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Sartre and May 1968: The Intellectual in Crisis

David Drake

Conventional wisdom holds that the political evolution of an individual passes from youthful radicalism to the conservatism of later years. In this respect, as in many others, Sartre declined to follow the norm. As a young man, despite his detestation of the bourgeoisie, his anti-militaristic sentiments, his anti-authoritarianism and unconventional lifestyle, Sartre remained aloof from politics, while it was towards the end of his life that his most radical commitment occurred, triggered in large part by the events of May-June 1968. This paper will establish that although Sartre supported the 1968 student movement, he remained essentially outside it and it made little immediate impact on his thinking or practice; it was only several months later that the ‘events’ made themselves felt to Sartre, leading him to question the definition of himself as intellectual which he had defended hitherto.

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