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Table of contents :
Acknowledgments
Contents
Notes on Contributors
1 Introduction: Weil, Politics and Ideology
Overview of the Book
References
Part I Weil in Conversation
2 The Language of the Inner Life
The Economic Corruption of Values
The Levels of Value in Weil
How Should We Talk About Value?
References
3 Let Them Eat Cake: Articulating a Weilian Critique of Distributive Justice
Rawlsian Contractarianism and the Theoretical Underpinnings of Distributive Justice
Simone Weil and Supernatural Justice
A Weilian Critique of Distributive Justice
Conclusion
References
4 Simone Weil, Sara Ahmed, and a Politics of Hap
Enacting and Imagining Happiness
Smoothing Over Injustice
A Politics of Hap
References
5 On Giorgio Agamben’s Theoretical Debt to Simone Weil: Destituent Potential and Decreation
Giorgio Agamben and Destituent Potential
Simone Weil and Decreation
Decreation and Destituent Potential
References
6 The Politics of Rootedness: On Simone Weil and George Orwell
The Common Thought of Two Separate Thinkers: Force and Affliction
The Common Thought of Two Separate Thinkers: Recognition and Beauty
References
Part II Weil and Ideology
7 The Colonial Frame: Judith Butler and Simone Weil on Force and Grief
Part One: The Colonial Frame
Part Two: Simone Weil’s Critical Phenomenology
Conclusion: Politics and Contestation
References
8 Ideology as Idolatry
Part One: The Geopolitical and Historical Context of Nazi Ideology
The Sociological Explanation of Nazi Ideology: The Adoration of Social Reality
The Anthropological Explanation of Nazi Ideology: The SS Way of Dealing with Morality
The Theological Explanation of Nazi Ideology: The Albigensian Reference
Part Two: The Problem of Religion. Weil’ Political Theology
Ideology Is Not a Secular Religion
Mysticism
There Is Still a Problem of Religion
References
9 Captured Time: Simone Weil’s Vital Temporality Against the State
From Time to Political Temporality
The State of Temporal Capture
The Constitution and Erasure of the Past
Progress and the Closure of the Future
Rooting and Uprooting in Time
References
10 Simone Weil’s Heterodox Marxism: Revolutionary Pessimism and the Politics of Resistance
Weil’s Critique of Marx
A Strong Foundation: On Labor
On Revolution and Resistance: For a Marxism of the Moment
References
11 Labor, Collectivity, and the Nurturance of Attentive Belonging
Labor, Property, and Belonging
Rights, Collectivity, and Obligations
Labor and Political Subjectivity
Conclusion
References
12 Thoughts on a Weilian Republicanism
A Questionable Connection
Eradicating Servitude: Freedom as Non-domination
Patriotism
An Active and Agonistic Citizenry
A Republicanism That Is Anti-machismo
References

Citation preview

Simone Weil, Beyond Ideology? Edited by Sophie Bourgault · Julie Daigle

Simone Weil, Beyond Ideology?

Sophie Bourgault · Julie Daigle Editors

Simone Weil, Beyond Ideology?

Editors Sophie Bourgault School of Political Studies University of Ottawa Ottawa, ON, Canada

Julie Daigle School of Political Studies University of Ottawa Ottawa, ON, Canada

ISBN 978-3-030-48400-2 ISBN 978-3-030-48401-9 (eBook) https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-48401-9 © The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020 This work is subject to copyright. All rights are solely and exclusively licensed by the Publisher, whether the whole or part of the material is concerned, specifically the rights of translation, reprinting, reuse of illustrations, recitation, broadcasting, reproduction on microfilms or in any other physical way, and transmission or information storage and retrieval, electronic adaptation, computer software, or by similar or dissimilar methodology now known or hereafter developed. The use of general descriptive names, registered names, trademarks, service marks, etc. in this publication does not imply, even in the absence of a specific statement, that such names are exempt from the relevant protective laws and regulations and therefore free for general use. The publisher, the authors and the editors are safe to assume that the advice and information in this book are believed to be true and accurate at the date of publication. Neither the publisher nor the authors or the editors give a warranty, expressed or implied, with respect to the material contained herein or for any errors or omissions that may have been made. The publisher remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations. Cover image: © Maram_shutterstock.com This Palgrave Macmillan imprint is published by the registered company Springer Nature Switzerland AG The registered company address is: Gewerbestrasse 11, 6330 Cham, Switzerland

Acknowledgments

We wish to thank all of the Weil scholars and enthusiasts on both sides of the Atlantic with whom we have had many friendly and rich conversations over the years. Very special thanks go to David Savoie and Robert Sparling for their unwavering support, patience, and good humor. Merci!

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Contents

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Introduction: Weil, Politics and Ideology Sophie Bourgault and Julie Daigle

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Part I Weil in Conversation 2

The Language of the Inner Life Eric O. Springsted

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Let Them Eat Cake: Articulating a Weilian Critique of Distributive Justice K. G. M. Earl

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Simone Weil, Sara Ahmed, and a Politics of Hap A. Rebecca Rozelle-Stone

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On Giorgio Agamben’s Theoretical Debt to Simone Weil: Destituent Potential and Decreation Michael P. A. Murphy

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The Politics of Rootedness: On Simone Weil and George Orwell Oriol Quintana

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41

61

83

103

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CONTENTS

Part II Weil and Ideology 7

The Colonial Frame: Judith Butler and Simone Weil on Force and Grief Benjamin P. Davis

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143

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Ideology as Idolatry Alexandra Féret

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Captured Time: Simone Weil’s Vital Temporality Against the State Casey Ford

161

Simone Weil’s Heterodox Marxism: Revolutionary Pessimism and the Politics of Resistance Scott B. Ritner

185

Labor, Collectivity, and the Nurturance of Attentive Belonging Suzanne McCullagh

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12

Thoughts on a Weilian Republicanism Julie Daigle

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Notes on Contributors

Sophie Bourgault is an Associate Professor at the School of Political Studies (University of Ottawa, Canada) and current president of the American Weil Society. Her main research interests gravitate around contemporary feminist theory, care ethics, and Weil’s political thought. Julie Daigle, Ph.D., is a political theorist whose main research focuses on the history of ideas and particularly on the work of Simone Weil. She has also taught at the University of Ottawa’s School of Political Studies. Benjamin P. Davis is Postdoctoral Fellow in Ethics at the University of Toronto, Centre for Ethics. His research focuses on Édouard Glissant, human rights, and an ethics of responsibility. K. G. M. Earl is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Political Science at the University of Ottawa, specializing in Simone Weil’s theory of justice. Alexandra Féret is a Doctoral candidate at the Université Sorbonne (France) and the Università del Salento (Italy). She has written extensively on Simone Weil. Casey Ford is a Philosophy Fellow at Marlboro College. He received his Ph.D. from University of Guelph in 2016. He works in the traditions of nineteenth and twentieth century European philosophy, focusing on questions of ontology, ethics, and social and political thought.

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NOTES ON CONTRIBUTORS

Suzanne McCullagh is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Athabasca University. Her work explores ways of thinking about ethical and political community and the formation of subjectivity and capacity. Michael P. A. Murphy is a SSHRC doctoral fellow in International Relations and an Associate Member of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Research Unit at the University of Ottawa. He has published over a dozen peer-reviewed articles on philosophy, pedagogy, and International Relations. His work can be found at bit.ly/37NJMkZ. Oriol Quintana is a lecturer in the Chair of Ethics and Christian Thought at IQS, Universitat Ramon Llull. His Ph.D. dissertation on George Orwell won the Fundació Joan Maragall Prize. In 2019, he was the chief organizer of the 39th Annual Colloquy of the American Weil Society, in Barcelona. A. Rebecca Rozelle-Stone is Director of the Honors Program and Associate Professor of Philosophy at University of North Dakota. She served as President of the American Weil Society, and has published The Relevance of the Radical: Simone Weil 100 Years Later, Simone Weil and Theology, and Simone Weil and Continental Philosophy. Scott B. Ritner is Assistant Professor (Instructional) of Political Science at Temple University. He is the author of numerous chapters and articles on Simone Weil’s thought and is Vice President of the American Weil Society. He lives with his human partner, their baby, a large dog, and a small cat. Eric O. Springsted is the co-founder of the American Weil Society, and was its president for thirty-three years. A teacher, scholar, and pastor, he is the author and editor of thirteen books and numerous articles, including several on Weil. His How to Love and Think in a Flattened World: The Witness of Simone Weil in the Twenty-First Century will appear in 2020. Retired, he lives in Santa Fe, NM.

CHAPTER 1

Introduction: Weil, Politics and Ideology Sophie Bourgault and Julie Daigle

At a scholarly event devoted to her work held in 1972, Hannah Arendt was asked to clarify her ideological commitments. Political scientist Hans Morgenthau inquired: “What are you? Are you a conservative? Are you a liberal? Where is your position in the contemporary possibilities?” The biting answer Arendt offered would soon become a widely cited response of hers: “I really don’t know and I’ve never known. […] And I must say I couldn’t care less.”1 It is tempting to suggest that French philosopher Simone Weil (1909–1943) may have answered in a similar manner had she been urged during her own lifetime to take a clear-cut position

1 See “Hannah Arendt on Hannah Arendt”, in Hannah Arendt: The Recovery of the Public World, ed. Melvin Hill (New York: St-Martin’s Press, 1979), 333–334.

S. Bourgault (B) · J. Daigle School of Political Studies, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, ON, Canada e-mail: [email protected] J. Daigle e-mail: [email protected]

© The Author(s) 2020 S. Bourgault and J. Daigle (eds.), Simone Weil, Beyond Ideology?, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-48401-9_1

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on ideologies and on where she stood politically.2 Indeed, any attentive reader perusing Weil’s early and later writings will quickly realize the variegated scope of ideologies Weil’s oeuvre addresses and the biting concerns she expressed about most of them. Simone Weil’s critiques of French imperialism and colonialism in the 1930s and 1940s certainly made her a forerunner of later criticism, and have in recent years increasingly been the object of scholarly discussion.3 But the ideology that has been the main object of study among Weil specialists in the past decades is above all Marxism, namely her complex relationship with Marx and Marxist militants of various stripes.4 Simone Pétrement, Weil’s close friend and biographer, believes that if we understand the term “communist” in a broad sense, then it would be fair to say that, at a certain point in her life, Weil was a communist.5 However, she was always reluctant to officially join the Communist Party. Her brother, the mathematician André Weil, recalls seeing a letter penned by his sister, requesting membership to the Communist Party, lying around in Simone’s room for many months, but there is no proof that she ever

2 Had she done so, Weil’s stern answer would certainly not have indicated a lack of concern for the world of politics, but rather the very opposite—an observation equally applicable to Arendt. Not surprisingly, numerous studies have put these two authors in conversation. E.g. Modernité, Démocratie et Totalitarisme: Simone Weil et Hannah Arendt, ed. Marina Cedronio (Paris: Kincksieck, 1996); Sylvie Courtine-Denamy, Three Women in Dark Times: Edith Stein, Hannah Arendt, Simone Weil, trans. G.M. Goshgarian (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2000); Deborah Nelson, Tough Enough: Arbus, Arendt, Didion, McCarthy, Sontag, Weil (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017); Roberto Esposito, The Origin of the Political: Hannah Arendt or Simone Weil? (New York: Fordham University Press, 2017). 3 See Simone Weil On Colonialism. An Ethic of the Other, ed. and trans. J.P. Little (Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003), 10; also Gilles Manceron, “Réflexions sur l’anticolonialisme de Simone Weil”, Cahiers Simone Weil XXXVII, no. 1 (March 2014); Inese Radzins, “Simone Weil’s Social Philosophy: Toward a Post-Colonial Ethic”, in New Topics in Feminist Philosophy of Religion, ed. P.S. Anderson (New York: Springer, 2009). Readers will here be offered a detailed treatment of Weil’s relation to colonialism in Benjamin P. Davis’ contribution (see chapter 6 in this volume). 4 A detailed treatment of Weil’s engagement with Marxism and Marxists can be found in Lawrence A. Blum and Victor J. Seidler, A Truer Liberty: Simone Weil and Marxism (London and New York: Routledge, 2010). Cf. Robert Sparling, “Theory and Praxis: Simone Weil and Marx on the Dignity of Labor,” The Review of Politics 74, no. 1 (2012). 5 Simone Pétrement, Simone Weil: A Life, trans. Raymond Rosenthal (New York: Pantheon Books, 1976), 46.

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sent it.6 What we do know is that she enjoyed encouraging the belief that she was a Communist by doing things like reading L’Humanité (the voice of the French Communist Party) in public, and drawing the hammer and sickle on her student’s work.7 Weil was also involved in revolutionary trade-unionism in the early 1930s, during her brief stint as a philosophy teacher in various lycées, but she quickly distanced herself from these groups.8 At the beginning of the Second World War, she wrote that she had always “wanted a social transformation to the advantage of the less fortunate, but [that she] was never favourably inclined toward the Communist party […].” She added that the trade union movement had attracted her when she was eighteen, but that “[s]ince then, [she] ha[d] never stopped going farther and farther away from the Communists, even to the point of regarding them as the principal enemy.”9 After spending nearly two months in Berlin, in the summer of 1932, Weil would finally come to lose all respect for the Communist Party.10 The time spent in Germany inspired her to condemn the Party’s incapacity to stand up to the dangerous rise to power of Hitler; she did so by penning several articles for journals like La Révolution prolétarienne, L’École émancipée and Libres Propos. In an important piece from 1933 titled “Prospects: Are We Heading for the Proletarian Revolution?,” Weil submits the hypothesis to her comrades that the Stalin/Soviet regime is not, as Leon Trotsky believed, “a dictatorship of the proletariat” with “bureaucratic deformations.”11 Rather, it is a “new species of oppression […] exercised in the name of management,”12 threatening to eliminate what remains of the October Revolution.13 Weil also makes a case here 6 Ibid., 47. 7 Ibid., 120. 8 Weil was a member of the United Federation of Teachers, as well as an elected member

of the trade union teachers’ council when she taught in Le Puy during the 1931–1932 school year. Ibid., 119–120. 9 Ibid., 118. 10 She describes this shift in a letter to her friends Urbain and Albertine Thévenon. See

Weil, Simone Weil. Oeuvres, ed. Florence de Lussy (Paris: Quarto Gallimard, 1999), 53. 11 Weil quotes Trotsky here. Weil, Oppression and Liberty, trans. Arthur Wills and John Petrie (New York, London: Routledge, 2006), 4. 12 Ibid., 9. 13 Ibid., 17. Readers should also see Weil’s “Reflections Concerning Technocracy,

National-Socialism, the U.S.S.R. and Certain Other Matters”, in Oppression and Liberty.

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for the supreme value of the individual over the collective,14 since the latter tends to destroy the conditions necessary for the well-being and free reflectivity of the individual. She writes: “In the subordination of society to the individual lies the definition of true democracy and that of socialism as well.”15 As Pétrement recounts, Trotsky responded acerbically to Weil’s article: “Simone Weil has found consolation in a new mission: to defend her personality against society. A formula of the old liberalism, refurbished by a cheaply bought anarchist exaltation. […] Many years will have to pass for her and her like before they free themselves of the most reactionary petty bourgeois prejudices.”16 A few months later, when Trotsky was in exile in France, Weil seized the opportunity to further discuss these questions with him, whom she otherwise greatly admired for his criticism of Stalinism. She invited him to stay at her parents’ apartment in Paris at the end of December 1933, and took that opportunity to subject him to an intense and memorable discussion-turned-argument. Pétrement recounts how Trotsky’s wife, Natalia Sédov, who was listening in the next room with Weil’s parents, was astounded by “[t]his child [Weil was 24 years old] holding her own with Trotsky.”17 This sharp philosophical spirit was in part nourished by Weil’s teacher at Lycée Henri IV , Alain (Émile-Auguste Chartier). What Alain may also have stimulated in his student is her individualism, her critique of power, as well as a general wariness toward the collective (what Plato called the “Great Beast”18 ) and toward all forms of authority.19 In many of the chapters of this edited volume, readers will have the opportunity to learn much more about Weil’s critique of “collectivities” and the “social” (e.g.,

14 Ibid., 18. 15 Ibid., 19. On Weil and socialism, see Louis Patsouras, Simone Weil and the Socialist

Tradition (San Francisco: EMText, 1992). 16 An excerpt of Trotsky’s reaction was published in La Vérité and is quoted in Pétrement, Simone Weil, 178. 17 Ibid., 188. 18 Plato, The Republic, trans. G.M.A. Grube (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1992), 493a-d.

Weil wrote that: “The whole of Marxism, in so far as it is true, is contained in the page of Plato on the Great Beast; and its refutation is there too.” Simone Weil: An Anthology, ed. Siân Miles (New York: Grove Press, 1986), 124. 19 See Rozelle-Stone’s chapter in this volume for a discussion of one of the places where Weil parted ways with her teacher Alain: namely, around the question of happiness.

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bureaucracy, political parties, churches, unions, industry, or the state more generally). Weil passed on these critical teachings about collectivities to some of her own students. In Anne Reynaud-Guérithault’s notes from Weil’s philosophy lectures given at Roanne during the 1933–1934 school year, we find the following duties of the individual toward the state: “[O]ne has a duty, and not a right, never to let one atom of the liberty which the state allows to disappear; never to accept official ideology, but to create centres of independent thought.”20 Weil would never abandon this deep concern for the importance of individual thought. Indeed, it would be at the heart of what she affectionately called her grand oeuvre (her magnus opus ), her “Reflections Concerning the Causes of Liberty and Social Oppression” (1934). Analyzing capitalism’s oppression of workers, the essay deplores the progressive disappearance of methodical thought in social life: “Never has the individual been so completely delivered up to a blind collectivity, and never have men been less capable, not only of subordinating their actions to their thoughts, but even of thinking.”21 According to Mary G. Dietz, “[d]espite her deep engagement in the French left in general and the working class movement in particular, Weil’s thought in [“Reflections”] is launched from a philosophical position closer to Kant than to Marx, and more inclined toward humanism and respect for the individual than toward any of the varieties of modern antiliberalisms that were emerging in the twentieth century.”22 Certainly Weil’s relationship to Marx and Marxism is a complex and debated one. For scholars Lawrence A. Blum and Victor J. Seidler, Weil’s work ought to be seen as alternative to both Marxism and Liberalism—if not in fact, more generally, as a radical challenge to most “received notions of what

20 Simone Weil, Lectures on Philosophy, trans. Hugh Price (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978), 152. Casey Ford in this volume (ch. 9) considers several dimensions of Weil’s critique of the State. 21 See Weil, Oppression and Liberty, trans. Arthur Wills and John Petrie (London and New York: Routledge, 2001), 102. 22 Mary G. Dietz, Between the Human and the Divine. The Political Thought of Simone Weil (Totowa, NJ: Rowman & Littlefield, 1988), 38. Compare with the treatments offered by Scott B. Ritner (ch. 10) and by Suzanne McCullagh (ch. 11) in this volume.

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‘politics’ is.”23 For his part, Alain believed that Weil’s 1934 “Reflections” and her discussion of Marx brought philosophical conversations on a wholly new terrain. After reading her essay, he enthusiastically wrote to his student that her writings would give courage to generations disappointed by ontology and ideology.24 Weil’s defense of individual thought was bolstered by a profound commitment to truth that made her allergic to anything that sacrificed the individual’s personal search for truth through careful attention (e.g., strong party discipline, dogma, bureaucratic rules). For André A. Devaux, this uncompromising commitment underlies Weil’s critique of the prevailing ideologies of her time, and perhaps particularly Marxism, personalism, and existentialism.25 This attachment to the unveiling of truth would lead her to seek out— as Robert Chenavier has eloquently shown— experiences of the real (most notably through manual labor).26 Indeed, after writing her “Reflections,” Weil would go on to fulfil one of her deepest desires by working in three factories in the Paris region, thereby deepening her analysis of social oppression and her criticism of capitalism. The affliction she experienced during this year would have profound effects on her thinking. So much so, in fact, that she would see herself as a slave for the rest of her life.27 In August of 1936, despite her pacifism (another conviction she picked up from Alain, who had been

23 Blum and Seidler, A Truer Liberty, p.xi. David McLellan reads Weil as an insightful

critic of liberalism and as a friend of contemporary communitarians in “Simone Weil et la philosophie politique libérale contemporaine,” Cahiers Simone Weil XXII, no. 2 (June 1999). Eric O. Springsted (in this volume, chapter two) offers a detailed treatment of the resonances between Weil and communitarian political theorist Michael Sandel. 24 Weil, Oeuvres, 64. 25 André A. Devaux, “Préface” to Simone Weil. Oeuvres Complètes 1, Premiers écrits

philosophiques, ed. Gilbert Kahn and Rolf Kühn (Paris: Gallimard, 1988, 15). 26 Robert Chenavier, Simone Weil. Attention to the Real, trans. Bernard E. Doering (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2012). On manual work’s great significance for Weil, see e.g. Inese Radzins, “Simone Weil on Labor and Spirit,” Journal of Religious Ethics 45, no. 2 (2017); Sparling, “Theory and Praxis”. The most comprehensive treatment remains Robert Chenavier, Simone Weil. Une philosophie du travail (Paris: Cerf, 2001). 27 Simone Weil, Waiting for God, trans. Emma Craufurd (New York: Perennial Classics, 2001), 25.

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deeply scarred by the First World War),28 she would enlist in the Spanish Civil War on the side of the Republicans. She joined the ranks of the anarchists’ Durruti column in the fight against Franco, but a bad burn from setting foot in a pot of boiling oil forced her back to France by the end of September.29 After the brutality of factory work and war, the “older” Weil claims to have been forever transformed by three profound mystical experiences that drew her progressively closer to Catholicism. But this in no way meant that she relinquished her personal search for truth to the authority of the Church. In fact, she was convinced, as she would write in her “Spiritual Autobiography” (the letters sent to her Dominican friend Father Perrin) that she should always remain “on the threshold of the Church.”30 What kept her there was the Church’s use of the words anathema sit. She believed that her vocation was to remain loyal to all those things, including her own intelligence, that were denied entry into the Church.31 “The special function of the intelligence requires total liberty, implying the right to deny everything, and allowing of no domination. Wherever it usurps control there is an excess of individualism. Wherever it is hampered or uneasy there is an oppressive collectivism, or several of them.”32 According to Philippe Dujardin, Weil’s mystical turn would exacerbate, inter alia, her individualism, confirm her break from Marxism, and justify

28 Weil remained a pacifist up until March of 1939, when Hitler violated the Munich Agreement and annexed the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. Weil would deeply regret this pacifism, which she would later describe as her “criminal error”. Weil, First and Last Notebooks. Supernatural Knowledge, trans. Richard Rees (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2015), 345. 29 Her rapid departure was hence not the result of a sudden disillusionment with the Spanish anarchist cause. Nonetheless, as many Weil scholars have noted, Weil’s anarchist “sympathies” progressively dwindled with time. According to A. Rebecca Rozelle-Stone and Benjamin P. Davis, for instance, Weil’s London writings are “markedly different from her early writings as an anarchist informed principally by Descartes, Marx, and Kant. While those influences remain, her later writings must be read through the lens of her Christian Platonism.” https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/simone-weil/. 30 Weil, Waiting for God, 32. 31 Ibid., 33. 32 Ibid., 34.

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what Dujardin describes as her deep contempt for politics.33 This transformation, he believes, also led Weil to recognize the primacy of spiritual values above all others, and it brought her ideological convictions close to those of the Vichy government.34 Dujardin goes so far as stating that there are noticeable totalitarian inclinations in Weil, which become especially evident in her discussion of public liberties and the organization of political power in her second grand oeuvre, The Need for Roots.35 In reality, Weil was, as she herself saw it, particularly interested in the historical genealogy of totalitarianism and in criticizing this ideology.36 She saw totalitarianism’s roots in the Roman Empire, and thought that the Church of the thirteenth century constituted a kind of totalitarianism stemming specifically from its use of the words anathema sit. Her rejection of political parties, which she defends most fully in her 1942 note “On the Abolition of All Political Parties,” originated from her belief that, having somehow transposed the use of anathema sit, parties were, in essence, totalitarian.37 In that provocative short piece, Weil explains that the demands of strong party discipline are radically at odds with individuals’ free thought, that they feed toxic collective passions, and that their obsessive concern with electoral victory and fundraising necessarily makes them unable to attend to the socially marginalized (the afflicted, to use Weil’s term). Weil unfortunately experienced firsthand some of the effects of totalitarianism. Because her family was Jewish, she was forced to flee German occupation, first by joining with her parents the free zone in Marseille, then briefly in Casablanca and New York in May and July of 1942. These numerous months of exile and travel were very active for Weil both in terms of intellectual life and political engagement. After what

33 Philippe Dujardin, Simone Weil. Idéologie et politique (Grenoble: Presses Universitaires de Grenoble, 1975), 152. 34 Ibid., 169. 35 Ibid., 170. 36 In her “Reflections concerning the causes of liberty and social oppression”, she clearly expresses her deep concern for the rise of totalitarian regimes in Europe. In her view, there was an “appearance of ‘totalitarian’ régimes unprecedented in history”. See Weil, Oppression and Liberty, 112; also 129 and 152–154. 37 Weil, Waiting for God, 37. See Weil, On the Abolition of All Political Parties, trans. Simon Leys (New York: New York Review Books, 2013), 27. Readers should also see Julie Daigle’s chapter in this volume (ch. 12), which discusses Weil’s criticisms of parties.

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she describes as an excruciating period of waiting in New York, Weil joined the Free French Forces (the government-in-exile led by Charles de Gaulle) in London, in November 1942. Once in London (where she wrote some of her most remarkable essays), she nevertheless refused to embrace Gaullism, seeing it as a kind of political party that was potentially fascist.38 Once again, it seems that Weil’s wariness of ideologies was, in a sense, exacerbated by her religious convictions. Nonetheless, these religious convictions never put in question her deep commitment to the individual. Indeed, her rapprochement late in life with Catholicism didn’t lead her to embrace anything akin to dogmatism. On the contrary, she found in her spiritual convictions, it would seem, a fresh vocabulary for talking about ideologies, as words like “grace,” “the supernatural,” and “idolatry” began to appear in her later writings. Being in touch with this transcendent dimension of life, Weil believed, allowed human beings to rise above the limits and dangers of the social, that “great beast” of which she was always so leery. Marie Cabaud Meaney writes that, for Weil: the supernatural is man’s firm foundation, which alone gives him the strength to resist the Zeitgeist. In contrast, ideological systems such as Communism and Nazism cut man off at his roots by denying the existence of our true foundation, thus letting him starve and wither away, for the Ersatz-nourishment that the ideologies offer cannot feed him. Hence, as Weil pointed out, Marxism – standing for all ideologies here – rather than religion is an opiate, promising a fulfillment which only God can give.39

A form of sanctity is essential, according to Weil, to prevent against the threat of ideologies and the collective. Cabaud Meaney adds: “Instead of following the Zeitgeist, [the saints] are in touch with the true, unchangeable center of the universe, namely God Himself. Thus, they are the only

38 Pétrement, Simone Weil, 533. 39 “The Supernatural as a Remedy to Totalitarian Regimes: Simone Weil on Sanctity and

the Eucharist,” in A. Rebecca Rozelle-Stone and Lucian W. Stone, eds., The Relevance of the Radical: Simone Weil 100 Years Later (London and New York: Continuum, 2010), 44–45. In this volume, Alexandra Féret (ch. 8) offers a detailed analysis of Weil’s account of idolatry.

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ones with a fixed anchor, while other human beings are swept along by opinion and become part of the ‘great beast’.”40 What did Weil make of ideology at the end of her life? In her small office in London in 1942, she was extremely prolific, working to the point of exhaustion on what would become her “Écrits de Londres ” [writings from London], and, perhaps most importantly, The Need for Roots. In fragments written at this time, she notes, quite surprisingly, that a doctrine is necessary to avoid being duped by those that already exist.41 According to Daniel Lindenberg we should take Weil seriously when, a few pages later, she calls for a third way between liberalism and totalitarianism.42 The elaboration of this sort of doctrine might be precisely what Weil was trying to accomplish in The Need for Roots. Indeed, it is important to emphasize trying because Weil regarded all this as an impossible task—and yet as one that must nevertheless be attempted.43 The difficulty, explains Weil, is not conceiving, understanding or adopting an ideal doctrine, since truths are fairly easily recognizable in her view. Rather, it is applying this doctrine, and above all, finding the appropriate words so that the right actions may follow. Truths are simple, Weil believes, but they are so far hidden in the hearts of individuals that their translation into words is nearly impossible.44 Whether the terms “third way” proposed by Lindenberg are the correct ones is debatable, yet it is striking to see how much Weil engaged throughout her life with several ideologies in order to flesh out a new radical vision of politics (one which, paradoxically, often drew on old or classical sources of inspiration). It is with good reason that A. Rebecca Rozelle-Stone and Lucian Stone have proposed the term “radical” to capture Weil’s thought, justifying the label in the following

40 Ibid., 46. 41 Weil, Écrits de Londres et dernières lettres (Paris: Gallimard, 1957), 151. 42 Daniel Lindenberg, “Politique de Simone Weil,” Esprit 8/9 (August-Sept. 2012), 48.

Consider the following passage from Weil’s notebooks (key for Lindenberg’s reading): « No liberalism (say why) – no totalitarianism (say why) – something inhuman.” Weil, Écrits de Londres et dernières lettres, 173. (Translation ours.). 43 This speaks in part to what is proposed by Scott Ritner in this volume (ch. 10): namely, that Weil embraced a ‘revolutionary pessimism’ (i.e. a radical politics of resistance, but resistance “without hope” (Ritner’s terms)). For one book-length reading of Weil as an idiosyncratic type of pessimist, see David McLellan, Utopian Pessimist: The Life and Thought of Simone Weil (New York: Poseidon Press, 1990). 44 Weil, Écrits de Londres, 151.

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way: “radical both in the sense of ‘unconventional’ and in the sense of […] ‘returning to essential roots’.”45 What this edited volume demonstrates is that it is precisely Weil’s unclassifiable nature, her idiosyncratic ideological commitments, combined with her sharp and sometimes ambivalent criticisms of sociopolitical institutions, that makes her work a captivating object of study for contemporary political philosophy. It is surprising, as such, that relatively few monographs in the English-speaking world have been devoted exclusively to her political thought.46 Indeed, while there has been a great surge of interest in Weil’s political theory over the last decade in France and in the United States,47 this edited volume is the first collection of essays in English devoted exclusively to Simone Weil’s political thought and in particular, to her complex perspective on various ideologies.48 This book proposes a two-pronged approach to Weil’s political thought: first, via a series of conversations set up between Simone Weil and key authors in modern and contemporary political theory (Michael Sandel, John Rawls, Sara Ahmed, Giorgio Agamben, George Orwell); and secondly, via a close study of Weil’s reflections on various ideologies (colonialism, Marxism, Nazism, republicanism, nationalism, liberalism). Naturally, this volume could not cover the whole gamut of ideologies; some readers may, for instance, lament the absence of chapters on Weil’s relationship to conservatism, anarchism, or feminism. But readers should

45 Rozelle-Stone and Stone, The Relevance, p. xxv. 46 Notable exceptions include Mary G. Dietz, Between the Human and the Divine, and

E. Jane Doering’s Simone Weil and the Specter of Self -Perpetuating Force (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2010). 47 For French scholarship, think of the work of Christine Delsol; Philippe Riviale; Valérie Gérard; Pascale Devette and Étienne Tassin; Bertrand Saint-Sernin (please see our bibliography for complete references). For the Anglo-Saxon world, see e.g. the work of A. Rebecca Rozelle-Stone (including her recent Simone Weil and Continental Philosophy). The Italian scholarly scene has also witnessed a great rise in interest for Weil’s political thought. For book-length treatments translated in English, see most notably Roberto Esposito, The Origin of the Political, and Categories of the Impolitical, trans. Connal Parsley (New York: Fordham University Press, 2015). 48 Naturally, previous edited volumes have sometimes included some contributions that explored parts of Weil’s political philosophy. See e.g. Diogenes Allen and Eric O. Springsted eds., Spirit, Nature and Community: Issues in the Thought of Simone Weil (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1994); Richard Bell ed. Simone Weil’s Philosophy of Culture. Readings Toward a Divine Humanity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993).

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note that if none of the book’s chapters are devoted exclusively to feminism, several contributors explicitly underscore the ways Weil’s political thought speaks to contemporary feminist philosophy.49 Once again, our goal in this volume is evidently not to position Weil squarely within a single ideological tradition. As the very title of our book suggests, we propose that Weil’s thought resists such a straightforward categorization or labeling. A much more fruitful approach to her oeuvre, in our view, is to examine how it might allow us to engage with, criticize, and trouble existing ideologies. The volume brings together emerging scholars and established ones, all writing from slightly different methodological and disciplinary perspectives. As such, this book does not propose a single or consistent interpretative line— something that would be at odds, in any case, with Weil’s political philosophy— but rather, a variety of readings. If some contributors underscore Weil’s striking individualism, others locate her vision of the political slightly closer to the community. And while some authors emphasize the pessimist undercurrents in her political philosophy, others opt for stressing the more buoyant and optimistic. Nonetheless, there is still one— simple but crucial— claim running through most essays gathered here: namely, that at the heart of Weil’s political thought lies an insistent call to better attend to the afflicted, and to organize our lives— and theorize our ideologico-political commitments— on the basis of this call.

Overview of the Book This volume opens up with a series of chapters proposing conversations between Weil and important contemporary political philosophers. Chapter two, written by Eric O. Springsted, offers a critical Weilian perspective on language and values through an examination of Michael Sandel’s What Money Can’t Buy. Springsted focuses on a hierarchical distinction Weil makes between two types of values, which inform the language we use to talk about these values: first, the open language of the market place (which uses words of the “middle realm”); second, the language of intimacy (employed to talk about deeper human experiences). Springsted believes that Sandel’s book can give weight to Weil’s

49 See most notably the chapters of Rozelle-Stone and Davis.

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distinction, as it defends, contrary to the levelling arguments of many economists, the idea that some values aren’t market place values and shouldn’t be given a price, as doing so would degrade and cheapen them. Sandel brings to light the corrupting effects of using the language of the marketplace in situations that were formerly talked about with the language of morality and virtue. Weil’s work, according to Springsted, pushes this argument further than Sandel by explaining why values of intimacy are not to be confused with the private. Springsted demonstrates this by arguing that, for Weil, inner values are reflected in moral responsibilities and personal commitments in the public space. As such, he insists, the language of the inner self has significant effects on actions and words in both the public and private spheres. The following chapter pursues further this critique of our contemporary liberal ethos, proposing a Weilian critique of (Rawlsian) contemporary distributivist accounts of justice and of rights discourse. Rights discourse chiefly conceives of politics, according to Weil, as quantifiable squabbles over “who gets what.” K.G.M. Earl shows that for Weil, distributive justice models are not only reductive, but also harmful and “morally deforming.” This is partially because they assign an excessive amount of significance to what a person possesses, which distracts from attending adequately to them. Weil does not deny the importance of material redistribution of course, but Earl insists that she invites us to begin with attention. Offering a brief but stimulating contrast between Rawlsian impartiality and Weilian impersonality, this chapter also proposes timely reflections on vulnerability and relational models of subjectivity. Earl draws out of Weil’s writings an account of the self that is thoroughly embodied and relational: we cannot will away the fact that we are always already tied to others—affected and potentially harmed by them. Earl insists that it is because of this fundamental vulnerability and interdependency that attention to the afflicted holds such central importance in a Weilian ethics. This is a thesis that resonates with much contemporary feminist theory in our view (particularly the scholarship inspired by Judith Butler’s work on vulnerability and that of feminist care ethicists). The following chapter also indicates the relevance of Weil for contemporary feminist philosophy. More specifically, A. Rebecca Rozelle-Stone takes a sober look at contemporary “happiness discourse” (and “positive psychology” talk), which she argues functions as a kind of ideology and regulative political tool that sustain injustices and hegemonic practices by concealing painful and oppressive realities in the name of “positive

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thinking.” Rozelle-Stone first compares Weil’s critical account of happiness with the more positive one of Alain—whose On Happiness described happiness as a matter of self-control and will, and as a goal to be actively pursued. Weil was suspicious of Alain’s account—a suspicion tied to her view of the imagination as a faculty that allows one to “fantasize” and ignore suffering. Rozelle-Stone then takes Weil’s analysis a step further by setting it in conversation with that of feminist Sara Ahmed, who shares Weil’s view that a decent ethical life necessitates a critical distance vis-àvis “happiness discourse.” This distanciation does not entail embracing unhappiness; there is no fetichization of unhappiness in Weil nor in Ahmed. Rather, what is proposed is “a politics of hap”—one carefully attuned to the unpredictability and fragility of things and to what happens to others. One of the many takeaways of Rozelle-Stone’s chapter is that the still common interpretation of Weil as a masochistic lover of suffering is simply unconvincing. If Weil’s views on suffering have often been the object of facile or dismissive interpretations, so has Weil’s account of “decreation,” which is at the heart of the next chapter.50 Chapter five proposes a comparative analysis between Weil’s concept of decreation and Giorgio Agamben’s notion of “destituent potential.” Author Michael P.A. Murphy justifies this rapprochement by noting the similar “mystical” character of both concepts, and by suggesting that destituent potential and decreation are helpful for illuminating the respective works of Agamben and Weil. Murphy calls attention to three aspects of decreation that find echoes in Agamben’s notion of destituent potential. First, decreation and destituent potential both call for a shedding of the superfluous aspects of life, leaving only that which sustains existence: divine love (for Weil) and zoe (for Agamben). Second, both destituent potential and decreation can only be realized, Murphy argues, when the illusions of the polis are rejected and the dangers and exclusionary character of the collective are recognized. Finally, both decreation and destituent potential reject existing systems— without, however, envisioning destruction or violence as legitimate means to do so. Acknowledging Agamben’s debts to Weil allows us to appreciate,

50 The concept has been the object of much scholarship over the years. One recent and very rich treatment can be found in Yoon Sook Cha, Decreation and the Ethical Bind (New York: Fordham University Press, 2017). On Weil and Agamben, readers should see Alessia Ricciardi, “From Decreation to Bare Life: Weil, Agamben, and the Impolitical,” Diacritics 39, no. 2 (2009).

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according to Murphy, Weil’s significant (if at times implicit) influence on contemporary continental philosophers. The following chapter also considers some of the dangers of “collectivities,” but this time by proposing a comparative discussion of the work of Weil and George Orwell. Chapter six shows the striking resonances between their works around the issue of rootedness (explored via a discussion of their views on force, affliction, and beauty). Oriol Quintana boldly proposes to characterize Weil as “the French Orwell” and Orwell as “the English Weil.” The chief question that informs Quintana’s discussion is whether the feeling of belonging to the world necessarily depends on religious convictions or on a religious renewal. One of the main arguments put forth by the author is that what matters most for rootedness today may not be a religious renewal but rather, the possibility of experiencing a deep sense of connection with beauty—of experiencing a kind of “resonance” with the world, to use the term of sociologist Hartmut Rosa (briefly invoked in the chapter’s conclusion). Part Two of the volume then proposes a series of chapters exploring Weil’s relationship to specific ideologies—namely, colonialism, Nazism, patriotism, Marxism, liberalism, and republicanism. Chapter seven discusses Weil’s writings on colonialism—a contribution that indicates the pertinence of Weil for contemporary postcolonial thought. Drawing on Butler’s Frames of War, Benjamin P. Davis analyses the way ideologies like colonialism frame or orient the way we perceive/recognize others, which then serves to reinforce oppression. With Butler, Davis argues that the colonial subject is perceived by the powerful as a subject not worth grieving for; and it is the selectivity and partiality of the colonial frame that makes the colonial subject appear invisible. Davis then shows that Weil uncovered the colonial frame by performing a “critical phenomenology”—one that reveals the contingency and partiality of interpretative schemes, and that proposes an alternative framing. Weil challenged the colonial frame by inviting her contemporaries to feel shame at the horrors of colonialism and to be more critical of themselves. The following chapter considers another particularly horrific ideology Weil engaged with: namely, Nazism. Chapter eight examines Weil’s analysis of Nazi ideology via a discussion of her short essay “This war is a war of religions,” which Weil penned while she was in London, working for the Free French Forces. This is a striking essay where Weil proposes an unusual interpretation of the Second World War as a “religious drama.”

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Placing Weil’s work in conversation with Emile Durkheim’s The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, contributor Alexandra Féret seeks to better understand why Weil had recourse to a theological term— idolatry (or adoration of a false god)— to describe Nazi ideology. Féret’s main argument is that Weil’s recourse to the term idolatry allowed her both to explain how religion could be used so disturbingly for domination, and to suggest how one might find a positive function for faith (in a kind of mysticism). After a brief discussion of the geopolitical and historical context of the Second World War, Féret tackles Weil’s rich reflections on Nazism via a consideration of three different levels of explanation of this ideology: sociological, anthropological, and theological. The chapter concludes with brief reflections on the implications of Weil’s perspective on idolatry for political theology. In Chapter nine, Casey Ford furthers reflections on the notion of idolatry by looking at how the idolatry of the State can profoundly shape our experience of time. In the first part of the chapter, Ford considers Weil’s understanding of time itself, showing that the latter is highly political because it is as much an object of power as it is a locus of resistance. According to Ford, the idolatry of the State described by Weil operates as a nationalist ideology that aims at determining historical time. As such, it can be understood, he believes, along the lines of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s notion of appareil de capture (apparatus of capture). This notion refers to both physical territory as well as the means by which people think and experience the world in time. Specifically, the State’s nationalist ideology establishes a specific relationship to all dimensions of time (past, present, and future). Allegiance to the State, in the present, takes on the form of idolatry, whereas the relationship to the past involves the construction of a mythology. For Ford, capturing the past through a mythology requires, among other things, the erasure of the past’s diversity and richness. The capturing of the future relates, for its part, to the idea of progress in conformity with the ideology established by the State. In Ford’s view, if revolutionary thought took seriously Weil’s writings, this would mean affirming the indeterminacy of the future and reclaiming a diversity of pasts. Like Ford, Scott B. Ritner, in the next chapter, considers the relevance of Weil for revolutionary thought—this time via a discussion of Weil’s reflections on Marxism. Taking some distance from Blum and Seidler’s interpretation of Weil, Ritner shows in Chapter ten that Weil is an active participant and interlocutor within the Marxist tradition. Ritner

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argues that Weil can be included in the Marxist tradition if the latter is understood not as an economic system or as a party-based theory of revolution, but chiefly as a method of analysis aimed at decreasing oppression. Pointing out along the way the great variety of Marxisms in the 1930s and 1940s, Ritner argues that Weil is best described as a heterodox Marxist. But Ritner also indicates that Weil differs from other heterodox Marxists in the way she uses and interprets Marx’s method and refuses Hegelian dialectic and its synthetic resolution—opting for a Platonic dialectic that eschews resolution. If Weil’s Marxism clearly favours resistance over revolution, it nevertheless leaves room for the possibility of a revolution— but without expecting realization (it is, in a sense, “without hope”). It is here, in this pessimistic account of “resistance without expectations” that Ritner locates one of Weil’s most crucial insights for contemporary Marxist politics. In Chapter eleven, Suzanne McCullagh compares the political thought of Weil with that of liberal and republican thinkers. The chapter begins by underscoring a few resonances between arch-liberal John Locke and Weil around the need for private property. But McCullagh ultimately argues that Weil significantly parts ways with the liberal/Lockean tradition by insisting on the community’s role in fulfilling spiritual needs and by assigning great significance to labor for “soulcraft.” Indeed, it is labour that can transform us into attentive beings for Weil. Inspired by Marxist theorist C.B. Macpherson’s critique of liberalism’s “possessive individualism,” McCullagh suggestively describes Weil’s thought as attentive individualism. In the chapter’s second section, readers are then invited to consider similarities between Weil and a particular strand of republicanism McCullagh identifies with Marx and Arendt (here the discussion focuses in part on their shared critiques of rights discourse). The chapter concludes by arguing that Weil’s political thought does not ultimately sit very comfortably with either liberalism or republicanism; it rather invites us to rethink our existing ideologies and our militant commitments. Like McCullagh, Julie Daigle is also convinced that there are some striking resonances between Weil’s thought and the republican tradition. In Chapter twelve, in addition to offering some reflections on the nature of obedience in Weil’s work, Daigle explores the affinities between Weil and republicanism via a consideration of classical republican and neo-republican authors like Niccolò Machiavelli, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Maurizio Viroli, and Philip Pettit. The chapter begins by considering potential counter-arguments to a rapprochement between republicanism

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and Weil: namely, the latter’s criticism of the Roman and French Third Republics, her admiration for a certain type of monarchy, and her criticism of French secularism. The second part of the chapter looks at specific characteristics that Weil shares with a certain republican tradition. Daigle calls attention to Weil’s deep appreciation for patriotism and the inevitability of a particular kind of conflict/civic tension. Weil proposed, according to Daigle, an account of liberty understood as non-domination that comes remarkably close to that of contemporary neo-republicans. But the chapter also suggests that Weil offers some healthy correctives to a tradition that has often indulged in excesses of machismo. More specifically, it shows that Weil takes a strong stance against a politics motivated by conquest and the use of force, preferring instead a politics informed by a certain tenderness. Daigle ends her chapter by considering what this association between Weil and republicanism brings to our understanding of Weil’s concept of obedience. Like McCullagh and several other contributors to this volume, what Daigle indicates is that if Weil had deep qualms about certain ideologies, she nevertheless offered a distinctive re-articulation or reappropriation of several of them. Political theorist Jean Bethke Elshtain once observed that “Simone Weil is a vexation… [she] defies the usual categories. […] That Weil is so difficult a figure—a vexation—may be because she just does not fit.”51 One of the insights we hope readers take away from this collection of essays is that it is precisely this “misfit”— this “vexation”—that constitutes one of the numerous reasons why Weil’s political thought is so fruitful and timely an object of study.

References Allen, Diogenes, and Eric O. Springsted, eds. Spirit, Nature and Community: Issues in the Thought of Simone Weil. Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1994. Bell, Richard, ed. Simone Weil’s Philosophy of Culture: Readings Toward a Divine Humanity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993. Blum, Lawrence A., and Victor J. Seidler. A Truer Liberty: Simone Weil and Marxism. New York: Routledge, 2010. Cabaud Meaney, Marie.“The Supernatural as a Remedy to Totalitarian Regimes: Simone Weil on Sanctity and the Eucharist.” In The Relevance of the Radical:

51 Jean Bethke Elshtain, “The Vexation of Simone Weil”, in Power Trips and Other Journeys (Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 1990), 23.

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Simone Weil 100 Years Later, edited by A. Rebecca Rozelle-Stone and Lucian Stone, 38–52. London and New York: Continuum, 2010. Cederonio, Marina, ed. Modernité, Démocratie et Totalitarisme: Simone Weil et Hannah Arendt. Paris: Kincksieck, 1996. Cha, Yoon Sook. Decreation and the Ethical Bind. New York: Fordham University Press, 2017. Chenavier, Robert. Simone Weil. L’attention au réel. Paris : Éditions Michalon, 2009. Translated as Simone Weil: Attention to the Real, trans. Bernard E. Doering. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2012. ———. Simone Weil. Une philosophie du travail. Paris : Cerf, 2001. Courtine-Denamy, Sylvie. Three Women in Dark Times: Edith Stein, Hannah Arendt, Simone Weil. Translated by G.M. Goshgarian. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2000. Delsol, Christine et al. Simone Weil. Paris: LeCerf, 2009. Devaux, André A. “Préface” to Simone Weil. Oeuvres Complètes 1, Premiers écrits philosophiques, Gilbert Kahn and Rolf Kühn ed., Paris: Gallimard, 1988. Devette, Pascale, and Etienne Tassin, eds. Oppression et liberté. Tumultes vol. 46. Paris: Éditions Kimé, 2016. Dietz, Mary G. Between the Human and the Divine: The Political Thought of Simone Weil. Totowa, NJ: Rowman & Littlefield, 1988. Doering, E. Jane. Simone Weil and the Specter of Self-Perpetuating Force. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2010. Dujardin, Philippe. Simone Weil: Idéologie et politique. Grenoble: Presses Universitaires de Grenoble, 1975. Elshtain, Jean Bethke. “The Vexation of Simone Weil.” In Power Trips and Other Journeys, 13–24. Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 1990. Esposito, Roberto. Categories of the Impolitical. Translated by Connal Parsley. New York: Fordham University Press, 2015. ———. The Origin of the Political: Hannah Arendt or Simone Weil? New York: Fordham University Press, 2017. Gérard, Valérie, ed. Simone Weil. Lectures Politiques. Paris: Éditions de la Rue d’Ulm, 2011. Hill, Melvin, ed. Hannah Arendt: The Recovery of the Public World. New York: St-Martin’s Press, 1979. Lindenberg, Daniel. “Politique de Simone Weil.” Esprit 8/9 (August-September 2012): 30–51. Manceron, Gilles. “Réflexions sur l’anticolonialisme de Simone Weil.” Cahiers Simone Weil XXXVII, no. 1 (2014): 1–9. McLellan, David. Utopian Pessimist: The Life and Thought of Simone Weil. New York: Poseidon Press, 1990. McLellan, David. “Simone Weil et la philosophie politique libérale contemporaine.” Cahiers Simone Weil XXII, no. 2 (June 1999): 125–133.

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Nelson, Deborah. Tough Enough: Arbus, Arendt, Didion, McCarthy, Sontag, Weil. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017. Patsouras, Louis. Simone Weil and the Socialist Tradition. San Francisco: EMText, 1992. Pétrement, Simone. Simone Weil: A Life. Translated by Raymond Rosenthal. New York: Pantheon Books, 1976. Plato, Republic. Translated by G.M.A. Grube. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1992. Radzins, Inese. “Simone Weil on Labor and Spirit.” Journal of Religious Ethics 45, no. 2 (2017): 291–308. ———. “Simone Weil’s Social Philosophy: Toward a Post-Colonial Ethic.” In New Topics in Feminist Philosophy of Religion, edited by Pamela Sue Anderson, 69–84. New York: Springer, 2009. Ricciardi, Alessia. “From Decreation to Bare Life: Weil, Agamben, and the Impolitical.” Diacritics 39, no. 2 (2009): 75–93. Riviale, Philippe. La pensée libre. Essai sur les écrits politiques de Simone Weil. Paris: L’Harmattan, 2004. Rozelle-Stone, A. Rebecca, ed. Simone Weil and Continental Philosophy. London: Rowman & Littlefield International, 2017. Rozelle-Stone, A. Rebecca, and Lucian Stone eds. The Relevance of the Radical. Simone Weil 100 Years Later. London and New York: Continuum, 2010. Rozelle-Stone, A. Rebecca, and Benjamin P. Davis. “Simone Weil”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2018 ed), https://plato.stanford.edu/arc hives/spr2018/entries/simone-weil/. Saint-Sernin, Bertrand. L’action politique selon Simone Weil. Paris: Cerf, 1988. Sparling, Robert. “Theory and Praxis: Simone Weil and Marx on the Dignity of Labor.” The Review of Politics 74, no. 1 (2012): 87–107. Weil, Simone. Écrits de Londres et dernières lettres. Paris: Gallimard, 1957. ———. First and Last Notebooks. Supernatural Knowledge. Translated by Richard Rees. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2015. ———. Lectures on Philosophy. Translated by Hugh Price. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978. ———. On the Abolition of All Political Parties. Translated by Simon Leys. New York: New York Review Books, 2013. ———. Oppression and Liberty. Translated by Arthur Wills and John Petrie. New York: Routledge, 2001. ———. Simone Weil: An Anthology. Edited and introduced by Siân Miles. New York: Grove Press, 1986. ———. Simone Weil. Oeuvres. Edited by Florence de Lussy. Paris: Quarto Gallimard, 1999. ———. Simone Weil on Colonialism: An Ethic of the Other. Edited by J. P. Little. Lanham, MA: Rowman & Littlefield International, 2003.

