“Because I was politically involved (in Algeria’s war),

the bourgeois establishment wanted to cover up

my ‘past errors’. Now there’s an admission! And so

they gave me the Nobel Prize. They ‘pardoned’

me and said I deserved it. It was monstrous!”

–Jean Paul Sartre

 

Sartre attending the proceedings of the Russel and

Sartre Tribunal against the US intervention in Vietnam

 

The origins of Nobel Prize are dark. Yet it is considered the highest honour that a human being can win. Can someone turn it down if awarded? “No one in his/her right mind would do so,” an ordinary person would reply so. Many homo economicus would accept it so that other organisations also fall for bandwagon effect and confer prizes upon them.

However, the world is not empty of mavericks. One such maverick was Jean Paul Sartre, French philosopher, writer, and political activist. Being the greatest outlier of all, he refused to accept the Nobel Prize for literature in 1964. He became the first person to decline it. In a letter to the Swedish press that was published on October 22, 1964, Sartre explained the reason for his refusal:

“A writer who adopts political, social, or literary position must act only with the means that are his own – that is, the written words. All the honours 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 Prize winner.”