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Existentialism is being identified with ugliness; criticised by Christians for being despairing and non-serious, by Communists for being too subjective and by both for lack of hope. They think that man needs firm rules.
What, then, is "existentialism"? Existentialists, be they Christians or atheists (like myself) believe that existence comes before essence- that we must begin with the subjective. A manufactured object, say a paper knife, is made to serve a purpose. For us, our existence comes first, we have each our own Project; to choose our own purpose, and in doing so to choose an image for all to follow.
Existentialists state frankly that man is in anguish unable but to choose. Like Abraham, who obeyed the angel, but had to first choose if it was really an angel, and if he was really Abraham. We are abandoned by God, left alone without excuse, to interpret alone such signs as there are. Even when we seek advice, it is we who choose who to ask. We must despair of help from outside our will, or beyond the possibilities of action. Descartes said "Conquer yourself" and meant the same- that we should act without hope.
To the Communists who look to help from comrades and those 'quietists' who let others do the things they can't, I say that reality is action. We must judge the artist by his works, the man by his actions; not by mere hopes, dreams and unfulfilled expectations. We are not pessimists, but sturdy optimists.
We begin with Descartes I think, therefore I am- the basic truth for everyone. But we discover in it all others as well as ourselves.
THE VERY SQUASHED VERSION OF "Existentialism is a Humanism"
We are not anarchists, nor are we immoral. We judge a man by his commitments and accuse those who deny their freedom of bad faith. We cannot have liberty unless there is liberty for all. We have to take things as they are.
The Condensed Edition of Jean-Paul Sartre Existentialism is a Humanism...in just 2300 words