom had in some manner to accommodate the fact of social unfreedom. On the other, orthodox Marxism in his eyes labored under an unsupportable doctrine of philosophical materialism; Marxism itself had to be restored to its true roots in a dialectic which incorporated human agency as its ineliminable basis.
In 1957, responding to an invitation from a Polish review, Sartre published an essay on "Existentialism and Marxism ," later titled Questions de méthode (Search for a Method in the American translation), and eventually reprinted as the first part of the Critique . This concise and provocative essay clarified Sartre's intentions as thoroughly as the 600-odd pages of the Critique obscured them. It also introduced his thematic reflections on Marx as a thinker, a topic his earlier polemics had largely avoided.
In Search for a Method he argued that Marx should properly be seen as the true successor to Kierkegaard as well as Hegel. Hegel had correctly presented the totality of human Spirit as forming the coherent context and ultimate reference point of human meaning; unfortunately, Hegel had conflated this insight with the notion of an infinite Absolute Spirit (i.e., God), and had falsely promised an ultimate reconciliation of knowing and being at the end of history. Kierkegaard by contrast properly insisted on the individual living person as the ultimate source of all transcendent meaning, which in any case could never assuage the suffering, pain, and finitude inseparable from individual existence. Unfortunately, where Hegel's thought evaporated in a universal infinite Spirit, Kierkegaard's compressed into an ineffable subjectivity. If Kierkegaard reinstated the perpetual incommensurability of knowledge and being, Hegel just as surely established the dependence of human intelligibility on objectivity.
According to Sartre's interpretation, Marx had resolved the Hegelian/Kierkegaardian antinomies. While Marx agreed with Hegel that human beings were essentially objectifying, objective and social, he also agreed with Kierkegaard that this objectivity could never surpass incarnate subjectivity and the real individual at the base of a still incomplete yet universal history. Unfortunately, latter-day Marxism had fallen away from Marx's original synthesis. The subjective pole had been abandoned in favor of the false idol of a purely natural dialectic. But this fall suggested that Marxism required restatement, especially to the extent that Marx himself had become implicated in the objectivistic misunderstanding.
Because it represented the living conscience of Marxism's suppressed subjective pole, existentialism maintained its philosophical rights independently of Marxism , at least for the time being. But the contemporary task of existentialism lay in dissolving itself as a particular philosophy. Since Marxism , properly understood, was "the unsurpassable framework of knowledge" for our time, existentialism ought merely to amend Marxism , and recall it to its original intentions. An existentially refounded Marxism would provide a viable "theory of consciousness," and ground Marxism in a dialectic of living, sentient individuals.
praxis. Praxis he understood as the general process of human action, including the labor process; it involved the exteriorization of subjective meanings through projects, as well as the interiorization of objective conditions through situations. Consciousness and transcendence were essential to praxis: "In relation to the given, praxis is negativity. . . . In relation to the object aimed at, praxis is positivity, but this positivity opens onto the 'non-existent,' to what has not yet been. A flight and a leap ahead, at once a refusal and a realization, the project retains and unveils the surpassed reality which is refused by the very movement which surpassed it. Thus knowing is a moment of praxis , even its most fundamental one."
Sartre's other task proved more formidable. Given his interpretation, Marxism had to be rigorously reconstructed as a "dialectical nominalism" if Marx's claim that history always represented the collective interaction of real individuals was to be taken seriously. Calling Marxism a "dialectical nominalism" indicated that the social whole only subsisted through a multiplicity of "totalizing singularities," or individuals engaged in specific meaningful projects. "There is then no ontologically communal praxis: there are practical individuals who construe their multiplicity as an object starting from which each fulfills his task in the freely consented heterogeneity of the communal function, i.e., by totalization-in-course." For Sartre, "The only practical and dialectical reality, the motor of the whole, is individual action ."
The Phenomenology of the Social World and the Problem of "the Other"
Sartre's point of departure in the Critique was thus the individual. As he put it in Being and Nothingness , "The sole point of departure is the interiority of the cogito . We must understand by this that each one must be able by starting out from his own interiority, to rediscover the Other's being as a transcendence which conditions the very being of that interiority. " The whole of existential phenomenology pointed toward subjectivity as the fulcrum of logic, meaning, and, ultimately, science; Sartre's aim in the Critique was the disclosure of a similarly founding role for subjectivity in the specifically social realm. He thus set out to derive the objective social order, and its
evident unfreedom, from the subjective individual order, and its primordial freedom. Setting out from consciousness, existential social thought took as its object "life," the objective being of the subject in a world; from this starting point, the subject's own understanding "must lead to the denial of its singular determination in favor of a search for its dialectical intelligibility in the whole human adventure." In other words, a comprehensible path had to link the conscious individual to transindividual social structures that in effect constrained and limited the individual.
Tracing this path would comprise nothing less than a phenomenology of the social world, where phenomenology was understood simultaneously in its Husserlian and Hegelian senses: Husserlian, because Sartre's method supposedly remained immanent and descriptive; Hegelian, because Sartre's method supposedly proceeded historically and dialectically. Like Hegel, Sartre equated science with the genetic totality disclosed at the end of phenomenology; however, his basic point about this genetic totality remained Husserlian: science had to account for its own existence, which (for Sartre as for Husserl) ultimately led philosophy back to the cogito and conscious life.
Unfortunately, Sartre's social phenomenology faced a tough hurdle from the outset, namely, how to cope with "the Other," as he labeled fellow human beings. In Being and Nothingness , he had criticized Hegel, Husserl, and Heidegger for mistaking the nature of our "being-for-others." Sartre himself used the "look" as his descriptive key for approaching the experience of another person. When another person glanced at an individual, the latter could feel his "being-an-object" under the other's gaze. The basis of this being-as-object, however, lay in the individual's apprehension of the other person in his being-as-subject: "Through the look I experience the Other concretely as a free, conscious subject." On the other hand, any direct confrontation with the other person immediately dissolves his subjectivity under the individual's own gaze, which now grasps the Other as an object. Sartre thus implied that another person could only be experienced obliquely, through the individual's sense of "being-an-object" for another. While other people incontrovertibly existed , the respective meanings two people projected upon one another could never be reconciled through mutual recognition. Instead, the one's freedom ratified the other's alienation, and vice
versa. It was no wonder, then, that Sartre proclaimed conflict to be "the original meaning of being-for-others." As he confided elsewhere in Being and Nothingness , "We can consider ourselves as 'slaves' in so far as we appear to the Other."
In his early Marxist essays, such as The Communists and Peace , Sartre used this concept of the Other to analyze class struggle. Since the worker, from his first day of labor, was beholden to the Other as a hostile power which exploited him, the Other (presumably the bourgeois Other) precipitated the worker's revolutionary will. As Sartre put it, the worker "cannot 'restructure' his work without putting down at once the desire to seize power from the Other." While some of Sartre's notions appeared compatible with Marxism —he did insist on the primacy of class conflict, after all—Marx himself had never placed an insurmountable conflict between individuals at the heart of history. For one thing, Marx spoke of social and institutional conflicts; for another, Marx attempted to expose these conflicts as transitory. Moreover, Sartre's manner of rephrasing Marxism left unresolved such questions as the possibility of genuinely cooperative action and the feasibility of communal freedom. As Alfred Schutz once remarked, apropos of Being and Nothingness , "Mutual interaction in freedom has no place within Sartre's philosophy." Indeed, it is hard to see how a social philosophy premised on a model of incessant interpersonal conflict could ever adequately account for such an important social phenomenon as trust.
At first glance, the Critique seemed to modify Sartre's outlook on sociability significantly. Conflict no longer was presented as an ontological given, and social units were no longer portrayed as phenomena marginal to individual action. Instead, Sartre introduced the notion of social being from the outset, by describing a spectator who observed two men working together. Such a third party ascribed an objective meaning to the acts of these men; through the meaningful relationship he established between them, the third party also constituted these subjects as a coherent social unit, at least in his own interpretation. Social being was thus depicted as an essential human possibility. Given Sartre's professed admiration for Marx, it no longer seemed absurd to hope for an eventual reconciliation of conflicting claims among individuals and classes.
Yet a closer look at the Critique raises doubts about these apparent modifications in Sartre's outlook. Despite a metamorphosis of
language, the Critique betrays a fundamental continuity with Being and Nothingness in its concerns and concepts. Starting from the individual and his praxis, Sartre incorporated his earlier use of "the project" to define human action. Where ontological nothingness sired the project, empirical needs such as hunger engendered praxis; in both cases, a lack compelled the human subject to act. In Sartre's present account, man (the for-itself), through praxis (the project), conferred meaning on the "inert," as nonconscious being (the in-itself) was sometimes referred to in the Critique .
But what, then, had become of the interpersonal conflict he had previously found at the core of the human condition? The answer seems to be that he translated the outlook of his earlier ontology into a new, sociological vocabulary. Thus conflict, banished as an ontological given, returned as man's fate, the inevitable result of material scarcity. In the Critique , Sartre found scarcity at the heart of human endeavor in history. Unfortunately, if there existed a scarcity of resources essential for human survival, then every man became a potential enemy, capable of limiting the possibilities of another. As Sartre put it, "Scarcity realizes the passive totality of the individuals within a collectivity as an impossibility of coexistence." Pending a revolutionary transformation—and the final subjection of nature—any social order had to contend with the prospect of a primordial war of each against all. Through the category of scarcity, Sartre thus supplied a factual foundation for his earlier ontological vision of hell as other people.
To be sure, scarcity did not preclude the possibility of genuine community: but it did render precarious the preservation of any such community. It is also worth recalling that Sartre had already admitted the possibility of a genuine community in Being and Nothingness . There the "We-subject" (a group of individuals cooperating to realize some common project) was revealed on the basis of an "Us-object" (a collection of individuals observed by a spectator). Indeed, he argued that a "We-subject" was effectively forged only in the crucible of class conflict: in such a situation, a collection of individuals might be impelled to take over their previously established status as an "Us-object" for some Other group. Thus, "The primary fact is that the member of the oppressed collectivity . . . apprehends his condition and that of other members of this collectivity as looked-at and thought about by consciousnesses which escape him. . . . The
oppressed class finds its class unity in the knowledge which the oppressing class has of it, and the appearance among the oppressed of class consciousness corresponds to the assumption in shame of an US-object."
Sartre followed a similar line of argument in the early pages of the Critique , moving from the being-for-others suggested by individual praxis driven by need, to the being-with-others suggested by warlike competition over scarce resources, to the Us-object suggested by the spectator's gaze that initially constituted a social unit. The implications of these parallels with Being and Nothingness become even clearer when Sartre's classification of social forms in the Critique is considered.
From the Group to the Series
The Critique described two fundamentally different types of human ensemble. One Sartre called the "series," a term designating a lump sum of objects, each interchangeable with the other, interrelated through a negative bond of reciprocal indifference: in short, an atomistic assemblage of sovereign Sartrean egos. The other type of collective he called the "group," a genuine unity of subjective wills bound together by common interest and a common project. The relative importance of these two fundamental types of ensemble proved asymmetric: "The group carries a destiny of seriality from the moment of its practical totalization."
The bulk of the Critique was devoted to analyzing the permutations and combinations of the group and series, borrowing concepts and illustrations from sources as diverse as Georges Lefebvre and Robert Michels. Sartre's main sociological points about the group and series were simple enough. The genuine "We-subject"—the group capable of acting in concert and forging individuals into a social unity expressive of real subjective freedom within the group—was an historical anomaly that briefly fluttered across the stage of history, only to collapse in the wings, exhausted. In its wake—and without going into all the intermediary social structures conceivable—arose that indifferent conjunction of hostile egos Sartre called "seriality." He expended a great deal of subtlety and space classify-
ing the various intermediary forms, ranging from the "pledged group" (what the "group-in-fasion"—the authentic group—became when its spontaneous action was formalized through conscious promises, pledges, laws, mutual terror, and so forth) to the "institutionalized apparatus" (what the pledged group became when its original common action evaporated, leaving behind a skeleton of promises, pledges, laws, and other structural bric-a-brac).
According to Sartre, the group-in-fusion, his term in the Critique for an authentic "We-subject," only arose at times of haute temperature historique , such as the storming of the Bastille, to take his own example. But what (if any) prior conditions attended the formation of the group-in-fusion? "In order for the city or sections [of Paris] to make of themselves a totalising totality [i.e., a group]— when the same realities [such as hunger and exploitation] are lived as 'collective' [i.e., serially endured] under other circumstances—it is necessary that they [the city or sections] be constituted as such [as a group] by the external action of another organized group." In other words, an "Us-object" logically preceded the "We-subject"; or, to use the terminology of the Critique , a "third party" unified the multiplicity of individuals into a group. Moreover, as Sartre's own example suggests, the most intense articulation of community occurred only through an awareness of mutual animosity and conflict. Now this description certainly captures an essential aspect of group action in revolutionary situations: most of Sartre's points had been anticipated by Georges Lefebvre, the great historian of the French Revolution. Relating real or imaginary threats to the ebb and flow of the Revolution, Lefebvre interpreted the latter as a series of "defensive reactions." Both Lefebvre and Sartre underlined the centrality of fear and terror in revolutionary group action.
