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Wilfrid Desan, The Marxism o f Jean-Paul Sartre. Garden City: Doubleday &
Co., 1965.

The "tragic finale" which Professor Desan saw as the outcome of Sartre's
ontology, in Desan's pioneering and useful analysis of L'#tre et le ndant, was
i s o l a t i o n - the isolation of the individual human consciousness. In the final
paragraph of that earlier study, it is interesting to recall now, Desan pleaded the
case for a philosophy of synthesis which would overcome the alleged one-
sideness of the Sartrean model of man by reasserting the individual's place in an
ontological totality. 1 The years have passed, the focus of Sartre's primary
philosophical interests has changed, and Critique de la raison dialectique, Tome I
(pr6c6d6 de Question de M~thode) ~ has been presented to the philosophical
public as Sartre's definitive venture into the region of intersubjectivity. Once
again, Professor Desan has taken on the exacting task of explicating an enor-
mous tome (755 pages of quite small print) - one written, seemingly, with the
least conceivable attention to the simple author-reader amenities of chapter
organization and indexing, and embodying an even more complicated and
involuted French style and vocabulary than did L'~tre et le n~ant - in a relatively
short and straightforward manner. But the Sartre of the Critique has explicitly
consigned the notion of "totality" to his own peculiar sort of hell, and has
given a primacy to the contrasting notion of "totalization". And thus Professor
Desan, in the customarily short fifty pages which he allots himself for criticism
at the conclusion of The Marxism o f Jean-Paul Sartre, once again writes finis
tragicus to the projects of the Sartrean ego.
The content and the outcome of Desan's most recent work may thus be briefly
summarized. To anyone familiar with his earlier analysis, it hardly needs to be
mentioned that Professor Desan has tried to be scrupulously fair in relating
Sartre's theories. I shall return later to an appraisal of Desan's own contribution.
What is of greater importance, however, is the need to formulate some tentative
judgment about this first, and sole published, volume of Sartre's Critique, to
which Desan's book is admittedly (p. vii) intended as a guide rather than an
equivalent substitute. How, in other words, may the content and outcome of
Sartre's tremendous effort be briefly characterized?
It might be worthwhile, at least in this one instance, to resort to a device
which Sartre would rightly disdain as an example of "analytical reason", with
which his dialectical reason is contrasted, but which is also said to be a part of


Man and Worm 2, 4 (1969) 613-625. All rights reserved.


dialectical reason. The device will be to attempt to affax some traditional labels
to his effort. My justification for this is that a discussion of the pro's and con's
of applying various possible categories to Sartre's work may help not only to
shed some further light on its contents and on Desan's exposition of them, but
also to indicate, in a way curiously analogous to the theological via negativa,
some of the difficulties in giving a precise and terse description of Sartre's
dialectical reason. I propose, then, to ask two sets of questions: (1) Are the
Critique's contents sociology, political philosophy, philosophy of history,
ontology, or something else? (2) Should the Critique be regarded as phenom-
enology, existentialism, Marxism, or none of these?

First, in considering exactly what it is that Sartre is doing, we should probably

begin by asking what he himself thinks he is doing. His single "Question de
Mtthode", the focal point of the relatively brief introductory essay which is the
only complete part of the Critique as yet translated into English, 8 is, " D o we
have today the means of constructing a structural and historical anthropology ?"
(CRD, p. 9) Volume One is intended to constitute the structural half of the opus,
or, as Sartre describes it later in a deliberate parody of Kant, as a "Prolegom-
enon to any future anthropology." (CRD, p. 153) Now, it is perfectly obvious
that Sartre is not doing anything along the lines of a natural science. If the
Kantian Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics was not metaphysics in the then-
traditional sense, then it seems reasonable to draw the obvious parallel concern-
ing the Sartrean Critique as anthropology. If, on the other hand, we take
"anthropology" in its broadest sense, as meaning "science of man", then the
Critique may rightfully be classified as anthropology, but this will probably not
advance greatly our understanding of its purport. In any event, what Sartre is
undertaking in the Critique is a rigorous, systematic reconstruction of underlying
structures of human organizations that will be applicable to primitive tribes as
well as to societies of today and of the future, and that will also be somehow
capable of supporting, when placed in the new perspective of the projected
second volume, a theory of history. Thus, his own characterization of his
enterprise as "anthropology" is not entirely unhelpful.
Is Sartre's Critique sociology? In the second sentence of his book, this is how
Desan claims to regard it, in contrast with the "speculative philosophy" said
to be the subject matter of L'~tre et le ndant. (p. v) The subtitle of this first volume
of the Critique is "Thtorie des ensembles pratiques", and it is obvious that social
structures are Sartre's main, indeed his almost exclusive, interest here. There are
echoes of T/Snnies' weary old distinction between Gesellschaft and Gemeinschaft
in Sartre's crucial concepts of "series" and "group"; and I have heard the
Sartrean description of the transition from series to group, which is his way of
explaining revolutionary change in the Critique, somewhat hastily dismissed by
a venerable student of Marxism as "Talcott Parsons at his worst". There are
certainly numerous threads of sociological theory in the Critique, though the
amount of what usually passes for descriptive sociology is relatively small. But


it should not be forgotten that the ultimate object, as well as, perforce, the
subject, of Sartre's investigations is the whole of dialectical reason as it is
expressed in the various "mediations" of social structures. The data of sociology
are to be used in his work of integration and synthesis (CRD, p. 59), but the
latter is not equivalent to the relatively modest researches undertaken by even
the most theoretical sociologists. To be content with labelling the Critique
"sociology" would be only slightly less suggestive and slightly more misleading
than to characterize L'~tre et le ndant as "psychology".
Sartre still claims, in fact, to be writing philosophy; but it is quite impossible
conveniently to assign the Critique to any one of the more or less traditional
philosophical disciplines. Consider political philosophy, for instance. On page
608 of the Critique, Sartre introduces his interesting and intricate definition of
the State, "a limited group.., undertaking to impose modified institutions on the
collectives...", for which he has been meticulously preparing his readers.
Professor Desan somewhat oversimplifies Sartre's views both when he portrays
the latter as seeing "in the concept of the State something fatalistic" (p. 194) and
when he reports as Sartre's contention that the State is "synonymous with the
dominating class" (p. 195), although Desan's subsequent explanations mitigate
these inaccuracies. For the political philosopher, it is fascinating to follow
Sartre's arguments for rejecting the democratic possibility that any state might
ever truly express the wishes of the social totality or even of a majority (CRD,
p. 609), and to watch him attempt to make plausible a Marxist society in which
the State no longer exists and defend the Marxist tenet that the State is an organ
of the ruling class while still not dismissing the State, after the fashion of some
Marxist literature, as a mere epiphenomenon. But Sartre's analysis of the State
is very brief and rather uncharacteristic of the Critique as a whole; for, as he
emphasizes time and again, the level at which his analyses are being written is
much more formal and abstract than that of particular historical forms of
social organization, of which the State, as that form of institution which assumes
the characteristic of sovereignty, is taken to be simply an example. Despite the
appearance of disorder which a first reading of the Critique presents, and despite
Sartre's crucialinsistence on the reversibility of his dialectic and on the fact that
the sequence of his analyses is not intended necessarily to reproduce any
chronological sequence, there is a definite progression throughout the book,
a progression which Desan mentions (p. 81) but perhaps fails sufficiently to
emphasize: it is a logical development from social man considered in his most
abstract form, as pure individual "praxis" working on inert matter, to man in
the concrete milieu of history, the point at which the first volume ends. If this is
the case, however, then political philosophy can at best be only a small part of
Sartre's enterprise.
The same can be said of the philosophy of history, since history is to be the
focal point of the still awaited second volume. It is obvious that Sartre's contin-
ued (though greatly qualified) insistence on man's radical freedom and his
somewhat strange conception of dialectical reversibility are going to make it,


at best, extremely difficult for him to construct a concrete philosophy of history

