Revisiting the Question of Humanism in Jean-Paul Sartre and Frantz Fanon

26. Oktober 2015 von Erik M. Vogt

Vortrag am 10.Kongress der Österreichischen Gesellschaft für Philosophie, Innsbruck 2015.http://www.uibk.ac.at/ipoint/blog/1326563.html

According to Robert Young, one has to strictly distinguish between Jean-Paul Sartre’s Marxist-humanist attempt to inaugurate “a new humanism” that is to replace “the enlightenedconception of the immutable nature of man” with a “historical humanism” grasping “man asproduct of himself and of his historical activity”, and Frantz Fanon’s truly “new humanism”(Young 1991, S. 121); for the latter supposedly dismisses not only the humanism of theEnlightenment and Sartre’s historical humanism, but also has to be conceived of as a type“theoretical anti-humanism” rooted in the recognition that humanism has been involved inthe history of colonialism; for this very reason, one cannot, pace Sartre, separate the issue ofhumanism from that of colonialism (Young 1991, S. 121). My paper will demonstrate thatYoung’s all too facile distinction between Sartre and Fanon ultimately does not hold. Apartfrom the fact that already several of Sartre’s early texts perform a trenchant critique of humanism, it will also be argued that Sartre’s later analysis of European bourgeois humanismrenders evident that it cannot be understood without reference to its inherent racist traits. That is to say, European bourgeois humanism constitutes, for Sartre, a practice of exclusion,a serial ideology to be deciphered as pendant to racism. What is more, Sartre clearly recognizes the internal bond between European bourgeois humanism and colonialism. For instance, his preface to Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth reads European bourgeois humanismas the site of producing “monsters” assembled from a humanism projecting universalismand racist practices. Sartre’s denunciation of European bourgeois humanism based upon adifferential schema ascribing to (white) Europeans humanity and classifying non-Europeansas “subhumans” coincides therefore with Fanon’s own verdict, according to which European humanism presents nothing but a history of atrocities. It is before this background ofcolonially compromised European bourgeois humanism that both Sartre and Fanon takeup again the question of humanism by re-conceiving the question of the human being interms of what could be called “radical humanism”. This radical humanism contains notonly several arguments displaying an affinity with radical (theoretical) anti-humanism, but,more importantly, it also articulates the “emancipatory hypothesis” aimed at an affirmationof “generic humanity” – a “generic humanity” that, according to both Sartre and Fanon, canonly come into view, if the project of re-thinking humanism takes as its point of departurethe “exception”, that is, that which “has no acceptable nature“ (Badiou 2007, S. 177). Whatis more, Sartre’s and Fanon’s radical humanism distinguishes itself not only from Europeanbourgeois humanism, but also from contemporary “animal humanism”, that is, from whathas to be characterized as humanism “without Ideas” (Badiou 2007, S. 175).

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