But the group-in-fusion functioned as something more than an analytic category in the Critique . It also functioned as an archetype of social freedom: as Sartre put it, "The essential character of the group-in-fusion is the abrupt resurrection of liberty." In this context, Sartre's category raises some questions. Is it reasonable to erect the action of revolutionary groups in a civil war as the sole paradigm of communal freedom? Is it accurate to imply that communal freedom can only flow from social conflict? If conflict is the precondition of true community, what can we anticipate if the abolition of scarcity eliminates conflict? Further questions are raised by Sartre's
discussion of anti-Semitism fourteen years earlier. There, he had used remarkably similar language to make a contrary point about groups fused in the crucible of crisis. Because the anti-Semite is "incapable of understanding modern social organization, he has a nostalgia for periods of crisis, in which the primitive community will suddenly reappear and attain its temperature of fusion. He wants his personality to melt suddenly into the group and be carried away by the collective torrent."
In the Critique , however, Sartre discounted the potential for irrational submission in group action. Instead, he claimed that rationality was a possibility open to the individual or to the group-in-fusion, but not to any other social forms. Seriality by contrast was "anti-dialectical" and a frustration of praxis; since he identified praxis with human reason in the Critique , seriality also appeared "anti-rational." Alienation, pervasive in the serial collectivity, vanished in the group-in-fusion. There "alienation is only an appearance; my action is developed starting from a common power toward a common objective; the fundamental moment which characterizes the actualization of power and the objectivization of praxis is that of individual free practice. But it determines itself as ephemeral mediation between the common power and the common objective; through being realized in the object , not only does it annul itself as organic action to the profit of common objectvation in the process of accomplishment, but this annulment-towards-the-objcctive also lets it discover common praxis ." In the group-in-fusion, the individual's free action contributes to the common cause desired by each member, in such a fashion that the will of each comes to coincide with the general will. No individual therefore really sacrifices any personal freedom to the social whole: this seemed to be Sartre's Rousseauean contention. The group-in-fusion here served as his Utopian social vision.
But Sartre's was a utopianism fraught with tragic overtones, for the group-in-fusion represented an unstable historical moment, an evanescent social form. Born of crisis, the group was destined to decay with its passing. Just as Being and Nothingness held out dim prospects for the peaceful coexistence of free individuals, so the Critique left little hope for free groups surviving in mutual harmony. In both cases, conflict appeared as the ineliminable complement of authentic freedom.
The Phenomenon of Social Necessity
If the group-in-fusion formed Sartre's revolutionary paradigm of collective transcendence, the series, in its role as "anti-dialectic," epitomized society as "second nature." His analysis of the series thus came to represent his primary approach to the phenomenon of social necessity. In the end, he hoped to show that all mathematically quantifiable regularity arose within social life through the free acts of individuals. Indeed, he found necessity and unfreedom already inscribed in the objectifications of free praxis.
According to the Critique , meaningful objects came to the human world through praxis. In practice, freedom and consciousness brought "human functions" to matter: such transforming transcendence placed in a thing "its own future, its own knowledges." But while objectification through practice evinced freedom, it simultaneously founded the "elementary experience" of necessity. Sartre in fact diverged from Marx in seeing objectification itself as automatically alienation and imposed necessity. The main vehicle of this "fundamental alienation" Sartre called "alterity," which denoted the alteration in meaning that occurred between an act as subjectively intended and the result as objectively interpreted by other human beings. "To the extent that, having attained our own end, we understand that we have in fact realized something else , outside of us, our action is altered, and we have our first dialectical experience of necessity." This form of alienation was unavoidable. Even in his tools, man was forced to mimic the inertia of material nature in order to master it: "The living body uses its inertia to overcome the inertia of things." At its most extreme, the phenomenon of alterity meant that the work executed by one generation came back to haunt another, in the shape of unintended consequences that formed the inert basis for the work of a new generation.
The series, by contrast, represented a necessity imposed by the ongoing acts of a multiplicity of individuals within a collective. Serial collectivities embraced a negative unity of inertia. Rather than actively transforming the world through free praxis, individuals within serial collectivities merely endured their situation; insofar as each member of the series stood in a relationship of indifference to every other member, each faced a latent threat from every other (whereas in a group, collective concord supplied a tacit assurance that members would not work at cross-purposes). The institu-
tions comprising a serial collectivity thus lost their original meaning for their members, becoming a ritual emcumbrance on praxis. To be sure, only the praxis of each member sustained the serial collective; yet it was a praxis bereft of teleological transcendence. Ultimately the series no longer appeared to its members as praxis at all, but rather as exis , or being in permanence. Where the group represented a perpetual totalizing action, meaningfully restructuring the world according to constitutive intentional acts, the series represented a reified totalization, maintained in existence by passive acts, previously constituted by tradition and habit.
Sartre at one point described necessity as "liberty's destiny in exteriority." With his final discussion of the series, he took the Critique full circle, from the original praxis of subjectivity to the derivative exis of social objectivity. Although he portrayed the series as an historical sedimentation of free acts, Sartre still insisted that the continued existence of the series depended on the perpetuated perversion of praxis into exis . Within such an historical context, free subjectivity supported unfree objectivity. The agent within the series appeared condemned to pass freely upon himself the sentence imposed by society, which conventionally defined the framework and aspirations of most quotidian acts. Sartre's concept of the "practico-inert" attempted to demarcate this experience, its neologistic conjunction stressing the role of human action in constituting an inert social reality—a reality which most individuals faced passively, as if society were an inert material reality, and hence something foreign to human freedom.
Through the concepts of alterity, of the series and of the practicoinert, Sartre tried to make intelligible the practical underpinnings of social necessity. He wanted to illustrate how a human dialectic, founded in practico-inert seriality, could produce its opposite, an inhuman antidialectic. On this point, Sartre had indeed modified his position since Being and Nothingness . Where he had earlier found only universal human freedom, he now also declared universal human slavery. Absolute ontological freedom constituted, through the mediation of serial institutions, absolute social unfreedom. "For those who have read Being and Nothingness , I will say that the foundation of necessity is practical: it is the for-itself, as agent, discovering itself, first of all, as inert, or better, practico-inert in the milieu of the in-itself." While the emphasis and language were new, the basic vision of subjectivity was not.
Apart from its specific content, Sartre's Critique raised a fundamental question of form. Should an a priori ontology or philosophical anthropology ground social theory?
At the outset of the Critique , Sartre asked, "On what conditions is a knowledge of a history possible? To what extent can the links it brings to light be necessary? What is dialectical rationality, what are its limits and fundamentals?" A little further on, he added that "it is not the real history of the human species that we want to restore, it is the Truth of history that we are trying to establish." By insisting on individual action as "the only concrete foundation of historical dialectic," Sartre relied on ontology and anthropology to validate what he called "dialectical Reason." "We are attempting, to parody a phrase of Kant's, to lay the basis for a "Prolegomena to any Future Anthropology.' If our critical experience, in effect, ought to yield positive results, we will have established a priori —and not, as the Marxists would make us believe, a posteriori —the heuristic value of the dialectical method when it is applied to the sciences of man."
Sartre tackled his project in earnest. Like Engels, he did not avoid hypostatizing "the dialectic"; like Georg Simmel, he did not flinch from social formalism and elaborate classifications of social ensembles. Although he repudiated Engels's dialectics of nature, he took the latter's endeavor to found dialectic seriously; Sartre wanted to show that "dialectical Reason is a whole and must found itself, that is to say dialectically." While he nowhere explicitly mentioned Simmel, his use of dyads (groups of two people) and "the third" (an outsider observing a dyad) recalled that neo-Kantian thinker, just as his question, "How is history possible?" recalled Simmel's similar query, "How is society possible?" On the other hand, Sartre claimed that his own formalism consisted only "in recalling that man makes History to the same extent that History makes man."
Oddly, Sartre never clarified why Marxism so obviously needed a priori support—unless he felt that Marx's image of the future could be sustained in no other fashion. To be sure, he did not undertake a logical deduction of the dialectic in the Critique , but he did propose an ontological deduction; in order for History to be possible, man must be a being of praxis, characterized by "need, transcendence and the project." Since he also derived praxis from scarcity, pre-
sumably a contingent rather than necessary circumstance of human affairs, he hedged his bets. Only insofar as scarcity prevailed could there be history. Apparently, his philosophical anthropology was necessary a priori merely for this historical world — the only one we happen to know.
Despite such provisos, scarcity and warring Cartesian egos with insatiable needs tended to appear as immutable constants of the Sartrean social world. Thanks to the philosophical anthropology which determined both the starting point and final result of the Critique , Sartrean man's peculiar individuation and freedom became the tacit birthright of all historical men, rather than the historical acquisition of some men. Marx himself had abandoned philosophical anthropology in favor of a purely historical approach, precisely because its factual formulations were less susceptible to such questionable generalization. Ironically, the real results of Sartre's Critique hardly merited all the Kantian trimmings. For in the end, he simply established dialectic as a relevant heuristic device: by tracing the contours of social reality in its various permutations and contradictions, he succeeded at best in demonstrating the applicability of certain categories of something called "dialectical Reason" to certain phenomena of human life. His "critical" as opposed to "dogmatic" dialectic often boiled down to a conscientious examination of empirical evidence in context, as opposed to an arrogant disregard of inconvenient facts.
Yet Sartre's evident prejudice in favor of "dialectical Reason" compromised even this aspect of his project. It was as if he proposed to displace the a priori concepts deployed by orthodox Marxism , which were "dogmatic" because unfounded in a phenomenology of the social world, with his own set of a priori concepts, which were "critical" because founded in a description of the "complex play of praxis and totalisation" detailed in the Critique . The very formalism of his approach, however, created its own problems: for example, his phenomenological account warranted the universal applicability of key concepts without even a modicum of comparative historical research. Moreover, while this account rendered the experience of such social facts as commodity exchange intelligible, the emphasis on isolating essential social forms did not provide much guidance for uncovering the rules governing social relations, or for explaining how such rules informed the structure of human
action. In this respect, Merleau-Ponty's concept of the institution offered a more promising point of departure, as we shall see. By contrast, Sartre generally ignored the problems of methodology raised by Marx's economic and historical works. In contending that "the certainty of the synthetic reconstruction which Marx carried out in Capital . . . defies commentary," he effectively disqualified himself from any critical discussion of the methods appropriate to empirical inquiry in the social studies.
As for a "Truth" of history, Sartre, like so many other modern neo-Marxists, preserved that notion purely on faith—albeit a rather slender one. The published part of the Critique breaks off before his demonstration of the unity and cumulative coherence of a single history; the promised volume two has never appeared. As a result, no truth of history comes close to being established in volume one. Instead, the philosophical anthropology of the Critique evokes a pessimism at odds with the customary Marxist interpretation of history. To the end, Sartre basically resented other people, portrayed even in the Critique as encroaching on the liberty of the individual; he likewise distrusted the objectifications of men, because they exposed freedom to the pitfalls of alien interpretations and unforeseen consequences. A classless society beyond alienation had about as much plausibility in his social world as man becoming God—and in Being and Nothingness , he had demonstrated that that was impossible. As he footnoted the issue, his skepticism struck at the heart of Marx's highest hopes for history: "Must the disappearance of capitalist forms of alienation be identified with the suppression of all the forms of alienation?" To the extent that objectification entailed alienation for Sartre, as for Hegel, alienation could as little be overcome as objectification could be dispensed with. Small wonder that communism covertly assumed the moral role of a pure utopia: less than a Truth of history and more than a wager that might be realized, communism for Sartre became a regulative myth —as Merleau-Ponty pointed out in 1955.
Sartre variously accomplished his purposes in the Critique . To a large extent, he managed to reconcile his doctrine of ontological
freedom with the experience of social unfreedom. But he paid a high price for this architectonic victory. By having to accommodate his phenomenology of social forms to his idiosyncratic notions of freedom and sociability, he was encouraged to minimize or ignore contrasting phenomena of social life, such as the voluntary associations Tocqueville extolled, and the mutual aid societies esteemed by Kropotkin. Both of these paradigms, with their stress on pacific cooperation, suggest possibilities for communal freedom left unexplored by Sartre.
As descriptive analysis, on the other hand, the Critique , while frequently provocative in its detailed examples, lacked plausibility in its systematic structure. In part, the difficulty derived from Sartre's original sense of subjectivity. Unlike such rival "phenomenologists of the social" as Georg Simmel and Alfred Schutz, Sartre built his account on the basis of individuals largely bereft of such sociable attributes as compassion and trust. As a consequence, his description of dyads and "small group interaction," for example, rarely reach the level of compelling insight animating similar discussions by Simmel and Schutz—a damaging failure for any philosophy which grounds the cogency of its categories on the persuasiveness of its descriptions.
