Sartre on Violence: Curiously Ambivalent

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From Moteriolism and Revolution (1946) through Hope Now (1980), Jean-Paul Sartre was deeply engaged with questions about the meaning and justifiability of violence. In the first comprehensive treatment of Sartre's views on the subject, Ronald Santoni begins by tracing the full trajectory of Sartre's evolving thought on violence and shows how the "curious ambiguity" of freedom affirming itself against freedom in his earliest writings about violence developed into his "curiously ambivalent" position through his later writings.

In the second part of the book, Santoni provides a detailed analysis of Sartre's debate with Camus in 1952 and his Rome Lecture of 1964. Santoni criticizes Sartre for scoffing at Camus's "limits" on violence while faiting to articulate his own. And in the Rome Lecture, Santoni argues, Sartre still held a two-sided position: while acknowledging conditions for any legitimate lise of terror, Sartre still failted to show persuasively how revolutionary killing could be a vehicle for overcoming mass alienation or effecting the "new" integral humanity he sought.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780271023007
  • Publisher: Penn State University Press
  • Publication date: 7/1/2003
  • Format: Library Binding
  • Pages: 200
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.53 (d)

Meet the Author

Ronald E. Santoni is Maria Theresa Barney Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Denison University and a Life Member of Clare Hall, Cambridge University. His previous books include Bad Faith, Good Faith, and Authenticity in Sartre's Early Philosophy (1995).

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sarte on violence curiously ambivalent

By Ronald E. Santoni

the pennsylvania state university press

Copyright © 2003 The Pennsylvania State University
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0271023007

Chapter One

theoretical underpinnings

Hegel and the Master-Slave Relationship: A Pivotal Analysis

From Alexandre Kojève's brilliant lectures and commentary on G. W. F. Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit-which were gathered as lecture notes by the poet and novelist Raymond Queneau at the École des Hautes Études between 1933 and 1939-we can gain the crux of Hegel's driving Master-Slave relationship. In his "nascent state," the human being is never simply human being. "To speak of the 'origin' of Self-Consciousness [or For-itself] is necessarily to speak of a fight to the death for 'recognition.'" I want the Other to "recognize" my value as his value; and conversely, the Other has the same desire. Each is willing to risk his own life and the life of the Other to satisfy this desire for "recognition." Their confrontation can only be a "fight to the death." Thus, human reality "comes to light," is "formed" and realized, for Hegel, only in and by "the fight" that culminates in the Master-Slave relation. The "revelation of human reality," the "truth of man," prerequires it; as Kojève puts it, "it is only through the risk of life that freedom comes to light," that man moves from "animal" being, or "nature," to human being, or Being-for-itself (in Hegel's sense). Human reality is necessarily either Master or Slave, rooted in conflict or mutual opposition. It is presupposed here that this struggle does not end in death: human reality cannot come into being as "recognized" reality unless the antagonists in the fight stay alive after the fight. Self-realization demands recognition by the Other. This means that they must adopt different behaviors in the fight and "constitute" themselves as "unequals." The one must fear the Other, submit to the Other, refuse to risk his life for the sake of satisfying the Other's desire for "recognition." He must be willing to "recognize" the Other without being "recognized," to "recognize" the Other as Master and himself as recognized only as the Master's Slave. In short, the Slave becomes the "defeated adversary" who has refused to adopt the Master's principle: "to conquer or to die." In refusing to risk his life, in choosing to remain alive, he has chosen the life of Slavery over death, of "dependent consciousness" rather than "autonomous consciousness." His fear of death, his dependence on Nature, gives him a sense of Terror (Furcht) and of his nothingness and "justifies" his dependence on the Master. While the Slave remains at the natural bestial level, the Master is already recognized by another consciousness-is already "mediated" and freed from Nature by his "fight to the death" for "pure prestige." The Master becomes "Consciousness for-itself" mediated with itself by a "slavish consciousness" that is bound to Nature and is afraid of death.

