"Freedom is what you do with what's
been done to you." Jean-Paul Sartre
Jean-Paul Sartre and the Theory of Individualism
The condition of society in the 21st century has a pronounced fear
of individual freedom. The relevance of Sartre’s philosophy remains intact because we desperately need a counterweight
to a world that promotes dictatorial compliance. As a seminal thinker and most celebrated existential proponent, Sartre stirred
a post World War II generation to view their existence from a non-traditional perspective that caused extensive establishment
criticism and apprehension. The liberation and awareness celebration that distinguishes the realization of personal freedom
during the 1960’s counter culture revolution owes a debt of gratitude to the French philosopher.
The co-ed schoolhouse version says, "Sartre would say that every single action and decision
is made purely by free will. With no transcendent force "fating" what you do humans are left to make decisions that
make who they are. Humans have no pre-defined purpose or future, by free will people make who they are. This goes with his
belief of individualism, society or other forces don't make who you are decisions that you make, make who you are." Somewhat
of a limited and simplistic interpretation of a far more profound and elegant insight, Sartre’s existentialism deserves
a widespread revival.
A primer of his thought and description of the essence of his writing
is well represented in the BBC video, Documentary on the life of Jean-Paul Sartre, The Road to Freedom. Viewing the numerous interviews and narrative provides an excellent summary.
"It provides a new conception
of man, and a new outlook by making "human existence" the real frame of reference. For Sartre human reality or human
subjectivity is the foundation of all thought and action. He says that man first of all exists, encounters himself, surges
up in the world and consequently defines himself afterwards."
on the inwardness of admission that our existence makes no sense at all on many levels, it is up to us to give it meaning.
We are condemned to confront our being. Each individual has not only the right to choice but has the duty to choose. The freedom
to reinvent one’s self is universal and necessary. Who you are is what you do. Actions are indispensable on the road
The awareness of dread that depicts the futility of beingness
within a perceived absurd world is often expressed as a sense of sickness. In one of the canonical works of existentialism,
La Nausée, the novel takes place in 'Bouville,'
a town similar to Le Havre, and it concerns a dejected historian, who becomes convinced that
inanimate objects and situations encroach on his ability to define himself, on his intellectual and spiritual freedom, evoking
in the protagonist a sense of nausea.
In order to overcome this state of misery,
the substantive Sartre - being and nothingness – strive for individual authenticity. You are already involved
even if you do not think you are. This theme is present in his most notable play, No Exit Theme of Life,
"As an existentialist play, No Exit necessarily embodies the Sartrean adage "existence
precedes essence." As humans, we first exist, with no preconceived expectations, purpose, or ideals to which we must
live up. We then define our essence (i.e., who we are) through choice and action. The self is re-created every moment by a
conscious choice, and only action dictates our essence and beliefs."
exit is the plight, which we all share as we experience the harsh reality that hell is other people. Thus,
the inescapable conflict between the individual and the social order in human affairs is inevitable and the main threat to
individual freedom comes from the state.
A basic question is how to accommodate
individual freedom into a free society? Sartre’s imprisonment during WWII made him question the extreme individualism
of his thinking. The need to link ideas on individual freedom to society as a whole, from his internment experience, caused
a transition that drove a moral component in his philosophy. His flitting association with a collectivist vision of Marxism
demonstrated a failed attempt to separate his philosophy from the politics.
Yet, Sartre’s Political Philosophy is not the primary focus of his worldview. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy offers
an astute assessment.
defend the primacy of autonomy typically claim that positive notions of freedom assume substantive, controversial conceptions
of the good life. Indeed, Sartre's rejection of human nature and his thin conception of universal human goods are consistent
with liberalism. However, Sartre criticizes classical liberalism, especially in Critique, arguing against asocial, atomistic
notions of selfhood (p. 311). Further, like civic republican philosophers (such as Aristotle and Rousseau), Sartre contends
that controlling the social forces to which one is subject is a valuable type of human freedom. Republican philosophers variously
call such freedom "self-government" or "non-domination." Whether Sartre's view of freedom is a better
fit with contemporary liberalism or civic republicanism is a matter of speculation. Sartre's discussion of freedom in Critique
is highly abstract and does not translate simply into one public policy or another. However, his preference for mass movements
and bottom-up social organization suggest that he would favor radical participatory democracy."
In an entertaining and creative theoretical debate, Joseph L. Pappin II sets forth a fictional
dialogue between Tradition and Radical Individualism: Burke and Sartre in Dialogue. "Burke obviously sets out the case for tradition, especially in his
Reflections, and Sartre sets out the case for radical individualism in Being and Nothingness. Although Sartre's later work,
Critique of Dialectical Reason, focuses more specifically on social structures and charts his enthrallment with Marxism, it
is still the case that ontological priority is given to the individual."
SARTRE: "My position is that freedom, under the conditions
of scarcity and the alienating social structures, which are the heritage of the past, can occur only within the group, jettisoning
the chains of traditions. Further, I deny that this is simply a negative freedom, for my ideal entails the positive reciprocity
of freedom and it is best represented in the activity of the revolutionary worker. Since this requires group action, it is
necessary that Terror or the threat of Terror provide the cohesion and fraternity of the group in order to insure common action
and the freedom, which can only be realized in common with others. While someone must decide for the group and others must
follow, the one who decides is essentially the same as me. In an authentic socialist society, thus, "there will
be free men who will decide matters on which each could be considered the author."
the Western European edition, especially the French version of socialism has an unavoidable inconsistency that often favors
the social order over the individual. Even so, Sartre expounds a mild variant of revolutionary anarchism for a perpetual revolt.
Not surprising the establishment press attacked him for moral corruption and spreading hopelessness, while avoiding the appearance
of being afraid of individual freedom. The threat of liberty challenges the dictates of the established order.
Sartre advocated that an individual should criticize everything that is given to you as
part of your culture. Freedom is not an end in itself, but is an action and the road, that you take to get to it, is the expression
of the existential experience. His legacy is that of an ethical compass with a noble attitude that does not let the elites
off the hook for their transgressions against the Inherent Autonomy of the individual.
A philosophy of NO to the social order becomes the beauty of resistance.
Sartre’s defense of self under siege is his strongest lasting contribution. The construct that Sartre was a pop celebrity
of his era and a hero to the liberty movement is undeniable. The fact that his message is buried in the ash heaps of cultural
pollution and mass media genocide is a fitting commentary of the meaninglessness in the emerging new world order.
Individual authenticity is urgently required not only in the personal lives of people, but
needs to become the focal objective for a society, that is on the tract for ultimate desolation. "Being and Nothingness"
has never been more visible. This appraisal is not an admission of despair but is a plea out of desperation for the survival
In a review of Annie Cohen-Solal's Sartre biography, Roger Kimball notes, "Sartre’s "happiness" at the "collective
life" in prison camp was able to transform his "vague feeling of regret" into open nostalgia, writing after
the Liberation that "We were never as free as under the German Occupation" because the very fact of oppression made
every "just thought" a "real conquest."
Who among the amenable servitude have the individual
fortitude to rebel against the elites, who are methodically destroying the remnants of bourgeois society? Jean-Paul Sartre Properly Understood adds to the discussion.