Further difficulties arise when an attempt is made to sort out Sartre's empirical generalizations from his a priori principles. For example, is the group-in-fusion fated to become a serial collectivity because the transience of social conflict favors such decay? Or is any group prey to instability thanks to the envy and distrust endemic to human nature under conditions of scarcity? Can the degeneration of the group be deduced from a priori principles of philosophical anthropology? The consistency of Sartre's core image of subjectivity sometimes suggests as much. Or is this development merely an observational generalization? In this last case, Sartre would have given us a set of typifications, abstracted from history, typifications presumably helpful in explaining the metamorphosis of social institutions. Unfortunately, Sartre offers not exemplary explanations of specific institutional changes but rather a confirming catalog. Although he referred to various historical events (especially those of the French and Russian revolutions), Sartre used such material illustratively. When joined to the a priori bent of his philosophical anthropology, his account of the genesis and decay of social forms thus acquired an odd taste of inevitability.
As we have seen, Sartre's Critique of Dialectical Reason supplemented rather than superseded Being and Nothingness . If the Critique laid bare the genesis of a transcendent social order, sustaining morality and stable social roles, Being and Nothingness equally denounced this order as a false prop for the individual's own choice of a way of life. Only the group-in-fusion, a collective incarnation of perpetual transcendence (which is what Being and Nothingness demanded anyhow), could accommodate the authentic individual, consciously exercising his ontological freedom.
When applied to Marxism , such concerns implied a theory of genuine individuation, linked to a critique of repressive (serial and practico-inert) social forms. Not just an image of autonomy in judgment and freedom in self-expression, authentic individuation required a person's active and ongoing self-definition, the subject's creative pursuit of possibilities. Under the conditions of advanced industrial society, however, individuation, while professed in principle, evaporated in practice, the victim of routinized patterns of thinking and acting; here human possibilities dissolved in a one-dimensional way of life, endured without any sense of alternatives.
To have confronted the attraction of such one-dimensionality is one of Sartre's great merits. In a world of routinized order, freedom may appear as a troubling source of insecurity, threatening to disrupt familiar modes of existence. Any program for social change thus finds itself beset not only by institutions of domination but also dominated individuals, fearful of the very freedom to change the world that might dispel their suffering. Sartre here disavowed Enlightenment rationalism as a tenable basis for Marxist theory. But, as he explained in Search for a Method , "Our intention is not to 'give the irrational its due,' but on the contrary, to reduce the part of indetermination and non-knowledge, not to reject Marxism in the name of a third path or of idealist humanism, but to reconquer man within Marxism ."
Ironically, Sartre's most illuminating contributions to this end came not in the Critique but rather in his earlier essays and his biographies. Even Being and Nothingness offered an effective indictment of rationalism, despite initially proceeding from rationalist premises. Through such notions as bad faith and authenticity, he
attempted to grasp the individual's flight from freedom into the arms of previously established social values and roles. By reassessing the significance of passion, anxiety, and inertia in human affairs, Sartre implicitly reassessed the subjective grounds of ideological beliefs.
To be sure, these insights were not free of problems. As we have seen, Sartre's concept of authenticity lacked any discernible content, while his doctrine of absolute ontological freedom threatened to undermine critical applications of the concept. Indeed, as his philosophy progressed, the doctrine of ontological freedom increasingly became a hindrance complicating his main intention. By abandoning the notion of innate individual freedom and advocating instead something akin to Merleau-Ponty's concept of situated transcendence, he might have accomplished his primary purpose—"to give man both his autonomy and his reality among real objects"— without maintaining the Cartesian dualism haunting his outlook on human existence, "the Other," and social forms.
Fortunately, since he avoided making reason an ontological given, his discussion of the struggle for individual rationality escaped the difficulties surrounding his analogous inquiry into the struggle for individual freedom. In his essay on anti-Semitism, he formulated the problem of rationality with unusual clarity.
How can one choose to reason falsely? It is because of a longing for impenetrability. The rational man groans as he gropes for the truth; he knows that his reasoning is no more than tentative, that other considerations may supervene to cast doubt on it. He never sees very clearly where he is going; he is "open"; he may even appear to be hesitant. But there are people who are attracted by the durability of a stone. They wish to be massive and impenetrable; they wish not to change. Where indeed would change take them?
This recognition of a subjective fright before change struck a new and pessimistic chord in radical social thought.
We have here a basic fear of oneself and of truth. What frightens them is not the content of truth, of which they have no conception, but the form itself of truth, that thing of indefinite approximation. It is as if their own existence were in continual suspension. But they wish to exist all at once and right away. They do not want any acquired opinions; they want them
to be innate. Since they are afraid of reasoning, they wish to lead the kind of life wherein reasoning and research play only a subordinate role, wherein one seeks only what he has already found, wherein one becomes only what he already was. This is nothing but passion.
But passion itself fueled the individual's acts; it nurtured a surrogate strength. "Only a strong emotional bias can give a lightning-like certainty; it alone can hold reason in leash; it alone can remain impervious to experience and last a whole lifetime."
This "arationalist" perspective illuminated much of Sartre's later writing. Its implications for Marxism first emerged in The Communists and Peace . There Sartre defended a Leninist strategic position by arguing against the inherent rationality of the proletariat. Reason was never guaranteed anyone, not even the worker; "resignation" and "revolution" equally shed light on any situation, and the worker's response simply could not be prejudged. "Is this idealism, irrationalism?" he asked rhetorically. "Not at all. Everything will be clear, rational, everything is real"—but only "beginning with that resistance" to a rational "deciphering" of the situation disclosed in Sartre's approach. "Active experience begins in receptivity"—or inertia.
Passion had a role to play in dissolving this inertia, as surely as enlightened reason itself. Rejecting the sufficiency of orthodox Marxism , and the movement it anticipated from objective class interest to subjective class consciousness, Sartre asserted that passionate engagement comprised a crucial component in the passage beyond objective circumstances toward revolutionary goals; passion alone might overcome social inertia. "In short, the proletariat has not only a relationship with its own activity, it has to deal as well with its own inertia and, through it, with the activity of the Other class. For it is also through our passion that we have the painful and ambiguous experience of the real."
On this account, only a frail thread of commitment sustained the meaningful telos of rational Marxian practice. The revolutionary endeavor ultimately fell back on its own human resources: an engaged practice, more than mere "objective possibilities," sustained the revolutionary image of a better world—although this practice was itself based on "objective possibilities." Sartre posed the problem succinctly: subjectivity, even faced with a transcendent image of a better social order, one that might plausibly be insti-
tuted, usually continued to equate the tried with the true. But this routinization of practical transcendence spelled its eclipse—another meaning of the practico-inert. Radical practice could ill afford such an occlusion of creative subjective initiative; after all, the future of communism resided with the rational intentions of militant proletarians. The acquisition of a committed and "passionate" rationality thus became as much an issue for social theory as the elaboration of a cogent science of political economy.
As Sartre developed his position in the Critique , need rather than reason became the central factor in all human action. Lack— whether of food, shelter, or implicitly also transcendental values—comprised the ineliminable motor of history; still the mere force of such needs in no way guaranteed that rationality would play a part in satisfying them. Although the Critique focused on the need for material necessities, Being and Nothingness also disclosed a metaphysical need for substantial identity. Both types could hinder as well as encourage a radical political practice; with the possible exception of material needs, neither type could be definitively met. "The dialectical totalization must include acts, passions, work, and need as well as economic categories; it must at once place the agent or the event back into the historical setting, define him in relation to the orientation of becoming, and determine exactly the meaning of the present as such."
While the Critique hardly amplified the point, Sartre implied in Search for a Method that Marx's notion of an objective social struggle against exploitation had to be supplemented by an understanding of the subjective psychological struggle against inertia. The enlightened knowledge of objective exploitation could not, by itself, overcome an individual's passivity and reluctance to act decisively; dismantling routine practical responses therefore necessarily preceded any sustained commitment to a revolutionary movement. In this context, Sartre's remarks on Kierkegaard assumed an added measure of significance. "Kierkegaardian existence is the work of our inner life—resistances overcome and perpetually reborn, efforts perpetually renewed, despairs surmounted, provisional failures and precarious victories—and this work is directly opposed to intellectual knowing. . . . Ideas do not change men. Knowing the cause of a passion is not enough to overcome it; one must live it, one must oppose other passions to it, one must combat it tenaciously, in short one must 'work oneself through.'"
Sartre's elaboration of this perspective culminated not in the derivative social theory of the Critique but in the "existential psychoanalysis" of his biographies, particularly his prolix tome on Flaubert's formative years, The Idiot of the Family . He had first announced the idea of an existential psychoanalysis in Being and Nothingness; there he identified such research with the recovery of a "fundamental project" that intelligibly unified any person's entire life into a coherent and meaningful whole. Flaubert figured as his example even in 1943. "To be , for Flaubert, as for every subject of 'biography,' means to be unified in the world. The irreducible unification which we ought to find, which is Flaubert, and which we require biographers to reveal to us—this is the unification of an original project, a unification which should reveal itself to us as a non-substantial absolute ." In his early biographies (such as Saint Genet ), Sartre attempted to reconstruct the central choice which a creative individual made of himself and his world. The existential psychoanalytic biography would reveal, concretely, how one person succeeded in making himself out of what he had been made.
As he developed his own variant of Marxism , he correspondingly expanded his notion of biography to include the social and historical dimensions of a person's life. Where in Being and Nothingness he had described the fundamental project as "purely individual and unique," in The Idiot of the Family he asserted that "a man is never an individual; it would be better to call him a singular universal. Totalized and, by the same stroke, universalized by his epoch, he retotalizes it while reproducing it within himself as singularity." But the primary focus remained the same as before: how one person, combining knowledge and passion in a fundamental project, worked through a situation at once unique (being his) and universal (being socially shared). From this perspective, the notions of internal struggle and external action became intertwined; a subjective "working through" always accomplished objective works, while "rational thought forges itself in action."The Idiot of the Family reconstructed Flaubert's particular path beyond an endured, irrational childhood of "passive activity" and inertia, to his moment of fundamental choice—his decision to become a writer. Although Sartre,
increasingly self-indulgent, let his biography ramble on at unconscionable length, we should not let his hermetic obtuseness obscure the rationale behind his project.
The approach of the Flaubert book was intended to complement Sartre's interpretation of dialectical reason in the Critique . According to the latter's social nominalism, "totalization" could only be a singular adventure. "Our critical experience represents nothing other than the fundamental identity of a singular life and human history." It therefore became a critical task for existential Marxism to reconstruct the richness of history starting from the uniqueness of a single individual; as Sartre emphasized in Search for a Method , "Nothing can be discovered if we do not at the start proceed as far as is possible for us in the historical particularity of the object." It was in this sense that Sartre called The Idiot of the Family the sequel to Search for a Method , even as he considered the latter essay an inquiry resting ultimately on the findings of the Critique . Dialectical nominalism would only be founded by a twofold movement: from the free individual to determining history (in a phenomenology of the social world) and from determining history to the free individual (in an exemplary and exhaustive sociopsychoanalytic existential biography). Yet while the rationale behind Sartre's biography was provocative, his choice of subject matter proved less resonant, at least from the standpoint of reorienting social thought: deciphering the enigma of the creative decisions made by an exceptional artist hardly made a compelling case for the universal applicability of a new method.
His biographical notion of the individual struggling through an "oriented life" nevertheless placed Sartre's thought in principle beyond the certainties of both positivist and rationalist Marxisms . "Complexes, a style of life and the revelation of the past-surpassing as a future to be created form one and the same reality: it is the project as an oriented life , as man's affirmation through action, and simultaneously it is that unlocalizable mist of irrationality, which is reflected from the future in our remembrances of childhood and from our childhood in our rational choices as mature men." Marxist rationalism assumed reason as much as it slighted passion; consequently Marxism , like any rationalism, tended to underestimate the importance of the individual's struggle against passivity and personal inertia.
These insights of Sartre's seem important, and, so far as they go, valid. Naturally, they have implications for radical theory. Beyond the critique of political economy and the analysis of social structure, beyond cultural criticism and the unmasking of ideologies, the individual's relation to a personal and social history merits reconsideration. Traditionally, Marxism has relied on causal assumptions to buttress its observations of correspondences between ideology and productive forces; similarly, it has anticipated a rational practice that would overcome irrational social forms. But for Sartre, after the theoretical and practical failure of both rationalism and positivism, the question of the individual's relation to history remained unsolved. How was the individual conditioned to passivity? How did he acquire rational initiative over the course of his life and the decisions he made? The complex of specific mediations between the particular individual and a universal meaning of history frustrated any easy answer to these questions.
