Sartrean Collective Authenticity:
A Final Word
The tragedy of human existence manifests itself in the perpetual vacillation of man leading towards a life devoid of commitment. Man's inability to demolish the bulwark of lukewarmness in himself ushers a predicament of insufferable meaninglessness that continues to haunt him until the day he bids an existential adieu. The viable jewels of life remain untouched when man forgets his vocation of searching for the truth of his existence.
The Sartrean man realizes that there is more to existence than mere existing, and that there is more to life than mere living. Confronted with the ambiguity, meaninglessness, and absurdity of his existence, he then sets forth in a journey towards the rediscovery of his real self. He attempts to surpass himself, and imbedded in that transcendence is the meaning he has been looking for in his life. The search for meaning becomes an act of surpassing. The search for meaning, then, becomes the search for authenticity.
Early Sartrean thought leaves no room for individual authenticity. Sartre takes away from the individual the vaguest possibility of achieving individual authenticity both in the ontological and in the psychological level. Ontological, individual authenticity cannot be achieved for he argued that the individual cannot escape from the tendency to act in bad faith. Neither can psychological, individual authenticity be achieved because the current social framework does not endow man the freedom to surpass himself. Indeed, Stuart Zane Charme says, "Sartre's ordeal lay in fighting off the total engulfment of his private self by his public civilized role in the society."
The futility of the search for authenticity in early Sartre becomes an occasion to look for a feasible venue for authenticity. An initial act of failing does not make one a failure. Confronted with an impossibility of individual authenticity, the Sartrean man then continues to explore other venues for authenticity. He then finds refuge in an attempt to surpass the given situation and be dialectically related with it so much so that while he embraces the limitation brought about by his world, he persists in fighting for his subjectivity. Thus opens before him the possibility of collective authenticity. As Golomb writes, "we cannot change the ontological impossibility of authenticity, but we can do our best to weaken the social forces that perpetuate our tendency to live in bad faith."
Sartre turns from nothingness not to compassion or holiness, but to human freedom as realized in revolutionary activity. The dawn of collective authenticity for the Sartrean man manifests itself in two ways. First, he becomes authentic in his struggle to reconstruct the social fabric which is not conducive to authenticity.
Second, he becomes authentic when he establishes relations of real brotherhood based on freedom with other people in an authentically reconstituted society.
In the society envisioned by Sartre, the Other is no longer a threat to my existence. Early Sartre argues that the freedom of the other jeopardizes my freedom. The look of the Other objectifies me and by taking away my subjectivity, I lose the ultimate individuality I have and thereupon lose my self. Late Sartre submits that in a society characterized by scarcity, the other imperils my existence since we are both fighting for the same necessities. However, such will not be the case in Sartre's envisioned utopian society which is characterized by sufficiency. As Golomb puts it:
Mutual generosity, respect and genuine feelings cement such relations. I choose to help the other become authentic by not trying to dominate her and by regarding her as an autonomous person who can act simultaneously as object and subject in relation to myself. The other's otherness is accommodated but not assimilated in my self and my life.
Sartre considers that one's relationship with the Other can only come about through human praxis. Not abandoning his belief in the capacity of the individual to induce change, late Sartre asserts the need for human agency in historically conditioned production. The formation of the class, the modes and relations of production, and even human history can only come about through human praxis:
Our comprehension of the Other is never contemplative; it is only a moment of our praxis, a way of living - in struggle or in complicity - the concrete, human relation which unites us to him.
In view of the problem of the method to be employed in his quest for a society favoring his search for authenticity, Sartre submits that Humanistic Marxism offers the most appropriate way for such an endeavor. He considers Marxism as the only philosophy capable of rebuilding a new order, one in which the temptations for acts of bad faith are diminished. Moreover, he proposes that Marxist society is the only society that does not reward acts of bad faith. However, the Marxism of Sartre's time was characterized by dormancy resolving from the dogmatization of certain tenets which are not originally Marx's. He then envisioned an incorporation of the Existentialist notion of man and freedom into the dehumanized Marxist anthropology for it to better serve its quest of laying ground for a real philosophy of freedom. Thus arises Humanistic Marxism.
