The Rationality of the Dialectic: Jean-Paul Sartre

  • Dick Howard
Part of the Political Philosophy and Public Purpose book series (POPHPUPU)


The sharp rupture that appeared in May 1968 threw into question not only the functional machine of modernizing French capitalism; the spontaneous creativity it revealed was also so much sand in the smoothly oiled machinery of orthodox Communist practice and Marxist theory. Neither the Gaullist victory at the polls in June nor the promise of the electoral Common Program of the socialist and communist parties deceived anyone: the specter of May had replaced the ‘specter of communism’ announced in The Communist Manifesto. The New Left specter has not achieved an institutional identity, and this makes it all the more dangerous to the established order while at the same time preserving its explosive force. The discovery and self-discovery symbolized by May was in fact a rediscovery of that unfinished work and elemental hope that Ernst Bloch showed to be not just the driving force but as well the arché and logos of revolution. More prosaically, it could be suggested that the nineteenth-century bourgeois revolutions, followed by bitter proletarian struggles, achieved only one of the three emblems that adorned the banners of 1789—equality—and that May 1968 represented the forms of liberty and fraternity that remain to be realized. This was expressed most emphatically in Cohn-Bendit’s iconoclastic insistence that ‘Tu fais la révolution pour toi’; the insistence on the role of pleasure and desire in the festive atmosphere of fraternization and communality turned the revolt into a positive affirmation. Underground, surfacing only in occasional and punctual actions, the specter of May, like that ‘old mole’ whose image captured the imagination of poets and philosophers alike, is digging away and undermining the structure of bureaucratized capitalist daily life.

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© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Dick Howard
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyStony Brook UniversityNew YorkUSA

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