Journal of Romance Studies

‘Sartre was always wrong’ – or was he?

Journal of Romance Studies (2006), 6, (1-2), 79–92.


With the one hundredth anniversary of the birth of Jean-Paul Sartre, reactions to his writings, to his personality, to his relationship towards communism and to socialist thought warrant particular scrutiny and are the object of this article. A striking feature of these reactions is that they all view Sartre as an intellectual who lost his way. Even those critics who, like Bernard-Henri Lévy, attempt to salvage something from his oeuvre end up making a sharp distinction between Sartre the ‘rebel’ and Sartre the ‘totalitarian’. But rereading the full range of Sartre’s work from the Cold War period, as well as his philosophical writings, suggests another view, one which goes beyond the rather simplistic notion of égarement [aberration] and suggests instead a number of constant themes in his thinking. First is his hatred of the bourgeois milieu in which he grew up. Another is his deeply felt sympathy for the exploited peoples of the Third World as well as for the working class in the developed world. He chose to side with the victims of capitalism even though these included people with whom he would not normally have felt much affinity. Faced with the historic failures of the socialist world, Sartre desperately sought another kind of socialism. It is this quest that people continue to hold against him. This article focuses on his quest and on the arguments put forward by those who oppose him.

Access Token
If you have private access to this content, please log in with your username and password here

Aronson, Ronald (2004) Camus and Sartre: The Story of a Friendship and the Quarrel that Ended It (Chicago: University of Chicago Press). Camus and Sartre: The Story of a Friendship and the Quarrel that Ended It Google Scholar

Baverez, Nicolas (1997) Raymond Aron: un moraliste au temps des idéologies (Paris: Flammarion). Raymond Aron: un moraliste au temps des idéologies Google Scholar

Bertholet, Denis (2000) Sartre (Paris: Perrin). Sartre Google Scholar

Burnier, Michel-Antoine (1982) Le Testament de Sartre (Paris: Orban). Le Testament de Sartre Google Scholar

Cohen-Solal, Annie (1985) Sartre (Paris: Gallimard). Sartre Google Scholar

Contat, Michel and Michel Rybalka (1970) Les écrits de Sartre (Paris: Gallimard). Les écrits de Sartre Google Scholar

Dollé, Jean-Pierre (1987) ‘C’est la faute à Sartre’, Le Magazine littéraire 248 (December): Google Scholar

Lévy, Bernard Henri (2000) Le Siècle de Sartre (Paris: Grasset). Le Siècle de Sartre Google Scholar

Ory, Pascal (2005) Paul Nizan: destin d’un révolté (Brussels: Complexe). Paul Nizan: destin d’un révolté Google Scholar

Sartre, Jean-Paul (1949) [1945] ‘Qu’est-ce qu’un collaborateur?’, in Situations III (Paris: Gallimard), 43–61. Qu’est-ce qu’un collaborateur? Situations III 43 61 Google Scholar

Sartre, Jean-Paul (1964a) ‘Merleau Ponty’, in Situations IV (Paris: Gallimard): 189–287. Merleau Ponty Situations IV 189 287 Google Scholar

Sartre, Jean-Paul (1964b) ‘Les communistes et la paix’, in Situations VI (Paris: Gallimard): 80–384. Les communistes et la paix Situations VI 80 384 Google Scholar

Sartre, Jean-Paul (1964c) ‘La pensée politique de Patrice Lumumba’, in Situations V (Paris: Gallimard), 194–253. La pensée politique de Patrice Lumumba Situations V 194 253 Google Scholar

Sartre, Jean-Paul (1964d) Les Mots (Paris: Gallimard). Les Mots Google Scholar

Sartre, Jean-Paul (1965a) ‘ Le fantôme de Staline’, in Situations VII (Paris: Gallimard), 144–307. Le fantôme de Staline Situations VII 144 307 Google Scholar

Sartre, Jean-Paul (1967) The Words, trans. Irene Clephane (Harmondsworth: Penguin). The Words Google Scholar

Sartre, Jean-Paul (1972a) ‘Le socialisme qui venait du froid’, in Situations IX (Paris: Gallimard), 227–76. Le socialisme qui venait du froid Situations IX 227 76 Google Scholar

Sartre, Jean-Paul (1972b) [1964] ‘Palmiro Togliatti’, in Situations IX (Paris: Gallimard), 137–51. Palmiro Togliatti Situations IX 137 51 Google Scholar

Sirinelli, Jean-François (1985) Deux intellectuels dans le siècle: Sartre et Aron (Paris: Fayard). Deux intellectuels dans le siècle: Sartre et Aron Google Scholar

Todd, Olivier (1996) Albert Camus: une vie (Paris: Gallimard). Albert Camus: une vie Google Scholar

Winock, Michel (2005) ‘Sartre et nous’, in Sartre, catalogue of the exhibition at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, ed. Mauricette Berne (Paris: Gallimard), 276–9. Sartre et nous Sartre 276 9 Google Scholar

If you have private access to this content, please log in with your username and password here


Author details

Robin, Régine

Segal, Naomi