Camus & Sartre: The Story of a Friendship and the Quarrel That Ended It by Ronald Aronson (University of Chicago Press) is the most compelling attempt to bring closure to one of philosophy's great mysteries—the severed friendship of Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. While speculation about their fatal dispute has run rampant, a dearth of material about it combined with Camus and Sartre's mutual disinterest in discussing their relationship and its end has prevented the full story from being fully told—until now. Discovery of new documents enabled Ronald Aronson to more fully describe the rupture between the two philosophers which, in the words of Raymond Aron, "immediately assumed the character of a national dispute," pitting two factions of political and philosophical thought against each other.
Sartre and Camus: A Historic Confrontation edited and translated by David A. Sprintzen & Adrian Van Den Hoven (Humanity Books) In 1952, Jean-Paul Sartre engaged Albert Camus in a celebrated and bitter public confrontation that had wide-ranging cultural significance. The year before, Camus had challenged the prevailing political wisdom in his renowned work, The Rebel. In response he was attacked in print, first by Francis Jeanson writing in Les Temps Modernes, a journal edited by Sartre, and then by Sartre himself. In a series of highly publicized articles, these literary and cultural titans locked horns over human values, social and political policy, the nature of human freedom, the meaning of history, and the direction that Western civilization should take. More
Camus & Sartre: The Story of a Friendship and the Quarrel That Ended It
begins with the protagonists' first encounters and ends with the dissolution of
their relationship in the early `60s. In the course of the book, Aronson
skillfully shows how, despite the fact that Camus was a political mentor to
Sartre, they slowly found themselves as figureheads for opposing sides in a
fervent political clash, culminating in a bitter and very public dispute. A
major contribution to intellectual history, Camus & Sartre will be as
interesting to devotees of these two writers as it will be to scholars of modem
philosophy and political science.
Camus & Sartre: The Story of a Friendship and the Quarrel That Ended It begins with the protagonists' first encounters and ends with the dissolution of their relationship in the early `60s. In the course of the book, Aronson skillfully shows how, despite the fact that Camus was a political mentor to Sartre, they slowly found themselves as figureheads for opposing sides in a fervent political clash, culminating in a bitter and very public dispute. A major contribution to intellectual history, Camus & Sartre will be as interesting to devotees of these two writers as it will be to scholars of modem philosophy and political science.
"To the Editor of Les Temps moderns...."
"My Dear Camus: Our friendship was not easy, but I will miss it. If you end it today, that doubtless means that it had to end. Many things drew us together, few divided us. But these few were still too many...."
"'To the Editor": but everyone knew that this was one good friend talking to the other. "If you end it": the celebrated philosopher of freedom, placing responsibility on his friend before subjecting him to the stream of violent abuse that did in fact end the friendship.
unforgettable words, so personal and yet so public, so authentic and yet so
saturated with bad faith, signaled two simultaneous turning points, that of a
personal relationship and that of a historical era. The friendship between
Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre was at its peak immediately after the
In a philosophically intense and personally brutal argument, the two main voices of postwar French intellectual life publicly destroyed almost ten years of friendship. At first reluctantly and hesitantly, and then with a rush that seemed uncontrollable, Sartre and Camus also shattered their political milieu and any traces of what was once their common project of creating an independent Left.
terrain for a major historical drama: a few densely printed articles in a
Sartre-Camus relationship began on Camus's side in 1938 and on Sartre's in 1942
with their enthusiastic discovery of each other's early books, followed by
immediate friendship in 1943 when the two first met. Philosophically and
politically akin, they talked of various collaborations and shared similar
ambitions. They were often paired at the Liberation, becoming
continued to socialize, their non-Communist leftism was strained by the
beginnings of East-West polarization. The division marked by Churchill's "Iron
Curtain" speech in early 1946 was brought into their circle by the arrival in
Such pressures were intensified by the events of the next few years, and marked Sartre's and Camus's writing and their evolving political positions. As earlier, a dialogue between Sartre and Camus can be discerned in their writings, neither mentioning the other by name but each formulating his thoughts in relation to the other. Still friends, though often pulled in opposing directions, they continued to work for an independent "third force" for as long as possible—which is to say, almost until the Cold War became hot and, along with their own development, finally forced a choice for or against Communism. Their friendship persisted until the very moment of the explosion. Then, estranged, they continued to argue with each other until Camus's death.
