Concerning the Ambivalence of Sartre on Violence: A Commentary/Rejoinder

in Volume 19 (2013): Issue 2 (Dec 2013)

In this article, I maintain that (1) Sartre's views on violence are ambivalent and (2) Sartre sometimes justifies violence. More specifically, I attempt to establish the misreadings by Michael Fleming and Marguerite LaCaze (on whom Fleming relies) of both my writing and Sartre's in these regards. Each, by arguing that, for Sartre, violence is “sometimes acceptable” or “functionally necessary” or “understandable,” but not morally justifiable, is ignoring Sartre's tendency at times to skirt the issue of justifiability by employing “weasel words” that amount to justification. Both critics seem to forget that Sartre says that, on occasion, violence “could be called just” (qu'on pourrait appeler juste), especially in conditions of last resort defense against oppression, in which case violence, according to Sartre, can restore and regenerate the oppressed. Further, although I acknowledge Fleming's noteworthy emphasis on “structural violence,” I offer considerable counterevidence against his (and LaCaze's) claim that I ignore or slight Sartre's concern for it. I argue, on Sartrean grounds, against his (and Zizek's) claim that structural violence can be purely objective. Finally, I contend that in arguing that Sartre's views are not strictly ambivalent, Fleming, following LaCaze, makes the error of equating “consistency” with not being ambivalent.