Simone Weil is an enigmatic figure: a philosopher whose thoughts we know largely through fragments; a mystic who had her own complicated relationship with the Catholic Church; a pacifist who worked for the Resistance; an intellectual who took a sabbatical to join with unskilled female laborers in gruelling and humiliating factory work; and a theologian whose view of the human condition is as compassionate as it is severe. Eric Springsted offers a version of Weil for the twenty-first century. This is not a comprehensive treatment of Weil’s corpus. For example, her early Marxist works on oppression and revolution are almost completely absent. What comes to the fore is a nuanced interpretation of what Springsted refers to as Weil’s “retheologization of the political” (146). Springsted’s version of Weil is a gentler one than provided by some of her critics. But his own lifelong engagement with Weil provides for compelling reading. . . .
Springsted has written a deeply thoughtful and engaging book about a complicated thinker. How the argument is framed, though, limits both the reach and power of the interpretation. He positions his interpretation as a reaction to Martin Heidegger, the postmodern world (without reference to any author or text) in which there is neither depth nor responsibility for one’s thought, and liberalism that transforms public discourse into a language of individual rights. Invoking the usual suspects, however, has the effect of talking past what may be the pressing problems facing the twenty-first century: the fundamental decay of democratic norms, the resurgence of white nationalism, and the division of a nation into strangers who neither understand nor trust each other. Similarly absent is any reflection on the history or complexities of the theologization of politics up to the current day, which is at least as problematic as its detheologization in liberalism. Weil provides perspective on these issues in her willingness to embrace, rather than resolve, the contradictions of human existence, to listen to the suffering of the voiceless, and to introduce a decentering vocabulary of justice, love, and humility that changes how we relate to each other and the world. Hearing the critique requires attention. And that is Weil’s and Springsted’s point.
Review of Politics, vol. 84, no. 3 (June 17, 2022).