It is a riveting story. Why hasn't it been told in full before now? One or two brief accounts have been written, a handful of writers have explored the issues between Camus and Sartre, but no one has recounted the detailed story of the relationship and its end. Why is such a book still necessary today, almost fifty years after the events it describes?
One reason is that it has only recently become possible. Materials are now available—biographies, scholarly editions of texts, considered readings of various writings, detailed investigations of dozens of biographical questions and writings—that permit us to understand much more of what happened between the two men. It is now possible to turn to this question, of their relationship, in retrospect, and to explore beneath the veil that they, and most of their biographers, have placed over it. We will see how drawn to each other they were at first; how close and cross-fertilizing were their original paths; how they interacted with each other on paper, including direct and indirect comments on each other's works; how their writings treated common questions; how their political, literary, and intellectual projects overlapped; and then how the two writers began to explicitly oppose each other. Indeed, how even after their break they continued to wrestle with, respond to, and challenge each other.
But the story's telling has waited not only on the accumulation of materials. We were kept from seeing what happened between them for a more essential reason: the Cold War itself. Its demand that everyone take sides in a pitched struggle of good against evil—to which Sartre and Camus fell victim in their distinctive ways—converted their conflict into a mere morality play. If one was right, then the other had to be wrong, and the resulting story lacked nuance. No wonder no one has felt impelled to tell it in full.
As an integral part of the history of the Cold War, the Sartre-Camus re- . lationship demanded to be seen through partisan eyes. Thus Sartre's lifelong companion, Simone de Beauvoir, writing well after the breakup, could scarcely describe Camus without judging him. A "petty tyrant" at Combat, this was a man given to "abstract rages" and "moralism." "Unable to compromise," he became "a more and more resolute champion of bourgeois values." Obsessed by anti-Communism, Camus had become a devotee of questionable "great principles." If Sartre's choices were right and Camus's wrong, then (as in Beauvoir's telling) the good side won and the bad side was defeated. This version prevailed throughout Sartre's and Beauvoir's lifetime. Another view surfaced with the post-Cold War reversal of opinion. According to a Camus partisan, "Sartre .. . proclaimed his alliance with the Stalinists no matter what, Camus refuse[d] to join the radical chic crowd that trucked with murderers; for this he was mocked and humiliated by the Sartreans and nearly everyone was a Sartrean then." In this rereading Communism's fall now allows us to reverse history's verdict, setting the record straight about Camus, who "had 20/20 political vision."
The problem is that living and seeing history as a morality play rules out living and seeing its ambiguities and tragedies. The term tragedy conveys the sense of a profound loss, and we will see that the story of Camus and Sartre ends badly both personally and historically. This is not to deny that Sartre seemed unfazed by the broken friendship at the time, or that he later made light of the relationship and the rupture. Yet in one of his most revealing later interviews, Sartre says of Camus, "He was my last good friend." This is not surprising, considering how close were some of their starting points, how parallel were their postwar missions, how easily they once seemed to negotiate their sharp differences in class background and temperament, not to mention the good times they had together. Nevertheless, lacking any other direct testimony by Sartre, we are left to speculate what the conflict might have cost him. But there is no doubt that it powerfully affected Camus. It silenced him. It was a cloud that hovered over him during his last years. He showed pain, a sense of betrayal, and even shame at what he experienced as a public humiliation. And he returned to it hauntingly in what Sartre described, in his eulogy after Camus was killed in an automobile accident in 1960, as "perhaps the most beautiful and the least understood" of Camus's books, The Fall.
In using the term tragedy I mean to get beyond the Cold War partisanship that has colored, along with so much else, the perception of the Sartre-Camus conflict. I intend to describe both adversaries with understanding and sympathy, as well as critically. This means appreciating the fundamental legitimacy of both sides of their conflict. Sartre and Camus were not driven apart by individual idiosyncrasy. They split because, in Sartre's later terminology, they came to "incarnate" the world-historical conflict between two of the century's major ideological antagonists. Although Camus was never a partisan of capitalism and Sartre was never a Communist, these two antagonists wound up representing far larger forces than themselves. Each one struggled against the looming split for several years and at the same time continued to develop and respond to events in ways that made that split more likely. A historical logic animated the controversy as Sartre and Camus, eschewing the cliches of Communism and capitalism in all their sterile and self-interested bad faith, were driven to articulate the fundamental reasons why thoughtful people, intellectuals committed to the broadest possible freedom and social justice, would support or oppose Communism.
