Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • This chapter is unavailable for purchase
  • Print publication year: 2013
  • Online publication date: March 2014

15 - Politics and the engaged intellectual



Having been relatively apolitical during the early stages of his career – he spent a fellowship year in Berlin soon after Hitler's appointment as German Chancellor without showing much apparent interest in what was beginning to take place in the political realm – Sartre became, in the years following the Second World War, the quintessential public intellectual. The chronology of his path is well documented, and it is intertwined with the evolution of his philosophy. In this chapter, that path will be quickly retraced, with brief pauses at some of its most salient markers.

Sartre's path to political engagement

Sartre had a fairly strong sense of identification with his generation; he was not alone in regarding it, in retrospect, as the “between the wars generation”. His studies dominated his life in the years immediately following the First World War, and he then performed eighteen months of military service, compulsory for French males, as a meteorologist. His first career appointment was at the lycée in Le Havre, where he taught philosophy for several years before and after his time in Germany. Meanwhile, he was undertaking various writing ventures, with mixed success, including the ongoing rewriting of the novel, eventually entitled Nausea, which, when finally published in 1938, brought him considerable acclaim. Little by little, political realities began increasingly to impinge on his consciousness and his life.