What was Jean Paul Sartre's religion

“Now our goal is to overthrow the regime”: The philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre and his revolutionary romanticism

“Now our goal is to overthrow the regime”: The philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre and his revolutionary romanticism

He had one of his last major appearances during the 1968 riots. Now a biography takes a fresh look at the life and work of the tireless Jean-Paul Sartre.

In May 1968 an interesting encounter took place in Paris. The old philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre meets the young student leader Daniel Cohn-Bendit for a long conversation. “Now our goal is to overthrow the regime,” says Cohn-Bendit, summing up the situation.

What they both know: the trade unions and the communists do not join the student unrest. What both suspect: Charles de Gaulle, the president, will keep the upper hand. And soon Sartre has to cope with the next low blow: In August, Soviet troops march into Czechoslovakia. It is his final break with the Soviet Union, which he has always defended so far.

"As ugly as a person could be"

But the then 63-year-old, to whom the British philosopher Gary Cox is now dedicating a vividly written biography, is so easy to get upset. Cox is quite critical of him, but he writes in the foreword:

"Sartre was a genius - because of what he did and because of the many extraordinary philosophical and literary works that he created in the 74 years and ten months that he lived."

Sartre's perseverance, and even his passion for work, was as legendary as his consumption of stimulants and the eternal cigarette in his mouth. Or like his need to seduce new women over and over again. Although, as director John Houston disparagingly stated, “it is a barrel of a person and as ugly as a person can be. His face was puffy and pitted, his teeth were yellow, and he was cross-eyed. He wore a gray suit, white shirt, tie and vest. He always looked the same. When he came down in the morning he wore his suit and at night it was still the last one he wore. "

It is Sartre, the bourgeois, who comes up against you, and whose revolutionary romanticism is nourished by hating his own origins. Convinced of his own mission, he found at an early age the woman who would be with him all his life, even if he had his other liaisons again and again: Simone de Beauvoir, at least as clever as he was, and almost even more famous today. "He was the doppelganger in which I found everything in a kind of transfiguration that I was obsessed with myself," she later describes her first meeting with Sartre.

The friendship with Camus and the break

Sartre wants to be both a writer and a philosopher. In novels like "The Disgust" or the cycle of novels "The Paths of Freedom", in plays like "Closed Society" or "The Dirty Hands", in biographies like "The Idiot of the Family" he expresses the thoughts that he expressed in his philosophical works, especially in «Being and Nothing». Together with Albert Camus, Sartre became the founder of existentialism. Man, they believe, must be radically free, he must become the creator of himself.

They have been friends for a long time. Then politics drives them apart. The war is over, Sartre founds the magazine "Les Temps moderne", which becomes his mouthpiece. And to the place of his aberrations. The ultimate goal of socialism justifies the means of revolutionary violence, he proclaims. The Stalinist labor camps are not as bad as the National Socialist ones because they are a movement towards the classless society.

Raymond Aron, once a fellow campaigner, will later write a book entitled "Opium for Intellectuals" in which he describes this Marxism as the religion of many intellectuals, which has blinded them to the virtues of capitalism and democracy.

Gary Cox: Jean-Paul Sartre. Existentialism and Excess, Theiss, 267 p., Fr. 40.–