So, if you have been following this blog since its inception, you will have noticed quite a few direct analyses of 20th Century Existentialism. Between Beauvoir, Sartre and in some ways Ernest Becker, we have covered quite a few of the central ideas inherent in the existentialist narrative. Particularly this blog has passionately followed Jason Silva’s Shots of Awe as the modern existentialist. The more I live on the internet and talk to people, the more I start to realize that existentialism is making a comeback! Whether we talk about reddits philosophy page, and authors trying to reconcile Durkheim with Sartre, or people on ideapod inspired by Becker, Existential Comics, we see that existentialism is making a powerful comeback, and eliciting good thinking.
We cannot, however, forget why existentialism met its bitter end in the first place. Robert C. Solomon has a series of lectures on 20th Century existentialism, and the last one is entitled From Existentialism to Post-Modernism. Solomon brings up two interesting and great critiques that those like Claude Levi Strauss and post-structuralists later brought up. Is existentialism something that can only exist for privileged white males? Strauss would have critiqued the “enlightenment project” that Sartre and Beauvoir created. For existentialism to survive, it has to accept some truths about the world; we live in a world where power relations exist a priori, and there is no such thing as a essential self. Sartre’s idea of radical freedom only makes sense in a world where power is evenly distributed, and equally accessible. In fact, Sartre and Beauvoir were both anarchists, so they probably would have agreed with that sentiment. For existentialism to transcend itself, it needs to turn its goal from radical freedom and responsibility, to helping others achieve their radical freedom. This is actually built into the existentialist credo “because I am free I am responsible for all men.” Actively critiquing power relations is a step in the right direction.
Hence I promote what I call Neo-Existentialism. It is existentialism that holds Sartre’s position to be epistemically true, however, it acknowledges radical facticity and the need to break power dynamics in society to allow everyone to be able to actualize themselves. Arguably some of existentialism’s greatest achievements have yet to be seen, because it has been forgotten. Existentialism while adopted heavily by the post-modernists has been left behind. It is up for us to make it relevant again.