Just prior to NATO’s military intervention in Libya, Joseph Peschek reviewed Paige Arthur’s Unfinished Projects for the journal New Political Science. Peschek first applauded Arthur for exploring an aspect of Jean-Paul Sartre seldom examined:
Among the vast array of Sartre studies, topics such as Sartre’s standpoints on Stalinism and the Soviet Union, and his related debates with Albert Camus and Maurice Merleau-Ponty on morality, violence, and history, have been prominent. In this fine book Paige Arthur systematically examines from a fresh perspective a second political engagement of Sartre’s: as a critic of colonialism and neo-colonialism and as a supporter of Third World liberation struggles.
From there, Peschek summarized Arthur’s “four phases in the development of Sartre’s understanding of decolonization,” which spanned from 1945 to Sartre’s death in 1980.
However, Peschek didn’t end there. He hoped to deduce from Arthur what Sartre would say about current Western military interventions.
Quoting Peschek quoting Arthur on Sartre:
As Arthur explains, “By making human rights, and not self-determination and autonomy of peoples, the centerpiece of this reformulation, the socialist Left put itself in a position to effect a startling reversal of anti-colonial principles: a move toward a left-wing justification of intervention on humanitarian grounds.” One sorry offshoot of this turn was the support of many erstwhile leftists for US imperial wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in the past decade. How much better Sartre, with his “consistent desire to take non-Western interlocutors seriously—to recognize them genuinely as subjects outright, and not as potential subjects or as victims in need of being saved.”
Visit New Political Science to read the review in full (for NSP subscribers and subscribing institutions only).