To understand what Sartre and Camus are going through, first we will think about existentialism.
Existentialism is a branch of philosophy that delves into the human condition and emphasizes individual experience, freedom, and choice, as well as the inherent meaninglessness of life.
It was a revolt by the youth of the postwar generation, and almost a fad. Between media success, landmark books, quarrels and noisy controversies, existentialism left its mark on modernity. But do you know its precursors, main ideas… and little anecdotes? Let us summarize.
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Thinkers like Nietzsche, Dostoevsky, Kierkegaard, Sartre, and Camus explored the meaning, purpose, and value of human existence by criticizing rationalism. In their view, the individual’s starting point has been called “existential angst,” a sense of dread, disorientation, confusion, or anxiety in the face of an apparently meaningless or absurd world.
A primary virtue in existentialist thought is authenticity: being true to oneself despite external pressures to social conformity.
Existence precedes essence. (fr. l’existence précède l’essence) is a central claim of existentialism.
Existentialists hold that existence is more important than essence. This belief contradicts the traditional philosophical view that essence is more fundamental.
To existentialists, humans create their own values and determine the meaning of their lives because they do not have an inherent identity or value. That identity or value must be created by the individual to make their existence more significant. The philosophical idea that humans are not born with a predetermined purpose but rather define their own through their actions and experiences is known as existence precedes essence.
However, what leads the birth of this ideology?
In the aftermath of the Second World War, not only were Europe’s urban landscapes in ruins, but its intellectual one as well. In this situation, several great thinkers debated the blueprint for the future — ‘We were’ as philosopher Simone de Beauvoir put it ‘to provide the postwar era with its ideology’. Existentialism gained public prominence through the work of two French writers, Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus, after the Second World War.
Beauvoir wrote that “not a week passed without the newspapers discussing us”; existentialism became “the first media craze of the postwar era.”
The two men had different takes on existentialist philosophy, but their real disagreements were political. Camus believed that politics should be subservient to morality, while Sartre thought the opposite.
How did this friendship come about?
After publishing The Stranger, Camus moved to the capital of France, where he met the writer of Nausea at the opening of Sartre’s play, The Flies. Thenceforth, their friendship grows between these two men, who spend quite a few evenings in the cafes of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Acceptance into the circle of Sartre and Beauvoir is a kind of acknowledgement for Camus, who has recently achieved fame.
The first difference of opinion between them is about their attitude towards the Bolshevik regime. As with the Nazi concentration camps, Camus believes that the gulags must be condemned. Sartre, for his part, chooses to support the Soviet Union in order to protect the French left.Camus’ Rebellion’s idealism was criticized by an author of Sartre’s journal, prompting Camus to write to his friend. In a 20-page letter, Camus explained that he got tired of being told what he should write by the intellectuals who defend revolutionary ideas while living in luxury. He argued that while there is injustice, we must revolt, even though things are uncertain.
Camus was a man who lived his philosophy; he not only talked the talk but walked the walk. After a risky case, he spoke out against revolutionary violence. He was “disgusted by the hate which submerges us today” and felt that the “only values worth defending” were “love and the mind.”
Their different views on revolt caused this split.
Sartre accused him with sacrilege and he doubted his philosophic competencies. Sartre thinks that he refuses to distinguish between the oppressor and the oppressed ones that he limits the possibility of thinking about the revolution that will allow the liberation of peoples.
Despite these different praises, the two intellectuals update their discrepancies. The first relates to the conception of the world. Both agree on the absurdity of existence. However, Camus has a more sensual approach while Sartre reveals a deep distaste for bodily reality. Moreover, the work of Albert Camus is imbued with brightness, carnal pleasure while the Sartrian work is characterized by its gloom, its darkness and its detachment. The second lies in the literary nature of the two intellectuals: Sartre is a philosopher, Camus a novelist. The two intellectuals are however very close and Camus quickly joins Sartre’s literary group called “the family”. As for Jean-Paul Sartre, he accepted Camus’ invitation to join the jury of the new Pleiade Prize created by Gallimard.
In the short term, Sartre wins this battle of ideas. Several French people suspect Camus of being naive and of having moved closer to the right. With hindsight, however, we realize the dogmatism and blindness of Sartre and his followers in relation to the horrors of Stalinism.
Concisely, despite Sartre’s sneers, Camus appears to be having the last laugh.
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