in the tradition of Hegel and Marx. Overtones of the future Sartrean philosophy
of history are to be found throughout the Critique; Desan mentions a number of
them, such as the occasional, very intriguing references to a world of abundance
in which scarcity will have been eliminated. But Desan, at one crucial point,
does his readers a disservice by rendering as a fiat Sartrean conclusion about
"all of history" (!o. 215) what Sartre in fact poses as a question: "Is there not a
perpetual double movement of regrouping and petrification?" (CRD, p. 643)
And Desan also neglects to lay sufficient stress, it seems to me, on Sartre's
formulation of the kind of possible future society in which the worker would be
"delivered from his destiny": a society in which "group praxis" would prevail
forever and in which, correspondingly, the serial form of social life, from which
the alienated man of today can seldom escape, would be absent (CRD, p. 351).
The group form of social organization would thus exist concurrently with the
previously mentioned material condition of abundance; Sartre appears to take
this possibility very seriously, even though his references to it are always
tentative in this first volume. Sartre's remains a relatively pessimistic philoso-
phy, as Desan correctly notes, and yet the ingredients for a future-oriented
optimism are also present in the Critique, to a greater extent than Desan seems
willing to allow. In any case, however, the first volume of the Critique is not
primarily a philosophy of history.
My final suggestion concerning the Critique's contents was that it be consid-
ered as ontology, and this, though it is in many ways the easiest to discount,
seems to me closest to the truth of the matter. The appearance of easy refuta-
bility of this contention arises from the fact that the word "Being" bears
pejorative connotations in the Critique; Sartre associates "Being" with the
inertness both of matter and of the "serial" form of social organization which
passive matter paradoxically imposes on the inherently free prams of men in a
world of scarcity. Furthermore, the redescent of the group from its point of most
complete "totalization"-the moment of quasi-spontaneous, common revolu-
tionary a c t i o n - t o the permanence and "totality" of institutions and eventually
of bureaucracies is viewed by Sartre as a sort of retreat into the morass of Being
(CRD, p. 435, for example). Professor Desan is driven to conclude that, despite
the enormous effort given to the problem in the Critique, Herbert Speigelberg's
comment in 1954 to the effect that Sartre's social philosophy lacks" a theoretical
foundation" (p. 285) 4 is still apt, and that "the Intersubjective" still finds no
place in Sartre's thought, because of Sartre's continued denigration of the
concept of "totality"; for Desan, a recognition of totality in the form of a
"totum" of human subjects (ranging from the totum genus humanum down to
small groups) is a necessary precondition for any ontologically acceptable
analysis of intersubjectivity. But to criticize Sartre for an unsatisfactory ontology
is to admit that he has one, and that it is crucial not only for that "Essai
d' ontologie ph6nom6nologique" which he entitled L'~tre et le n~ant, but also for
the Critique. And Professor Desan himself is particularly brilliant at showing


the essential continuity, despite radical changes in vocabulary and important

changes in emphasis and interest, between the earlier and later Sartre. In the
Critique, "praxis" assumes many of the same functions as did thepour-soi in the
earlier work, while the role of inert matter corresponds in many ways to that of
the en-soi; in fact, even the denigration of "Being" is by no means novel to
Sartre, as a reflection on the relative status of the two contrasting terms which
appear in the title of LTtre et le ndant will serve to show. Sartre's constant
purpose throughout the hundreds of pages of complex analyses that constitute
the Critique is to defend the ontological freedom of the individual human person,
here viewed as praxis ("human sensuous activity") 5, and to show that it is only
by means of this individual prams and its projects that even the most authori-
tarian forms of institution are created and sustained, while at the same time
attempting to account for the obvious fact that individual freedom becomes
perverted and seems practically to disappear in institutionalized sorts of activity.
Thus, his concern remains primarily ontological, though his ontology is, as it has
always been, one oriented towards activity rather than towards permanence,
towards the free flux of existence rather than the fate-filled conservatism of
essentialist thought; we may therefore conclude that this first volume of the Cri-
tique is, at least among other things, an ontology of social organizations, and that
the second volume is to be a Sartrean ontology of history.

The second major question that I proposed as an approach to characterizing

Sartre's theory in the Critique concerned the identity of the philosophical
movement with which it is most closely affiliated. The problem arises in an
acute form because Sartre's name has come to be associated so intimately with
both existentialism and the phenomenological movement, whereas the Critique,
as the title of Desan's book eloquently and correctly testifies, is written
under the sign of Karl Marx. As for phenomenology, the word is almost
never, or perhaps never, employed in the whole of the Critique, but examples of
the familiar Sartrean method of description, which Desan does not hesitate still
to designate as "phenomenological", repeatedly illuminate the movements of
Sartre's analyses. Desan is especially sympathetic to Sartre in reproducing some
of the most memorable among these descriptions - s u c h as the "counter-finality"
whereby imperial Spain's greed for gold ultimately led to the impoverishment
of that country as a result of the gold's effect on the European economic
structure (104-105); or the "seriality" characteristic of the captive radio
audience which experiences, as an atomistic collective of isolated individuals,
the various reactions of fascination, anger, revolt, etc., produced by listening
to the announcer impose with impunity the official "line" on "the Others",
one's fellow-listeners (pp. 120-121); or the blatant extero-eonditioning inherent
in the phenomenon of the "10 best-selling records of the week" (which Sartre
observed on a trip to the United States), whereby the mere declaration that the
anonymous Others have bought a given record in large quantities is viewed as
an accusation by the non-purchaser, who hastens to conform (197-198). Desan


seems to imply that, even if the entire theoretical structure of the Critique should
prove ultimately untenable, the detailed descriptions that Sartre the Phenom-
enologist has scattered through its pages will make it worthy to preserve from
oblivion. Why does Sartre now seem so reluctant, then, to acknowledge his debt
to phenomenology? I suggest that there are at least two salient reasons: first,
because, whereas L'~tre et le ndant could legitimately lay some claim to being
within the limits of the broad phenomenological program of "regional"
investigations envisaged by Husserl, of whose method Sartre was once such an
assiduous student, the Critique is too pretentious in scope to fit at all comfort-
ably within the disciplined Husserlian conception of phenomenology; and
second, because the emphases on internality (of the investigator with respect
to the phenomena under investigation) and on interrelationships (among phe-
nomena) which Sartre regards as being essential to dialectical reason but lacking
in analytical reason may accord ill with the doctrine of intentionality and the
eidetic method of phenomenology as Sartre has come to understand them. 6 Yet
he has remained, in many ways, more faithful than unfaithful to his phenom-
enological training.
As for the Critique as existentialism, Sartre's own view of the matter is
clearly on record, in his introductory essay. As a result of this, despite the
comparative unfamiliarity of most American and British readers with the main
body of the Critique, it has already become almost trite to say that Sartre's
main purpose is to try to reconcile existentialism with Marxism, and it has
become almost as commonplace to say that he has failed at it. Perhaps this judg-
ment is ultimately correct, but to base it on a superficial comparison between a
deep and sympathetic conception of the existentialist movement and a Stalinist-
inspired caricature of Marxism would be just as dogmatic and unphilosophical
as the absurd, clich6-ridden "Marxist" portrait of Heidegger's existentialism as
Nazi "activism" and of French existentialism as apetit bourgeois reaction to the
wartime occupation that was drawn by Georg Lukacs (who ought to have
known better), and that Sartre discusses in his essay (CRD, p. 34). If, for
example, we see in existentialism the championship of individuality, freedom,
and authenticity, and in Marxism the advocacy of collectivism, historical deter-
minism, and eschatological myth-making, then clearly there is no room for ar-
gument. But genuine Marxism does not, in Sartre's view, entail any of the three
last-mentioned characteristics, at least as they would be understood in their
simplest senses. Consequently, Sartre takes the position that existentialism was
and is valid as a corrective to the closed, dogmatic, and collective-oriented
positions taken by most recent Marxist intellectuals, but that existentialism
remains only "an ideology", a "parasite system" (CRD, p. 18), which draws its
life ultimately from the thought of Marx and which may rightly, at the present
historical juncture, begin to be reintegrated into the main stream of Marxist
Sartre has not, therefore, renounced existentialism, though he may surely be
accused of having struck a blow at the prestige of the existentialist movement to


