HUMANISM AND TERROR by Maurice Merleau-Ponty


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A group of essays written in 1946 by a French philosopher too little known here. The historical impetus is the Cold War and a refusal to be either Communist or anti-Communist. There are no explicit polemics with Sartre or the French Communist Party, and the book requires no background in such matters. The topical points of departure include Darkness At Noon, the Moscow Trials, Trotsky's thought in exile, the Marxist theory of the proletariat. What Merleau-Ponty makes of them is brilliant. By comparison, Camus seems shallow and the Eastern European Marxist humanists sophomoric. Merleau-Ponty manages to give full weight to ambiguity and tragedy without falling into idealist or merely literary traps. (The style is literary as opposed to philosophical.) His grasp of such battered issues as the errors of abstract humanism and the individual's relation to history reanimates them. False alternatives are not only exposed but transcended: innocence/guilt, freedom/necessity, religiosity/amorality, subjectivity/materialism--and, of course, Koestler's Commissar and Yogi. For students of political theory the essays are mandatory; for a wider politically-minded audience they are demanding but enormously rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1969
Publisher: Beacon