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———. The Need for Roots. Prelude to a Declaration of Duties towards Mankind. Translated by Arthur Wills with a preface by T.S. Eliot. London and New York: Routledge, 2002. ———. Waiting for God. Translated by Emma Craufurd. New York: Perennial Classics, 2001.

PART I

Weil in Conversation

CHAPTER 2

The Language of the Inner Life Eric O. Springsted

In her essay “What is Sacred in Every Human Being?” Simone Weil makes the startling claim that “there are words that, if one makes good use of them, have in themselves the virtue of illumining and raising us towards the good.”1 “God and truth are such words,” she says. “So, too, are justice, love, and good.”2 These words are to be contrasted with words of the “middle realm,” which include “rights, democracy, person.”3 This is not the only place that she invokes the idea of a hierarchy of value in language. She makes a related distinction in words in Waiting for God when she suggests the “language of the market place is not that of the nuptial chamber.”4 This hierarchy of language goes hand in hand with various other claims she makes about a hierarchy in values.

1 Simone Weil, Simone Weil: Late Philosophical Writings, ed. and trans. Eric O. Springsted (Notre Dame: Notre Dame University Press, 2015), 127. 2 Ibid. 3 Weil, Late Philosophical Writings, 128. 4 Simone Weil, Waiting for God, trans. Emma Craufurd (New York: Harper & Row, 1973), 79.

E. O. Springsted (B) Santa Fe, NM, USA e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s) 2020 S. Bourgault and J. Daigle (eds.), Simone Weil, Beyond Ideology?, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-48401-9_2

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To claim a hierarchy in value is not unusual. Values and hierarchies go hand in hand. Simply to say that an ethical choice should be made one way rather than another invokes some kind of hierarchy; one always chooses for the greater good, not the lesser. Even a philosopher such as Jeremy Bentham, who has a single principle ethics that he thinks can decide all value decisions, assumes that as a principle of decision it is useful chiefly as a matter of deciding between what is more valuable and what is less valuable. This is the case even if in employing it he flattens values qualitatively, “making poetry as good as pushpin.” But Weil is decidedly not talking about the relative quantitative values of outcomes. She is saying (1) that we need to choose among qualitatively different kinds of values, (2) that different kinds of values can compete for space in our moral lives, and (3) that different kinds of values require different kinds of talk—their grammars need to be reflected in the way we use these words. Specifically, in the sort of cases she argues in both “What is Sacred in Every Human Being?,” and in Waiting for God, Weil claims that we talk with words of the middle range openly and in the market place; they are meant for that sort of place, and have their proper usage there. Words that we use to talk of what is most valuable to the human being, matters of depth, however, she thinks are words of intimacy, words that are not spoken openly. Why? There are things we do not say out loud, because to do so would betray what they are meant to do, or because they are so deeply personal that talking about them out loud in the market place would be akin to pornography—or, in the case of love it is pornography, as what is intimate becomes a market item. As Rilke insightfully suggested: “But the best things that happen, after all, are the ones which hide their deeper reason with both hands, whether out of modesty or because they don’t want to be betrayed.”5 So, confusing the two sorts of language can lead to all sorts of mischief, including a debasement of our understanding of value. It affects us, and our ability to flourish as human beings. This distinction, then, is the focus of this paper. I would like to accomplish two things here. First, I would like to establish that we do, in fact, recognize this kind of distinction and that it is important. I will argue this by looking at Michael Sandel’s What Money

5 Rainer Maria Rilke, “Interiors, II,” in The Inner Sky: Poems, Notes, Dreams, trans. and ed. Damion Searls (Boston: David R. Godine Publisher, 2010), 13.

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Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets.6 Sandel has argued that, despite the leveling arguments of many economists, there are things that should not be given a price. In some cases, this is because of fairness, but more importantly, there are cases where to do so would corrupt what we are trying to put a price on. Why? Surely because there are values that are not market place values. That is to suggest something very much like Weil’s argument which claims that there really are different kinds of values, ones of the market place and ones of the middle realm concerning the public open air, and then inner ones that need caring for in a much different way. These inner values are debased when talking about them in the same way and in the same places as we talk about other values. This also suggests a conversation between Weil and Sandel that is of importance to us now, for, just as Sandel underlines Weil’s point about the difference in kinds of values, as we shall see, Weil adds what kinds of commitments are required from us in order to fully appreciate what this difference makes to us. Second, I would like to say something about how these values of intimacy that require much more modest language are not to be confused with the private, a point where Weil fine tunes Sandel’s argument. They are involved in what it means to have an inner life, and our inner lives are the shape of our moral commitments—even in the public square. Having an inner life means reflection, certainly, but it above all means a personal commitment to God, human beings, justice, etc., that gives them their true value in our lives. These commitments are not beside the point when entering the public square. They are actually reflected in how we approach any conversation about social goods. Any other approach changes the very nature of the values we want to think about.

The Economic Corruption of Values Sandel notes that in an earlier generation, the field of economics dealt with things such as markets, prices, money, and the like. Currently, however, economics has far greater pretensions. It has made itself out to be a science of human behavior, even the science of human behavior. As a result, “to a remarkable degree, the last few decades have witnessed the remaking of social relations in the image of market relations.”7 This

6 Michael Sandel, What Money Can’t Buy (New York: Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 2012). 7 Sandel, What Money Can’t Buy, 51.

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is more than a matter of how a few isolated academics choose to view and analyze human behavior. Now the dominant voices in economic theory, these people also wield a lot of influence. Unlike philosophers, economists have a great deal of influence over how and what public policy gets made. This has meant that the use of market relations has now remodeled human relations in the public sphere. Health, education, public safety, national security, criminal justice, environmental protection, and any number of other social goods are now allocated by using markets. Important examples can be seen in how often social motivation is now thought to be best done by monetary and market incentives. Sandel argues that this change is troubling on two levels. In the first place, when all goods are “bought and sold, having money makes all the difference in the world.”8 The problem here is one of fairness, since there is an issue of inequality. Some people have a lot of money, others have less and therefore less access to marketed social goods. But there is a second, and even more damning criticism. “Putting a price on the good things in life can corrupt them. That’s because markets don’t only allocate goods; they also express and promote certain attitudes toward the good being exchanged.”9 Even though economists argue that markets don’t affect the goods exchanged, this simply seems untrue, and “sometimes, market values crowd out nonmarket values worth caring about.”10 Since Sandel provides many, many examples to support his argument, it is worth noting at least one of them. In the case of one nursery school, unsurprisingly, a number of parents picked up their children late, causing the school staff to work longer hours, and making them unpaid babysitters. In order to curb the problem, the school began fining parents for picking their children up late. But the policy had an effect that was opposite to the one intended. The number of late pick ups actually increased. Why? Originally, the parents seemed to have felt some sort of moral obligation to pick up their children on time, and many felt badly about being late. However, once it was a service they could pay for, they simply chose to pay for it. The moral incentive to get there on time, based on a certain respect for the children’s teachers was no longer operative.11

8 Ibid., 8. 9 Ibid., 9. 10 Ibid. 11 Ibid., 64–65.

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So, in this case, it can be fairly claimed that market incentives had the effect of crowding out nonmarket, moral, incentives. Sandel multiplies the real-life examples of cases where monetary incentives have crowded out moral incentives. These include paying kids for good grades, bribes to lose weight, selling the right to immigrate, purchasing the right to speed or have access to less crowded traffic lanes, trading pollution credits, and paying to kill endangered species. In all these various types of cases, money has been used to solve a problem that moral incentives have traditionally been invoked to solve. But as it turns out in almost all, if not all these instances, the monetary solution tends to be less effective, and often does not lead to fairness. There are two sorts of problems here. In some sorts of cases, there is a problem with fairness—only the better off have access to the good or use it up first. In many others there is a clear erosion of the moral incentives that all people had used to control their behavior, with no increase in the utility that economists thought there would be. It is the second problem, the corruption of moral incentives, that I am concerned with here. It is a problem that does not have to do with utility, or fairness; rather, it suggests that there are certain goods that need to be respected in themselves. Treating them as marketable goods diminishes them, and, in time, may well erase them as motivating factors in human behavior. Examples of these sorts of things are easily listed. Sandel gives us a list of the sort of things that can be easily recognized: friendship, apologies, compliments, honors.12 Once money becomes a factor in any of these things, it loses its worth. In fact, these things lose their being. A bought friendship or apology is not a friendship or a real apology. His point, and this is the one that I want to take away here, is not to argue that any particular good belongs on the list, but simply that it seems obvious to most of us that there really is a distinction between what money can buy, and what it can’t buy without damaging the social fabric. The economists who think that the markets are neutral, and nothing more than a more efficient way of distributing goods, are simply wrong. Even if we found fair ways of distributing such goods, “even in a society without unjust differences of power and wealth, there would still be things that money should not buy. This is because markets are not mere mechanisms;

12 Ibid., Chapter 3.

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they embody certain values. And sometimes, market values crowd out nonmarket norms worth caring about.”13 The conclusion to draw from this is that there are different kinds of goods, and that economic and moral goods can be quite distinct. With each in its place, they are not necessarily opposed to each other. They may both be important. However, if, as Sandel argues, market values crowd out and replace certain kinds of moral values then we do have, in fact, evidence that there are qualitatively different kinds of values. There is also a good reason to think that moral values are more important to human flourishing; that without them, market values alone will diminish the quality of human life. While there is a complicated and real relation between physical well-being and moral well-being, still, it certainly seems that it is possible to have a good life with the moral virtues of human cooperation, love, and respect and without all the efficiency that markets are thought to bring—after all, people were happy and good before the advent of current economic theory. However, the reverse is not true. Markets unbridled take something important away from human life. Virtue does not.

The Levels of Value in Weil Sandel is hardly the first critic of utilitarianism, even in its current economic theory costume. The most valuable service he provides, therefore, is not in simply saying that economic utilitarianism is wrong, but that using the language of markets in places where we have previously used the language of moral and civic responsibility is corrupting. In this he approaches—and helps to illumine its social relevance— Weil’s position in the essay “What Is Sacred in Every Human Being?” She, too, is worried about a confusion in levels. She is also worried that a confusion in language will lead to a debasement, or already shows a debasement, in thought.14 That similarity, I think, helps us understand more clearly what Weil is getting at in this essay, and where the deeper

13 Ibid., 113. 14 “…there is something wrong in the vocabulary of the stream of modern thought

called “personalist.” And in this domain, whenever there is a grave error in vocabulary, it is hard to avoid grave errors in thought.” Weil, Late Philosophical Writings, 104.

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issue is, as she criticizes Jacques Maritain for his personalism.15 She thinks that Maritain, in making the notions of the “person” and “personality” the grounds for his moral and social thought, has traded a hard to define sacred concept for one that seems to be easily defined, and which is defined in terms of market relations. But in that essay, she also goes a level deeper than Sandel is trying for. This is not so much a matter of criticizing Sandel for missing something; what I want to point out is that, in a discussion that depends upon distinguishing different moral levels, for Weil there are more levels still to be noted. The additions also involve some further considerations and complications. For example, in his concern for the corruption of the language of morals by its replacement with the language of the markets, Sandel is chiefly worried about civil society and social values. Replacing, as we have done, the hard and intractable discussions of what constitutes the common good and our place in it by the efficiencies of the market is damaging to us. We need those discussions; we need to have the hard discussions because “this is how we learn to negotiate and abide our differences, and how we come to care for the common good.”16 We cannot assume a common denominator in the valuations of the market, nor can we believe that the market is simply a mirror of our moral choices. So far, so good. Where Weil, however, goes a step further is in this: Sandel deals with an important and obvious opposition—market values and human values.17 Weil, however, wants to see some important distinctions in the wide range of what counts as human values. Specifically, she worries about how the language of the common good itself might be capable of corrupting an even deeper need of the human being for good than the common life provides or, more importantly, one that the common life itself depends upon. Her concern is that thought will be subjected, perhaps in some very subtle ways, to the collective. So, important as a discussion of what is 15 That it is Maritain and his personalism that is the target of her criticisms, see Eric O. Springsted, “Beyond the Personal: Weil’s Critique of Maritain,” Harvard Theological Review 98, no. 2 (April 2005). 16 Sandel, What Money Can’t Buy, 203. 17 In What Money Can’t Buy, Sandel does not spell out what exactly these human

values are. He has, however, dealt with them in works such as Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010) and Liberalism and the Limits of Justice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998). In what follows, I do not see any reason to suggest that Sandel would be opposed to the additional distinctions Weil draws.

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truly valuable in the collective may be, if there is no real source of insight beyond what is already known and believed, that discussion may well just repeat all the platitudes and their dynamics already in play. For example, once the markets have corrupted discourse, how can we expect to have a discussion that isn’t tainted by their influence? Where is the source of insight that will turn things around going to come from? Furthermore, something must have been at play that allowed the corruption in the first place. What is therefore needed is to recognize that social morality may well be subject to all the dynamics that Plato thought it is when he described collectivities as “the Great Beast.”18 Subsequently Weil is concerned with how, if we do not recognize this deeper need of the human being, we may end up betraying our need for good and trading it in for something that is better than brute force

18 The relevant argument on which I am drawing may be found in her essay “Is There a Marxist Doctrine?”, written about the same time as “What Is Sacred in Every Human Being?”. Marx, she argues, had the great insight that there is such a thing as “social matter,” which is analogous to physical matter. It is not subject to the laws of mechanics, but it is an interplay of social forces. It has laws like mechanics has laws. Arguing, as did Plato, that the necessary is distant from the good, and that necessity is not a machine for producing goodness, she asks, “if Marx is right, then how can justice ever occur?” Plato and Weil saw the possibility of exceptions, moments of grace, but these are in some sense from outside the collective. Plato saw the need for something outside the system. Marx did not, and thought that something like the morality of professional groups, a morality of social opinion, could produce justice. But these, too, she argues, are subject to the same forces in the end. This was pretty obvious in those who had achieved the supposedly enlightened workers’ and revolutionary consciousness. She says, “The characteristic common to all these moralities, and to every kind of social morality, was formulated by Plato in definitive terms: ‘They call just and beautiful things that are necessary, for they do not know how great in reality is the distance which separates the essence of the necessary from that of the good’” (“Is There a Marxist Doctrine?” in Oppression and Liberty, trans. A. Will and J. Petrie (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1973), 182–83. We should also take into consideration her comments in a similar vein in the contemporaneous essay “Are We Struggling for Justice?”. She argues there that true morality requires the consent of those whose lives are brought into the sphere of our actions. Of course, in the quotidian world, one can’t go around asking permission of everybody for everything. We accept social morality, and need it to move ahead. Still, we cannot ignore consent, for consent is essential for justice, and it is important for a just society to find ways that people can give their consent. Money, and other forms of coercion, are violations of it. This is why markets can corrupt and do so deeply. “Consent is neither to be bought nor sold. Consequently, whatever the political institutions, in a society where monetary transactions dominate most of social life, where almost all obedience is bought and sold, there can be no freedom” (in Simone Weil Writings Selected, ed. Eric O. Springsted [Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1998]), 127.

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or naked capitalism, but that, nevertheless, still fails in real justice to the human being. In doing so, she is not trying to denigrate the common good or common life. Terms of the middle level are better than those of a base level. But, as is the case with so much of her writing, she is trying to understand those terms sub specie aeternatatis. As such, she wants to see the common good understood in terms of the souls that constitute it. Souls have a greater destiny, and the common good should serve it. That is a major point to be considered in any discussion of justice or the common good. At least it is for Weil, although it may not be for many liberal social theorists. The problem that Weil is concerned about is that the human being will become subject to the collectivity, which is to say, to the social force of Necessity and not the Good. She was concerned about it from her earliest writings. This concern over the subjection of the human being to the collectivity is not a species of individualism. Rather, what she is concerned about is that the collectivity, even in its finest expressions, is not sacred and does not understand the sacred which is a need of every human being. Collectivities can only deal in the general. The problem therefore she is worried about is that terms that make sense within collectivities get used to express the sacred. The sacred needs very different terms. The substitution may be very subtle, the terms may look a lot like each other. But to accept it, is ultimately to forget the deeper needs of the human being, and to accept something as salvation that is not capable of giving it. It is easy enough to recognize this in difficult times; it is very easy to ignore it in times of prosperity. Prosperity can be insidious. Let us provide an example. When Weil wrote “What Is Sacred in Every Human Being?” which targets Jacques Maritain’s personalism, there is probably a lot where she could have agreed with Maritain on social issues, including on issues of labor, at least within certain grudging limits. In depressed times, she certainly would not have objected to laborers making a living wage as Maritain insists they have a right to, and which he stressed. What she objected to was his trying to make his case on the notion that what is sacred in every human being is personality, for he ties the concept of personality to the notion of rights, and the notion of rights is ultimately a social concept that never goes deep enough in treating souls justly. If the personality is not ultimate, however, then giving the workers what they need for the expansion of their personalities hardly gives them what they need most, even if they are not aware of what it is they do need. Her objection runs this way:

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When someone speaks to [workers] of their lot, generally one chooses to speak to them about salaries. They, under the fatigue of being weighed down and for whom every effort of attention is painful, welcome with relief the easy clarity of numbers. They thus forget that the object that they are bargaining about – the one they complain that someone is forcing them to hand over cheaply, the one someone is refusing them a just price for – is nothing other than their soul. Imagine that the devil is in the process of buying the soul of some poor afflicted being, and that someone, taking pity on the one afflicted, were to intervene in the debate and say to the devil: “It is really shameful for you to offer only this price; the thing is worth at least twice that.”19

So, while Maritain may have ended up on certain issues with the right results, he started in the wrong place. Why should that matter? It happens all the time in ethical debates, after all. Frequently, our disagreement over principles means little in comparison to our agreement in action. Or, so it would seem at first. Yet, what we assume when we start can affect what we think we have accomplished at the end, and color how we take our accomplishments, and where we go from there. So it is in this case. Weil thinks that if Maritain ends up in the right place once in awhile, he only does so on particulars. Getting there is the result of a sleight of hand. Maritain hands out descriptions of the personality being sacred to bolster his insistence that the workers have a right to a certain wage, for without it they would be stifled. The eternal in them would be stifled. So, it would be good if they got that wage. But is that really why those in power should give them that wage? What if they weren’t going to creatively express themselves? Isn’t there really something much more basic at stake here? So, even if Maritain ends up on this issue in the right place, that is, giving workers a better wage, the way to it comes by taking a social concept and making it do service as a sacred concept, much as Sandel thinks that market concepts are being made to do service as moral concepts. Perhaps what Maritain is doing is simply hyperbole. It might be in a lesser thinker, but in one who is putting forth a serious argument, and this is how the Free French took him, it is, just as often as not, that it is the argument and its terms, not the recommendation, that will have the lasting effect. In that case, what is said and remembered ultimately debases the sacred, despite the lip service paid to it.

19 Weil, Late Philosophical Writings, 112–113.

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That has consequences. For example, Weil, who was sensitive to the powerless who had no words, believed that this sort of consideration, this concentration on the rights needed to develop personality, would keep us from hearing them. Personality is bound up with the public use of language. So, in this case, if they were given their rights in a court of fair, procedural justice, what more could be said? What more could be suspected of them? Yet, after all the words of justice are spoken, often the powerless believe they have not been heard or acknowledged.20 The deep issue Weil wants to stress is that if we really do have a moral commitment to the human being, then, if that is a sacred commitment, not a contractual one, the commitment is limitless. Personality and rights, she claims, extend no further than the realm of the social; they demand no more of us than social responsibility.21 Moreover, Weil believed, personality and rights are social and are historically contextual. They are not universal or eternal, or, at least, the only way to show anything like a universal right is to paint it very thin.22 So, even while the liberal celebration of the person has a lot going for it, ultimately if one rests on it, it will crowd out a different, deeper sort of moral commitment to human beings. It will crowd out any deep first person commitment, one that liberal values themselves may need. It will allow us to excuse ourselves when we are pressed too hard. Why is this so? Because ultimately the notion of person that is being used and promoted is the person observed. This includes by selfreflection, ourselves. And the person observed is the social being, and the observing being done is through social categories. That simply is not 20 This is not hypothetical for Weil. When in Marseille, she often would go to watch trials. This experience shows up in her thinking about words in “What Is Sacred in Every Human Being?”. For example: “Listening to someone is to put ourselves in his place while he is speaking. Putting ourselves in the place of a being whose soul is mutilated by affliction, or who is in imminent danger of becoming such a being, is to annihilate one’s own soul. […] Thus the afflicted are not heard […] That is why there is no hope for the vagabond before the judge. If through his babblings something heartrending comes out that pierces the soul, it will not be heard by either the judge or the spectators. It is a mute cry,” 122. 21 On one of the better examinations of Weil’s critique of rights, especially in the essay “What Is Sacred in Every Human Being?” see Stanley Hauerwas, “How to Think about Rights Theologically,” in The Work of Theology (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2015). 22 See Michael Walzer, Thick and Thin Moral Argument at Home and Abroad (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1994).

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enough, as far as Weil is concerned. It does not let us show sufficient concern or commitment for the afflicted, and it makes us sell ourselves short. It does not go deep enough, to levels that are mute. Weil wisely realizes that with regard to anything that is genuinely sacred we cannot just substitute another concept. She says that words such as “God,” “truth,” and “justice” are inconceivable. Another concept isn’t what is needed. This would inevitably be slipping in the back door what we just ushered out the front. What we do need to realize is that such words are used differently than other words. Not only do they have a different grammar, but that grammar is reflected in the humility with which we need to use them. That is not easy, and Weil says it is a trial to use them properly. But that difference in how we use them can also give away a real difference in value. How should one use such words? They are not magical incantations. One gets a sense of how to use them by recognizing that, as Weil suggests, these are words that are matters of intimacy and need the language of the nuptial chamber. What does that mean? It means, I would like to propose, at least that in using them we recognize the deep inescapably personal involvement we have with what we are talking about when we do use them. This involvement is not simply sentiment, which is its ersatz and even its poison. It is not a matter of talk that we are embarrassed to be caught using in public. It is that in our relation to God, to our neighbor, to justice, there is something profound and personal demanded of us. This is the language of conscience, and the language of love and commitment. It gets bastardized when it is being traded in the political realm—which is why we should be ashamed to speak it too loudly. That happens even when we trade it for the finest words of the political realm. This sort of language deepens, however, by being brought into play as we act in the world and act responsibly and without personal reservation.

How Should We Talk About Value? All this might well suggest that “God,” “justice” “love” etc. have no particular role to play in discussions of politics or social goods, that this intimacy cordons them off in the realm of the private. That is the standard liberal objection, which insists on public reason, and not love or commitment, to settle public issues. But it is not the case at all that this intimacy has no public value. Far from it. For in using such words as they should

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be used we end up being deeply committed in a distinctive way in the social realm. Let me put this in Sandel’s terms. In resisting the language of the market place, he hopes that we come to realize that we need to have a hard discussion that negotiates our differences and goods. I think he is right, although “negotiates” is probably not the right word given the rest of his argument. I think Weil could have said he is right. Her last writings in London for the Free French were a matter of challenging a French government that would come into power when the Nazis were driven out to rethink the moral bases of social and national life. This was an invitation to a hard discussion about differences and goods. But in order to have that sort of discussion, and this may well be why we are not having it in the public square now, whoever is in it has to be committed to something beyond market negotiations, beyond a “deal,” which is what standard liberal conceptions of justice tend to come down to, and which is why they are so susceptible to being cast in market terms. Lockean liberalism leaves the choice of what goods are good up to the individual, and the individual is left unsituated in making that choice. Now, for a long time, perhaps, we might believe that we are unsituated while remaining unaware of how deeply that choice actually remains indebted to all sorts of institutions and relations that shape us and that put us in touch with God and neighbor in meaningful ways, that give us a sense of obligation and responsibility and care. As Tocqueville put it in 1836 with respect to America, there are in American institutions “countervailing forces” that offset the strong individualism of Americans. Such institutions are religious, communal, and legal ones. Tocqueville cites churches and the obligation to serve on juries as two examples.23 But at some point, the influence of those countervailing forces can come to be eroded. At that point, each institution that shapes our moral being is no longer a bridge that puts us in touch with deeper being, and can be turned into something that is a part of the market. We then become truly unsituated. A people no longer aware of anything deeper may not notice the difference, or even the irony, as they have serious discussions about the common good. For example, anybody who has ever listened to American Christian leaders on either the right or left talk about how to increase church membership will 23 Alexis de Tocqueville, “Principal Causes Which Tend to Maintain the Democratic Republic in the United States,” chapter XVII, 298–342, in Democracy in America, vol. 1, trans. H. Reeve, revised F. Bowen (New York: Vintage Books, 1945).

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know that the exchange of an intimate value for a market value is now largely assumed and unchallenged. Those discussions are almost entirely market flavored discussions. As she wrote out in her last months what she thought would be required for a new France, a France that once again would sustain souls, and one where social life would be something to believe in, she argued that there are elements that need to be cultivated in order to have that discussion. Above all, and this is her chief point in “What Is Sacred in Every Human Being?” what is needed is a deep personal obligation to the other that is not limited, and which will therefore always commit itself to that social conversation. That commitment is not just a matter of being a participant. It also and necessarily means listening to the other and taking others seriously, not just presenting one’s own case for negotiation. For that reason, the language of the inner self is not a private language, but a language of personal commitment and moral responsibility. It may be used and developed out of sight from the agora and it may not use the terms of the market. But for the person who knows how to use it, its depth is realized in the way that one acts and talks not only in the nuptial chamber but also in the agora. It is the first person moral language that takes us beyond the third person distance of moral systems, and commits us to others in conversation and to those who cannot speak. This, however, is not a one-way street, that is, it is not the case that any individual first has to have this commitment before she can enter into a sufficiently deep conversation about social goods. In a healthy community, one where people are aware of all that gives human life its goodness, the conversation itself can and should awaken the sense that we have an obligation to others and that there are issues of personal commitment behind all social phenomena. Weil makes this point in The Need for Roots. Collectivities and societies are not ultimate. They are meant to serve the souls who live in them. They, like cornfields, feed those souls.24 What does that mean? Well, it would certainly seem to mean that the social conversation of a good society may well be what awakens and trains the souls of those who live in it to something that is greater than the collectivity itself. The discussions that go on in social and political realms should not only be driven by the results they might achieve; they should also teach the people who are in them. These discussions, and the documents

24 Weil, The Need for Roots, trans. A. Wills (New York: Harper & Row, 1971), 7.

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that enshrine previous discussions, documents such as constitutions, are how a people educates itself. But that will not happen if, in the course of such discussion, no one talks about the sacred properly, if no one goes into his chamber and speaks silently from her heart, and then comes out transformed. It will not do this if we do not know how to talk about values, and how to talk with meaning. It will not do this if we talk about everything in the same way. We need to use words of value according to the value they express, and we need to talk about them in proper ways. If we do not, we run the risk of altering the conversation for the worse.

References Hauerwas, Stanley. “How to Think about Rights Theologically.” In The Work of Theology. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2015. Rilke, Rainer Maria. The Inner Sky: Poems, Notes, Dreams. Translated and edited by Damion Searls. Boston: David R. Godine Publisher, 2010. Sandel, Michael. Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010. ———. Liberalism and the Limits of Justice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998. ———. What Money Can’t Buy. New York: Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 2012. Springsted, Eric O. “Beyond the Personal: Weil’s Critique of Maritain.” Harvard Theological Review 98, no. 2 (April 2005): 209–218. Tocqueville, Alexis de. Democracy in America. Translated by H. Reeve, revised by F. Bowen. New York: Vintage Books, 1945. Walzer, Michael. Thick and Thin Moral Argument at Home and Abroad. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1994. Weil, Simone. The Need for Roots. Translated by Arthur Wills. New York: Harper & Row, 1971. ———. Oppression and Liberty. Translated by Arthur Wills and John Petrie. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1973. ———. Simone Weil: Late Philosophical Writings. Edited and translated by Eric O. Springsted. Notre Dame: Notre Dame University Press, 2015. ———. Simone Weil Writings Selected. Edited by Eric O. Springsted. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1998. ———. Waiting for God. Translated by Emma Craufurd. New York: Harper & Row, 1973.

CHAPTER 3

Let Them Eat Cake: Articulating a Weilian Critique of Distributive Justice K. G. M. Earl

In “Human Personality,”1 Simone Weil has us imagine a child who is watching carefully to ensure his brother does not receive a larger piece of cake than he does. Weil insists that this concern—a concern about fairness—arises from a much more superficial level of the soul than do concerns about justice.2 We understand when a child cries out that it is unfair that his brother has more cake than he does; were an adult to behave thus, it would seem incredibly petty. Weil’s insight is that this is petty not because cake is unimportant, but because concerns about who gets how much is petty. When we use the word “justice” to talk about questions of who has how much cake, we misuse the word.3

1 Simone Weil, “Human Personality,” in Selected Essays 1934–1943: Historical, Political, and Moral Writings, ed. and trans. Richard Rees (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock, 2015), 9–34. 2 To the child in question however, his concern seems to be of utmost importance. 3 Weil, “Human Personality,” 10.

K. G. M. Earl (B) University of Ottawa, Ottawa, ON, Canada e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s) 2020 S. Bourgault and J. Daigle (eds.), Simone Weil, Beyond Ideology?, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-48401-9_3

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While Weil uses this image to criticize the notion of rights, my contention here is that the entire scheme of “distributive justice”— indeed, any attempt to render justice in terms of the distribution of material and non-material goods—is making exactly this mistake; injustice is reduced to an inappropriate distribution of goods—the cake is not being cut appropriately.4 Since Rawls, liberal political theorizing has been concerned with questions of justice as distribution. Weil, however, insists that injustice happens at the deepest level of the human being; it is reductive, misleading, and actively harmful to reduce justice to a question about what a person has. This Weilian critique of distributive justice, I argue, stems from Weil’s epistemology. Following Peter Winch in The Just Balance,5 I suggest that one helpful way for the contemporary reader to make sense of Weil’s writings on the subject of justice is to imagine her in conversation with John Rawls. Such a dialogue shows that schemes of so-called “distributive justice” are not only inaccurate ways of understanding justice, but that they serve to distract from the true demands of justice. By causing us to look the wrong way, as it were, distributivist schemes are complicit in the injustice of our society and of our world. This is not to suggest that a Weilian understanding of justice would ignore questions of distribution—simply that such questions are secondary; concerns about the distribution of goods must flow from what Weil calls attention (I will return to this in the section “A Weilian Critique of Distributive Justice”). Over against Rawlsian “justice as fairness,” I will outline Weil’s conception of supernatural and impersonal justice. Of particular note here will be Weil’s philosophical methodology. Given the dominance of distributivist conceptions of justice within liberal political theory today, it seems important to note in Weil the basis of a critique not just of one scheme of “distributive justice,” but of the conceptual underpinnings of “distributive justice” in general.

4 A detailed critique of the fine points of Rawls’ reasoning—in A Theory of Justice or elsewhere—is beyond the scope of this work. I am herein concerned solely with a few of the underlying principles of the Rawlsian project; as such, this chapter cannot do justice to the complexities of Rawlsian theory. 5 Peter Winch, Simone Weil: “The Just Balance” (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989).

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Rawlsian Contractarianism and the Theoretical Underpinnings of Distributive Justice It is a virtue of Rawls’ argumentation that if you accept all of his premises, his conclusions follow clearly. For this reason, I intend in this section to examine those initial premises—i.e., the theoretical underpinning of A Theory of Justice.6 It is upon these that his theory will stand or fall, not the details of his ideal society. Rawls’ theoretical project is to define specifically “social justice […] the basic structure of society, or more exactly, the way in which the major social institutions distribute fundamental rights and duties and determine the division of advantages from social cooperation.”7 The question of justice is, for Rawls, a question of the distribution of material and nonmaterial goods—and, more specifically, it’s a question of creating the sorts of institutions that will lead to this distribution of goods. Furthermore, the question here isn’t how to distribute goods in one particular society or another. Rawls (rightly, I suggest) thinks that what is just ought to be universal. Rawls opts to ground this universal conception of justice in reason. What is just is what any and all rational actors would agree to. In this way there is no distinction between “just” and “perfectly rational.” One theme to which Rawls returns repeatedly in A Theory of Justice 8 is that justice needs to be “impartial.” Fair is, after all, fair—no matter who you happen to be. Of course, it isn’t fair if the structure of society is set up to give some people an advantage from the start. The just distribution of goods does not care about your particular characteristics and qualities. This is the function of the veil of ignorance. It is worth remembering that Rawls intends the original position— that is, the notion that the principles of justice must be derived by those behind the veil of ignorance who have no knowledge of their own particular interests—as a thought experiment. No one is, in fact, able to forget their social status, gender, ethnicity, interests, psychological propensities, individual conceptions of the good, and other individual characteristics.9 Instead, these hypothetical agents are serving as a stand-in for a sort of 6 John Rawls, A Theory of Justice: Revised Edition (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1999). 7 Ibid., §2. 8 Ibid. E.g. in §§10, 14, and especially 30. 9 Ibid., §3.

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pure reason—one which is individual, self-interested, and maximizing. It is by recourse to this pure rationality that Rawls aims to establish an impartial set of principles, from which an impartial set of institutions can be derived. Rawls thinks that this group of purely rational agents would arrive at a particular set of institutions. However, the details of that set of institutions are not relevant to the matter at hand. What is important is how they would go about determining it. Each individual would, out of a desire to maximize what they themselves get (while not knowing who they will be in the resulting society), seek to ensure they get as much as possible. Thus, they seek to ensure that everyone gets as much as possible. The default, then, should be equality—nobody gets less than anybody else.10 Additionally, inequality is permissible if it betters the outcome for everyone—that is, it is okay for somebody else to have more than me, if and only if it means that I have more than I otherwise would. The original position, for Rawls, provides a satisfactory answer to the question “Why has someone else got more than me?” This maximizing, self-interested model of rationality is at the core of Rawls’ theory of justice; I would suggest it is also the model of human reason at work whenever we attempt to ground any theory of justice in answers to the question “Why has someone else got more than me?”11 So far, I have been describing Rawls’ position in A Theory of Justice; Rawls changes his perspective in Political Liberalism. Largely as a way of addressing numerous critiques of his anthropology,12 Rawls restructures his theory to admit that some elements of the person (e.g., their conception of the good) may be constitutive of that person.13 Among other things, this undermines the “original position” which depends on the idea that you can meaningfully speak of people without any individual characteristics or interests. In doing this, Rawls admits that he is no longer offering a substantive theory of what justice is. Where A Theory of Justice makes hard claims

10 Ibid. 11 Cf. Weil, “Human Personality,” 30. 12 E.g. in Michael Sandel, Liberalism and the Limits of Justice (Cambridge University

Press, 2010). 13 Rawls, Political Liberalism (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005). Lecture I, §§4–5. Cf. Sandel, Liberalism and the Limits of Justice, e.g. 62.

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about the nature of justice (it offers, in Rawls’ later words, a “comprehensive doctrine”), in Political Liberalism Rawls restrains himself to making claims about what it is helpful to call by the name “justice”—an approach that allows us to maintain things that are important in society in light of the “fact of reasonable pluralism.” […P]olitical liberalism, rather than referring to its political conception of justice as true, refers to it as reasonable instead […] To maintain impartiality between comprehensive doctrines, it does not specifically address the moral topics on which those doctrines divide.14

Between A Theory of Justice and Political Liberalism, Rawls has moved from describing what he thinks justice is to how he thinks we should act as though justice is. Let us then return to Weil. The Weilian critique of distributive justice is twofold. First, a Rawlsian scheme of distributive justice is an untrue notion of justice. This obviously does not matter to the Rawls of Political Liberalism; he has abandoned the notion that this is a “true” account of justice (we may decide for our own reasons whether or not we care if a given theory of justice is true). More important, then, is the second critique: distributive schemes are a harmful way of thinking about justice. If the harm of thinking about justice in this way outweighs the good of “maintain[ing] impartiality between comprehensive doctrines,” then the arguments Rawls raises in favour of “justice as fairness” in his later work are not relevant. We will return to this in the section “A Weilian Critique of Distributive Justice.”

Simone Weil and Supernatural Justice In what follows, I intend to focus on two characteristics of Weilian justice: justice is supernatural, and justice is impersonal. The question at the core of Weil’s thinking about justice is “Why am I being hurt?”15 or put otherwise, “Why is this happening to me?” We have all at some point or other (indeed, for most of us it has been a frequent occurrence) experienced suffering and hurt—whether at the hands of another person, or of a seemingly indifferent universe. We cry this question if we are attacked on the

14 Rawls, Political Liberalism, xx, xxviii (emphasis mine). 15 Weil, “Human Personality,” 11.

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street. We cry this question from the hospital bed when we are beset by illness. In “Human Personality,” Weil explains that “At the bottom of every human being, from earliest infancy until the tomb, there is something that goes on indomitably expecting, in the teeth of all experience of crimes committed, suffered, and witnessed, that good and not evil will be done to him.”16 We are not surprised when we are wronged, but we rebel against it. This is implicit in the very language we use: when we say that we have been “wronged,” this entails that something is not “right.” The world is disordered in some way. While we all suffer, we know fundamentally that this is not only undesirable, but that it is not how the world ought to be. Even the most jaded cynic will be caught off guard. This is especially striking in cases of “natural evil”—when sickness or disaster befall us without an obvious human cause. In these situations, we still reach for moral categories. When the healthy, fit, morally upright young man with a newborn child develops cancer, we cry out that this is wrong, or that he does not deserve it. There are two possible ways of understanding this phenomenon. The first is that this is a widespread category mistake—sickness and natural disaster are unfortunate, but not in any sense wrong. Weil offers a second, and altogether more plausible explanation. The unavoidable reality of suffering—no one is long in this world without experiencing it—combined with our persistent sense of the wrongness thereof leads Weil to the following claim: There is a reality outside the world, that is to say, outside space and time, outside of man’s mental universe, outside any sphere whatsoever that is accessible to human faculties. Corresponding to this reality, at the centre of the human heart, is the longing for an absolute good, a longing which is always there and is never appeased by any object in this world […] Just as the reality of this world is the sole foundation of facts, so that other reality is the sole foundation of good.17

We do not say that something is unusual unless we have a sense of what is usual against which to compare it. A man blind from birth does not know when it is dark, for he does not know what it is for a space to be 16 Ibid., 10. 17 Weil, “Draft for a Statement of Human Obligations,” in Selected Essays, 219.

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well-lit. Therefore, there must be something which is utterly outside our experience, against which our experience continually fails to measure up. We have no experience of justice (or at least no experience of an absence of injustice, which might be the same thing) in this world. Whence, therefore, do we get the idea that we ought to be free from injustice and oppression? If justice is anywhere, it is in this “other world.” Our continual sense of the wrongness of suffering and injustice is a compelling argument for the existence of a transcendent Good which cannot be bracketed in interest of the priority of the right. For Weil, the beginning of our thinking about justice needs to begin with what she terms malheur (a crucial Weilian term of art to which I will return). In order to explain why, let us take a digression on the subject of philosophical methodology. Lissa McCullough argues18 that we should understand Weil as an early phenomenologist; this seems to be correct. Counterintuitively, Weil’s phenomenology has its roots in Descartes. In Part Two of Science and Perception in Descartes,19 Weil sets out to doubt everything that can be doubted and finds that “We are living beings; our thinking is accompanied by pleasure or pain. I am in the world; that is, I feel that I am subject to some external thing that I feel is more or less subject to me in return.”20 We experience the world not as res cogitans, but instead unavoidably as subjects encountering the world—pleasurably and painfully. This encounter with the world forces itself on us indubitably. We may be able to doubt many things about this, but the fact of there being a world to which we relate is given, unavoidable, and primary. Weil goes on to elaborate on this eleven years later in her striking “Essay on the Concept of Reading.”21

18 Lissa McCullough, “Simone Weil’s Phenomenology of the Body,” Comparative and Continental Philosophy 4, no. 2 (2012): 195–217. 19 Weil, “Science and Perception in Descartes,” in Formative Writings, 1929–1941, trans. and ed. Dorothy Tuck McFarland and Wilhelmina Van Ness (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1988), 31–88. 20 Ibid., 55. 21 Weil, “Essay on the Concept of Reading,” in Late Philosophical Writings, ed. and

trans. Eric O. Springsted (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2015), 21–27.

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If I look at the top of a newspaper and see “June 14,” I do not doubt that it was printed on June 14. If a being that I hate, or that I fear, or that I despise, or that I love approaches, I above all do not doubt that I have in front of me the odious, the dangerous, the despicable, the lovable. If someone, reading the same newspaper looking at the same place in it, seriously told me, after several tries that he did not read “June 14” but “June 15,” that would bother me. I wouldn’t know what to say. If someone does not hate, fear, despise, or love the way I do, that also bothers me. How? He sees these beings […] and he does not read the odious, the dangerous, the despicable, the lovable? That is not possible. This is a case of bad faith; he’s lying; he’s crazy.22

Weil is building on what she articulated in Science and Perception in Descartes; we are always already in relation to the world. This is why Weil treats disagreement about a printed date as analogous to disagreement about whether someone is odious, dangerous, despicable, or lovable. We cannot perceive that person apart from the relationship in which we stand to them any more than we can perceive the black marks on the page apart from the relationship of reader to word. We do not perceive sense-data, and then interpret them as standing in some relation—the relationship is always already there; this is true for people in precisely the same way it is for things. If this is correct, it undermines the conception of the person implicit in Rawls’ original position. Not only (as briefly addressed above, in the second section of the chapter) does the original position deny that some interests may be constitutive of selfhood, it requires us to accept radically unsituated selves. The Weilian self, however, is a self inextricably embedded in a web of relationships with the world. For Weil, we cannot think outside of the givenness of our relationship to the world; our thinking is fundamentally embodied. We think always as people with experiences, who stand in certain sorts of relations to things and to other people. These relationships are given—we do not simply decide what they are. Decisions certainly matter, but one cannot simply decide in what relationships they wish to stand. Our emotions are given, but so too are our thoughts in many cases; I can no more choose to think that someone is not dangerous than I can choose to think the printed date is other than I read it. While either may be accomplished over time and

22 Ibid., 24.

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with the great effort involved in learning to see something familiar anew, it is not something one can simply choose. It is in our power to change the relationships in which we stand to people, things, or experiences, but the initial relationship is not chosen. That I can “get over” a fear does entail that I chose to be afraid in the first place. Moreover, some relationships cannot be escaped; while I may change the way in which I relate to my mother—I may even choose to no longer speak to her—I cannot will her not to be my mother any more than I can will a burn not be painful. I can work to no longer fear something I once found terrifying, but this will take work. A relationship may be modified, but it cannot simply be chosen. If the set of relationships which are constitutive of the self are given, then a terrifying implication follows: I may lose at any moment, through the play of circumstances over which I have no control, anything whatsoever that I possess, including those things which are so intimately mine that I consider them as being myself. There is nothing that I might not lose. It could happen at any moment that what I am might be abolished and replaced by anything whatsoever of the filthiest and most contemptible sort.23

To be embodied in the world means, then, to be subject to things outside yourself, to all sorts of suffering and indignities. It means others may wound or mistreat you. It means you may starve, or develop horrible illnesses. To have a body is to suffer. At the very least, it is to be able to suffer.24 Vulnerability is conceptually inseparable from corporeality. The brute inevitable reality of physical suffering leads to the concept of malheur.25 In “The Love of God and Affliction,’’ Weil writes: “Malheur is inseparable from physical suffering and yet quite distinct. With suffering, all that is not bound up with physical pain or something analogous is artificial, imaginary, and can be eliminated by a

23 Weil, “Human Personality”, 27. 24 Certainly, to have a body is also to be able to experience pleasure, but pleasure is

rarely as persistent, pervasive, or as prone to confronting us unbidden as is suffering. 25 I have left the word malheur untranslated. While it is often rendered in English as “affliction,” this word has a much narrower semantic range, and misses the sense of “ill fortune” which is essential to Weil’s use of the term.

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suitable adjustment of the mind.”26 Malheur is much more than physical suffering. Under certain circumstances, suffering confronts us with our absolute ontological vulnerability. From the unavoidable reality of physical suffering arises the fact that we are merely one object among many in the world, subject to forces beyond—and all too often against—our desires. The recognition of this in ourselves is malheur. The recognition of malheur in others—especially those we love—requires what Weil calls “attention.” (HP11). We can attend to the ways suffering reveals utter human frailty, or we can ignore it. This recognition is almost impossible because our natural response is to recoil and avoid it. In both cases, it has the potential to arise when one confronts the implications of the simple physicality of suffering, which of necessity happens to embodied beings in the world. It is possible for systems to induce malheur, but if one is looking for malheur in society, one must look to the suffering person. The key point is this: the experience of suffering and malheur needs to be the starting point of our thinking about justice. This experience arises unavoidably from the relationship in which we stand with the world. This relationship is given, unavoidable. There is no version of us which is not in relationship to the world—to ignore this as Rawls does is to invite error. The givenness of suffering and malheur is for Weil fundamental to her thinking about politics and force. Where the interactions between human beings lead systematically to suffering and malheur, we have an instance of oppression. Weil argues that oppression is, tragically, perfectly natural. In her analysis of oppression, Weil turns to Thucydides’ Melian dialogue.27 The Melians beg for the mercy of the superior Athenian forces, but the Athenians scoff: “…you know as well as we do that right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.”28 They continue:

26 Weil, “The Love of God and Affliction,” in Waiting for God, ed. and trans. Emma Craufurd (New York: Perennial, 2001), 67. 27 Thucydides, The Landmark Thucydides: A Comprehensive Guide to the Peloponnesian War, ed. R. B. Strassler and trans. R. Crawley (Riverside: Free Press, 1998), 5.84–5.116. See also Weil, “Forms of the Implicit Love of God,” in Waiting for God, 86, and Weil, “Are We Struggling for Justice?” trans. Marina Barabas, Philosophical Investigations 10, no. 1 (January 1987): 1–10. 28 Thucydides, Peloponnesian War, 5.89.

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Of the gods we believe, and of men we know, that by a necessary law of their nature they rule whenever they can. […] all we do is to make use of [this law], knowing that you and everybody else, having the same power as we have, would do the same as we do.29

The Athenian argument is that this course of events was inevitable; the powerful cannot but dominate the weak. Athens did not in any real sense choose to conquer Melos any more than the unsupported stone chooses to fall. Human action is governed by natural laws in just the same way that inanimate nature is governed by natural laws. No amount of virtue (nor any changes to the “basic structure” of society) can circumvent this natural law of human interaction. Weil takes the analogy between social and natural forces seriously. Nowhere is this clearer than in her essay on the Iliad.30 Force—“that x that turns anybody who is subjected to it into a thing”31 —is that kind of power exercised between human beings and which is analogous to natural forces. Paradigmatically, force is that which turns a human being into a corpse.32 Moreover, when someone is enslaved, they become a thing;33 the utterly conquered man, who lives the whim of his conqueror, “is alive; he has a soul; and yet—he is a thing.”34 This may strike us as an odd claim. Social forces seem importantly disanalogous to natural forces. For one thing, while a falling rock does not possess a will; a human being does.35 Despite this, Weil insists that our contact with the world shapes us in ways that are hard to foresee, and we cannot merely will otherwise. We are only ever partially under our own control. Weil is clear that this objectifying effect of force applies to the one who wields it just as much as it does to the one against whom it is wielded: 29 Ibid., 5.105. 30 Weil, “The Iliad, or the Poem of Force,” trans. Mary McCarthy, Chicago Review 18,

no. 2 (1965): 5–30. 31 Ibid., 6. 32 Ibid. 33 Ibid., 10–11. 34 Ibid., 7. For more on this theme, see E. Jane Doering, Simone Weil and the Specter

of Self -Perpetuating Force (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2010). 35 Questions relating to the freedom of the will in a deterministic universe are outside the scope of this work.

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…the conquering soldier is like a scourge of nature. Possessed by war, he, like the slave, becomes a thing […] Such is the nature of force. Its power of converting a man into a thing is a double one, and in its application double-edged.36

Weil is in agreement with Thucydides’ Athenians—their injustice is perfectly natural. Like the warriors of the Iliad, they “…have undergone a transformation, [they] have dropped either to the level of inert matter, which is pure passivity, or to the level of blind force, which is pure momentum.”37 When a falling rock crushes a log, neither has any say in the matter. To render someone an object is undeniably to wrong them. Wherever force is operative is therefore a case of injustice. A theory of justice which fails to address this fails to address the root of injustice. Wherever force takes over, injustice flows as inevitably as the lengthening of days brings the summer heat. Injustice is, therefore, perfectly natural. If oppression is exactly as natural as an unsupported rock falling to the ground, then justice—which is the conceptual opposite of oppression—is exactly as miraculous as a flying rock. It is only possible as the in-breaking of that “other world” which is “the sole foundation of good.”38 Importantly, justice is possible. Miracles do happen, but we must understand them as such.

A Weilian Critique of Distributive Justice We saw above in the section on contractarianism that Rawls, seeking an impartial approach to justice, arrives at a sort of rationality which takes the form of trying to make sure one gets the largest possible slice of the social cake. Weil, starting with the givenness of our relationship to the world around us, arrives at the need to attend to the malheur of ourselves and others. What is important is this particular person, whose malheur is wrong.39 Justice looks like attending to them, and caring for 36 Weil, “The Iliad,” 22. 37 Ibid. 38 Weil, “Draft for a Statement,” 219. 39 While Weil insists that to inflict malheur on another is always wrong, she also claims

in a few places that there are edifying uses to which one can put one’s own experience of malheur. See e.g. Weil, “The Love of God and Affliction.”