the extent that it claims autonomy and radical novelty; the serious question
remaining in the mind of the critic concerns the justifiability of Sartre's claim,
under the circumstances, to being a true Marxist. It is in assisting us in arriving
at some answer to this question that Desan's book, despite its title, is least
helpful. One might have begun, for example, by expressing surprise at Sartre's
adoption of the term, "ideology", to describe his own work, in light of the
pejorative significance that Marx attaches to the same concept in The German
Ideology. An inquiry into this issue might also have helped to elucidate the per-
plexing problem of why and in what sense Marx considered Marxism to be
very different from other ideologies, a problem to which Sartre alludes in the
early pages of the Critique. But Desan simply charges Marx with outright
inconsistency and sophistry on this point, claims agreement with Sartre, and
passes on (p. 75). Sartre's own analysis of this problem and of the related prob-
lem of whether good Marxism entails the view, totally unpalatable for Sartre,
that the dialectic of man is nothing different from the dialectic of nature as a
whole is extremely cautious and subtle; but, whatever Sartre's views might be,
the obvious fact that Sartre can never claim an enduring reputation as a
careful scholar suggests the need for some tentative adjudication of Marx's
position in independence of Sartre's interpretations. Desan does make occasion-
al references to various works of Marx's, but he makes little or no effort to apply
to these relevant points in Marx the same deft, critical sense which generally char-
acterizes his handling of Sartre. He does not, for example, discuss with sufficient
care the subtle wedge which Sartre attempts to drive between Marx, the broad-
visioned philosopher of prams with a comprehension of existential man, and
Engels, the naturalist ideologue who undertook to rigidify and externalize the
dialectic in the form of fixed laws (CRD, pp. 127-128). Nor does Desan, in
alluding much later in his book to the interesting question of Marxist ethics in
relation to the issue of Sartrean ethics (p. 262), point out the radical nature of
Marx's conceptions of proletarian revolution and classless society, which are
somehow to render the whole subject of ethics, like that of ideology, outmoded.
Such omissions make it difficult for the reader to pass judgment on Sartre's
alleged adherence to Marxism.
We should perhaps reconsider, however, just how important it is, in the final
analysis, to decide whether the label of "Marxist" may or may not be properly
affixed to Sartre. If it should prove to be less important than it at first appears,
then Professor Desan may have done very well in not focusing, in fact, on
Sartre's Marxism. I have tried to show why clearcut labelling is neither possible
nor, ultimately, essential in the cases of several other disciplines and movements
thought to be candidates for first honors as descriptive of the Critique;
Marxism's claims in this regard are no doubt the most imperative of all, and
yet the success or failure of the Critique by no means hinges on Sartre's fidelity
or infidelity to the spirit of Marx. Sartre acknowledges that he is undertaking a
kind of abstract, "regressive" analysis of underlying structures that is not to be
found in Marx himself, much less in his successors (CRD, p. 86). Sartre regards


himself almost as Marxist by definition, in view of the period in which he lives

and of the fact that he is not a reactionary thinker. Non-Marxist interpreters of
Sartre who berate him for the alleged bad faith of claiming to be a Marxist
while at the same time indulging in extreme revisionism ought first to ponder
Sartre's remark that revisionism is either a truism or an absurdity (CRD, p. 17),
and then to reconsider just what elements in such a dialectical, historically-
based philosophy as Marx's must be regarded as absolutely indispensable to
the doctrine. I suggest that surprisingly few such elements can be fixed upon with
absolute certainty. Of the three characteristics which I mentioned earlier as
being often associated with Marxism, at least by its critics- collectivism,
historical determinism, and eschatological myth-making - , it is apparent that
no Marxist would accept the last; a sympathetic interpreter can point to the fact
that Marx deliberately provides few details about his post-revolutionary society,
just as Sartre says little about the "philosophy of freedom" that he foresees as
replacing Marxism in that future society (CRD, p. 32). As for historical deter-
minism, sensitive critics have long realized the great difficulty of isolating what
is indisputably deterministic in a theory which recognizes the influence of as
many variables as does Marxism; the predictive side of Marxism could lend
itself easily enough to reinterpretation as the prediction of chains of future
possibilities rather than of any necessary happenings, despite numerous texts
to the contrary, and then Sartre's rejection of all simple determinism would no
longer appear as disloyalty to his acknowledged master. A similar uncertainty
lurks, as we shall see, about the notion of Marxism's essential collectivism.
For the moment, we may still regret that Desan has focused so little on the
interesting question of Sartre's Marxism, despite the title of his book, but we
may reflect that it was not imperative for him to do so in order to recount the
principal themes of the Critique, and indeed that to have done so might have
required a second volume of commentary.

If I have been successful in indicating the hopelessness of reducing the

Critique to simple, traditional categories, then I have also touched, in a negative
way, on the deliberately elusive and wide-ranging nature of Sartre's conception
of dialectical reason7 and consequently on the immensity of the task which Pro-
fessor Desan has assumed as interpreter. It will now be useful to turn to Desan's
own relatively brief criticism of Sartre's theories, in order to arrive at some
tentative judgments concerning the contributions of both philosophers.
The spirit of Desan's principal criticism is well caught by the clever jacket
drawing of the book, which depicts two hands holding sheets of paper, on
alternate lines of which are written " M a r x " - " D e s c a r t e s " - " M a r x " -
"Descartes" - "Marx". It is, in effect, another attack on the extreme individ-
ualism of Sartre's point de dFpart, which, as Desan quite rightly contends, re-
mains ultimately Cartesian and is, in the final analysis, unaltered from L'dtre et
le nFant. The Polish ideologist, Adam Schaff, considers this fundamental
question of individualism versus collectivism to be the single most irreconcilable


difference between Sartre's thought and Marxist "orthodoxy". 8 To the simple

question of whether a modified Cartesian conception of consciousness is
compatible with a modified Marxian conception of praxis, an equally simple,
standard answer is, of course, available: yes, if the modifications are great
enough. Sartre has well indicated the probable lines of such modifications.
But Desan's criticism at this point cuts far deeper, and is directed at the Car-
tesian individualism not only of Sartre, but also, to a lesser extent, of a large
segment of the phenomenological movement. Unfortunately, the force of
Desan's attack cannot be fully appreciated by anyone who has not also read his
Planetary Man 9, where he proposes, in effect, that a kind of collective con-
sciousness, his totum, be recognized as methodologically and ontologically
prior to the isolated ego.
Is there any possibility of adjudicating between these two seemingly ultimate
and diametrically opposed positions, that which assigns priority to some
collective and that which insists on the primacy of the individual consciousness?
If there is, the task is obviously far beyond the scope of this review; I am able,
however, to indicate a few relevant considerations. The Sartre of the Critique
insists much more than did the earlier Sartre on the role played by the group
- t h e "collective consciousness", if you w i l l - i n t h e development of one's own
consciousness from birth. 10 However, he continues to insist that group praxis,
even at its least alienated, is never more than a "dialectique constitude", never
constitutive. He is more aware than Desan seems to be of the perils of organ-
icism as illustrated in the history of political philosophy. And so he claims,
in reaffirmation of the basic individualist ontology of L'~tre et le ndant, that
only the individual is or can ever be truly sovereign.
The ideally desirable form of social structure is quite obviously, for Sartre,
the group, and yet the paradigm form of the group, the totalizing group when
it is "~ ehaud", is entirely devoid of structure, i.e., is purepraxis. The paradoxical
character of this formulation is well captured in Desan's remark that, for Sartre,
the group achieves an ontological status only from the point of view of someone
outside of it, so that the practical (the point of view of the insider with his
individual praxis) and the ontological conflict (p. 183). Together with Sartre,
one feels very strongly theneed to give a philosophical account of how radically
novel developments, revolutions of one sort or another, can break through the
stagnant circle of even the most rigidified and totalitarian institutions. And yet,
along with Desan, one feels equally strongly that the social world, even in an
era of continual change, is never quite so potentially fragmented and radically
contingent as it would be if individual consciousness or praxis were the ultimate
unit of reality. One looks for an element of trans-temporal continuity which
will be neither as undignified and passive as Sartre's en-soi or inert matter,
nor as transcendent as the Totalizer whose existence, in any case, Sartre flatly
denies. Such an element is Desan's totum.
But I wonder whether, when and if Sartre's second volume of the Critique
appears, some of Desan's most fundamental objections to his author's Car-


