The 20th-century anarchist philosopher and mystic could point the way forward for today’s right
Slate, May 25, 2021
. . . . Truth is one of the first casualties of deracination. Of course, it was hard not to be driven mad by the assault on truth both before and during the war. Though trained as a philosopher, Weil’s preoccupation with truth was not a professional habit, but an existential imperative. She loathed fascism and communism not simply because they deny the inherent dignity of each and every human being, but also the existence of objective truth and a common reality.
This threat — both political and epistemological — was embodied by the German occupiers, of course, but also by their French collaborators based at Vichy. Inevitably, some were true believers in the reality offered by Nazi ideology — a reality that divided human beings worthy of life from those unworthy of life. Many more collaborators, though, were little more than opportunists for whom truth was as expendable as were the lives of those who depended on seeing and speaking the truth.
Forward, May 17, 2021
Known as the “patron saint of all outsiders,” Simone Weil was one of the twentieth century’s most remarkable thinkers, a philosopher who truly lived by her political and ethical ideals. In a short life framed by the two world wars, Weil taught philosophy to lycée students and organized union workers, fought alongside anarchists during the Spanish Civil War and labored alongside workers on assembly lines, joined the Free French movement in London, and died in despair because she was not sent to France to help the Resistance. While many seekers have been attracted to Weil’s religious thought, Robert Zaretsky’s “The Subversive Simone Weil” gives us a different Weil, exploring her insights into politics and ethics, and showing us a new side of Weil that balances her contradictions – the rigorous rationalist who also had her own brand of Catholic mysticism; the revolutionary with a soft spot for anarchism yet who believed in the hierarchy of labor; and the humanitarian who emphasized human needs and obligations over human rights. In this conversation with philosopher of religion Lottie Moore, Zaretsky reflects on the relationship between thought and action in Weil’s life, and why her ideas matter and continue to fascinate readers today. Robert Zaretsky is a professor of French history in the University of Houston Honors College, and the Department of Modern and Classical Languages. He is the author of numerous books on thinkers including Denis Diderot, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Albert Camus. His new book, “The Subversive Simone Weil: A Life in Five Ideas”, was published in February by Chicago University Press. Lottie Moore studied Theology at Bristol University before completing an MA in Political Theology at Mansfield College, Oxford, where she focused on identity politics. She currently works at a policy institute leading a project on UK health inequality and at SOAS, where she looks at issues surrounding freedom of speech.
On Philosophy: Digital Lectures Series, YouTube, May 2, 2021
Abstract: “Given our troubled history in the 20th century, how is it that nationalism and populism have come to raise their heads again in Europe over the past 20 years? What have we lost? What is it about our liberal, democratic political structures that create the current atmosphere of mistrust, xenophobia, and shortsightedness? How has this development come about, and what is driving it? How should we understand this de- sire for authoritarianism?
In this paper, I will address these questions through a reading of two essays that can be considered to have been written as warning signs regarding a very common tendency within social psychology that entails the development of communities towards authoritarian structures. Simone Weil’s essay “Human Personality”, written in 1943 during her wartime exile in London, and Václav Havel’s “The Power of the Powerless”, written in 1978 during his house arrest in Czechoslovakia, both address the potential relapse of Europe into authoritarianism. Neither of these essays should be read as developed theories within political philosophy. They are notes from a dire predicament of crisis, on both a personal and a macro-political level, that investigate the relationship between the subject and society in order to understand the dynamics of totalitarianism. Their strength lies exactly in that they address a present unfolding situation that the authors perceive to have potentially unbearable consequences. This tone of urgency, their way of addressing us from a positionality void of any real power or privilege, and their bold demands for envisioning change beyond given political ideologies, make these essays into unique backdrops for thinking about our current political questions.
Both Weil and Havel advocate an open society that permits the subject to cultivate a form of life beyond collective ideology. Both essays address the sensibilities of the subject that do not appeal to identity, common ideology or collectivity in order to thrive. The aim of this paper is to outline this redefinition of the relation between the individual and society in Weil and Havel, as a remedy for our desire for authoritarianism.”
Publication: Filosofický časopis (no 4, 2021, p. 83)
Antony Fredriksson, University of Pardubice, Faculty of Arts and Philosophy
Simone Weil in her essay “Human Personality,” asks her audience to think about liberalism’s response to Nazi Germany through the “United Nations Declaration of Human Rights,” posed as a struggle between the personal and the impersonal. Weil was a notable Marxist, and was a Catholic who never joined the Church; she lived and thought in liminality. Weil’s work as a political theologian is often forgotten; however, her critique of liberalism resonates in a world in which responses to neoliberalism are often a calling back to liberalism.
Epoché, no. 34.
“In response to the murder of George Floyd by police in the USA, cities around the world held anti-racist demonstrations calling on both citizens and states to acknowledge the continued proliferation of systemic racism in our societies. Over the weekend of June 6 and 7, Piccadilly Gardens in Manchester, England, was filled with cries of grief and demands for change. Incantations of ‘BLACK LIVES MATTER’ and ‘I CAN’T BREATHE’ cut through a crowd mobilised by an act of gratuitous violence that came to represent the vicious legacy of centuries of white supremacism. In addition to the chants, there were written placards and an enormous volume of social media posts seeking to (i) diagnose the problem of contemporary racial injustices and (ii) articulate solutions to this problem. . . .”
The Philosophical Salon, Los Angeles Review of Books Channels Project.
In contemporary America, the signposts point to George Orwell’s 1984, that dystopian society where contradictions are etched in stone, and where truth is its opposite. It is a dimension of mind, a dormant mind, in which the truths of the party defy all other truths, where party loyalty trumps all other loyalties, and where the party line is the line to be toed.
In this domain, political parties become ends in themselves, as if they embodied all truth.
Start there, and you can begin to understand why Simone Weil (1909-1943) called for the abolition of political parties. Radical? Indeed. Then again, sometimes it takes an outsider to alert us to what we cannot see within the confines of our own political predicament.
Washington Independent Review of Books