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them. This is not impartial because it matters that it is this particular person in front of you who is suffering. Their suffering is important not because of their gender, ethnicity, or social class; however, as you seek to salve their wounds you cannot justly ignore those things. The relationship in which you stand to them is what is primary. If you want to pursue an “impersonal” justice, you need to start by attending to the person who is actually in front of you. If there is an imbalance in power between you, you cannot justly ignore this. I would suggest that we cannot treat everyone the same despite their particular characteristics and thereby avoid perpetuating injustice. If we try, we ignore Rawls’ “fact of reasonable pluralism.” Yet Rawls is right in this: justice needs to not be preferential. If we are only compassionate toward those who display certain sorts of characteristics, we are being preferential, and this is not just. On a Weilian account of justice, what is important is this person before me, with everything that is true of them. If someone completely different were before me, I would be concerned with them, and with everything that was true of them. If we are impartial, we fail to attend to the suffering person in their entirety and specificity, and thereby fail to attend to the impersonal in them. The impartial approach prioritizes the good in general. The impersonal sees the needs of the particular individual here and now, but not because of anything about them other than their suffering.40 The primary problem with a distributivist approach to justice isn’t merely that to be “impartial” is a different thing than to attend to “the impersonal.” The biggest problem is that the distributivist scheme of reducing justice to cake-splitting deafens us to the cry of the malheureux.41

40 For a Weilian critique of the anthropological view implicit in a Rawlsian focus on impartiality see Chapter 5 of Richard Bell, Simone Weil: The Way of Justice as Compassion (Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 1998). 41 For this reason even an account of “justice as fairness” which is pragmatic instead of substantive (as in Political Liberalism) is still problematic.

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Weil’s critique of rights-talk is well-known and much discussed.42 Much ink has been spilled over the relationship between rights, obligations, and needs in Weil’s thought, but the core of the argument as presented in “Human Personality” is this: The notion of rights is linked with the notion of sharing out, of exchange, of measured quantity. It has a commercial flavour, essentially evocative of legal claims and arguments. Rights are always asserted in a tone of contention; and when this tone is adopted, it must rely upon force in the background, or else it will be laughed at.43

When we are concerned with protecting rights, several things go morally awry according to Weil. We become engaged in a sort of competing claims and counterclaims which distracts us from the concrete realities of the world around us. When we are concerned with protecting rights, we need to adopt both the language and the methods of those pursuing a “better deal” in the marketplace; ethics becomes a matter of grasping that to which we are “entitled.” This, in turn, requires that we be able to fall back on force—our own, or that of the state. Furthermore, the realm of claims and counterclaims is dominated, necessarily, by language. If we reduce matters of justice to questions of rights-based claims and counterclaims, we give it over to those with a greater facility with words—to those who are already privileged.44 Moreover, reducing “justice” to “rights” is morally deforming. The language of claims and counterclaims leads us to assert our rights over against others’ rights. We make justice into a zero-sum game (which there is no reason to think it is according to Weil)—we squabble over the division of the political pie. We lose the ability to care for the deepest needs of the other.

42 See, e.g. Edward Andrew, “Simone Weil on the Injustice of Rights-Based Doctrines,” The Review of Politics 48, no. 1 (1986): 60–91; Luce Blech-Lidolf, “La critique weilienne de la notion de droit dans son rapport avec la th´eorie des ‘besoins de l’âme.’” Cahiers Simone Weil VII, no. 2 (June 1984): 133–140; Simone Fraisse, “Simone Weil: la personne et les droits de l’homme,” Cahiers Simone Weil VII, no. 2 (June 1984): 120–132; and Michel Simon, “La primaut´e de l’obligation sur les droits de l’homme dans l’Enracinement,” Cahiers Simone Weil XXXIX, no. 1 (March 2016): 1–26. 43 Weil, “Human Personality,” 18. 44 Ibid., 22.

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If we imagine a young girl being sold into prostitution, the wrong is not that she is entitled to something better, or that her “rights” are being violated. The injustice is deeper than that; it is her that is being wronged, and she knows this immediately and unreflectively. A right violated separates the wrong from the person—the right is something they have. But the girl sold into prostitution has not had some abstract thing she has violated—she herself has been violated. There is no sense in which dignity, love, and respect are rights, yet they are things she needs. To reduce this injustice to a matter of arguing over competing claims would be like chiding the man who sold his soul to the devil that he did not get a good enough price.45 Weil argues that when we are concerned with protecting our rights, we become selfish and inwardly focused, and when we think about others in terms of their rights, we ignore the deepest sorts of injustice. Winch elaborates on this argument with a simple observation: in a situation where one’s rights have been met, it remains an open question whether the state of affairs is just or not. Moreover, one can intelligibly ask “is it just to fulfill this person’s rights in this situation?” Even if the answer to that question were always “Yes,” the fact that it is an intelligible question makes it clear that the question of justice and the question of rights are conceptually distinct.46 The biggest problem with rights-talk for Weil is that it makes “justice” a matter of the sharing out of some special category of goods. This is problematic both because it colors our attempts to care for the oppressed with the structural injustices of the marketplace, and also because it distracts us from the reality of oppression. If we focus on what people are “entitled to,” we ignore the mute reality of oppression. It deafens our ears to the cry of the afflicted. When the agent of justice is maximizing, self-interested rationality, we ground justice on the question “Why has someone else got more than me.” This deafens us to the cry to which we ought to attend with all our power—that which almost mutely asks “Why am I being hurt?” When we treat justice as a matter of ensuring that competing people get their share (even if, as for Rawls, these “people” are more of a hypothetical device), we foreground what Weil calls the personal. This will be

45 Ibid., 18. 46 Winch, “The Just Balance,” 181.

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true of any sort of contractarianism. Surely, in any society, we will need to adjudicate competing claims—Weil is not blind to this. However, this is a technical matter, best left to legal technicians.47 If we understand justice as stemming from the pursuit of self-interest, we cannot in our pursuit of justice attend to the impersonal in the afflicted other. A Weilan account of justice, centered on attending to the suffering of the malheureux, will certainly involve some redistribution of goods and restructuring of social institutions (such as factories and schools), but to begin with redistribution is to put the cart before the horse in such a way that the core injustices in society go unaddressed. Attempts to relieve suffering flow naturally from attention. If I have truly entered into the suffering of one who is starving, I will want to feed him. If I attend to the suffering of one who is a victim of domestic abuse, I will want to work to get her out of the abusive home. Even if the suffering is of a sort to which there is no clear solution, I will want to apply whatever balm I can. If I do not, it is doubtful that I have exercised true attention. No doubt, this balm will often involve a redistribution of resources—housing one who is homeless, providing a means of income to one who is impoverished—but this must come after attention. If we begin with the allocation of resources, we will introduce the injustices of the marketplace. One who is starving needs food, but he needs more than just food—he needs his humanity. The same is true for all those who are malheureux. If we begin with distribution of resources, we see not this person before me suffering, but “a specimen from the social category labeled ‘unfortunate’” rather than “a man, exactly like us, who was one day stamped with a special mark by malheur.”48 If we begin with attention, we will find ourselves able to address particular concrete needs of particular concrete people as they are. We can care for them, not merely care for what they have. If, on the other hand, we attempt to redistribute goods in society without attending to the cry of the malheureux, we are going to fail. It is only attention which gives us the ability to actually understand the needs of others. Beginning from the distribution of goods through institutions leads us to policies that do not address the lived realities of oppression and malheur. It is only by entering into actual

47 Weil, “Human Personality,” 30. 48 Weil, “Reflections on the Right Use of School Studies with a View to the Love of

God,” in Waiting for God, 64.

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experience that we can begin to address that actual experience. This will demand more from us than merely reallocating some resources.

Conclusion Weil’s conception of justice springs from the unavoidable reality of suffering as an embodied being. When we (or those we love) suffer, something deep within us rebels. This does not measure up to a standard which we know, unreflectively, it ought to. Nothing does. This world consistently fails to measure up to a standard we all know it should. It is easy to miss this; it is easy to ignore, but we must not. If we ignore malheur in ourselves and those around us, we cannot seek to address these experiences. We cannot work for justice. We cannot work to bring the world any closer to that “other reality” which is “the sole foundation of good.”49 The most effective distraction from the malheur we ourselves and those around us encounter is the one which says “Ah, the problem is actually over here. We must simply redistribute resources. This will require neither pain, nor discomfort to address.” The inclination to watch and make sure that no one has a larger piece of cake than oneself (and the attendant preparation to burst into tears if they do) is petty; worse than that, it deafens us to the cry of the malheureux. For even those with their share of rights and goods may be the victims of injustice, and while I do not think Rawls would tell us to ignore them, a focus on justice as the distribution of goods would teach us so to do. Instead of watching to see who has more cake, let us watch to see who among us is suffering, and then do what we can to be of help. If we were to attend to the cry of the malheureux, and act accordingly, it would compel us to do much more than merely reallocate goods. The demand it would place on us would be to fundamentally transform our modes of relating to one another.

49 Weil, “Draft for a Statement,” 219.

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References Andrew, Edward. “Simone Weil on the Injustice of Rights-Based Doctrines.” The Review of Politics 48, no. 1 (1986): 60–91. http://www.jstor.org/stable/140 6847. Bell, Richard H. Simone Weil: The Way of Justice as Compassion. Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 1998. Blech-Lidolf, Luce. “La critique weilienne de la notion de droit dans son rapport avec la théorie des ‘besoins de l’âme.’” Cahiers Simone Weil VII, no. 2 (June 1984): 133–140. Doering, E. Jane. Simone Weil and the Specter of Self-Perpetuating Force. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2010. Fraisse, Simone. “Simone Weil: la personne et les droits de l’homme.” Cahiers Simone Weil VII, no. 2 (June 1984): 120–132. McCullough, Lissa. “Simone Weil’s Phenomenology of the Body.” Comparative and Continental Philosophy 4, no. 2 (2012): 195–217. https://doi.org/10. 1179/ccp.4.2.y05283778236305l. Plato. Republic. Edited by C. D. C Reeve and translated by G. M. A. Grube. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1992. Rawls, John. Political Liberalism. New York: Columbia University Press, 2005. ———. A Theory of Justice: Revised Edition. Cambridge, MA:: Belknap Press, 1999. Sandel, Michael J. Liberalism and the Limits of Justice. Cambridge University Press, 2010. Schopenhauer, Arthur. Prize Essay on the Freedom of the Will. Edited by Günter Zöller and translated by Eric. F. J. Payne. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999. Simon, Michel. “La primauté de l’obligation sur les droits de l’homme dans l’Enracinement.” Cahiers Simone Weil XXXIX, no. 1 (March 2016): 1–26. Thucydides. The Landmark Thucydides: A Comprehensive Guide to the Peloponnesian War. Edited by R. B. Strassler and translated by R. Crawley. Riverside: Free Press, 1998. Weil, Simone. “Are We Struggling for Justice?” Translated by Marina Barabas. Philosophical Investigations 10, no. 1 (January 1987): 1–10. https://doi.org/ 10.1111/j.1467-9205.1987.tb00199.x. ———. Formative Writings, 1929–1941. Edited by Dorothy Tuck McFarland and translated by Wilhelmina Van Ness. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1988. ———. “The Iliad, or the Poem of Force.” Translated by Mary McCarthy. Chicago Review 18, no. 2 (1965): 5–30. https://www.jstor.org/stable/252 94008. ———. Late Philosophical Writings. Translated by Eric O. Springsted. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2015.

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———. Selected Essays 1934–1943: Historical, Political, and Moral Writings. Translated by Richard Rees. Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock, 2015. ———. Waiting for God. Translated by Emma Craufurd and with an introduction by Leslie A. Fiedler. New York: Perennial, 2001. Winch, Peter. Simone Weil: “The Just Balance”. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

CHAPTER 4

Simone Weil, Sara Ahmed, and a Politics of Hap A. Rebecca Rozelle-Stone

The wrong of happiness is that it participates in the localization and containment of misery, the misery of those who cannot inhabit the apparently empty sign of happiness, who cannot populate its form. To walk away from such happiness is to be touched by suffering. –Sara Ahmed, The Promise of Happiness (195)

In her 2010 book, The Promise of Happiness, Sara Ahmed coined the term affect alien, which she defines as a person who does “not experience pleasure from proximity to objects that are attributed as being good,” such that there is a “gap between the affective value of an object and how we experience [that] object.”1 The affect alien is then “alienated by virtue of how [they] are affected,” and they “are not made happy by the 1 Sara Ahmed, The Promise of Happiness (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010),

41.

A. R. Rozelle-Stone (B) University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, ND, USA e-mail: [email protected]

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right things.”2 Our ideals of love and relationality are often causes of such alienation insofar as we expect those we love to cause happiness; in this context, Ahmed sees in Simone Weil’s writings a “queer definition”3 of love. She cites Weil, who writes, “Love in the case of someone who is happy is to wish to share the suffering of the beloved who is unhappy. Love in the case of someone who is unhappy is to be filled with joy by the mere knowledge that the beloved is happy, without sharing in this happiness or even desiring to do so.”4 While Ahmed makes this singular reference to Weil in her extensive account of happiness, in this chapter, I will develop a more thoroughgoing account of Weil’s problematization of happiness, particularly alongside Ahmed’s critique of its promises which she regards as marginalizing forces for certain people. Such promises of happiness amount to an ideology—one that, as both Weil and Ahmed realize, is frequently conducive to complicity with hegemonic structures and unjust practices. To frame Weil’s approach to happiness, I will highlight how her insights on this subject depart from those of her famous teacher Alain (Émile Auguste-Chartier), especially as Alain’s view of happiness anticipated the emerging trends of “positive psychology” and “positive thinking” in the mid-twentieth century. In contrast to her teacher’s prescription for willing happiness, Weil is critical of happiness as a human telos. In large part, Weil’s suspicion of happiness derives from an awareness of the dangers of fantasy and ego-driven imagination; the primacy she places on attention to the realities of the world imperils the potential for any ongoing felicity. Weil’s ethical-critical insights are complemented and extended by Ahmed’s feminist-political investigations of the subject. As Ahmed points out, happiness is a political tool to direct bodies toward certain ends and to reiterate particular pathways and practices that receive wide social approbation at a given time. Both Weil and Ahmed describe estrangement from mandates of happiness as symptomatic of heightened ethical consciousness; Ahmed goes so far as to reclaim the term “killjoy”5 as a label for feminists who challenge, through their ideas and/or actions,

2 Sara Ahmed, Living a Feminist Life (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2017), 57. 3 Ahmed, Promise of Happiness, 100. 4 Simone Weil, The Notebooks of Simone Weil, trans. Arthur Wills (New York: Routledge, 2004), 270–271. Henceforth abbreviated Notebooks. 5 Ahmed, Living a Feminist Life, 36–42.

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the “happiness scripts” that are often so constrictive. However, I will argue that Weil and Ahmed do not endorse negative affect as a response to feel-good political machinations; unhappiness is not the aim. Instead, taking inspiration from these two thinkers, I will briefly conclude with what it might mean to affirm a genuine politics of hap, which stands in stark opposition to an ideology of happiness.

Enacting and Imagining Happiness …Optimism requires an oath. However strange it may seem at first, we must vow to be happy. –Alain, On Happiness

Simone Weil’s apparently stoic and “icy” personality has been the subject of almost as much interest as her writings.6 The tendency to psychologize her as masochistic, pessimistic, melancholic, etc., is unfortunate, but hardly surprising, according to Deborah Nelson. Nelson’s book, Tough Enough, surveys the lives of six modern female intellectuals (Arbus, Arendt, Didion, McCarthy, Sontag, and Weil) typified by their unsentimental and clear-eyed approaches to the world. Characterizing Weil as evincing a love of tragedy that synthesizes her religious and political insights, Nelson argues that “it was not despite but because of Weil’s tragic outlook that she found an audience in the postwar United States and Europe in the early 1950s.”7 At first glance, this reception was surprising. As Nelson describes, this was a time in American culture that historians have described as manifesting a kind of post-traumatic stress disorder, the effects of which produced surges in church membership, idealization of domestic patterns figuring strong fathers and consoling mothers, and popular writings championing the assurances and efficacy of “positive thinking.” 6 See, for instance: Gabriella Fiori, Simone Weil: An Intellectual Biography, trans. Joseph R. Berrgian (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1989), especially 39–43 and 119–133. Some of the words used to describe Weil’s personality from various sources who knew her include: “rudeness of her bare manners,” “battering of [her] ruthless judgments,” “aggressiveness,” and “nasty character” (Fiori 40, 41). Moreover, Fiori writes, “[Weil] could never find a refuge or rest her head in the solace of personal happiness” (Fiori 132). 7 Deborah Nelson, Tough Enough (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017), 18.

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There was probably no better-known representative of this latter trend in the postwar era than Norman Vincent Peale with his pop-religious selfhelp bestseller, The Power of Positive Thinking (1952). It is noteworthy that U.S. President Donald Trump has been called Peale’s best disciple and attended Peale’s church growing up, even marrying his first wife Ivana there; several commentators have pointed out that Peale’s influence on Trump’s delusional, self-aggrandizing, fact-flouting, and name-it-andclaim-it character cannot be overstated.8 A major premise of Peale’s Power of Positive Thinking, published roughly the same time as the English translations of Weil’s Waiting for God and Gravity and Grace, is that through a method called “‘imagineering’ […] the use of mental images to build factual results” and simple assertion, one could, by fiat, bring about actual achievement of one’s dreams.9 Peale wrote, for instance, as his first of ten “workable rules for overcoming inadequacy attitudes”: Formulate and stamp indelibly on your mind a mental picture of yourself as succeeding. Hold this picture tenaciously. Never permit it to fade. Your mind will seek to develop this picture. Never think of yourself as failing; never doubt the reality of the mental image. That is the most dangerous, for the mind always tries to complete what it pictures. So always picture “success” no matter how badly things seem to be going at the moment.10

There could seemingly be no greater contrast to the writings of Weil, which foreground humility and self-abnegation and critique the consoling imagination. We know well her terse statements, like: “The imagination, filler up of the void, is essentially a liar”11 and, “We must prefer real hell to an imaginary paradise.”12 In 1951 Leslie Fiedler suggested that Weil’s message probably would not find an appreciative audience in the U.S.:

8 See, for instance: Michael Kruse, “The Power of Trump’s Positive Thinking,” Politico, October 13, 2017, https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/10/13/ donald-trump-positive-thinking-215704. 9 As cited in Nelson, Tough Enough, 23. 10 Norman Vincent Peale, The Power of Positive Thinking (New York: Fireside, 2003),

13. 11 Weil, Notebooks, 160. 12 Ibid., 321.

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[Weil’s work] is a difficult doctrine in all times and places, and it is especially alien and abhorrent in present-day America where anguish is regarded as vaguely un-American, something to be grown out of, or analyzed away, even expunged by censorship; and where certainly we do not look to our churches to preach the uses of affliction. It is consolation, “peace of mind,” “peace of soul,” that our religions offer on the competitive market place; the means are different, the pew versus the analyst’s couch or the newest best-seller, but the product promised is always the same: adjustment, the opposite of agony.13

However, Nelson notes that “despite the warning labels that every review carried about Weil’s austerity and extremity, her work did find an audience.”14 Still, this very fact perplexed reviewers, who sought to explain the appeal of this “dour” and starkly authoritative woman. Weil’s clarity, seriousness, and “self-consciously unsentimental project” was frequently explained away through sexist interpretations like that of Isaac Rosenfeld, who in Partisan Review suggested that Weil’s “stubbornness” was probably as much a form of coquetry with Father Perrin as it was of conviction.15 Yet many in the 1950s gravitated toward her un-saccharine realism, which was so critical of facile escapism, optimism about progress and industrial expansion, and the illusion of mastery and perfect security in this postwar era. It is striking, then, to consider the more pragmatic-optimistic approach to happiness elucidated by Weil’s famous teacher, “Alain” (Émile-Auguste Chartier), whose views on happiness would end up aligning closely with certain tenets of positive psychology that were arriving on the scene in the 1950s. In his 1928 work On Happiness, Alain suggests that happiness must be learned,16 that it is a virtue and strength,17 and, significantly, that it must be willed and decided upon.18 He characterizes happiness

13 Leslie Fiedler, “Simone Weil: Prophet Out of Israel; A Saint of the Absurd.” Commentary I (January 1951): 38–46. Accessed online: https://www.commentarymagazine.com/ articles/simone-weil-prophet-out-of-israela-saint-of-the-absurd/. 14 Nelson, Tough Enough, 19. 15 Ibid., 21. 16 Alain, On Happiness, trans. Robert D. and Jane E. Cottrell (New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1973), 130. 17 Ibid., 241. 18 Ibid., 242.

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as an effect of activity—the proverbial journey rather than the destination: “it is only a matter of moving about, of spinning a top, of running and shouting—things that one can will, because they can be immediately performed […] What the city dweller especially likes about the country is going there; action carries within it the object desired.”19 Similarly, when we enact certain postures or gestures, he thinks we can facilitate our own happiness: We must change our stance and make the proper movements with our body, for the muscles that regulate our movements are the only part of us we can control. Smiling, shrugging the shoulders, are both familiar tactical maneuvers against worry. […] Lacking mastery over ourselves, we have recourse to politeness; we seek situations where we will be forced to smile.20

Smiling and other happiness-generating gestures acquire their full meaning and sense in interpersonal contexts, like in those public “situations where we will be forced to smile.” Readers familiar with Arlie Russell Hochschild’s groundbreaking 1983 work The Managed Heart will recognize in Alain’s description the requisites for emotional labor, which frequently contributes to or comprises social oppression. Those who are required to smile in a number of specified situations are usually women, as a result of long-established societal norms in which they are expected to manage affect, posture, and disposition in their jobs and in their personal relationships as a way to accommodate the moods and emotional needs of others.21 Of course, as Hochschild pointed out, compelled emotional labor is usually not generative of happiness, but can easily undermine it. In her account of observing Delta Airline stewardesses being trained, Hochschild notes that the trainee who was seated next to her wrote on her notepad, “‘Important to smile. Don’t forget to smile,’” while an older pilot lectured her and her fellow trainees on the significance of embracing their “biggest asset [s]” through “really” smiling. Hochschild went on to highlight the often-concealed costs of this manufactured happiness: 19 Ibid., 242. Emphasis mine. 20 Alain, On Happiness, 33, 34. 21 Arlie Russell Hochschild, The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012), 11.

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This deeper extension of the professional smile is not always easy to retract at the end of the workday, as one worker in her first year at World Airways noted: “Sometimes I come off a long trip in a state of utter exhaustion, but I find I can’t relax. I giggle a lot, I chatter, I call friends. It’s as if I can’t release myself from an artificially created elation that kept me ‘up’ on the trip. I hope to be able to come down from it better as I get better at the job.”22

One effect of such rehearsed and continuously displayed affect is an estrangement of people from their own smiles, or more generally, from their own bodies. And the more pervasive this sort of emotional labor is, the more suspicious the corporate smile becomes, the more customers and loved ones expect “spontaneous warmth”23 and a disguising of fatigue,24 the deeper the drilling for emotional reserves becomes, to the point where the willed gestures have actually diminished “the degree to which we listen to feeling and sometimes our very capacity to feel.”25 Hochschild’s assessment, then, poses a moral (if not logical) challenge to Alain’s claim that “all happiness comes from the will and from self-control.”26 It is simply not the case that physical modifications are sufficient to bring about different moods, and in some cases, the embodied changes (e.g., smiling more) can yield effects contrary to those desired. Alain not only recommends the will and control of the body as a means to channel the passions in an intentional way and to produce happiness, but he is also prescriptive of happiness as an end worth pursuing and of despair and ill humor as dispositions to be actively countered. At the end of his book, he states that optimism “requires an oath,” that “we must vow to be happy.” Furthermore, he writes, “As a precaution, every sad thought must be deemed false.”27 This prescription is comparable to positive psychology pronouncements years later, like Peale’s second commandment: “Whenever a negative thought concerning your personal powers comes to mind, deliberately voice a positive thought to cancel

22 Ibid., 4. 23 Ibid., 5. 24 Ibid., 8. 25 Ibid., 21. 26 Alain, On Happiness, 250. 27 Ibid., 251.

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it out.”28 To be fair to Alain, his interest in happiness was grounded in understanding and coordinating the relationship between the mind and body. With the Stoics, Descartes, and Spinoza, he recognized that our passions frequently contribute to needless suffering and unhappiness, and the passions are themselves fostered by our imaginations and negative thought processes, although they are dependent on corporeal movements: It is because of the movement of the blood and the course of that unknown fluid which travels through the nerves and brain that the same ideas come back to us, and so vividly, in the silence of the night. This activity within the body escapes us all; we see only its effects…[but] it is movements in the body that nourish our passions.29

He goes on to explain that, if only we understood the bodily roots of our ill humor, we could bring about a sense of equanimity for ourselves. Accordingly, we would place blame on extrinsic/embodied necessity, concluding that “these [negative feelings] are the opinions of my stomach.”30 Thus, Weil’s teacher did far more than anticipate certain tropes in psychology; he was one of the first of a wave of twentiethcentury European philosophers to capture the reality of psychosomatic phenomena and to underscore the artificial and problematic nature of the divisions between mind and body. Weil shares with Alain the view that happiness is something quite fickle and is controllable by an effort of the will and bodily comportment. Tracing her evolving understanding of the foundational role of the body in apprehending and ordering the world, Lissa McCullough helpfully explains that “imagination and body are allied in Weil’s thought to the point of explicit identity,” and “we should make the most of her bold affirmation that there seems to be ‘no contradiction involved in reducing the imagination to the human body, and in making it the only instrument of knowledge for everything concerning the world.’”31 Like the early phenomenologists Edmund Husserl and Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Weil recognized that many crises in the late modern world were the result of 28 Peale, The Power of Positive Thinking, 13. 29 Alain, On Happiness, 16–17. 30 Ibid., 17. 31 Lissa McCullough, “Simone Weil’s Phenomenology of the Body,” Comparative and

Continental Philosophy 4, no. 2 (2012): 205.

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the estrangement of the mind from body; the “elements of intelligence” which stem from the intimacy of mind-body include “limit, measure, degree, proportion, relation, comparison, contingency, interdependence, interrelation of means and ends,”32 and these serve to ground our intentions and actions in concrete reality and to reveal the human interest and desire present in even the most abstract calculations and theories. Although Weil and Alain agree on the identity of imagination and body33 and on the central role of the body in structuring our reception of the world, Weil departs radically from her teacher on the issue of whether happiness (achievable through certain willed gestures and actions) should be an objective for people. At the root of this departure lies a more critical assessment of the human imagination in Weil’s oeuvre, including a description of how the imagination can become dangerously unmoored from its roots in the lived body (i.e., limit). Crucially, in Weil’s thought, the imagination works by supplementing “holes” or absences in our encounters with the world, whether those absences be simply physical/sensorial (like the unseen backside of a tree or the last note of a familiar song that has been abruptly ended), or emotional (like unrequited love or an injustice that has gone unrecognized). McCullough notes that in one of Weil’s classes with Alain, she reflected in an exercise, “The imagination supplements that which is strongly insufficient for us about the exterior world […] and produces a compromise that we call perception.” McCullough goes on to capture this idea eloquently: “Without a grounding foundation in reality, imagination plays freely in the void.”34 That is, the imagination is no neutral or casual gap-filler, especially since the many present-absences in our lives are emotively charged, value-laden, saturated with acquired or projected meaning, and intertwined with suffering and loss. As a result, these absences trigger the drive for establishing equilibrium. In Weil’s account, the imagination stands ready to provide this mollifying service, and its

32 Ibid., 206. 33 Alain, for instance, writes, “One could also give a rational explanation of dizziness.

A man on the edge of a chasm might say to himself that he could fall in. But if he holds on to the railing, he will tell himself that now he cannot fall; dizziness rushes through him all the same, from head to foot. The first effects of our imagination are always in the body” (On Happiness, 22). 34 McCullough, “Simone Weil’s Phenomenology of the Body,” 208, fn7.

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functioning is almost reflexive and is comparable to gravity,35 so much does the human psyche detest a void. The imagination can be more or less grounded in the limits of embodied reality, however, on a scale from the “most real” (i.e., those thoughts that have their basis in the external world) to the “most fictitious.” Those imaginary flights, which are the “most imaginary,” i.e., the most detached from the needs of human embodiment and the natural world, are unsurprisingly “also the ones which contain the unlimited.”36 It is this unbridled, fictionalizing imagination in Weil’s philosophy that is the most dangerous feature of humanity, in which there is no respect for the boundaries of others; this imagination playing “freely in the void” is the source of inauthentic relationships, tyranny, revenge, exploitation, slavery, and other forms of domination. But the imagination, insofar as it restores a temporary sense of balance where there was a perceptual void, is also the key to a precarious happiness. Happiness, in this framework, is therefore the state of mind in which the void is filled and the sense of equilibrium is achieved, by the deflection of or the compensation for suffering. This is similar to the Freudian notion of happiness, at least as described in Civilization and Its Discontents. As Freud explained it, all humans strive after happiness, “the purpose and intention of their lives.”37 But our constitution, the external world, and other people make this aim an impossibility for long-term and final achievement. At most, we experience happiness episodically, while “unhappiness is much less difficult to experience.”38 Given this 35 For Weil, “gravity” (pesanteur) is a term referring to both a physical and moral phenomenon, capturing the idea of a natural tendency to be pulled down. In speaking of the moral phenomenon, humans are subject to gravity because: (a) we are created, natural beings and (b) we possess egos, which, for Weil, exhibit a centripetal force—a tendency to spin everything in the world around the self. The imagination enables this tendency to settle upon that which is pleasing, like a romanticized past, or a projection into the future, any of which reinforce the illusion of the sufficiency and essential goodness of our selves. But for Weil, we do not possess the good; we hunger for it. One effect of gravity is forgetting that hunger: “The loss of contact with reality—there lies evil, there lies sorrow. There are certain situations which bring about such a loss: deprivation, suffering. The remedy is to use the loss itself as an intermediary for attaining reality. The presence of the dead one is imaginary, but his absence is very real” (Weil, Notebooks, 28). 36 Weil, Notebooks, 150. 37 Sigmund Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents, trans. James Strachey (New York:

W.W. Norton & Co., 1962), 23. 38 Ibid., 24.

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fact, Freud explains, “It is no wonder if, under the pressure of these possibilities of suffering, men are accustomed to moderate their claims to happiness…[that is,] if a man thinks himself happy merely to have escaped unhappiness or to have survived his suffering, and if in general the task of avoiding suffering pushes that of obtaining pleasure into the background.”39 For Weil, a void experienced is another name for suffering, at the very least, or affliction (malheur), at the farthest end of the spectrum. In any case, void is indicative of unhappiness, the feeling of the impossibility of bearing something, and happiness might be momentarily attained by a consolation, distraction from, or compensation of that “impossible” void. As Weil puts it, “This feeling of impossibility is the feeling of the void. It accompanies all true suffering and breaks through as soon as the imagination ceases for a moment to fill the void.”40 That happiness is so dependent upon the imagination (with its tendency to fictionalize for the sake of psychical equilibrium) renders it a problematic telos for humanity. Tellingly, there are relatively few references to happiness in Weil’s writings, even though “joy” figures more prominently (and positively), especially in her Notebooks. When she does make explicit reference to happiness, it is usually joined with the notions of chance and precarity. The following line from her Notebooks, in which she describes an “innocent being who suffers,” is characteristic: Happy innocence. [….] Something also infinitely precious. But it is a frail, precarious happiness, a fortuitous happiness. Apple blossom. Such happiness is not securely linked to innocence.41

Or, in The Need for Roots, speaking of countries as objects for compassion, she writes again of its conditional, ephemeral nature: “Happiness is as much an object for compassion as unhappiness, because it belongs to this earth, in other words is incomplete, frail, and fleeting.”42 Moreover, happiness appears to be equivocated with pleasure or a sense of agreeableness in Weil’s writings, marking it as a feeling conducive to attachment to consoling illusions, and a hindrance to genuine attention. 39 Freud, Civilization, 24. 40 Weil, Notebooks, 153. 41 Ibid., 234. 42 Simone Weil, The Need for Roots. Prelude to a Declaration of Duties toward Mankind,

trans. Arthur Wills (New York: Routledge, 2002), 170.

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She describes how we dream of circumstances in which we are happy (compensated proportionally), and even here a smile can play an essential, assuring role—though the smile needs only be imaginary: You always need to receive in one form or another the equivalent of what you expend. A purely imaginary recompense (a smile from Louis XIV) is the exact equivalent of what has been expended […] Equivalent form in religion at a certain level. For want of a smile from Louis XIV, we manufacture for ourselves a God who smiles on us.43

In all cases, happiness suggests for Weil a kind of seamlessness and ease between self and world—a flow as much as an equilibrium. But given her understanding of the nature of the world (felt absence of God, site of void, suffering, and affliction, along with a persistent hunger for goodness), a smooth, happy experience in the world could only be the result of willed ignorance and fantasy: “A test of reality lies in the fact that it is harsh and stony. Joys are to be found therein, but not pleasures. Everything that is pleasurable [agréable] is merely reverie.”44 Thus, for Weil, dreams (founded on a wish for happiness) are not innocent. Dreams, whether through insensitivity to others or through sadistic power lust, unleash violence, and cause suffering. On a social-political level, the most vulnerable and marginalized groups have less ability and fewer resources with which to resist being managed, manipulated, and dominated to accommodate the dreams of the privileged; they are used to facilitate the precarious happiness of the powerful, while receiving promises of their own happiness (which is usually on the level of the symbolic or else elusive). But these promises of happiness are intoxicating nonetheless and serve to fill the voids reinforced by powerlessness. In all this, happiness is not only a name for smoothness of experience in the world, but it also is a technique for manufacturing smoothness as a veneer over what is really “harsh and stony.” As Sara Ahmed deftly illuminates, for certain populations, being happy demands a making-others-happy; in this way, for these groups, their own happiness is inherently an ongoing emotional labor.

43 Weil, Notebooks, 124. 44 Ibid., 369.

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Smoothing Over Injustice So much inequality is preserved through the appeal of happiness, the appeal to happiness. –Sara Ahmed, Living a Feminist Life (60)

Ahmed insightfully recognizes that happiness can be a directive, even a tool of oppression, that manufactures the aforementioned smoothness. She writes, “Smoothing things over often means: eliminating the signs of injury to create a fantasy of a whole. Smoothing things over often means: eliminating those who are reminders of an injury.”45 Like Weil before her, Ahmed understands that an idolatry of happiness requires that painful truths be suppressed or annihilated, including when those truths are lives. This is positive thinking (or “imagineering”) taken to its full logical extent, especially when the truth becomes insistent. But directive happiness can, at its outset, feel like an obligatory nuisance, much like the constrictive, stuffy outfit that parents select for their children to wear to an event where they must “make an appearance.” Perhaps it is more apropos to say: the expectation or imagination of happiness coinciding with certain social/cultural forms can be like that outfit, which might delight spectators even while it tortures its wearer— until, that is, she or he becomes sufficiently disciplined and reshaped by the outfit. Even then, the nagging sense of ill-fit doesn’t entirely disappear; it is difficult, if not impossible, to be the doll of another’s playhouse. Ahmed would likely appreciate Weil’s example of this kind of injustice: “A beloved being who disappoints. I have written to him. Impossible that he should not answer me using the words that I have said over to myself in his name. Debtors. People owe us what we imagine they will give us. We should remit them this debt.”46 Others’ expectations—or what Ahmed terms “happiness scripts”—can rub us the wrong way and, nevertheless, when we become aware of them, they can solicit and seduce us into a kind of willing compliance to the norms, behaviors, and attitudes that their version of happiness suggests, often as a means of sustaining the happiness of these others. “Going along with happiness scripts is how we get along: to get along is to be willing and able to express happiness in 45 Ahmed, Living a Feminist Life, 184. Emphasis mine. 46 Weil, Notebooks, 200.

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proximity to the right things.”47 Ahmed goes on to illustrate this point with reference to a child’s “happiness duty,” whereby “the duty of the child is to make the parents happy and to perform this duty happily by being happy or by showing signs of being happy in the right way.”48 Signaling happiness, or “passing as happy” is noteworthy here; the child in this case need not actually feel happy. Happiness—or at least its making an appearance—can therefore be a form of labor required of and acutely felt by some people more than others. Ahmed provides a thoroughgoing account of this unequally distributed, disjointed emotional embodiment that she calls being an “affect alien.” Like Weil, Ahmed does not offer a preliminary, analytical definition of happiness to elaborate a theory, nor does she simply recall us to Aristotelian eudaimonia (or some other historical-philosophical notion from the “happiness archive” she recounts) as a corrective to contemporary uses of the word. Instead, she takes up a more phenomenological approach: “I follow the word happiness around. I notice what it is up to, where it goes, who or what it gets associated with. […] I go where it goes.”49 Later, she puts it this way: “I want to attend to how happiness is spoken, lived, practiced: happiness, for me, is what it does.”50 What becomes clear, in Ahmed’s account, is that a phenomenology of happiness revolves around the “intimacy of body and world.”51 That is, happiness seems to accumulate in those situations of relative ease between a body and its environment, or what Weil called the “agreeable.” This “ease” might appear organic and natural, or, as is often the case, it is the result of alterations and adjustments, whether of the subject, the world, or both. Given the world’s obdurate presence in the face of so many of my desires, manipulation is an inevitability. When I feel masterful in my actions, or when my environs accommodate or extend my will and desires, or when there is an absence of friction in the first place, or, failing all this, when my imagination is sufficient to compensate for the disappointment, happiness shows up. For instance, in describing the common deafness to the cry of “Why am I being hurt?” Weil says that this 47 Ahmed, Promise of Happiness, 59. 48 Ibid., 59. 49 Ibid., 14. 50 Ibid., 15. 51 Ibid., 12.

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deafness is complacently cultivated because it is agreeable and it offers a positive satisfaction of its own. There are no other restraints upon our will than material necessity and the existence of other human beings around us. Any imaginary extension of these limits is seductive, so there is a seduction in whatever helps us to forget the reality of the obstacles.52

For Weil, this “imaginary extension of [one’s] limits” is the basis of the domination of others; Ahmed would concur that, “in an unbalanced world, balance is unbalanced.”53 For both thinkers, injustice can too easily be disguised as a smoothness of existence called happiness. However, Ahmed offers a slightly different view of the imagination as it relates to happiness, especially in the context of a gendered perspective. Whereas Weil connects the unfettered imagination with illusions that generate an irresponsible happiness, Ahmed underscores the fact that an active imagination has been, for many girls and women, the source of liberation from stultifying “happiness scripts.” As a result, in her analysis, a playful imagination is often the presumed “cause” of the woman’s ensuing unhappiness. She writes, “The association between imagination and trouble is powerful. It teaches us how the happiness duty for women is about the narrowing of horizons, about giving up an interest in what lies beyond the familiar.”54 Conversely, as a woman explores beyond the domestic realm, reads “too many books,” creates new stories of her own, imagines different protagonists, and considers uncharted options for her life, she is said to get directed away from the pre-ordained happy ending that awaited her. But if, with Weil and Ahmed, we do not presume the goodness of happiness, then: We might explore how imagination is what allows women to be liberated from happiness and the narrowness of its horizons. We might want the girls to read the books that enable them to be overwhelmed with grief.55

52 Simone Weil, Simone Weil: An Anthology, ed. Siân Miles (New York: Grove Press, 1986), 52. 53 Ahmed, Living a Feminist Life, 177. 54 Ahmed, Promise of Happiness, 61. 55 Ibid., 62.

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It is the contact with reality that matters, not the effect of it. Ahmed does not shy away from suggesting that inheriting feminism can mean inheriting sadness.56 Education has made many people unhappy: “Opening up the world, or expanding one’s horizons, can thus mean becoming more conscious of just how much there is to be unhappy about. Unhappiness might also provide an affective way of sustaining our attention on the cause of unhappiness.”57 So, an active, self-and-world-attentive imagination (i.e., one that is cognizant of its embodied basis within a certain world), might just be a tool for apprehending a larger lifeworld than one’s immediate, familiar environs, and thus make the imaginer keenly aware of a void.

A Politics of Hap When we are estranged from happiness, things happen. Hap happens. –Sara Ahmed, The Promise of Happiness (218)

It would be easy, but a serious mistake, to read Ahmed and Weil as fetishizing unhappiness, or making it an ethical-political aim. To problematize the facile promises of happiness, to unmask the abuses that happiness frequently conceals, and to acknowledge the legitimacy of the outlaw emotions that result from following less-traversed paths is not to prescribe melancholy. As Ahmed explains, “To be against forms of power and violence that are concealed under signs of happiness does not necessarily mean becoming unhappy, even if it does mean refusing to go along with things by showing signs of getting along.”58 Refusing the promise of happiness, she elaborates, means refusing the demands that we display the gestures and signs of happiness which only reinforce the imagined superiority of those who crave domination. She references Shulamith Firestone’s “smile boycott” as a classic example of such refusal. Recalling the training of the airline stewardesses, to refuse to keep manufacturing smiles for the pacification of an abusive customer or for the profits of an indifferent corporation, is to cease sustaining “the very psychic and political

56 Ibid., 75. 57 Ibid., 70. 58 Ibid., 69. Emphasis mine.

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conditions of unhappiness.”59 In Weilienne terms, refusing the promise of happiness means refusing the consolations and distractions that prevent us from attending to the world in its truth, and this may in turn cause others to be unhappy, too. Ahmed captures this Weilienne point: “Our happiness might depend on what we do not notice. Perhaps we keep our happiness through a willed oblivion. We must refuse this oblivion. If something would make us unhappy, when acknowledged, we need to acknowledge it. We are willing to cause our own unhappiness, which does not make our unhappiness our cause.”60 Happiness, as has been well-established, is too often wrapped up in self-deception, but there is another form of self-deception in an intentional, performative unhappiness (making unhappiness “our cause”). Paradoxically, willing unhappiness yields a kind of self-satisfaction, the pride of martyrdom. In any case, we do not need to make happiness or unhappiness our object; the point is to be attentive to the world, whether that brings joy or suffering as a result. Without being open to the possibility of unhappiness, we make the dictates of (hegemonic) happiness a necessity—and this excludes openness to “happenstance,” detours in life, and other possibilities for ways of being. “When happiness is no longer presumed to be a good thing, as what we aim for, or as what we should aim for, then we can witness happiness as a possibility that acquires significance by being a possibility alongside others. We can value happiness for its precariousness,” Ahmed writes.61 Further, in vowing to be happy, we commit ourselves to reinforcing oppressive patterns and to further marginalizing those who are most vulnerable, whether we admit this to ourselves or not. Ahmed is right to wonder, “What if the world ‘houses’ some bodies more than others, such that some bodies do not experience that world as resistant? We might need to rewrite happiness by considering how it feels to be stressed by the very forms of life that enable some bodies to flow into space [but not others].”62 In other words, we can see that there exists a politics of happiness that is connected to power dynamics, normativity, and exclusion; happiness is “a disciplinary technique,”63 directing 59 Ibid., 69. 60 Ahmed, Living a Feminist Life, 259. Emphasis mine. 61 Ahmed, Promise of Happiness, 219. 62 Ibid., 12. 63 Ibid., 8.

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us toward certain ends, orienting us toward particular values, toward “proper” ways of being and of doing things. Happiness thus “becomes an exclusion of possibility,”64 an ideology that incessantly puts before us a fait accompli. A politics of happiness, holding up a set of necessities for “proper” human living, is therefore justly renounced for the reasons elaborated in this chapter. In the resultant clearing stands the figure of possibility, which may well ground a different type of politics. We have seen how both Weil and Ahmed attend to the chanciness of happiness. In her most generous reading, Weil paints happiness as ephemeral, contingent, and fragile, like “the fall of the petals from fruit trees in blossom.”65 And Ahmed ends The Promise of Happiness by expressing an interest in recapturing the “hap” of happiness, even suggesting that we might investigate “a politics of the hap.”66 By examining the etymology of the word happiness, she points out that the Middle English “hap” means “chance,” giving us words like perhaps, happens, happenstance, haphazard, and of course, happiness. In her appraisal, happiness has lost its hap, that is, its openness to possibility and danger.67 We need to embrace hap rather than happiness. She offers a helpful illustration of what hap looks like: When I go for a walk without knowing where I am going, I call it a hap walk. To affirm hap is to follow a queer route: you are not sure which way you are going; maybe you let your feet decide for you. You can be redirected by what you encounter along the way as you are not rushing ahead, rushing forward, to get somewhere. You wander, haphazardly at times, but then you might acquire a sense of purpose because of what you find on the way. How we take a walk is not unrelated to how we live a life. […] To say life does not have to be like this, to have this shape or this direction, is to make room for hap.68

64 Ibid., 217. 65 Weil, Notebooks, 274. 66 Ahmed, The Promise of Happiness, 223. Ahmed expands on this concept of ‘hap’ in

her more recent book Living a Feminist Life. 67 Ahmed, Living a Feminist Life, 196. 68 Ibid., 197.

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Ahmed has thankfully created this kind of room in her work, this opening for an unpredictable adventure to see where “happiness” takes us. Some readers are no doubt surprised that the most pronounced guideposts to happiness lead to dead ends; we may not want to continue following that prescribed path. Can we then say what constitutes a “politics of hap”? Wandering a little bit further in this journey, with the partial maps Weil and Ahmed have begun to trace, we might come upon these signs of a politics of hap: A hap-full disposition is fully fragile and temporal, and its politics would be “attuned to the fragility of things.”69 We can hardly bear to contemplate the pure chanciness of those things and relationships that are most precious to us; we want the objects of our love to be of the order of necessity, permanence, and stability. But precisely because this “hap” nature of things is destabilizing, Weil affirms, “it ought to be contemplated.”70 Our caring then becomes centered on what is fractured, broken, and incomplete—which is to say, on what is real. But as Ahmed reminds us, everything/everyone is not equally fragile, either: “Some things become more fragile than others in time. In time, we attend. To attend to something that has become more easily breakable is to attend to its history, with love, and with care.”71 This is not to care for another’s happiness, much less to affirm it. A “hap care” (rather than a happiness care) is concerned for “what happens to someone or something,”72 or, as Weil would frame the hap question: What are you going through? Attending to what is happening to others—the crises, the successes, the surprises, the transformations, and the traumas—will not foster their or our happiness. A happy ending is beside the point. But we

69 Ibid., 266. 70 Weil, Notebooks, 271. 71 Ahmed, Living a Feminist Life, 266. 72 Ibid., 266.

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may well embark on a joyous journey with our fellows, for joy73 is processional, surprising, and happenstance. It cannot be managed, predicted, or planned, or tolerate a forced smile. As Weil says, “Joy is the feeling of reality.”74 Unexpected joy may occasion the work of being in solidarity with other fragmented beings who are, with us, stumbling on rocky paths and in the process, making new ones.

References Ahmed, Sara. Living a Feminist Life. Durham: Duke University Press, 2017. ———. The Promise of Happiness. Durham: Duke University Press, 2010. Alain. On Happiness. Translated by D. Robert and Jane E. Cottrell. New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing, 1973. Fiedler, Leslie. “Simone Weil: Prophet Out of Israel; A Saint of the Absurd.” Commentary I (January 1951): 38–46. Fiori, Gabriella. Simone Weil: An Intellectual Biography. Translated by Joseph R. Berrigan. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1989. Freud, Sigmund. Civilization and Its Discontents. Translated by James Strachey. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1962. Hochschild, Arlie Russell. The Managed Heart. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012.

73 Another chapter would be required to do justice to the concept of joy. Engaging with Brian Massumi’s work, Ahmed explores the idea of joy in her conclusion to The Promise of Happiness (213–217). While she problematizes it in this book, insofar as joy can easily become a stand-in for happiness as an aim and has acquired many of the same positive, “feel good” associations as happiness, in Living a Feminist Life, she states that “there can be joy in finding killjoys; there can be joy in killing joy” (268), where killing joy is a resistant mode of activity that can dismantle the punishing constraints of traditional forms of happiness. Thus, she appears more open to the possibilities of joy in her later work. I find myself in agreement with Massumi’s description of joy (borrowed from Spinoza) in his Politics of Affect. The following explanation is particularly helpful: “Joy in the Spinozan sense refers to the intensity of the affective encounter. […] Understood in this way, joy is not synonymous with positive emotion. It is not ‘happy,’ and it does not connote the attainment of satisfaction. […] Joy in adventure cannot be had without affirming […] hardship, in the strong sense of taking it on creatively.” Brian Massumi, Politics of Affect (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2015), 208–209. However, I should also point out that Weil, while affirming joy as the “feeling of reality,” thought this definition of joy was “absent in Spinoza.” Weil, First and Last Notebooks, trans. Richard Rees (London: Oxford University Press, 1970), 10. 74 Weil, Notebooks, 360.

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Kruse, Michael. “The Power of Trump’s Positive Thinking.” Politico: https:// www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/10/13/donald-trump-positive-thi nking-215704. Massumi, Brian. Politics of Affect. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2015. McCullough, Lissa. “Simone Weil’s Phenomenology of the Body.” Comparative and Continental Philosophy 4, no. 2 (2012): 195–218. Nelson, Deborah. Tough Enough. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017. Peale, Norman Vincent. The Power of Positive Thinking. New York: Fireside, 2003. Weil, Simone. First and Last Notebooks. Translated by Richard Rees. London: Oxford University Press, 1970. ———. The Need for Roots. Prelude to a Declaration of Duties toward Mankind. Translated by Arthur Wills. London and New York: Routledge, 2002. ———. Notebooks. Translated by Arthur Wills. New York: Routledge, 2004. ———. Simone Weil: An Anthology. Edited by Siân Miles. New York: Grove Press, 1986. ———. Waiting for God. Translated by Emma Craufurd. New York: Perennial Classics, 2001.

CHAPTER 5

On Giorgio Agamben’s Theoretical Debt to Simone Weil: Destituent Potential and Decreation Michael P. A. Murphy

One of the more interesting—and puzzling—connections in contemporary continental philosophy is that between Simone Weil and Giorgio Agamben. Both writers are notable for their eclectic writings touching on a great number of themes in philosophy and theology, inspiring scholars in their wake to spend much effort teasing out sources and conclusions from their works. What makes the relationship all the more interesting is its largely tacit nature. Agamben wrote his laurea dissertation on Weil’s political philosophy; however, this dissertation was never published, and until a recent commentary on Weil’s approach to the new physics in What is Real?, the only direct reference to Weil in Agamben’s work could be found in a passing mention of her as a favorite thinker of Elsa Morante.1 While conceptual traces abound, direct citations do 1 Giorgio Agamben, The End of the Poem: Studies in Poetics (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999), 102.

