Heroism and history in Merleau-Ponty's existential phenomenology

Whereas Phenomenology of Perception concludes with a puzzling turn to "heroism," this article examines the short essay "Man, the Hero" as a source of insight into Merleau-Ponty's thought in the early postwar period. In this essay, Merleau-Ponty presented a conception of heroism through which he expressed the attitude toward post-Hegelian philosophy of history that underwrote his efforts to reform Marxism along existential lines. Analyzing this conception of heroism by unpacking the implicit contrasts with Kojáeve, Aron, Caillois, and Bataille, I show that its philosophical rationale was to supply experiential evidence attesting to the latent presence of human universality. It is a mythic device intended to animate the faith necessary for Marxist politics by showing that universal sociality is possible, and that the historically transformative praxis needed to realize it does not imply sacrifice. This sheds considerable light on Merleau-Ponty's early postwar political thought. But inasmuch as the latter cannot be severed from his broader philosophical concerns, the prospect is raised that his entire phenomenological project in the early postwar period rested on a myth. Not necessarily a bad myth, but a myth nonetheless.