tesianism will not be met. F o r Sartre asserts several times (e.g., CRD, p. 152)
that history as a whole may be regarded as a single vast movement o f totalization
(though never as a completed totality), in which case there would be an essential
incompatibility between membership in this movement of history and complete
fragmentation. 11 A n d I also wonder whether there is not really more com-
plementarity than clash between Desan's totum genus huraanum, which is as-
sumed to be a concrete phenomenon, and Sartre'spraxis, which in its pure form,
as the starting-point of his "'regressive experience", can only be an abstraction.
The two conceptions would not, in this interpretation, be on the same level of
analysis; one might then go on to ask the fascinating question as to whether
either or both of them are truly faithful to the phenomenological method.
Desan's second major criticism o f Sartre (the first in order o f development)
is that there still remains much ambiguity about Sartre's ethical position,
and that Sartre seems to leave no r o o m for charity among his values.
Desan points up very welt some of the basic paradoxes surrounding Sartre's
approach to ethics: Sartre refuses to assent to any absolute "'X is good"
proposition, and yet he certainly commits himself to some o f the future-
oriented values, as he sees them especially in Marxism, of the present epoch.
(273--274) t2 This may be paradoxical, but is not contradictory, and Desan is
quite right in entitling this chapter " A Problematic Unresolved". A t one point,
Desan uses the strong expression, "perennial value" (264); it is clear that
Sartre, with his orientation towards history, can entertain no such c o n c e p t -
except that, as Desan suggests, of the perennial value o f man himself. Towards
the end of the same chapter, Desan goes on to criticize Sartre for his alleged
abandonment of a critical stance in favor of commitment to a cause; some
possible paradoxes in Desan's own p o s i t i o n - partly accountable for in terms
of his very u_u-Marxist and un-Sartrean dichotomy between vision and action -
begin to be revealed here.
But I find particular interest in Desan's comments about t h e lack of a
conception of charity in Sartre's thought. One of the earliest reviews of the
Critique, which Desan charitably omits mentioning, was by the usually temper-
ate Alphonse De Waelhens, who read total defeat and something approaching
intellectual depravity into Sartre's frequent insistence on the role of terror in
guaranteeing the continuance of an institutionalized group. 13 Now, it must be
born in mind that Sartre's full expression for the phenomenon of "the oath",
as he terms the fundamental form of institutional guarantee, is "Fraternit6-
Terreur"; both dements are said to be present in dialectical tension, and
fraternity is a conception that approximates the sought-for charity. But Desan
has grave doubts about whether Sartre's rather pervasive "Manichaeism", as he
calls it, 14 can be eliminated even in the scarcity-free world of the Sartrean future.
Desan could well have drawn an interesting comparison here between Sartre's
vision o f the future and that of Teilhard de Chardin, who also uses the Sartrean
neologism, "'totalization", and who has apparently had some influence on, or at
least shares much common ground with, Desan's own thought; Teilhard does


not hesitate to insist frequently on the increasing importance of "love", whereas

the continuing influence of the ontology of L'~tre et le n~ant 15 makes it very
difficult for Sartre to develop a similar approach in his view of future history.
Desan's brief criticisms are not intended, except perhaps for his final rejection
of Sartre's Cartesianism, to be definitive, and this is just as well. De Waelhens'
unfortunate example has been followed too often by subsequent reviewers of
the Critique, and perhaps there is a need to reconsider the ingenuous but
infinitely important question of exactly what criteria we ought to use to decide
whether an effort such as Sartre's is very valuable, of little value, or valueless.
Of the very few interpolations that Desan allows himself in the course of his
r6sum6, there is one kind to which he gives special eminence: he uses events
during the course of the American "Negro Revolution" to illustrate several of
Sartre's crucial moves. This is very wise. If one can demonstrate the applicability
of a gigantic intellectual scheme such as the Critique to events in the world
around us, and if this scheme can be shown at times to deepen our understanding
of these events, showing the dialectical rationality in the most "irrational",
then this will serve as the strongest possible argument for not discarding the
scheme. It seems obvious to me, for example, that the Sartrean accounts of in-
dividuals' impotence in the "serial" form of social structure, of the formation
of groups by alienated and menaced minorities, of the enormous difficulty faced
by successful groups in trying to escape bureaucratization, or of the pervasive-
ness of fraternity-terror in institutionalized groups, all serve to explain such
salient present-day phenomena as the Negroes' struggles or the moral crisis
engendered by terrorism and massive counter-terrorism in Vietnam much better
than would, let us say, either a De Tocqueville or a Dewey. This is not to deny
the value of the efforts of these or of many other sociologist-philosophers of
varying political persuasions, of course, but only to claim some unique value
for the Critique, both as descriptive phenomenology and as systematic philoso-
phy. At one point, Sartre himself is unwontedly modest about his claims and his
expectations for the Critique; all that he hopes to do, he says, is to clarify the
problem and possibly to engender some discussion (CRD, p. 135). His book's
success has certainly been at least this great.

A few concluding remarks remain to be made about Professor Desan's

contribution to this"discussion". The opening chapter provides a clear, accurate,
and, for most American readers, essential historical account of the development
of Sartre's Marxist thought since the Second World War, with reference
especially to Sartre's relations with prominent French fellow-philosophers such
as Camus and Merleau-Ponty. The almost equally essential introductory
treatment of both Hegel and Marx in Chapter II is relatively weak. The book
bears occasional marks of hasty editing; I especially object to the use of the
French transliteration, "plus-value", for the Marxian economic concept of
surplus value. A n d an unfortunate sentence on p. 156 contains a serious
misrepresentation of Sartre's present version of the famous Budapest uprising


in 1956, which forever altered the attitudes of members of the independent

French left, including Sartre, towards the Communist Party. 16 But to fix upon
this sentence (which is of great importance for understanding Sartre's political
views, but not his theory in the Critique) as the single most serious mis-
representation of Sartre's position in Desan's entire book is to pay great
tribute once more to Desan's scrupulous sense of fairness and accuracy.
The limitations of The Marxism of,lean-Paul Sartre are mainly self-imposed
by its author. It is a service to American readers, perhaps a greater service than
a full translation of the Critique would have been at this time. But it leaves
much unsaid and untouched in terms of reading between the lines and endeav-
oring to understand exactly what Sartre is ultimately aiming for in this enor-
mous, very puzzling tome. As for the future task of undertaking a full-scale
critique of the Critique, Desan can only hint at it. The Sartre cultists assume
that every stroke of the master's hyperactive pen must be of cosmic significance,
whereas a growing anti-Sartre cult regards his writings as mere fads, destined to
speedy oblivion. Both groups tend to be short-sighted and excessively emotional.
A t the price of keeping largely hidden his own considerable talents for
original philosophy and phenomenology, Professor Desan has contributed
much towards a desirable future evaluation of Sartre's philosophy which will
transcend the limited, angular visions of both cults.