M. P. A. Murphy (B) School of Political Studies, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, ON, Canada e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s) 2020 S. Bourgault and J. Daigle (eds.), Simone Weil, Beyond Ideology?, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-48401-9_5

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not.2 Thus, the theoretical debt that Agamben owes to Weil cannot be determined through that common form of scholarly bookkeeping found in parenthetical references. Given the lack of explicit references to trace, our best course of action to understand the relationship between Weil and Agamben may be to find some examples that can give insight into the whole. Insights gained into the conceptual relationship between decreation and destituent potential, then, provide fodder for future systematic analysis of the two authors. This exercise in comparative reading builds on prior comparative work between the authors. The Agamben/Weil relationship has been explored through a series of investigations, often tracing one thinker’s concept through the other thinker’s corpus. Leland de la Durantaye suggests that Weil’s writings on decreation are a possible source for Agamben’s thoughts on potentiality.3 Alessia Ricciardi returns to this question, drawing Agamben’s figure of bare life and Weil’s conceptualization of force into this reflection.4 An alternative manner of comparing both political philosophers is the following: a concept is placed in the foreground, with the opinions of both authors then compared and contrasted. This is notable in Beatrice Marovich’s comparison of Weil and Agamben on animality/humanity.5 Another example is Lissa McCullough’s work, which examines the specific statements of both authors on the concept of decreation.6 Finally, it is worth noting how frequently intellectual histories written about one author will include mention of the other (this is

2 This remains true even when Agamben discusses the terms “creation” and “decreation”

in ways clearly inspired by Weil. See Giorgio Agamben, Potentialities: Collected Essays in Philosophy (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999); The Fire and the Tale (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2017). See also Mohammad Mehdi Kimiagari, “Review of The Fire and the Tale by Giorgio Agamben,” Textual Practice 32, no. 2 (2018): 347–351. 3 Leland de la Durantaye, Giorgio Agamben: A Critical Introduction (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 2009). 4 Alessia Ricciardi, “From Decreation to Bare Life: Weil, Agamben, and the Impolitical,” Diacritics 39, no. 2 (2009): 75–93, https://doi.org/10.1353/dia.2009.0014. 5 Beatrice Marovich, “Recreating the Creature: Agamben, Animality, and the Unsaveable,” in Simone Weil and Continental Philosophy, ed. A. Rebecca Rozelle-Stone (New York, NY: Rowman & Littlefield, 2017), 69–86. 6 Lissa McCullough, “Decreation in Giorgio Agamben and Simone Weil,” Unpublished Paper, Presented at the American Academy of Religion Annual Meeting, San Diego, November 2007. Available online https://csudh.academia.edu/LissaMcCullough.

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true especially for recent scholarship). This is perhaps the largest category of the Weil/Agamben literature, with de la Durantaye and Marovich7 invoking Weil to explore Agamben’s thought, and McCullough and Marovich (in a different piece) invoking Agamben to discuss Simone Weil.8 These earlier comparisons have identified points of continuity and change between the authors. De la Durantaye identifies Weil as a more dialectical thinker than Agamben, whereas Ricciardi posits a different tension, with Agamben as more directly theologico-political and Weil as more moral-philosophical.9 Contra de la Durantaye, Marovich finds significant structural similarity between their philosophies of animality and potentiality.10 One important contribution emerging from this literature is the clarity often gleaned regarding one author’s work by investigating a similar concept found in the work of the other. Given the complexity of both authors’ oeuvres, such moments of clarification are most welcome. This prior scholarship all clearly indicates that there may be much to gain by teasing out the conceptual relationship between Simone Weil and Giorgio Agamben. Further, I concur with past commentators that “decreation” is a worthwhile starting point on the Weilian side of the comparison. However, Agambenian scholars have not yet considered the potential insights of beginning this conversation from the theory of destituent potential. There are at least two significant reasons for the selection of this starting point in this chapter. First, destituent potential and decreation are both described in somewhat vague terms with mystical influence, and both call for a shift in ethical orientation from communal to individual forms of life. Given the similarity in presentation and content, the conceptual pair of decreation and destituent potential would represent a crucial case for the hypothesis that Agamben owes a theoretical debt to Simone Weil. Scholars of political methodology hold that disproving a hypothesis in its most likely context should effectively disprove the 7 de la Durantaye, Giorgio Agamben, Beatrice Marovich, “Simone Weil,” in Agamben’s Philosophical Lineages, eds. Adam Kotsko and Carlo Salzani (New York, NY: Edinburgh University Press, 2018), 292–302. 8 Marovich, “Recreating the Creature”; Lissa McCullough, “Simone Weil,” in The Palgrave Handbook of Radical Theology, eds. C. D. Rodkey and J. E. Miller (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018), 459–472. 9 de la Durantaye, Giorgio Agamben; Ricciardi, “From Decreation to Bare Life”. 10 Marovich, “Simone Weil”; and “Recreating the Creature”.

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hypothesis in general.11 Testing this most likely case will either nullify the hypothesis in general, or provide a proof-of-concept and model for future comparative reading. A second justification for an analysis of destituent potential in concert with decreation is that both concepts are significant for understanding the authors’ works. For Weil, as J.P. Little argued, “many of her most important ideas make no sense unless the concept of decreation is taken seriously”12 ; for Agamben, despite occupying an important position as the culmination of a decades-long investigation into the roots of the contemporary political condition, the theory of destituent potential is described only briefly. If this kind of comparative reading can help draw out key elements of the concepts, thereby clarifying the meaning of such important theories for each thinker, then this investigation will have a secondary contribution. I will begin with an overview of Agamben’s notion of destituent potential, and explain why a proper understanding of this concept is crucial for Agamben’s larger political philosophy. I will then turn briefly to Thanos Zartaloudis’ prior attempt to understand destituent potential by reading Walter Benjamin. The second section reviews Simone Weil’s concept of decreation, while the third addresses the relationship between destituent potential and decreation and offers concluding remarks. One of the claims that will be defended below is that the evident similarity of Agamben’s theory of destituent potential to Weil’s theory of decreation demonstrates Weil’s significant and continued impact on contemporary continental philosophy.

Giorgio Agamben and Destituent Potential Throughout his “Homo Sacer” project,13 Agamben’s goal is not to offer a prescription for the malaise of the contemporary West, but rather to

11 Harry Eckstein, “Case Study and Theory in Political Science,” in Handbook of Political Science, eds. F. I Greenstein and N. W. Polsby (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1975); Jack S. Levy, “Case Studies: Types, Designs, and Logics of Inference,” Conflict Management and Peace Science 25, no. 1 (2008): 1–18. 12 J. P. Little, “Simone Weil’s Concept of Decreation,” in Simone Weil’s Philosophy of Culture: Readings Toward a Divine Humanity, ed. Richard H. Bell (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993). 13 The “Homo Sacer” project is Agamben’s key series of political works, consisting of nine books, published from 1995 to 2015.

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diagnose it. This leads Agamben to review at length a wide variety of fields from theology to linguistics to aesthetics, but only in one short passage does he direct his efforts toward proposing a solution. Indeed, the bulk of his efforts are diagnostic rather than prescriptive. And the scope of his critical project is undeniable, taking as its object the logic of the contemporary West: The archaeology of politics that was in question in the “Homo Sacer” project did not propose to critique this or that concept, this or that institution of Western politics. The issue was rather to call into question the place and the very originary structure of politics […] that had remained at the same time fully exposed and tenaciously hidden.14

This logic of the contemporary West is, for Agamben, a biopolitical logic of exclusion. Homo Sacer, Agamben’s most-cited work, begins in the Greek city, where we encounter two forms of life. The first, termed zoe, refers to the existence common to all living animals, humans, and gods. The second, called bios, refers to the fulfilling form of life that is proper to membership in a community or group.15 The activity of politics, as it has existed from the Greek city onward, has been about the division of the city from its outside, bios from zoe, as well as about the negotiation of power structures that make this division possible. For Agamben, the ability to exclude is necessary for the continuation of any political system that relies on an inside/outside distinction. Indeed, Agamben holds that oppression is not a feature of particular political arrangements, but a general characteristic of all constituted power structures. Establishing a new political community—even if we believe it to have a more just foundation—will still entail the definition of a new bios, and a new bios entails an exterior to that form-of-life. Revolutionary activity that seeks to overthrow a regime is always insufficient because it creates a new exclusion—the same originary structure of politics—organized along a different axis. As Agamben states: “The strategy is always the same: something is divided, excluded, and pushed to the bottom, and

14 Giorgio Agamben, The Use of Bodies (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 2016), 263. 15 Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998), 1ff .

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precisely through this exclusion, it is included as arche and foundation.”16 His concern, then, is not the planning of a general strike or proletarian revolution, but halting the process that constitutes a political community. If Agamben’s earlier political works served to criticize the oppressive character of constituted power structures, the epilogue of The Use of Bodies —which introduces the notion of destituent potential—is notable because it is a forward-looking critique that does not stop at diagnosing problems but proposes a tentative solution. In the conventional view of constituent power, every citizenry—that is, every group of humans who could share a bios —has a constituent power, out of which constituted power structures emerge.17 Agamben expresses the form that this constitution takes in Aristotelian terms,18 as the actualization of potentiality into a specific energeia. But because any political structure necessarily creates oppression by excluding its outside, the only truly just alternative to an unjust constituted political structure is to refuse to constitute any political structure.19 Destituent potential is the name that Agamben gives to the strategy that is not only an opposition to but also a negation of constituted power politics, rejecting communal forms-of-life on the grounds of the oppressive and exclusionary forces inherent to their practice. Enacting this call to an emancipatory coming politics would be a truly radical move, but it requires a similarly radical rethinking of political activity:

16 Agamben, The Use of Bodies, 264. 17 Agamben, Homo Sacer; Michael P. A. Murphy, “Pouvoir Constituant Betrayed: A

Model of Abjection in Power Relations,” Journal of Political Power 10, no. 1 (2017): passim; “Potentiality, Political Protest and Constituent Power: A Response to the Special Issue,” Journal of International Political Theory Online First (2019): 1–20; Carl Schmitt, Dictatorship: From the Origin of the Concept of Sovereignty to Proletarian Class Struggle (Malden, MA: Polity, 2014), 123. 18 For Agamben’s discussions of Dynamis and Energeia, see Agamben, Homo Sacer, 45–46; Giorgio Agamben, Opus Dei: An Archaeology of Duty (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 2011), 94–95; Potentialities, 177–184, 243–271. For a commentary on the relationship of Agamben to this part of Aristotle’s philosophical corpus, see Jussi Backman, “Aristotle” in Agamben’s Philosophical Lineages, eds. Adam Kotsko and Carlo Salzani (New York, NY: Edinburgh University Press, 2018), 15–26. 19 Elsewhere I have argued that this marks Agamben’s notion of destituent potential as more radical than even the strongest call for constituent revolution. (Murphy, “Potentiality, Political Protest and Constituent Power.”)

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If to constituent power there correspond revolutions, revolts, and new constitutions, namely, a violence that puts in place and constitutes a new law, for destituent potential it is necessary to think entirely different strategies, whose definition is the task of the coming politics.20

Destituent potential is thus a refusal to constitute, a decision to render in-operative the core operative power—the constituent power—of the citizenry. Though Agamben refuses to offer any suggestions whatsoever on how we might actually do destituent potential—which is perhaps a destituent act itself—we are told that it is the only way beyond the oppressive and exclusionary apparatus that structures all political communities of the contemporary West. The lack of specificity in Agamben’s presentation of destituent potential has led his commentators to look beyond the epilogue itself. Two important directions have been a return to Agamben’s own earlier work21 on the one hand, and, on the other, to his sources.22 In the latter camp, we find one example of the kind of comparative reading undertaken here in this chapter in the work of Thanos Zartaloudis on the relationship between destituent potential and Walter Benjamin’s concept of pure violence.23 He argues that “to the fictional state of exception, Agamben (via Benjamin) opposes a real state of exception that ceases to claim the

20 Agamben, The Use of Bodies, 266. 21 See Adam Kotsko, “Paul and the Jewish Alternative” in Agamben’s Coming Philosophy:

Finding a New Use for Theology, Colby Dickinson and Adam Kotsko (New York, NY: Rowman & Littlefield International, 2016), 219–236; Bostjan Nedoh, “Mass Migrations as a Messianic Event? Rereading Agamben’s State of Exception in Light of the Refugee Crisis in Europe,” Law, Culture & the Humanities, Online First (2017): 1–18. https:// doi.org/10.1177%2F1743872117703717. 22 See Sergei Prozorov, “Living a la mode: Form-of-Life and Democratic Biopolitics in Giorio Agamben’s The Use of Bodies,” Philosophy and Social Criticism 43, no. 2 (2017): 144–163; Thanos Zartaloudis, “Violence Without Law? On Pure Violence as Destituent Power,” in Towards the Critique of Violence: Walter Benjamin and Giorgio Agamben, eds. Brendan Moran and Carlo Salzani (New York, NY: Bloomsbury Academic, 2015), 169–186. 23 Zartaloudis’ commentary was written before the publication of The Use of Bodies (where Agamben presented his case for a theory of destituent potential), and instead drew on Agamben’s public lectures based on earlier versions of the theory of destituent potential. Some differences between his framing of the concept and Agamben’s final form in no way reflect fault on the part of Zartaloudis.

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real from the outside of dynamic existence.”24 Zartaloudis argues that Agamben is calling for a sort of revolution to end all revolutions, one different in mode but not in logic from prior revolutions (a point eventually clarified in Agamben’s final articulation of destituent potential). This call to action follows the logic of Benjamin’s so-called real state of exception. In response to the “presupposed and reproduced state of exception” that sustains sovereign violence, the pure violence proposed by Benjamin enacts a new “exception [that] is […] once-and-for-all without a claim to reproducibility.”25 This is a “wholly other” type of violence that does not simply change the holder of violent means, but destroys the repressive state’s monopoly on violence. To follow Benjamin into the enactment of a real state of exception is to turn the state’s repressive violence back on itself and then to abandon it. What Agamben seeks, however, is to create a fundamentally new mode of political life that takes abandonment as its central strategy, abandoning the state-form as a first act rather than turning the state’s violence against it to destroy it and abandon the rubble. While much ink has been spilled about Benjamin’s influence on Agamben, there is a clearly non-Benjaminian influence on the theory of destituent potential. Despite Benjamin’s radical call to action, the reliance on collective violence rather than an immediate, mystical dissolution of social structure suggests another influence may be at work. In search of a sophisticated mysticism offering a radical political reconceptualization of moral living, it seems that Weil would be a natural source to investigate.

Simone Weil and Decreation As mentioned in the introduction, I agree with past commentators that Simone Weil’s concept of decreation appears to offer a crucial insight into the dynamic of the relationship between Agamben and Weil.26 However, I think that decreation is best viewed as informing, in particular, the individually emancipatory element of destituent potential, which differentiates Agamben’s call from Benjamin’s collective-violence-then-peace alternative. If decreation is in fact the key to understanding the theory

24 Zartaloudis, “Violence Without Law?,” 173. 25 Ibid. 26 E.g., de la Durantaye, Giorgio Agamben.

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of destituent potential, then Simone Weil must play a more informative role in Agamben’s theoretical oeuvre than previously thought. Because Weil’s reflections on the concept of decreation are available largely in a standalone chapter of Gravity and Grace 27 —which, despite a problematic editorial history, remains one of Weil’s most widely cited texts—the concept is in a practical sense quite easy to access, even if the content of the concept is itself dense, complex, and mystical. Weil’s concept of decreation has produced a robust literature within her commentariat, which has taken a variety of forms. Some, like J. P. Little, have approached the concept with an eye to specifying particular elements—in her case, the paradoxical positivity of decreation as concept.28 Little also explores the relation between the self and decreation, in an effort to shed light on the importance of the individuality of the process. Relatedly, a second group of commentators have addressed decreation within a broader context of Weil’s writings, such as Miklos Veto’s discussion of the importance of decreation in his study on Weil’s religious metaphysics.29 These first two groups of approaches offer quite a systematic perspective on what the concept of decreation means, and how it fits into the broader writings of Simone Weil. The effort of comparative reading that I am undertaking in this chapter falls in line with the work of a third group of scholars, who have examined conceptual relationships between decreation and those found in works that Weil reflected upon or philosophical traditions with which she engaged. An example of this form can be found in Béatrice Clémentine Landry-Farron’s comparison between decreation and “hesychia” in the thought of the Neptic Fathers of the Eastern Rite (in addition to her extensive work seeking to understand decreation as ascetic practice).30

27 While Gravity and Grace is the most widely-cited and readily accessible text, a more thorough investigation of the concept naturally requires further investigation through her collected writings. E.g., Simone Weil, The Notebooks of Simone Weil, trans. Arthur Wills (London: Routledge, 2004), 246–300, 341–352. 28 Little, “The Concept of Decreation.” 29 Miklos Veto, The Religious Metaphysics of Simone Weil (Albany, NY: SUNY Press,

1994). 30 Béatrice Clémentine Farron-Landry, “Décréation: L’attention-hesychia chez Simone Weil, témoin de l’impossible,” Cahiers Simone Weil XII, no. 1 (1989): 52–63; “Décréation: Simone Weil, témoin de l’impossible,” Cahiers Simone Weil XII, no. 2 (1989): 170–175; “Détachement, renoncement et origine du mal selon Simone Weil,” Cahiers

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Other commentators have examined Weil’s approach to theological reflection via different approaches (e.g., Anne Carson analyzed decreation as a key concept of Weil’s way of thinking about morality vis-à-vis God),31 and yet others have put in conversation Weil’s writings with the works of others influenced by her philosophy. To this end, in a manner similar to mine in this chapter, James Lindroth has sketched out potential evidence of Weil’s influence on a poem by Wallace Stevens.32 Indeed, my analysis of Agamben’s theory of destituent potential as a point of comparison is slightly similar to Lindroth’s analysis, which begins by noting that Stevens was reading Gravity and Grace around the same time he was writing the poem “An Ordinary Evening in New Haven,” and then moves on to analyze separate cantos bearing a strong resemblance to the relevant chapter of Gravity and Grace (a work Stevens would have read). Nonetheless, my approach here is less bound to text at both ends of the analysis, as I have drawn, where necessary, from beyond the epilogue on destituent potential, and will now draw from a selection of Weil’s writings, rather than one alone. The Gravity and Grace section on decreation begins with a core definition of the concept; it then explains its conceptual relation to creation, explores key themes of death and religion, and then closes with a poem. The definition offered here presents decreation as “to make something created pass into the uncreated,” and then Weil insists on separating the concept of decreation from the “blameworthy substitute” of destruction—in turn defined as the act “to make something created pass into nothingness.”33 Or, to phrase the difference more explicitly, Weilian decreation does not seek to destroy or pulverize something created. The object is not to abruptly end the being of a thing, but rather to renounce it.

Simone Weil II, no. 2 (1979): 71–84; “Notes introductives sur le vide ou la nuit obscure selon Simone Weil,” Cahiers Simone Weil VI, no. 3 (1983): 243–248. 31 Anne Carson, “Decreation: How Women like Sappho, Marguerite Porete, and Simone

Weil Tell God,” Common Knowledge 8, no. 1 (2002): 188–203. 32 James Lindroth, “Simone Weil and Wallace Stevens: The Notion of Decreation as Subtext in ‘An Ordinary Evening in New Haven,’” Religion & Literature 19, no. 1 (1987): 43–62. 33 Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace, trans. Emma Crawford and Mario von der Ruhr (London: Routledge, 2002), 32.

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What exactly this might mean becomes somewhat clearer when Weil considers the issue of divine creation. This mode of creation is understood as an act of love that we ought not to destroy but that we must—in a sense—fulfil through our renunciation. Though dense, the passage merits reflection at length: Creation is an act of love and it is perpetual. At each moment our existence is God’s love for us. But God can only love himself. His love for us is love for himself through us. Thus, he who gives us our being loves in us the acceptance of not being. Our existence is made up only of his waiting for our acceptance not to exist. He is perpetually begging from us that existence which he gives. He gives it to us in order to beg it from us […] Renunciation. Imitation of God’s renunciation in creation. In a sense God renounces being everything. We should renounce being something. That is our only good.34

God’s act of creation is a perpetual act of love, but if God can only love himself, then the love for that which He creates is indirect. This indirect love is for the God in each creation, rather than for the existent thing itself. As created humans, as creations of love by love, then the highest goal must be to reunite with God. Given that God is within each human, each ought to love something inside their self—not in the colloquial anything-goes “love yourself” mantra, but specifically calling for love to be offered to the non-self within each individual that is the part of God within. Decreation is thus the process of loving God through the part of Him within the human, renouncing that which is superfluous to the God within. But this process of loving the part of God within is not easy, as the superfluous is precisely that which makes us human. That which makes a human specifically “human” must be renounced, privileging the non-human Godliness within. Recalling the distinction between decreation and destruction may be useful in parsing out the meaning of the former concept. Indeed, throughout her notebooks Weil frequently mentions how brute destruction is an unworthy activity, whereas other—prima facie similar activities 34 Weil, Gravity and Grace, 32–33.

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instead related to decreation—are assessed more positively. “Evil,” Weil writes, “is always the destruction of sensible objects in which good is really present,”35 and elsewhere she repeats, albeit from the opposite direction: “to destroy is therefore evil.”36 Because the world was created by God, and there remains something of him within his creation, to completely destroy creation works against the will of God. Decreation, however, is different as it proceeds by “causing something created to pass into the uncreated” by chipping away at those “imperfect parts which God is unable to create directly”37 —those things that we become attached to in place of proper attachment to him. To this end, careless destruction is “a bad imitation (an ersatz form) of such an operation [decreation.]”38 The existence of imperfect attachments to be decreated is fundamentally conditioned by the ways in which we consider selfhood. The necessities of life exist as “enemy for the man who says ‘I’’ because of the many demands that necessity makes for the imperfect things around us—“the ‘I’ keeps us confined within necessity.”39 Thus, “by renouncing the ‘I’ we pass to the other side, from within the egg of the world we pierce the shell.”40 The necessities that imprison the self within imperfect attachments can, in their decreation, allow the self to move beyond its confinement to the world, to commune with God. Only when we break away from the non-Godly things—both within us and which we rely upon from the outside—can we enter into the divinity of God as Weil wished to. This concept is of great importance within Weil’s vision for a moral way of life that prepares an individual for the divine life to come. There is one further point I would like to emphasize about decreation, which returns to the question of human bios; that is, a concern that returns to the consideration of collective forms of life. The end of the Gravity and Grace chapter on decreation pivots sharply from a discussion of Satan and possession through time to the necessity of “uprooting oneself.” In the chapter on decreation, the concept of uprooting emerges

35 Weil, The Notebooks of Simone Weil, 303. 36 Ibid., 247. 37 Ibid. 38 Ibid. 39 Simone Weil, First and Last Notebooks, trans. Richard Rees (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1970), 88–89. 40 Ibid., 90.

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first in a biblical allegory, as Weil states that “it is necessary to uproot oneself” as a Christlike activity by which we “cut down the tree and make of it a cross, and then […] carry it every day.”41 The image of the root then quickly moves from the tree to the individual, as Weil states that “it is necessary not to be ‘myself,’ still less to be ‘ourselves.’”42 What is perhaps most important for the comparison underway in this chapter is the next turn taken by Weil in her discussion of decreation, this time a turn toward the political community. Weil writes that “the city gives us the feeling of being at home,” but “we must take the feeling of being at home into exile” such that we are “rooted in the absence of a place.”43 The fulfillment that we feel in the city is a false sense. Along with the part of the human self that exceeds the core of Godlike love, the city is a false sense—a feeling- is how she describes it—of being at home, when in reality the only home that could ever be sufficient, the only love that could ever sustain, is found in the Godlike love within. When we decreate the self, we decreate the city thereby; when we stop being ourselves as a collectivity, we each individually stop being the self. The place that we feel at home is then not tethered to the false community of false selves, but rooted only in transcendent love. After the decreation of the superfluous, we are only bound to the divine love of creation which is inside. Freely choosing to focus our attention on that transcendent love is the moral pathway from decreation to the divine. The discussion of uprootedness here—as a rightful part of decreation— differs sharply from Weil’s lament for uprootedness seen in The Need for Roots.44 But in a similar way to the foregoing discussion, the condition of uprootedness captures the essence of why it is more desirable to give something up than to have the same thing taken away. When Weil describes the uprootedness of unemployment, pragmatic mass education, violent colonial displacement, and proletarianization of entire swaths of people,45 she draws our attention to phenomena where individuals lose

41 Weil, Gravity and Grace, 39. 42 Ibid. 43 Ibid. 44 Simone Weil, The Need for Roots: Prelude to a Declaration of Duties Towards Mankind, trans. Arthur Wills (London: Routledge, 2005), 41–75. 45 Ibid., examples discussed 43, 46, 48, 67 and passim.

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the connections necessary for their survival. These processes of unemployment, mass education, colonialism, and proletarianization are destructive because they mark the unwilling oppression and imposition of uprootedness. In contrast to this unwilling oppression, decreation is proper because it is a willing act, an act of love undertaken out of personal liberty to turn toward God.46 There are three characteristics which prove most significant when analyzing decreation’s conceptual similarity to Agamben’s destituent potential. First, decreation establishes that the greatest good for a human individual to pursue is to render inoperative that which is superfluous to the divine love within. Second, in doing so, we eschew the false sense of home found in the city, thereby rejecting communal forms of living rather than pursuing decreation as a kind of collectivist movement. Third, we must remain aware that our aim is not the annihilation of the individual (along with his or her inner Godliness) but the decreation of the self that has built up around the Godly core.

Decreation and Destituent Potential Decreation and destituent potential both call for a radically different form of life, one that cuts away at the superfluous in search of a simpler moral life. While Agamben’s commentators have traced potential influences to his other sources, I would argue that this concept has a distinctly Weilian character, as seen in the similarities of the concepts explored above. The strong element of individuality over communalism in the theory of destituent potential posits a strong challenge to a Benjaminian framing, but is easily explained by a turn to Weil. Both destituent potential and decreation fundamentally involve a change to the form-of-life of the individual, with any societal repercussion following therefrom. By way of conclusion, I will revisit the three points of agreement, and address one prima facie difference. First, as mentioned above, a primary aim of decreation can be understood as a claim that the greatest good for a human individual to pursue is to render inoperative that which is superfluous to the divine love within. In destituent potential, in the place of divine love we instead find zoe, life 46 Readers of Agamben note here the similarity in the idea to his specification that being abjected from bios to bare life is different than willingly embracing destituent potential and living as zoe.

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as such. This state of living is described in different terms by the two philosophers. Agamben describes zoe as the common life form shared by humans, animals, and gods alike, whereas Weil’s understanding of inner divine love plays a similar role in sustaining existence. Further, the cutting-away of what is superfluous is even more directly tied to the aims of destituent potential, as the latter calls for the collective form of life to be rendered inoperative. A second major point of agreement is found in the emphasis on the dangers of the city as a political unit. Weil argues that the collective grants a false sense of home. In granting a false sense of home to our identity, the collective constructs a further—superfluous—layer to the core self. Because the city adds to our self-conception, it must be discarded along with other trappings of an unwieldy self-conception. For Agamben, the city is the very model of the oppressive structure that affirms a collective form of life. From the polis onward, there is a way of life proper to the group, from which one can be reduced to bare life. Breaking the bonds of the “city,” then, constitutes an important step in the pursuit of the moral life. The project of destituent potential—like decreation—can only be fulfilled when the illusory home-ness of the polis is rejected and a greater appreciation of life as such takes place. The two theories embed within their calls to action a profound insight into the exclusionary nature of collective definitions of political life. Thirdly, both approaches call for a rejection of the system but not destruction via direct violence. Weil presents destruction as a poor imitation of decreation, and Agamben insists that the conventional revolutionary strategies have to be rethought. Once again, here we see how Benjamin’s call to turn the state’s violence back onto itself is a far less precise pair than Weil’s decreation when it comes to explaining Agamben’s theory of destituent potential. Both decreation and destituent potential offer a new moral form of life that does not involve destruction, but that allows the superfluous to pass away. While the final state of a less substantial form of life may appear similar to what results from oppression—for Weil, the condition of uprootedness, and for Agamben, bare life—there is a distinct moral difference when the act that initiates the new form of life is willingly undertaken. Both share the important characteristic where the individual passing from a collective form of life to an individual form of life must be undertaken willingly to be just and moral. While the lack of practical strategies to accomplish this may be

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frustrating to those taking to heart the messages of Agamben and Weil, the similarity on that count as well is striking. Beyond these three similarities, even one of the most apparent differences can, upon reflection, reveal a further connection between the theories. While Weil frames this as a letting-go of the self through an act of love for the divine within, Agamben approaches this as a matter of rejecting forms of life that entail exclusionary inside/outside group dynamics. While Weil’s decreation may be more directly theological than Agamben’s destitutent potential, it would be difficult to ignore the profound impact of theology on the latter concept’s development. Indeed, one of the key early efforts to sketch out a vision of a potential future political life for Agamben came in his commentary on the letter to the Romans.47 Taken within the context of a philosophical oeuvre steeped in theological themes, the epilogue on destituent potential is in many ways a framing of theological thinking in secular terms, not a rejection of their importance. In the chapter’s introduction, I called two relationships into question—the general relation between Agamben and Weil, and the specific relation between destituent potential and decreation. I further suggested that there was a relationship between the specific and general problems, insofar as one path to proof-of-concept for the claim that Agamben’s work demonstrates a debt to Simone Weil would be to engage in a comparative reading of a key concept from each author’s work. From a Weilian perspective, demonstrating the prima facie debt would further cement her place as a thinker with enduring impact in the continental tradition. For Agambenian scholars, who are still working to understand the meaning of destituent potential, the success of this hypothesis offers a new window unto that concept. As a tertiary benefit, the conceptual-structural similarity between decreation and destituent potential may help to forge linkages between these scholarly communities, building on prior efforts by de la Durantaye, Marovich, McCullogh, and Ricciardi to this end. While the overall influence of Simone Weil on the thought of Giorgio Agamben may be ultimately unclear, this investigation into the conceptual relationship between decreation and destituent potential offers a strong indication of how structurally similar their prescriptive writings on moral life are. Both concepts call for a move away from communal forms of life 47 Giorgio Agamben, The Time That Remains: A Commentary on the Letter to the Romans (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 2005).

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toward more individual ones, drawing heavily on a theologically sophisticated moral philosophy. Given the importance of the theory of destituent potential in Agamben’s work, its structural similarity to Weil’s account of decreation indicates that the influence of Weil on Giorgio Agamben’s work may be much greater than realized up to this point.

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———. “Why Giorgio Agamben is an Optimist.” Philosophy and Social Criticism 36, no. 9 (2010): 1053–1073. https://doi.org/10.1177%2F0191453 710379030. Ricciardi, Alessia. “From Decreation to Bare Life: Weil, Agamben, and the Impolitical.” Diacritics 39, no. 2 (2009): 75–93. https://doi.org/10.1353/dia. 2009.0014. Salzani, Carlo. “From Benjamin’s bloβes Leben to Agamben’s nuda vita: A Genealogy.” In Towards the Critique of Violence: Walter Benjamin and Giorgio Agamben, edited by Brendan Moran and Carlo Salzani, 109–124. New York, NY: Bloomsbury Academic, 2015. Schmitt, Carl. Dictatorship: From the Origin of the Concept of Sovereignty to Proletarian Class Struggle. Malden, MA: Polity, 2014. Veto, Miklos. The Religious Metaphysics of Simone Weil. Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1994. Weil, Simone. First and Last Notebooks. Translated by Richard Rees. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1970. ———. Gravity and Grace. Translated by Emma Crawford and Mario von der Ruhr. London and New York, NY: Routledge, 2002. ———. The Need for Roots: Prelude to a Declaration of Duties Towards Mankind. Translated by Arthur Wills and with a preface by T. S. Eliot. London and New York, NY: Routledge, 2005. ———. The Notebooks of Simone Weil. Translated by Arthur Wills. London: Routledge, 2004. Zartaloudis, Thanos. “Violence Without Law? On Pure Violence as Destituent Power.” In Towards the Critique of Violence: Walter Benjamin and Giorgio Agamben, edited by Brendan Moran and Carlo Salzani, 169–186. New York, NY: Bloomsbury Academic, 2015.

CHAPTER 6

The Politics of Rootedness: On Simone Weil and George Orwell Oriol Quintana

Given the uncanny coincidences between the lives and writings of Simone Weil and George Orwell (who never actually met or read each other), one would expect that a great deal of scholarship be devoted, on both sides of the English Channel, to the commonalities between these two writers. Surprisingly enough, this is not the case. On the one hand, a quick search through the index of the Cahiers Simone Weil 1 yields no results on such topic2 ; on the other hand, research on so-called “French Orwells,” which a couple of English-speaking scholars have carried out, provides only mixed results. John Rodden, a long-time Orwell specialist,

1 An index that compiles articles published since 1987. 2 Except, maybe, for an excellent paper on Weil’s reception in Britain: J.P. Little, “Une

grande âme et un esprit brillant: L’accueil fait à l’œuvre de Simone Weil en GrandeBretagne,” Cahiers Simone Weil XXVIII, no. 2 (June 2005); Little’s article reveals that the first comparisons between Weil and Orwell appear in an article by Robert Nye, “Uncanonised Saint of the Uncommitted,” Weekend Scotsman (July 4, 1970): 3.

O. Quintana (B) Ramon Llull University, Barcelona, Spain e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s) 2020 S. Bourgault and J. Daigle (eds.), Simone Weil, Beyond Ideology?, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-48401-9_6

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pointed at Jean Malaquais as one of such “French Orwells.”3 The American historian Michael Seidman identified Jean-François Revel as “the” French Orwell (with few biographical coincidences to truly justify the rapprochement between the two figures in my view).4 It is, then, possible to find connections between the English writer and a few French counterparts. But I here wish to offer correctives to Rodden and Seidman’s views. As this chapter will argue, it is Simone Weil who should be considered as the true “French Orwell,” and it is Orwell who should be called the “English Weil.” Such a claim is not as bold as it seems. It goes quite a long way back in fact: Sir Richard Rees (1900–1970), the English diplomat and writer, already identified (in the 1960s) various affinities between Orwell and Weil. Reeds in fact titled his study on George Orwell under the heading “Fugitive from the Camp of Victory,” using Simone Weil’s beloved quote.5 Richard Rees was a long-time, close friend of George Orwell: Rees helped the latter at various points in his life.6 Five years after the publication of his book on Orwell, Rees issued the first English biography on Simone Weil. Richard Rees was a Christian, and like many of his contemporaries, he tried to unite Socialist and Christian sensitivities in his writings, similarly to the way Weil did in her works. Rees argued that the main difference between Weil and Orwell was that the first believed in “the eternal destiny of the human being”7 while Orwell didn’t. Even so, Rees insisted that their two visions of human beings were not incompatible:

3 Malaquais was a Polish-born mine worker and writer who became a militiaman (joining, like Orwell, the POUM); John Rodden, “Jean Malaquais: A French Orwell?” Society 52, no. 4 (August 2015). 4 Michael Seidman, “¿Un Orwell francés? Jean François Revel. Memorias: el ladrón en la casa vacía,” Revista de Libros 135 (March 2018). 5 Richard Rees, Fugitive from the Camp of Victory (London: Secker and Warburg, 1961), 8; Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace (London and New York: Routledge, 2002), 171, here translated as “fugitive of the camp of the conquerors.” 6 Orwell’s biographer Jeffrey Meyers seems to suggest that Orwell and his wife named their adoptive son Richard partly because of this friendship (Cf. Jeffrey Meyers, Orwell: Wintry Conscience of a Generation [New York and London: W. W. Norton], 228). Orwell trusted Rees up to the point of appointing him as his literary executor before his death. 7 Weil speaks of “The Eternal Destiny of Human Beings,” in The Need for Roots: Prelude Towards a Declaration of Duties Towards Mankind, trans. Arthur Wills (London and New York: Routledge, 2005), 4.

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What he [Orwell] might have found if he had pursued the subject, is that this-worldliness and other-worldliness are not so incompatible as he claimed. He might even have found that they existed together, in a very perfect balance, among his own fundamental beliefs.8

Rees was here gesturing to the central issue that will be discussed in this chapter: namely, to what extent is it necessary to hold on to some kind of religious belief for one to be rooted in his or her own existence? What Rees argued is that Orwell, perhaps unconsciously, embraced a Christian other-worldliness. Moreover, Rees suggested that rootedness—the feeling of belonging to the world or the feeling, ultimately, of happiness and meaningfulness—necessarily implied having some sort of religious belief or vision. Now, it seems fair to suggest that Simone Weil had such a religious vision of the world and of human beings. But what about Orwell? If Orwell rejected the idea of humanity having an “eternal destiny,” he believed that asceticism and the search for detachment were incompatible with a fully human life. Consider this passage: If one could follow it to its psychological roots, one would, I believe, find that the main motive for ‘non-attachment’ is a desire to escape from the pain of living, and above all from love, which, sexual or non-sexual, is hard work.9

One of the goals of this chapter will be to reflect on some of these views and ask, once again: how crucial are religious faith, religious desires, and aspirations for rootedness according to Weil and Orwell? Indeed, what is the role of religion in a society trying to find (or recover) its roots? Must the alleged “eternal destiny of man” be taken as a central element when it comes to thinking what rootedness is? According to Simone Weil, human beings have a supernatural calling. But does that mean that some kind of

8 Rees, Fugitive from the Camp of Victory, 134. 9 George Orwell, “Reflections on Gandhi,” Partisan Review (January 1949) in George

Orwell, The Complete Works of George Orwell, ed. Peter Davison, vol. 20 (London: Secker and Warburg, 1998), 8. This impressive work by Peter Davison will be referred to as CWGO from now on in this chapter, according to the convention among Orwell specialists, followed by two numbers indicating the volume and the page. The citation here should read, then, CWGO 20, 8.

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religious tradition necessarily has to be reinfused in an uprooted society, if it is to be well rooted again? Our comparison between the works of Weil and Orwell will reveal that, above all, it is the experience of the beauty of the world that can convey a feeling of belonging or of rootedness (a view central to Weil’s work), and that anyone is susceptible to having such an experience, whether or not they are looking for nonattachment or hold a belief in an alleged supernatural destiny (a view central to Orwell’s work). Indeed, as we will see in this chapter, the feeling of beauty and the feeling of having roots in the world can be experienced by anyone possessing a certain sensitivity toward the beauty of nature. Moreover, what will also be underscored is that personal religious beliefs, according to Orwell, are not critical to experiencing rootedness. These interpretative claims are not found in existing scholarship on Weil and Orwell. In the fifties, T.S. Eliot wrote a prologue to the first English edition of The Need for Roots, and established no ties between this work and Orwell’s writings (T.S. Eliot and Orwell knew each other and had worked together a few times). The writers Malcolm Muggeridge (1903–1990), with whom Orwell lunched regularly and Rayner Heppenstall (1911–1981), who had shared a flat with Orwell in the thirties,10 reviewed the translations of Simone Weil’s works that Richard Rees issued during the sixties. J.P. Little, who has studied Orwell’s reception in Britain, did not see any references to Orwell in Muggeridge’s and Heppenstall’s reviews.11 Only in the decade of the seventies, the writer Robert Nye, who had not met Orwell personally, mentioned him while reviewing Weil’s work, noting that the latter had expressed some of Orwell’s ideas ten years earlier than him.12 In the same year, Muggeridge finally put together Orwell and Weil when he was commissioned to write about his recollections on the first.13 He suggested that Orwell would probably not have liked Weil, and that Rees was the most sensitive interpreter of both authors.

10 Cf. Jeffrey Meyers, Orwell, 89, 212. 11 Little, “Une grande âme,” 138. 12 Ibid., 140. 13 Malcolm Muggeridge, “A Knight of the Woeful Countenance,” in The World of

George Orwell, ed. Miriam Gross (London: Weidenfield and Nicholson, 1971), 168.

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Table 6.1 Weil and Orwell

Direct contemporaries Death before the second half of the twentieth century Cause of a premature death Place of Burial: South of England Elitist Education Direct experience as the basis of intellectual approach to social problems

Simone Weil

George Orwell

Born in 1909 Died in 1943

Born in 1903 Died in 1950

Tuberculosis Ashford, Kent

Tuberculosis Sutton Courtenay, Oxfordshire Eton College Living as a tramp (England) and dishwasher (Paris) Living together with the miners Agricultural Work The Road to Wigan Pier, 1937 Middle class origin among upper-class intellectuals From December 1936 to July 1937 In The Lion and the Unicorn, 1941

École Normale Supérieure Factory Work Agricultural Work

Works on the condition of the working class Marginalized in their intellectual contexts

Oppression and Liberty, 1934

Participation in the Spanish Civil War Criticism of Communists and the of idea of Revolution How to give a new inspiration to Western Societies

From August to September 1936 In Oppression and Liberty, 1934

Only woman in her promotion in the ENS

Through utopian writing (The Need for Roots )

Through dystopian writing (Nineteen Eighty-Four)

Rees made numerous references to Simone Weil when discussing Orwell,14 many of which landed in the important article penned by Alice Holt on these two authors. Holt’s paper (2012)15 takes Rees’ books on Weil and Orwell as a starting point. All of the basic parallels between Orwell and Weil are there, and they could be charted like this (Table 6.1).

14 See, for example, Rees, Fugitive from the Camp of Victory, 115, 135–137. In his book on Simone Weil, he used a famous quote of Orwell to question Simone Weil’s sanctity (Cf. Richard Rees, Simone Weil: A Sketch for a Portrait [London: Oxford University Press, 1966], 7). 15 Alice Holt, “À la recherche du socialisme démocratique: La pensée politique de George Orwell et de Simone Weil,” Esprit, no. 8 (août/septembre 2012): 69–91.

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Since Holt’s article focused on the political tenets tied to “democratic socialism,” it didn’t address major issues like Weil and Orwell’s anticolonialism or their shared thoughts on the revolution.16 Holt’s main interest was showing how the two authors similarly tackled the question of giving a new inspiration to France and England at a time when both traditional Christian and Liberal beliefs were faltering. The present chapter aims at providing new insights into how Weil and Orwell understood the concept of rootedness, or rather, uprootedness. And we shall see, in particular, the great extent to which perspectives on uprootedness are closely tied to the notions of force, affliction, recognition, and beauty. But it is especially the topic of the beauty of the world that will provide us with an answer to our initial question, namely: should we take into account the alleged “eternal destiny of man” when we think of rootedness? A comparison between the two authors will show that rather than worrying first about whether or not we need a religious revival, we should worry about whether Western Societies are making it easy or exceedingly difficult for individuals to experience beauty. And for Weil, I shall insist, the experience of beauty was of utmost significance for rootedness.

The Common Thought of Two Separate Thinkers: Force and Affliction Holt underscored two main elements that both Weil and Orwell considered crucial for the possible restoring of some degree of rootedness in Western societies. The first was, in Orwell’s case, the appeal to “common decency,” and in Weil’s case, the primacy of the notion of obligation over that of rights. Common decency and the primacy of obligation were envisioned by the authors as a forceful way to provide a moral anchoring, a collective inspiration at a time when both Liberalism and Christianity were being challenged. The second was the idea of preserving those meaningful traditions that safeguard the ties between the past and the future of a nation and that provide a feeling of community and continuity to its

16 As the author admitted and regretted; Cf. Holt, “À la Recherche,” 91.

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members.17 This is why both thinkers have been seen as strange cases of revolutionary conservatism.18 But the commonalities between these thinkers extends beyond the solutions they provided for uprooted societies. They also concurred in more basic, more fundamental notions. Both believed that force was sovereign everywhere and both believed that affliction, or the possibility of affliction, was the basic predicament for each individual. These notions are in a sense pre-political; they belong to the field of philosophical anthropology or even metaphysics, since they provide a general rule for how the universe works. A text like The Iliad, or the Poem of Force clearly shows how important the notion of force was for Simone Weil: she believed that force ruled the world, and this belief inspired all of her major texts, from Gravity and Grace to The Need for Roots. Affliction, for Weil, was a natural and unavoidable effect of the rule of force. Orwell also believed in the rule of force and clearly had an eye for affliction, even if these notions were more implicit in his writings than in Weil’s. In her commentary on the Iliad, Weil wrote that force degraded all of those whom it touched into soulless beings: “Such is the nature of might. Its power to transform man into a thing is double and it cuts both ways; it petrifies differently but equally the souls of those who suffer it, and of those who wield it.”19 This is the essential idea behind one of Orwell’s fundamental texts, “Shooting an Elephant” (1936), which dwells on personal experiences Orwell had some ten years before, at the time he was serving as a Policeman in the British colonies in Myanmar. The narrator of this story, after chasing an elephant that had gone into musth and had caused mayhem in the town—killing a man in his escape-, is forced to shoot the elephant even when it is no longer necessary. The pressure of the crowds

17 Holt, “À la Recherche,” 75–80. 18 Orwell’s biographer Jeffrey Meyer’s informs that Cyril Connolly, the English writer

and personal friend to Orwell, said that he was “a revolutionary in love with 1910”; Cf. Jeffrey Meyers, ed., George Orwell: The Critical Heritage (London and Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1975), 199. David Pollard, in his book on Weil’s legacy, also dwells on Weil’s conservatism. Cf. David Pollard, The Continuing Legacy of Simone Weil (Lanham, Maryland: Hamilton Books, 2015), 75. 19 Simone Weil, Intimations of Christianity Among the Ancient Greeks, trans. Elisabeth Chase Geissbuhler (London: Routledge, 1998), 44–45.

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that had gathered behind the English officer, forced him into killing the beast. Here was I, the white man with his gun, standing in front of the unarmed native crowd — seemingly the leading actor of the piece; but in reality I was only an absurd puppet pushed to and fro by the will of those yellow faces behind. I perceived in this moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys. He becomes a sort of hollow, posing dummy, the conventionalized figure of a sahib. For it is the condition of his rule that he shall spend his life in trying to impress the ‘natives’, and so in every crisis he has got to do what the ‘natives’ expect of him. He wears a mask, and his face grows to fit it. I had got to shoot the elephant.20

Orwell’s use of expressions like “the leading actor,” “absurd puppet,” “hollow, posing dummy,” “mask” convey well enough the feeling of having been deprived completely of personal autonomy. One could argue that the text is an example of how social pressure exerts an irresistible force on every individual. The text, though, conveys another view as well. Just as Weil claimed that force exerted its power on both sides of the sword, Orwell stresses how the narrator’s fate (together with the poor elephant’s) was sealed when he asked a subordinate to fetch a proper rifle (in case he needed to shoot the elephant) and when he flashed it out in front of the crowd: “They were watching me as they would watch a conjurer about to perform a trick. They did not like me, but with the magical rifle in my hands I was momentarily worth watching. And suddenly I realized that I should have to shoot the elephant after all.”21 It was the mere fact of holding a big rifle in his hands that set forth the social pressure, and ultimately, convinced the narrator of the impossibility of doing anything else but kill the animal. The text has been read as an anti-colonialist piece, and Orwell himself acknowledges this, talking about “the futility of white man’s dominion in the East.”22 But it also perfectly echoes Weil’s understanding of force. The parallels between both authors become more explicit when attention is focused on how they viewed war. Consider this passage in Weil: 20 CWGO 10, 504. 21 Ibid. 22 Ibid.

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“The winning of battles is not determined between men who plan and deliberate, who make a resolution and carry it out, but between men drained of these faculties, transformed, fallen to the level of either inert matter, which is all passivity.”23 Soldiers, in wars, are turned into matter: those who carry out the acts of killing that define what war is, feel deprived of agency. Orwell, in Coming Up for Air (1939), expressed the same idea. The novel deals with a number of essential topics that explain what rootedness is, such as the role of traditions, the cyclical experience of time and the feelings of continuity and even eternity in the “old English way of life.”24 When the main character dwells on his memories of the Great War, he says: “It was like an enormous machine that had got hold of you. You’d no sense of acting of your own free will, and at the same time no notion of trying to resist.”25 In fact, all of Orwell’s novels speak of this certain passivity, the notion that, for the main character, everything is already laid out in front of him. One of Orwell’s commentators, Michael Carter, defined the “Orwellian fictional situation” as the starting point of each novel.26 Every one of Orwell’s main characters will have to learn to endure their situation– exactly like Electra or Antigone had to do, according to Weil; the only redeeming factor, the only space of liberty left for them, will be to leave a part of their souls untouched by the powerful forces that shape their lives. Like the narrative voice of “Shooting an Elephant,” they will be redeemed if they are able, at least internally, to rebel against force: they will submit to it, but will not, for a second, stop despising and rejecting it. This view is expressed especially clearly (besides in “Shooting an Elephant”) in the case of George Bowling, the main character of Coming Up for Air (1939) who, at the beginning of the novel, sets out to recover the sense of wonder, the love for the beauty of the world that he experienced daily when he was a kid in his native town on the English countryside. As a grown up, he had become a fat, vulgar middle-class 23 Weil, Intimations of Christianity, 44–45. 24 Cf. Oriol Quintana “Orwell’s Penultimate Prophecies in Coming Up for Air: A

Comparison with Byung-Chul Han’s Works,” Astrolabio: Revista internacional de Filosofía, no. 20 (2017): especially 277–283. 25 CWGO 7, 115. 26 Michael Carter, George Orwell and the Problem of Authentic Existence (Totowa, NJ:

Barnes and Noble Books, 1985), 52–53.

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insurance agent, with no time for angling, something that he did often as a child, and which gave him a sense of love and admiration for the beauty of the world. Through Weil (in “The Love of God and Affliction”), we know that the cold and soulless force and the beauty of the world are two sides of the same reality.27 Living in a technological society, which had cut itself off of any significant connection with beauty, George Bowling misses the world of his childhood, a world also full of constraints certainly, but a world indeed where there was a continuity between natural beauty and social life—it was a society with roots. Bowling’s project of going back to his hometown to recover some of this continuity turns out to be a total failure: his hometown has been cemented over and turned into a vulgar mid-sized town. There is nothing left for him to do but to go back to his London suburb to his children and wife, who, having discovered his flight, makes him falsely confess that he’s been out with a lover. Bowling admits to this, to avoid having to explain himself, doubting his wife’s ability to understand the subtleties of what it means to miss a rooted existence. Bowling will submit and conform, but will forever love the world of his childhood and despise the up-rootedness of the modern world— a world that only shows the cold face of force and never connects the individual with the warm, welcoming face of the beauty of the world. A Weilian reading of Nineteen Eighty-Four, understood as the story of a man completely overcome by force, makes it an even more terrifying novel than it already is. Force, through the savage torturers of the Inner Party, sinks his metallic coldness into every corner of his soul. Winston Smith, throughout the novel, entertains the possibility of dying a martyr: from his first rebellious act of starting a diary to express his rejection of the power of the Party, he knows that his fate is sealed, but he hopes to be able to hate and despise the power of force till his last breath. This is precisely what his torturer O’Brien announces is the object of the tortures he is subject to: namely, to turn him into a perfect lover of force and power. This is a destiny even Antigone, who was left to die in a sealed cave, was spared.28 Just as Simone Weil once said that the object of war is to operate precisely this transformation in the souls of combatants,29 27 “In the beauty of the world harsh necessity becomes an object of love,” belonging to “The Love of God and Affliction,” in The Simone Weil Reader, ed. George A. Panichas (New York: McKay, 1977), 447. 28 Weil, Intimations of Christianity, 23. 29 Ibid., 45.

