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.