This article, from Foreign Policy, argues that it is time to dust off existentialism and consider how we are forced to choose, today and always:
"In the summer of 1940, an extraordinary event took place. Attacked by Nazi Germany, France’s military forces, along with its republican institutions, collapsed within a matter of weeks. By summer’s end, an authoritarian French state had—with the assent of the great majority of France’s political and military leaders, and the relief of the great majority of French citizens—launched a policy of active collaboration with the Third Reich. Everything that had once seemed solid—civil laws, liberal values, democratic practices, revolutionary traditions—had, from one day to the next, evaporated into thin air. ... This month marks the 75th anniversary of the moment not only that France was freed from German occupation and the authoritarian Vichy regime, but also that a group of Parisian thinkers, formed by the experience of wartime absurdity, unofficially launched—with a seminal essay by the group’s figurehead, Sartre—the most famous philosophical movement of modern times: existentialism. ... Just as existentialist thinkers wrote in response to the unprecedented events of the 1930s and 1940s—the rise of totalitarian states in Central and Eastern Europe, the burgeoning of illiberal movements in Western Europe, the proliferation of state propaganda, and the building of concentration and death camps—their writings might help us make moral sense of similar trends in our own post-truth and post-fact era. ...
"During the so-called 'années noires' between 1940 and 1944, the French were, as Sartre declared, 'condemned to freedom.' By this, Sartre and Camus meant that they and their fellow French, though not free to choose their situation, were nevertheless free to respond to it. In the famously paradoxical opening line of 'The Republic of Silence'—an article that Sartre wrote in September 1944 for another underground newspaper—he captured the existential nature of everyday life in occupied Paris: 'Never were we more free than under the Germans.' It was precisely because of foreign rulers and local collaborators, official censorship and unofficial denunciations, immoral laws and moral impasses that the French were forced to reflect on what they had always taken for granted. ...
"Seventy-five years after the launching of existentialism, it continues to speak to the human situation—especially today, with the rise of authoritarian leaders and illiberal democracies on both sides of the Atlantic that deny the humanity of those who do not resemble them. As Jean Tarrou, another character in [Albert Camus's existentialist novel] The Plague, concludes, 'there are pestilences and there are victims, and it’s up to us, so far as possible, not to join forces with the pestilences.'"
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