Yale University


1 Wilfrid Desan, The Tragic Finale, revised ed. (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1960),
p. 197.
2 Paris: Librairie Gallimard, 1960.
a Search for a Method, tr. by H. Barnes (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1963). Short
excerpts from both Search for a Method and the Critique proper are contained in The
Philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre, ed. by R. D. Cumming (New York: Modern Library,
4 Desan's reference is to an article by Spiegelberg, "French Existentialism: Its Social
Philosophies", which appeared in The Kenyon Review, Vol. XVI, No. 3 (summer 1954),
pp. 446-463.
5 This is Marx's phrase in the first of his Theses on Feuerbach.
6 One is reminded of an amusingly obtuse remark made by George Lichtheim, who
entertained no doubts about Sartre's phenomenological bent, in a review of Desan's
book: "Cartesianism apart, there is Sartre's reliance on the phenomenologieal method
developed by Husserl and his disciples. Now, to cut a long story short, phenomenology
is really a species of Platonism. In Santayana's phrase, it is 'intuition of essence'."
(The New York Review of Books, Vol. III, No. 12, Jan. 28,1965, p. 9) Colin Wilson wrote
an indignant letter protesting this and other alleged inadequacies in Lichtheim's review.
7 In developing his root conception of dialectical reason, as in many other respects,


Sartre is at once acceptintg and attempting to answer the fierce criticism leveled at his
social philosophy by Merleau-Ponty in Les A ventures de la dialectique (Paris: Librairie
Gallimard, 1955). Consider, for example, the extremely elusive quality of Merleau-
Ponty's attempt to summarize what he means by the dialectic and its "adventures" in
the Epilogue of that book.
s "There is a contradiction between the Sartre who clings to traditional Existentialism
and the Sartre who pays tribute to the philosophy of Marxism .... It is concentrated
mainly in his conception of the individual."- Adam Schaff, A Philosophy of Man
(New York: Monthly Review Press, 1963), p. 26.
a Desan, The Planetary Man, Vol. I. Washington: Georgetown University Press, 1961.
10 Especially interesting along these lines is Sartre's discussion of the significance of
Christian baptism, particularly when it is done at the behest of parents who themselves
have little or no religious faith. (CRD, p. 491) Desan has a good discussion of this, pp.
159 ft.
11 The charge of total atomism is one of the basic elements in Merleau-Ponty's attack
on Sartre: "The conception of communism that Sartre proposes is a denunciation of
dialectic and of philosophy of history, and substitutes for them a philosophy of absolute
creation in the unknown."- Les Aventures de la dialectique (my tr.), p. 138.
12 One should recall the extent to which a reference to the future served as a solution to
the problems posed by Simone de Beauvoir in Pour une Morale de l'Ambiguit~ (Paris:
Librairie Gallimard, 1947). Cf. esp. p. 161.
a3 Alphonse De Waelhens, "Sartre et la raison dialectique", Revue Philosophique de
Louvain 60 (1962), pp. 79-99.
14 Cf. a very interesting review, which interprets the development of Sartre's thought
primarily along these lines, by Dina Dreyfus, "Jean-Paul Sartre et le Mal Radical: De
L'Otre et le ndant ~t la Critique de la raison dialectique", Mercure de France 341 (Jan.
1961), pp. 154--167.
15 I am thinking, of course, of Sartre's analyses of concrete relations with the Other,
particularly in sexual forms.
16 According to Desan, Sartre has now revised the conclusions of his sweeping attack
on the Russian intervention, which was embodied in a Temps Modernes article entitled
"Le Fant6me de Staline", to the extent of accepting the official C.P. version that
revanchist members of the liquidated petite bourgeoisie were to be found among the
factory workers, and that "it was a revolt of this minor group of malcontents within
the working class which erupted into a nationwide revolution." If Sartre had in fact
said this in the Critique, it would have indeed been a radical revision of his earlier
views. What Sartre actually says is that such people did exist among the workers, that they
accelerated the already-existing insurrectional movement, and that in certain places
they did perhaps give the revolt a different tone from its original one; and that this of
course complicates, but does not essentially alter, his original view of the events.



John Lukacs, Historical Consciousness or the Remembered Past. Harper &

Row, New York, 1968.

In our own time there has been both a serious concern with the past, a concern
made more intense because of a need to make sense of the present age, as well
as a countermovement away from the historical past, from the Western
tradition, towards what will be, towards a quasi-mystical future. Historical
conciousness is not, of course, a phenomenon of today alone and is certainly
not, as Lukacs suggests, of purely contemporary vintage. It was Hegel surely
who proclaimed, mutatis mutandis, that if we would understand anything we must
understand its history. A n d it is Heidegger who brings this insight in relation
to the concretely existing individual since he held, in Sein und Zeit, that "his-
toricality is a determining characteristic of Dasein in the very ground of its
being. ''1 That we must attempt to understand man in historical perspective is
perhaps one of the most universally shared notions today. But what is by no
means clear is the meaning of this historicality. For, the consciousness of
history is a double-edged sword, a sword which can be (and has been) wielded
in order to cut away the foundation of truth, to sever man from that sense of
relative permanence which seems to be needed in order to feel at home in
the world. The transition from an account of the development of historical
consciousness to a concern with the q u e s t i o n - what is h i s t o r y ? - is made by
Lukacs with little regard to some of the negative aspects of this consciousness.
It is with these as well as (in part) the relationship between history and mass
democracies that I will be primarily concerned in my critical reactions to
Lukacs' study.
Historical thinking has not only, as Huizinga has said, entered our blood,
but it has become, as Lukacs rightly points out, a form of thought. The gradual
extension of meaning of the word 'history' has been coeval with the contraction
of the meaning of science. Whereas science primarily deals with what is universal,
with regularities, with uniformities, history deals for the most part with what
is unique and exceptional, with the specificity of human sentiments and actions.
In this sense, it has an existential dimension since it cannot bracket individual
choices, decisions, commitments, or beliefs. Whereas time often obscures
origins, original aims and purposes, what comes to be understood as 'natural'
is, as Heidegger avers, immer geschichtlich, "always historical." 2 But what has
been must be reconstructed either because of gaps in historical information
or because of the excess of documentary d a t a - a problem confronting the
contemporary h i s t o r i a n - which requires careful sifting and selectivity. His-
torical knowledge is by its very nature incomplete since, for example, the true
intentions or motives of individuals may be forever hidden from the historian.
More and more, Lukacs charges, history has been conceived of as a social
science with a concern with the "ascertained past." But history is a form o f


Man and World 2, 4 (1969) 626-636. All rights reserved.


thought characterized as the "remembered past." 3 The remembered past, it is

said, is a more encompassing category than the recorded past. This is the case
because historical understanding is a form of personal knowledge which is
intimately related to the historian's life-history, his nationality, his temperament,
his predilections. The study of the past is a problematic undertaking, one which
requires aselective, imaginative reconstruction of the past. Ineffect, it is ahermen-
eutic process. The historian, to be sure, cannot rely on his own memory of the re-
cent past; but he does rely on the memory of others concerning wie es eigentlich
gewesen. Lukacs' account of history as the remembered past can be expressed
in the following way: the historian, conditioned by his own historicality,
attempts to interpret the past in terms of his own limited perspective, the fmitude
of his own historically conditioned forms of thought. In referering to the in-
fluence forms of consciousness (and, hence, of tangua~) have upon historical
understanding Lukacs approaches, in an inchoate fashion, Heidegger's insight
into the pervasive influence of a universally accepted ontological projection on
our thought, especially our way of thinking of man and his world. ~
Part of the current interest in history, it is said, is related to a disillusionment
with progressive futurism and an anxiety concerning the direction of increased
technological innovation. Many are seeking to understand the past in order, as
Lukacs puts it, to have some connection with 'reality.' Technological advances
have not illuminated the historian's task, but have obscured it by virtue of an
increasing scerecy and impersonality. 5 The massive amounts of governmental
documents alone tend to produce an obfuscation of causal relations, of the
origination of decisions. When one turns to the question of ascertaining the
sentiments of the "people" the problem of accurate information is even more
radical. The search for historical truthhas become, more not less, difficult in a time
in which more information about individuals, groups, agencies, and nations is
more available than ever before. The dynamic thrust of technological development
becomes, as Heidegger has said, a coordinated activity without explicit coordi-
nation since it is not possible to identify who is originating or guiding this
development. ~ To my mind this is a significant aspect of contemporary history
(one which Lukacs, surprisingly, does not even touch upon) - that is, that his-
torical change is primarily brought abo'ut by collectivities or groups and
rarely any longer by individuals. Sartre, among others, has emphasized this in
his phenomenology of group dynamics, in his analysis of the movement du
groupe a l'histoire. This neglect of the growing importance of organized groups
in history is a serious lacuna in Lukacs' account of the nature of history and the
process of historical change. One may deplore this deindividuating phenomenon,
the coercion of individuals by groups (e.g., governmental cyberneticians,
industrial-military alliances, anarchistic activists, etc.), but that it is a pervasive
characteristic of the contemporary world is undeniable.
The phenomenon of the evolution of democratic nations (in all of their
various forms) has brought about a change in both historical understanding
and the nature of historical processes. Although always a problem for the


