Anti-Sartre: Conclusion by Colin Wilson

Colin Wilson

Anti-Sartre: Conclusion


How then can man hope for any extension of his freedom? Sartre’s answer is: through political revolution. To the English speaking reader, this answer is bound to come as something of a surprise, even if he happens to be aware of Sartre’s leftist affiliations. The English and American inclination towards democratic politics means that we inevitably think of revolution as a form of extremism that is foreign to common sense. Even Camus’s demonstration – in L’Homme Revolte – that revolution inevitably leads to tyranny strikes us as slightly superfluous, since history makes it self-evident. In the case of Sartre, the revolutionary politics is doubly surprising since it is hard to see what difference it could make to his overall view of human existence. Would it make the slightest difference to the characters of The Roads to Freedom if the scene was Moscow or Peking instead of Paris? Could Sartre even conceive of a communist society that would raise human beings above their present level of misery and contingency? The premises of Being and Nothingness show too clearly that he could not. Then how is it possible for a thinker as intelligent and as realistic as Sartre to deceive himself into believing that human salvation lies in the proletarian revolution?

Again, the answer seems to lie in the events of Sartre’s life. Human freedom, he insists, is limited, since we are trapped in contingency. (Beauvoir mentions that he planned a novel whose epigraph was to be: ‘The pity of it is, we are free’.*) The best we can hope for

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

OUP Niven

Follow Literary Review on Twitter