Existentialist Reformtation

James Farmelant farmelantj at SPAMjuno.com
Sun Dec 26 16:00:29 MST 1999

On Sun, 26 Dec 1999 09:01:42 -0000 "George Pennefather"
<poseidon at eircom.net> writes:
>Yoshie: Instead, Sartre insisted upon the isolation and freedom of the
>"In fact, if...the being of my consciousness is strictly irreducible
>knowledge, then I can not transcend my being toward a reciprocal and
>universal relation in which I could see my being and that of others as
>equivalent.  On the contrary, I must establish myself in my being and
>the problem of the Other in terms of my being.  In a word the sole
>point of
>departure is the interiority of the _cogito_" (Sartre, _Being and
>Sartre's work is a good example of how and why starting with the
>consciousness of the
>abstract individual leads to a dead end (for Marxists), for the
>abstract individual as a
>point of departure already implies the negation of history.  The same
>goes for postmodern
>circular reasonings about "the subject."
>George: I'm not as sure about this as you are. Your criticism above is
>an obvious one and
>one that has been commonly made. But it is all too easy to make such
>What we have to look at is the kind of society from within which
>Sartre conceived of
>things in this way.

The problem seems to be as Yoshie pointed Sartre's premises
were fundamentally ahistorical in nature.  He seemed to to take the
reified nature of social relations under capitalism as representive
of the human condition in general.  It is certainly true that Sartre
was opposed to capitalism and was supportive of revolutionary
politics, yet it is hard to see how Sartre could have placed as much
hope as he did in communism given his fundamental premises.  It
seems to me that he made a kind of Pascalian or Kiergegaardian
"leap of faith" here when he opted for a revolutionary politics.
And in fact most other existentialists did not follow Sartre in this
regard, most of them making their peace with capitalism and
bourgeois democracy.

> If we see that he was coming from an alienated
>society -capitalist
>society- his conception may make more sense. We live in an alienated
>society in which
>social relations are reified and stand independent of us. There is
>essentially no direct
>communal relations obtaining between individuals under such conditions
>abounds. Under such conditions it is impossible to form meaningful
>direct social or
>communal relations with other individuals. Many people are not fully
>aware of this and
>consequently engage in the Sisyphian task of striving to form directly
>social, meaningful
>and fullfilling relations with other individuals. They go from one
>relationship or set of
>relationships to anoer in the hope of achieving this when all the time
>it cannot be
>achieved which is why there is Christmas --the quintessential
>expression of reified social
>relations in concentrated form. The harsh fact is that there can never
>be meaningful and
>fullfilling deep close relationships with other individuals. A lot of
>us dont know this
>and consequently give ourselves and others much pain in the process.
>We just have to
>accept this fact.

Marxists have been inclined to think that in the course of struggle
against the dominant social order less alientated kinds of social
relationships can be forged.

> Much of capitalist culture tries to deceive us into
>thinking othewise as
>a means of both oppressing  and further tormenting us thereby
>rendering us all the more
>ineffective in the fight for more fulfilling relationships by the
>struggling to overthrow
>capitalism. This is how Sartre could say "hell is other people."
>So from within capitalist society Sartre, in many ways, is correct
>when he conceives of
>society as consisting of a population of individuals irrevocably
>alienated from each other
>in which the social bond only exists in a reified estranged way
>--consider his example of
>a serial group involving a group of people queing for the same bus
>--very perceptive.

There doesn't seem much basis given Sartre's human ontology
for one to hope that serialization could ever be overcome.

>In short it is not so much, as you suggest, that Sartre's views lead
>to a dead end as
>capitalist social relations that lead to a dead end. Sartre, in a
>sense, brutally
>expressed this horror. Many of us persistently refuse to face this
>fact. Many os us are
>afraid to face this painful truth and prefer mauvais fait
>--inauthentic existence.
>And finally this takes me back to the conceptual relationship that may
>exist between
>French existentialism and Reformation theology. Both in effect
>understood the alienated
>(sinful) character of human relations. The Reformation theology saw
>this defect finding
>transcendence through salvation and heavan --through Utopia. Sartre
>was perhaps --the
>earlier guy-- more pessimistic and less utopian than the Reformation.
>Perhaps, then,
>through its Utopianism the Reformation was a massive example of
>mauvais fait.

Sartre's premises implied a deep pessimism concerning the
human condition which makes his embrace of revolutionary
politics look subjectivist.

Jim F.

>Sartre possessed an intellectual and moral courage. What was it
>Nietzsche said --got ist
>tot. Yet, as he argued, we want rto go on as if he is not dead.
>Sartre, it would seem, was
>prepared to face this fact in some fashion which  may establish  a
>distinct continuity
>between  Nietzsche and he.
>Warm regards
>George Pennefather
>Be free to check out our Communist Think-Tank web site at

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