Moral limits of violence, war and revolution : a Sartrean analysis and response

Sze, Jennifer Ang Mei (2007). Moral limits of violence, war and revolution : a Sartrean analysis and response PhD Thesis, School of History, Philosophy, Religion and Classics, The University of Queensland.

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Author Sze, Jennifer Ang Mei
Thesis Title Moral limits of violence, war and revolution : a Sartrean analysis and response
School, Centre or Institute School of History, Philosophy, Religion and Classics
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2007-03
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor La Caze, Marguerite M.
Walker, Michelle Boulous
Subjects 430000 History and Archaeology
Abstract/Summary With ‘violence’ as a dominant concept in his politics, 9/11 revived interest in Jean-Paul Sartre’s work, renewing concerns over his justifications for the use of violence and the ‘terrorist’ nature of his writings. While I find the post-9/11 New Orleans discussion1 constructive in asking how Sartre can justify violence without disparaging humanity, I think it is equally important to ask why violence is unjustified when it can put an end to a situation that disparages humanity. This is because our post-9/11 world essentially demands a distinction be made between different projects of violence given that all perpetrators claim to carry out violence in the name of ‘freedom’ and ‘justice’. From this perspective, this thesis reconstructs a ‘violent Sartre’ as one who is concerned with the latter aspect of the debate – establishing the situations and conditions that make violence excusable, and distinguishing the types and kinds of violence that are morally tolerable according to their causes and consequences. In other words, it is a Sartre who understood the inevitability of ‘dirty hands’, more concerned with the pertinent issue of containing violent means within morally excusable limits than the justification of violence. I take into consideration only his published and unpublished philosophical works, leaving out literary plays and novels as I adopt an analytic approach to demonstrate the contribution from the reconstructed existential Sartre to the traditionally analytic topic of violence, war and revolution. 2 Broadly, I reconstruct a ‘violent Sartre’ in three stages. The first stage establishes a framework that consists of a reinterpretation of Sartre’s main methodologies – phenomenology, dialectics and existential humanist ethics – based on his existential humanism. This in turn leads to a reinterpretation of some key concepts, discussed in chapters one and two. In re-reading Sartre’s ontology, politics and ethics, I reconstruct a conservative version of the ‘violent Sartre’ as one who does not subscribe to hostility between subjects as an ontological condition but sees them as ethical and political choices made in concrete situations. In the process, I engage with the versions of a ‘violent Sartre’ suggested by Hannah Arendt, Raymond Aron, Ronald Santoni, Thomas Anderson, and Ronald Aronson. Building on this framework, the second stage outlines Sartre’s phenomenological concept of ‘violence’ in his ontology from Being and Nothingness and the Critique of Dialectical Reason in chapter three. It also discusses his politics of violence situated in concrete situations in namely, his preface to The Wretched of the Earth, Between Existentialism and Marxism, and Colonialism and Neo-colonialism in chapter four. I reconstruct a ‘violent Sartre’ as one that does not consider ontological intersubjective human reality to be a hostile Hegelian ‘being-for-other’ relation but rather, a non-hostile Heideggerian ‘being-with-others’ relation. Further, this reconstructed ‘violent Sartre’ is one that considers hostile concrete relations as the choice to dominate and deny the freedom of others, which is an ethical consideration rather than an ontological condition. This is supported by his ethics in Notebooks for an Ethics and the “1964 Rome Lecture Notes” which were responses to situations of violence in his politics. The discussion in these two chapters engages with the interpretations of Santoni, Aron, Anderson and Aronson as well as contemporary definitions of violence such as those presented by Charner Perry, Robert Paul Wolff and Newton Garver. The distinction between the circumstances in which the use of violence is excusable, and the types and kinds of violent means that are permissible form the concerns of the final stage of this thesis. Chapters five and six demonstrate how the reconstructed ‘violent Sartre’ rejects terrorist tactics by firstly, clarifying his concept of ‘terror-fraternity’ in the Critique of Dialectical Reason, and secondly, re-interpreting his preface to The Wretched of the Earth and commentary on the 1972 Munich Olympic tragedy. I also defend the reconstructed ‘violent Sartre’ as one who advocates the moral efficacy of humanist ends in guiding violent political action in revolutions in Notebooks for an Ethics and the “1964 Rome Lecture Notes” against criticisms raised by Santoni and Aron. Lastly, I outline his ethics in his politics by firstly, interpreting Sartrean ethics as consistent throughout “Existentialism is a Humanism”, Notebooks for an Ethics and the “1964 Rome Lecture Notes” and secondly, positioning his ethics as the reasons for revolutionary political action as the appropriate response to terrorism and the ‘war on terror’. 1 “The New Orleans session – March 2002” in Sartre Studies International, 9.2, Dec 2003, pp. 9 – 18. This was a conference was held to evaluate the “violent Sartre” in the aftermath of 9/11. The opinions of notable Sartrean scholars, namely, Ronald Aronson, Ronald E. Santoni, and Robert Stone were recorded. 2 Although literature is one of the main modes of delivery for an existential philosopher, I am not considering them in this thesis because firstly, they function as social commentaries that aim to galvanize social movements. This may lend itself to exaggeration - to produce rhetorical effects to arouse public emotions - and may not be an accurate representation of the writer's (Sartre) philosophical position. Moreover, they are mediums that perform other functions (such as artistic presentations) that might complicate our understanding of the political argument of Sartre the philosopher. Instead, my interpretation of Sartre’s philosophy aims at situating him in his historical and political context by making references to his interviews where appropriate. Secondly, the ethical motivation behind political action for Sartre is set within the context of ontology of freedom in the human condition, and applied to his leftist politics and socialist morality. His literary works do not contain sufficient philosophical grounding.

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Created: Thu, 10 Apr 2008, 10:04:45 EST by Noela Stallard on behalf of Library - Information Access Service