Sartre's position also affected the shape of radical practice. As Search for a Method had argued, objective conditions only entered into an agent's acts insofar as they were meaningfully integrated in the project of a particular life. "If the material conditions which govern human relations are to become real conditions of praxis , they must be lived in the particularity of particular situations." The objective diminution of buying power, for example, did not of itself lead to discontent; it only spelled revolt when an agent felt a need had been unfairly denied. A central aim of radical practice thus became analyzing and identifying the impact of objective factors within a person's experience. If the individual was to change prevailing circumstances, he had first to experience those circumstances as an intolerable and unnecessary imposition.
Similarly, the objective possibility for socialism had to become a vital aspiration permeating existence; if the individual was to help combat the established order, he had to experience it as alterable in the direction of a palpably better form of life. Closely related to the attainment of this transcending social outlook was his acquisition of a transcending personal outlook, a vision of himself as an autonomous subject within society, an agent with freedom and initiative. Feelings of powerlessness, inertia, and passivity had to be confronted and overcome: any truly communist revolution had to be based on rational and free action.
Although he initially espoused a rather crude variant of Leninism
in The Communists and Peace , Sartre's later accent on subjective factors by implication argued against orthodoxy. Leninism would engineer socialism from without; a consistent Sartreanism would engender socialism from within. The individual would have to discover the social dialectic through his own decisions as a "rational transparency"; it was a discovery no party could make for the individual. Indeed, Sartre's utopia of the group-in-fusion pointed toward a messianic syndicalism more than an institutionalized Leninism.
He thus attempted, at the level of practice as well as of theory and history, to illuminate the relations between social circumstance and individual action. The question, How did a radical choose his project? paralleled the more general question, How did any man shape the course of his life? Both the Critique and the biographies represented attempts, from complementary standpoints, to grapple with such questions. "Valéry is a petit bourgeois intellectual, no doubt about it," wrote Sartre in Search for a Method . "But not every petit bourgeois intellectual is Valéry. The heuristic inadequacy of contemporary Marxism is contained in these two sentences. Marxism lacks any hierarchy of mediations. . . . " Existentialism by contrast "intends, without being unfaithful to Marxist principles, to find the mediations which allow the individual concrete—the particular life, the real and dated conflict, the person—to emerge from the background of the general contradictions of productive forces and the relations of production."
His aim dictated his approach.
Contrary to the synthetic movement of the dialectic as a method (i.e., contrary to the movement of that Marxist thought which goes from production and the relations of production to the structure of groups, then to the internal contradictions of the group, to the environment, and, in case of need, to the individual), critical experience departs from the immediate, i.e., the individual realizing himself in his abstract [in the sense of incomplete] praxis, in order to recover, through increasingly profound conditionings, the totality of his practical links with others, the structure of diverse practical multiplicities, and through the contradictions and their conflict, the absolute concrete: historical man.
It is the intransigent articulation of this aspiration, above all, that has made Sartre a central figure in contemporary Marxist philosophy. Indeed, despite the muddles of the Critique of Dialectical Rea -
son , his insistence on the individual's import for Marxism has raised a series of critical questions: What is the individual's ongoing role in sustaining oppressive institutions? How should a theory view such institutions: as mutable but reified human collectives, or as social "things," to be investigated and mastered by quantifiable methods of causal explanation? What are the possibilities for reasoned behavior in human beings, those creatures of habit, passion, and fear? What kinds of institutions, by cultivating the rational freedom of men. would promote "the integration of the free individual in a society conceived as the unity of the free activity of individuals?" Even if his answers to these questions have not always been satisfying, his persistence in posing them has had a salutary effect: although his elaborations may err, the philosopher has an eye for the essential.
The Ambiguity of History
Sartre's discussion of bad faith struck a resonant chord among intellectuals in Western Europe during the postwar period. It was as if, after the shocks sustained during the war, after the nightmare of the concentration camps and the atomic bomb, after the collapse of a compromised liberalism, after the disintegration of Soviet socialism in the Stalinist state—after all this, life itself stood naked. Existence had to recapture a sense of purpose.
Existentialism spoke directly to this mood. It portrayed modern man as homeless, cast into a degrading culture that stifled the particular to encourage the average. In such circumstances, the aim of individuation was felt to require something more than a guarantee of legal rights and the advent of social planning; individuation, the professed aim of bourgeois society, appeared now as a fragile accomplishment, ravaged by mass culture, the imperatives of largescale organization, and the totalitarian state. By addressing such problems, however abstractly, existentialism joined one of the key issues of any genuinely radical social theory—the issue, as Marx might have put it, of the conditions of unalienated self-expression.
Without parallel in Marxism , however, was the suggestion, contained in the philosophies of Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Sartre, that man was something other than the being of potential enlightenment portrayed by rationalism. The individual, thrown back on his own resources, bereft of a transcendent order, and unable to assent, without qualifications, to any set of normative prescriptions, suddenly faced the world alone, only to find in it not the promised land of autonomy and freedom but instead an abyss of uncertain existence. Cast adrift without goals in a world apparently without aim,
Existentialism here afforded insight into the crisis, widely felt, in man's contemporary condition. In addition, existentialism and phenomenology professed to offer an alternative basis for philosophical insight, beyond positivism as well as rationalism. When applied to Marxism , existential phenomenology promised to direct the theory back to its premise in the interaction of real individuals, and to provide a new framework for reconsidering Marx's hopes for individuation.
The most fruitful application of existentialism to Marxism occurred in the philosophy of Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Unlike Sartre, Merleau-Ponty embraced Marxism virtually from the outset of his career. But rather than gravitating closer to the theory's orbit as he amplified his own philosophy, he eventually elaborated an independent position, skeptical of Marxism both as theory and practice. Yet his very independence facilitated a critical outlook toward the dilemmas of Marxism , which he came to consider insuperable. Simultaneously, his own philosophy, enriched by his contact with Marxism , produced the rudiments of an original phenomenology of the social world, focusing on institutions as the intersubjective nexus of meaningful existence. In contrast to Sartre's existentialism, Merleau-Ponty's phenomenology emphasized the unity of consciousness with the empirical world and man's inherent sociability.
From Behavior to Perception:
The Affinity of Consciousness and Nature
In the introduction to his first book, The Structure of Behavior , Merieau-Ponty expressed his desire to elucidate the relations of "consciousness and nature, organic, psychological or even social." By interpreting the findings of gestalt psychology within a phenomenological framework, he concluded that neither a mechanistic nor idealistic approach could adequately account for the phenomenon of behavior.
Through his study of behavior, Merieau-Ponty hoped to demarcate a primordial locus of meaning bonding consciousness, via the
body, to the world. The philosophical inventory of behavior revealed meaningful action before the advent of self-conscious reflection. The truth of naturalism and realism thus turned out to be a philosophy of significant "structures." It was on this basis that he approached the study of perception.
The centerpiece of Merleau-Ponty's career, and the effective foundation for much of his subsequent work, is his second book, Phenomenology of Perception , published in 1945. The implications and dilemmas of his brand of Marxism cannot be fully appreciated without a preliminary account of the philosophy he elaborated there.
In the Phenomenology of Perception , as in the Structure of Behavior before it, Merleau-Ponty argued that empiricism, behaviorism, and neo-Kantian rationalism all failed to account adequately for important phenomena, in this case phenomena of perception. Empiricism was wed to a stimulus-response model, taking as its fundamental unit atomic sense-data; but the holistic patterning of perception described by gestalt psychologists contradicted the atomism of the empiricist model. Rationalism, on the other hand, approached perception as if it were the lucid construct of consciousness; this account, however, also distorted our experience, which always afforded the possibility of perceptual error—perception was not the logical result of a series of judgments. Rationalism thus mistakenly enriched perception by elevating it to the level of self-consciousness, while empiricism falsely impoverished perception by reducing it to an empty passivity.
Merleau-Ponty felt that a new philosophy could arise from this impasse. By attempting a fresh description of the phenomenon of perception, a description unprejudiced by previous accounts, he sought to formulate a philosophical alternative to rationalism and empiricism (which in his account closely resembled the materialist epistemology endorsed by Plekhanov and Lenin). The key to this new philosophy lay in his interpretation of the close interplay in perception between the body and the cogtto , terms which both empiricism and rationalism had tended to segregate. By linking the body and the cogito in his interpretations of such clinical phenomena as the perception of a "phantom limb" (the belief, for example, that an amputated leg still exists), Merleau-Ponty hoped to unravel the genesis of the "transcendental unity" of perception, a unity which
idealism had placed at the foundation of consciousness. Cases like that of the phantom limb revealed the persistence of an holistic perception of the body, a perception anterior to rational judgment and emended only with difficulty (despite the evidence, say, of a missing limb).
It was this holistic perception of the body—the "phenomenal body," as subjectively experienced by the individual, in contrast with the body as objectively dissected by science—which anchored the individual in a world: "Consciousness must be faced with its own unreflective life in things and awakened to its own history, which it was forgetting." The body was man's vehicle of "being in the world"; through his body, the individual became committed to a coherent structure of perceptual and behavioral dispositions.
Because these dispositions were assumed holistically, the individual's bodily perceptions could not be explained purely mechanistically. Yet the description of perception also revealed that it was the body, not consciousness by itself, which introduced coherence into perception. The foundations of the subject's contact with a world therefore lay not in external stimuli, as empiricism had it, nor in consciousness by itself, as rationalism had it, but rather in the familiarity with a world that the body itself spontaneously instituted. Such familiarity was never accomplished once and for all, as an absolute acquisition; instead, the orientation of the body evolved across time, relying on a prospective anticipation of worldly order as well as a retrospective synthesis that motivated this anticipation. Moreover, a person's bodily presence in the world at every turn suggested ambiguity rather than finality, an openness rather than the faits accomplis of rational intellection. Belief in a natural world appeared as man's original existential commitment, engendered by perception and behavior, but without any other transcendental grounds.
The Embodied Cogito and Intersubjectivity
Although Merleau-Ponty retained the notion of the cogito , he radically reinterpreted this Cartesian (and Husserlian) concept. For him, the true subject of perception was not consciousness as such, but "existence, or being in the world through a body." Conscious-
ness, implicated in the world by its corporeal incarnation, comprised "nothing but a network of intentions," enmeshed in a past and future, a physical, ideological, and moral situation. Thrust by behavior and perception into a "pre-objective presence" to the world, the cogito possessed a world prior to self-conscious judgment. The incarnate cogito could be distinguished, not by the "I think" of Descartes and Husserl, but rather by an "I can." "This new cogito, because it is anterior to revealed truth and error, makes both possible."
The embodied cogito described in the Phenomenology of Perception did not subsist like an inanimate thing; its environment did not consist of a static collection of objects. Instead, as existentially reinterpreted, it actively oriented itself. The new cogito , like the phenomenal body, was thus distinguished by its involvement in a task and situation, rather than by any formal, a priori predicates. Because this incarnate cogito existed through action, it could never coincide with itself; it always remained suspended between what it had and what it tried to have, between what it was and what it intended to be. The existential subject authentically discovered itself not through an identity posited in reflection but rather through acting. But the act was never pure, and always remained grounded in an antecedent world: consciousness was thus inextricably involved in circumstances.
Indeed, Merleau-Ponty's emphasis on the body set him apart from Sartre, who in Being and Nothingness had focused on the for-itself of consciousness. Merleau-Ponty in fact argued that Sartre's fateful dualism between the in-itself and for-itself did not rend the subject's original insertion in a world, before the advent of explicit conceptual judgment.
"The thing presents itself to the person who perceives it as a thing in itself, and thus poses the problem of a genuine in-itself-for-us ." This initial identification of the subject with a world signaled the individual as a "captive or natural spirit," anchored in the world by his sentient incarnation. For the body, the natural world did not appear a threatening and massive objectivity; rather, the natural world became the "horizon of all horizons, the style of all possible styles, which guarantees for my experience a given, not a willed, unity underlying all the disruptions of my personal and historical life. Its counterpart within me is the given, general and pre-personal
existence of my sensory functions in which we have discovered the definition of the body."
If man's body opened him to a world, then the cogito could no longer be radically divorced from the body; it confronted the world only via the body. The unity of mind and body worked both ways. Just as consciousness encountered a world through the body, so a world—and other people—encountered consciousness through the body: "That expressive instrument called a face can carry an existence, as my own existence is carried by my body. . . . " Another person's body appeared not as a mute object, but rather as a "manifestation of behavior." In contrast to Sartre, Merleau-Ponty refused to treat the existence of other people as problematic, let alone threatening. To be sure, "I am necessarily destined never to experience the presence of another person to himself. Yet each other person does exist for me as an unchallengeable style or setting of coexistence, and my life has a social atmosphere."