historian, the question of historicalcausation has become infinitely more various,

concealed, and complex.8 Historical change is accelerated, but historical under-
standing is delayed. Coincident with the rise of democratic forms of government
has been the increasing interdependence of historical peoples. All specific
histories tend to become entangled in world-history. This leads to increasing
difficulty in historical interpretation, the sifting of relevant causal factors
leading up to dramatic changes in the direction of history. Lukacs argues, quite
convincingly, that there has been a Strukturwandel in the very texture of
history in demoncratie ages. This structural change is primarily manifested in
the increasing importance of social and cultural history as opposed to political
history. All forms of goverment in this century (perhaps under the conscious or
unconscious influence of Rousseau) have appealed to the "will of the people"
for their support or justification. But the rule by the people has become abstract
since it is difficult to ascertain "what the people want. ''~ Although Lukacs does
not stress this point, there is a significant correlation between the rise of demo-
cratic States and the acceleration of historical change. Not only is this the case,
but the rise in world population combined with democratic ascendancy has
introduced an exciting but dangerous stochastic character into human history.
Although historical processes seem to have originated, for the most part, out
of the decisions of charismatic individuals or oligarchic political groups in the
past, there are already signs that this may no longer be true in the future.
Immeasurable causal factors (e.g., the "sentiments of the people") seem to be
beginning to play a greater role in historical development. This has given rise,
as Lukacs puts it, to a synthesis of sociography- the delineation of the profile of
an entire society at a particular time- and democratic history.10 There is a par-
allel between the unpredictability of the direction of technology and the unpre-
dictability of the 'movement' of the sentiments, beliefs, attitudes, and values
of large masses of people. By implication one may say that history has been
more truly the history of das Man in recent times than it has been in the past and
it may (barring the development of an international technocracy) be even more
so the case in the future. Historical consciousness, it is said, emerges out of a
desire for some relationship to reality, for a personal consciousness of history.
The aim of reconstructing the past is understanding as well as the reduction of
untruth. But what is the nature of this reality and our understanding of it? In
one sense, surely, the history of Western man can be construed as a history, as
Hegel argued, of the evolution of the idea of freedom as well as the. the renewed
striving for cultural transformations of human existence. Whereas one may be led
to a kind of justified optimism in regard to the technical, cultural, intellectual
accomplishments of man throughout his history, there is much that is destructive
of such values in human history, much that reveals the cruelty and injustice of man
at all times. It is not only nature, as Tennyson said, which is "red in tooth and
claw," but human history as well. It is surely a form of romanticism to idealize the
past and to forget that although there is fantastic accomplishment and nobility in
human history, history is also, as Hegel pointed out, "the slaughter-bench at


which the happiness of peoples, the wisdom of States, and the virtue of individ-
uals have been victimized. ''11 A consciousness of history carries in its wake,
unfortunately, an understanding of the irrationality, brutality, and gross
ignorance of man as well as his nobility, his heroic attempt to transcend his
immersion in nature. Lukacs is too sanguine in his assumption that the reality
to which we may be related in our attempt to understand history is only one
which may encourage us in a diirftiger Zeit. There is some basis for a teleological
interpretation of history; but there is also counterevidence of a horrifying
dysteleology as well. Lukacs seems to attribute to historical consciousness per se
a kind of automatic therapeutic value. He proclaims that a knowledge of what
has been, what has happened in the experiences of man, a knowledge of our
historical circumstances may enable us to transcend them32 But in almost the
same breath he argues that our thought and being are conditioned by historicity,
that we exist within a historical universe, that language is an historical gift, that
we must understand the inevitable historicity of our knowledge. In some way
historical consciousness is supposed to relate us to the reality of the past
and this relationship will enable us to transcend the present even though one
of the consequences of an awareness of history is the realization of the historicity
of our consciousness, la The "reality" to which historical understanding leads
us is never explicitly described by Lukacs. One of the reasons for this, I believe,
is that he has proscribed the formulation of a philosophy of history which
would provide the conditions for the possibility of a delineation of that "reality."
In attempting to deal with the meaning of historical facts Lukacs describes
facts as "things done" (faetum), as happenings or events. The discovery of
facts is a process characterized by association and construction (or, in fact, re-
construction), a process involving empirical research, imagination, and personal
knowledge. Historical understanding relies upon fingere or construction. It is
said that when we think of a fact we think of what is. But the understanding of
what is (or has been) is accompanied by " a certain construction of the mind. ''~4
Although admitting the role of interpretation in the reconstruction of the past,
Lukacs claims that association in terms of mental constructs is more essential in
an understanding of facts. What he fails to see, however, is that the mental
constructions he refers to are the basis for the understanding of a fact as some-
thing. Thus, the process he describes as "association" seems to be indistinguish-
able from the process of interpretation which he claims is not the primary basis
for an understanding of facts. Historical understanding is not possible without
value judgments and the expression of a fact is inseparable from the intentions
of the historian. The meaning of facts is not given since i'nan projects meaning
into the world. Part of the meaning of facts is derived from memory. But the func-
tion of memory is said to transcend space and time? 5 N o t only is this view not
explained or defended, but it tends to undermine the function of memory as the
basis for a sense of temporal continuity. One may admit that mental acts of
memory are non-spatial, but it seems odd, to say the least, to hold that memory,
the basis for the process of relating past and present, is atemporal. With the


exception of his rather unclear conception of memory Lukacs seems to be

struggling to describe an understanding of the past as a kind of phenomenolog-
ical process. Many of his obiter dicta about imagination, interpretation,
memory, fictional construction, and language (e.g., "all language is metaphori-
c a l " - a rather embarassing claim for one who, unlike Nietzsche, desires to
retain the notion that there is truth in history) do not form a logically consistent
whole. In his zeal to avoid the myth of strict objectivity in historical reconstruc-
tion he sometimes tends to collapse the distinction between fiction ([ictio) and
history. Accepting the relativity of historical truths Lukacs also claims that
these truths suggest the reality of one truth which these truths express in multiple
forms or manifestations. Although stressing the factual character of the recon-
struction of the past, he refers to the uncategorizable varieties of past human
experiences. One may wonder how uncategorizable events could be construed
as intelligible. What is lacking in Lukacs' attempt to present an account of the
nature of historical understanding is a method which would enable him to
organize the details of this process. Unfortunately, Lukacs' analysis of historical
understanding ends where a phenomenological account of historical understand-
ing would begin.
One of the dominent categories in the philosophy of history is the conception
of importance. History has often been an account of political or military
activities because it had been felt that the mainstream of history pervades the
evolution of political institutions or the outcomes of military confrontations.
Gradually, historians have become more and more sensitive (with the possible
exception of Marxist historians who retain a materialistic theory of history) to
the multifaceted nature of historical processes, the multiplicity of possibly
relevant causal factors affecting large-scale historical events. Generally, the
historian has always assumed that some events are more important than others.
The question is, how do we determine the importance of an event as it is hap-
pening? Lukacs argues that we tend to judge an event by its consequences, by its
ramifications in futuro. Events are said to be significant insofar as they mark a
Kehre, a new trend or tendency which may become important. Importance is
related to long range consequences, to the effects produced by an event. Impor-
tant historical events have both immediate impact and dramatic consequences.
It is not surprising, then, to see why Lukacs conceives of history as a recon-
struction of the remembered past. The history of the transitory present (the
future 'becoming' past) is always tentative, speculative, hypothetical and
ambiguous. An understanding of history is primarily retrospective. Hence, the
'reality' which is revealed in history is an interpretation and reconstruction at
present of what has been, of what has happened. In one sense, although Lukacs
does not stress this, importance happens to historical events. That is, there is a
gradual emergence of concern about a particular event, a crystallization of
meaning and significance which may not have been apparent when the event
actually happened. Men are not entirely conditioned by the mechanistic
causation of the past (what may be called the billiard ball theory of causation)