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Orwell paints a world that drains the soul out of every love that is not directed at the idolatry of force. Weil had a very similar picture in mind when she, whether rightly or wrongly, described the essence of Rome and Israel. She thought that both had, at their core, the idolatry of force and a contempt for those crushed by force: The Romans and the Hebrews both believed themselves exempt from the common misery of man, the Romans by being chosen by destiny to be the rulers of the world, the Hebrews by the favour of their God […]. The Romans despised foreigners, enemies, the vanquished, their subjects, their slaves […]. The Hebrews saw a trace of sin in all affliction and therefore a legitimate motive for despising it […]. Thus cruelty was sanctioned and even inevitable.30

The product of such uprooted and uprooting societies is the transformation of each of their members into slaves. Weil further elaborates: “On no occasion has the slave a right to express anything if not that which may please the master. This is why, if in so barren a life, a capacity to love should be born, this love could only be for the master. Every other way is barred to the gift of loving, just as for a horse hitched to a wagon, the reins and the bridle bar all directions but one.”31 This passage could be regarded as a perfect description of the final predicament of Winston Smith, the protagonist of Nineteen Eighty-Four. Until, literally, the last sentence of the novel, the reader hopes that Smith’s affliction will not reach that level in which there is nothing left in him but cooperation with his own affliction and love for those who have caused it. Orwell, dryly and somewhat perversely, closes his novel with the words “He loved Big Brother,” shattering that hope.32 To be utterly crushed by force: this is the perfect definition of affliction. The latter is a term that Orwell himself in fact never used, but it could be said that the reality of affliction as Weil understood it underlies every line he wrote, from his first book Down and Out in Paris and London (1933) to his very last book. In Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) he offers a very graphic physical description of the afflicted main character, when the latter sees himself in a mirror after weeks of captivity and systematic torture 30 Ibid., 53–54. 31 Weil, Intimations of Christianity, 22. 32 CWGO 9, 311.

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(CWGO 9, 283–284). Just as Weil described affliction as a state similar to that of a “half-crushed worm,”33 Orwell used animal-similes. In Down and Out in Paris and London, the destitute who have been excluded from society are invariably compared to animals to express their loss of human appearance. He even uses the image of the worm (“the abject worm-like gratitude with which they normally accept charity,” CWGO 1, 186).34 Simone Weil once wrote that those who have been submitted to affliction become invisible to others, or rather, that others fail to notice them as human beings.35 A similar thought is conveyed in an anecdote Orwell records in “Marrakesh,” an article he published in 1939,36 in which he reports on his stay in Morocco—a country where he lived for some months to try to get better from his last bout of tuberculosis. (The story is also to be found in his personal diary of that time,37 proving how much it had affected him.) Orwell was at a public garden feeding some gazelles, when an Arab employee suddenly asked him for bread. Orwell, in spite of having a trained eye to spot poverty, had failed to notice the state of necessity of that man; judging on the basis of the way he recounts this story, it seems that Orwell had failed to notice the very presence of the man altogether.

The Common Thought of Two Separate Thinkers: Recognition and Beauty Both Weil and Orwell were concerned, in their works, with the subject matter of equality. In Weil’s case, the subject can be easily traced from her early works (such as those published in Oppression and Liberty), to her last writings. In The Need for Roots, she sums up her position on the issue (and more specifically as it relates to military life and hierarchies) as follows: 33 George A. Panichas, ed. The Simone Weil Reader, 441: “Those to whom one of these blows has happened—after which they struggle on the ground like a half-crushed worm—have no words to express what has happened to them.” 34 The other similes are to be found in GWGO 1, 145, 148, 159, 184, and 196. 35 Weil, Intimations of Christianity, 28: “Before these men, others behave as if they

were not there…”. 36 George Orwell, “Marrakech,” New Writing, New Series no. 3 (Christmas 1939) (CWGO 11, 417). 37 CWGO 11, 209.

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In wartime, if an army is filled with the right spirit, a soldier is proud and happy to be under fire instead of at headquarters; a general is proud and happy to think that the successful outcome of the battle depends on his forethought; and at the same time the soldier admires the general and the general the soldier. Such a balance constitutes an equality. There would be equality in social conditions if this balance could be found therein.38

George Orwell also dealt extensively with the topic of equality (and hierarchy) in his writings. One can trace it in his early work, for example in The Road to Wigan Pier (1937), especially in the eighth chapter, where he tackles the problem of class-prejudice in England. One could also mention the case of The Lion and The Unicorn (1941) when Orwell discusses the difference of income in the future post-revolutionary England.39 Just as Weil did in the passage quoted above, Orwell would pinpoint admiration as the key factor that indicates some equality has been reached, even if the external class differences remain. When living among the miners in Wigan, for example, Orwell identified such mutual admiration as the measure of the equilibrium Weil described. Orwell writes: “When I sit typing, the family, especially Mrs. G. and the kids, all gather round to watch absorbedly, and appear to admire my prowess almost as much as I admire that of the miners.”40 In The Road to Wigan Pier, Orwell suggested that external differences that separate social classes were not an obstacle for equality; rather, they reinforced the feeling of admiration: There is a type who remains working-class – who goes on working as a mechanic or a dock –labourer or whatever it may be and does not bother to change his working-class accent and habits, but who ‘improves his mind’ in his spare time and works for the ILP or the Communist Party; and there is the type who does alter his way of life, at least externally, and who by means of State scholarship succeeds in climbing to the middle class. The first is one of the finest types of man we have. I can think of some I met whom not even the most hidebound Tory could help liking and admiring.

38 Weil, The Need for Roots, 17. 39 Orwell proposes a “Limitation of incomes, on such a scale that the highest tax-free

income in Britain does not exceed the lowest by more than ten to one.” (CWGO 12, 422). 40 CWGO 10, 462, from his diaries in Wigan.

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The other type, with exceptions – D.H. Lawrence, for example — is less admirable.41

The feeling of admiration in George Orwell’s works is expressed quite often, and most of the time, one can easily connect its expression with Weilian themes. When she discussed the need of honor, for instance, Weil claimed that: Deprivation of honour attains its extreme degree with that total deprivation of respect reserved for certain categories of human beings. In France, this affects, under various forms, prostitutes, ex-convicts, police agents and the sub-proletariat composed of colonial immigrants and natives. Categories of this kind ought not to exist.42

Weil lists here a few categories of human beings who had been excluded from humanity by their social position. These people could easily, therefore, fall into affliction. Recognition, would be, for them, the way of being restored into the human race. Acknowledging one’s common humanity with the afflicted is also a constant theme in Orwell. For example, in The Road to Wigan Pier, Orwell tells us how, from the window of the train he was traveling on, he saw a working-class woman struggling with a foul drain-pipe. What he stresses in his description of the brief moment is precisely the common humanity between him and her: It struck me then that we are mistaken when we say that ‘It isn’t the same for them as it would be for us’ and that people bred in the slums can imagine nothing but the slums. For what I saw in her face was not the ignorant suffering of an animal. She knew well enough what was happening to her – understood as well as I did how dreadful a destiny it was to be kneeling there in the bitter cold, on the slimy stones of a slum backyard, poking a stick up a foul drain-pipe.43

Again—like in Down and Out in Paris and London—Orwell compares the afflicted with an animal, precisely to deny the simile with the experience

41 CWGO 5, 151. 42 Weil, The Need for Roots, 19. 43 CWGO 5, 15.

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of recognition. Weil also thought that the only way of dragging a man out of his affliction was to acknowledge his lost humanity,44 to recognize a human being in whomever has been reduced to a thing. A society with roots is, for both authors, one in which there are no groups that are deprived of their share in honor and recognition; it is a society in which social differences are compensated by a natural flow of admiration up and down the social ladder. But what about giving a society, as a whole, a feeling of belonging? How can a society be made aware of the cold rule of force, and at the same time, “love the surface of the earth”45 (to use Orwell’s words) or come to terms with its conditions of existence (to use Weilian terms)?46 Both authors offer a similar answer to these questions: through love of beauty. In The Need for Roots, Weil insists on how the feeling of the beauty of the world is the culmination of rootedness,47 a thought also conveyed in her text “The Pythagorean Doctrine”: “Natural Happiness has no real value except when a perfect pure joy is added to it by the sentiment of beauty.”48 Orwell also described quite vividly such a feeling of beauty: it is a striking recurrence in his novels,49 and it can also be found in different places in his journalism and his works of criticism.50 A passage from Coming Up for Air is a good illustration of how perfect joy (obtained through the experience of beauty) can overwhelm even someone like George Bowling, who has certainly not a philosophical character nor seems to be moved by any spiritual aspiration:

44 Panichas, ed., Simone Weil Reader, 459–460: “By projecting their own being into those they help they give them for a moment—what affliction has deprived them of—an existence of their own.” 45 George Orwell, “Why I Write,” Grangel, no. 4 (Summer 1946), in CWGO 18, 319–320. 46 Cf. Simone Weil, The Notebooks of Simone Weil, trans. Arthur Wills (London and New York: Routledge, 2004), 2: “Beauty-rootedness-pact between oneself and one’s own conditions of existence”. 47 See e.g. Weil, The Need for Roots, 91. 48 Weil, Intimations of Christianity, 180. 49 CWGO 2: 55, 57, 66; CWGO 3, 56, 273; CWGO 9, 130. 50 Cf., for example, CWGO 14, 300. Orwell seems to be talking about himself when

he says that the poet Edmund Blunden (1896–1974) “expresses a quiet acceptance of the world as it is and a Love of the Surface of the Earth—even nature worship if you prefer that name for it…”.

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The grass under the hedge was full of primroses. Just inside the gate a tramp or somebody had left the remains of a fire. A little pile of white embers and a wisp of smoke still oozing out of them (…). I stayed there for a bit, leaning over the gate. I was alone, quite alone. I was looking at the field, and the field was looking at me. I felt — I wonder whether you’ll understand. What I felt was something that’s so unusual nowadays that to say it sounds like foolishness. I felt happy.

Such an intense feeling is a fleeting one, but it allows the main character to accept the extraordinary limitations of life in the middle class: But the thing that struck me, as I gave my dental plate the once-over before slipping it back into my mouth, was that it doesn’t matter. Even false teeth don’t matter. I’m fat — yes. I look like a bookie’s unsuccessful brother — yes. No woman will ever go to bed with me again unless she’s paid to. I know all that. But I tell you I don’t care. I don’t want the women, I don’t even want to be young again. I only want to be alive. And I was alive that moment when I stood looking at the primroses and the red embers under the hedge. It’s a feeling inside you, a kind of peaceful feeling, and yet it’s like a flame.51

George Bowling recovers from his sense of defeat by the experience of joy caused by the beauty of nature. Such an experience allows him to come to terms with the fact that he has to wear a dental plate, that he has lost his individuality and all feelings of self-worth. Such an experience is what allows him, despite the general discomfort with which he lives his life, to feel that life is still worth living. Natural happiness is rounded up—or, in this case, fulfilled, by what Weil called “the sentiment of beauty.” In 1946, Orwell still insisted on the same idea, describing the experience of love for the beauty of nature as the element that could prevent society from falling into greater up-rootedness: I think that by retaining one’s childhood love of such things as trees, fishes, butterflies and –to return to my first instance- toads, one makes a peaceful and decent future a little more probable, and that by preaching the doctrine that nothing is to be admired except steel and concrete, one

51 CWGO 7, 171, and 172.

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merely makes it a little surer that human beings will have no outlet for their surplus energy except in hatred and leader-worship.52

It would seem, then, that the matter of human beings having an eternal destiny can be put aside according to Orwell, as one reflects on the political implications of rootedness. Indeed, the key factor that leads an individual to a feeling of rootedness seems to be the experience of beauty. By taking the unsophisticated protagonist of Coming Up for Air as a spokesman, Orwell implied that the religious quest for spiritual perfection doesn’t need to become society’s general goal: even the vulgar and imperfect George Bowling is capable of the experience of beauty. An attentive reading of The Need for Roots also reveals a similar idea in Weil. If religion is to be taught, it is not because it is true in the first place, but because it is beautiful. It could help people feel rooted again, but only as long as it is not imposed dogmatically: Contact with the beauty of Christianity, presented simply as a beautiful thing to be savoured, would imperceptibly imbue the mass of the population with spirituality, if it is still capable of being so imbued, far more effectively than any amount of dogmatic teaching of religious beliefs.53

Simone Weil is saying that the value of religion lies in its capacity to awaken a sensitivity toward beauty; it doesn’t have to be taught in such a way that it becomes once again a type of glue that holds society together. The comparison proposed in this chapter between Weil and Orwell suggests to us that rather than worrying about whether or not we need a religious revival, we should concern ourselves about whether Western Societies are making it possible (or hardly at all) for individuals to experience beauty. Contemporary European philosophers like Byung-Chul Han and Hartmut Rosa have both, in their respective works, offered similar diagnoses of our times and suggested similar remedies: our world lacks contact with natural beauty, and one needs to learn again how to look for it and contemplate it. Han (2015), for example, has characterized present-day

52 Tribune, April 12, 1946, “Some Thoughts on the Common Toad,” in CWGO 18,

240. 53 Weil, The Need for Roots, 90.

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western societies as “burn-out societies.” He has identified the technological set of mind as the main cause of the general feeling of weariness and emptiness (of up-rootedness), and has prescribed precisely the contemplation of the beauty of the world as the way of recovering from those feelings. Rosa has, in his latest book, invited us to consider closely the notion of “Resonance”—a term that could be said to stand for rootedness (or at the very least, for the absence of alienation). In his view, people in Western societies urgently have to learn again how to have a meaningful contact (or “to be in resonance”) with the beauty of nature.54 One of the uptakes for us here is that a politics of rootedness does not necessarily require a religious revival (although the likes of Hartmut Rosa certainly do not completely put aside the importance of spirituality). Rather, such a politics might have more to do with making people more keenly aware of the rule of force and of the existence of affliction; this is one of the most crucial insights, I have argued, that can be gathered from both Orwell’s and Weil’s writings. While at first glance the two authors seem to be quite at odds in light of their vision of things religious, when it comes down to looking for the remedy to uprootedness, religion turns out to be… perhaps not so critical. In the end, a politics of rootedness today, in my view, entails above all a genuine search for the decent recognition of each section of the population and, most importantly perhaps, the search for a way of learning again how to find nourishment in the beauty of the world.

References Carter, Michael. George Orwell and the Problem of Authentic Existence. Totowa, NJ: Barnes and Noble Books, 1985. Han, Byung-Chul. The Burn-Out Society. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2015. Holt, Alice. “À la recherche du socialisme démocratique: La pensée politique de George Orwell et de Simone Weil.” Esprit, no. 8 (août/septembre 2012): 69–91. Little, J.P. “Une grande âme et un esprit brillant: L’accueil fait à l’œuvre de Simone Weil en Grande-Bretagne.” Cahiers Simone Weil XXVIII, no. 2 (June 2005): 129–142. 54 Byung-Chul Han, The Burn-Out Society (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2015); Hartmut Rosa, Resonance: A Sociology of Our Relationship to the World (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2019).

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Meyers, Jeffrey, ed. George Orwell: The Critical Heritage. London and Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1975. ———. Orwell: Wintry Conscience of a Generation. New York and London: W. W. Norton, 2000. Muggeridge, Malcolm. “A Knight of the Woeful Countenance.” In The World of George Orwell, edited by Miriam Gross, 165–177. London: Weidenfield and Nicholson, 1971. Orwell, George. The Complete Works of George Orwell, edited by Peter Davison. London: Secker and Warburg, 1998. Panichas, George A., ed. The Simone Weil Reader. New York: McKay, 1977. Pollard, David. The Continuing Legacy of Simone Weil. Lanham, Maryland: Hamilton Books, 2015. Quintana, Oriol. “Orwell’s Penultimate Prophecies in Coming Up For Air: A Comparison with Byung-Chul Han’s Works.” Astrolabio: Revista internacional de Filosofía 20 (2017). Rees, Richard. Fugitive from the Camp of Victory. London: Secker and Warburg, 1961. ———. Simone Weil: A Sketch for a Portrait. London: Oxford University Press, 1966. Rodden, John. “Jean Malaquais: A French Orwell?” Society 52, no. 4 (August 2015). Rosa, Hartmut. Resonance: A Sociology of Our Relationship to the World. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2019. Seidman, Michael. “¿Un Orwell francés? Jean-François Revel. Memorias: el ladrón en la casa vacía.” Revista de Libros, no. 135 (March 2018). Weil, Simone. Intimations of Christianity Among the Ancient Greeks. Translated and edited by Elisabeth Chase Geissbuhler. London: Routledge, 1998. ———. The Need for Roots: Prelude to a Declaration of Duties Towards Mankind. Translated by Arthur Wills. London and New York: Routledge, 2005. ———. The Notebooks of Simone Weil. Translated by Arthur Wills. London and New York: Routledge, 2004.

PART II

Weil and Ideology

CHAPTER 7

The Colonial Frame: Judith Butler and Simone Weil on Force and Grief Benjamin P. Davis

In condemning the contradictory practices of interwar France, Simone Weil criticized the self-proclaimed defender of the rights of man for favoring its population at home while oppressing others abroad. She was continually critical of colonial ideology emerging from her country.1 In this chapter, I engage with Weil’s writings on colonialism, reading them with a focus on emotion or affect. This focus will allow us to inquire into two of her most poignant observations regarding colonial society: first, 1 Inese Radzins has noted that “Weil pointed to… the dual nature of France’s destruction—not only in oppressing others, but also by sanctioning this destruction through various policies at home” (Inese Radzins, “Simone Weil’s Social Philosophy: Toward a Post-Colonial Ethic,” in New Topics in Feminist Philosophy of Religion: Contestations and Transcendence Incarnate [New York: Springer, 2009], 71). A future site of Weil studies lies in placing Weil in dialogue with decolonial contemporaries and continuations: consider for instance W.E.B. DuBois’s treatment of colonialism in his 1945 Color and Democracy: Colonies and Peace; consider also the Caribbean diagnosis that the two fundamental aspects of France’s relation to the world are universal freedom and colonialism in Patrick Chamoiseau’s and Édouard Glissant’s “When the Walls Fall: Is National Identity and Outlaw?”

B. P. Davis (B) The University of Toronto, Centre for Ethics, Toronto, Canada e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s) 2020 S. Bourgault and J. Daigle (eds.), Simone Weil, Beyond Ideology?, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-48401-9_7

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that the French bourgeoisie, as well as the French Left, might shed a tear at the sight of a local beggar, but fails to cry over France’s systematic destruction of people in its colonies; second, that the French are quick to discount the tears of foreigners, of those at a distance. For citizens of the colonizing nation, only certain, familiar tears count as real affliction.2 This chapter proceeds as follows: first I read Judith Butler’s Frames of War in order to present her concept of the “frame.” Next I suggest that Weil discloses what I call “the colonial frame,” or the way in which the ideology of colonialism conditions its subjects to see themselves, others, and the world such that colonial violence is naturalized, legitimized, and maintained. I then argue that Weil unveils the colonial frame by performing a critical phenomenology of her colonizing society, turning our attention to the particular, material, everyday situations in which the ideology of colonialism manifests itself, such as instances of grieving. I conclude by offering cautionary notes against potential responses to the colonial frame (inclusion, pity, and tolerance) while underscoring that the take-home lesson of Weil’s practices and writings lies in its emphasis on self-critique.

Part One: The Colonial Frame Like the frame of a painting, “frame” in Butler’s sense editorializes the image it outlines, calling some features to more significance than others. And like the frame of the legal sense “to be framed,” Butler’s notion of the frame carries the connotation of guiding the viewer to interpretive conclusions, including judgments of guilt and decisions to punish. More than the setting of an art gallery or the scene of a courtroom, however, Butler is interested in the particular context of war. “War is framed,” she

2 See Simone Weil, Simone Weil on Colonialism: An Ethic of the Other, ed. J.P. Little (Lanham, MA: Rowman & Littlefield International, 2003), 41–44. My emphasis on Weil’s analysis of emotion challenges her reputation as generally lacking in sensitivity and feeling. Deborah Nelson observes that women philosophers such as Weil “have been perceived as psychologically cold rather than engaged in an ethical project with different assumptions” (Deborah Nelson, Tough Enough: Arbus, Arendt, Didion, McCarthy, Sontag, Weil [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017], 9). Making a point related to Nelson’s, Sophie Bourgault observes that myriad of Weil’s biographies feature “the disturbing subtext… that it is particularly strange for a woman to eschew romantic love, children, or sex” (Bourgault, “Beyond the Saint and the Red Virgin: Simone Weil as Feminist Theory of Care,” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies 35, no. 2 [2014]: 1).

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writes, “to control and heighten affect in relation to the differential grievability of lives.”3 She lists the following as particular examples of frames of war: frames of photographs, framing a decision to go to war in the first place, and the framing of immigration as the “war at home”; and she also indicates how sexual and feminist politics are framed with a view toward the war.4 By “grievability,” Butler addresses the conditions under which the loss of a life matters. This means more than the ordinary usage of “grief,” which refers to a life that has been lived. A life only counts, Butler argues, if it would be grieved, were it lost. Grieving demonstrates that loss matters, and it does so in everyday events. At the birth of another, or in encountering another, there is an implicit understanding that, were the life of this other to be lost, it would be grieved. On this analysis, grievability is a presupposition for life that counts; it “precedes and makes possible the apprehension of the living being as living.”5 If a grievable life would be mourned, an ungrievable life, conversely, “cannot be mourned because it has never lived, that is, it has never counted as a life at all.”6 Frames therefore condition what is grievable, especially what is grievable in public and from the viewpoint of a collectivity, e.g., a nation, which Butler reminds us is not only imagined but also “produced and sustained through powerful forms of media.”7 Take for example the framing of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. When U.S. soldiers died on the same day that other U.S. soldiers killed Iraqi civilians, the operation of the frame was present as U.S. news channels only told the story of the soldiers, our soldiers. Targeted populations, then, are not quite lives. Here we see several features of frames through grievability: frames are active— “both jettisoning and presenting, and as doing both at once, in silence, without any visible sign of [their] operation.”8 They are selective, operating in such a way that recognition of life occurs differentially, often according to race, sexuality, gender, nationality, or labor status. Further, suggesting that only certain lives matter—that only certain lives are worth mourning—, frames are “politically saturated,” themselves “operations 3 Judith Butler, Frames of War: When Is Life Grievable? (New York: Verso, 2009), 26. 4 Ibid. 5 Ibid., 15. 6 Ibid., 38. 7 Ibid., 47, 125. 8 Ibid., 73.

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of power.”9 Therefore, they are not neutral or merely descriptive, but partisan and prescriptive; they “do not merely reflect on the material conditions of war, but are essential to the perpetually crafted animus of that material reality.”10 It is also crucial to understand that frames are always already operative: certain lives are deemed worthy of grief, protection, attention, and so on, and other lives are not, because of predominant norms of recognizability that preexist any specific recognition.11 Butler emphasizes this point: “[W]hether and how we respond to the suffering of others, how we formulate moral criticisms, how we articulate political analyses, depends upon a certain field of perceptible reality having already been established.”12 In sum, frames seek “to contain, convey, and determine what is seen.”13 Crucially, they fail in regard to the latter; frames condition but do not determine appearance. The failure of the frame to function deterministically is due to its structure of iterability. That is, as Jacques Derrida understood, frames must alter—must break with themselves—in order to reproduce themselves, and they do this over both space and time.14 A photograph, for instance, circulates internationally: the reproduction of its frame means that it breaks from the context of when it was taken, travelling through media. To see a photo of an Israeli settlement on a computer at a café in Atlanta is at once a repetition of the frame of the photograph (it is the same photograph) and a differentiation (seen in a different place and time by a different person). The frame also fails to determine what appears because something always exceeds it—“something occurs that does not conform to our established understanding of things.”15 In light of the importance, the gravity, of the already operative norms of the frame, some “subjects” are not recognized as subjects, some “lives” are not quite considered lives, some “humans” are not thought of as humans. “In what sense does life, then,”

9 Ibid., 1. 10 Ibid., 26. 11 Ibid., 50. 12 Ibid., 63–64. 13 Ibid., 10. 14 See Jacques Derrida, Margins of Philosophy, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: University of

Chicago Press, 1982), 315. 15 Butler, Frames, 9.

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Butler asks, “always exceed the normative conditions of its recognizability?”16 The point of the question is understood in providing concrete answers: in Weil’s France, say, the colonized subject is a life that exceeds the recognition of French citizens. This is also true—and this is Butler’s point—with respect to those in countries the U.S. has recently invaded vis-à-vis members of the imagined and produced U.S. collectivity. That is, the colonized subject is not really a life at all, according to the French or U.S. colonial frame.17 Overall, in Frames of War Butler is advancing “an historically contingent ontology” that works to denaturalize (colonial) practices of grieving and, more generally, of affect.18 It is not the case that the recognition of and attention to certain people is a natural occurrence; rather, this recognition and attention is the result of a long process of internally and externally interrupted normative schemes. “[C]asting emotion as a basis for naturalized social or moral consensus,” Rei Terada points out, is an “ideological convenience.”19 To understand the frame’s contingency is to understand how it is a convenience (not a natural occurrence). In addition to guiding her readers’ understanding of the regulation of affect, what is at stake for Butler is a response that could contribute to “a new trajectory of affect” that might speak to “knowing how we might respond effectively to suffering at a distance.”20 While affective responses “call upon and enact certain interpretive frames,” they can also “call into question the taken-for-granted character of those frames, and in that way provide the affective conditions for social critique.”21 In addressing the ideology of colonialism, I will suggest that Weil’s response to the affliction of those colonized by her country, particularly the way in which her shame at this colonization motivated her political engagements, exemplifies the move 16 Ibid., 4. 17 Butler’s consideration of precarious and grievable lives is different from “bare life” in

the political philosophy of Giorgio Agamben. She writes: “[T]he lives in question are not cast outside the polis in a state of radical exposure, but bound and constrained by power relations in a situation of forcible exposure” (ibid., 29). Thus we can begin to place Weil and Butler in dialogue. Weil, too, would focus on State-sponsored force. 18 Ibid., 4. 19 Rei Terada, Feeling in Theory: Emotion After the “Death of the Subject” (Cambridge,

MA: Harvard University Press, 2001), 4. 20 Butler, Frames, 11, 63. 21 Ibid., 34–35.

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from affective response to social critique. What is rarely seen or told, Butler remarks, is that certain forms of State power are embedded in the frame, such as those found in maps and directives—of military operations and, indeed, of what and whom we attend to in everyday life.22 In her writings on colonialism, Weil reveals these power-laden, enforced forms by underscoring the contingency of the colonial frame.

Part Two: Simone Weil’s Critical Phenomenology In 1931, Weil read Louis Roubaud’s exposé of the Yen-Bay massacre in French Indochina, published in Le Petit Parisien. She learned of the conditions of the colonized—“their destitution, their slavery, the insolence of the whites that went unsanctioned.”23 “Since that time,” she writes in her winter 1936–1937 “Letter to the Indochinese,” “I have never been able to think of Indochina without feeling ashamed of my country.”24 Yet being ashamed was never enough for Weil. Shame, instead, served as motivation to do more; becoming conscious of colonialism caused her to call into question her own practices as well as those of her country.25 This is an inversion of the traditional function of shame, which is indexed to power in the State: usually, Martha Nussbaum explains, “the dominant group characterizes itself as ‘normal’ and the divergent group as shameful, asking them to blush for who they are.”26 Weil, instead, interrogated the norms of her own group, the dominant, State-sanctioned French. Weil problematized her own situation and that of the French State by performing a critical phenomenology of colonial society. By “phenomenology,” I mean a method of analysis (a) that suspends an uncritical 22 Ibid., 72, 74. For a consideration of those mappings, see e.g., the excellent collection of poetry Victims of a Map. In one of those poems, “Travel Tickets,” Samih al-Qasim writes: “On the day you kill me / You’ll find in my pocket / Travel tickets / To peace, / To the fields and the rain, / To people’s conscience. / Don’t waste the tickets” (Samih al-Qasim, “Travel Tickets,” in A Bilingual Anthology of Arabic Poetry [London: Saqi Books, 1984], 59). 23 Weil, Simone Weil on Colonialism, 47. 24 Ibid. 25 Weil scholars often speak about Weil’s compassion; I am suggesting that, beyond compassion, Weil knew the importance of critique. 26 Martha Nussbaum, Political Emotions: Why Love Matters for Justice (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press: An Imprint of Harvard University Press, 2013), 360.

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acceptance of the natural(ized) attitude of the colonial frame, (b) that sees concepts as interpretive and embodied practices, and (c) that proceeds through increasingly sophisticated descriptions of lived experience.27 Phenomenology begins from the claim that meanings appear to us. Because the natural attitude, here the colonial frame, takes meanings for granted, as inherent in experience, it does not investigate structures of appearance. A phenomenological approach, by contrast, takes meanings as accomplishments and, in turn, investigates the values and conditions that allow for any given meaning to be achieved. If those conditioning structures can be changed, then those meanings—which are always already interpretations—would be altered. That is, if the political and social life of the collectivity changes, then it will frame events differently. A first, critical phenomenological step toward this alternative framing is to call into question how experience appears to us. The modifier “critical” suggests, in addition to the interrogation of appearances, work being done toward alternative social forms. Here I follow Lisa Guenther in her description of critical phenomenology as twofold, as both “a philosophical practice of reflecting on the transcendental and material structures that make experience possible and meaningful” and “a political practice of ‘restructuring the world’ in order to generate new and liberatory possibilities for meaningful experience and existence.”28 My claim is that Weil’s writings are phenomenological in calling into question which experiences appear as tragic and grievable through the colonial frame and critical in essaying, beyond a posture of aporia, alternative political arrangements in France. I will read Weil’s critical phenomenology through three of 27 For this approach to phenomenology, see Eduardo Mendieta, Global Fragments: Globalizations, Latinamericanisms, and Critical Theory (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2007), 37. I call Weil’s analysis phenomenology, further, because of how it, in Anthony Steinbock’s words, “takes us beyond a subject-object dichotomy often attributed to Western philosophical thought insofar as givenness is not necessarily attached to the appearing of an object over against a subject” (Anthony Steinbock, Phenomenology and Mysticism: The Verticality of Religious Experience [Indianapolis, IN: Indiana University Press, 2007], 2). Indeed, Steinbock continues, “[w]e are involved in the very course of our experience. We hardly notice them when they flow on concordantly without disruption or when everything works harmoniously” (ibid., 2–3). For more on the emerging discussion of “critical phenomenology,” see e.g., Lisa Guenther, Solitary Confinement. 28 Lisa Guenther, “A Critical Phenomenology of Solidarity and Resistance in 2013 California Prison Hunger Strikes,” in Body/Self/Other: The Phenomenology of Social Encounters, eds. Luna Dolezal and Danielle Petherbridge (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2017), 49.

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her writings on colonialism: “Morocco, or a Lesson in Theft,” “Blood is Flowing in Tunisia,” and “New Facts about the Colonial Problem in the French Empire.” From her incisive title onward, in “Morocco, or A Lesson in Theft,” from February 1937, Weil parodies the French reaction to a threat to its territory, the “sacred soil” and “fatherland.”29 Many French citizens argue that “a territory that has belonged to France since 1911 is French by right for all eternity”; indeed, she continues, “that’s what appears even more clearly if one looks at the history of Morocco.”30 Like imperial powers and police forces in our time, France diagnosed a situation as starting to be problematic only when white lives were threatened, sending troops to Morocco in light of “the beginnings of unrest, which was putting the lives of Europeans in danger.”31 Of course, it “promised to withdraw them as soon as security was reestablished.”32 Weil observes, further, that France cares more for prestige than for international law.33 She follows her jabs at French society in “Morocco” with a more nuanced critique of French social life in her 1937 “Blood is Flowing in Tunisia.” Weil begins that essay by emphasizing the importance of blood. It is blood that is at stake in colonialism, with the blood of some receiving more attention than that of others.34 Whereas French workers 29 Weil, Simone Weil on Colonialism, 31. 30 Ibid., 32. 31 Ibid., 33. 32 Ibid. 33 “Prestige” is a technical term in Weil. She had worked out its connection to violence and fascism in her 1936 “Do We Have to Grease Our Combat Boots,” writing: “One must choose between prestige and peace. And whether one claims to believe in the fatherland, democracy, or revolution, the policy of prestige means war” (Simone Weil, Formative Writings: 1929–1941, trans. and ed. Dorothy Tuck McFarland and Wilhelmina Van Ness [Amherst, MA: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1987], 258). 34 Substituting “political” for “theological” and “colonialism” for “Christianity” in Gil Anidjar’s political-theological text Blood, we read: “[T]here is nothing natural about blood, and the confusion as to its literal or figurative status (a key site of difference ‘between bloods’), its physiological or [political] existence, is crucial to understand [colonialism], to consider and reflect upon it” (Gil Anidjar, Blood: A Critique of Christianity [New York: Columbia University Press, 2014], 257). Blood could open new forms of relation, kin, attention across borders: “It can so break and might therefore engender new contexts; it has, in the form of new notions of kinship and of race or of novel, massive, and massively hailed and barely interrogated practices (circulation, donation, and transfusion, for instance)” (ibid., ix).

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were regarded by the President, “the millions of workers who suffer, exhaust themselves, and despair throughout the French Empire had been forgotten.”35 “We’d all forgotten them,” she adds.36 One reason for this forgetting is distance. Weil recounts the customary view: “Everyone knows that the magnitude of problems and people, the seriousness of injustices, the intensity of suffering, all diminish in proportion to their distance.”37 In the history of moral philosophy, it is traditional to claim that distance diminishes empathy and attention: the stoic oikeiosis, for instance, suggests that concern radiates outward, becoming weaker as it disperses farther and farther away. Weil is ultimately arguing against any easy employment of this naturalized tradition, even if she acknowledges with clear eyes that “[d]istance diminishes the weight on our minds of acts of injustice and oppression, in the same manner as it acts on gravity with respect to objects.”38 She describes how racialized conceptions of others make the French think that others are inured to suffering and, moreover, are completely Other, “not made like us.”39 Their pain “is not really very gripping,” unless it is sensational—“massacres… that speak to the imagination.”40 She then asks a question of “our country,” that is, of herself and her fellow citizens: “But tears shed in silence, mute despair, revolt suppressed under the pressure of constraint, hopeless resignation, exhaustion, slow death—does all that count?”41 Even though our country has responsibility for this affliction—even though “millions of human beings… from the depths of an abyss of slavery and affliction turned their eyes toward us”—, it does not bear on us, does not cause hesitation.42 “Such deaths don’t count; they aren’t real deaths.”43 To reiterate: the problem is not simply distance, meaning that certain, faraway affliction “exceeds the capacity of… imagination” and by extension of attention and empathy, but it is also that workers in other 35 Weil, Simone Weil on Colonialism, 41. 36 Ibid. 37 Ibid., 42. 38 Ibid. 39 Ibid. 40 Ibid. 41 Ibid. 42 Ibid., 43. 43 Ibid., 42.

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countries are racialized such that they are considered “as being of another species.”44 Colonial power manifests as a manipulation of vision and feeling: the selectivity of the frame is preconditioned such that colonized subjects are invisible to citizens of the colonial country, and when colonized subjects appear, such as through forcing some living in French Indochina to “volunteer” to work in France, they appear as of another species, accused of Otherness beyond concern (including dialogue, love, disagreement, play, and other forms of shared life). This is, as Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak puts it, an “epistemic violence”—“the remotely orchestrated, far-flung, and heterogenous project to constitute the colonial subject as Other”—that affects bodies materially.45 Weil observes that—due to such racialized conditioning of affect— the empathy of the bourgeoisie does not pass far beyond the beggar in the street, namely, the French person who looks like they do. And while Butler reminds us that implicit frames of recognizability are at play anytime I recognize someone as “like me,” Weil considers the French response to what Butler calls precarity—to “that politically induced condition” in which the colonized are “differentially exposed to injury, violence, and death”—in more simple terms: it is stupidity.46 “Does not the bourgeoisie at all levels manifest its stupidity, its brutality, its narrowmindedness,” she asks her readers, “primarily by getting interested in a particular crime, a suicide, a railway accident, and ignoring the fact that millions of lives are slowly crushed, ground down, and destroyed by the everyday workings of the social machine?”47 She employs this question as a rhetorical device to set up her readers. After all, she writes, “we”—and

44 Ibid., 43. 45 Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, “Can the Subaltern Speak?” in Colonial Discourse and

Post-Colonial Theory, eds. Patrick Williams and Laura Chrisman (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), 75, 76. For both Spivak and Weil, the subaltern, in affliction, is mute. They differ in terms of both specificity and response, however. Spivak’s emphasis on the gendered subaltern is more particular than Weil’s universality allows. And whereas Spivak remains critical of French intellectuals’ attempts to represent subalterns, Weil writes in the 1942–1943 essay “Human Personality”: “In order to provide an armour for the afflicted, one must put into their mouths only those words whose rightful abode is in heaven, beyond heaven, in the other world” (Simone Weil, Simone Weil: An Anthology [New York: Penguin, 2005], 86). This call to put words into the mouths of the afflicted raises concerns for the post- and decolonial thinker. 46 Butler, Frames, 26, 36. 47 Weil, Simone Weil on Colonialism, 43.

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she means those on the Left—“have the same mentality as the bourgeoisie.”48 She continues, poignantly: “Every one of us can see one of the culprits by looking in the mirror.”49 Weil’s critical phenomenology accounted for additional historical and political details in her December 1938 “New Facts about the Colonial Problem in the French Empire.” She links colonialism to her concept of force in the opening sentences of the essay: The problems regarding colonization can be stated above all in terms of force. Colonization nearly always begins by the exercise of force in its purest form, that is, by conquest. A people, overcome through force of arms, suddenly has to submit to the control of foreigners of another color, another language, a completely different culture, convinced of their own superiority.50

Colonization is forced imposition, both concrete, e.g., in territorial conquest, and abstract, e.g., in the introduction of hierarchies (inferior/superior). After presenting the colonial problem as a problem of force, Weil turns to the question of how to improve the situation. “One of the ways that can be imagined,” she suggests, “is the birth of a movement of opinion in the colonizing nation against the appalling injustices imposed on the colonies.”51 Indeed, in a State that promotes ostensibly universal rights, “that proclaims an ideal of freedom and humanity,” “[i]t would seem easy to provoke such a movement of opinion.”52 But this is not the case, because States are never what they claim to be. She continues soberly: “Generosity hardly ever extends in any people as far as making an effort to discover the injustices committed in their name.”53 Revolt is a second possibility, but it is unlikely to succeed, she notes, and even if it did, it is likely that “constraint, exhaustion, and hunger” would remain

48 Ibid., 42. 49 Ibid., 43. The U.S. Left today remains culpable in, e.g., the reprehensible claim to

close borders in the name of U.S. workers. See Angela Nagle, “The Left Case against Open Borders,” American Affairs II, no. 4 (2018). 50 Weil, Simone Weil on Colonialism, 66. 51 Ibid., 67. 52 Ibid. 53 Ibid., 68.

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“as great as under foreign domination.”54 Hence independence—“doubtless a good thing”—would be rendered “meaningless.”55 A third way, which Weil endorses, is “that the colonizing nations have an interest in the progressive emancipation of her colonies, and that she be conscious of this interest.”56 This third way, Weil admits, is an improbable solution, thwarted by “the ignorance in France concerning the facts of the situation.”57 Indeed, as she notes in the concluding part of the essay, the subjects of a State do not take as seriously what offends justice, as what threatens their personal security. She also acknowledges that her endorsed plan would be rejected by radicals. To the revolutionaries, this third way, this “solution,” “bears the indelible defect of reformism.”58 To the contemporary decolonial thinker, this “soultion” could be said to be even more problematic, bearing the defect of paternalism and gradualism, which militate against independence and liberation. Indeed, the philosopher who wants to think with Weil with a view toward decolonial efforts must reject the continual “not yet” that one can hear in her advocacy toward “partial emancipation”; for the Weil of the 1938 essay “New Facts,” “There is no question of suddenly making the colonies independent states.”59 In the final instance, I think Weil is instructive not in her prescribed reform but in her refusal to accept an aporetic posture that would dwell, and remain, in the difficulty of essaying another way. “Regarding the colonies,” she writes in a 1938–1939 fragment, “it is not sufficient to make do with a question mark.”60 What to bear in mind, then, when offering a response to the question of colonialism in and of my own predatory State? Writing in 1939, in an unfinished essay titled “Reflections on Barbarism,” Weil states: “I believe that the concept of force

54 Ibid. 55 Ibid. 56 Ibid. 57 Ibid., 71. Spivak notes that this is “the sanctioned ignorance that every critic of imperialism must chart” (Spivak, “Can the Subaltern Speak?,” 86). 58 Weil, Simone Weil on Colonialism, 70. 59 Ibid., 69, 70. 60 Ibid., 74.

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must be made central in any attempt to think clearly about human relations.”61 It is also in this essay that she writes, “[W]e are always barbarous toward the weak unless we make an effort of generosity that is as rare as genius.”62 Here she inverts tradition once again: it is the forceful who are barbarous, and she implicates herself in the barbarism of the powerful, a move especially noteworthy given her preferred position on the threshold or margins of any collectivity (but never quite in it). We are barbarous, she insists. This claim about the forceful as barbarous, as well as this implication of self, substantiate my claim that Weil teaches us—we who are citizens of colonizing powers—something about calling into question colonial ideology.63 Weil presents a real way to respond to the colonial frame and its concomitant force to the extent that she focuses not on the improvement of a situation “over there,” itself a move according to a colonial trajectory, but precisely as she moves through self-critique: she feels shame toward her country, and she shed shameful tears over the hunger of others, over those who are, according to the colonial frame, “something living that is other than life.”64 But tears are not autotelic; what is more important politically is her critical phenomenology, her resolute interrogation into ideologically conditioned affective attachments. Weil shows that the colonial frame can be fractured when it is denaturalized—when one sees both how what it frames is not natural but historically contingent (e.g., the possession of Morocco) and how it shapes our material and affective practices (e.g., what we consider dispossession and to whose tears we attend). In phenomenologically exposing the accomplishment of the colonial frame and what appears as natural through it, Weil saw through what Roberto Esposito calls “the ideological construction of a world that is so false that the real appears to be unbelievable.”65 She stayed with the trouble 61 Quoted in Simone Pétrement, Simone Weil: A Life (New York: Pantheon Books, 1976), 361. 62 Ibid. 63 Butler writes tongue-in-cheek, not unlike Weil at times, that the photos of U.S.

torture at Abu Ghraib show that, “in an effort to win the clash of civilizations and subject the ostensible barbarians to our civilizing mission,” the U.S. “has rid itself so beautifully of our own barbarism” (Butler, Frames, 84–85). 64 Butler, Frames, 15. 65 Roberto Esposito, The Origin of the Political: Hannah Arendt or Simone Weil? (New

York: Fordham University Press, 2017), 3.

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of attending to reality instead of avoiding it, in A. Rebecca RozelleStone’s neologism, where “a-voidances” are “flights from reality and from suffering.”66 (“Why are you avoiding me?” Mahmoud Darwish asks in a fragment in Journal of an Ordinary Grief .67 ) Still, as Butler notes, “[a]n ethical attitude does not spontaneously arrive as soon as the usual interpretive frameworks are destroyed, and no pure moral conscience emerges once the shackles of everyday interpretation have been thrown off.”68 “On the contrary,” she continues in a call to political engagement, “it is only by challenging the dominant media that certain kinds of lives may become visible or knowable in their precariousness.”69

Conclusion: Politics and Contestation Thinking with Butler and Weil, I want to issue three cautions regarding what might be taken up as challenges to dominant media. First, it would be a mistake to pose the next question as how to expand recognition so that it encompasses what was previously abjected. This approach does not change the normative conditions at play, but only extends them; it treats the colonial problem as one of inclusion instead of transformation.70 Second, it would also be a mistake to think that this situation calls for pity. Summed up in the cliché “giving voice to the voiceless,” pity is a “soft arrogance” that manifests in “contrived gasps and tears”; it features three key defects: its position of imperial power; its colonial epistemological drive to comprehend, indeed consume, the other; and, thirdly, “pity is not an actual affect but simply the unspontaneous ideological façade of

66 A. Rebecca Rozelle-Stone, “Le Déracinement of Attention: Simone Weil on the Institutionalization of Distractedness,” Philosophy Today 53, no. 1 (2009): 101, 104. 67 Mahmoud Darwish, Journal of an Ordinary Grief , trans. Ibrahim Muhawi (New York: Archipelago Books, 2010), 7. Please note that this quotation was originally the epigraph of this chapter; publishing conventions required it to be moved here. 68 Butler, Frames, 51. 69 Ibid. 70 This caution is in line with the decolonial philosopher Enrique Dussel’s call for

political transformation: “The excluded should not be merely included in the old system— as this would be to introduce the Other into the Same—but rather ought to participate as equals in a new institutional moment (the new political order)” (Enrique Dussel, Twenty Theses on Politics, trans. George Ciccariello-Maher [Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008], 89).

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an affect.”71 Pity is to be expected in the colonial frame. It is at once an exacerbation of the problem and its most salient illustration, preventing self-critique as it emphasizes its own kindness, its own uncritical “generosity.” Third, in addition to rejecting expansion and pity, Butler and Weil are calling for an orientation beyond tolerance. As Butler insists, tolerance assumes subjects “differentiated from the start,” such that “both positions get defined in terms of their putatively conflictual relation with one another, at which point we come to know very little about either category or the sites of their sociological convergence.”72 Instead of inspiring a just balance, tolerance functions according to the logic of which bodies matter in the colonial frame; it “orders identity according to its requirements” and thereby uproots, “effac[ing]… complex cultural realities.”73 Ultimately, tolerance “regulates aversion,” presupposing contempt for another while asserting its “virtues.”74 In sum, inclusion, pity, and tolerance are not attentive responses, nor do they call into question how my everyday actions perpetuate the affliction of others (whom I in turn pity, tolerate, “give” to in philanthropy, and so on). How, then, to respond attentively to those, near and at a distance, whose lives are not considered grievable? How to understand, interrogate, and exacerbate the contestations and fractures of the colonial frame? Here we must recall, learning from Weil and Butler together, that in a colonizing society the colonial frame is already operative, that the force concomitant with it is predominant and self-perpetuating, and that it has already worked to constitute a certain subject and its Other. “The point is not to eradicate the conditions of one’s own production,” however, Butler writes, “but to assume responsibility for living a life that contests the determining power of that production; in other words, that makes good use of the iterability of the productive norms and, hence, of

71 Jason Mohaghegh and Lucian Stone, “Introduction: Outsider Imperatives,” in Manifestos for World Thought, eds. Jason Mohaghegh and Lucian Stone (Lanham, MA: Rowman & Littlefield International, 2017), x. 72 Butler, Frames, 140, 143. 73 Ibid., 143. 74 For the function of tolerance in a colonial context, cf. Wendy Brown, Regulating Aversion (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006).

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their fragility and transformability.”75 As Weil understood from the warfatigued Greeks in the Iliad, Esposito continues, “it is precisely because they know that force covers the entire canvas that they can direct their gaze to the frame as well as to the internal fractures of the canvas.”76 In short, from Butler and Weil we can learn how to struggle: to implicate ourselves in our country’s violences and to own up to the predominance of colonial force as it informs who we take ourselves to be. The alternative is to avoid reality, to hold fast to the colonially framed and ideologically informed claim that there are prestigious spheres outside of politics.77 If we betray our political commitments most saliently through our emotions, most poignantly through what we grieve, then one reiteration could move to cultivate an alternative affect in ways that deepen the fragile fractures of the frame.78 To consider grieving differently, in a way unrecognized according to the dominant, colonial frame, could open onto practices of liberty, attention, and responsibility in the spirit of Weil.

75 Ibid., 170–171. This resonates with what Alessia Ricciardi has called Weil’s “negative politics,” meaning “a kind of negative thinking with respect to institutional, ideologically formalized politics, a skepticism that nevertheless eschews nihilism” (Alessia Ricciardi, “From Decreation to Bare Life: Weil, Agamben, and the Impolitical,” Diacritics 39, no. 2 [2009]: 76–77). 76 Esposito, Origin, 49. 77 In “About the Problems in the French Empire,” written in exile from New York in

mid- to late 1942, Weil was still thinking about French colonialism, observing: “There lives in the soul of all men a burning hunger for freedom which, as a source of energy, is more precious than coal or oil” (Weil, Simone Weil on Colonialism, 90). Weil thus demands an inversion of priorities by connecting turning on the lights, driving to work, or flying to a prestigious international academic conference—all of which rely on coal or oil—to the liberty of some and the oppression of others. “Politics is everywhere,” Edward Said adds; “there can be no escape into the realms of pure art and thought or, for that matter, into the realm of disinterested objectivity or transcendental theory. Intellectuals are of their time, herded along by the mass politics of representations embodied by the information or media industry, capable of resisting those only by disputing the images, [frames,] official narratives, justifications of power circulated by an increasingly powerful media—and not only media but whole trends of thought that maintain the status quo, keep things within an acceptable and sanctioned perspective on actuality” (Edward Said, Representations of the Intellectual: The 1993 Reith Lectures [New York: Vintage, 1994], 21–22). 78 My emphasis on intention and effort here, to be clear, resonates less with Derrida’s reiteration and more with Sartre’s owned sense of responsibility in Sketch for a Theory of Emotions.

