'Save France from its Humiliation!' Sartre, Camus, and the intellectual debate on the Algerian War and French identity.
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This thesis focuses on the intellectual debate that erupted as reaction to the Algerian Independence War against France (1954-1962). This war was not only a period of cruel violence against proponents and opponents of Algerian independence, but simultaneously one of serious questions on France’s policy of colonialism. This thesis explores the contribution of Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus in the intellectual debate on decolonisation and on France’s struggle to redefine its values and geopolitical role. Sartre and Camus are positioning themselves differently in this debate. Sartre, on the one hand, argues for Algeria’s independence and condemns France for using violence in Algeria and its lack to modernise its institutions in the Metropole. Camus, on the other hand, strives for a federal Algeria that retains its strong ties with France. He argues against France’s colonialism, but cannot see Algeria without French influence, if it were only for the large Franco-European community of pieds noirs in the country. Using the theory of neo-Marxist Antonio Gramsci, this thesis analyses the intellectual commitment of Sartre and Camus during the Algerian War. Sartre defends the colonial people and the French middle and lower classes who suffer from France’s colonialism. Adopting an activist attitude, he summons his readers to change the status-quo. Camus is less radical in his opinion and tries to be as reasonable as possible, finding a third way between the continuation of colonialism and decolonisation that would satisfy all groups. Sartre and Camus both are advocating for a change, however their analysis and engagement is different. Sartre adopts a more radical argumentation and writing style, whilst Camus stresses the need for intellectuals to bring reason to the conflict and prevent it from escalating. The thesis can, in a humble way, provide insight in intellectuals’ participation in political debates.