As written in my earlier article, Existentialism is an important philosophical thought. (http://www.infobarrel.com/An_Introduction_to_Existentialism) But how has it affected us in modern society and does it have any sort of place in today’s world?
Despite Existentialism’s roots in the 1800’s, it was only after World War II that it became popular. This was for the following interconnected reasons:
The developments of science during the early 20th century were great, however such developments had negative effects. For example, in 1924 Edwin Hubble discovered another galaxy aside of our own and in 1931 Georges Lemaitre suggested the big bang theory. Such events contributed to individual’s feeling that their life and themselves are meaningless.
The Rise of Atheism
Scientific developments such as the big bang theory, and the development of technology lead to the rise of atheism. For many people, it became clear that religion was just a method to make people obey the law with the threat of going to hell or merely just a poor explanation for the creation of the world, which science has now come to explain. The lifting of the burden of religion liberated many, and the themes of Existentialism such as taking control of one’s life became a real possibility. Upon doubt being cast over religion, some may have felt alienated as they feel they have no place in the world, which lead people to search for a context in which they can live their lives. Existentialism provided a perfect motto for doing so; your life is what you make it. Furthermore, World War II reinforced the decreasing belief in a higher being, as if God did exist, then such horrific events would not occur.
The brutality that the Second World War revealed individuals disregard for other individuals lives and also the government’s disregard for their citizens lives. With millions of people murdered, both factors lead to people feeling insignificant, questioning what their life was worth. Thus, people no longer had faith in their governments to make the right decisions for them as individuals, thus faith in themselves and the Existentialist ideal of self-mastery became increasingly desirable. Furthermore, the post-war period found that people wanted to avoid violence at all costs, which may have increased Existentialism’s appeal as Sartre advocates that individuals must respect each other to live in a stable society.
During Hitler’s rise to power, he took inspiration from Nietzsche’s writings, however it seems Nietzsche’s writings were taken out of context: http://www.history.ucsb.edu/faculty/marcuse/classes/133p/133p04papers/MKalishNietzNazi046.htm
The Great Depression of 1929 in America and various economic crises aided the popularity of Existentialism. Economic crises lead to disillusionment and distrust of their governments which resulted in the need for change, thus Existentialism provided the foundation of this change via its promotion of positive liberty.
Whether or not this Existentialism should actually have a place in our current world is argued today by different philosophers. One thing is certain though, whilst the purest forms of existentialism may never come into fruition the fundamental basis of individualism will certainly exist so long as the human race is still around.