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References Anidjar, Gil. Blood: A Critique of Christianity. New York: Columbia University Press, 2014. Bourgault, Sophie. “Beyond the Saint and the Red Virgin: Simone Weil as Feminist Theorist of Care.” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies 35, no. 2 (2014): 1–27. Brown, Wendy. Regulating Aversion: Tolerance in the Age of Identity and Empire. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006. Butler, Judith. Frames of War: When Is Life Grievable? New York: Verso, 2009. Darwish, Mahmoud. Journal of an Ordinary Grief . Translated by Ibrahim Muhawi. New York: Archipelago Books, 2010. Derrida, Jacques. Margins of Philosophy. Translated by Alan Bass. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982. Dussel, Enrique. Twenty Theses on Politics. Translated by George CiccarielloMaher. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008. Esposito, Roberto. The Origin of the Political: Hannah Arendt or Simone Weil? Translated by Vincenzo Binetti and Gareth Williams. New York: Fordham University Press, 2017. Guenther, Lisa. “A Critical Phenomenology of Solidarity and Resistance in 2013 California Prison Hunger Strikes.” In Body/Self/Other: The Phenomenology of Social Encounters, edited by Luna Dolezal and Danielle Petherbridge, 47–73. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2017. Lugones, María. “Heterosexism and the Colonial/Modern Gender System.” Hypatia 22, no. 1 (2007): 186–209. Mendieta, Eduardo. Global Fragments: Globalizations, Latinamericanisms, and Critical Theory. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2007. Moraña et al. Coloniality at Large: Latin America and the Postcolonial Debate. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008. Nagle, Angela. “The Left Case Against Open Borders.” American Affairs II, no. 4 (2018): 17–30. Nelson, Deborah. Tough Enough: Arbus, Arendt, Didion, McCarthy, Sontag, Weil. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017. Nussbaum, Martha. Political Emotions: Why Love Matters for Justice. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press: An Imprint of Harvard University Press, 2013. Pétrement, Simone. Simone Weil: A Life. Translated by Raymond Rosenthal. New York: Pantheon Books, 1976. al-Qasim, Samih. “Travel Tickets.” In A Bilingual Anthology of Arabic Poetry, edited by Abdullah al-Udhari. Translated by Abdullah al-Udhari. London: Saqi Books, 1984. Quijano, Aníbal. “Coloniality of Power, Eurocentrism and Latin America.” Nepantla: Views from the South 1, no. 3 (2000): 533–580.

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Radzins, Inese. “Simone Weil’s Social Philosophy: Toward a Post-Colonial Ethic.” In New Topics in Feminist Philosophy of Religion: Contestations and Transcendence Incarnate, edited by Pamela Sue Anderson, 69–84. New York: Springer, 2009. Ricciardi, Alessia. “From Decreation to Bare Life: Weil, Agamben, and the Impolitical.” Diacritics 39, no. 2 (2009): 75–93. Rozelle-Stone, A. Rebecca. “Le Déracinement of Attention: Simone Weil on the Institutionalization of Distractedness.” Philosophy Today 53, no. 1 (2009): 100–108. Said, Edward. Representations of the Intellectual: The 1993 Reith Lectures. New York: Vintage, 1994. Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. “Can the Subaltern Speak?” In Colonial Discourse and Post-Colonial Theory, edited by Patrick Williams and Laura Chrisman, 66–111. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994. Steinbock, Anthony. Phenomenology and Mysticism: The Verticality of Religious Experience. Indianapolis, IN: Indiana University Press, 2007. Stone, Lucian, and Jason Mohaghegh, eds. Manifestos for World Thought. Lanham, MA: Rowman & Littlefield International, 2017. Terada, Rei. Feeling in Theory: Emotion after the “Death of the Subject.” Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001. Weil, Simone. Formative Writings: 1929–1941. Translated and edited by Dorothy Tuck McFarland and Wilhelmina Van Ness. Amherst, MA: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1987. ———. The Need for Roots: Prelude to a Declaration of Duties Towards Mankind. Translated by Arthur Wills. London and New York: Routledge, 2010. ———. Oppression and Liberty. Translated by Arthur Wills and John Petrie. London and New York: Routledge, 2001. ———. Simone Weil: An Anthology. Translated and edited by Siân Miles. New York: Penguin, 2005. ———. Simone Weil on Colonialism: An Ethic of the Other. Translated and edited by J.P. Little. Lanham, MA: Rowman & Littlefield International, 2003.

CHAPTER 8

Ideology as Idolatry Alexandra Féret

Simone Weil was a direct witness to the rise of Hitlerism during her stay in Germany in the summer of 1932. She returned to France with the troubling sensation that the two ideologies that faced each other— communism and Nazism—were in fact very similar. According to her, “Nazi ideology is surprisingly contagious, mainly in the communist party.”1 Indeed, nationalism had swamped the communist discourse, and even if Hitler’s ultimate aim was to wipe out the communist movement, their respective watchwords were in her view quasi identical: they were both calling for a “revolution” and for “socialism” as a result of this revolution. Weil also had the strong feeling that communism was bound to fail, given that the Communist Party mostly consisted of unemployed Germans who had recently joined its ranks, and thus lacked the political experience to fight its opponents efficiently.2

1 Simone Weil, “Premières impressions d’Allemagne,” in Ecrits historiques et politiques I (Paris: Gallimard, 1988), 116. 2 Simone Weil, “The Situation in Germany,” in Formative Writings, ed. and trans. Dorothy Tuck Macfarland and Wihelmina Van Ness (Hamherst: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1987).

A. Féret (B) Paris, France © The Author(s) 2020 S. Bourgault and J. Daigle (eds.), Simone Weil, Beyond Ideology?, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-48401-9_8

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In her 1934 essay titled “Reflections Concerning the Causes of Liberty and Social Oppression,” Weil notes that ideologies rest on the subordination of individuals to the collectivity and that “only fanatics are able to set no value on their own existence save to the extent that it serves a collective cause.”3 In order to build a truly critical social analysis that might be able to counteract the fanaticism at the heart of every ideology, she urges her readers to rise above “social idols.” According to Weil, both nation and Church can turn into social idols. In the case of Nazism, it is the nation that is worshiped, in the form of a unique Party-State. But Nazism is, Weil insists, more than a mere ideology; it is actually an idolatry. Indeed, whereas the term ideology, coined from the word idea, refers to a sort of “idealism” that can be equally pathetic or heroic, idolatry describes, according to her, a particular form of subordination, namely adoration. The purpose of this chapter is to examine why Weil analyzes Nazi ideology as “idolatry.” In order to do so, we will focus our attention on a short essay entitled “Cette guerre est une guerre de religions”4 [“This war is a war of religions”], which is the only text where Weil describes the fight against Nazi Germany—a political and historical problem—as a fight against idolatry. This text, written in 1943 when Weil worked for the Free French Forces in London, describes World War II in terms of a religious drama, at a time when the Second World War appeared to be a nonreligious conflict that opposed coalitions of secular Nation-States. As we will see, Weil offered a very rich answer to a debate that would arise just after the war: namely, a debate concerning the nature of Nazi ideology and the question of how one could explain the atrocities committed in its name. As just noted, Weil uses a theological term to depict Nazi ideology. Idolatry means the adoration of a false god. It is the worship of what does not deserve any kind of adoration and therefore requires distorting the object of adoration in order to turn it into an idol. But since it is society itself that, according to Weil, does not deserve to be worshiped,

3 Simone Weil, “Reflections Concerning the Causes of Liberty and Social Oppression,” in Oppression and Liberty, trans. Arthur Wills and John Petrie (London and New York: Routledge Classic, 2001), 117. 4 Simone Weil, “Cette guerre est une guerre de religions,” in Ecrits de Londres et dernières lettres (Paris: Gallimard, coll. Espoir, 1957). Since the text has not yet been translated in English, the translations are my own. For Weil’s texts cited in the original French, please note that, unless specified otherwise, all translations are mine.

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the word idolatry, used mainly in a theological context, acquires also a sociological meaning. Weil’s analysis of idolatry comes from Durkheim’s sociological theory of religion developed in his Elementary Forms of Religious Life. For Durkheim, religion is above all a social reality. Indeed, he believes that religious fervor stems mainly from the need to maintain the unity of the group and to create a society, which necessarily rests on shared representations. In other words, the only common ground of every religion is their social function. Weil disagrees with Durkheim’s definition of “religion.” In her view, what he has described is closer to an “idolatry” and she sees it as highly problematic to suggest that Nazi ideology could be understood as a religion, following Durkheim’s categories. On the contrary, since, for Weil, only the social function of religion is used to feed Nazi ideology, Nazism falls under that new category, idolatry. Thus, Nazism turned into idolatry cannot be said to be the secularization of a religion, but is rather a social distortion of religious beliefs. Our aim in what follows will be to show that such a conceptual shift allows Weil not only to describe how religion can be transformed into a means of domination, but also to outline the possibility of a truer political function of faith, in the form of mysticism. To explore this hypothesis, we shall first examine the geopolitical and historical context of World War II, within which Weil presents Nazi ideology as idolatry, and then we will consider the basis for her argument that this war is a religious drama. Then, we will consider three different levels of explanation of Nazi ideology (sociological, anthropological, and theological) in order to, finally, highlight the implications of Weil’s reflections—and in particular, of her distinction between idolatry and religion—for political theology.

Part One: The Geopolitical and Historical Context of Nazi Ideology In “This war is a war of religions,” Weil wants to alert her readers to the particular nature of World War II. In a very Shakespearian way, she describes the world as a “stage” for a “unique religious drama”.5 She proposes an unusual political cartography of this war in which the military strategies and the economic situations are totally eluded. Even

5 Ibid.

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the political regime—for instance, democracy against dictatorship—is not considered closely in her analysis. According to Weil, the role of each nation in the war—either as a passive victim or as a key player—depends mostly on whether “a nation had a religious life” or not.6 Thus, she opposes two kinds of countries: those who do not have a “religious life,” that is, France, the United States, and England; and those who “live on an idolatry,” namely Germany, Russia, and Japan. Skepticism, specific to the first group, is, above all, embodied by France. Weil claims that France does not have a religious life whatsoever, since even the “belief in democracy”—a belief that remains powerful in the United States—has faded away. However, this is not a true liberation from religion, as France is now experiencing “the reverse side of idolatry.” In The Need for Roots, Weil explains that once “the State has ceased to be, under the tide of nation or country, something infinitely valuable in the sense of something valuable enough to be served with devotion” it could only “become in everybody’s eyes of unlimited value as something to be exploited.”7 Therefore, absoluteness, a key concept in defining idolatry, does not fade away as soon as there is no more reason to worship the State. On the contrary, the illegitimate devotion to the government is only transformed into unbearable expectations on the part of citizens. As they are asked for a total devotion, citizens are then bound to believe that the State, in return, should offer them the same amount of sacrifice. Thus, for Weil, skepticism takes the form of religious cynicism. There is no more devotion, but only a utilitarian use of the social idol: the State. In this desolate part of Weil’s cartography, where religious life has faded away, England plays the part of a “supernatural” exception. As uprootedness8 is one of the causes of idolatry, the continuity and unity of England’s tradition and history are a stronghold against idolatry: in 6 However, this opposition does not concern national religion, and has nothing to do with the opposition between Catholics and Protestants. Actually, according to Weil, the only kind of religious life that remains in Europe is idolatry. 7 Simone Weil, The Need for Roots, Prelude to a Declaration of Duties Towards Mankind, trans. Arthur Wills (London and New York: Routledge Classics, 2002), 151. This book is one of her major essays. Also written in 1943, this text proposes a striking account of the choices that should be made in the Post-War period, for example, to substitute the notion of right by that of obligation. 8 In The Need for Roots, Weil explains that every human being needs to live in an environment that is able to provide him different kinds of roots. One of these roots is a connection to a common past.

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England “some roots still draw sap from a past soaked in a mystical light.”9 Indeed, according to Weil, idolatry—as a kind of distortion that overlooks the values of things, thus confusing the relative and the absolute—can only grow in an environment deprived of any connection with traditions. The apparent need to root Nazism in a tradition based on a religion of blood and race is only the reverse side of uprootedness: “Hitler, too, would be pleased enough to find or found a religion.”10 As uprootedness becomes unbearable, “the outer coverings” of an authentic tradition must be recreated. England seems to play the role of a messianic figure. Indeed, Weil uses the metaphor of an innocent child faced with a hideous monster to describe England’s resistance against the logic of force deployed by Germany. This messianic principle (according to which what is weak will prevail over what the world considers to be strong) is embodied by England, and contrasts with the tragic delusion of the basic logic of French propaganda: namely, “We will win because we are the strongest.”11 On the contrary, for Weil, “the decisive moment [for the French] was the one where our force was almost void.”12 What she has in mind here is the French debacle of 1940. One could argue that only a military advantage that rested on the use of force would have been able to turn the tide of the war against Nazi Germany. But—Weil recalls—since Europe had not been invaded by Martians, nor by a herd of savages that could be swept away while the continent was liberated (as if there were nothing in common between “them” and “us”), the decisive moment of the war couldn’t have been only a military success. Rather, the decisive moment was when the force that had led to the French debacle had reached its limit. Indeed, for Weil, there is a fundamental contradiction at the core of the concept of force: on the one hand, the very nature of force is to extend itself fully, but on the other hand, there is an invisible limit to every force that can never be exceeded. As such, her messianic account is rooted in the primarily Greek idea of limit, embodied by Nemesis, the divinity who punishes people who believe that their force is unlimited.

9 Weil, Ecrits de Londres, 106. 10 Weil, The Need for Roots, 270. 11 Weil, Ecrits de Londres, 106. 12 Ibid.

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The Sociological Explanation of Nazi Ideology: The Adoration of Social Reality I will now explore the second part of Weil’s cartography, embodied mainly by Germany (Weil has set Russia and Japan aside). Germany has a religious life, contrary to the first group of countries. However, it is the poorest kind of religious life in Weil’s view, since idolatry is nothing more than “the adoration of the social reality under the names of various divinities.”13 For Weil, French sociology—and, more precisely, Durkheim in The Elementary Forms of Religious Life—has depicted, under the word “religion”,14 this particular kind of adoration that Weil names “idolatry.” Through the analysis of a primitive religion, “totemism,” which has the particularity of designating both a form of society and a religion, Durkheim shows in his work that, even in their highest developments, society and religion have the same function. From the observation that the Totem symbolically represents the totemic god but also the clan, Durkheim deduces that the real god of the clan “can be none other than the clan itself.”15 But saying that the real god is society itself implies that the object of worship is necessarily a social reality. What is worshiped, according to Weil, is what Plato compared to a “great beast.”16 Weil uses this analogy very often, quoting the passage of the Republic where Plato depicts the assembly of men under the features of a great beast. For Plato, whoever would like to obtain something from this beast should address all its desires. Worshiping a social reality mostly consists in providing satisfaction to what has become a huge animal, whatever its demands and desires. Therefore, it is not surprising that national politics necessarily takes the form of a religion—or, more precisely, an idolatry—as it requires total devotion just as a capricious god (or beast) would. For Weil, the worship of the great beast takes, in the case of Nazi Germany, the form of a national State with a unique State-Party, as “it sets itself up as an absolute value in this world.”17 In order to be an absolute value, society 13 Weil, Ecrits de Londres, 100. 14 Ibid., 100. “It is a religious method, if we take the word ‘religion’ in the same

meaning as French sociology”. 15 Emile Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, trans. Karen E. Fields (New York: The Free Press, 1995), 208. 16 Plato, The Republic, 493a–c. 17 Weil, The Need for Roots, 124.

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has to be thought of in a strict analogy with religion. Durkheim does not say that society has taken on the role of religion, but that religion and society play exactly the same role. Durkheim claims that the true origin of the sensation of the divine is nothing else than society itself: Society in general, simply by its effect on men’s minds, undoubtedly has all that is required to arouse the sensation of the divine. A society is to its members what a god is to its faithful. A god is first of all a being that man conceives of as superior to himself in some respects and one whom he believes he depends on.18

However, Durkheim stresses that the analogy between the king (and more precisely the Leviathan) and god is not entirely adequate. Indeed, the king, as a figure of supreme authority, brings to the fore the notion of subordination, whereas the major bond between a man and his god— and therefore between a man and society—is above all the force (i.e., the moral force) that he gains from this association. Thus, society gives to men “a sense of heightened energy.”19 This energy can take the form of a delirium in which “the whole social world seems populated with forces that in reality exist only in our minds.”20 Thus, for Durkheim, religion and society has the same function, that is, to give the illusory impression of force. According to Emmanuel Gabellieri, it is this “collective inebriation that is proper to religious sentiment as defined by Durkheim”21 that Weil sees in modern totalitarianisms. Indeed, for Weil, the SS’s fanatic exhilaration is a form of this inebriation or delirium, directly powered by Hitler’s propaganda: [The SS] are animated by a different inspiration than the rest of the army – an inspiration that resembles faith, religious spirit […] not in the sense that they adhere to a particular church, but in a meaning much more difficult to define, and yet that can only be conveyed through this word.22

18 Durkheim, The Elementary Forms, 208. 19 Ibid., 211. 20 Ibid., 228. 21 Emmanuel Gabellieri, Etre et don, Simone Weil et la philosophie (Paris: Peeters

Louvain, 2003), 413. Translation ours. 22 Weil, “Project for a Formation of Front-Line Nurses,” [our translation] in Ecrits de Londres, 191.

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Weil acknowledges that Hitler has perfectly understood the necessity to act on people’s imagination. However, she is not saying that the SS have an actual religion, but that they have a “religion” in the specific sense Durkheim attached to this word. Now that we have seen Weil’s sociological explanation of Nazi ideology, we can turn to her anthropological, and then theological explanations. This will help us better grasp the nature of Nazi beliefs, and to understand the resort to the word religion in Weil’s reflections. The Anthropological Explanation of Nazi Ideology: The SS Way of Dealing with Morality How can the inspiration of the SS be said to look like a religious belief? In “This War is a War of Religions,” Weil compares the SS to the giants in fairy tales, who hide their souls away securely in an object in the world. Weil identifies here a particular form of dehumanization: objectification. The idea that force has the capacity to transform men into things is a standard theme in Weil’s thought, but in this passage objectification appears to be less a consequence of the use of force and be more like the condition of possibility for the use of force. The courage of the SS soldiers, or, to be more precise, what Weil terms the “heroism of brutality,” comes from the fact that they have already placed their souls outside of themselves. But this process of objectification, which takes place prior to the usage of force, depends on the object on which belief rests. What is important, then, is to know under what form men could think their souls more in security. Durkheim, who, in The Elementary Forms, also refers to this story from fairy tales and legends, asks what form the fetish needs to take and he understands the practice of the soul’s objectification as fetishism. According to Durkheim, the totem animal was not a material form that could protect the soul, because this would merely displace the problem: the animal is, after all, just as vulnerable and fragile as man. According to Durkheim, the fetish needed to be able to grant an increase in power. The idol, as Weil understands it, fulfills this criterion: the true idol is never only something made of “metal, stone or wood,” but always “something similar to the State.”23

23 Weil, The Need for Roots, 112.

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Objectification thus takes the form of an abstraction. The two most perfect idols are the Church and the nation. We might say, in short, that idolatry is an abstract fetishism. In the case of the SS, the idol is the nation, and the salvation of their souls is confused with the salvation of the nation. The nation thus finds itself with an Ersatz soul, when in fact it is but a body without a soul, or, to follow the Platonic metaphor, a great beast. If Weil finds in the organicist metaphor the origin of the totalitarian temptation, it is, according to Emmanuel Gabellieri, because of the schema that the image of the body evokes—at once a juxtaposition and an expansion.24 Indeed, by putting their souls outside of themselves, the SS reduce themselves to constituting but a minuscule part of the whole, juxtaposed to (and undifferentiated from) all others. But at the same time, the SS become the whole of the nation (hence the “growth” or expansion noted above). The scandal is twofold: social reality (under the shape of the “nation”) is sacralized, and for this sacralization to happen, the souls of the SS must expand themselves. But for Weil, souls cannot be these expanded things. Hence, it is through this double movement of juxtaposition and expansion that Weil explains the feelings of impunity found in idolaters: it is only “as a part of this social sphere, [that] man is no more submitted to this pair [good and evil].”25 The SS no longer need to negate the reality of the opposition between good and evil, since as long as they see themselves as part of a body (i.e., Nazi Germany), “nothing seems evil […] except failure in its service.”26 The organicist metaphor hence can be understood as a mechanistic one: good and evil are understood or considered only insofar as they allow the machine to function well (or not). But can one then consider the SS as individuals who deliberately cause evil?

24 Emmanuel Gabellieri, Etre et don, 413–415. 25 Weil, Ecrits de Londres, 100. 26 Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace, trans. Emma Crawford and Mario von der Ruhr (London and New York: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1952), 168.

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The Theological Explanation of Nazi Ideology: The Albigensian Reference The question of knowing whether men can or cannot do evil deliberately is an old theological issue and debate that Weil does not forget to mention. But, it is worth noting that, rather than taking us back to Genesis, Weil points to an “Albigensian tradition” according to which the Devil said to men: “With God, you’re not free, because you can only do good. Follow me and you will have the power to do good and evil as it pleases you.”27 What interests Weil in this Albigensian tradition is probably its inherent dualism.28 Indeed, in the above Albigensian quote we can find an idea that is particular to late Gnosticism: if two principles are clearly opposed—the divine to the diabolical—the world is not all evil; it is rather the outcome of a combination of good and evil, and God remains beyond the worldly opposition, as he can only do good. Then, the nature of the fight against Nazism is depicted by Weil through the interpretation of Matthew’s parable of the leaven29 that echoes the words of the devil: “He [Hitler] plays on the side of evil; his material is weight, dough. We play on the side of good, our material is leaven. The process has to differ consequently.”30 Weil uses this parable to show that the fight of good over evil, or here the Allies over Hitler, rests on a fundamental tension. Leaven and dough differ radically from each other, as one embodies the infinite power of the subtler and smaller things, and the other the power of force (i.e., the belief that force will always prevail). But as leaven’s function is to make the dough rise, its power is only active if it is mixed with it. In her essay “Human Personality,” Weil observes that leaven is not visible when it is mixed in dough; and as such, we can gather that for her, leaven symbolizes the tension between the purity of good and its inevitable mixing with evil.31 27 Weil, Ecrits de Londres, 98. 28 Weil read the first draft of Simone Pétrement’s thesis, L’idée séparée (1937), which

was published in 1947 under the title: Le dualisme chez Platon, les gnostiques et les manichéens (Cf. Simone Pétrement’s biography of Weil). Weil’s knowledge of dualism is partly due to this work. 29 Matthew 13:33. “He spoke another parable to them; The kingdom of the heavens is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal until the dough had been all leavened.” 30 Weil, Ecrits de Londres, 108. 31 Ibid., 41.

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As Pétrement noticed, Gnosticism, but also the Gospel, places the entire responsibility of moral misconduct on demons and never on human will.32 This absence of free will is highlighted by Weil when she discusses the contradiction at the core of the Devil’s proposal, quoted above. Indeed, the Devil offers a choice precisely to those who cannot choose, given that free will is a necessary condition of morality. The moral beings are only those acting according to their will, those who can either do good or evil. Therefore, God cannot be a moral figure as he can only do good. But at the same time, morality appears as a condition of free will: to be entirely free, you ought to be able to choose between good and evil. The Devil’s offer implies that men cannot choose otherwise or that they have already chosen once and for all, even before the devil’s temptation. Therefore, the necessary existence of evil is already part of the apparent dilemma. Weil concludes that men are condemned to “not forget evil, neither be delivered from it.”33 We can now see more clearly why Weil uses such a Manichean vocabulary to discuss the fight against Nazi ideology. This apparently naive interpretation is actually a realistic reflection based on a consideration of the means used at war, which recall the dilemma of politics itself: we cannot do nothing. We cannot act without mixing with what we have to fight. That is why Weil’s essay takes the form of a warning: will we accept not to use the same means used by Nazi Germany and accept to act accordingly? In what follows, we will consider the method which, according to Weil, should be used to answer differently the problem of religion: mysticism.

32 Pétrement, Le dualisme chez Platon, les gnostiques et les manichéens (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1947), 224. 33 Weil, Ecrits de Londres, 104.

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Part Two: The Problem of Religion. Weil’ Political Theology Ideology Is Not a Secular Religion If there is a “problem of religion” according to Weil that does not necessarily mean that ideology is a religion. As we noted above, Weil refused to depict ideology as a religion.34 We should note that another twentieth century philosopher, Hannah Arendt (with whom Weil has often been compared in political philosophy scholarship) was also against such an analogy. Even if we have to proceed carefully—considering that Simone Weil died in August 1943, whereas Arendt published The Origins of Totalitarianism 35 in 1951—a brief comparison between Weil and Arendt’s work could be helpful for our purposes. In their analysis of Nazi ideology and totalitarianism, Weil and Arendt have the same starting point: we cannot reduce a religious phenomenon to its sociological aspect. Moreover, both authors criticize French sociology. Weil, as we have already seen, responds to Durkheim and Arendt to Jules Monnerot. According to Arendt, the misconceived depiction of World War II as a religious crisis rests on the confusion between what is religious and what is social. Indeed, sociology seems to forget the religion’s content and history, in favor of its sociological function. Weil, even if she criticizes Durkheim and the sociological method, still agrees with part of his theory. If his conclusion—that religion is eminently social—is completely erroneous, part of what he describes is not, in her view. Indeed, according to Weil, one of sociology’s most relevant contributions cannot be that religion is only a specific form of the social body and therefore can be reduced to a branch of sociological studies. It is rather the view that society, as a reality whose existence depends mostly on the belief and devotion of its members, necessarily tends to develop an ersatz religious faith. In fact, it is the complete reversal of Durkheim’s theory that Weil develops in Waiting for God:

34 Weil, “Project for a Formation of Front-Line Nurses,” in Ecrits de Londres: “Not That Hitlerism Does Deserve the Name of Religion,” 191 (Translation ours). 35 Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism (New York: Schocken Books, 2004).

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Foolish as the theory of Durkheim may be in confusing what is religious with what is social, it yet contains an element of truth, that is to say, that the social feeling is so much like the religious as to be mistaken for it.36

For Weil, then, the social feeling is a simulacrum of the religious feeling, not the contrary, as Durkheim would have us believe. The religious feeling can neither be reduced to one of the various ways the social feeling expresses itself, nor should it be confused with society. According to Weil, since the analogy of society and its members to God and his believers is not sustainable, faith cannot be a subcategory of a wider feeling of allegiance that society provides. Therefore, it is not on the ground of this analogy that totalitarianism can be understood. Mysticism As we have seen, the totalitarian idol results from the creation of a sphere where men are no longer submitted to their moral obligations. This impunity, characteristic of every totalitarian structure, rests on the fact that the perimeter of the sacred is beyond the opposition between good and evil. This predominance of the sacred over morality is, for Durkheim, the defining reality of all religions. Indeed, for him, the elementary opposition—at the core of every religion—is the one between what is sacred and what is profane, and it is an absolute one: “In the history of human thought, there is no other example of two categories of things as profoundly differentiated or as radically opposed to one another.”37 On the contrary, the opposition between good and evil, as it opposes “two species of the same genus, namely moral” is nothing compared to the one that opposes “two worlds with nothing in common.”38 For Weil, the separation between the sacred and the profane cannot be the elementary form of religion as it forgets the notions of good and evil. However, she also believes that “two species of the same genus” cannot be the specificity of the religious life either. The core of every authentic religion is therefore “mysticism,” a “method” by which we can go “beyond the sphere

36 Simone Weil, Waiting for God, trans. Emma Craufurd (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1973), 45–46. 37 Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, 36. 38 Ibid.

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where good and evil oppose one another.” Mysticism is a “union of the soul with absolute Good.”39 For Weil, there is another opposition which also meets the criterion of a radical distinction (“two worlds with nothing in common”): the one between “supernatural good” and evil. What is important to understand is that the distinction between evil and supernatural good is not identical to the moral distinction between evil and “plain good,” as they do not belong to the same genus. For Weil, good and evil belong to the realm of what is “possible” in the field where our actions take place, as they are exerted upon matter and effected through free will, whereas supernatural good depends on the realm of “the impossible” in which laws of gravity are ineffective. This realm is that of God himself. Thus, mysticism is a method of transformation rather than a precise conception of the sacred. She mentions the Albigensian tradition again: the method of mysticism is “a transformation opposite to the one that occurred when the creatures followed the devil.”40 In morality, knowledge and free will are required of man in order to discriminate good from evil and choose one or the other; in mysticism, the contact with good is immediate and direct. Therefore, according to Weil, there are three methods to solve the problem of religion: two of them are imperfect, as they approach the opposition between good and evil from the outside as it were: irreligion does so by purely negating the existence of good and evil; idolatry by neutralizing it through false adoration. Mysticism overcomes it from the inside, for it accomplishes unity with one of the terms, thus dissolving the opposition itself. If idolatry is a useful, though monstrous, method of solving the problem of religion, the possibility of overcoming it lies in the ephemeral nature of the idol. As we have seen with the metaphor of the giants, the soul cannot be protected if it remains in something mundane or perishable. Given that idolatry worships society—a perishable reality— it can be overcome. And here, mysticism appears as the only answer to overcome idolatry. Weil’s use of a Cartesian vocabulary in this discussion (her employment of the term “method”) might surprise certain readers. And yet, in The Need for Roots, Weil recalls that “it was always universally recognized that there is a method to be followed in spiritual matters and in everything

39 Weil, Ecrits de Londres, 102. 40 Ibid.

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connected to the soul’s welfare.”41 Indifference, idolatry, and mysticism are methods to protect the soul, just as extreme pacifism was a method for Gandhi and not only a doctrine.42 Method is a thought in actuality. Idolatry, mysticism, or extreme pacifism imply a prior transformation in order to be able to act accordingly. There Is Still a Problem of Religion We have considered thus far two religious methods, idolatry and mysticism. In the last part of our chapter, we will consider what Weil has to say about the existence of a problem of religion. Weil’s essay “This war is a war of religions” begins with the affirmation that it is incorrect to believe that we are done with the problem of religion. To get rid of this problem has, for various philosophers, been conceived as a form of liberation, since religion was associated with various crimes (according to Lucretius), or with credulity and ignorance (according to the Encyclopedists). Therefore, many philosophers were convinced that with the end of religion, violence would disappear—or at least the violence contained in the religious wars (from the Crusades to the seventeenth century)—and that a more civilized and ethical world would appear. But Weil believes that the problem of religion still prevails under the form of “irreligion.” We have already seen that, in Weil’s political cartography, most countries discussed do not have a religious life anymore. However, we can ask now if it is atheism that she describes here. For Weil, atheism does not deny the reality of the distinction between good and evil. Atheism is only the belief that the “whole reality is confined to this world.”43 Thus, it is a step toward idolatry, but not necessarily toward irreligion. In an early fragment “Morale et Religion” she asks if moral behavior disappears when religious beliefs fade away. At the root of this question lies the suspicion that “once a man is deprived of his religious beliefs, he doesn’t have any motive left to choose good rather than evil, and to defend himself against his impulsions.”44 In the early thirties, Weil 41 Weil, The Need for Roots, 199. 42 Ibid., 155: “Extreme pacifism of the type advocated by Gandhi is not a denial of this

obligation, but a particular method for discharging it [obligation towards one’s country].” 43 Weil, The Need for Roots, 112. 44 Weil, “Morale et religion,” in Premiers écrits philosophiques (Paris: Gallimard, 1988),

288.

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had already rejected such a hypothesis as it appeared to her to constitute a “popular myth.” She actually defends the same idea developed by Hannah Arendt in her short essay “Religion and Politics,”45 where the latter writes that we cannot explain the feeling of impunity with the fact that the belief in hell has faded away. Arendt goes back to the origin of such a belief in order to demonstrate that the belief in hell itself is not even a religious thing, but rather a political one. In short, therefore, for Weil and Arendt, we cannot deduce immorality from the absence of religious beliefs. When Weil uses the word irreligious she is not depicting only religious beliefs traditionally understood. On the contrary, she uses the term “irreligious” in a much wider sense: for her, the term implies the denial or lack of concern with every kind of obligation. In The Need for Roots, she notes that it is impossible to remain in such a state of indifference: “There isn’t a man on earth who doesn’t at times pronounce an opinion on good and evil, even if it be only to find fault with somebody else.”46 For Weil, irreligion can be summed up by its principles (i.e., everything is the same), and by its consequences (i.e., nothing is forbidden). But, contrary to a long tradition, one tied to the idea of moral progress, Weil does not think that her century is more or less moral/irreligious than others, as immorality, violence, and indifference to human pain are constant facts of history. Weil only argues that her century does not know anymore how to deal with the unbearable burden of good and evil; it has tried to deal with it with either indifference or idolatry. It is not that evil is hard to commit, nor that men are reluctant to do it, but that we cannot do anything without opposing good to evil in her view. For Weil, the “problem of religion” only means that our actions cannot evolve in a total void where good and evil are no longer values even if—as idolatry enables us to do—we can create an artificial sphere where our actions are no longer submitted to the notions of good and evil. In lieu of a conclusion, I now wish to consider the consequences of Weil’s reflections on idolatry for political theology. What we saw in the preceding pages is that in “This war is a war of religions,” Weil pursues a theme that is very present in much of her later work, namely the criticism of idolatry. But in that short essay we saw that she focuses on

45 Hannah Arendt, “Religion and Politics,” in Essays on Understanding, ed. J. Kohn (New York: Schocken Books, 2005), 368–390. 46 Weil, The Need for Roots, 154.

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the analogy between the fight against Nazism and the fight against idolatry. For Weil, Nazi ideology proposes a totalitarian conception of the State, exactly as the Inquisition proposed a totalitarian conception of the Church. Thus, she was convinced that Nazi ideology was neither a religion nor even a secular religion, given that the analogy between ideology and religion can rest only on the non-religious part of religion, which is its social part. The State and the Church—as they have a social structure—can perform the same function. Therefore, there is no such thing as a transfer of religious categories into the political realm. On the contrary, idolatry is precisely the contact point between religion and sociopolitical reality. Idolatry reveals what is a non-religious reality in religion and politics and thus what is essentially a social reality. In short, Weil draws a criticism of the social uses of a theological concept—worship—as a means of domination, while leaving room for mysticism as a ground for political emancipation. She points out the urgent need for inspiring our civilization, an inspiration that can only be orchestrated by a spiritual elite (albeit one not at all separated from “common men”). Indeed, Weil was convinced that only “the few” could experience (not only in spirit but in fact ) “the virtue of spiritual poverty,”47 which she thought constituted the only access to mysticism.

References Arendt, Hannah. Essays in Understanding, 1930–1954: Formation, Exile, and Totalitarianism. New York: Schocken Books, 2005. ———. The Origins of Totalitarianism. New York: Schocken Books, 2004. Durkheim, Emile. The Elementary Forms of Religious Life. Translated by Karen E. Fields. New York: The Free Press, 1995. Gabellieri, Emmanuel. Etre et don. Simone Weil et la philosophie. Paris: Peeters Louvain, 2003. Pétrement, Simone. Le dualisme chez Platon, les gnostiques et les manichéens. Paris: PUF, 1947. Plato. Meno. Translated by Robin Waterfield. Oxford: Oxford World’s Classics. ———. Republic. Translated by Robin Waterfield. Oxford: Oxford World’s Classics. Weil, Simone. Ecrits de Londres et dernières lettres. Paris: Gallimard, 1957. ———. Ecrits historiques et politiques I . Paris: Gallimard, 1988.

47 Weil, Écrits de Londres, 104.

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———. Formative Writings. Edited and translated by Dorothy Tuck Macfarland and Wihelmina Van Ness. Amherst: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1987. ———. Gravity and Grace. Translated by Emma Crawford and Mario von der Ruhr. London and New York: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1952. ———. The Need for Roots, Prelude to a Declaration of Duties Towards Mankind. Translated by Arthur Wills. London and New York: Routledge Classics, 2002. ———. Oppression and Liberty. Translated by Arthur Wills and John Petrie. London and New York: Routledge Classic, 2001. ———. Premiers écrits philosophiques. Paris: Gallimard, 1988. ———. Waiting for God. Translated by Emma Craufurd. New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1973.

CHAPTER 9

Captured Time: Simone Weil’s Vital Temporality Against the State Casey Ford

At the center of Simone Weil’s The Need for Roots (L’Enracinement )1 is a critique of nationalism and statist ideology, articulated in the midst of the Second World War, which we argue hinges on an account of political temporality. Rather than traditionally approaching the State [l’État ] as a conceptually defined mode of governance, Weil’s work appraises the value of the State in terms of how, as a form of social organization, it affects the lived experience of human time and relations to history. We thus argue that the normativity of Weil’s political thought involves a conception of human and collective vitality. Weil compels us to see how one of the important functions of political worlds is the shaping of time itself. For Weil, in order to understand the structure and health of a political system, we must evaluate how it determines time as a field of experience and a condition for action: What kinds of relations to the past are made possible? In what ways are we oriented to the future? What avenues are permitted outside of our present? 1 Weil, The Need for Roots: Prelude to a Declaration of Duties towards Mankind, trans. Arthur Wills (London and New York: Routledge, 2002).

C. Ford (B) Marlboro College, Marlboro, VT, USA © The Author(s) 2020 S. Bourgault and J. Daigle (eds.), Simone Weil, Beyond Ideology?, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-48401-9_9

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We consider Weil’s critique of the “idolatry” of the State regarding its suppressive effect on the experience of time. For Weil, in order for the State to maximize its control over a people or territory, it must foremost constitute a new time that captures both the past (in the form of myth) and the future (in the form of progress) within a totalized present conserved through nationalist ideology. We thus argue that the temporal operation of the State is one of overdetermination, that is, of overriding and foreclosing culturally diverse, intellectually nourishing, and politically explorative relationships to the past and future. Attending to this process reveals a temporal and historical dimension in the way ideology functions to preserve and enclose a present state of affairs. If revolutionary thought is to challenge the stranglehold that the State has on human life, then we propose, following Weil’s insights, that it must involve a temporality of renewed historical enrichment and investigation in the direction of the past, as well as a political creativity regarding the future. This “rooting” in time requires a temporal “decreation” that frees a multiplicity of pasts from nationalist narratives and affirms the future’s proper indeterminacy.

From Time to Political Temporality In order to demonstrate the link in Weil’s thought between nationalist ideology and the ways time is experienced and shaped, it is necessary to preliminarily consider Weil’s manifold understanding of time itself.2 Stressing the importance of time for Weil is problematic, first, because an important aspect of her thought advocates for the spiritual orientation toward the eternal rather than the temporal, with the latter traditionally understood as the movement between the present, past, and future. In Gravity and Grace (La Pesanteur et la grâce), for instance, Weil argues that “time” is both an “image of eternity” and a “substitute” for it.3 On her account, the past and the future function as “filler[s] of void places” that alleviate despair by fixing our attention, hope, and memory on realities that can only ever be fleeting. “The past and the future hinder the wholesome effect of affliction by providing an unlimited field for imaginary elevation. That is why the renunciation of past and future is the 2 For an account of time in Weil’s thought, see Gilbert Kahn, “La dialectique du temps chez Simone Weil,” Cahiers Simone Weil XIII, no. 3 (September 1985). 3 Weil, Gravity and Grace, trans. Emma Crawford and Mario von der Ruhr (London and New York: Routledge 2002), 19.

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first of all renunciations.”4 Embracing detachment and affliction would be “to cease to make the future our objective” and “to do everything for what does not exist”,5 that is, for an eternity which can never “exist” within the historicity of human affairs. The Need for Roots also opens by identifying the “realm of what is eternal, universal, unconditioned” as the source of the human soul’s ultimate “obligations” which arise to satiate the vital “needs” of the human soul.6 For Weil, the obligations we have to humanity are not derived from “facts,” worldly situations, cultural and social norms, “historical heritage, or presumed historical orientation.”7 Since rights and social laws are subject to the fluctuation of historical and cultural circumstance,8 only a “rootedness” [l’enracinement ] in the “eternal” can serve as the proper ground of individual obligation.9 As such, our obligation “has no foundation” in the temporal world of human preoccupations: “If it is founded on something, that something, whatever it is, does not form part of our world.”10 In short, concerns with the past and the future, for Weil, distract us from the struggles of the present.11 One possible reading of Weil’s claims about temporality and eternity in Gravity and Grace would be to stress her rejection in toto of the temporal as a necessary source of human activity and engagement, in the way certain scholars have construed Weil’s thought as fundamentally

4 Ibid. 5 Ibid., 20. 6 Weil, The Need for Roots, 4. 7 Ibid., 4–5. 8 Ibid., 3. For an analysis of Weil’s critique of the discourse of rights and personhood, see Edward Andrew, “Simone Weil on the Injustice of Rights-Based Doctrines,” The Review of Politics 48 no. 1 (Winter, 1986): 60–91. Andrew argues that Weil “understands rights in terms of power,” and since “our world is a restless unstable network of domination and resistance,” then for Weil “only supernatural love or charity can counter the imbalance of power and establish relations of impersonal justice.” Ibid., 69. 9 Weil, The Need for Roots, 4–5. 10 Ibid., 5; cf. 156. 11 Cf. Ibid., 172.

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apolitical.12 The consequence would be the advocacy for a “subtraction” of the individual from the occupations of the temporal as much as the political.13 However, the sufficiency of this reading is problematized by another aspect of Weil’s thought which is markedly attuned to the embodied reality in which the individual is temporally situated in the world. Time, Weil writes in a precocious essay in 1929,14 is an essential feature of human experience; it is the self’s “way of existing” [manière d’exister] in which she realizes both the limits of her adequacy as a being hic et nunc as well as the conditions of her proper power in the world.15 For Weil, what the experience of being in time reveals is a “certain impotence [impuissance] of myself in relation to myself”,16 a “constraint” that “weighs on every act by which my existence is expressed.”17 What our actions “collide” with [à laquelle je me heurte] is the self’s “insufficiency” [je ne me suffis point ], her inability to be fully in possession of herself.18 “I exist in time,” Weil writes, “always outside myself.”19 When I attempt to grasp myself as I am here and now, or when I act in the immediacy of a moment, this is in relation to the fact that I am never fully given: “I am no longer what I have just been, I am not yet what I am going to be, and yet what I have been, and what I will be, is me.”20 Subjectivity, for Weil, is both a project and a projection in which we must step outside 12 Conor Cruise O’Brien, for instance, characterizes Weil’s thought as a “repulsion from” politics, in which the political is understood as “the domain of the Beast, or of the devil, something to be suffered, something to be cried out against and struck back at, not something that can be set right.” “The Anti-Politics of Simone Weil,” The New York Review of Books (May 12, 1977), 1. 13 Peter Hallward, for instance, situates Weil in a tradition of thought with a “subtractive orientation,” that is, in the advocacy for “spiritual deterritorialization, a radical ‘uprooting’ from self and world,” in which the “creature withdraws and renounces itself” so that “the creator shines through this decreated void.” Out of This World: Deleuze and the Philosophy of Creation (New York: Verso, 2006), 85. 14 “Du Temps,” in Oeuvres Complètes I: Premiers écrits philosophiques, ed. André A. Devaux and Florence de Lussy (Paris: Gallimard, 1988 [1929]). All translations from the French are my own. 15 Ibid., 141. 16 Ibid. 17 Ibid., 141–142. 18 Ibid. 19 Ibid. 20 Ibid.

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of ourselves as we are given in the present. This is the structure of every action, whether it proceeds from need, desire, or compulsion. Attempting to realize a project means connecting what I am now with what I want myself or the world to be. Temporal experience “come[s] up against a foreign existence” [une existence étrangère] characterized by the possibility of “changing myself.”21 The “future” is constituted by this fact that “I am beyond myself, out of my direct reach, that I am not immediately in my own power.”22 Time is the manifold ways in which self-experience is “marked” by otherness,23 weighted by separation, and thus compelled to act in an attempt to bridge the “abysses” between ourselves and the world.24 The temporal present is charged with significance because of indeterminacy that at once deprives the present self of completion and orients her toward creative activity. This temporal action has an important specificity for Weil: it is a form of work. In one sense, Weil emphasizes that the self’s incompletion cannot be overcome by either the will or the “reveries” in which we attempt to lose ourselves in the past (through reminiscence) or the future (through hope). In another sense, insufficiency is the condition for the self’s active “power” [puissance] on herself. Faced with the constraint that time always fractures the self’s integrity, we realize the urgency of laboring on ourselves, of taking ourselves as a project to be changed and fashioned. For this becoming in time to be possible, one must take it up as an exerting work: to step outside oneself and cross the distances of separation between ourselves and our products yet to be realized. In the moment of acute self-insufficiency that is hunger, for instance, I do not collapse in on myself, but rather become oriented to the world around me in terms of what can be accomplished with what is given. I notice the distance that must be traversed between my body and the kitchen, as well as the disparate objects that must be grasped and combined in order to realize something that might satiate my need in the future. The solution will be realized only by the work that I will do in transforming the world, or fail to do by recoiling from the demand that the “law” of time

21 Ibid. 22 Ibid. 23 Ibid., 143. 24 Ibid., 145.

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presents to me in every moment.25 This relation across embodied distance is, in Weil’s early thought, a domain of temporal experience defined by the demands of living, of becoming more than we are. “[To] wish to be tomorrow,” Weil notes, “is to desire to have made the board smooth without having pushed the plane, the floor clean without having handled the broom.”26 This desire to “skip over the work” is, for Weil, to have “disregarded the human condition, by which time, as a form of labor, is directed to the future.”27 We want to underscore Weil’s insight, that the experience of time is fundamentally transformed by conditions of labor, by extending the frame beyond the individual to the collective. For Weil, time is just as political as it is individual, both an object of power and a site for social resistance. The relation between politics and temporality might not be obvious. One example of the relationship between the experience of lived time and political exploitation is Karl Marx’s explanation of the generation of surplus value in the capitalist factory system, which resonates with Weil’s own reflections on factory work. An important element in Marx’s account of the factory system’s theft of labor power is the manipulation and expropriation of time itself, specifically in the lengthening of the working day. [Capital] usurps the time for the growth, development and healthy maintenance of the body. It steals the time required for the consumption of fresh air and sunlight. […] By extending the working day, therefore, capitalist production […] not only produces a deterioration of human labour-power by robbing it of its normal moral and physical conditions of development and activity, but also produces the premature exhaustion and death of this labour-power itself.28

25 Ibid., 142. 26 Ibid. 27 Ibid. Weil’s reflections on time in this essay (1929) were composed in the early part of her studies at the École Normale Supérieure completed in 1931. As a formative student, it is not unexpected that her insights strongly engage with a phenomenological approach to time which is not as present in her later spiritual reflections in Gravity and Grace. However, our claim is that The Need for Roots, written 14 years later in 1943, shows an ongoing concern with the experience of earthly, historical time. 28 Capital: Volume One, trans. Ben Fowkes (New York: Vintage, 1977), 375–376.

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As Marx demonstrates, the remuneration for labor in the form of a timebased wage is not simply a matter of fair compensation for time worked; it is also the condition for the increasingly intense exploitation of labor’s living capacity to produce within a finite time period, often at the expense of the worker’s health and vitality.29 This is seen in the lengthening of the working day by short, unremunerated segments (arrive 15 minutes before your shift to prepare, stay five minutes until the assembly line has completed); the shortening of breaks; and a 24-hour model of shift-based production. In her “Factory Journal,” composed while doing factory work, Weil reflects on this specific temporal condition in which timekeeping, minimum rates of production, and deductions for “time lost” in the transition between jobs all function as a “form of control.”30 The experience of time for the individual will naturally vary depending on modes of economic production, labor conditions, or climatic changes. This is something Weil notes frequently in her journal when she contrasts the relief of patient, team-based labor with the exhausting, mentally stultifying conditions of individual production speeding against-the-clock to maximize output.31 What is crucial for us is Weil’s insistence that the question of the health and “needs of the soul”32 be posed in terms of the social conditions that “nourish” or desiccate the human soul’s growth in the world.33 Since time is the condition and constraint of individual 29 Ibid., 342. 30 “Factory Journal,” in Formative Writings: 1929–1941, ed. and trans. Dorothy Tuck

McFarland and Wilhelmina Van Ness (Amherst: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1987), 159. Compare Marx and Weil’s insights with Michel Foucault’s analysis of “disciplinary time,” specifically how the “new way of administering time and making it useful” is “bound up with a mode of functioning power.” Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Vintage, 1995), 160–161. “Time Penetrates the Body,” Foucault notes, “and with it all the meticulous controls of power.” Ibid., 152. 31 For Weil’s relief in the “happy workshop” of “teamwork [and] brotherly atmosphere” in the absence of the foreman, see “Factory Journal,” 163. For her description of “the effect of exhaustion” that leads to the “strongest temptation that this life entails: that of not thinking anymore” and being reduced to a “beast of burden, docile and resigned,” see ibid., 171. 32 Weil, The Need for Roots, 3–39. 33 What interests us is the way that Weil articulates the “needs of the soul,” ranging

from “order” to “risk,” in terms of the vitality, health, and potential modes of sickness of the worldly body: in terms, for instance, of disease and cure (ibid., 9, 14–15, 17, 22), foods and poisons (ibid., 10, 12), fluidity and paralysis (ibid., 17, 33), nourishment and famine (ibid., 9, 20). “There are collectivities which, instead of serving as food, do just

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action, and since individual action takes place in a social world of relations, time has a political dimension. Given the central role that the critique of statist ideology plays in The Need for Roots, our question is: How does nationalism function through the control and shaping of the experience of time?

The State of Temporal Capture The problem of the State is at the core of Weil’s account of “uprootedness” [déracinement ], the process in which an individual or a community is cut off from the “intellectual and spiritual life by way of the environment of which he forms a natural part.”34 Being “rooted,” for Weil, is an individual’s “real, active and natural participation in the life of a community” in which “outside influence” serves, instead of invading and severing traditional ties, “as a stimulant intensifying its own particular way of life.”35 Uprootedness occurs, for instance, when “mass deportations” during war displace and fragment groups, or when something like money “penetrates” a culture “by turning desire for gain into the sole motive” for social life.36 Forms of rooting and uprooting thus range in scale, as Weil charts, from the town (when social bonds are interrupted by the emergence of large-scale factories in urban cities)37 to the nation-state (when multicultural traditions are assimilated in a national culture).38 They are also discoverable in institutions like education (when it shifts from the engaged study of past traditions to being “broken up by specialization” and “entirely deprived […] of contact with this world”)39 and the market (where a collective exchange of goods and services takes on the motive

the opposite: they devour souls. In such cases, the social body is diseased, and the first duty is to attempt a cure [and] to have recourse to surgical methods” (ibid., 9). 34 Ibid., 43. 35 Ibid., 43. 36 Ibid., 44. 37 Ibid., 73. 38 Ibid., 108. 39 Ibid., 48.