Merleau-Ponty's philosophy of subjectivity flowed from his comprehension of the body and cogito . "Insofar as, when I reflect on the essence of subjectivity, I find it bound up with that of the body and that of the world, this is because my existence as subjectivity is merely one with my existence as a body and with the existence of the world, and because the subject that I am, when taken concretely, is inseparable from this body and this world." Although he installed subjectivity at the heart of his philosophy, that subjectivity always implied, and was implicated in, objectivity. The individual, through his body, formed part of the objective world, just as consciousness, through bodily action, transformed that objective world. Similarly, through his body and acts, the individual was open to an intersubjective world of shared understanding. While objective perceptions arose at the level of private experience, the subject for the most part valued and evaluated his perceptions in terms of the world shared perceptually with other subjects. Moreover, the individual, through his body and acts, necessarily exposed himself to the perception of others: their interpretation of his behavior and validation of his perceptions in turn helped found the individual's sense of self, as well as his understanding of the world. "Solipsism," argued Merleau-Ponty, "would be strictly true only of someone who managed to be tacitly aware of his existence without being or doing anything."
The social realm consequently assumed a central position within
his thought. "We must . . . rediscover, after the natural world, the social world, not as an object or sum of objects, but as a permanent field or dimension of existence: I may well turn away from it, but not cease to be situated relatively to it. Our relationship to the social is, like our relationship to the world, deeper than any express perception or judgement."
Merleau-Ponty's investigations of perception thus ended by charting a philosophical alternative to empiricism and rationalism, a philosophy of intersubjectivity tracing the affinity of consciousness and nature, mind and body, self and society. By returning to the existence each individual lived, and describing it with a minimum of presuppositions, his existential phenomenology attempted to mediate the antinomies of the philosophical tradition.
Situated vs. Absolute Freedom
Despite a common background in existential phenomenology, Merleau-Ponty and Sartre derived fundamentally different outlooks on man from their early investigations. These differences were most firmly drawn by Merleau-Ponty in his discussion of freedom at the close of the Phenomenology of Perception .
Sartre, it will be recalled, had asserted a kind of absolute freedom for the conscious human being. It was this claim that Merleau-Ponty disputed. To be sure, he never doubted man's experience of freedom: freedom indeed appeared to him as a phenomenologically verified certainty. The phenomenal subject always maintained a "power of placing in abeyance" the determinants of its existence. and "this suffices to insure our freedom from determinism." But such a freedom could never be divorced from the individual's insertion in a world; instead, the concept of freedom only made sense in conjunction with this insertion. If freedom were everywhere, as seemed to be the case in Sartre's Being and Nothingness , then freedom in effect would be nowhere: as an omnipresent endowment, freedom lost its field of application, and thus its traditional significance and critical import. "Free action, in order to be discernible, has to stand out from a background of life from which it is entirely, or almost entirely, absent."
While Sartre properly emphasized the subject's freedom, he distorted the scope of this freedom by rendering it absolute. The subject, argued Merleau-Ponty, always faced a previously established situation, an environment and world not of its own making. Its life, as intersubjectively open, acquired a social atmosphere which it did not itself constitute. Social roles pressed upon the individual as plausible courses for his life to take. Certain modes of behavior became habitual. Probably , this world, these habits, a familiar comportment: probably these would not change overnight. It was unlikely that an individual would suddenly choose to be something radically other than what he had already become. The Sartre of Being and Nothingness underestimated the weight of this realm of relative constraint and habitual inertia. Here as elsewhere, charged Merleau-Ponty, Sartre remained beholden to rationalist dualisms. "The rationalist's dilemma: either the free act is possible, or it is not—either the event originates in me or is imposed on me from outside—does not apply to our relations with the world and with our past. Our freedom does not destroy our situation, but gears itself to it: as long as we are alive, our situation is open, which implies both that it calls up specially favored modes of resolution, and also that it is powerless to bring one into being by itself."
The individual sustained a psychological and historical structure, endowed with a certain style of existence, which had to be granted a certain persistence. To be sure, the individual's existence, like his perceptions, received meaning from his projects, from the goals he assigned himself. Yet although the subject gave direction and significance to his life, such projects generally remained merely lived, rather than explicitly thought. The individual thus existed within an inarticulate momentum, establishing probabilities and patterns of behavior. He always exercised his freedom within this temporal framework; antecedent circumstance as well as prospective ends suggested decisions and prompted acts. "The situation thus comes to the aid of decision, and in this exchange between the situation and the person who takes it up, it is impossible to determine precisely the 'share contributed by the situation' and the 'share contributed by freedom.'"
In Merleau-Ponty's philosophy, men faced a previously constituted world that nevertheless accommodated free action. This world acted upon the individual as surely as he acted upon it, in a perpet-
ual exchange. For Merleau-Ponty, there was "never determinism and never absolute choice," by the very nature of man's being in the world.
Through this account of freedom, the Phenomenology of Perception offered nothing less than a new empirical anthropology—and a much more compelling picture of being human than that provided by Sartre's philosophical anthropology. Merleau-Ponty's insistence on the life-world as the foundation of phenomenology went further than anything suggested by Husserl and gave his philosophy a strongly empirical bent; it also placed his thought beyond any a priori categorizations, such as Sartre's bifurcation of being into an in-itself and for-itself. His interpretation of phenomenology indeed spared his philosophy the idealist and rationalist overtones still present in the phenomenologies of Husserl as well as Sartre. While his thought here converged with Heidegger's, Merleau-Ponty avoided the ontological emphasis that characterized Being and Time . Rooted in experimental science, yet maintaining a poetic regard for the virtually ineffable primacy of subjective experience, his philosophy occupied a unique position within the phenomenological movement.
Merleau-Ponty's interest in Marxism developed early. References to philosophical issues in historical materialism occur in the Phenomenology of Perception as well as his first postwar writings on politics. Indeed, his phenomenology, with its accent on intersubjectivity and the natural world, was, superficially at least, more compatible with the Marxian theory than other brands of phenomenology, Sartre's included.
Ironically, Merleau-Ponty developed his Marxism along lines that could not always be reconciled with his phenomenology. In fact, the two principal sources of his interpretation of Marxism —Lukács's neo-Hegelian Marxism (as elaborated in History and Class Consciousness ) and Merleau-Ponty's own phenomenology of perception—were implicitly in conflict on a number of points.
On the one hand, his phenomenology of perception prompted him to view history as ambiguous and to approach man's insertion
in the social order as problematic. From this perspective, he raised doubts about the assumptions Marxism made about the rationality of human action; as a consequence, he was inclined to view the historical program of Marxism as a gamble rather than a forgone conclusion. He was finally led to reconsider the process of politicization, and to redescribe, in the Phenomenology of Perception , the acquisition of a critical "class consciousness."
On the other hand, though, Merleau-Ponty elaborated a form of Marxism derived from Lukacs, Hegel, the Husserl of the Crisis , and the young Marx—the Marx who, in his "Toward the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right: Introduction," portrayed the proletariat as a material force for "the total redemption of humanity." From Lukács he added an understanding of the proletariat as the potentially unified subject-object of history, the demiurge of Absolute Knowledge appearing within human prehistory and transcending the fractured conditions of capitalism toward the future of communism; from Hegel, he borrowed the dialectic of mutual recognition, and placed its resolution at the end of history. When wed to Husserl's idea of an historical telos immanent to subjectivity, and to Marx's original depiction of the proletariat as the heart of human emancipation, these convergent strands in Merleau-Ponty's thought encouraged him to identify the proletariat with man's alienated essence, and to seek in proletarian politics a virtually apocalyptic class consciousness aiming at a more humane society, where men might treat each other as ends rather than means.
Such an essentialist vision of the proletariat and its historical mission contradicted the chief import of Merleau-Ponty's phenomennology of perception, with its emphasis on the contingency and open-ended nature of meaning: it also placed a burden of true consciousness upon the proletariat that his tentative recasting of the process of politicization in the final section of the Phenomenology of Perception should have warned him against.
While he eventually abandoned the essentialist concept of the proletariat, he did so not so much because he found the notion at odds with his own philosophy, as because he felt that the essentialist notion had been empirically discredited by the events of the postwar period. Such a result entailed a critique of Marxian politics as unrealistic; yet he provided few clues to what form a new political understanding might take. Merleau-Ponty's interpretation of Marxism therefore remained suspended between two fundamentally dif-
ferent ways of portraying society, history, and the possibilities for rational action they afforded. On one level, his oven Marxism can be identified with his fluctuating estimation of the proletariat and its ability to fulfill its rational humanistic mission; what, in Humanism and Terror , he had provisionally affirmed—the possibility of an authentically proletarian politics according to the essentialist model—he would eventually come to disavow in Adventures of the Dialectic .
But on another level, his early Marxism should be seen as promising a radical theory revised on the basis of his phenomenology of perception. This promise found its issue, not in Merleau-Ponty's overt Marxism , but rather in his mature discussions of language and the being of social institutions.
Where the "Hegelian" Merleau-Ponty portrayed the proletariat as the potential vessel of an Absolute human meaning, the "phenomenological" Merleau-Ponty described the proletariat as an inchoate yet coherent conjunction of individuals, each helping, however tacitly, to sustain a shared sense of community and purpose, the significance of which always remained open to new interpretations. The "Hegelian" Merleau-Ponty posited a rational end of history as a condition of moral coherence. The "phenomenological" Merleau-Ponty by contrast localized the ultimate rationale of history in individual action.
These particular agents of history were rarely creatures of explicit judgment, but they were rarely unreflective prisoners of fate either. What the Hegelian presumed, albeit with doubts—a conceivably univocal coherence governing all of human history—the phenomenologist undermined by anchoring history and meaning in the ineluctable amphibolies of human existence—equivocations and ambiguities perpetually clarified, but never surmounted.
From Perception to History
By tacitly according a paradigmatic status to his theory of perception, Merleau-Ponty minimized the distance between perception and history. In both areas, similar issues arose, such as the relation of consciousness to the objective world; such similarities enabled him to draw analogies between problems of historical understanding and the structure of human perception in general.
History, like perception, suggested a logic in contingency, a reason in unreason; historical forces, like perceptual figures, only came actively into focus through a human endeavor that, by actualizing them, defined them. Like perception, history could never be construed accurately as a mechanical play of mute factors, whether economic or geographic. History, as surely as perceptual objects, existed only in relation to the individuals that assumed it, with a more or less clear consciousness. More than a struggle of powers, history represented a play of meanings: both history and perception were irreducibly significant activities which established a meaningful world.
Merleau-Ponty depicted history as a field of transindividual meanings, a symbolic system—a vast repository of frequently contradictory significations. These generalized meanings, which comprised traditions of discourse, defined our situation as human beings; although we conferred significance upon a personal history, our historical environment itself embodied a significance of its own. represented in customs, habits, and explicit moral prescriptions. The interplay of particular and general meanings marked the individual's engagement in a social world. Where Sartre had remarked that man was condemned to freedom, Merleau-Ponty argued that man was condemned to meaning.
His emphasis on history as a symbolic system naturally aligned him with the antireductionist trend in Marxism . Repudiating a reduction of cultural to economic phenomena, or a reduction of history to a conflict of class interests, he found the essence of Marxism in its treatment of economic and cultural history as two indivisible moments of a single process. Similarly, labor, the central concept of Marxism , had to be viewed not merely as the production of riches, but also as "the activity by which man projects a human environment around himself and goes beyond the natural data of his life." The real subject of history was not man considered simply as a factor in production, but the whole man, man engaged in symbolic activities as well as manual labor, "man as creativity . . . trying to endow his life with form." Merleau-Ponty encountered such subjects during World War II in the French Resistance, which "offered the rare phenomenon of an historical action which remained personal." It was precisely this intersection of history with the personal that Merleau-Ponty fought to preserve within Marxism .
Like Sartre, Merleau-Ponty approached the social world from an ontological standpoint: What was the being of the social world? How did the individual participate in common tasks and relations, and how did the particular take shape through shared meanings and behavior? How did social structures inform individual behavior? Merleau-Ponty felt that the problem of the specific "existential modality" of the social world was "at one" with all other problems of transcendence: whether discussing the impingement of the natural world on perception, or the influence of the economic world on consciousness, the question remained: "How can I be open to phenomena which transcend me and which nevertheless exist only to the extent that I take them up and live them?"
Merleau-Ponty founded his original social philosophy on an interpretation of man as a "being in the world." This being was a creature of significant structures; the world man inhabited was meaningfully formed, not only by language and symbols, but also by perception and behavior. He used this image of man, in large part derived from Heidegger, to criticize rationalist accounts of consciousness as "constituting." More than a perpetually renewed constitutive act, the "me" of personhood had to be viewed as a relatively durable institution, "the field of my becoming" with a history of its own.
