William McBride, philosophy professor at Purdue University, says that the text, although focused on anti-Semitism, is “definitely” applicable to the broader racism of the alt-right movement.

Sartre describes racists as delighting “in acting in bad faith,” a term which he developed in his broader existential philosophy. “[Bad faith] is a lie you tell yourself,” says McBridge. “You pretend you’re doing something authentically when in fact you’re not. You know it at one level but not at another.”

So racists posture at reason, authenticity, and noble intentions when in fact they know, deep down, that what they’re doing is hateful.

McBride believes online communication can exacerbate the bad faith posturing of racists; after all, social media is very much focused on posing and comes with little true responsibility. Responsibility, he explains, is a key component of Sartre’s philosophy: We are entirely free and so hold ultimate responsibility for our actions. Those who act in bad faith are attempting to eschew responsibility, which is encouraged by the lack of accountability online.

“There’s so much lack of self-examination, so much posturing,” he says. “They’re hardly likely to be held responsible unless they advocate murder or something like that. Otherwise they can say pretty much whatever they like.”

Unfortunately, while the internet may have tweaked the way hatred is expressed, Sartre’s writing shows that bigoted behavior, over the decades, remains largely unchanged.

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