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Saturday, September 8, 2018

Merleau-Ponty’s Critique of Sartre’s Ultrabolshevism

Maurice Merleau-Ponty
The French existentialist philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty was a close friend of Jean-Paul Sartre. Like Sartre, Merleau-Ponty was a strong supporter of the Soviet Communism. In his 1947 book Humanism and Terror, Merleau-Ponty justifies the totalitarian methods that the Soviet regime was using, the show trails, prison camps, and the executions.

But in the 1950s, Merleau-Ponty’s political philosophy underwent a complete transformation. He became a vocal critic of communism.

He was on the editorial board of Les Temps Modernes, the leftist magazine established by Jean-Paul Sartre in 1945. In 1953, when the magazine came up with a pro-Soviet piece, Merleau-Ponty wrote an editorial remark to clarify that the views are not that of the magazine. But Sartre removed the remarks without informing Merleau-Ponty. When Merleau-Ponty came to know about the removal of his remarks, he had an acrimonious telephonic conversation with Sartre and with that their friendship came to an end.

In his 1955 book Adventures of the Dialectic, Merleau-Ponty offers his final rejection of Soviet Communism. In this book’s Chapter 5, “Sartre and Ultrabolshevism,” which is the longest chapter, he attacks Sartre for his support of communism. Here’s an excerpt:
If Sartre would openly give his reasons, if he would say that communism is a more profound pragmatism, he would expose to broad daylight the divergence between theory and practice, the crisis of communist philosophy, and, beyond philosophy, the change in meaning of the whole system. If he "understands" communism correctly, then communist ideology is deceitful, and we can ask the nature of the regime which hides itself in the philosophy it teaches instead of expressing itself there. If Sartre is right in grounding communism as he does, communism is wrong in thinking of itself as it does; it is not, then, entirely what Sartre says it is. Ultimately, if Sartre is right, Sartre is wrong. Such is the situation of the loner who incorporates communism into his universe and thinks of it with no regard for what it thinks of itself. In reading The Communists and Peace, one often wonders—without finding an answer, since the quotations from Marx are so equitably distributed—what distinction Sartre makes between Marx, the ideologies of Soviet communism, and his own thought. 
He goes on to attack Sartre’s dualism, Cartesianism, and his ontological conception of freedom:
In Sartre's thought, as in The Critique of Pure Reason, the consciousness of a connection comes from the consciousness of a pure connecting principle. From there comes the Kantian question which he always asks: Who will decide? Who will judge? From where does the syntheSiS come? And if one wants to measure the Party against a historical norm: "Who will unify the unifying principle?" The absolute authority of the Party is the purity of the transcendental subject forcefully incorporated into the world. This Kantian or Cartesian thought sees only organicism in the idea of an unconstructed unity.
In his later works, Sartre became critical of what he called the “stoical” and “Cartesian” view of freedom, but he stayed loyal to his ontological view of freedom.

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