In 1964 Jean-Paul Sartre was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature but declined it. The New York Review of Books published his explanation of why he refused to accept the award:
Sartre’s argument is riddled with contradiction and nonsense. I will comment on some parts.
A writer who adopts political, social, or literary positions must act only with the means that are his own—that is, the written word. All the honors he may receive expose his readers to a pressure I do not consider desirable. If I sign myself Jean-Paul Sartre it is not the same thing as if I sign myself Jean-Paul Sartre, Nobel Prizewinner.
The writer who accepts an honor of this kind involves as well as himself the association or institution which has honored him. My sympathies for the Venezuelan revolutionists commit only myself, while if Jean-Paul Sartre the Nobel laureate champions the Venezuelan resistance, he also commits the entire Nobel Prize as an institution.
The writer must therefore refuse to let himself be transformed into an institution, even if this occurs under the most honorable circumstances, as in the present case.
If a writer accepts the Nobel Prize for literature, why exactly would his support for some political cause “also commit the entire Nobel Prize as an institution”? The claim makes no sense whatsoever. And Sartre provided no reason to support it.
Worse still, he flatly contradicted himself:
During the war in Algeria, when we had signed the “declaration of the 121,” I should have gratefully accepted the prize, because it would have honored not only me, but also the freedom for which we were fighting.
So, after at first insisting that “the writer must refuse to let himself be transformed into an institution,” Sartre suddenly says that he would have “gratefully accepted” the award (and thereby allowed himself to be transformed into an institution) when he defended a certain political stance toward the war in Algeria. But why would receiving the Nobel Prize be all right in the case of Algeria but not in connection with Venezuela?
This attitude is of course entirely my own and contains no criticism of those who have already been awarded the prize.
But it does! Apparently, Sartre forgot what he wrote a few paragraphs earlier, namely: “A writer who adopts political, social, or literary positions must act only with the means that are his own—that is, the written word. All the honors he may receive expose his readers to a pressure I do not consider desirable.” Obviously, if Sartre thinks that accepting honors is undesirable for a writer, then it follows logically that he is criticizing those writers who do accept honors. Sartre cannot have his criticism and eat it too.
The only battle possible today on the cultural front is the battle for the peaceful coexistence of the two cultures, that of the East and that of the West… My sympathies undeniably go to socialism and to what is called the Eastern bloc… I nonetheless hope, of course, that “the best man wins.” That is, socialism.
This was written in 1964 when the leader of the Eastern bloc was Leonid Brezhnev, “the best man” whom Sartre wanted to win.
Sartre was an idiot. A useful idiot.