Despite this article is dedicated to Jean-Paul Sartre’s though and acts, it has been inspired by Albert Camus or more precisely by the controversies and heated debates the conversations about Camus never fail to raise.
These controversies often go beyond the literary aspect of the French author’s works, to focus mainly on his attitude towards the French colonization of Algeria or his tumultuous relationship with French writer and philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre. The latter is often said to be the prototype of the engaged intellectual, who is concerned by all combats of the world, when Camus is constantly depicted as the ambiguous figure of French literature, who preferred to stay loyal to his country, which is to say France, instead of defending the rights of Algerians indigenous.
However, a closer look at this question would enable any objective observer to reconsider this Manichean stance.
First, it’s worthy reminding that the fight against colonialism in France has often been preceded by the combat against Nazism and Pétainism in the period known as “collaboration”, hence the French are often asked to question their colonial and Pétainist past as if both questions are closely entwined. However, as far as Jean-Paul Sartre is concerned, things are not as clear as they seem. Let’s take first the question of fight against Pétainisn on which Sartre built his whole way of thinking known as “existentialism”. Despite all the attempts of his wife Simone De Beauvoir to hide the ugly truth, no one can now deny that Jean-Paul Sartre has written, three times, in a magazine called Comedia which has collaborated with the Nazis, and in the last article he wrote he went as far praising a French Pétainist official. Moreover, Sartre has helped Simone de Beauvoir so that she could be hired in Radio Vichy, the radio of collaboration. Meanwhile, Albert Camus was in the ranks of the resistance, and this will not prevent him from joining the French Communist party, in order to condemn atrocities of colonialism. Thus, after the massacres of May 8th 1845, he asked for Algeria to have “the same democratic regime as the French” but without mentioning the question of the independence.
Besides, Camus will help to liberate many Algerian militants of National liberation front who were sentenced to death.
As for Sartre, the least we can say is that his initial doctrine of existentialism was not really what we can call a revolutionary though, especially in his book Being and Nothingness, but the historical circumstances after the end of Second World War were to reshape Sartre’s philosophy so that he could share the fight of French communist party. Consequently, Sartre’s philosophy will change in his books and the combat for the independence of French colonies became one of his priorities. Thus, one can talk about a kind of circumstantial engagement from Jean-Paul Sartre.
In such conditions, it’s very likely that Camus could have been a bit skeptical about political engagement in favor of revolutionary movements, considering that Sartre and Camus had been close friends before their split.