Although his work, larded with metaphors, remained characteristically oblique on this point—his thought is often more suggestive than substantial—he clearly hoped that his notion of the institution would surmount the difficulties surrounding the idealist concept of the constituting ego, particularly in its application to the social realm. Where the constituted objectivity of idealism, as a pure reflection of the ego's acts, rendered the existence of other transcendental egos suspect, "instituted objectivity," claimed Merleau-Ponty, arose precisely as a "hinge" between self and others, since its being qua institution resided in a mutuality of recognition.
This notion of "institution" had applications beyond the description of consciousness. In Merleau-Ponty's hands, the concept of the institution became a critical pivot for interpreting social reality. His definition of the term was broad. "Each institution is a symbolic system that the subject takes over and incorporates as a style of func-
tioning, as a global configuration, without having any need to conceive it at all. . . . One understands here by institution those events of an experience which endow it with durable dimensions, in relation to which a sequence of other experiences will have meaning, forming a comprehensible connection or history—in other words, those events which deposit a meaning in me, not by an appeal to survival and residue, but as an appeal to coherence, the requirement of a future."
Institutions, in short, provided contexts for coherent action. As meaningful structures, they prompted behavior not by external causation but rather by internal determination, by embodying norms and rules, by proffering roles. Neither thing nor ego, the institution represented a mixed milieu. While the norms of an institution afforded more or less compelling grounds for behavior, they in most cases did not necessitate behavior.
Both the Marxism of the young Marx and "Western Marxism " in 1923 lacked the means of expressing the inertia of the infrastructure. . . . In order to understand simultaneously the logic of history and its detours, its meaning and what opposes it, they had to understand its specific domain: the institution. The institution develops, not according to causal laws like those governing nature, but always in relation to what it signifies; not according to eternal ideas, but always by subsuming under its laws more or less fortuitous events and letting itself be changed by what they suggest. Torn by all these contingencies, repaired by the involuntary acts of men who are caught up in it but must live, this web can be called neither spirit nor matter, but only history. This order of "things" indicating "relations among persons," susceptible to all those weighty conditions that link it to the order of nature, yet open to all that personal life can invent, is, in modern language, the domain of symbolism. Marx's thought should have found its way out in it.
By implication at least. Merleau-Ponty here posited a sense of necessity tied to mutable norms rather than nature. While norms applied to an agent conventionally, and thus in a sense contingently, institutional norms nonetheless represented de facto compulsions, and thus embodied a certain necessity, a necessity effectuated by the continued observance of convention. If history always remained
open to transformation, if institutions could be modified, it was equally true that history carried the conventional weight of custom and habit—the inertia of institutions. It was this inertia that founded the social domain of what Marx had called "second nature."
Language assumed a paradigmatic position in Merleau-Ponty's account. In contrast to Sartre, who approached the phenomenon of sociability through the alienating gaze of other people, Merleau-Ponty portrayed language as the social institution par excellence; language comprised an open field of communication which accommodated self-expression. Equipped with its own rules and structure, language to be sure presented an institutional compulsion that the speaking subject of necessity submitted to; yet language also existed as individual speech, speech which could speak the as yet unspoken, speech that could sustain, re-create, and, in the case of poetry, overturn conventions as well as conform to them.
He drew a parallel between language and other social institutions. He even hinted that such parallels were relevant to Marxism : "The reciprocal relations between the will to express and the means of expression correspond to those between the productive forces and the forms of production." But usually he contented himself with remarking that "history is no more external to us than language." Like language, history comprised a more or less confining field of possibilities for expression, a field nevertheless open, within limits, to creative intervention.
A picture of society as a network of meaningful, rule-governed institutions emerged from Merleau-Ponty's account. The proper task of sociology and economics lay in disclosing the rules informing social and economic action and in tracing the implications and consequences of these rules.
This portrayal of society and the tasks of a social science augmented his views on human behavior. As social action, the individual's behavior proceeded in reference to institutionalized rules, norms, and principles; such rules supplied reasons for, and warranted interpretations of, behavior. But the institutional grounds of social action could not be treated mechanistically as natural causes of action: the individual's assumption (whether coerced or voluntary) of an institutional framework alone endowed institutional norms with any force in a person's life. Although such social inquiries as sociology and economics might have as their object rule-gov-
erned social action, they did not face an object distinguishable by inherent regularities. The regularities of social action were instead bound to time and place: institutional phenomena were never necessary in the sense of Newtonian physics or analytic logic.
At the same time, Merleau-Ponty used his concept of the institution to argue against the idealist view of consciousness as purifiable or somehow extractable from its contingent relationships. If existence could be described as a "permanent act" by which a person assumed empirical conditions for his own ends, then an individual's thoughts and actions always remained implicated in circumstances, both institutional and natural.
Merleau-Ponty called this perpetual involvement in a world the individual's "situation." A field of contact between agent and objects, a person's situation was articulated via a constant interchange of motives and decisions. "Motives," as Merleau-Ponty defined the term, denoted "the situation as fact," circumstances as they constrained and shaped action; "decision," on the other hand, denoted "the situation as undertaken," circumstances as mastered and transformed by action. As situated, the individual's free acts arose within the context of a unitary world. Neither a juxtaposed assortment of things, nor the intrusion of materiality on an ineffable spirit, a person's situation had to be interpreted as a coherent whole, encompassing social institutions and a personal history as well as nature.
Such a view approximated Marx's 1844 description of man as a sentient, suffering being, "a being," as Merleau-Ponty reinterpreted Marx, "with a natural and social situation, but one who is also open, active and able to establish his autonomy on the very ground of his dependence." The concepts of situation, motive, and decision thus complemented Merleau-Ponty's social philosophy of the institution: through such notions, he attempted to comprehend the individual's open-ended dependency, the hallmark of man's finitude, and the meaning of being in a world.
On Becoming a Proletarian
Merleau-Ponty's most provocative application of his phenomenology of social institutions occurred not in any of his avowedly political
texts but rather in the final pages of the Phenomenology of Perception . Here he hinted at what shape a phenomenologically revised neo-Marxian theory might assume. His account centered on a nondeterministic, nonessentialist understanding of social class—an understanding implicitly at variance with the neo-Hegelian notion of class Merleau-Ponty himself would deploy, almost contemporaneously, in Humanism and Terror .
In the Phenomenology , he argued that "one phenomenon releases another, not by means of some objective efficient cause, like those which link together natural events, but by the meaning which it holds out." The proper avenue for approaching human behavior was therefore meaningful interpretation rather than causal explanation. But "in order to understand an action, its horizon must be restored—not merely the perspective of the actor, but the 'objective' context." While he consistently denied any purely economic causality, Merleau-Ponty also denied that economic factors were irrelevant to interpreting historical acts. Economics simply did not comprise some independent realm of activity, carried on apart from a wider historical context of human existence. Indeed, precisely because economic acts opened onto a broader social horizon, and the individual, as existing in a social world, was already engaged in this realm, economic institutions helped articulate the subject's situation as surely as political, cultural, and personal institutions. "An existential conception of history does not deprive economic situations of their power of motivation ."
The Phenomenology of Perception elaborated the implications of "the existential modality of the social" for interpreting social relations. "What makes me a proletarian is not the economic system or society considered as systems of impersonal forces, but these institutions as I carry them within me and experience them; nor is it an intellectual operation devoid of motive, but my way of being in the world within this institutional framework." Where classical Marxism had spoken of objective interests, Merleau-Ponty talked of a shared situation. An individual's social situation was not constituted through a series of more or less explicit choices; nor was it thrust upon the individual as an inexorable fate. Rather, from the outset, subjects coexisted within a social setting, a coexistence traced out in cooperative tasks and familiar gestures as well as in shared concerns. The individual's existence "as a proletarian" was in the first instance
lived through as a common style and content of existence, not necessarily an explicit convergence of interests. Although the individual's existence was informed by tacit social projects, for the most part his social environment remained preconscious and unreflected.
Yet on the day an individual declared himself "a worker," this decision did not appear fortuitous, a radical upsurge of pure volition; on the contrary, "It is prepared by some molecular process, it matures in co-existence before bursting forth into words and being related to objective ends." An individual's social situation formed an ineluctable element in his meaningful comportment toward a world long before he explicitly assumed that situation. His free decision could affirm or repudiate his proletarian situation, but it could never annul it: the subject could never instantaneously become other. Similarly, to be a worker or a bourgeois was not only to be aware of being one or the other; more crucially, "it was to identify oneself as worker or bourgeois through an implicit or existential project which merges into our way of patterning the world and coexisting with other people." The privileged status of revolutionary situations resided in their ability to compel men to articulate decisions that would otherwise remain unspoken. "A revolutionary situation, or one of national danger, transforms those preconscious relationships with class and nation, hitherto merely lived through, into the definite taking of a stand; the tacit commitment becomes explicit."
The proletariat here appeared as a social collectivity bonded together through shared aspirations and fears as much as a common relation to the means of producing economic wealth. A commonality of existential situation characterized individuals from the same class; as a consequence, a social class appeared generally as a quasiconscious, amorphous yet hardly arbitrary conjunction of subjects. Their common hopes, fears, desires, and interests only became fully realized when shared situations were articulated by an explicitly sociopolitical awareness and action.
On this account, an individual who called himself a proletarian might take up a humanistic meaning of history as his own goal; still there were no factors compelling him to embrace such a universal meaning. The proletariat as a class lacked any necessary reason for embodying the essentialist claims made on its behalf by the Marx of 1843, the Lukács of 1923, and the Merleau-Ponty of 1947. Subjects
and their history did not come packaged with an inherent rationalist interest, nor did they reflexively accede to a determinism of objective events. Stripped of such supports, social theory could merely invite each individual to make historical reason triumph over barbaric contingency. In this endeavor there could be no empirical certainties, just as there could be no metaphysical charter. The vision of the rational end of history in a communist society where each individual respected every other became one perspective among several. Its plausibility was directly linked with the prospects for its realization.
Terrorism and the Logic of History
However pregnant Merleau-Ponty's social philosophy might seem, the fact remains that his Marxism by and large elaborated different concerns. To grasp the difficulties in his position, we must return to the immediate postwar period, when he was struggling to develop an independent perspective as the political editor of Les Temps modernes , a journal he had helped found with Sartre. Although his postwar essays on politics acclaimed Marxism —at least the Marxism of Marx—as the core social philosophy of the twentieth century, Merleau-Ponty maintained a studied distance from the French Communist Party. The philosophical dilemmas in his Marxism first became clear in 1947, with the publication of Humanism and Terror . In this muddled little tract, he mixed elements of his phenomenology with a portrait of the proletariat as the vessel for a truth of history—a truth which, once established, might give us an absolute yardstick for judging historical acts.
As its title indicates, Humanism and Terror addressed itself to the problem of political violence; by what standards could violence and terrorism be judged? From the outset, Merleau-Ponty rejected any neo-Kantian moral philosophy that would evaluate acts on the basis of intentions rather than consequences. Moreover, he felt strongly that any absolute condemnation of violence was unrealistic; violence has ruled all societies to date, and violence in some circumstances might even form a necessary precondition of justice. The question was therefore not the condemnation or approval of violence, but rather a discrimination between "progressive" and "regressive" vio-
lence. According to Merleau-Ponty, progressive violence tended to cancel itself out, by aiming at a more humane social order, while the regressive type sustained an exploitative regime in power. Throughout the book, he called revolutionary and "Marxist" violence progressive, because it putatively had a "future of humanism."
The argument of Humanism and Terror concerned the Moscow Trials and Arthur Koestler's fictional account of them in Darkness at Noon . But the more general problematic of the book involved the evaluation of historical acts as just or unjust, progressive or regressive. Merleau-Ponty's position on these matters proved paradoxical, and was fraught with problems.
Basically, he argued that although the meaning of history necessarily remains ambiguous to its immediate participants, we must nevertheless judge acts on the presumption of a rational historical end, namely, communism. He derived this position by a kind of backward deduction. Accepting the view that any historical act can be meaningful only if history in the large exhibits a coherent meaning, Merleau-Ponty suggested that the justice or injustice of a political act had to be measured against its world-historical consequences, rather than in terms of a subjectively universal ethic or natural law. He further asserted that Marxism comprised the only valid philosophy of history for the twentieth century. The notion of communism as the coherent end of human prehistory, filtered through Husserl's concept of a rationally regulative historical telos , was thus erected as the ultimate standard for judging historical acts. This variant of Marxism "deciphers events, discovers in them a common meaning and thereby grasps a leading thread which, without dispensing us from fresh analysis at every stage, allows us to orient ourselves toward events. . . . It seeks . . . to offer men a perception of history which would continuously clarify the lines of force and vectors of the present."