But this fight has not yielded the authentic recognition that the two adversaries mutually seek. Although "Man was born and History began with the first Fight," in the ensuing appearance of Master and Slave neither of the adversaries receives the kind of recognition he or she wishes. Although the Master has been recognized in "his human reality and dignity," he has not accorded the same recognition to the Slave. So he is recognized by someone whose humanity he does not "recognize." But his wish for recognition can be satisfied only by one whom he recognizes as worthy-by another "human," not a Slave or someone the fight has turned into a thing. So the Master is condemned to an "existential impasse." Although he can force the Slave to recognize him as Master, he cannot get the human recognition that he wanted when he engaged in the fight to the death. For, if recognition must come from "another man" and the Slave is not human, then the Master can never be satisfied. "The Master is fixed in his Mastery" and cannot accept any Other as Master. He prefers death to having to "recognize" another as Master. Only the Slave, who does not want to risk his life to be Master and does not "bind himself to his condition as Slave" (he has good reasons for wanting to leave his servility), is ready for change: he is, "in his very being," "change, transcendence, transformation, 'education.'" He wants to transcend himself and attain autonomy. Thus, in an ironic twist, the details of which are beyond the scope of this background summary, only the Slave-the being who has known Slavery, who is predisposed to go beyond it, who struggles to surpass it, and who does overcome it "dialectically"-is capable of achieving satisfaction and bringing History to completion. And, as Kojève points out, this is why Hegel says that History belongs to (the work of) the Slave and that the "truth," or "revealed reality," of the Master is the Slave. In the Terror of the Master's rule and domination, the Slave discovers his humanity as something negated and oppressed. Mark Poster's way of putting it-in addition to his suggestion that Marx (as well as Sartre, I might add) is indebted to this Hegelian insight-merits repeating: "The slave is the secret of change in history and his desire for freedom from oppression is the ground of man's becoming more human" (an observation relevant to Sartre's defense of Frantz Fanon). In "overcoming" his Master as Master, the Slave "overcomes" himself as Slave and reveals reality; in surpassing Slavery, he achieves satisfaction, authentic freedom, and self-transformation. So if History is, as Hegel claims, a "dialectic between Mastery and Slavery," then this "overcoming" by the Slave starts a new "period" in History in which the postfight domination of the Slave by the Master is replaced by the Slave's "determination" of human existence. In this way, Mastery, though an "impasse," is "justified" as a necessary stage in human History. On this dialectical account of History, the end or completion of History could come about only with the realized synthesis of Mastery and Slavery. If and how and in what form this ultimate transition would take place becomes the issue for Hegel and those who-like Sartre-are both unsettled and motivated by Hegel's analysis. For so long as Master and Slave exist and are in opposition, human existence will not be satisfied, for neither Slave nor Master will be universally recognized.

Although Sartre does not totally endorse this Hegelian account of the Master-Slave relation, its influence and reverberations are evident in Sartre's initial pessimism with regard to the possibility of authentic human relationships and the likelihood of overcoming interhuman struggle and violence. Moreover, the fundamental violence related to material scarcity in the Critique of Dialectical Reason does, I believe, echo some of Hegel's analysis. Further, insofar as part of the Sartre-Camus dispute pertains to the relation of violence (and revolution) to the "end," or "completion," of history, it too echoes Hegel's analysis. Yet this is not to assume that Sartre finally agrees with Hegel's perception that conflict is necessary to the development of human consciousness, or For-itself. In passing, let me note that Sartre is said to have heard Kojève's discerning lectures on Hegel: how faithful he was, however, to attendance at those lectures-or, for that matter, to the content of those lectures-remains a matter of disagreement among his intellectual peers of that period.

But to gain some preliminary insights into Sartre's subsequent views on violence, we must proceed to a brief background sketch of Sartre's account of the genesis of interhuman conflict in Being and Nothingness.

Conflict in Being and Nothingness

Anyone familiar with even a skeletal account of Sartre's phenomenological ontology recognizes that Sartre's study of the "phenomenon" in the introduction to Being and Nothingness leads him to affirm two radically different "regions of being." Adopting Husserl's axiom of intentionality-namely, that all "consciousness is consciousness of something," that all consciousness intends or posits an object outside of itself-Sartre contends that any phenomenon points to the existence of two transphenomenal beings: the transphenomenal being of consciousness and the transphenomenal being (or foundation) of the phenomenon. To these divergent beings Sartre gives, respectively, the names-already suggested by Hegel-"being-for-itself" (l'être-pour-soi) and "being-in-itself" (l'être-en-soi). This basic distinction pervades, even directs, Being and Nothingness and recurs, with contextual modifications-some quite significant-in virtually all of Sartre's writing. Being-in-itself is "object" being or "thing" being: it is what it is, has "identity," is not conscious, cannot refer to itself, has no possibilities or projects (human reality has projects for it), coincides with itself, is one with itself. In radical contrast to being-in-itself, being-for-itself is conscious, self-aware, and self-referential being. As distinctive human reality, being-for-itself is not what it is and is what it is not. It is not a "what" or object or thing. That is to say, since it is not what it is, it lacks identity or "a certain coincidence with itself"; it is always at a distance from itself; it has no fixed essence; it is "no-thing." On the other hand, since it is what it is not, it is its possibilities, its continuous potential for transcendence, its future undetermined projects. In short, then, the being of human reality is not what it is and is what it is not, because it is free. Although human reality is "born supported" by a being that is not itself (and is other than itself), it is always evanescent and self-surpassing. In a word, being-for-itself, or human reality, is freedom. "What we call freedom," Sartre says, "is impossible to distinguish from the being of 'human reality.' ... there is no difference between the being of man and his being-free." As freedom, then, human reality-being-for-itself-is ambiguous, metastable, open, fleeting consciousness (i.e., bodily consciousness), which is nothing outside of a "revealing intuition" of a "transcendent being," that is, of "something other than itself." In contrast to being-in-itself, which is object-being, being-for-itself is self-conscious subject-being.

