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Jean-Paul Sartre, In His Own Words (Brace Yourself)

According to just released interviews, the famed existentialist and leftist activist was also a foul-mouthed taker of hard drugs who underestimated Hitler, insulted his French colleagues (and lovers) and praised international terrorism.

(NC Mallory)
(NC Mallory)
Michel Onfray

John Gerassi, Jean-Paul Sartre's only official biographer, is one of the lucky few to have spent hundreds of hours in the company of the French philosopher. He recently published a 500-page-book full of interviews conducted between 1970 and 1974. Here are a few excerpts:

Sartre admits that he never felt guilty for anything in his life. He confesses he was depressed in the period before World War II, and that at one point declares that he was followed by crabs in the street -- and would talk with them. He also admits that his experience with mescaline and amphetamines exacerbated things. He insults former French President Charles de Gaulle, alternately calling him a "reactionary pimp," "piece of sh-t," "pompous jerk," "monster," "f-ing bastard," and "pig."

Insults are common throughout the interviews. Sartre calls Andre Malraux, the French statesman and award-winning author, a "pig." His work, says Sartre, was "crap." The famous French existentialist uses the word "treason" five times to characterize his mother's second marriage with a much loathed stepfather, a "Gaullist through and through." Before the fateful day of the marriage, Sartre slept in his mother's bedroom.

Sartre goes after his longtime companion Simone de Beauvoir as well, saying she lied about him in her Mémoires. De Beauvoir wrote that Sartre escaped from the camp where he was held as a war prisoner, when in fact he was liberated. She also indicated that Sartre published just a single article, in June 1941, in Comoedia, a collaborationist magazine. In reality, Sartre published two articles in Comoedia: the second was a Feb. 5, 1944 funeral tribute to the writer Jean Giraudoux. On Beauvoir, with whom Sartre had a long polyamorous relationship, Sartre says her book about Maoist China, TheLongMarch, was mostly written in the library, from books and articles rather than real-life observations.

As for politics, Sartre claims not to have understood Nazism in 1933, even though he was living in Germany at that time. He says he didn't vote in 1936 and regarded the parades of the Popular Front with indifference. He says he supported intervention in Spain, as long as he wasn't asked to participate in a concrete manner. He also supported the 1939 non-aggression pact between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, and was apolitical during his stay in the German prisoner camp, where he was non-confrontational but used his docility as a "form of protest." He says that in 1947 he was not politically active.

Sartre sympathizes with the revolutionary violence of the century, supports the USSR, Eastern Europe, and Maoist China. He minimizes the number of victims of the Cultural Revolution and doubts that it could have provoked such tragedy. He admits having published 18 articles in favor of Castro, and celebrates illegal revolutionary acts and "blood baths' committed in the name of political ideals. In regards to Cuba, he extrapolates a general theory of government through terror: "To succeed, a revolution needs to go all the way. It's not possible to stop mid-way. The political right will always use terror to block the road, so the revolution must use terror to prevent that."

He legitimizes and justifies the use of the death penalty for political reasons. He supports the Palestinian terrorist attacks of 1972, saying that, "Palestinians don't have any other choice, because of a lack of weapons and supporters, than to turn to terrorism…The terrorist act committed in Munich, I once said, was justified on two levels: first, because the Israeli athletes in the Olympic Games were soldiers, and second, because the action was committed for an exchange of prisoners."

He defends the Baader-Meinhof terrorist gang the Red Army Faction, as the gang is also known, was a German left-wing terror group most active in the late 1960s and 1970s, saying that, "from a moral and revolutionary point of view, the kidnapping and the deaths of German industrialists committed by the group are absolutely justified." He adds: "The Baader-Meinhof gang conducted itself well. They never killed a single innocent person. They hunted down vicious pigs within their society, and the American colonels that crawled before them."

He calls filmmaker Claude Lanzmann, who directed the 1985 movie Shoah, "a good bourgeois' who "sings the praises of Israel" without seeing "what happens to the poor Palestinians, chased from their lands, their houses seized without compensation, their children forced out of school, harassed from morning to night, beaten by foreign armies armed to the teeth. Lanzmann sees Israelis as victims of the Holocaust. For him anyone who criticizes Israeli politics is anti-Semitic. Full stop."

Sartre legitimizes "revengism" as a basis of popular justice, saying that "the idea of revenge is a moral idea." He defends the North Korean dictator Kim-Il-sung, and blasts writers Edmond de Goncourt and Gustave Flaubert for not using their influence to criticize the repression of the 1871 French political Commune. "We should have killed them," says Sartre, who accuses Goncourt and Flaubert of being complicit with the power in Versailles.

Interestingly enough, Sartre fails to mention the fact that he himself did not write against the German occupation. His 1945 text Paris Under the Occupation, in fact, shows more empathy for German officers – amiable enough to have "offered their seat in the metro to old women, they were moved by children to caress their cheeks' – than for the allied pilots who he said put the security of civilians in danger.

Gerassi's conclusion to the interviews is the following: "Sartre is not only the most important moralist of our century. He is also its most important prophet." No further comment is needed...

Read the original article in French.

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Roberto Tuero / SOPA Images via ZUMA Press Wire
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