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Jean-Paul Sartre’s Comrades and Rivals

Your favorite critic has plenty of frenemies.


Simone de Beauvoir

I met this fine, feminist smarty-pants in 1929 at the École Normale (she was studying at the Sorbonne at the time). She called me ''Sartre,'' I called her Simone (sigh.) Although I was known as the Big Man on Campus among 20th-century existentialists, Simone was no slouch back then either. And she's become a distinguished philosopher, writer, and feminist in her own right.

We love to challenge all ridiculous cultural and social notions we've been taught to blindly accept, and live life rejecting everything that's bourgeois (marriage, family, religion, conformity, and so forth…). Our relationship is based on loving each other as free human beings, not about possessing each other. It's bliss.

To be fair, we don't always agree. But no matter what our intellectual beef of the day is, we're inseparable companions for life. Of course we aren't monogamous, though. That's way too bourgeois for our tastes. In fact we haven't have sex for the last thirty-three years of my life—with each other, I mean. We've shared many other lovers. TMI? Maybe, but I own it, and she does, too. We've always been super tight and have plans to share a gravestone. Ours is a life-long relationship of the philosophical mind.

Maurice Merleau-Ponty

M.M.P. and I went to the École Normale Supérieure together in the late 1920s, and we've been tight buds ever since. In May 1941, Maury and I established this underground group called Socialisme et Liberté. His big thing is that we see the world (our "perception") through our eyes, but that our eyes are in our bodies, so we experience life as beings with bodies—not like two eyes that move around like a camera. Sure, that sounds about right.

Raymond Aron

Raymond's another pal from my École Normale Supérieure days. Sure, we've had our differences. Never a fan of double standards, he used to get pretty riled up at how French intellectuals diss criticism of capitalism and democracy and turn around and support Marxist oppression and atrocities, but we're lifelong friends in spite of that little disagreement.

Ernesto "Che" Guevara

That's right, I'm down with Che. In fact, Simone and I kick it with him and Fidel, and I've even said that Che is "not only an intellectual but also the most complete human being of our age" (source).

He's a real man of his words, and I respect that—even in a brutal and ruthless revolutionary known to dispatch death squads to murder enemies. Hey, you can't have everything.

Bertrand Russell

This British philosopher and I see eye-to-eye on the Vietnam War, which we're both strongly opposed to. In fact we created a tribunal to put the heat on American foreign policy and military intervention in Vietnam.


Albert Camus

For a long time, Albert and I were tight. (We met at a rehearsal for my work The Flies.) We shared a lot of beliefs—we still do—and I published an article or two in his newspaper Combat.

Things went south though because Albert doesn't think communism's as great as I do—and he's not down with my support of violence for political purposes. Oh boy, then there's that book The Rebel, which basically flushes communism down the toilet and says I didn't make as big a stink about the Nazi occupation as I could have. That was low, Al.

Louis Althusser

So it all started when I decided to embark on an intellectual defense of Marxism in this little book called the Critique de la raison dialectique (Critique of Dialectical Reason) in 1960. I just felt like people weren't giving credit to the "human side" of Marx.

Enter Louis, all hot and bothered and claiming that even if Marx had had humanist values in his early life all that went to hell in a handbasket when Marx got all scientific later on. I just wasn't having it. Still ain't.

Nelson Algren

Nelson's a rival only in the romantic sense. I don't like that Simone describes him as the love of her life, but oh well… I'm the one who agreed to an open relationship, so I guess I should own that choice. Determinism and all that jazz.

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