This brief elucidation of Sartre's pivotal distinction between being-in-itself and being-for-itself paves the way for considering the ontological status of the Other and our being-for-Others, and for understanding the origin of the conflict that Sartre first attributes to the original for-itself/for-itself relationship.

For Sartre, "we encounter the Other; we do not constitute him"; the Other is not "a consequence which can derive from the ontological structure of the for-itself." I encounter the Other when he "looks" at me. His "looking" at me makes me conscious of myself as an object of his look. The Other is the one who looks at me, the one who reveals my being as object "in the world," the one for whom I am an object, the one who renders me vulnerable because he makes me what I am "in the midst of the world." The Other's look is revelatory of another aspect of my being. Because the Other's look enables me to see myself as an in-itself, it may be said to give me a "nature," or "fixed" essence: "behold now I am somebody!" The Other gives my being a "foundation." The Other's look forces me to pass judgment on myself as an object. It precipitates an immediate modification of my being and world. For instance, I react to the Other in shame, fear, or embarrassment. Why? Because the Other's look reveals me as a "looked at." It congeals me as an "object" in the world. I recognize that I am the object that the Other is looking at. I am this being, and do not for the moment "think of denying it: my shame is a confession." I am ashamed of what I am-an outside "nature" with which the Other has endowed me. And my modified being does not reside in the Other: I am responsible for it.

With the Other's look, then, "I am no longer master of the situation." In giving me a "nature," the Other decenters my world and restricts my possibilities. "I am a slave [this language immediately recalls Hegel's analysis] to the extent that my being is dependent within the bosom of a freedom that is not mine and that is even the condition of my being.... Through the Other's look, I live my life as fixed [figé] in the midst of the world, as in danger, as irremediable." I apprehend myself as an "unknown object of unknowable appraisals-in particular of value judgments" over which I do not have control. I become an "instrument of possibilities which are not my possibilities." My transcendence is denied in order to "make" me a "means to ends" of which I'm unaware. I become "a defenseless being for a freedom which is not my freedom." I start to apprehend my possibilities from without. My possibilities are thus limited and alienated by the Other's "looking" at me. In this sense, I am enslaved-not by choice, one might say, as in Hegel's account of the "fight," but simply by being "looked at" by the Other. "My original fall is the existence of the Other." The Other is a source of constant threat and danger to me. In the words of Garcin in Sartre's No Exit-and in keeping with that brilliant play's disturbing theme-"There's no need for red-hot pokers. Hell is-other people!" The Other is watching me: I grasp the Other's look as the "solidification" of my possibilities.

But the story is not over: there are two sides to it. Sartre makes it clear that the Other is given to us not as an object but as another freedom-presumably a subject-who abruptly challenges my being as the center of possibilities. For by fixing, objectifying, and alienating my possibilities, the Other reveals to me that I can be an object only for another freedom: I cannot be an object for myself. Moreover, I cannot be an object for another object; a material object or obstacle cannot restrict my possibilities or confer a "nature" on me; only another freedom can do that. Thus, the objectifying look of the Other "abandons me at the heart of the Other's freedom," causes me to experience the freedom of the Other. "Consciousness can be limited only by consciousness." The Other "looks" at me as he comes to the world and to me as a transcendence or freedom that is not mine. The Other, through whom I give my "objectness" and even the possibility of conceiving of myself in the objective mode, is thus given to me as pure, conscious subject, not as an object of my universe.

But I must defend myself against this conferral of a nature on me, this assault on my freedom, this "death of my possibilities," this decentering of my world by the freedom of the Other who looks at me.


Excerpted from sarte on violence curiously ambivalent by Ronald E. Santoni Copyright © 2003 by The Pennsylvania State University
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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Table of Contents

Introduction 3
1 Theoretical underpinnings 7
2 "Violence" in the Notebooks for an Ethics 21
3 "Violence" in the Critique of Dialectical Reason, volume 1 33
4 "Violence" in the Critique of Dialectical Reason, volume 2 53
5 "Violence" in Sartre's preface to The Wretched of the Earth 67
6 "Violence" in Hope Now: The 1980 Interviews 75
Introduction 91
7 Background to the confrontation 95
8 The confrontation 119
9 The 1964 "Rome Lecture" 139
10 Justificational ambivalence: problematic interpretation 155
Conclusion 163
Index 169
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