[L. 46 | 53] 2 May 1963

In the list of queries that you sent me about a month ago, there occurs the following passage: '...I try to get my existence by identifying myself with being a waiter. I fear to separate, or fear that I would get lost. The waiter gives me an identity, a position. So it helps me to exist. "No one wants to be an individual human being" through fear that he "would vanish tracelessly."'

I was puzzled by this passage, since I took the second part ('No one wants...') as a continuation of the first part, which is obviously dealing with Sartre's waiter (and which I hope to have explained—perhaps not adequately—in my long reply to you). But I did not recall that Sartre has said anywhere that nobody wants to be an individual human being through fear of vanishing tracelessly.

I now find, however, that it is a quotation from Kierkegaard.[1] What Kierkegaard is saying is that the spirit of the age (the Nineteenth Century) is such that men have become too cowardly to look facts in the face and to accept the burden and responsibility of living as individual human beings. (Like a judge who disowns all responsibility for passing sentence on a prisoner, saying that it is the Judiciary, not he, that is responsible.[2]) People (says Kierkegaard) are now afraid that if they let go of the collective or universal safeguards by which they are assured of an identity (membership of a professional association, of a political party, of the world-historical-process, etc.) they would altogether cease to exist. (Things, apparently, were bad enough in K.'s day, but the Twentieth Century is a thousand times worse. The most glaring example in modern times is the Communist Party; and in Communist countries if you do not have a Party Membership Card you are counted as nothing.)

This passage, then, about the fear of vanishing tracelessly, has no connexion with Sartre's waiter. A man can be a waiter and also an individual human being: what he can not be is a member of the Communist Party (or in K.'s day, a Hegelian philosopher—and it is well known how much Marx borrowed from Hegel) while still remaining an individual human being. In the first case there is no contradiction; in the second case there is a contradiction (a communist—like the judge who regards himself purely as an anonymous member of the Judiciary—is inauthentic [in Heidegger's terms] or in bad faith [in Sartre's terms]). The fact that Sartre himself became a member of the C.P. for a certain time is one of the minor comedies of the last few years.

Editorial notes:

[46.1] Kierkegaard: CUP, p. 317, quoted in 6ET, p. 13. [Back to text]

[46.2] Judge: The point seems to have interested the Ven. Ñānavīra greatly. He had already made lengthy remarks on the subject to Dr. de Silva (see editorial notes, L. 9, vii, h) and he makes the point again at L. 53, footnote e. [Back to text]