split a dispiriting "either/or" would prevail on the Left: sup-porting
revolutionary movements and governments meant agreeing to ride roughshod over
freedom; defending freedom meant opposing the only significant project
challenging capitalism. In a deep sense, we are talking about the Left's defeat
in the twentieth century, its splintering of hope. The hopes of a generation to
advance toward socialism and freedom were to be frustrated. People were forced
to make an impossible choice: between Sartre's grim dialectical realism
(Communism as the only path to qualitative change, and the ugly face of such a
change) and Camus's principled leftist rejection of Communism (which left him
unable to identify with any significant force struggling for change). Sartre and
Camus articulated the half-rights and half-wrongs, the half-truths and half-lies
of what became the tragedy of the Left—not only in
Camus and Sartre came to insist that there were only two alternatives, reflected in their plays The just Assassins and The Devil and the Good Lord, Camus's rebel and Sartre's revolutionary. But in choosing capitalist freedom
or Communist socialism, they in effect chose not only against each other but against themselves. In making their choice, however they affirmed themselves and whatever the arguments, Sartre and Camus, along with their generation, also betrayed themselves and their highest values.
After their split, and to the end of their lives, each saw the other in the simplistic terms of his own chosen morality play: the only betrayal each one recognized was by his former friend. For Camus, the explosion confirmed that Sartre had never been his friend, and that politically Sartre and those around him had a taste for servitude. For Sartre, Camus stopped growing and betrayed the vital connection with his historical world that had made him so attractive during and after the war. After their spectacular break, as sometimes happens with a painful divorce, each one seemed bent on eliminating the other from his life. Camus until his death in 1960, and Sartre until his in 1980, cooperated as if in a conspiracy to erase the traces of their friendship.
Biographers and scholars of Sartre and Camus have been their accomplices. Some have drawn their relationship as brief and insignificant, looking at it primarily to anticipate its ending. After all, didn't their philosophies, temperaments, literary styles, and social origins all demonstrate that the rupture was essential, the friendship accidental? This stance seems to correspond to the law of "analysis after the event" described by Doris Lessing. Since it resulted in a break, we are tempted to focus from the start on "the laws of dissolution" of the relationship. As with a broken marriage, we fixate on the logic of the breakup, as if the two were bound to fall out and that is all that matters. Moreover, both Sartre and Camus put their whole being into the choice that broke them apart. Each man's total stake in being right fed his inability to see in their relation-ship anything other than the seeds of the split. This was only intensified by the stark judgments of right and wrong immediately imposed by the Cold War, and then by the disposition of writers devoted to one or the other to side with their man. Thus other biographers and scholars have been unable to look at the Sartre-Camus relationship without seeing either Sartre or Camus as being in the wrong from the start. Their early critical notes toward each other, it is said, or their paths of political commitment, or their first important writings already indicated their true colors.
Were they fated to break apart? However they came to see their friendship later, both Sartre and Camus at their best would have rejected the notion that any relationship was destined to end from the moment it began. In fact Sartredeveloped an extended argument against such fatalism, calling it bad faith. Both men's writings and lives demand that we read their story as each of them must have lived it—with openness toward what might happen. To appreciate the relationship in their own spirit, we must approach it with their shared sense of unpredictability, choice, freedom, and absurdity.
Doing otherwise has meant ignoring the full, rich drama of the relation-ship. It has left us instead with a highly skewed short story, according to which Camus and Sartre had good times briefly but not much of a friend-ship; they didn't influence each other; their connection was superficial and didn't last very long; and their breakup was inevitable. Even Beauvoir's ac-count, which is as close as we can come to an "official" story—from one side at least—conforms to this pattern, indeed, sets the pattern. But searching out and trying to piece together the real story in its fascinating and painful detail means putting the relationship in the center. Once given its due, it takes on a whole set of new and different meanings. Sartre and Camus were strongly attracted to each other, affected each other deeply, were involved in and had conflicts over each other's intimate life, and remained entangled with each other long after their breakup. It was not mere rhetoric when Sartre, in his eulogy for his estranged friend, said that "being apart is just another way of being together."
