UNFINISHED PROJECTS: DECOLONIZATION AND THE PHILOSOPHY OF JEAN-PAUL SARTRE
By Paige Arthur
A major rereading of the life and work of Jean-Paul Sartre, published on the 30th anniversary of his death (April 15, 1980)
Sartre’s anticolonialism proves, in Paige Arthur’s sophisticated rendition, far richer and more complex than snide dismissals of his ‘totalitarian’ impulses have allowed.” –— Samuel Moyn, Columbia University
In this major rereading of Sartre’s life and work, Paige Arthur traces the relationship between the philosopher’s decades-long commitment to decolonization and his intellectual thought. Where other commentators have focused on the tensions between Sartre’s Marxism and his account of existential freedom—usually to denigrate one in favor of the other—Arthur shows that Sartre’s political engagement with global liberation movements and his philosophical framework were inextricably intertwined.
Closely following the postwar movements for decolonization, and then supporting the war of independence in Algeria, Sartre proposed an influential and uncompromising view of imperialism. Analyzing the Western attitude to the “subhuman” colonial subject, he offered an account of the social constraints applying to both ruler and ruled, and came to argue that political violence—on both sides—was a systematic consequence of the colonial order. Arthur’s rich and nuanced book locates Sartre within the political discussions of his time, while also looking forward to contemporary debates about new forms of imperialism and resistance.
“Since the late 1970s, anti-totalitarian discourse has reduced Sartre to an unwitting casualty of the Cold War split. Now, Paige Arthur counters the hysteria and moralizing of the last thirty years with a carefully reasoned and erudite study that reveals Sartre for what he was: a profound and consistent thinker of liberation and decolonization.”—Kristin Ross, author of May’68 and its Afterlives
“Overcoming today’s amnesia about Sartre as a founding spirit of ‘postcolonialism,’ Paige Arthur shows his relevance for our own encounters with ‘globalization.’”—Ronald Aronson, author of Sartre’s Second Critique and Camus and Sartre
Paige Arthur is Deputy Director of Research at the International Center for Transitional Justice. She has taught at both UC Berkeley and the New School University.
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