But a Marxism clear as to the basic drift of history would hardly imply a philosophy of ambiguity. Here Merleau-Ponty's philosophical arguments in the Phenomenology of Perception came into play. As he succinctly put it in Humanism and Terror , "There is no science of the future." The meaning of history deciphered by Marxism remained provisional and uncertain. No univocal meaning could be guaranteed history, because (as the Phenomenology had already argued at some length) determinism in any predictive sense
was incompatible with the essence of human existence, the eventual object of history. Merleau-Ponty therefore affirmed that chaos remained as likely an historical outcome as humane relations among men (i. e., communism), and it was this doubt about the eventual outcome of history that rendered its contemporary meaning ambiguous. Marxism , stripped of a rationalist theology or deterministic support, became Merleau-Ponty's philosophy of ambiguity.
Another problem now arose. If no historical act could be definitively judged unless history evinced a coherent meaning, then the ambiguity of history might plausibly be taken as a signal that historical acts could not in fact be meaningfully judged, at least in any irrevocable sense.
But Merleau-Ponty argued nothing of the son. Instead, he contended that a modified Marxism supplied a more adequate provisional meaning of history than any other available standpoint. Because Marxism embraced the only "universal and human politics," its truth had to be avowed, even though this truth could not be proven. In this fashion, Merleau-Ponty provisionally justified revolutionary violence, since such violence aimed at creating a humanistic society where each man would recognize every other as a peer: a progressive end of history provided a rational standpoint for judging existent societies and historical acts.
The application to the Moscow Trials of this rather complicated train of argument resulted in a convoluted defense of terrorism, and specifically of the trials. Unfortunately, Merleau-Ponty's treatment of the trials as a paradigm of revolutionary violence relied on several problematic empirical premises: that Bukharin and his cohorts in fact formed a political opposition, intentionally or unintentionally, to the policies of the Soviet Union; that this "opposition" represented a genuine threat to the survival of the Soviet Union; and finally that the Soviet Union sustained the hope of socialism. This chain of contentions allowed Merleau-Ponty to argue that Bukharin's continuing political independence could reasonably be construed a threat to socialism, the progressive end of history.
He would eventually change his mind about several of these points, but they remained the backbone of his empirical argument in Humanism and Terror . Much confusion surrounded his cavalier attitude toward questions of fact. He at one point defended himself by pleading that "we have not examined whether in fact Bukharin
led an organizational opposition nor whether the execution of the old Bolsheviks was really indispensable to the order and the national defense of the U.S.S.R."—as if such empirical considerations were too mundane for his philosophical investigation.
Throughout his discussion of the trials, Merleau-Ponty remained committed to his own interpretation of Marxism . He defended progressive violence, not because it was objectively necessary or somehow inescapable, but rather because the eventual meaning history assumed might in the long run show that such violence helped build a better society. He asserted that only his brand of Marxism , devoted to understanding "concrete subjectivity and concrete action" within an historical situation, could comprehend the real significance of the Moscow Trials:
Revolutionaries dominate the present the same way historians dominate the past. That is certainly the case with the Moscow Trials: the prosecutor and the accused speak in the name of universal history, as yet unfinished, because they believe they can reach it through the Marxist absolute of action which is indivisibly objective and subjective. The Moscow Trials only make sense between revolutionaries, that is to say between men who are convinced that they are making history and who consequently already see the present as past and see those who hesitate as traitors.
Yet his argument, for all its involution, remained equivocal and inconsistent. Although he depicted a logic of history-in-process, he simultaneously defended, albeit with qualifications, the totalitarian arbitration of the Communist Party, and the desirability of a univocal interpretation of history. His discussion of the Moscow Trials only muddied the argument further. By the end, Merleau-Ponty had posed the question, not of the justice or necessity of the trials, but instead the more dubious question of whether their victims could be construed as dying for a revolution that might potentially realize a new humanity. In a backhanded way, he was in effect asserting that a liquidation of putative opposition elements (which he bizarrely styled a country's "unhappy consciousness") could be justified by a progressive future outcome of history. It was a position that Merleau-Ponty, as an intellectual "way above the crowd," could afford to take; yet it was a position that could hardly afford much solace for anyone actively trying to institute communism with-
out abandoning elementary standards of justice and proof—standards defensible in the here and now, without any reference to a possible moral utopia.
As he became disillusioned with Marxism and communist politics, Merleau-Ponty came to abandon or revise many of the philosophical and empirical propositions he had defended in 1947. Despite his sympathetic interpretation of the Moscow Trials, the French Communist Party did not roll out the welcome mat. Not only did he still offer a heretical version of Marxism in their eyes, he also raised critical reservations about the fate of contemporary communism. His doubts centered on the role of the proletariat—and these doubts would only deepen, not dissolve.
Adventures of the Proletariat
Merleau-Ponty's declining estimation of Marxism as a philosophy paralleled his declining estimation of Marxism as a movement. He came to question the proletariat's potential as an empirical force dedicated to radical social change. Yet the proletariat was the linchpin of his Marxism . It was the proletariat that unified subject and object, theory and practice, the ideal and real; it was the proletariat that embodied a universal meaning of history in potentia .
What seemed surprising, given Merleau-Ponty's characteristic skepticism toward idealist claims, was his continuing maintenance, with few philosophical qualms, of such an essentialist view of the proletariat, modeled on elements extracted from Lukács, Hegel, and Marx. Indeed, he came to doubt whether the empirical proletariat would ever uphold the lofty claims made in its name, as the presumptive bearer of humanity's rational future. In the period between his two major treatments of Marxist political problems, Humanism and Terror in 1947 and Adventure of the Dialectic in 1955, Merleau-Ponty revised his estimate of the empirical proletariat; ultimately, he felt that events had refuted the essentialist view.
Adventures of the Dialectic chronicled this disenchantment. Where in 1947 he had advocated a kind of critical adhesion to the Communist Party, in 1955 he denounced the obsolescence of Communist practice. The apparent cause for this newfound skepticism
While Humanism and Terror had insisted that only some form of Marxism could properly comprehend revolutionary action, Merleau-Ponty now stated that materialist philosophy was incapable of analyzing the Soviet Union without reference to "occult qualities." By tracing the decline of Marxian philosophical thought during the twentieth century, from its highwater mark in 1923 (in Lukács's History and Class Consciousness ) to its degeneration in Sartre's hands (in The Communists and Peace ), Adventures of the Dialectic attempted to confront squarely some of the difficulties facing Marx ism.
Although he had always denied Marxism the crutch of empirical determinism or rationalist necessity, in the immediate postwar period he had still believed that the proletariat might possibly fill the lofty role assigned it by the theory. By 1955, this hope had been replaced by distrust. It was not only the absence of militance among contemporary workers that bothered him; it was also the seemingly unavoidable degeneration of revolutionary fervor into bureaucratic torpor.
Merleau-Ponty felt that classical Marxism had rested on the "ferment of negation" being "materially" incarnated in an actual historical force. According to him, Marxism could only maintain its ultimate verity on this real historical basis, the proletariat conceived as Selbstaufhebung , a self-transcending being and the agent of universal history through meaningful negation. But he now argued that the party and proletariat necessarily navigated within the plenitude of a positive world; the proletariat could therefore never exist as pure philosophical negativity, but only as one positive institution among others. This circumstance in turn encouraged a set of fateful identifications: "The proletariat is the revolution, the Party is the proletariat, the heads are the Party . . . as being is being." Even if a militant proletariat did exist, the chances for success at the task of negative transcendence toward a better society seemed dim: its negativity would surely be corrupted by bureaucratic institutionalization.
Merleau-Ponty thus came to hold that negativity only descended into history at privileged moments: for the most part, even revolu-
tionary policies were represented by mere functionaries, who could not help but corrupt the aims of the movement. What had once appeared to him as a process that might create humane relations among men now seemed more a vicious cycle of unsuccessful attempts to seize institutional power. While allowing that revolutions might remain true as movements, he now entertained no doubts that they were "false as regimes."
It was a melancholy conclusion. From start to finish, Adventures of the Dialectic represented the work of a disappointed man—perhaps because Merleau-Ponty could never quite escape his nostalgia for the Hegelio-Marxist Absolute. As he wrote at the outset of Adventures in regard to Max Weber, "Demystification is also depoetization and disenchantment. We must keep the capitalistic refusal of the sacred as external, but renew within it the demands of the absolute that it has abolished. We have no grounds for affirming that this recovery will be made."
Merleau-Ponty nevertheless continued to identify with what he called the Stimmung or mood of Marxism , its conviction of being on the threshhold of Absolute Truth. Yet he recognized that such a Marxian philosophy of history, which would grant history an ultimate tendency and coherent meaning, could no longer be realistically reconciled with empirical events. "There is less a sense of history than an elimination of nonsense." In reaction, he moved away from Hegel, toward Machiavelli, the spokesman for politics as the creative mastery of fate. If history had no univocal sense or direction, then politics should be judged, not by some chimerical reference to ultimate historical meaning, but rather by the manifold immanent meanings traced by the political actors themselves.
The tendency of Merleau-Ponty's argument obviously cast doubt on the substance of Marx's original enterprise. But he nonetheless upheld a chastened dialectic at the end of its "adventures." "Is the conclusion of these adventures then that the dialectic was a myth? But the illusion was only to precipitate in an historical fact—the birth and growth of the proletariat—the total signification of history, to think that history itself organized its own recovery, that proletarian power would be its own supression, negation of the negation. . . . What then is obsolete is not the dialectic, but the pretension of terminating it in an end of history or in a permanent revolution. . . . "
The rejection of determinism as a tool of the human sciences lay at the heart of all of Merleau-Ponty's social thought, be it Marxian or phenomenological. In discussing culture, causal thinking remained insufficient, for it could never on principle account for creative meaning. Similarly, politics could not be construed as a chapter in some preordained history any more than it could be regarded as an exercise in pure morality; instead, Merleau-Ponty found in politics "an action which invents itself." A philosophically coherent Marxism would have to admit the absence of determinism and the importance of creative meaning, as well as the centrality of subjective factors—even though such a reformed Marxism might become a philosophy that "Marx undoubtedly would not have wished to recognize as his own."
During the immediate postwar period, Merleau-Ponty had attempted to accommodate Marxism to his own thought, in the process producing several rather disingenuous restatements of the deterministic prejudices of orthodox Marxism . "For Marxism . . . the historical determination of effects by causes passes through human consciousness, with the result that men make their own history, although their doing so is neither disinterested nor lacking in motives. . . . Since human decision is motivated by the course of events, it will therefore seem—at least in retrospect—to be called forth by these events, so that no rupture or hiatus between effects and causes will ever be discernible in completed history." Such a line of reasoning obviously blunted the cutting edge of his critique of determinism in the social sciences.
By 1955, he was taking a different tack. In Adventures of the Dialectic , he detected a fatal equivocation in Marx's own theory between determinism and a genuine dialectic steering clear of abstract alternatives such as idealism and materialism. Marx's concept of society as "second nature" most strikingly crystallized this equivocation by analogically justifying the treatment of social relations as natural data. Merleau-Ponty felt the practical consequences of such an objectivistic understanding could only prove onerous. If society was literally a second nature, men would be justified in governing it as they governed first nature: through technical domination. Technical action would replace meaningful comprehension; in Marxist
practice, the professional revolutionary would displace the self-conscious proletariat, and guiding historical development would become the prerogative of a party elite. The "milieu of the revolution" would less and less be "relations between men, and more and more 'things' with their immanent necessity." Orthodox Marxism had already taken this turn.
It would be a mistake to pretend that Marx himself could emerge unscathed from an historical development clearly implicating his own theory. Merleau-Ponty therefore criticized Marx (somewhat inaccurately) for positing a dialectic of history executed behind humanity's back. This formulation illicitly attributed dialectic to things—relations of production, means of production—rather than men.
If the revolution is in things, how could one hesitate to brush aside by any means resistances which are only apparent? If the revolutionary function of the proletariat is engraved in the infrastructure of capital, the political action which expresses it is justified just as the Inquisition was justified by Providence. In presenting itself as the reflex of that-which-is, the historical process in itself, scientific socialism . . . grants itself the basis of an absolute knowledge at the same time as it authorizes itself to extract from history by violence a meaning which resides there, yet profoundly hidden. The melange of objectivism and extreme subjectivism, the one constantly sustaining the other, which defines Bolshevism already exists in Marx when he admits that the revolution is present before being recognized.
Such an indictment called into question the very point of remaining a Marxist, of whatever persuasion. "There is not a great deal of sense in making a fresh start from Marx if his philosophy is implicated in this failure, as if this philosophy remained intact throughout the affair, by right bounding the interrogation and self-criticism of humanity."
Nonetheless, Merleau-Ponty himself, in his description of "becoming a proletarian" in the Phenomenology of Perception , had hinted at the viability of a modest Marxism , freed from a deterministic dialectic of history. The elimination from Marxism of guarantees, whether factual or metaphysical, left the ultimate significance of history open. Such a Marxism could not claim before the fact to embody the essential meaning of history. Its prognostications would instead assume the status of negative propositions: "The world
economy cannot be organized and its internal contradictions cannot be overcome . . . as long as socialistic ownership of the instruments of production is not everywhere established . . . Marxism would remain a politics which is as justified as any other. It would even be the only universal and human politics. But it would not be able to take advantage of a pre-established harmony with the course of events."
