There exists in the world today a situation where the ideology of the bourgeoisies is in a state of profound crisis. It lacks the fundamental, positive ideas that are necessary and capable of rallying the working peoples. The bourgeoisie finds itself no longer able to afford, or put forward, any ideas that can attract people. That is where one sees the evidence that is symptomatic of the crisis facing the ideologies of the ruling class and its supporters. On an ever increasing scale the bourgeoisie is propagating irrationalist, obscurantist and other reactionary doctrines. The basis cause of this crisis in the ideology of the bourgeoisie is to be found in the growing frustration and degeneration of the western monopoly capitalist system itself. This coupled with the alienation of the intelligentsia of capitalist states, which has arisen out of general crisis of faith in the capitalist system. Not only is the political system of the bourgeois states showing signs of decay, but every institution displays the degeneration into irrational ideas, art and culture with its abstractions, and modernist attitudes.
The process of degeneration and degradation of bourgeois art and culture has found its expression in abstractions. These forms are full of anti-humanism and scorn for man. There is much beauty in the world, but the modernists, abstractionists, and latterly post-modernists, see none of this. It appears before them as ugliness and strange linear forms, they give only a bleak and despairing description of reality, characterising the impending doom of capitalist value systems. It is with this social background that we come to discuss the philosophy of existentialism, the reactionary, pessimistic doctrine of western philosophy. The basic tenets of existentialism cab be traced from the bourgeois individualism and utilitarianism of Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill. It is at this point that the similarity between the doctrines of pragmatism and neo-positivism can be seen. Despite the professed antithesis between these doctrines and existentialism there is a vast complimentary and basis agreement between all three systems. One agreed basis is the main doctrine of all bourgeois ideology – the theory of anti-communism. Existentialism puts forward both anti-historical and anti-scientific theses, coupled with a philosophy of extreme anti-humanism.
Being one of the bourgeoisie’s most fashionable doctrines, the views of existentialism are a characteristic of the ideology of the ruling class. Just as are irrational views, so is existentialism, a philosophy against reason. Hostile to science and progress it preaches an outlook of defeat and pessimism. Founded by the German philosopher Heidegger, who derived many elements of his doctrine from the writings of Siren Aabye Kirkegaard, a 19th century Danish mystic. Prominent contemporary existentialists were Karl Jaspers in Germany and Jean-Paul Sartre in France.
The most consistent problem raised by existentialists is the ‘meaning of life’ and the place of man in the universe, as well as the path chosen whilst alive in society. Obviously then, existentialism touches upon one of the most important and highly debated questions of present times, but their answer is a subjective and idealist one. They pose an irrational explanation to a question that can only be answered by scientific analysis.
It must be seen that existentialism reflects the decay and confusion of a system doomed to extinction. The class nature can be seen when one examines the people to whom existentialism appeals – certainly not the working class. Ordinary people should have no need for the moribund philosophy of a moribund system. A rising, and developing class, has only use for a progressive, live, developing scientific doctrine, outmoded bourgeois ideas can only hamper that path.
The starting point of existentialism is the existence of the individual, standing isolated and opposed to society, living by his own thoughts, sensations and feelings. Dealing exclusively with the existence of the individual, the sole reality that is recognised is the consciousness of ‘I exist’. Thus the individual is severed from the surrounding society, helpless and isolated, instilled with the idea of being ‘alone’.
Jean Paul Sartre claimed that the individual was in isolation and in that position he had to determine his own being by the free exercise of ‘choice’. Therefore creating relationships by the manner in which he chose to act from a voluntary individualism. The individual was thus claimed to be the independent creator of his own destiny. This in essence is the social application of solipsist ideas. Thence the correct conclusion can be drawn that existentialism is up the cul-de-sac that is the inevitable end of all subjective idealist philosophy – solipsism.
As a subjective doctrine existentialism denies the objective nature of reality, time and space. It was Heidegger who put forward the concept that if there was no existence then neither could the universe exist. Thus for the existentialist Jean Paul Sartre the external world is a mystery, devoid of reason, causality and necessity. Existentialism believes that there can be no objective values in life, whether social, ethical or philosophical. To them the concepts of ‘truth’, ‘falseness’, and ‘justice’ are created by an individual according to his desires and passions. Existentialism thus ascribes to an individual abstract feelings and thoughts, further to this the doctrine claims that no two people can have the same ideas and opinions on a given subject.
Existentialism strives to instil into the minds of people, and has the intention of trying, to convince people that their environment and objective reality is nothing but an unrecognisable, complex of thoughts and sensations – an agglomeration of morbid experiences of the ego of the individual. Developing from this basis existentialism proceeds in inculcate the ideas that the existence of an individual is only transitional, and that upon his ceasing to exist then all else ceases to exist. Once an individual has been artificially severed from society he becomes a trembling, frightened thing, always in fear of impending doom and death. Thus, because this person does not know what to do with himself he sinks into an obsessive, pathological and bizarre preoccupation with ‘the end’ and ‘death’, seeking refuge from real life.
Existentialism preaches a philosophy of hopelessness, fear and meaninglessness of existence, and as such fosters anti-social inclinations, justifying the negation of morality and principles. Existentialists therefore do not recognise that the individual has any social obligations or responsibilities. Deducing from this that all human activity and struggle is futile, thus making all history meaningless and the world a complex of absurdity.
Existentialism exploits the fact that capitalist society does oppress the individual, does suppress the personality. They play upon the feeling of protest to oppression which may arise among intellectuals. These intellectuals, alienated from the environment in which they find themselves, are thus in the position where they deduce that alienation is a condition of existence itself. To them loneliness and despair are man’s natural lot, and there is nothing he can do about it. This view that the essence of man is his individuality leads existentialists to make some erroneous conclusions about society. They recognise that man does not exist without social contact, but still remains in solitude in spite of the fact.
While not denying man’s social existence they still insist that society is nought but an agglomeration of individuals, all independent, each guided by an urge to win spiritual freedom from society, and that he cannot be free as long as he remains a slave to material interests. From here can be drawn some important conclusions concerning the political and social effect of existentialism. Not only is it a reactionary and decadent outlook, it is extremely demoralising to those who succumb to it. In relation to ethical problems existentialism claims that the individual should be free from objective moral considerations, with the accompanying and inevitable amoral and nihilistic tendencies.