Ingo Elbe

The Anguish of Freedom

Is Sartre’s Existentialism an Appropriate Foundation for a Theory of Antisemitism?

This article questions the theoretical background to Jean-Paul Sartre’s thesis, formulated in Anti-Semite and Jew, that antisemitism is “a free and total choice of oneself” by arguing against interpretations that emphasize the everyday meaning of the words “choice” and “responsibility”, which leads some to invoke Sartre as a key witness for the total responsibility of actors for their antisemitic attitudes. On the contrary, this article argues that antisemitism, if one takes Sartre’s decisionist theory of freedom seriously, mutates into a blind, inexplicable, and incomprehensible fate, and that the alleged total responsibility for antisemitism as a mode of “bad faith” (mauvaise foi) turns into total unfreedom.

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Draft Paper. Published version in: Antisemitism Studies. IU Press, Vol. 4, No. 1/Spring, p. 48-81