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of profit generation).40 Each context shows a certain potential for rootedness as well as a singular pitch of the “uprooting malady.”41 However, given Weil’s claim that the nation-state is the “only form of collectivity existing in the world at the present time,”42 what is the specific uprooting effected by the State? How does the collective that claims to provide foremost a stable ground in which a people can root itself as an enduring community in fact sever their vital ties in and with the world? Rather than accepting the form of the State as an irreducible element of the political world, Weil draws our attention to the way the State has functioned as a repressive and dominating structure. When Weil notes the “totalitarian phenomenon of the State,”43 her central concern is neither with distinguishing between types of states (e.g., democratic and theocratic), nor simply with how certain states managed to become totalitarian or fascist in the twentieth century. For Weil, we argue, there is totalitarianism of the State-form itself.44 It is in this sense that she argues that the “strange spectacle” of the State—from Richelieu to the rise of fascism in the 1930s—has shown itself continually to be a “self-same inhumane, brutal, bureaucratic, police-ridden” apparatus which, “under the name of patrie, demanded absolute loyalty, total self-abnegation […].”45 It would be important to carefully analyze the distinctions Weil makes between la patrie (fatherland), la nation (nation), and l’État (State). However, here we simply wish to underscore the way that the State emerges for Weil by over-determining prior forms of social identification: “The nation, single and separate, has taken the place” of smaller collective units like the family, the village, or the province,46 as well as previous and more

40 Ibid., 44. 41 Ibid., 68. 42 Ibid., 99. 43 Ibid., 199. 44 Ibid., 114–119. This is what is at stake in Weil’s analysis of the emergence of the State as an object of unconditional loyalty in Richelieu’s transformation of France into a strongly centralized State. As a consequence, Weil argues, Louis XIV’s regime “was really already totalitarian” (ibid., 177). 45 Ibid., 127 (our emphasis). Paul Virilio argues similarly that “the political power of the State” is the “police” at the “gates” and “barriers” of the city, “filters against the fluidity of the masses, against the penetration power of migratory packs […].” Speed and Politics, trans. Mark Polizzotti (New York: Semiotext[e], 1986), 12–13. 46 Weil, The Need for Roots, 95.

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“diffuse, nomadic […] forms of loyalty.”47 Over and above the diversely determinate ways people have historically lived together, the emergence of the State is unique for Weil by establishing a “territorial aggregate” whose “various parts […] recognize the authority of the same State,” with “money and the State [now replacing] all other bonds of attachment.”48 The State, Weil argues, sets “itself up as an absolute value in this world, that is, as an object of idolatry.”49 In what follows, our interest is the way the idolatry of the State functions as a nationalist ideology achieved through a determination of historical time. Borrowing a suitable term from Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari,50 Weil’s approach to the State can also be defined here as an “apparatus of capture” [appareil de capture].51 This “process” of capture, for Deleuze and Guattari, involves both the capture of the territory or “space over which [the State] reigns,” and of “all of the flows traversing” this space: “populations, commodities or commerce, money or capital,” whose directions of movements and speeds must be regulated.52 The State’s capture has both a physical and ideological function. First, all transnational movements (e.g., of people and goods) are subject to regulatory mechanisms: passports and customs, tariffs, taxation, price and currency controls, censorship, etc. Second, as Weil notes, the condition of a State’s extrinsic conquests is an intrinsic conquest of the “people under [its] care.”53 “If the State has morally killed everything, territorially speaking smaller than itself”—such as regional identities, belief systems, dialects, more local forms of social practices—“it has also turned territorial frontiers into prison walls to lock up people’s thoughts.”54 At stake here, as we will 47 Ibid., 103. 48 Ibid., 99. 49 Ibid., 127. 50 Our aim here is to situate Weil’s ideas within a tradition of political thought in

European philosophy of which her insights are highly resonant. 51 Deleuze and Guattari isolate “capture” or “appropriation” as the defining mechanism of the “State” by which “only one milieu of interiority” and one “interior essence” is constituted. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), 427. 52 Ibid., 385–386. 53 Weil, The Need for Roots, 119. 54 Ibid., 122. For an account of Weil’s engagement with the question of colonialism,

see J. P. Little’s (Ed.), “Introduction” to Weil, Simone Weil on Colonialism: An Ethic of

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now show, is not merely the capture of a territory and its contents, but more deeply a capture of vital life, of the capacity of a people to think and to experience the world in time.55 “For a long time now,” Weil writes of this temporal mechanism, “the single nation [la nation seule] has played the part which constitutes the supreme mission of society towards the individual human being, namely, maintaining throughout the present the links with the past and the future.”56 “Man has placed his most valuable possession in the world of temporal affairs, namely, his continuity in time, beyond the limits set by human existence in either direction, entirely in the hands of the State.”57 What happens to time “in the hands”—that is, in the grasping capture or grip—of the State? Human temporality involves (at least) three experiential elements: past, present, and future. Following Weil’s diagnosis, we will show how the State re-constitutes the individual and the collective’s possible relations to these elements by way of what we interpret as a bidirectional capture of the past and future. Through this temporal capture, the State at once constitutes itself while also erasing or suppressing temporal realities that contest the State’s absolutism. At the core of Weil’s The Need for Roots we can thus find a concern with a temporal theft executed by the State, one that resonates with Friedrich Nietzsche’s observation that “the state tells lies in all the tongues of good and evil [and] whatever it has it has stolen,” leading to a “slow suicide of all” which is then “called ‘life’”.58

the Other (Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003), 1–26. Little notes that one aspect of Weil’s critique of French colonialism is the “destruction through conquest of a people’s collective past.” Ibid., 14. 55 The effects of State structures on a people, for Weil, are consistently posed in terms of a vitality that is at once spiritual, physical, and cultural: “[The] development of the State exhausts a country,” Weil asserts, and “eats away its moral substance, lives on it, fattens on it, until the day comes when no more nourishment can be drawn from it, and famine reduces it to a condition of lethargy.” The Need for Roots, 119. 56 Ibid., 99. 57 Ibid., 100. 58 “On the New Idol,” Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for One and All, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Penguin, 1966), 48–50.

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The Constitution and Erasure of the Past States, like anything else on the earth, are subject to the passage of time with its tumult and uncertainty of historical events; they are, for Weil, “facts” and not eternal, unconditional values or entities.59 And yet the State, Weil argues, seeks to establish itself as an “absolute value in this world.”60 We argue in this section that in order to accomplish this image, the State must lay sovereign claim to the whole of time in which it unfolds, that is, to constitute and maintain determinate relations between the past and future of the State in the present.61 If the past remains a time that indifferently precedes the emergence of the State without necessitating it, then the State would remain something “capable of being destroyed” and contingent in history.62 For the State to ground and legitimate itself as an absolute, the past must be reconstituted as the past of the State. From the vantage of its power in the present, the State thus projects itself into time immemorial, reorienting the wealth of historical knowledge as an anticipation of its own accomplishment, and mobilizing the past for the sake of its conquest of the future. The past becomes more than a heterogeneous volume of events, turning points, and antagonisms; the past itself functions as the ground on which the State inscribes its own destiny. If the allegiance to the State in the present is one of idolatry, with nationalism as the ideology of the State’s necessary conservation, the constituted relation to the past is one of mythology. The mythological construction of the past has two temporal levels or zones of temporal capture: the historicism related to the State’s own past since its inception, and the past prior to the State’s emergence. First, all nations certainly constitute themselves through narratives of their founding moments, as well as significant events, figures, and turning points in their histories. This monumentalism concerns the writing of history itself which, despite the common value placed on objectivity and “neutrality,”63 also functions on behalf of the State’s ideological interests at the expense of historical 59 Weil, The Need for Roots, 166. 60 Ibid., 127. 61 Ibid., 99. 62 Ibid., 170. 63 As Howard Zinn notes, the concern with “neutrality” in the writing of history stems from a worry that studying the past with a political perspective or from a “deep concern

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realities that contest its legitimacy of origins or the grandeur and justice of its development.64 For instance, the history of the colonial settlement of the American continent has largely been taught from the perspective of the colonists in their project of founding a nation. However, this narrative has explicitly excluded the pasts and violent experiences of those indigenous peoples whose existence, eradication, and displacement are challenges to the legitimacy and coherency of the nation itself.65 Second, in addition to capturing the time of its own history, the State tends to articulate its prehistory as its own, projecting itself before its arrival on the stage of history. As Marx notes in the Eighteenth Brumaire, just when [people] seem engaged in revolutionising themselves and things, in creating something entirely new, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service and borrow from them the names, battle slogans and costumes in order to present the new scene of world history in this time-honored disguise and this borrowed language.66

Marx thus notes how revolutionary moments, building upon a common momentum from 1789 to 1814, casted themselves in the image and grandeur of the Roman Empire,67 a phenomenon which continued with the emergence of the German and Italian fascist regimes of the 1930s. This borrowing of the symbolism, style, and inspiration from the past provides any State with a mythological life beyond the reality of its historical limitation, imbuing it with the completion of a project whose scope

with current affairs may lead to twisting the truth about the past.” The Politics of History, 2nd ed. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1990), 15. 64 As Zinn argues, however, we “construct ‘history’ on the basis of the accounts left by the most articulate, the most privileged members of society,” producing a “distorted picture of how people live.” Ibid., 40. The “search for a nonexistent objectivity has led us, ironically,” Zinn notes, “into a particularly retrogressive subjectivity […] of the bystander.” 65 For a researched account of the narrative mythology and constitutive omissions in the teaching of U.S. History, see James W. Loewen, Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong (New York: The New Press, 1995). 66 In The Marx-Engels Reader. 2nd ed., ed. Robert C. Tucker (New York and London: W. W. Norton, 1972), 595. 67 Ibid.

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is the whole of history, the whole of time. The State is, in this sense, an attempt to “capture eternity.”68 There is no capture without a corresponding erasure—the liquidation of a wealth, heterogeneity, and multiplicity of the past under the homogeneity of the myth. “For several centuries now,” Weil notes, “[men] have everywhere destroyed the past, stupidly, blindly, both at home and abroad. […] The past once destroyed never returns. The destruction of the past is perhaps the greatest of all crimes.”69 Of course, the historical past can be destroyed in many ways: the loss of classical texts in the razing of the Library of Alexandria is not the same as the shredding and redaction of classified documents. The erasure of the past effected by the State, according to Weil, involves two important elements: a break with the diversity and wealth of the past and an assimilation of diverse temporalities. Weil notes that the “paradox of patriotism” which developed in France from 1789, for instance, was “founded, not on love of the past, but on the most violent break with the country’s past.”70 It was, as Thomas Paine put it on the eve of America’s moment, the “power to begin the world over again”,71 and for Weil, “the honour of having been the first to begin.”72 For revolutionary France, the birth of a “new world” meant breaking definitively from the oppressive coordinates of the world that preceded it: eliminating the reality of serfdom, beheading the king, flattening the hierarchy of lords, emptying the symbols of the Church, thoroughly rooting out all the vestiges of a world overcome. But it also meant, Weil argues, the destruction and forgetting of all the diverse, heterogeneous lines of struggle that led to the revolutionary moment itself.73 For Weil, there was “already the Revolution at work” in an “underground” history before the idea of the Revolution was born, in the complex relations of pre-revolutionary society that did not yet envision

68 This phrase is employed in a different context by Weil in “Du Temps,” in Oeuvres Complètes I , 144. 69 Weil, The Need for Roots, 51–52. 70 Ibid., 109, our emphasis; cf. ibid., 141. 71 Common Sense, in Political Writings, ed. Bruce Kuklick (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge

University Press, 1989), 44 [Appendix to Third Edition]. 72 Weil, The Need for Roots, 109. 73 Ibid., 109–110.

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itself in the grandeur of a centralized revolution or as a people belonging to a “sovereign nation”: the relationships forged between communities of serfs in the refusal to work, the organizations formed in defense of the commons, all the quotidian social struggles born in the crises over land and food.74 While overcoming the oppressive structures of feudalism was certainly an achievement, one cost of this for Weil was the way that the past world, of which something like feudal subjugation was a constitutive part, was rejected wholesale. What was also discarded were the forms of collective life, struggle, and tradition developed through that historical suffering, the loss and neutralization of a “dynamic force thrusting beneath the surface of [a] people.”75 It is in this sense that Weil condemns the Encyclopédistes who, in their obsession with “the idea of progress,” consequentially “killed any chance of inspiration being sought in a revolutionary tradition”,76 that is, in the local communities and strategies that made the break possible.77 When the revolutions of the eighteenth century articulated themselves in terms of “national sovereignty”,78 Weil argues, this was imagined as a genesis in an “open break”, a “liberating current […] without historical roots.”79 The revolutionary patriotism, she argues, was thus “solely concerned with the present and the future.”80 The liberation of the revolutionary State would be the creation of a “new” people, yet it would be a people whose past has been cleaved from their bodies like a diseased limb and who must proceed to the future with limited capacities for having a tradition and a history. Nationalist ideology becomes both the bandage and the crutch. “Loss of the past, whether it be collectively or individually,” Weil writes, “is the supreme human

74 Ibid. 75 Ibid., 110. 76 Ibid. 77 For an historical account of these practices, see Silvia Federici, “All the World Needs a Jolt: Social Movements and Political Crisis in Medieval Europe,” in Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation (New York: Autonomedia, 2014), 21–60. 78 Weil, The Need for Roots, 109. 79 Ibid. 80 Ibid.

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tragedy, and we have thrown ours away like a child picking off the petals of a rose.”81 The consolidation of a single nation, on Weil’s analysis, involves a process of assimilation that has, at least hitherto, produced a cultural stagnation. Weil notes how, in the constitution of a national State, the “Revolution melted all the peoples subject to the French Crown into one single mass.”82 Processes of national assimilation are not merely political, of course, but also linguistic and cultural, as when the royal French state consolidated itself through the systemization of a national language from a multiplicity of regional dialects, or when contemporary immigrant groups are compelled to assimilate within a monolingual nation. And while assimilation itself is not an intrinsic problem for Weil, the prevailing danger too often involves an erasure of history and culture, to the point that people “who have their culture taken away from them either carry on without any at all, or else accept the odds and ends of the culture one condescends to give to them.”83 If the erasure of the past functions as a strategy of cultural domination, then the “real marvel,” Weil imagines, “is to assimilate populations so that they can preserve their culture, though necessarily modified, as a living thing.”84 Any State begins with an aggregated material, a diversity of peoples and cultures, and thus a multiplicity of pasts. The construction of a common State, we can say by extension, entails the assimilation of heterogeneous timelines. The past must be cancelled in its complexity before it can be reconstituted in the simplicity of the State’s national form. This simultaneous erasure and constitution is effectuated in concrete, spatial ways—for instance, when something as nationally iconic as the United States’ Mount Rushmore, a batholith of presidential visages, was carved into stolen Lakota land, and when a competing monument of tribal leaders is constructed to contest this theft of both land and history. The more recent controversy over the removal of Confederate monuments provides another example in which figural monuments, which originally served to iconize the powers that perpetuated slavery, are now being erased in a culturally corrective measure. If there is any resemblance between these

81 Ibid., 119. 82 Ibid., 109. 83 Ibid., 108. 84 Ibid.

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examples it is that, as Hannah Arendt notes, “[m]en who act, to the extent that they feel themselves to be the masters of their own futures, will forever be tempted to make themselves masters of the past.”85

Progress and the Closure of the Future While nationalist ideology constructs itself on the basis of the past, we argue that it must also complete itself through a determination of the future, specifically as a line of “progress.” Unlike her pronounced concern with the value of the historical past, Weil provides less analysis of the future as such in The Need for Roots. In an important passage, Weil does privilege the past as a vital resource: It would be useless to turn one’s back on the past in order simply to concentrate on the future. […] The opposition of future to past or past to future is absurd. The future brings us nothing, gives us nothing; it is we who in order to build it have to give it everything, our very life. But to be able to give, one has to possess; and we possess no other life, no other living sap, than the treasures stored up from the past and digested, assimilated and created afresh by us. Of all the human soul’s needs, none is more vital than this one of the past. […] Love of the past has nothing to do with any reactionary political attitude. Like all human activities, the revolution draws all its vigor from tradition.86

There is reason to interpret Weil here as discounting any concern about the future for the “wealth” offered by the past. Ontologically, her position could be that there is no reality to the future: the future is empty, it “brings us nothing.” Experientially, she could be suggesting that the future is no more than an “image” upon which hopes and anxieties are projected in an attempt to avoid the demands of work in the present.87 In consequence, it might be concluded that Weil is a traditionalist and not a revolutionary, urging an attention to the wealth of history rather than the social demands for innovation. We propose reading Weil’s remarks on the future not as a rejection of futurity as such, but as a rejection of the future as ideologically determinate, a future reduced to an “image” according to 85 Arendt, “Lying in Politics,” Crises of the Republic (San Diego: Harcourt, 1969), 12. 86 Weil, The Need for Roots, 51. 87 Cf. Weil, Gravity and Grace, 19.

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which the progressive direction of the present should be governed and restricted. We take up Weil’s reflections on “revolutionary” ideals as a starting point for extrapolating an account of the way the State captures the future. In the posthumous collection Oppression and Liberty,88 Weil provides a sustained critique of the utopianism of revolutionary thought and politics. She argues that the “magic word” of “revolution” has the capability of “compensating for all suffering, resolving all anxieties, avenging the past, curing present ills, summing up all future possibilities” and purporting to contain “the solution of all the insoluble problems.”89 The focus of these passages is largely on socialist praxis in mobilizing working people against capitalist modes of production and the State-form that sustains them. While these are different political realities from the mode of nationalist domination we previously considered, it is important to note that what Weil reproaches in these forms of thought is a specific intellectual and affective relationship that can be developed toward the future. This is a kind of relationship chiefly defined by an awaiting, a passive expectation that the pains of the political present will be alleviated by the promise of a utopian future. In these instances, the future is conceived as ameliorative and redemptive despite what can be accomplished here and now. The future is invoked as something in which all three dimensions of time (the tragic past, the frustrating present, the anxious future) are resolved in a kind of fantasy order-word. In short, the future is imbued with a determinate image of what the present should be, an answer to the insoluble problem that time poses to us in every instance. Weil’s point is just as much a rejection of historical determinism as it is of the ideology of “progress”90 that, in the interests of mobilizing a people against or in defense of a state, promises them the fortunes they are owed for what they have suffered. If traditional revolutionary ideals prove inadequate for Weil, it is because their utopian models render the future into a determinate form

88 Weil, Oppression and Liberty, trans. Arthur Wills and John Petrie (London and New

York: Routledge, 2001). 89 “Critical Examination of the Ideas of Revolution and Progress,” ibid., 127. 90 Weil’s discussion of the idea of “progress” in Oppression and Liberty ranges from

revolutionary ideals, economic and technological developments, and scientific knowledge. The concept deployed here should not be taken to be exhaustively representative of each of these concerns.

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to be achieved, an earthly world as the futural solution to the problems of this world. How can we correlatively see how the future is shaped or articulated by the State itself? The problem is that there is no content for the State to capture in relation to the future in the way the past provides a wealth of events to historically include, exclude, or frame in the construction of a nationalist narrative. Our thesis is that the State determines and captures the future through the intransigent demand for the continuation of the State itself. The State produces a conservative project of a prolonged present, in which all political action takes as its touchstone the endurance of the State through all possible changes. The capture of the future thus does not involve an erasure of determinate content, but rather a capture of vital possibility. From the perspective of the State, just as for certain discourses of revolutionary politics Weil criticizes, the capture of the future concerns the constitution of a line of progress. Minimally, the idea of progress involves envisioning the future in terms of improvement. This could be the normative ideal of a communist alternative to the contradictions inherent to capitalism, or when the ideals of constitutional democratic principles are seen as increasingly enacted as legislative time passes. But on a deeper level, what these notions of progress fundamentally presuppose are: first, the endurance of a given subject as a necessary ground of permissible change (whether it is the dialectical development of a people, or the perseverance of a constitutional State); and second, the futural projection of that subject in terms of a linear and progressive development. In short, progress takes a contingent present form as the regulative ideal of the future. While every society involves perpetual change, the notion of progress appears as an unconditional dedication to the preservation of the State and its projection forward in time. This conservative dedication is both an ideal and something concretely instantiated in legal structures and ideological discourse. Thus laws concerning treason (or l’atteinte à la défense nationale in the France at the center of Weil’s concern) have often carried extreme punishments and have been used to prosecute revolutionaries whose practices aim to undermine institutions understood as essential to the existence of the State. Discursively and affectively, the conservative dedication manifests in racist, nationalist concerns about increased immigration as threatening future consistency or security of the nation itself. While patriotic dedication to the nation might often manifest in pride and belonging, it is also, for Weil, the basis for insecurity and “[d]istress” as

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a “culture broth for false problems” which “creates obsessions.”91 The greater existential risk is for a people to be locked into a social world without a temporal outside: “To be confined to a perpetual present is to become enslaved,” Philip Goodchild interprets of Weil’s account of time, “like a factory worker whose whole attention is absorbed in piece work.”92 One promise of eternity would be, contrarily, the temporally open. One way of appreciating Weil’s complex demand for a “new type of patriotism”93 concerns the relation between the nation and time itself. Patriotism is contradictory for Weil because it at once draws individual compassion and obligation toward something greater, and tends to run that obligation aground in a new “idolatry of the self”,94 in the belief that the nation is an absolute value for which there should be ensured a “prolonged existence in time and space.”95 For Weil, the idolatry of the Romans “with regard to themselves” rather than “images made of stone or bronze”96 has become an enduring legacy of the State that has, disastrously, insisted on making the world in its own image, thereby foreclosing alternative futures, other forms of social organization, and diverse imaginings of the world. What would the love of a nation, to which many of us belong by default, mean if it no longer involved an unwavering and ideological support, but rather a rooted interest in its contingency and fragility as something worldly and supportive, as something open and always perforated by diversity? At stake for Weil here is a form of love not for something absolute, but rather for something bearing all the “fragility” of the truly singular in the world.97

91 Weil, The Need for Roots, 61. 92 “Weil’s Boat: On Becoming and Being,” in Simone Weil and Continental Philosophy,

ed. A. Rebecca Rozelle-Stone (London: Rowman & Littlefield, 2017), 23. 93 Weil, The Need for Roots, 145. Cf. ibid., 148, 166. 94 Ibid., 140. 95 Ibid., 170. 96 Ibid., 140. 97 “The compassion felt for fragility is always associated with love for real beauty,

because we are keenly conscious of the fact that the existence of the really beautiful things ought to be assured for ever, and is not. One can either love France for the glory which would seem to ensure for her a prolonged existence in time and space; or else one can love her as something which, being earthly, can be destroyed, and is all the more precious on that account.” Ibid., 168.

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Rooting and Uprooting in Time We want to consider, in conclusion, the normative question of how we could or should, for Weil, be situated in time, that is, how we as selves and peoples are made, and can be unmade, in time? Weil’s work unfortunately does not provide us a sustained answer to this question in the way that The Need for Roots explores the necessity of being rooted in place, in both a culture and a land that is cultivated by human labor. The following is therefore offered in the spirit of Weil. We have shown how the political form of the nation-state, for Weil, predominates in the world, and that a significant aspect of its oppressive function is the way it uproots people, through nationalist ideology, from more diverse and nourishing experiences in historical time. Countering this process, we argue, requires a more vital and explorative rooting in time. For Weil, this means more than being rooted in eternity in a withdrawal from the world. It means a rooting in the complex order of temporal life: in the past as a multiplicity of intersecting traditions, and in the future as an open field of creative, social development. Weil’s construal of the future as empty, insofar as it “gives us nothing,” thus has a positive potential. It is the indeterminacy of the future that may serve as a resource for working and creating within time, against the rigid determinacies of the State, a concrete world that is neither given, destined, nor promised, but which can be fashioned through experimental connections and creative moments. To be rooted is not to be stabilized and final, or for time to come to a closure. For Weil, to be rooted foremost means to be connected to a “vital medium” of nourishment,98 exposed to and contributing to an open world where temporal and cultural roots intersect and communicate. “Rooting in and the multiplying of contacts,” Weil writes, “are complementary to one another.”99 The “real, active, and natural participation in the life of a community,” Weil emphasizes, “preserves in living shape certain particular treasures of the past and certain particular expectations for the future.”100 Given the global dominance of nation-states, this rooting necessarily requires uprooting. Multiplying our points of connection, diversifying our perception and attention to the traditions of the past under risk of 98 Ibid., 157. 99 Ibid., 52. 100 Ibid., 43.

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erasure, and imagining different possible routes through the future: all this requires us to uproot our temporal and historical attention from its ideological capture and shaping. It also requires us to uproot it from the ways the State grounds us in a structured and fixed sense of place and time and erects barriers to separate and regulate our interchange with others. In the direction of the past, this is a matter for both the writing and study of history as a cultural practice. Howard Zinn thus reminds us that. [h]istory can untie our minds, our bodies, our disposition to move – to engage life rather than contemplating it as an outsider. It can do this by widening our view to include the silent voices of the past, so that we look behind the silence of the present. […] It can reveal how ideas are stuffed into us by the powers of our time, and so lead us to stretch our minds beyond what is given.101

One kind of work or task would be, to employ a central concept of Weil from another context, to “decreate” ourselves temporally. “We participate in the creation of the world,” Weil writes, “by decreating ourselves.”102 Certainly, following the logic of Gravity and Grace, decreation is in some sense a spiritual becoming out of time, toward the eternal rather than the temporal. It is temporality that individuates us as a self; and the decreation of the self is also the decreation of the order of time. From the perspective of The Need for Roots, we might ask, what is the self to be decreated? Our suggestion is that decreation here has a strongly political valence. The State constitutes itself through capture and articulation of history, but its ideology is functional only insofar as it constitutes and individuates a people that bear it and who see themselves as the subjects of that history, as so many simulacra of that form. Countering the temporal hegemony of the State thus requires an undoing of the self created by it. This decreation can be accomplished not through a destruction of the self or people, but through a more extensive rooting in a world whose complexity unravels the rigidity of self. From the perspective of a theory of time as much as a theory of community, what is required is an orientation to a past which is more than our own and to a future which contains more than what we can hope. The engagement with history can be an investigation into the heterogeneity and differences at the basis of the self rather than on 101 Zinn, Politics of History, 54. 102 Weil, Gravity and Grace, 33.

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behalf of its obstinate preservation. So too can the future be embraced and worked with in the indeterminacy beyond all images, at the cutting edge of their fragility. Time is a kind of territory of human flourishing which poses a continual challenge: to be wasted by neglect, or cultivated through labor; to be captured by property, or transformed by belonging.

References Andrew, Edward. “Simone Weil on the Injustice of Rights-Based Doctrines.” The Review of Politics 48, no. 1 (Winter, 1986): 60–91. Arendt, Hannah. Crises of the Republic. San Diego: Harcourt, 1969. Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Translated by Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987. Federici, Silvia. Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation. New York: Autonomedia, 2014. Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Translated by Alan Sheridan. New York: Vintage, 1995. Goodchild, Philip. “Weil’s Boat: On Becoming and Being.” In Simone Weil and Continental Philosophy, 13–36. Edited by A. Rebecca Rozelle-Stone. London: Rowman and Littlefield, 2017. Hallward, Peter. Out of This World: Deleuze and the Philosophy of Creation. New York: Verso, 2006. Kahn, Gilbert. “La dialectique du temps chez Simone Weil.” Cahiers Simone Weil XIII, no. 3 (September 1985): 221–239. Loewen, James W. Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong. New York: The New Press, 1995. Marx, Karl. Capital: Volume One. Translated by Ben Fowkes. New York: Vintage, 1977. Marx, Karl, and Friedrich Engels. The Marx-Engels Reader. 2nd ed. Edited by Robert C. Tucker. New York and London: W. W. Norton, 1972. Nietzsche, Friedrich. Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for One and All. Translated by Walter Kaufmann. New York: Penguin, 1966. O’Brien, Conor Cruise. “The Anti-Politics of Simone Weil.” The New York Review of Books, May 12, 1977. Paine, Thomas. Political Writings. Edited by Bruce Kuklick. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1989. Virilio, Paul. Speed and Politics. Translated by Mark Polizzotti. New York: Semiotext[e], 1986.

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Weil, Simone. Formative Writings: 1929–1941. Edited and translated by Dorothy Tuck McFarland and Wilhelmina Van Ness. Amherst: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1987. ———. Gravity and Grace. Translated by Emma Crawford and Mario von der Ruhr. London and New York: Routledge, 2002. ———. The Need for Roots: Prelude to a Declaration of Duties towards Mankind. Translated by Arthur Wills. London and New York: Routledge, 2002. ———. Oeuvres Complètes I: Premiers écrits philosophiques. Edited by André A. Devaux and Florence de Lussy. Paris: Gallimard, 1988. ———. Oppression and Liberty. Translated by Arthur Wills and John Petrie. London and New York: Routledge, 2001. ———. Simone Weil on Colonialism: An Ethic of the Other. Edited and translated by J. P. Little. Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003. Zinn, Howard. The Politics of History. 2nd ed. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1990.

CHAPTER 10

Simone Weil’s Heterodox Marxism: Revolutionary Pessimism and the Politics of Resistance Scott B. Ritner

In the 1930s and 1940s, fewer than 100 years after Marx’s death, in France and Germany, a new strand of Marxism took up the ideas of Nietzsche, Freud, Heidegger, Lukács, Luxemburg, and Pannekoek. This small group of scholars, activists, and militants interpreted Marxism against both the official Marxism (Stalinism from Moscow) and its fraternal (Bolshevik) twin, Trotskyism. Whereas the orthodox theories of Marxism were based on readings of The Manifesto of the Communist Party and Capital, the appearance in print of The German Ideology, the Theses “On Feuerbach,” and the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts 1 provided a new humanist basis for the previously mechanistic understanding of communism. At the same time, the real and perceived failures of the Soviet Revolution and the rise of fascism as a political force in Italy, Romania, Hungary, Germany, Spain, and France demanded a revision 1 Hereafter 1844 Manuscripts.

S. B. Ritner (B) Department of Political Science, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA, USA e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s) 2020 S. Bourgault and J. Daigle (eds.), Simone Weil, Beyond Ideology?, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-48401-9_10

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of left-wing solidarity among parties and fellow travelers. In France, the Popular Front, including Socialists, communists, and social democrats, fought in the streets to hold the fascist groups at bay. In the same historical period, the splintering of the left in Germany, Italy, and Spain contributed to the victories of the Nazis, Fascists, and Falangists, respectively. These new fusions and hybrids of Marxist political action, based in the Marxism of the newly published 1844 Manuscripts, Theses “On Feuerbach,” and The German Ideology, provided ample opportunity for a reengagement with the politics of communism, socialism, syndicalism, and antifascism. Rather than simply being exemplary of the cultural refuseniks of the late Third Republic,2 Simone Weil’s political thought prizes resistance to oppression for the purpose of a liberated society. Her fellow traveler3 status, in relation to the French Communist Party (PCF) and the powerful syndicalist unions, was not in debate among her peers: among Weil’s contemporaries in Germany and France, being a party member or apparatchik was no longer required to be a Marxist.4 Weil proclaimed her independence from any party membership, positioning herself instead as a critical fellow traveler in her (1932) “Reflections Concerning Technocracy, National-socialism, the U.S.S.R and certain other matters.” In that short essay, she wrote: “Here are a few ideas, adventurous perhaps, certainly heretical, as compared with all the accepted orthodoxies, designed above all to make militants think.”5 Her critiques of words with capital letters6 and her note On the Suppression of All Political

2 See Desmond Avery, Beyond Power: Simone Weil and the Notion of Authority (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2008). 3 The term “fellow traveler,” coined (according to rumor) by Leon Trotsky, describes

someone who is in agreement with many of the goals and aims of a group—in Weil’s case the Communist Parties of Europe and especially the Communist Party of France (PCF)—while not being a member of or propagandist for the Party. The original Russian term is popytqik [poputchik]. 4 For an excellent study of this phenomenon in France, see David Caute, Communism and the French Intellectuals: 1914–1960 (New York, NY: Macmillan, 1964). 5 Simone Weil, Oppression and Liberty, trans. Arthur Wills and John Petrie (Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 1973), 25. 6 “Words with content and meaning are not murderous. If one of them occasionally becomes associated with bloodshed, it is rather by chance than by inevitability, and the resulting action is generally controlled and efficacious. But when empty words are given capital letters, then, on the slightest pretext, men will begin shedding blood for them and

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Parties 7 (written in the late 1930s and early 1940s) describe the necessity of her distance from formal party politics. In the latter of these two essays, Weil argues that “A political party is a machine to generate collective passions,”8 reaffirming her self-identification as an independent thinker, who mobilized Marxist methods and ideas, but was skeptical of political and religious orthodoxies. In the pages that follow, we will see that Weil’s heterodoxies are cogenerative and co-relative. They are like hot water and tealeaves: they steep into one another, fundamentally altering each individually and bringing about a complex result. On the one hand, the water soaks flavor from the leaves; on the other hand, the leaves take moisture from the water. It is in this regard that my reading diverges from an important critical interpretation of Weil, namely A Truer Liberty, Simone Weil and Marxism (1989) by Lawrence A. Blum and Victor Seidler. Blum and Seidler masterfully explicate and contextualize Weil’s critiques of Lenin, Trotsky, Marx, and Engels, by highlighting the places in her work where she takes a critical stance toward Marxism. They argue that this critical approach separates her from Marxism. I take this, on the contrary, as evidence of her participation in the Marxist tradition. Additionally, Blum and Seidler define Marxism based on the “resurgence” of Marxism in the American Academy in the 1980s,9 predominantly, through the (Trotskyite-leaning) Monthly Review. Part of the distinction between their reading of Weil’s relationship to Marxism and mine is due to a different understanding

piling up ruin in their name, without effectively grasping anything to which they refer, since what they refer to can never have any reality, for the simple reason that they mean nothing.” Simone Weil, “The Power of Words,” in Simone Weil: An Anthology, ed. Siân Miles (New York: Penguin, 2005), 241, 242. 7 While the extant English translation by Simon Leys is titled On the Abolition of All Political Parties, Weil’s original French title is Note sur la suppression générale des partis politiques. The difference between “general suppression” and “abolition” is significant. General suppression implies government action to make illegal or to put down, while the notion of ‘abolition’ implies the outright elimination of something; this action is taken at times by government and at times by a revolutionary act, as could, for example, the abolition of the capitalist mode of production. 8 Simone Weil, On the Abolition of All Political Parties, trans. Simon Leys (Collingwood, VIC, Australia: Black Inc., 2013), 11. 9 Lawrence A. Blum and Victor Seidler, A Truer Liberty: Simone Weil and Marxism (New York: Routledge, 1989).

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of what constitutes Marxism. For Blum and Seidler, Marxism is chiefly an economically structured, party-based, theory of revolution. In this chapter, I propose to define Marxism as a method of analysis dialectically linked to the liberatory political goal of a classless society (communism). In my reading of Marxism, revolution is understood to originate in the spontaneous action and organization of the working classes. It is my claim that Simone Weil takes part in this method of analysis, though with some significant alterations, and that she shares the political goals of Marxism, namely a classless society of free producers. My argument for Weil’s inclusion in the Marxist tradition as a heterodox and pessimistic thinker rests on four substantive claims. The first of these claims is the historical evidence of a plurality of Marxisms. I argue that interpretations of Marx and Marx and Engels are colored by the availability of certain texts (especially the publication of the 1844 Manuscripts, The German Ideology, and the Grundrisse in the 1930s) and the material and political conditions through which Marx and Engels’ interpreters lived. The second, third, and fourth claims I wish to make below are tied to Weil’s critiques of (2) labor—including her concept of affliction, (3) revolution, and (4) her reconceptualization of resistance without expectation.10 I argue that Weil contributes to the pessimistic strain of Marxism generally associated with Walter Benjamin, Georges Bataille, Frantz Fanon, Theodor W. Adorno, and Mario Tronti. I present Weil’s contributions as participating in the critique of Marxism from inside the tradition. Following from this, I argue that Simone Weil’s pessimistic and heterodox Marxism may imbue contemporary Marxist

10 I deliberately leave aside the question of property. There is insufficient space here for an analysis of Weil’s theoretical treatment of property which ranges from arguments in the 1930s that the organization of labor is of more significance to oppression than who explicitly “owns” the factories to the blueprint for the reorganization of France in The Need for Roots. There Weil argues that both private and public property are necessary material needs. However, property is disarmed by impersonality and decreation. Moreover, because Marx differentiates between property as possession and property as capital in Capital Vol. 1 and elsewhere, this question would need to be addressed individually and at length.

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politics with a romantic11 conception of open resistance.12 Thinking Marxism as political theory is therefore distinct from thinking Marxism as a philosophical tradition, an economic science, or a State-sponsored ideology, though it necessarily encompasses all of these. Moreover, it is, even by Marx’s own desires, interpretable and reinterpretable based on changing historical conditions. Ad nauseum reminder: Marxism has never been monolithic. So how does Marx define his political thought and where? It is certainly of extreme importance to find this definition in his two most famous and public pieces of writing: The Manifesto of the Communist Party and Volume One of Capital, as well as the published works on The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon Bonaparte and The Civil War in France. In these successive writings, Marx revises his claims, redefining communist orthodoxy each time. Similarly, it is in the posthumously published Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts, the Theses “On Feuerbach,” The German Ideology, and the Grundrisse that Marx outlines an alternative edition of his thought, adding nuance and expanding his definitions. In the Manifesto, Marx and Engels present communism as the final expression of the history of class struggle. The authors’ platform is a combination of violent revolution and immediately achievable reforms, as well as the spreading of revolution from one State to another until it becomes an international movement and power.13 Each element of this is achieved through the Communist Party’s actions in alignment with the proletariat, as a class. Four years later, in the 18th Brumaire (1852), Marx reassesses the Hegelian philosophy of history via an examination of the French struggles of 1848–1851 in real time. In this book, Marx rethinks the organization of the classes, expanding the historical class struggle from a single dialectic between the two absolute classes (the bourgeoisie and the proletariat)

11 In his Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, Gershom Scholem describes romantic energies of religious traditions which burst through, but not out of, said tradition itself. These romantic impulses are the foundations of mysticism. My argument rests on the idea that political theories and ideologies also have romantic impulses, which generate heterodoxies. Gershom Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, ed. Robert Alter (New York: Schocken Books, 1974), 8–9. 12 William Clare Roberts, Marx’s Inferno: The Political Theory of Capital (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2017), 2. 13 It is already a spectral power.

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into a four-way fight between the bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie, the proletariat, the lumpenproletariat, and the peasants. The battles of this revolution are fought on the pitch of the State, with State power as the reward for victory, reinforcing the State-centered politics of The Manifesto. In order not to fail, the proletariat must not only outduel each of the other hostile camps, but also create a new poetry14 of revolution in the process.15 Marx declares that the French fought the battles of the proletariat (from 1848 to 1851) in the guise of the bourgeoisie and remade the same mistakes that the bourgeoisie did in fighting their battles in the guise of the Romans.16 Capital changes registers, but only slightly: the bible of the working classes painstakingly defines each element of capital and the web of social relations around it, capitalism. Capital is a critique of English political economy, along the methodological lines of German philosophy, with a purpose that follows the French radical political tradition.17 In synthesizing these three strands of thought, Marx draws his philosophical, political, and economic critiques together into a single treatise. Marx desires for each reader to understand the oppressive social conditions that they are living in vis-à-vis the organization of society around alienated objects and disempowered labor. His hope is that his readers will rebel. This rebellion must demand both the emancipation of productive forces and of the producers themselves. In “Reflections Concerning the Causes of Liberty and Social Oppression,” Weil reiterates Marx’s point as part of her critique of those Marxists, in the Soviet Union and elsewhere, who had forgotten about the human element and sought only to free the productive forces.18 Finally, in The Civil War in France (1871), Marx again re-evaluates the idea of revolution in the aftermath of the Paris Commune. Now he prefers a locally practiced, but internationally minded, insurrection that entirely supplants the State. For Marx, the insurgents of the Paris Commune introduced a real democracy that did not seize the economic means of

14 Karl Marx, The Eighteen Brumaire of Louis Napoleon Bonaparte (New York: International Publishers, 1994), 18. 15 Ibid. 16 Ibid. 17 See Roberts, Marx’s Inferno. 18 Weil, Oppression and Liberty, 42.

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power, but abolished economic control in favor of political praxis.19 This, according to Engels, provides the reader with a new understanding of “the dictatorship of the proletariat,”20 manifestly distinct from bourgeois forms, because it functions as a true democracy of the working classes. In these four major texts published in Marx’s lifetime we find various riffs on a common theme. In History and Class Consciousness (1924), Georg Lukács calls this “orthodox” Marxism.21 Orthodox Marxism has five distinct elements: (1) a strategic seizure of State power by a class or a party, (2) an adherence to the Hegelian philosophy that history is a synthetic teleology, (3) a materialist critique of the moral science of political economy, (4) an insurrection against capital by means of seizing the State, and (5) the abolition of class society through class struggle. In short, orthodox Marxism is a teleological political theory based on the presumption that opposing forces will resolve through conflict, and that its political goals are achievable through the means of the State. The basis of the heterodox Marxisms proposed by Weil and her contemporaries was a combination of Marx’s canonical texts, the popularization of Lukács’ book, and the publication and translation of three of Marx’s previously unpublished writings in 1932. The printing of the 1844 Manuscripts, The German Ideology, and the Theses “On Feuerbach,” caused a tectonic shift in Marxism as philosophy and political theory. These two manuscripts and one set of notes introduced a humanistic version of Marxist political thought into the world, at the same time that Stalin was deliberately starving large portions of the Soviet population and preparing the Great Purges. By the time the Grundrisse became available (in German) in 1936, the development of heterodoxies was well on its way and the first drafting of many of the concepts in Capital provided further material for the understanding and development of the Marxist critique of political economy.

19 Karl Marx, The Civil War in France, in The Marx-Engels Reader, ed. Robert C. Tucker (New York: W. W. Norton, 1994). For a particularly enlightening study of the radically heterodox actions of the communards, see also, Massimilano Tomba, Insurgent Universality: An Alternative Legacy of Modernity (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019). 20 Friedrich Engels’ “Introduction” to Karl Marx, The Civil War in France, 629. 21 See Georg Lukács, History and Class Consciousness, trans. Rodney Livingstone

(Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1972).

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The 1844 Manuscripts present Marx’s theory of alienation through a four-part reconstruction. The four elements of alienation are (1) alienation from the products of our labor, (2) alienation from the labor process itself, (3) alienation from our means of life and livelihood, and (4) alienation from each other. Alienation is centered around the human, individual and collective, at the point of dialectical interaction either with objects or another subject. It is from this set of manuscripts that Marxists are able to draw the philosophical basis for the material claims about alienation in Capital. Written just one year later, in 1845, the Theses “On Feuerbach” and the German Ideology are closely linked. The theses “On Feuerbach” are Marx’s outline notes for Part I of The Germany Ideology and contain Marx’s and Engels’ points of divergence from their Young Hegelian friends and mentors.22 But it is exactly this first part that is most important for the reimagining of Marxist political thought in the 1930s. Weil, in her 1933 critique of Lenin, makes direct reference to the “Dissertations on Feuerbach”23 and the “German Ideology.”24 It is in this 1845 text that Marx and Engels provide some self-clarification in the way of a first draft of their materialist conception of history. The German Ideology includes Marx and Engels’ considerations on the division of labor between the city and country (between industrial and agricultural labor), and between intellectual and physical labor. This has great significance for readers of Simone Weil because of its influence on Weil’s two major works. On the one hand, the problem of subject and object is one that Weil inherits from Marx in her discussion of scientific thinking in “Reflections Concerning the Causes of Liberty and Social Oppression.” On the second hand, The German Ideology is enlightening for Weil’s arguments for the reconstruction of post-war France in The Need for Roots, in which she advocates for

22 Especially Ludwig Feuerbach, Max Stirner, and Bruno Bauer. Marx and Engels have kind words for these philosophers but spend much more ink differentiating themselves. One Young Hegelian who is mentioned but escapes criticism is Moses Hess. For the whole of the Theses “On Feuerbach” and Part I of The German Ideology, see Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Marx-Engels Reader, ed. Robert C. Tucker (New York, NY: W. W. Norton, 1994). 23 Simone Weil, “On Lenin’s Book Materialism and Emperiocriticism,” in Oppression and Liberty, trans. Arthur Wills (Amherst, MA: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1954), 32. 24 Ibid., 33.

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a new understanding of the distinction between agricultural and industrial labor, just as Marx and Engels insist on the first class distinctions of the capitalist organization of society as being between the city and the country. Additionally, Marx and Engels give a brief description of what a day in the life of a human in communist social relations will look like. Weil adapts the famous adage about the generalist who hunts, fishes, criticizes, etc. in The Need for Roots. There she paints a picture of daily life in which one will labor in the morning, kibitz in the afternoon, critique in the evening, and pray each night25 —all in a loose federation of independent workshops. Marx’s posthumous publications, the 1844 Manuscripts, Theses “On Feuerbach,” The German Ideology, and Grundrisse, suggest an openended conception of resistance and re-evaluation in which the ultimate goal remains some future communism. Resistance, in these works, is presented as a constant conflict with the twin powers of capital and the State. The goal is a society without class oppression, not a society governed by the proletariat. The humanistic orientation and anti-State conclusions of these publications provide an opening for interpreters to map-out more radical directions. Still, Weil does stand out from her contemporary co-practitioners of heterodox Marxism. Her peculiarity is clearest in her use and interpretation of Marx’s method. While Bataille and Adorno remained Hegelians, preferring synthesizable dialectics, Weil’s dialectic is of another sort. Her methods of reading and writing social critique are distinct from her contemporaries, making her thought unique.

Weil’s Critique of Marx Marx adheres methodologically to the Hegelian dialectic throughout his oeuvre. Weil prefers a different method. In her Notebooks, she expresses antipathy to the Hegelian dialectic and its synthetic resolution, writing “the famous ‘negation of the negation’, is pure rubbish.”26 Weil’s (Platonic) dialectic does not resolve as the Hegelian foundations of Marx’s do. Rather than a closed system with a purposeful end, Weil’s critique of 25 Simone Weil, The Need for Roots: Prelude to a Declaration of Duties towards Mankind, trans. Arthur Wills (New York, NY: Routledge, 1952), 73–76. 26 Simone Weil, First and Last Notebooks, trans. Richard Rees (New York: Oxford University Press, 1970), 17.

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bourgeois social relationships demands consistent active resistance regardless of an unsure or incomplete outcome. The disjuncture between a closed and an open dialectical method presents a problem for Weil’s relation to orthodox Marxism and to that understanding of social revolution. For orthodox Marxism, the revolution comes when the contradictions between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat are heightened and the lowerclass revolts against the upper, taking with them all that is positive in bourgeois politics and philosophy and creating something new out of its double negation. The revolution works through epochal stages from the seizing of State power to the introduction of the dictatorship of the proletariat, to socialism, before arriving, inevitably, at a social order called communism. This negation of the capitalist social order, which itself was the negation of the feudal social order, is the final act of the enlightenment narrative of human progression. For Weil, the expectation of progress had been eliminated by the rise of fascism, and communism represented more of a purpose and less of a project. Instead of being built, it would have to be nurtured. The first case, built communism, requires a power that coerces and organizes. The second, nurtured communism, recognizes that communism is not only material and ideological, but also heuristic. What this means is that communism, for Weil and Marx, is not simply something achieved through revolutionary upheaval, but is also the name of a set of social relationships that educates by setting people free. One cannot grow food without knowing how to plant seeds. It is not determined, as is the orthodox Marxist vision, by the contours of the already existing bourgeois political forms. Rather it will grow through a careful practice of planting and replanting into an unpredictable shape. There are no guarantees, and no stages. Still, Weil does not abandon the idea of the revolutionary coming out of a new, liberatory, and rational social order. She offered the following critique of Bataille to mutual friends and fellow communists: “Now the revolution is for him, the triumph of the irrational – for me, of the rational: for him, a catastrophe – for me, a methodical action in which one must endeavor to limit the harm done; for him, the liberation of the instincts, and above all those that are currently considered pathological – for me, a superior morality. What do we have in common?”27 Weil’s

27 Simone Pétrement, Simone Weil: A Life, trans. Raymond Rosenthal (New York: Schocken Books, 1976), 208.

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explicit questioning of the harm done in the process of revolution is a pessimistic critique, in contradiction to Bataille’s festive violence. Weil describes Marxism as a dogma and as a method. This intentional inconsistency allows her to both align herself with, and criticize, other practitioners of Marxism while remaining within their orbit. In “Reflections Concerning Technocracy, National-socialism, the U.S.S.R. and certain other matters,” (1934) her critique of Leninist and Trotskyite Bolshevism, she writes: As for ourselves, Marx represents for us, at best, a doctrine; far more often just a name that one hurls at the head of an opponent to pulverize him; almost never a method. Marxism cannot, however, remain something living except as a method of analysis, of which each generation makes use to define the essential phenomena of its own period.28

Here, Weil is casting the debates of her predecessors and contemporaries in the light of a plurality of Marxisms. Careful attention to the language used in this passage is mandatory. The sentence begins “As for ourselves,” implying that there is an historical misuse and misinterpretation of Marx’s name and his political thought by Weil’s fellow travelers. She is casting herself as a Marxist thinker. Lenin, in particular, is singled out for making a “polemical method”29 into a doctrine. Lenin’s fault, in Weil’s view, is the construction of orthodoxy. Contrariwise, Weil denotes Marxism as a method in “Reflections Concerning the Causes of Liberty and Social Oppression” (1934). In the section that is subtitled “Critique of Marxism” Weil offers this: The materialistic method – that instrument which Marx bequeathed us – is an untried instrument; no Marxist has ever really used it, beginning with Marx himself. The only really valuable idea to be found in Marx’s writings is also the only one that has been completely neglected. It is not surprising that the social movements springing from Marx have failed.30

Weil is challenging her contemporaries to prove that they are actually following Marx’s materialist method. The criticism that orthodox 28 Weil, Oppression & Liberty, 25. 29 Ibid., 33. 30 Ibid., 46.