since they react to what has happened, they respond to the causal factors leading
up to the present. Hence, as Lukacs aptly puts it, it is not the material conditions
of life alone which cause historical change, but it is the interpretation, evaluation
and understanding of the meaning of these conditions by individuals or groups.
Some pervasive implicit understanding of what the human condition is, what
man is (and what he ought to be) determines to some extent how groups
or individuals react to or interpret both their past as well as their present
Historical processes can be conceived of as dialectical processes (not
necessarily in terms of the assumption of an ontological dialectical process in
history, but in terms of the adoption of dialectical interpretation as a heuristic
principle) insofar as nations, groups, and significant individuals interact in terms
of opposing interests, goals, intentions, and cultural Weltanschauungen. Histor-
ical causation ought not, Lukacs urges, to be conceived in terms of the model
of physical causation. There are, strictly speaking, no laws of historical devel-
opment since the phenomena of history are, in a sense, unrepeatable, charac-
terized by unique specificity,in But one need not be led to the extreme position
that without "free will" there is no history. Although Lukacs insists upon the
multiplicity of causal factors determining historical events, he tends to hold that
unless man is free in an absolute sense (this is implied by his libertarianism) he
cannot be said to make his own history. It would seem, however, that man's free-
dom is finite, is constrained by conditions, circumstances, or 'situations'
which he is not reponsible for, which he has not created, which confront him
in their alterity. Marx's remark in The Eighteenth Brumaire o f Louis Bonaparte
is instructive in this regard. " M e n make their own history, but they do not
make it as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by
themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, Nven and transmit-
ted from the past." We may indeed admit that human purposes are important in
historical causation 17 without assuming that man's volitional choices are
entirely exempt from causality. Lukacs tends to equate universal determinism
with mechanistic causality, even with necessitarianism. One may clearly admit
the significance of the teleology of individuals or groups and also hold that a
host of causal factors impinge upon the emergence of a subjectively apprehended
telos. For, determinism is compatible with possibility, with alternative choices,
decisions, and actions. To claim, as Lukacs does, that the historian (for example)
is conditioned by his own life history, his culture, his nationality, his existential
condition, by the historical circumstances in which he lives and to maintain that
important historical decisions are an expression of man's freedom of will is
inconsistent. Freedom of choice (or action) does not occur in vacuo, but is
affected by the causal facticities impinging upon one's own present existence and
is related to the concrete historical actuality in which one chooses or acts. As
Sartre has put it, "there is freedom only in a situation. ''Is
Since each man is an individual as well as a fragment of larger totalities, his
understanding is perspectival, conditioned by the restriction of the specificity of


his vantage-point. The knowledge one gains of history is not holistic since it is a
form of personal, existential knowledge. As Lukacs quite properly points out,
any expression of personal knowledge (including historical knowledge) invaria-
bly leads to a plane of universality. The relativity of perspectival truths ought
not to lead us to historicism, Lukacs maintains, since these truths may be
construed as manifestations of a truth. The aim of the historian is not only to
negate or reduce falsity or error, but to uncover the truth in history. There is,
it is said, an existential primacy of truth, a compatibility between historical truth
and the encounter with truth, the discovery of truth, of which an individual is
capable. Unfortunately, historical inquiry reveals that men have understood
themselves, have interpreted their relationship to nature or the world, have
experienced their historical condition, in a multiplicity of ways. Although there
is a kind of metaphysical need in man to seek to uncover the truth of history,
historians, if they are not simultaneously philosophers of history, reveal only
concrete, particular truths, empirical truths. Large scale cultural values or
Weltanschauungen have replaced one another throughout the historical experi-
ence of men. The question is, what is this truth which is manifested in so many
diverse (often contradictory) "truths"? Although Lukacs, apparently uncon-
sciously, tends to agree with Heidegger that truth is not a matter of propositions
alone, but may be encountered in immediacy, may be wrested not only from
phenomena but from history as well, he is reluctant to propound a holistic
theory of the nature of this truth. In fact, he maintains that "the more history
one knows the less one is... disposed to have a definite and systematic philoso-
phy of history. ''19 It is not only analytical philosophers who are wary of specu-
lative philosophies of history, but historians as well. One of the consequences of
this refusal is to find oneself in the circle of cultural determinism or the sociology
of knowledge. There is no ultimate truth manifested in history, but only particular
truths conditioned by socio-cultural, historical circumstances. Needless to say,
this is one of the origins of the notorious conception of ideological 'truth.' The
problem in Lukacs' account of the search for historical truth is that he admits
that the historian only discovers relative truths, but he retains the view that there
is an ultimate truth which is expressed in the specific historical truths which man
has embraced or which have manifested themselves in world history.
One can sympathize with Heidegger's rather passionate remark in Sein und
Zeit that there are no eternal truths unless one can show that Dasein is himself
eternal and not, as he is, finite and contingent. The contingent truths which
emerge in the historical agon of man do, indeed, seem related to the finitude and
contingency of Dasein. The reductionist view that there is one truth in human
history appears to be empirically unjustified. Unless one is prepared to accept a
mystical or metaphysical conception of the revelation of an absolute truth in the
temporality of human history, we may be sceptical concerning such an all-
encompassing claim. Lukacs himself falls back upon a Hegelian notion (without
mentioning Hegel in this context) that there is a significance in the Christian
paradox of the emergence of an etemal being in time, the paradox of the God-


man. But may not one hold that Western man has given an historical meaning
to his own dominant religious expression?
If there is a truth in history, it is concealed from man. Even Heidegger (who
avers that both truth and untruth come-to-be in history) can provide no content
for this t r u t h - t h e notion of the Anwesenheit of truth is persuasive, but the prob-
lem is that we are given no criteria by which we could determine whether we are
encountering Irre or Wahrheit in temporal, historical phenomena. The Seinsmys-
tik which proclaims that truth is obscurely revealed to man in history, that, in
effect, history happens to man, 21 seems to rob history of a human meaning. In the
face of such a view one is inclined to sympathize with Lukacs' notion that
history is ineluctably anthropomorphic, anthropocentric. 2z There is, indeed, an
impersonal dimension to history, but there is also the initiation of historical
change by individuals as well. History happens to man in the sense that many
individuals are often victimized by large scale historical movements over which
they have little or no control. There does seem to be a momentum to history
which, although it may not be inevitable, tends to overpower the individual. In
this sense, one may wonder if there is the compatibility Lukacs seems to assume
exists between personal existence and historical being. The life-history of the
individual often parallels the movement of history, but it also veers away from
this impersonal momentum. Lukacs seems to be too optimistic in declaring that
historical consciousness develops an inwardness, an introspective self-conscious-
ness which enables the individual to acquire a personal knowledge of history.
There is a sense in which Kierkegaard's general view that the life-history of the
individual is more meaningful to him than the vast, pervasively influential
historical tendencies and movements of which he is inevitably a part is fun-
damentally correct. One may wonder what would happen in history if all Dasein
existed authentically for the most part rather than inauthentically. What I am
suggesting is that there is an unresolved tension in Heidegger's notion that
Dasein truly exists in his individuating experiences in relation to the dator
character of history as the "mittance" of das Sein. A similar tension is present in
Lukacs' account of historical consciousness. In one sense it leads to a greater
sense of individuation and, in another sense, it is the realization that one's
categories of thought are conditioned by historicality, that one is shaped by one's
culture and nationality, by prevalent economic, social, and political conditions.
If we are, as Lukacs puts it, "repositories of all mankind's historical experiences
in the past," one may begin to wonder if any of our states, thoughts, or feelings
are "our own" (eigentlich). What Lukacs seems to ignore is that the intensifica-
tion of historical consciousness has had negative consequences as well as
positive ones. For, surely it has contributed to the erosion of the concept of
truth, to what may be called the contemporary "crisis of truth." There has been
what Sartre would call an unfortunate counterfinality generated by this con-
That this is the case is shown in Dilthey's analysis of Weltanschauungslehre.
It is clear that the emergence of historical consciousness carries in its wake the


