Jean-Paul Sartre on Che Guevara


Jean-Paul Sartre described the Latin revolutionary Che Guevara as "the most complete human being of our age."

What did "complete" mean in Sartre's philosophical belief system? Or was he simply speaking in layman's terms, effectively saying "Che Guevara is cool"?

I understand Sartre was a political activist, so he may have felt a bond with Guevara outside of his philosophical beliefs.

David Blomstrom

Posted 2017-09-19T23:26:09.783

Reputation: 1

2 Sartre was an avid Marxist and was incredibly supportive of the Cuban revolution in the beginning, later going on to denounce Castro as his leadership became an oppressive regime. After WW2 Sartre was more vocal about politics and how it plays into philosophy than he was about the topics he write about in, e.g. Being and Nothingness. Given his disposition towards Marxism and his main focus at that time being on politics and ethics, it doesn't seem like he meant anything other than "Che is doing what everyone in the world should aspire to do". – Not_Here – 2017-09-20T00:11:14.953

1I don't have the date on the quote you used but given what he wrote about Castro a few years after the revolution, I would assume he said your quote before seeing what Cuba eventually became. – Not_Here – 2017-09-20T00:12:12.597

But Castro and Che Guevara are two different people. From what I've read, Sartre continued to support Castro's regime, though there were aspects of it that he found troubling. From one article - ""He [Sartre] was praised and condemned in equal measure for his admiration of Castro and the revolution. But although he did write quite breathlessly about Castro – and was absolutely clear in his support – there is a subtle tension in his writing that reveals something troubling him about the bearded comandante." – David Blomstrom – 2017-09-20T00:36:34.183

2Apparently when Che was captured his knapsack had two books; one holding secret codes to communicate with Havana & the other poems by Neruda & Vallejo; Sartre was commited to anti-colonial and Marxist politics - see his introduction to Fanons White Masks & Black Skins. – Mozibur Ullah – 2017-09-20T04:39:28.747

See this article for some details regarding Sartre's visit to Cuba.

– Mauro ALLEGRANZA – 2017-09-20T12:03:30.413


See Sartre and authenticity: "he authentic individual will be the one who takes up the terrifying freedom of being the ultimate source of values, embraces it, and acts with a clarity and firmness suitable to his or her best understanding of what is right in this context." Linked: freedom and engagement: the political version of existential authenticity.

– Mauro ALLEGRANZA – 2017-09-20T12:20:44.383

See somo photos and the original 1960 Sartre's articles on Cuba.

– Mauro ALLEGRANZA – 2017-09-20T12:27:22.097

1Wow, good comments, especially the tip on "existential authority." I think I read somewhere that Sartre felt bad because he never did anything substantial with his life. He wrote amazing books and became famous, but he never actually reformed a government or fought in a revolution. So maybe Sartre and El Che were alter egos. – David Blomstrom – 2017-09-20T23:38:08.850

1Che was a man of action who was dedidated with thought too, to what he was doing. For Sartre, thinking as making choices is tied with action. Because choice is pre-reflective "it is equivalent and coincides with the beginning of the act". Hence, conversely, we are what we do; we never behave contrary to our "liking". A man who is able to support that unity of choice and deed in reflection too (we need reflection to implement actions, but it brings in a split) is a complete one. Like Brunet of Roads to(of) Freedom. Personalities Sartre was envious of. – ttnphns – 2017-09-21T07:55:40.097

I can empathize with Che Guevara more than almost any other revolutionary. His experiences, views and methods really resonate with me. I've also read things that make me suspect that Che and Castro were both really frustrated with ordinary people who didn't share their revolutionary spirit, or simply weren't able to understand what it was all about. That really hits home for me. – David Blomstrom – 2017-09-21T20:56:27.213

Sartre did very little to oppose the Nazi's during WW2, and his coming to terms with that chimed with France in general having to face that. In 'Existentialism & Humanism' he directly grapples with the choices and compromises involved in revolutionary action. – CriglCragl – 2018-03-06T15:04:21.537

Why should Sartre have opposed the Nazi occupation? If the French military couldn't stop the Germans, Sartre certainly couldn't do it. Besides, Sartre was a philosopher: "Never were we freer than under the German occupation. We had lost all our rights, and first of all our right to speak. They insulted us to our faces. ... They deported us en masse. ... And because of all this we were free." – David Blomstrom – 2018-03-07T02:48:01.287



An article by Gabriella Paolucci, 'Sartre's humanism and the Cuban revolution', Theory and Society, Vol. 36, No. 3 (June, 2007), p.259, gives some background to Sartre's remark. Sartre met Che in 1960. Here is an account of the meeting and of the impression Che made on Sartre :

The philosopher was imnmediately impressed by Che Guevara's personality, whereas the young doctor, on his part, found himself face-to-face for the first time with one his favorite authors, whose books he had read from the time he was young. Sartre painted Che Guevara as an educated and tireless revolutionary, devoted day and night to finding solutions to make the revolution successful. "Guevara," he wrote in the article that appeared in France-Soir on July 10, 1960, 'passes for a man of great culture. And you can see it. One understands immediately that he has, behind every sentence, a golden reserve. But an abyss separates this broad knowledge, the general knowledge of a young doctor devoted to the study of the social sciences out of inclination, out of passion, and the precise and technical knowledge that is indispensable to a state banker. He never talks of this, if not to joke about his change of profession. But you can feel the intensity of the effort. You can see it everywhere on this calm and restful face. Even the hour of this encounter is unusual: midnight". They would never have another occasion to meet after Sartre's stay in Cuba, but the writer would never forget the strength that emanated from this young revolutionary who remained for him a symbol of an experience that shunned dogmatism and relied on an autonomous search for an original path towards socialism and freedom. After Che Guevara's assassination, in an interview with Prensa Latina, Sartre would refer to him as the "most complete man of his times" (J.-P. Sartre, 1967), 'El Che fue el hombre mas completo de su tiempo. Interview in Bohemia, n. 59, p. 45.

I'm not concerned to endorse or to overturn Sartre's impression of Che. Nor do I know if he subsequently revised his impression. But the traits attributed to Che here are exactly in line with the personal authenticity that Sartre explored and valorised in his existentialist works. Che shunned dogmatism, he had chosen 'an autonomous search for an original path' (that of - revolutionary - socialism and freedom), he was both passionate in that search and possessed of calm self-possession. If this is how Sartre saw Che it is not entirely surprising that he eulogised him, in what Sartre regarded as the tragedy of his death, as 'the most complete man of his times'.

Geoffrey Thomas

Posted 2017-09-19T23:26:09.783

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