Sartre & Camus
To the Editor:
Lionel Abel decisively marred his sensitive interpretation of Camus [“Albert Camus, Moralist of Feeling,” February] by including some irresponsible comments on Sartre’s contrasting position. Most spectacularly, Abel suggests that Sartre supported the Communist charge that the United States had used germ warfare in the Korean war “although he knew perfectly well that it was false.” No documentation or clarification is provided. We are left with this naked double thrust: first, Sartre accused the U.S. of germ warfare, and second, that he knew the accusation to be false at the time he made it.
This is a rather startling disclosure. If it is accurate it profoundly undercuts one’s respect for Sartre’s activist role in contemporary politics. If it is inaccurate, then Mr. Abel, in the course of his pious disquisition on morality, has inflicted upon us a smear job. . . . It seems permissible to insist that Mr. Abel gives us some evidence. . . . My insistence refers especially to the portion of his comment that alleges that Sartre made the charge of germ warfare when he knew it to be false. Less pertinently, but in the interests of calm evaluation, Mr. Abel should cite us to the occasion on which Sartre made the charge itself. . . .
I might add that there is more to Sartre’s general claim than Mr. Abel is willing to allow. . . . Sartre in word and act has given great energy, courage, and talent to the fight against oppression in the world. Only a superficial reader could confuse his rejection of traditional morality with moral indifference. Under no circumstances is it moral to follow Mr. Abel’s lead and call Sartre “a moral pornographer.”
Richard A. Falk
Ohio State University
To the Editor:
In his review of Albert Camus’s Resistance, Rebellion, and Death, Lionel Abel seems more interested in making several generalized, hurried, and therefore questionable judgments of Camus’s over-all position than in reviewing this specific book. . . . I disagree with Mr. Abel’s assertion that calling Camus a moralist is ambiguous because he “. . . never recommended an ethic, nor was he an exceptionally ‘good’ man, certainly not if we judge him by conventional standards.” Are attitudes (or values) such as honesty, modesty, and compassion to be ruled out as ethical qualities? . . . Further, I reject Mr. Abel’s suggestion that Camus was sometimes “falsely noble,” or guilty of taking a “pose.”. . .
Mr. Abel writes:
Professor Falk is no doubt well intentioned in his defense of Jean-Paul Sartre. However, I never said that Sartre “accused” the United States of using germ warfare—I did say that he supported the Communist charge that the U. S. had done so.
My ground for this assertion: when General Ridgway came to Paris to assume military leadership of NATO, the Communist party called a demonstration against him charging him with having used germ warfare in Korea. Sartre supported this demonstration. My grounds for saying that he knew the charge was false: (1) intelligent people in Europe, among whom I include Sartre, knew it to be false; (2) Sartre defended the Communist party for calling this particular demonstration in several articles (“Les Communistes et la Paix,” Les Temps Modernes), and in these never once asserted that the charge was true, but merely that it was in the interest of the French working class to support actions of the French Communist party. Quite typically, he gave political support to something for which he was not willing to take intellectual responsibility.
Finally, if I gave Professor Falk the impression that I consider Sartre to be a “moral pornographer,” then I did not express myself with sufficient precision. What I wanted to call attention to in passing was a certain component of moral pornography in Sartre’s literary work. One has only to read with some care No Exit or his new play The Condemned of Altona to find this. But I certainly did not mean to describe Sartre’s whole activity in literature, thought, and politics as “pornographic.”
As for Mr. Rubin’s indignant defense of Camus against me, I am afraid I can only say that Mr. Rubin did not understand my review.