Philosophically, historical materialism would then become one heuristic scheme among others—the most potentially fruitful perhaps, but one that still had perpetually to prove its utility in actual contact with events. Far from reducing history to one of its sectors, which would determine in advance the path to be followed, a chastened historical materialism would merely claim that "there is a close connection between the person and his external world, between the subject and the object which determines the alienation of the subject in the object, and, if the movement can be reversed, will determine the reintegration of the world with man."
A modest Marxism , suggested Merleau-Ponty, held out the hope, although it could not guarantee it, that truth, reason, and logic would prevail in the course of history. But if contemporary conditions contained scant (if any) indicators that actually pointed in this rational direction, if the proletariat seemed unable to fulfill the mission prescribed for it by the Marxian theory—then Marxism was reduced to a gamble, a vow, a wager. Such a philosophy of history could no longer assume a rationality immanent in history. Instead, history became an "adventure" in which reason could hardly be counted an inevitable component.
Unfortunately, such a modest version did not accord with Marx's own Marxism : Marx had preserved the premise of immanent historical rationality precisely in his expectations for the proletariat; and orthodox Marxism had transformed this optimistic prognosis of the meaning of history into an absolute political criterion, now interpreted purely objectively. What the later Marx wanted from Hegel was "no longer dialectical inspiration but a rationalism to be used for the benefit of 'matter,' i.e., 'relations of production,' considered as an external self-given order and a totally positive force. . . . It becomes a question of annexing Hegel's logic to economics. . . . Action that will change the world is no longer undivided philosophical and technical praxis , an infrastructural movement and at
the same time an appeal to a total critique of the subject, but rather a purely technical action comparable to that of the engineer who constructs a bridge." In his last political writings, Merleau-Ponty thus referred to Marxism as just another name for a "rationalistic politics." A Marxism stripped of rationalist as well as deterministic guarantees could not, he came to feel, justify the designation " Marxism " any longer.
While it might retain a relative heuristic value, Marxism could not therefore be considered true—"certainly no longer true in the sense it was believed to be true." The options in Merleau-Ponty's eyes were simple. One either remained a dogmatic Marxist, owing allegiance to Communism as a movement, or one opted for a powerless, skeptical radicalism, without immediate political efficacy, but also without intellectual compromises. "It is clear that a revolutionary politics cannot be maintained without its pivot, that is, proletarian power. If there is no 'universal class' and exercise of power by that class, the revolutionary spirit becomes pure morality or moral radicalism again. Revolutionary politics was a doing, a realism, the birth of a force. The non-Communist left often retains only its negations. This phenomenon is a chapter in the great decline of the revolutionary idea. . . . Its principal hypothesis, that of a revolutionary class, is not confirmed by the actual course of events."
At its inception, Merleau-Ponty's adherence to Marxism had depended on an essentialist view of history and the proletariat: the latter provisionally incarnated the teleological meaning of history. He came to criticize Marxism harshly because he felt that history could no longer sustain such a conception. Despite his attempts to formulate a Marxism without guarantees, his idiosyncratic fusion of Lukács's 1923 view of class and Husserl's later notion of the telos of history thus ultimately fueled a despair at ever realizing a rational historical philosophy. Disheartened and politically exhausted, Merleau-Ponty failed to entertain the possibility that the proletariat—and history—had been misunderstood in the essentialist conception from the outset.
Out of this impasse nonetheless emerged a call for a new left. Beyond disillusioned revolt, he proposed a revival of Machiavellian virtù , a "real spiritual strength" that might forge "a way between the will to please and defiance, between self-satisfied goodness and cruelty," in the name of "an historical undertaking all may adhere
to." The judgment of historical action could no longer classify "men and societies according to their approximation to the canon of the classless society," for although such a canon is "what our social criticism demands, there is no force in history which is destined to produce it."
Merleau-Ponty now viewed history as a far more tentative venture, "not so much a movement toward an homogeneous or a classless society as the quest, through always atypical cultural devices, for a life which is not unliveable for the greatest number." Such a course would hardly satisfy whoever still believed in secular salvation; still "unremitting virtù" might conquer whatever prospects for a better world remained open. "History never confesses, not even her lost illusions, but neither does she dream of them again."
In its evasions as well as its accomplishments, Merleau-Ponty's Marxism remains instructive. To take the negative side first, the tortured logic of Humanism and Terror reveals the illogic of any philosophy of history founded on criteria gleaned from an harmonious end of history, an end somehow deciphered before the event. Truth might well be on the horizon, but if we have not yet encountered it, how can it shed light on the mundane world of the here and now? The kind of absolute criteria such truth yields, seems, upon reflection, to invite the application of arbitrary criteria. Indeed, Merleau-Ponty's commitment to a supratemporal Absolute—the classless society of communism—vitiated this critique of Soviet Communism and compromised his handling of the Moscow Trials. Because he strained to interpret Stalin's policies as harboring the seeds of a rational future, he neglected to scrutinize sufficiently the Soviet theory and practice of socialism; similarly, because he averred that Marxism was correct in its belief that truth—the classless society of communism—will win out, he proved eager, in effect, to justify the Stalinist state on the grounds that it pointed the way toward this truth.
Fortunately, Merleau-Ponty's social thought does not begin and end with Humanism and Terror . In fact, his philosophy of the human subject implicitly contradicted his vision of an Absolute end
of history. For the human subject depicted in the Phenomenology of Perception always maintained an openness toward the world, always elaborated a range of meanings, drawing freely from a fund of available significations. It is one of Merleau-Ponty's great merits to have elaborated this vision of subjectivity; in so doing, he left to his readers a legacy that can even be fruitfully applied to the critique of his essentialist philosophy of history in Humanism and Terror .
For Merleau-Ponty, who departed from the Cartesian (and Husserlian) tradition on this point,
The "subject" is no longer just the epistemological subject, but also the human subject, who, by means of a continual dialectic, thinks in terms of its situation, forms its categories in contact with its experience, and modifies this situation and this experience by the meaning it discovers in them. In particular, this subject is no longer alone, is no longer consciousness in general or pure being for itself. It is in the midst of other consciousnesses which likewise have a situation; it is for others, and because of this, it undergoes an objectification and becomes generic subject. For the first time since Hegel, militant philosophy is reflecting not on subjectivity, but on intersubjectivity .
This image of (inter)subjectivity represented an historical result. For Merleau-Ponty as for Marx, "The history which produced capitalism symbolizes the emergence of subjectivity."
Consciousness, while in no way the constitutive support of the social world, did on this view become an ineliminable vessel of meaning; in this capacity, its importance for any social theory could scarcely be belittled. Similarly, as Merleau-Ponty's sketch of belonging to a social class in his Phenomenology suggested, the human subject, in its passions as well as conscious disposition, comprised a critical element in any radical strategy. His social philosophy implied a practical focus on the individual and his everyday concerns as the ultimate existential basis for any authentically emancipatory movement. Otherwise, the individual might find himself sacrificed to party directives, the victim of an ostensibly objective meaning of history escaping his grasp.
Thus Merleau-Ponty, despite his advocacy of an essentialist notion of the proletariat in Humanism and Terror , held out the hope, in his philosphy of the human subject, of a new form of radi-
cal theory founded on an existential notion of class. According to the existential conception, a class was viewed as an institution comprised of concrete subjects who were only contingently related to the claims of a reasonable history, through the ongoing practical accomplishments of individuals within the class committed to social change. Here he provided a basis for restoring to radical theory a dimension it had been in danger of losing, even in his own Marxism —the dimension of real individuals as the premise of theory and practice, a dimension Marx himself had constantly reiterated.
On this point, Merleau-Ponty's intentions rejoined those of Marx. Nevertheless, the image of subjectivity he proposed differed significantly from that offered by Marx. Although both considered subjectivity as intersubjectivity; although both grasped subjectivity as objective and, through action, objectifying; although both spoke of the individual's dependency in regard to social situations—despite all such similarities, Merleau-Ponty broke sharply with Marx's necessitarian formulations, his focus on interest and labor as paradigms of human action, and his optimistic hopes for a rational outcome of history.
Marx himself, thanks to his tacit expectations of the rationality and purposiveness of human action, both individual and collective, was able to merge that concrete conjunction of individuals called the proletariat with the image of a social force aiming rationally at the coherent outcome of history, the classless society of communism. In contrast, Merleau-Ponty, by consistently depriving Marxism of any guarantees, either rationalistic or deterministic, illuminated this relation between the concrete and rational, empirical and universal, "is" and "ought" as profoundly problematic. It seemed questionable whether the real subjects of history could ever embody the universal negativity—the proletariat in and for itself—required by the Marxist theory.
When he pursued this line of thought, Merleau-Ponty suggested that the locus of political change had to become the individual, not conceived merely abstractly, as a potential participant in a universal history, but also concretely, as a person haunted by habitual concerns, inarticulate needs, and fears as well as hopes. The cultivation of these fallible subjects, 'involved [entrainées] but not manipulated," alone could bring to radical politics "the mark of truth." If the vaunted dialectic of Marxism was to retain any liberating signifi-
cance, it could only be through such contact with real individuals, only through the attempt, perpetually renewed, to elucidate a significance of history which enabled each individual to care enough about his common world to want to risk changing it with others: only on this condition could dialectic clarify historical processes. Otherwise, dialectic became an empty formal husk, invoked but unsubstantiated, an absolute without a human anchor.
Merleau-Ponty also fruitfully differed from Marx in his depiction of society as an order of symbolic structures, and his understanding of institutional rules as normative rather than causal. Within institutions, tradition and explicit norms prescribe a form of life: that is, a coherent nexus of meaningful behaviors, intentional acts, and tacit gestures. While the individual may assume a previously "legislated" network of norms, the prescriptive power of such instituionalized norms depends on a community of individuals "fulfilling" the prescribed intentions in practice. Without this ongoing fulfillment, a normative order has no foundation beyond force and mere coercion. Consent through communication and action sustains institutions in existence: social conventions, unlike natural objects, must maintain their objective meaning on no grounds but those human beings supply. But since such grounds are institutionally codified in rules governing behavior and belief, and since such codes are used by human beings to articulate their intentions without any one of them necessarily comprehending what is entailed by entering into a specific institutional practice and communicating in terms of its code, the individual can never be considered absolutely free: for the intelligible articulation of his intentions rests on his previous initiation into institutions and their practices, beginning with that most conservative of institutions, language.
Despite the restricted application of their special methods, disciplines in search of general rules, such as linguistics and economics, have provided an increasingly rigorous access to such institutional rules. The most authoritative of these disciplines investigate generally stable social relations and institutions, such as language, economic exchange, and kinship systems; they seek to uncover, through procedures open to critical inspection, the rule-governed context of individual behavior, even beyond the explicit intentions of individuals. Institutional rules may form, even where they do not consciously inform, the meaningful behavior of social agents; such rules
articulate that nebulous region Marx called "second nature," the unreflective arena of habit, custom, convention, and style.
To stress that the social studies uncover prescriptive rules rather than framing natural laws hardly corrects a long-standing misunderstanding; it does, however, suggest that previous inquiries have sometimes mistaken prescriptive force for natural fact. The substitution of "rules" for the notion of "laws" helps to underline the open-ended and malleable applicability of most rules, which are tied to context and concrete instance. For this reason, the knowledge of rules, while it may supply foresight, does not confer the power to predict.
The very meaning of "following a rule" remains in dispute among contemporary philosophers. And yet to point up this ambiguity, to argue the context-bound nature of meaning, only amplifies the primary point: such ambiguity and context-bound applicability, the open-endedness of meanings-in-use—such is the practical significance of being governed by a rule. As Merleau-Ponty remarked, institutions at best motivate or warrant, rather than simply "cause," behavior. By supplying tacit grounds where they do not explicitly prescribe behavior, rules map out the style of an institution: yet institutional styles, like social relations, collapse, develop, alter. Meanings-in-use, by their mere being-in-usage, remain open to the novel.
Here was a compelling, albeit fragmentary, interpretation that illuminated the metaphorical notion of society as a "second nature," an interpretation that might conceivably clarify and overcome the dilemmas in Marx's original understanding of social and historical laws. Merleau-Ponty thus anticipated the terms for a new debate over the methods of social inquiry.
These terms supported a vision of man as creatively engaged in shaping a history, and yet enmeshed in conventional constraints. It was a vision that afforded the prospect of a social theory beyond the antinomies of the Marxian tradition, although Merleau-Ponty himself only hinted at the shape such a theory might assume; it was a vision that offered radical thought a novel interpretation of subjectivity as an instituting self beyond either positivist determinism or rationalist necessity. The hard price paid for such insights was the abandonment of Marxism as Merleau-Ponty understood it.