Skip to main content

Rescuing Sartre From Anachronistic Individualism

In this updated version, see hereIstván Mészáros lucidly rescues Jean-Paul Sartre's existentialist anthropology from the philosophical hermeneutic watershed of anachronistic individualism. The author critically examines evidence for a complementarity between Sartre's phenomonological ontology with historical-materialism, while paying particular attention to how Sartre's work is largely contributive to the Marxist Humanist attention to forms of social consciousness. What is stressed is that although Sartre rejects the 'dialectics of nature', this is not a total rejection of the dialectical method, since Sartre's attention to issues of morality are squarely placed in a historically-specific social context, specifically with respect to the parameters and social practices of capitalism, whereby, in similar fashion to Marx's concern with the dialectical contradictions between authentic human development and alienation, 'nothingness', or 'free will', is limited by the extent to which the actually existing physical world forces mankind to be subservient to constrained subjectivities, of which meaningful sense of self and dignity are lost in translation.

PS: Note that Mészáros is often considered part of Marxist Humanism, a school that emphasizes Marx's early writings, in particular his Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts. Mészáros most famous book is on Marx's theory of alienation here (and where he applies Marx's theory of alienation to reassessing the socialist alternative, and the conditions for its realization, is here). For the more directly relevant economic aspects of Marx's critique and reconstruction of the surplus approach one only needs to read his Theories of Surplus Value and, obviously, Capital (and the extent to which Piero Sraffa revived Marxist Economic Theory - see herehere ). Mind you, this is not to suggest an epistemological break in Marx's work, as authors like Louis Althusser have propounded. For debates on the supposed structural discontinuity, see here (subscription required) and here.


  1. When it comes to summing up big truths in very few words, there’s a five word sentence for which Sartre should be for ever remembered: “Man is condemned to freedom”. That’s right up with the other great pithy truisms, like La Rochfoucauld’s “Hypocrisy is the homage that vice pays to virtue.”


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

A few brief comments on Brexit and the postmortem of the European Union

Another end of the world is possible
There will be a lot of postmortems for the European Union (EU) after Brexit. Many will suggest that this was a victory against the neoliberal policies of the European Union. See, for example, the first three paragraphs of Paul Mason's column here. And it is true, large contingents of working class people, that have suffered with 'free-market' economics, voted for leaving the union. The union, rightly or wrongly, has been seen as undemocratic and responsible for the economics woes of Europe.

The problem is that while it is true that the EU leaders have been part of the problem and have pursued the neoliberal policies within the framework of the union, sometimes with treaties like the Fiscal Compact, it is far from clear that Brexit and the possible demise of the union, if the fever spreads to France, Germany and other countries with their populations demanding their own referenda, will lead to the abandonment of neoliberal policies. Aust…

A brief note on Venezuela and the turn to the right in Latin America

So besides the coup in Brazil (which was all but confirmed by the last revelations, if you had any doubts), and the electoral victory of Macri in Argentina, the crisis in Venezuela is reaching a critical level, and it would not be surprising if the Maduro administration is recalled, even though right now the referendum is not scheduled yet.

The economy in Venezuela has collapsed (GDP has fallen by about 14% or so in the last two years), inflation has accelerated (to three digit levels; 450% or so according to the IMF), there are shortages of essential goods, recurrent energy blackouts, and all of these aggravated by persistent violence. Contrary to what the press suggests, these events are not new or specific to left of center governments. Similar events occurred in the late 1980s, in the infamous Caracazo, when the fall in oil prices caused an external crisis, inflation, and food shortages, which eventually, after the announcement of a neoliberal economic package that included the i…

What is the 'Classical Dichotomy'?