Jim Holt notes that Sartre is in vogue again in France. Not only has the existentialist philosopher been accused of championing totalitarianism, but in recent years even his worth as a philosopher has been hotly debated:
Some critics say that in creating existentialism he simply took the ideas of Heidegger and give them a Gallic gloss. Sartre’s Being and Nothingness, they complain, is just Heidegger’s Being and Time with some racy passages thrown in about the anus and Italian love-making. That is unfair. It is certainly true that Sartre, who grew up in a bilingual Alsatian household, owed a great debt to German thought. But the starting point for his philosophy, as he always insisted, was the Cartesian formula “I think, therefore I am.” Consciousness, the core of our being, is an emptiness or “negativity” that must fill out its nature through arbitrary choicesâ€”that is the idea behind Sartre’s celebrated aphorism “We are condemned to be free.”
Despite the phenomenological complexities of his philosophy, Sartre managed to make it exciting. Anybody could become an existentialist, especially the young. The teutonic dread of Kierkegaard and angst of Heidegger gave way to Sartrean fun.