destruction of the notion of the absolute validity of any world-view, any world-
orientation, any cultural or social system. 23 The individual is conceived of as
passive in relation to the dominant cultural-historical conditions under which he
lives. As Dilthey puts it, "The individual in his self-contained personal being is
an historical creature. He is determined by this location upon the time-continuum
by his position in space, his status in the cooperation of cultural systems and
communities." 24 Dilthey had transformed one kind of historicism into another.
Earlier historicists had subsumed the multiplicity of historical phenomena
under a transcendent totality; each event was to be understood as a fragment of
a larger process. In Dilthey's historicism the specific, socio-cultural historical
circumstances determined the geistige Welt, the world-interpretations, the
"categories" of individual thinkers. Translated into Marxian language, it is not
consciousness which determines life, but life which determines consciousness.
Thought cannot transcend life-hinter das Leben kann das Denken nicht zuriick-
gehen. Clearly, then, one of the consequences of historical consciousness has
been the "chaos of relativities" which Dilthey discerned. Whereas Dilthey was
optimistic concerning the emergence of historical consciousness despite the fact
that it led one to admit the "iinitude of every historical phenomenon," the
"relativity of every sort of belief", we are less inclined to maintain that this is a
step towards the "liberation of man. ''2~ For, in fact, such an understanding has,
in our own time, also led to a cynical reduction of philosophy to ideology, to
the Marxian dogma that philosophy is in the service of class interests or is a
reflection of class consciousness. F a r from liberating man, the conception of
the historical determination of thought has led - in the hands of some - to scep-
ticism, extreme relativism, and nihilism. Lukacs tries to obviate such a conclu-
sion concerning the understanding of history, the sensitivity to the meaning of
history, by appealing to G o d (in an oblique manner, to be sure) as the ultimate
ground of the meaning and truth of history. F o r those who are unable or
unwilling to accept such a theological resolution of the problem, the question
is, how can we cultivate an understanding of history and an intensification of a
consciousness of the importance of history without becoming entangled in the
circle of historicism, without abandoning what Heidegger has called the im-
possible question of truth, without renouncing our search for meaning in
history? Perhaps man's true freedom lies in the transcendence of history. But a
haunting question r e m a i n s - i s such transcendence possible?

State University of New York at Brockport GEORGE J. STACK


1 Martin Heidegger, Sein und Zeit, Tiibingen, 1963, p. 20: "...Historizit[it ist als
Seinsart des fragenden Daseins nur m6glieh, weil es im Grunde seines Seins dutch die
Geschichtlichkeit bestimmt ist."


2 Martin Heidegger, Die Fragenach dem Ding, Ttibingen, 1962, p. 30: "Was 'natikrlich'
sei, ist ganz und gar nicht 'naturlich,' d.h. hier: selbstverst~indlich fiir jeden beliegigen
je existierenden Menschen. Das 'Natiirliche' ist immer geschichtlich."
3 John Lukacs, Historical Consciousness or the Remembered Past, New York, 1968,
p. 22.
a Heidegger refers specifically to Descartes' ontology of the world as comprised of
res extensa as well as to the scientific mathematical projection of nature. I am taking
some liberties with this notion sinceI believe it could be used to refer to any general,
implicitly accepted, ontology of the world and man including Heidegger's phenomenolo-
gical ontology of Dasein. Many of Lukacs' insights and philosophical asides concerning
the historicity of man's being, the importance of the prevalent conception of time in
terms of an understanding of history, the dynamic structure of history and human
existence, man's projection of meaning into the world, and many other similar notions
are echoes of Heidegger's Sein und Zeit. It is both surprising and disappointing that
Heidegger's name does not even appear in the index to Lukacs' study.
5 John Lukacs, op. cit., p. 59.
6 Cf. W. B. Macomber, The Anatomy of Dissillusion: Martin Heidegger's Notion of
Truth, Evanston, 1967, p. 204.
7 Jean-Paul Sartre, Critique de la raison dialectique, Paris, 1960, Livre II, pp. 381-755.
s John Lukacs, op. cit., p. 53.
9 Ibid., p. 69.
lo 1bid., p. 75.
11 G. W. F. Hegel, The Philosophy of History, trans. C. J~ Friedrich, New York, 1956,
p. 21. In Humanisme et terreur Merleau-Ponty maintains that it is the contingencies of
history which entail the possibility of terror and violence.
12 John Lukacs, op. cit., p. 234.
18 1bid., p. 140.
14 Ibid., p. 105.
15 Ibid., p. 247.
16 1bid., p. 153. Because Lukacs is sensitive to what he calls the microscopic details of
history, the unique character of particular events, he conceives of history as problematic,
as shot through with unpredictable contingencies. Thus, he maintains that the historian,
unlike the physicist who deals with macrophysical phenomena, is better able to predict
what is not going to happen rather than what is going to happen. Lukacs occasionally
seems to be unaware of his tendency to stress the unintelligibility of historical phenomena
and thereby to preclude the understanding of history he prescribes.
17 1bid., p. 159. Lukacs claims that human purposes are more important than motives
in effecting historical events. But surely one may argue that in some cases purposes do
function as motives. Thus, for example, we may assume that President Roosevelt's
motive for inaugurating 'pump priming' during the depression was to stimulate the
economy and to provide employment for a large number of people. The purpose of
bringing some of the New Deal legislation to fruition was clearly coincident with his
motives. In regard to the general notion that purposes can be causes Lukacs is clearly
mistaken, I believe, in his view that certain effects precede causes insofar as human
beings do make choices or decisions in terms of a final cause. For surely the anticipation
of a future possibility affects present behavior since soi-disant "final causes" act upon the
individual a tergo, at present. Unless one holds that there is a transcendent ground
of a cosmic ulsus immanent in nature and history one cannot hold that final causes are
operative in the way in which Lukacs thinks they are. The end for the sake of which


an individual chooses or acts has causal efficacy insofar as it is a possibility which is

presently apprehended.
18 Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness, treas. H. Barnes, New York, 1956, p. 489.
19 John Lukacs, op. cit., p. 260.
zo Ibid.,p.221.
21 Reuben Guilead, l~tre et Libertd: Une Etude sur le dernler Heidegger, Paris, 1965,
p. 105: "[Pour Heidegger] l'histoire comme r6v61ation de l'l~.tre est ~ la fois la source de
la grandeur de l'homme et de sa chute. Cette trag6die est encore grandie par le fait que
c'est l'i~tre seul qui determine ce double caract6re, et que ce n'est pas du tout la faute
de l'homme... Le destin de l'~.tre n'est cependant rien que l'l~.tre lui-meme, e'est-~t-dire
la fa~on dont l'l~tre s'exprime darts l'histoire."
22 John Lukacs, op. cit., p. 173. Lukacs avers that the condition for the possibility of
history is man's implicit knowledge of himself. Like Hegel and Marx, Lukacs suggests
that, properly speaking, only man has a history. Sartre, of course, has reiterated this
recently in his Critique de la raison dialectique.
2a Dilthey's Philosophy o f Existence: Introduction to Wettanschauungslehre, trans.
W. Kluback and M. Weinbaum, New York, 1957, pp. 19-20.
34 Wilhelm Dilthey, Gesammelte Schriften, Leipzig and Berlin, 1927, Vol. VII, p. t35.
25 1bid., pp. 290-291.