While man cannot fully achieve collective authenticity, temptations for bad faith will at least be minimized in the societal level in a Marxist society. Since the capitalist paradigm has succeeded in playing up the necessity of role-playing and other acts of bad faith and in diminishing the potency of human agency in social relations, Sartre submits that the Marxist paradigm offers the most concrete steps towards social reconstruction. He views Marxism as the most theoretically effective means towards a real philosophy of freedom.
Sartre argues that Humanistic Marxism will not be forever warranted; it will fade away at the dawn of a real philosophy of freedom. In the same manner that Sartre suggested the dissolution of Existentialism to Marxist thought, he prognosticates the inevitability of the dissolution of Marxism in the face of a real philosophy of freedom. Sartre's espousal of Marxism is then but transitory. He sees it as a palliative cure to bourgeois inauthenticity while at the same time serving as a means towards the establishment of a real philosophy of freedom. Sartre remarks:
We cannot go beyond so long as the transformations of social relations and technical progress have not freed man from the yoke of scarcity…As soon as there will exist for everyone a margin of real freedom beyond the production of life, Marxism will have lived out its span; a philosophy of freedom will take place. But we have no means, no intellectual instrument, no concrete experience which allows us to conceive of this freedom or of this philosophy.
In another part of the same work, Sartre writes:
Our historical task, at the heart of this polyvalent world, is to bring closer the moment when History will have only one meaning, when it will tend to be dissolved in the concrete men who will make it in common.
Collective authenticity is thus the political project of Sartrean philosophy. His plan to incorporate significant Existentialist theses to his newly-espoused Marxist thought is envisioned to provide a political tool for the achievement of an authentic society. Sartre is not just concerned with mere speculative discussion of a society favoring authenticity. He is more concerned with seeing such a society making a Phoenician renascence from the ashes of the contemporary social order. Towards the end of the chapter analyzing the Sartrean notion of authenticity, Golomb succinctly notes:
Sartre's political activity aims at creating a social fabric which will encourage and assist each individual to engage in self-creation. He envisages a just and free society that overcomes hunger and scarcity. Such a society will greatly lessen the appeal of acts of bad faith.
The question of Sartre's success in such a project cannot be integrated in this thesis; it necessitates further research. The main aim of this thesis is to point out the political project of Sartre and evaluate his success in laying the groundwork for a method to be employed in the realization of such an endeavor. As to the question whether collective authenticity is a realistic mission, it is wise to agree with Golomb when he says:
Ultimate failure to achieve authenticity is irrelevant because it is the striving, the overcoming of difficulties and the acceptance of defeats that endows life with structure, unity and meaning…Thus authenticity as self-creation is on a par with authenticity as self-destruction. To become author of one's own self is ipso facto to be author of one's death.
The tragedy of the philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre lies in his irrational deification of the human person. By excluding God from the cosmic panorama, he has made a ghastly creature out of man, one who knows not where he stands and what he must stand for. Sartre likewise refused to completely recognize the fact that man is both an individual and a social being. In his attempt to magnify human individuality, he has fallen into a trap of positing antisocial values. The cure he prescribed for this malady only succeeded in complicating the situation.
The fulfillment of Sartre's dream of universal brotherhood characterizing collective authenticity eludes present human history. Notwithstanding all the defects and limitations of Sartrean thought, the jewels of the same continue to sparkle in the hearts and minds of people who fully believe that only authenticity can induce the dawn of man as man. Sartre's assertion of man's capacity to transcend the limitations of his being is enough to provide an impetus for a reconsideration of the long-reviled Sartrean thought. Sartre has pointed the way; only history will witness whether somebody will trod such a path.
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