Paradoxically, this Camus-Sartre biography is already a "revisionist" history simply by virtue of my attempt to tell the full story, and to do so without taking sides. My argument—first that their relationship was an important and powerful one, and second that the Cold War deformed it as it did so much else—is based on firm evidence. To understand the two men and their time required searching the archives of Camus's newspaper Combat, of the Communist weekly Action, and of the former Resistance and fellow-traveling Les Lettres franfaises, as well as those of l'Humanite and Le Monde. There are now seven biographies, and they are essential for learning about the two men. They give us much material on the two writers' lives and interaction, including the many new personal details about Camus amassed by Olivier Todd, the privileged interviews with Sartre by John Gerassi, and Annie Cohen-Solal's insight into the Camus-Sartre sense of kinship. For all her inevitable partisanship, Beauvoir also is indispensable in her official story developed over two volumes of her memoirs, in the interviews and other information presented in Deirdre Bair's biography, and in her letters to Nelson Algren. Then, too, Beauvoir wrote a major novel about the postwar period, The Mandarins; collected many of Sartre's and her own letters, and gave us the 1973-75 interviews with Sartre. Sartre's 1975 interview with Michel Contat is also illuminating, and the thousands of details about Sartre assembled by Contat and Michel Rybalka are essential. I have made much use of Camus's materials faithfully assembled in Roger Quilliot's two Pleiade volumes, as well as Camus's three notebooks, and his letters to his teacher, Jean Grenier.
Indispensable as all these materials are, they do not give us the key to the story. My stress on the two men's importance to each other does not come from what Camus and Sartre said about their relationship in these various places, or from Beauvoir, but rather from a little-noticed primary source, one free of retrospective bias: the published writings of Sartre and Camus themselves. I don't mean only the twenty or so times they mention each other by name but also the many places where they engage with each other without naming each other, discussing major issues in the process.
Sartre and Camus lived in their writings, and their writings are the main source of the story of their relationship. From 1938 to 1960 they wrote to each other, about each other, and in response to each other. Their written interactions form some of the key moments in each man's development. Often they referred to each other directly: at first Camus reviewed Sartre's Nausea and The Wall; then Sartre analyzed The Stranger and The Myth of Sisyphus. Sometimes they spoke in code, especially after their break. Often they referred to each other in ways that require us to tease the references out of specific situations. Camus frequently argued against pro-Communist leftist intellectuals, whose leader after 1952 he considered to be Sartre. After 1952, Sartre argued against believers in nonviolence, and he took Camus as their spokesperson. Read properly, twenty years of such interactions, first in friendship and then in antagonism, tell us much about the relationship between the two. Although many other sources help narrate the Camus-Sartre biography, it is through their writings that two of the twentieth century's greatest intellectuals tell their story. It is time for us to listen.
Camus & Sartre provides an evenhanded analysis of the quarrel, revealing the
chillingly personal tack taken by these two intellectuals amid a political
debate that effectively created the great devide of the Cold War and also
decisively ended their friendship. The consistently close reading of the
writings of these authors offers important historical insights into their
respective works, showing in many places thire writings to be unreservedly
personal, making the other as a adversary until the very end. Aronson's literary
perspicacity united with an engaging use of stories on social and personal
resentments Sartre and Camus nursed, creates a valuable biographical and
historical background to the main writings of these authors and a most agreeable
tale of the turmoil of intellectual life in postwar
Sartre and Camus: A Historic Confrontation
edited and translated by David A. Sprintzen & Adrian Van
Den Hoven (Humanity Books) In 1952, Jean-Paul Sartre engaged Albert Camus
in a celebrated and bitter public confrontation that had wide-ranging
cultural significance. The year before, Camus had challenged the prevailing
political wisdom in his renowned work, The Rebel. In response he was
attacked in print, first by Francis Jeanson writing in Les Temps Modernes,
a journal edited by Sartre, and then by Sartre himself. In a series of highly
publicized articles, these literary and cultural titans locked horns over human
values, social and political policy, the nature of human freedom, the meaning of
history, and the direction that Western civilization should take.
This new volume,
Sartre and Camus, contains the first English translation of the five
texts constituting this famous philosophical quarrel. Personally animated,
passionately argued, polemically focused, the historic confrontation was as much
a personal encounter as it was a theoretical debate. Alternating between
stylistic brilliance and stinging sarcasm, each writer draws upon their years of
past involvement as former friends to make both their criticisms more pointed
and their theoretical critique more challenging. At the same time, their views
serve as lightning rods for the wider cultural forces of which they are partial
Sartre and Camus is edited and translated by
Adrian van den Hoven, Professor of French Studies at the University of Windsor,
Ontario, and David A. Sprintzen, Professor of Philosophy at
and Camus] gathers the essential documents which chart the course for
one of the most celebrated intellectual confrontations of the twentieth century
... an indispensible source book ... A most welcome contribution to the ongoing
debate over liberal versus radical politics.... – Thomas R. Flynn, Emory
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