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Marxists have miscalculated the value and purpose of Marx’s writings is damning. The movements have failed because the understanding was insufficient. Weil strips the Communist Parties of Europe of their power of excommunication, by stripping from them their claim to be the sole interpreters of Marx’s intentions. In her fragmentary writings of 1943, Weil wrote about Marx’s work in both complimentary and critical terms. She considered his “genius,” writing, “[Marx] perceived a new formula for the social ideal,” and “the new or partly new formula of a method for interpreting history. He thus gave double proof of genius.”31 Perhaps reflecting on her own compromises as she worked for the Free French under De Gaulle and wrote The Need for Roots, she argues, “To achieve this [predicting of a future in conformity with his desires] [Marx] was obliged to give a twist both to the method and to the ideal, to deform the one and the other. […] he allowed himself – he, the nonconformist – to be carried away into an unconscious conformity with the most ill-founded superstitions of his day, the cult of production, the cult of big industry, the blind belief in progress.”32 Weil, justifiably, praises and disparages Marx for the immanent quality of his critique. She regards his method as sound, but believes that some of the conclusions he achieved are overdetermined by his historical context rather than his method. When applying Marx’s method to different social and historical conditions, Weil would necessarily come to different conclusions, as for Marxist analysts the conditions analyzed have an immanent effect on the conclusions reached. An historically contextualized reading of Marx and Weil is compatible with the way in which they read the world. Both Weil and Marx would agree that the value of a critical method or dogma is its ability to give the critic grounding for the analysis of their own political situation. Thusly, Weil’s response to her political moment would necessarily be divergent from Marx’s and this would be more in the spirit of his analysis than the orthodox Marxists’ was. For Weil, in spite of its overdetermination due to his adherence to progressive narratives of history, Marx’s method allows for the most accurate understanding of history and of social relations,33 while simultaneously adhereing to some 31 Weil, “On the Contradictions of Marxism,” in Oppression & Liberty, 147. 32 Ibid. 33 In “Reflections Concerning the Causes of Liberty and Social Oppression,” Weil writes: “The Marxist view, according to which social existence is determined by the relations between man and nature established by production, certainly remains the only sound

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of the faults of eighteenth and nineteenth century bourgeois philosophy. Weil’s critique of Marx comes to the conclusion that his political theory required updating rather than disposal, “Two things in Marx are solid, indestructible. One is the method which makes society an object of scientific study by seeking to define therein relationships of force; the other is the analysis of capitalist society as it existed in the nineteenth century.”34

A Strong Foundation: On Labor In spite of, or because of, her immanent critique of Marxism, Weil always kept the question of labor at the center of her political theory. The proximity of Weil’s conceptual language for discussing labor to Marx’s is too often ignored or misinterpreted by her critics, including Blum and Seidler. In their chapter on labor, Blum and Seidler, on the one hand, spend a scant paragraph on the question of alienation. Robert Sparling, on the other hand, in his article “Theory and Praxis: Simone Weil and Marx on the Dignity of Labor” (2012), argues that alienation is absolutely central in Weil and Marx as a material reality of oppression.35 This concept of alienation, central to Marx’s 1844 Manuscripts, is the basis of the humanistic turn taken by the thinkers of the Frankfurt School and Western Marxism more broadly. It is also the subject of Weil’s most remarkable radicalizations of Marxist political thought. In “The Love of God and Affliction,” Weil defines her terminological deviation as such: “In the realm of suffering, affliction is something apart, specific, and irreducible. It is quite a different thing from simple suffering. It takes possession of the soul and marks it through and through with its own particular mark, the mark of slavery.”36 This concept of slavery— a more general one than Marx’s concept of wage slavery—appears in its nascent form in Weil’s “Factory Journal,” as a complex and twofold one. On the one hand, slavery refers to the workers’ enslavement to the

basis for any historical investigation; only these relations must be considered first of all in terms of the problem of power, the means of subsistence forming simply one of the data of this problem.” Weil, Oppression & Liberty, 71. 34 Ibid., 164. 35 Robert Sparling, “Theory and Praxis: Simone Weil and Marx on the Dignity of

Labor,” The Review of Politics 74, no. 1 (Winter 2012). 36 Weil, “The Love of God and Affliction,” in Waiting for God, trans. Emma Craufurd (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), 57.

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owners and managers. On the other hand, it is the workers’ enslavement to the means of production—that is, the tools and machines which had been dislodged from their proper mediating role. As such, there is a dual problem for any Weilienne Marxism. The twofold problem is the relationship of the worker to those around them and to their means of production and the products of their labor. Let us compare affliction to alienation. Alienation appears in four overlapping relationships: (1) alienation from the products of one’s labor, (2) alienation from one’s own labor power (or the labor process itself), (3) alienation from one’s species-being, and (4) alienation from others. All of these elements of alienation are co-equal. They can appear alone or in concert, and the presence of any one is sufficient for alienation tout court, in Marx’s understanding. Affliction, on the other hand, relies on three criteria: (1) physical pain, (2) a social nature that compounds the humiliation of the afflicted and denies their agency, and (3) self-hatred.37 Each of these elements should be understood as addenda to Marx’s critique of the alienation of the worker. If one is afflicted, one is also alienated. Affliction is an intensification rather than a replacement of alienation. Affliction, like alienation, is neither a binary (where one is either afflicted or not afflicted), nor is it a static phenomenon. Like alienation, affliction is actualized through circular reinforcement. The imposition of affliction prepares the afflicted for the continued imposition of affliction, and so on. This is not a tautology, but a compounding, exponential, intensification. This is even more apparent in contemporary times. If I may step out of the historical context of Weil and Marx momentarily: the service worker, who is confronted with customer after customer, is slowly worn down with each interaction. When one customer is rude, the worker then has to answer to a manager, who also wants to know “what the problem is?” The implication, of course, is that the worker is the problem. In this way, humiliation is imposed and re-imposed. Now, when the same worker approaches the next customer, they will do so with meekness and self-hatred. Thusly, the worker becomes distracted and prone to mistake and further humiliation.

37 Eric O. Springsted, Simone Weil & the Suffering of Love (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 1986), 29.

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Weil closes her “Factory Journal” with these candid remarks: “The main fact [of working life] isn’t the suffering, but the humiliation.”38 Though her journal hints at this reinterpretation throughout, at this last moment, Weil explicitly turns the relationship between the physical weariness and the social humiliation on its head. It is not pain that is the root of the humiliation, but the humiliation that makes pain unbearable. Humiliation is what sets affliction apart from alienation by reversing and reinforcing the sociality of both. This is her most significant twist on Marxism. Further, for Marx wage-labor is the mark of the alienation of the worker from the product of their labor, whereas for Weil the wage itself has become an alienated phenomenon as well. “Generally speaking,” she writes, “the relation between work done and money earned is so hard to grasp that it appears as almost accidental, so that labor takes on the aspect of servitude, money that of a favor.”39 In another example of the difference in intensity between alienation and affliction, Weil moves from a Marxian concept of wage slavery to an unqualified, Christianized, idea of slavery through this extreme alienation experienced by the afflicted. This unqualified slavery is so because the relationship of the products of labor and the process of labor are conterminously alienated and afflicted. When wages take on the appearance “of a favor” their rupture with the worker is complete. The relation in the workplace (between bosses/management and workers) is a relation of servitude; the wage appears as a gift disconnected from the object produces or the rate of production. This intensification of alienation into affliction roots Weil in a Marxian framework, but also goes beyond Marx’s critique. Weil agreed that the four forms of alienation remained present in her times, as workers were alienated from the products of their labor, their labor process, their species-being, and their fellow workers. What she introduces to these four realities are the aspects of physical pain and exhaustion, and that each of Marx’s four alienations worsens as they are repeated. The affective result

38 Simone Weil, “Factory Journal,” in Formative Writings, 1929–1941, ed. Dorothy MacFarland and Wilhelmina Van Ness (Amherst, MA: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1987), 225. 39 Weil, Oppression and Liberty, 118.

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of this repetition is an experience of slavery through imposed humiliation and self-hatred that also compound. This compound experience is the experience of affliction. The divorce between intellectual and physical labor is a lodestone in Weil’s critique of the organization of labor as it is in Marx’s. Weil and Marx share the view that the capitalist organization of labor rests on the decoupling of thought and action, and the inversion of both the means/ends and subject/object relations. Weil describes her analysis as being inherited directly from Marx: “Pungent dicta abound in Marx’s writings on this subject of living labor being enslaved to dead labor, ‘the reversal of the relationship between subject and object’, ‘the subordination of the worker to the material conditions of work’. ‘In the factory’, he writes in Capital, ‘there exists a mechanism independent of the workers, which incorporates them as living cogs.’”40 One must turn oneself into an automaton. The workers must serve the machine as “living cogs.”41 To daydream, or to strain against the constraints by which one is tied to the work is to “work in an irritated state of mind” which is “to work badly, and therefore to starve.”42 At each level, the individual workers are increasingly removed from their possible solidarities with each other. In a systematically organized factory where the women Weil worked alongside were placed under the direction and oversight of men, the physical threat of the patriarchal order redoubles the humiliating nature of the class relations to which I will now turn.43 “Not one word of sympathy from the women, even though they know the disgust you feel facing an exhausting job, knowing you will earn 2 [francs] or less and be bawled out for not having made the rate […] if one woman is spared a ‘bad’ job, it is done by another…”.44 What Weil seems to be gambling on is—and she shares this with the Marxian tradition—the development of mass solidarity through shared hardship, but this is not readily available. What Marx calls classconsciousness, and Lukács demands be abolished in the act of revolution,

40 Weil, Oppression and Liberty, 41; Weil, Lectures on Philosophy, trans. Hugh Price (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1978), 147. 41 Weil, Oppression and Liberty, 41; Weil, Lectures, 147. 42 Weil, Formative Writings, 217. 43 Ibid., 159. 44 Weil, 158.

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is translated by Weil into a mystical terminology of affliction, attention, decreation, and grace. In order for France to cease to be counted among the uprooted nations, it had to fall upon the hard times of the Nazi occupation; it had to experience the greatest form of collective affliction possible, military conquest and occupation.45 But this movement from affliction, through attention and decreation, to grace, appears as an individual movement rather than as a collective one. While this diverges from the collective politics of Marxism, it follows a similar movement and requires (in decreation and grace) self-abolition through struggle and recognition of the bonds of solidarity with similarly afflicted neighbors. This is what Weil has in mind when writing “[t]he love of our neighbor in all its fullness simply means being able to say to him: ‘What are you going through?’ It is a recognition that the sufferer exists, not only as a unit in a collection, or a specimen from the social category labeled ‘unfortunate,’ but as a man, exactly like us, who was one day stamped with a special mark by affliction.”46 The difference here between Marx’s proletariat and Weil’s afflicted is the level of analysis. For Marx it is the unified class, for Weil it is the individual, afflicted, proletarians. As Sparling notes, Weil and Marx both place labor at the center of their understandings of the free society.47 For Weil, this is expressed in the impassioned closing of The Need for Roots, when she writes that “It is not difficult to define the place that physical labor should occupy in a well-ordered social life. It should be its spiritual core.”48 Nonetheless, the goal is the same, a society of free individuals organized along the lines of “from each according to their ability, to each according to their need.”49

45 Weil, The Need for Roots, 50. 46 Weil, Waiting for God, 64. 47 Sparling, “Theory and Praxis,” 94. 48 Weil, The Need for Roots, 298. 49 Karl Marx, “The Critique of the Gotha Program,” in Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Marx-Engels Reader, ed. Robert C. Tucker (New York: W. W. Norton, 1994), 531.

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On Revolution and Resistance: For a Marxism of the Moment Weil’s focus on the individual precludes her from being able to take revolution as either a serious possibility or as a desirable outcome. A pessimistic outlook, however, does not eliminate a praxis of resistance, as Sparling has argued.50 On a material level, self-perpetuating and inescapable force presents a problem for anyone who seeks to harness its power.51 For Weil, both physical force and force of words stand in the way of revolution as a solution. From her experiences in the French resistance to fascist violence in Spain and France, Weil’s concerns about the nihilist impulses in acts of revolution and reprisal led her to desire a virtuous resistance modeled on decreation and the hesitant warrior hero of the Bhagavad Gita,52 rather than revolutionaries who simply put themselves above sin, as she accused Marx and Engels and those professional revolutionaries of early twentieth century Marxism.53 The only way to this superhuman virtue is through affliction, decreation, and grace. In their book, Simone Weil and Theology, Rebecca Rozelle-Stone and Lucian Stone offer a reading of Weil’s thought in which Weil’s political theology is presented as the contradiction between grace as a transcendent rupture and gravity as the immanence of oppression.54 As such, Rozelle-Stone and Stone’s reading of Weil amounts to a reinterpretation of revolution temporally rooted in Christian eschatology. I argue, instead, that grace and decreation are only moments of preparation. And Weil’s conception of resistance is one without rupture. This disagreement with Rozelle-Stone and Stone is based on my reading of Weil’s hesitancy about revolution, both terminologically and practically.55 Revolution, terminologically, is an empty signifier for Weil:

50 Sparling, “Theory and Praxis,” 100, 105. 51 Simone Weil, “The Iliad, or the Poem of Force,” in Simone Weil: An Anthology, ed.

Siân Miles (London: Penguin, 2005). 52 E.g. “Is There a Marxist Doctrine?,” “The Iliad, or the Poem of Force,” and “Letter to Georges Bernanos,” among other writings for evidence of this tendency. 53 Weil, Oppression and Liberty, 158, 182, 193. 54 A. Rebecca Rozelle-Stone and Lucian Stone, Simone Weil and Theology (New York:

Bloomsbury, 2013), 164. 55 Weil, Oppression and Liberty, 55.

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The word ‘revolution’ is a word for which you kill, for which you die, for which you send the labouring masses to their death, but which does not possess any content. […] What we should ask of the revolution is the abolition of social oppression; but for this notion to have at least a chance of possessing some meaning, we must be careful to distinguish between the oppression and subordination of personal whims to a social order.56

A rupture cannot reconfigure society because it cannot take into account its full reaches of social oppression. For Weil, the rejection of this sort of thinking is necessary. Along with progress, revolution goes out of the window. In place of the ruptural revolution, Weil suggests a constant relation of resistance. This perspective is indicative of the crisis situations of the 1930s and 1940s, when an orientation toward resistance rather than revolution was appropriate. Fascism’s rise required a Marxism that was focused on a conception of proportional resistance that is pessimistic rather than a revolutionary hopefulness. From a practical perspective, antifascist resistance means fighting for a social reality that may be less oppressive but does not include the abolition of oppression in its immediacy. Weil’s conception of resistance holds within it the possibility of revolution without hope. This is the greatest lesson contemporary radicals can learn from Weil. The ideological problem of revolution is equally aporetic: it seems that the word had lost its meaning sometime between Marx and Engels’ Manifesto of the Communist Party and Weil’s “Reflections Concerning the Causes of Liberty and Social Oppression.”57 This factors prominently into Weil’s pessimistic rejection of any teleological process of history.58 Nonetheless, Weil’s understanding of “revolution” is still one of class struggles between the oppressors and the oppressed.59 Though she understands the afflicted primarily as individuals, she remains desirous of

56 Ibid., 55–56. 57 Ibid., 55. 58 Weil, First and Last Notebooks, 17; Weil, Letter to a Priest, 48; Simone Weil, “The Romanesque Renaissance,” in Selected Essays, 1934–1943: Historical, Political, and Moral Writings, ed. Richard Rees, trans. Richard Rees (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2015), 44. 59 Simone Weil, Oppression & Liberty, 69.

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the victory of the afflicted in “their permanent revolt” as a class, whenever it bubbles to the surface of life.60 Weil finds an example of this in Machiavelli’s retelling of the Ciompi rebellion in Medieval Florence.61 In the end, a class-based resistance combined with a moral of hesitancy about revolutionary organization and violence is what Weil is calling for. The Weilienne Marxist wants a class-based conception of resistance to the humiliating conditions of contemporary capitalism. This practice of resistance is founded upon love of neighbor. This neighborliness is the basis of solidarity; it makes possible continual and non-ruptural forms of decreation and grace which demand consistent practice rather than a singular experience. Weil’s conception of resistance offers no resolution, makes no demands and no promises. In a political moment in which governments around the world are focusing their politics on exclusion based on race and the precarization of working conditions, Weil’s interpretation of Marxism is a foundation upon which the contemporary lefts can build a heterodox and historically situated politics of resistance.

References Avery, Desmond. Beyond Power: Simone Weil and the Notion of Authority. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2008. Caute, David. Communism and the French Intellectuals: 1914–1960. New York, NY: Macmillan, 1964. Dietz, Mary G. Between the Human and the Divine: The Political Thought of Simone Weil. Totowa, NJ: Rowman & Littlefield, 1988. Lukács, Georg. History and Class Consciousness. Translated by Rodney Livingstone. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1972. Marx, Karl. The Eighteen Brumaire of Louis Napoleon Bonaparte. New York City, NY: International Publishers, 1994. Marx, Karl, and Friedrich Engels. The Marx-Engels Reader. Edited by Robert C. Tucker. New York, NY: W. W. Norton, 1994. Pétrement, Simone. Simone Weil: A Life. Translated by Raymond Rosenthal. New York, NY: Schocken Books, 1976. Roberts, William Clare. Marx’s Inferno: The Political Theory of Capital. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2017. Rozelle-Stone, A. Rebecca, and Lucian Stone. Simone Weil and Theology. New York: Bloomsbury, 2013. 60 Ibid. 61 Weil, Selected Essays, 55–72.

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Sparling, Robert. “Theory and Praxis: Simone Weil and Marx on the Dignity of Labor.” The Review of Politics 74, no. 1 (Winter 2012): 87–107. Springsted, Eric O. Simone Weil and the Suffering of Love. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 1986. Tomba, Massimilano. Insurgent Universality an Alternative Legacy of Modernity. New York: Oxford University Press, 2019. Weil, Simone. First and Last Notebooks. Translated by Richard Rees. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1970. ———. Formative Writings. Edited and translated by Dorothy Tuck McFarland and Wilhelmina van Ness. Amherst, MA: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1987. ———. Late Philosophical Writings. Translated by Eric O. Springsted and Lawrence E. Schmidt. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2015. ———. Lectures on Philosophy. Translated by Hugh Price. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1978. ———. Letter to a Priest. New York City, NY: Penguin, 2003. ———. The Need for Roots: Prelude to a Declaration of Duties towards Mankind. Translated by Arthur Wills. New York City, NY: Routledge, 1952. ———. On the Abolition of All Political Parties. Translated by Simon Leys. Collingwood, VIC, Australia: Black Inc., 2013. ———. Oppression and Liberty. Translated by Arthur Wills and John Petrie. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 1973. ———. Selected Essays 1934–1943: Historical, Political, and Moral Writings. Edited and translated by Richard Rees. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2015. ———. Simone Weil: An Anthology. Edited by Siân Miles. London: Penguin, 2005. ———. Waiting for God. Translated by Emma Craufurd. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2001.

CHAPTER 11

Labor, Collectivity, and the Nurturance of Attentive Belonging Suzanne McCullagh

This chapter illuminates Simone Weil’s unique insights into labor and political community by comparing her political thought with that of liberal and republican thinkers. Her consideration of the human need for private property and of the way that labouring produces a feeling of belonging resonates with the liberal political thought of John Locke. Locke’s thought emphasizes labor’s capacity to transform land held in common into private property and the need for political community to protect individual property rights. Weil, however, emphasizes labor’s capacity to transform individuals by increasing their sensitivity to the world and capacity to attend to the needs of others. Further, the purpose of political community for Weil is to nurture human spiritual needs, including a sense of obligation to others, more than the protection of individual rights. If, as C.B. Macpherson argues, liberal political thought is based on possessive individualism, then Weil’s is based, I argue, on an attentive individualism. Her critique of the language of rights brings her close to a strand of republican thinking, found in Karl Marx and Hannah

S. McCullagh (B) Athabasca University, Athabasca, AB, Canada e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s) 2020 S. Bourgault and J. Daigle (eds.), Simone Weil, Beyond Ideology?, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-48401-9_11

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Arendt, which values the activation and development of human capacities through participation in political community. While Weil affirms the necessity of collectivity for human flourishing, she maintains a critical concern with the overvaluation of the collective in relation to the individual. In significant respects, then, Weil’s political thought is neither liberal nor republican and as such, it gives us opportunities for critical and creative reimagining of inherited political ideologies. The chapter will proceed as follows: the first section explores how both Weil and Locke view labor as producing property and yet differ in their valuations of labor. Then, the second section examines how Weil’s prioritization of obligations over rights resonates with Marx and Arendt’s critiques of human rights and the role and significance of political community for human flourishing. The third section returns to Weil’s conception of labor and argues that, for Weil, labor plays an important role in the cultivation of ethico-political capacities, capacities that she thinks are necessary for justice.

Labor, Property, and Belonging For Weil, the idea that humans appropriate elements of the world through their labor is attested to by the sense of belonging-with that arises after one has labored in a place for a period of time. An intimate connection is forged between one’s body and land or materials through the attentive action of labor. Much labor, in Weil’s time (and our own), to the extent that it involves submission to external commands or to mindless repetitive actions, cannot be characterized as attentive action, and as such, is considered by Weil to be degrading rather than uplifting.1 Indeed, Weil contends that desirable labor, which uplifts and develops the individual, involves the “methodical direction of the mind.”2 In Weil’s words, “[a]ll men have an invincible inclination to appropriate in their own minds anything which over a long, uninterrupted period they have used for their work, pleasure, or the necessities of life. Thus, a gardener, after a certain 1 Simone Weil, Oppression and Liberty, trans. Arthur Wills and John Petrie (New York: Routledge, 1958), 91. 2 Weil, Oppression and Liberty, 82. Weil views methodical thought as the individual’s use of their own intelligence in guiding their actions. Since she views individual thought as free, the extent to which one’s thought is able to be employed in one’s work is the measure of the degree to which one’s labour is considered free.

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time, feels that the garden belongs to him.”3 In this respect, Weil shares with the liberal political thought of John Locke the notion that labor produces property and belonging. Referring to the laborer, Locke asserts that the “labor of his body, and the work of his hands, we may say are properly his. Whatsoever then he removes out of the state that nature has provided, and left it in, he has mixed his labor with, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property.”4 While both thinkers provide justifications for private property that invoke labor’s productive and transformative capacity to give rise to new relations, their concerns and the kinds of political community their thought supports are significantly different. Where Weil’s focus is on the inclination to appropriation and the feeling of belonging that arises through labor, Locke’s is on the extension of one’s bodily property to the natural world. He states that “labor put a distinction between them and common: that added something to them more than nature, the common mother of all, had done; and so they became his private right.”5 For Weil, however, it is the feeling of belonging that arises through laboring that founds her assertion that private property is a vital need of the human soul. She is concerned with the collective conditions in which this need is nourished since “where the feeling of appropriation doesn’t coincide with any legally recognized proprietorship, men are continually exposed to extremely painful spiritual wrenches.”6 Locke’s concern, by contrast, is to provide a justification for the removal of land from the commons in order to enable private material accumulation; the idea that the earth is held by humans in common forms the ground of an ethical restriction on “unlimited capitalist appropriation.”7 He states that labor removes land “from the common state nature has placed it in, it has by this labor something annexed to it, that excludes

3 Simone Weil, The Need for Roots, trans. Arthur Wills (New York: Routledge, 2002),

34. 4 John Locke, Second Treatise on Government, ed. Lee Ward (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2016), 135. 5 Ibid., 135. 6 Weil, The Need for Roots, 34. 7 C.B. Macpherson, The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism: Hobbes to Locke

(Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1962), 221.

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the common right of other men.”8 This account advances a conceptualization of private property that emphasizes the exclusion of others and provides the justification for a capitalist organization of labor whereby it is legitimate that some people, working with tools and materials that are not their own, produce profit for others who are the owners of the tools and materials.9 Weil obviously rejects this form of organization. She asserts that the “principle of private property is violated where the land is worked by agricultural labourers and farm-hands under the orders of an estate-manager, and owned by townsmen who receive the profits.”10 The divergence of their accounts is elucidated in part by their different theories of value. Locke sees human labor as endowing the land with value: “It is labor then which puts the greatest part of value upon land, without which it would scarcely be worth anything […] nature and the earth furnished only the almost worthless materials.”11 Land which is not worked is wasted, in the sense that the proprietor has failed to transform the land into something of value and as such has wasted the potential of the property function, which is to produce value and profit. In The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism, Marxist political theorist C.B. Macpherson argues that if “it is labour, a man’s absolute property, which justifies appropriation and creates value, the individual right of appropriation overrides any moral claims of the society. The traditional view that property and labour were social functions, and that ownership of property involved social obligations, is thereby undermined.”12 Contra Locke, Weil prioritizes obligations over rights13 and considers the property function, not as oriented toward profit, but as fulfilling a vital need of the human soul. She describes property that is owned by those who do not work it and worked on by those who do not own it as wasted: “It is wasted, not from the point of view of corn-production, but from that of the satisfaction of the property-need which it could procure.”14 Weil argues that just

8 Locke, Second Treatise, 135. 9 Nasser Behnegar, “Locke and the Sober Spirit of Capitalism,” Society 49, no. 2 (March

2012): 138. 10 Weil, The Need for Roots, 34. 11 Locke, Second Treatise, 143. 12 Macpherson, Possessive Individualism, 221. 13 Weil, The Need for Roots, 3. 14 Ibid., 34.

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as the body has needs in order to maintain health and life, so too does the soul. When the needs of the soul are not met human life and capacities for action are degraded.15 Liberal political community, according to Macpherson’s well-known account of “possessive individualism,” is grounded in an originary bond between labour and property. The liberal individual is conceived of “as essentially the proprietor of his own person or capacities, owing nothing to society for them.”16 In analyzing the political theories of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and the Levellers, Macpherson contends that possessive individualism forms a core element of modern liberal political theory and remains a key element in contemporary justifications for obligation to the liberal state.17 He argues that in modern liberal political theory, the: individual was seen neither as a moral whole, nor as part of a larger social whole, but as an owner of himself. […] The individual, it was thought, is free inasmuch as he is proprietor of his person and capacities. The human essence is freedom from dependence on others, and freedom is a function of possession. Society becomes a lot of free equal individuals related to each other as proprietors of their own capacities and of what they have acquired by their exercise. Society consists of relations of exchange between proprietors. Political society becomes a calculated device for the protection of this property and for the maintenance of an orderly relation of exchange.18

The purpose of political community for Locke is the protection of one’s right to property, which for him is inclusive of life and liberty; individuals form political community “for the mutual preservation of their lives,

15 Ibid., 7. 16 Macpherson, Possessive Individualism, 263. 17 Quentin Skinner is highly critical of Macpherson’s approach to the history of ideas

and argues that it proceeds by way of an “unhistorical level of abstraction.” See his: “Some Problems in the Analysis of Political Thought and Action,” Political Theory 2, no. 3 (August 1974): 280. For a defense of Macpherson against Skinner’s critique see Geoff Kennedy “Capitalism, Contextualisation and the Political Theory of Possessive Individualism,” Intellectual History and Political Thought 1, no. 1 (2012): 228–251. And, also: Ian McKay, “A Half-Century of Possessive Individualism: C.B. Macpherson and the TwentyFirst-Century Prospects of Liberalism,” Journal of the Canadian Historical Association 25, no. 1 (2014): 307–340. 18 Macpherson, Possessive Individualism, 3.

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liberties and estates, which I call by the general name, property.”19 The purpose of political community for Weil, however, is to nourish human souls, or stated differently, to provide for the needs of the human soul. Just as the body requires food in order to be nourished, Weil thinks that the soul requires such things as property, order, liberty, and equality in order to be nourished. For her, property is not limited to private ownership as she includes “collective property” in her list of the needs of the soul. She considers “participation in collective possessions” where each individual has a sense of ownership in such things as public monuments, buildings, parks, and ceremonies to be an aspect of a fulfilling life.20 Political communities are a form of collectivity whose function is to provide such nourishment both for the “souls of the living, but also for the souls of beings yet unborn.”21

Rights, Collectivity, and Obligations Where liberal ideology emphasizes the primacy of individual rights, we can see in the thought of Marx and Arendt a republican inflection which emphasizes the significance of action together with others in political community.22 William Clare Roberts, in his recent reading of Marx,

19 Locke, Second Treatise, 187. 20 Weil, The Need for Roots, 35. 21 Ibid., 8. 22 While it is beyond the scope of this chapter to engage in a detailed analysis of

republican thought, it is important to note that there is significant debate within political theory around its main tenants and types. Philip Pettit emphasizes the idea of freedom as non-domination as the central tenant of republican thought and distinguishes between two different schools, the Italian-Atlantic and the Franco-German. He associates Hannah Arendt with the latter and argues that she replaces the idea of freedom as non-domination with freedom as participation. He is critical of this move because he thinks it ushers in a communitarian ideology that undermines the capacities of individuals to critique the government. Philip Pettit, “Two Republican Traditions,” in Republican Democracy: Liberty, Law and Politics, ed. Andreas Niederberger and Philipp Schink (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2013), 169–204. While this is a disturbing charge, it doesn’t impact the claims of this paper which contrasts republicanism with liberalism by emphasizing the significance of collectivity in the former without arguing that it is the highest value in human life. Pettit himself recognizes the significance of civic virtue, political participation, and belonging for freedom as non-domination to be achieved and maintained. See: Philip Pettit, “Civilizing the Republic,” in Republicanism: A Theory of Freedom and Government (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 241–270.

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argues that this is a form of social republicanism which demonstrates the political value of people “acting in concert” in order to “develop, gain access to, or seize the power to control what others impose on them.”23 Unlike the highly individualist conception of the right to freedom found in the liberal tradition, Roberts claims that “freedom from domination cannot be enjoyed alone.”24 In “On the Jewish Question” Marx argues that the rights to freedom, property, security, and equality enshrined in the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen are the rights of a selfish, egotistical subject. They are the rights of “an individual separated from the community, withdrawn into himself, wholly preoccupied with his private interest and acting in accordance with his private caprice.”25 This subject considers itself free only insofar as it is free from relations with others; the other is conceived of as a limitation of, rather than condition for, freedom. “[L]iberty as a right of man is not founded upon relations between man and man, but rather upon the separation of man from man.”26 True freedom, Marx argues, is found in political community, in relations with others, rather than in the realm of civil society where one is separated from others by way of private interests. Human emancipation occurs when one recognizes oneself as a social and political being rather than merely a private individual.27 Skepticism about placing the political community and public sphere in service of civil society and private life is shared by Arendt. In On Revolution she argues that the idea of freedom contained in the US Declaration of Independence promotes a view of freedom as primarily private and individual rather than public and political. She argues that the declaration could have read “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” citing appearances of the term “public happiness” in Thomas Jefferson’s notes and letters as evidence that it was an active element of his thinking about the constitution of political community.28 Arendt develops the concept

23 William Clare Roberts, “Marx’s Social Republic: Political Not Metaphysical,” Historical Materialism: Research in Critical Marxist Theory 27, no. 2 (July 2019): 14. 24 Roberts, “Marx’s Social Republic,” 17. 25 Karl Marx, “On the Jewish Question,” in The Marx-Engels Reader, ed. Robert C.

Tucker (New York: W.W. Norton, 1978), 43. 26 Ibid., 42. 27 Ibid., 46. 28 Hannah Arendt, On Revolution (New York: Penguin Books, 2006), 118.

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of public happiness to draw attention to a kind of freedom that is not private and individual but rather can only be achieved through acting and speaking with others in a public space. “Without a politically guaranteed public realm, freedom lacks worldly space to make its appearance.” Indeed, for Arendt, when the human world “does not become the scene for action and speech – as in despotically ruled communities which banish their subjects into the narrowness of the home and thus prevent the rise of a public realm – freedom has no worldly reality.”29 Insofar as we think of freedom solely in terms of private, individual life, Arendt thinks we misconceive the true nature of freedom and individuality which emerges through collective power and political action.30 Weil’s emphasis on obligations and her critique of rights resonates with Marx and Arendt’s concerns that liberal political thought over-emphasizes the sovereign individual to the detriment of understanding human beings as relational and nourished by collectives. Weil doesn’t assert that we don’t need rights, rather she thinks that the “notion of obligation comes before that of rights.”31 Without the recognition of obligations to others, rights are of little value. “A right which goes unrecognized by anybody is not worth very much.” Rights, according to Weil, are always a demand or a claim made against others; they are “linked with the notion of sharing out, of exchange, of measured quantity. Rights are always asserted with a tone of contention.”32 While Weil, once again, does not reject the concept of rights altogether, she thinks that the assertion of one’s right, in contrast to the assertion of injustice, is unlikely to generate a response that will improve one’s condition. If you say to someone who has ears to hear: ‘What you are doing to me is not just’, you may touch and awaken at its source the spirit of attention and love. But it is not the same with words like ‘I have the right…’ or ‘you have no right to…’ They evoke a latent war and awaken the spirit of contention […] Thanks to this word, what should have been a cry of

29 Hannah Arendt, “What Is Freedom?” Between Past and Future (New York: Penguin Books, 2006), 147. 30 Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), 200. 31 Weil, The Need for Roots, 3. 32 Simone Weil, “Human Personality,” Selected Essays 1934–1943, ed. and trans. Richard

Rees (New York: Oxford University Press, 1962), 18.

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protest from the depth of the heart has been turned into a shrill nagging of claims and counter-claims, which is both impure and impractical.33

She worries that rights talk strikes the wrong chord and fails to evoke the kind of orientation to those who are suffering that justice requires. Weil’s emphasis is on the capacity to hear, to attend to those suffering injustice, and the sense of obligation required to respond. It is for this reason that she prioritizes obligations and is concerned with the conditions that give rise to both our capacities for attention and to a sense of obligation.34 By emphasizing obligation, Weil pivots attention toward our obligations to do the work that justice calls for. Edward Andrew argues that Weil “understands rights as claims of possessive individuals against others rather than entitlements of members of a moral community to things.”35 In his analysis of Weil’s critique of rights discourse, he highlights that, for Weil, justice pertains to the impersonal,36 to that which is “common to all humans.”37 Rights claims, by contrast, “express the noisy and superficial level of the human being (the self or the person); not what is deep, sacred or inviolable in humanity (the heart or soul of the individual).”38 Weil’s critique, Andrews thinks, enables “us to see alternative conceptions of justice, not framed in the liberal language of rights.”39 The significance of recognizing and attending to those who are vulnerable to injustice is also found in Arendt’s critique of the concept of human rights. Arendt finds the inadequacy of the concept demonstrated in its failures to protect those most in need, those without political community, namely refugees and stateless persons.

33 Ibid., 21. 34 Weil, The Need for Roots, 3. 35 Edward Andrew, “Simone Weil on the Injustice of Rights-Based Doctrines,” The

Review of Politics 48, no. 1 (Winter, 1986): 60. 36 For a detailed exposition on the significance of the impersonal for justice see: Steven Burns, “Justice and Impersonality: Simone Weil on Rights and Obligations,” La philosophie française contemporaine 49, no. 3 (October 1993): 477–486. 37 Andrew, “Simone Weil,” 63. 38 Ibid., 64. 39 Ibid., 89.

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The conception of human rights, based upon the assumed existence of a human being as such, broke down at the very moment when those who professed to believe in it were for the first time confronted with people who had indeed lost all other qualities and specific relationships – except that they were still human. The world found nothing sacred in the abstract nakedness of being human.40

Arendt asserts that rights only occur within political community, that it is political community that is the foundation for all rights, including freedom and equality. “Equality […] is the result of human organization insofar as it is guided by the principle of justice […]. Our political life rests on the assumption that we can produce equality through organization, because man can act in and change the world, together with his equals and only with his equals.”41 It is owing to this breakdown of the idea of human rights that Arendt claims that what we need to recognize is something more fundamental, a “right to have rights,” a right to belong to a political community where one’s words and actions have significance.42 Belonging to a political community is a vital and urgent necessity for the protection of, not just life, but meaning, speech, action, freedom, and equality. Arendt insists that community is essential for the protection of human dignity because it provides a “place in the world which makes opinions significant and actions effective.”43 Insofar as Weil shares with Marx and Arendt a critique of the liberal overemphasis on individual rights and an understanding of the significance of collectivity for nourishing human life, her thought resonates with this strand of republican thought.44 Rather than focusing on rights she

40 Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism (Cleveland: Meridian Books, 1958),

299. 41 Ibid., 301. 42 Ibid., 296–297. 43 Ibid., 296. 44 See Footnote 14. For more on how different strands of republican thought are

conceptualized (particularly in contemporary debates over neo-republicanism), see: Charles Larmore, “Liberal and Republican Conceptions of Freedom,” Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy 6, no. 1 (2003): 96–119. Thomas Simpson, “The Impossibility of Republican Freedom,” Philosophy & Public Affairs 45, no. 1 (Winter 2017): 27–53. Michael J. Thompson, “Reconstructing Republican Freedom: A Critique of the Neo-republican Concept of Freedom as Non-domination,” Philosophy and Social Criticism 39, no. 3 (2013): 277–298. For an analysis of Arendt as a republican thinker

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focuses on the conditions which provide for vital needs, both material and spiritual, and the conditions that nurture one’s obligation to attend to and care for others. Community or collectivity is one such condition and, like Arendt, she recognizes that each collectivity is distinct; “each is unique, and, if destroyed, cannot be replaced.”45 Collectivities nourish human souls by maintaining a continuity between the past, present, and future; collectivity is the “sole agency for preserving spiritual treasures.” It is through collectivities that humans establish roots without which they are “unable to feel themselves at home.”46 Lack of community and of a sense of belonging is a condition of being that Weil thinks undermines our capacities for attention and sense of obligation. She terms this condition uprootedness; she sees it as “the most dangerous spiritual malady to which human societies are exposed.”47 A condition of uprootedness is created whenever one’s link with the past is destroyed; this may happen, for instance, through cultural assimilation tactics used by conquerors, when money comes to be valued over attachments to people and places, and when the centralized State replaces other forms of attachment and belonging.48 While Weil sees the destruction of the past as “the greatest of all crimes” because once destroyed the past does not return,49 she does not excessively valorize the past nor does she embrace a kind of isolationism. Rather, she thinks that “[r]ooting in and the multiplying of contacts are complimentary to one another.”50 While Weil considers one’s country as a “life giving nuclei”51 she thinks that engagement with several other, non-national, nuclei is an important and desirable feature of both individual and collective life. As such, while one may establish roots in a particular political community that does not exclude the possibility of establishing significant contacts with those

see: Margie Lloyd, “In Tocqueville’s Shadow: Hannah Arendt’s Liberal Republicanism,” The Review of Politics 57, no. 1 (Winter 1995): 31–59. 45 Weil, The Need for Roots, 7–8. 46 Ibid., 45. 47 Ibid., 47. 48 Ibid., 103. 49 Ibid., 50. 50 Ibid., 52. 51 Ibid., 162.

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outside that community, in fact being rooted in collectivity may be an important ingredient for cultural exchange. While Weil identifies several ways that people can be uprooted, two are central for this analysis. First, the uprootedness from the land that is produced when the people who work the land have no share in its ownership undermines the need to feel rooted in and attached to the land with which one works. “Nothing can justify the property rights of a townsman over a piece of land.”52 Second, the uprootedness from cultural and geographical attachments that is produced when all bonds of attachment to villages, towns, and regions are transferred to the State.53 The centralization of culture and politics in the State is problematic for Weil as it erodes the complexity of collectivities (which are composed of multiple elements) and attachments to those collectivities to such an extent that individuals no longer feel at home and as a result lack compassion and a sense of obligation to others. She distinguishes between patriotism for the nation-state and what she sees as a more complex and “diffuse” kind of patriotism as an obligation to “the public” or “the public good.” Prior to the recent installation of a “definite, circumscribed thing […] as an object of patriotic devotion,” patriotism was “something diffuse, nomadic, which expanded or contracted according to degrees of similarity and common danger. It was mixed up with different kinds of loyalty […] The whole thing formed something very complicated, but also very human.”54 This diffuse patriotism made up of mixed loyalties consisted in a “sense of obligation” that could extend from village to humankind. In this way we can see that for Weil collectivities nurture obligations that extend far beyond the local where one is rooted. Moreover, Weil thinks that recognizing that the collectivities to which one belongs are precious, fragile, and imperfect induces one to take responsibility for the sufferings and misfortunes that occur within these collectivities and because of them. When there is a close bond between the people and patrie (which Weil distinguishes from the State) the people can come to “no longer regard their own personal sufferings as crimes committed by the country against themselves, but as ills suffered by the country in and through

52 Ibid., 82. 53 Ibid., 99. 54 Ibid., 103.

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themselves.”55 Weil’s conception of collectivity here stresses its constitutive aspect on the participants and reveals how the collectivity can nurture the extension of compassionate feeling and a sense of obligation. It is in and through community that attention to the suffering of others and an obligation to bring about greater justice are cultivated. Sophie Bourgault argues that where Arendt sees compassion as “politically irrelevant,” Weil thinks that it “can be an important means of sociopolitical recognition.”56 Uprootedness then, for Weil, is a problem of justice because it undermines the conditions necessary for the cultivation and maintenance of compassion and a sense of obligation to others, both of which are intrinsic aspects of Weil’s conception of a just social order. While Weil clearly values political community, she nevertheless always remains concerned that collectives might pose a threat to freedom and to the capacity of individuals to think. And it is here, in part, that one can see what I have spoken of in terms of Weil’s individualism. Her deep and constant concern with the dangers of collectivity for the individual is two pronged; on the one hand, she is concerned with the subordination of the individual to the collective specifically in terms of the organization of work processes. Let us not forget that we want to make the individual, and not the collectivity, the supreme value […] We want to give manual labour that dignity which belongs to it of right, by giving the workman the full understanding of technical processes instead of a mere mechanical training; and to provide the understanding with its proper object, by placing it in contact with the world through the medium of labour.57

On the other hand, she is concerned with the ways that individuality is weakened through identification with collectives; “the chief danger does not lie in the collectivity’s tendency to circumscribe the person, but in the person’s tendency to immolate himself in the collective.”58 She is

55 Ibid., 175. 56 Sophie Bourgault, “Hannah Arendt and Simone Weil on the Significance of Love

for Politics,” in Thinking About Love: Essays in Contemporary Continental Philosophy, eds. Diane Enns and Antonio Calcagno (University Park: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015), 155–157. 57 Weil, Oppression and Liberty, 19. 58 Weil, “Human Personality,” 16.

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concerned that an over-identification with the collective may stifle the development of individual thought and capacity; as such she asserts that the relation between the individual and collective should be such that individual capacities for attention are cultivated. Relations between the collectivity and the person should be arranged with the sole purpose of removing whatever is detrimental to the growth and mysterious germination of the impersonal elements in the soul. This means, on the one hand, that for every person there should be enough room, enough freedom to plan the use of one’s time, the opportunity to reach ever higher levels of attention, some solitude, some silence.59

In contrast to Arendt’s focus on the public space of appearance, Weil emphasizes the conditions that nurture one’s capacity to listen and attend to those who are marginalized and suffering. For Weil, nurturing the capacity to listen to the afflicted, though difficult,60 can be helped or hindered by the way one takes up or allows oneself to be taken up, and transformed, by the world. If, as individuals, we identify too strongly with our social position, for instance, we will be incapable of attending to the injustices faced by those who are differently situated. If we hold too fast to our sense of our own individuality, we will have difficulty empathizing with others. Weil points us to ways of relating to the world that get us beyond excesses of individual boundedness and that transform our subjectivities in ways that will increase our ethical and political capacities for attention. Weil’s political thought is aligned with a republican emphasis on participation with others in collectivities; however, her focus is less on collective action itself and more on the collective conditions necessary for the cultivation of attention and obligation. So, while she agrees with Marx and Arendt that proclamations of rights are insufficient for justice and obligation, her main concern is the conditions that enable a political subject to become capable of ethical and political attention and responsiveness. The following section explores how labor contributes to the cultivation of the kind of political subjectivity Weil thinks justice calls for.

59 Ibid., 17. 60 Ibid., 28.

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Labor and Political Subjectivity As we saw at the beginning of this chapter, Weil is concerned with a kind of belonging that is generated in and through labor. In this section we consider the ethical and political significance of her conception of labor; labor generates a kind of belonging that ties one to the material world and that can give rise to changes in subjectivity that have important implications for justice. Where, as we saw, Locke’s focus is on how labor transforms the material world from common to private, Weil emphasizes labor’s capacity to cultivate the human soul. It’s not simply that in laboring humans work upon and transform the world, but also, and more importantly, that through laboring the laborer herself is cultivated, becoming more attentive to the movements of the world. When an apprentice gets hurt or complains of fatigue, workmen and peasants have this fine expression: ‘It’s the trade getting into his body.’ Whenever we have some pain to endure, we can say to ourselves that it is the universe, the order and beauty of the world, and the obedience of creation to God which are entering our body […] In order that our being may one day become wholly sensitive in every part to this obedience which is the substance of matter, in order that a new sense may be formed in us which allows us to hear the universe as the vibration of the word of God, the transforming power of suffering and of joy are equally indispensable.61

This way of thinking about labor has some similarities with Marx’s idea that in transforming the material world, the human being transforms itself: “For not only the five senses but also the so-called mental senses – the practical senses (will, love, etc.) – in a word, human sense – the humanness of the sense – comes to be by virtue of its object, by virtue of humanized nature. The forming of the five senses is a labour of the entire history of the world down to the present.”62 However, as Robert Sparling argues, Weil’s view of labor diverges from that of Marx

61 Simone Weil, “The Love of God and Affliction,” On Science, Necessity, and the Love of God, ed. and trans. Richard Rees (New York: Oxford University Press, 1968), 181. 62 Karl Marx, “Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844,” in The Marx-Engels Reader, ed. Robert C. Tucker (New York: W.W. Norton, 1978), 89.

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in that it is “modeled on contemplation and receptivity, not Promethean self-creation.”63 Indeed, Weil places a special emphasis on labor’s capacity to transform the laborer directly through the intimate contact with the world. Weil’s account is that through laboring, whereby one is subjected to material necessity, one is in contact with the world and potentially can come to engage with the Real. Physical work is a specific contact with the beauty of the world, and can even be, in its best moments, a contact so full that no equivalent can be found elsewhere. The artist, the scholar, the philosopher, the contemplative should really admire the world and pierce through the film of unreality that veils it […] He who is aching in every limb, worn out by the effort of a day of work, that is to say a day when he has been subject to matter, bears the reality of the universe in his flesh like a thorn. The difficulty for him is to look and to love. If he succeeds, he loves the Real.64

As Inese Radzins argues, “for Weil there is nothing more spiritual than our everyday engagement with materiality. One’s active relationship to the world in work is (or at least should be) spiritual.”65 The spiritual aspect of labor for Weil, according to Radzins, is the free engagement of the intellect, which involves the faculty of attention.66 Weil’s stress on labor’s spiritually transformative capacities is entwined with a conception of a human subject that is formed in relation with the world, who becomes the world. Weil’s insight is that through labor, freely consented to, one is able to cultivate one’s soul, one’s spiritual capacity for sensuous receptivity to the material world. Such receptivity is a valuable ethico-political capacity, one that is linked with attention. Weil states that “it is the tendency of human nature not to pay any attention to those in misfortune.”67 The receptivity

63 Robert Sparling, “Theory and Praxis: Simone Weil and Marx on the Dignity of Labor,” The Review of Politics 74, no. 1 (Winter 2012): 100. 64 Simone Weil, “Forms of the Implicit Love of God,” Waiting for God, trans. Emma Craufurd (New York: Perennial Classics, 2001), 108. 65 Inese Radzins, “Simone Weil on Labor and Spirit,” Journal of Religious Ethics 45, no. 2 (2017): 292. 66 Radzins, “Weil on Labor,” 295. 67 Weil, The Need for Roots, 63.

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to the world that labor induces works against this tendency by opening the subject to the world and to others. “The toil always more or less associated with the work effort becomes the pain which makes the beauty of the world penetrate right to the very core of the human being.”68 For Weil, consenting to labor wrenches one “away from what each one calls ‘I,’”69 and for her, this dislocation of self is an element of ethical and political receptivity. It is by getting outside of one’s egocentric orientation that one is able to attend to and sense a relation of obligation toward others. Weil’s political subject, by contrast, forged in part through labor, beauty, and suffering develops capacities to see and hear those who do not readily appear in the public sphere, those whose suffering and affliction society ignores. Only by the supernatural working of grace can a soul pass through its own annihilation to the place where alone it can get the sort of attention which can attend to truth and to affliction. It is the same attention which listens to both of them. The name of this intense, pure, disinterested, gratuitous, generous attention is love. Because affliction and truth need the same kind of attention before they can be heard, the spirit of justice and the spirit of truth are one. The spirit of justice and truth is nothing else but a certain kind of attention, which is pure love.70

Becoming capable of such attention requires, for Weil, the cultivation of the impersonal elements within oneself. Responsiveness to the suffering of others is enabled by an attention to the world which itself requires cultivation. Non-oppressive labor, or labor freely consented to (and naturally, a lot hangs on this), cultivates the impersonal elements of oneself and helps nourish one’s attentive capacities. This brings the activity of laboring, subjecting oneself to nonhuman forces and materials, to the realm of the political.

68 Ibid., 94. 69 Ibid., 297. 70 Weil, “Human Personality,” 28.

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Conclusion If the Lockean account of labor correlates to a political subject with rights claims against others that are administered by a political community that serves the interests of liberal-capitalism, then Weil’s account of labor correlates with a political subject who has material–spiritual needs and obligations to cultivate and maintain collective ensembles that nourish human bodies and spirits. Her ethico-political subject is constituted in relations of obligations to individuals and the collectives which nourish them. Her valuation of collectivities as vital to human flourishing, and her grounding of the human subject in terms of needs and obligations rather than rights, puts her in stark contrast with liberal thought which privileges the autonomy and independence of the subject over the interdependence of subjects. Weil’s stress on the significance of collectivities and her critique of the language of rights brings her close to a certain strand of republican thinking found in Marx and in Arendt, which emphasizes the activation and development of human capacities through participation in the social and political world. This is in contrast with a liberalism that assumes a sovereign and fully constituted subject, existing prior to the social, with rights held against others. The distinction drawn in this chapter between Weil and this strand of republican thinking is in terms of the critical distance her thought promotes surrounding the power, capacities, and significance of social and political collectives. As I have argued in this chapter, we find in Weil both an affirmation of the vital necessity of collectivity for human flourishing, and yet, at the same time, a critical concern with the overvaluation of the collective (and of groups and institutions more generally). Weil’s manner of conceptualizing both labor and collectivity renders her thought resistant to a neat categorization in terms of liberal individualism or republican participation. Instead, it invites us to think ethical and political beings and worlds in ways that aren’t already delimited by established ideologies. Weil offers us a complex and robust conception of an individual who is apart from collectives in their thought and whose capacities are nurtured by being a part of collectivities. Weil’s individualism, it could be argued, is not possessive, rather it’s attentive; she is concerned with the conditions individuals need in order to nurture and cultivate their attentive and reflexive capacities, which will also enable them to hear the voices of those who are suffering and respond to their needs. Her attentive individualism considers the conditions necessary for nourishing capacities to care for

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others. In this chapter we have considered two conditions for cultivating a subject with such capacities: collectivity and labor.

References Andrew, Edward. “Simone Weil on the Injustice of Rights-Based Doctrines.” The Review of Politics 48, no. 1 (Winter, 1986): 60–91. Arendt, Hannah. The Human Condition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998. ———. On Revolution. New York: Penguin Books, 2006. ———. The Origins of Totalitarianism. Cleveland: Meridian Books, 1958. ———. “What Is Freedom?” Between Past and Future. New York: Penguin Books, 2006. Behnegar, Nasser. “Locke and the Sober Spirit of Capitalism.” Society 49, no. 2 (March 2012): 131–138. Bourgault, Sophie. “Hannah Arendt and Simone Weil on the Significance of Love for Politics.” In Thinking About Love: Essays in Contemporary Continental Philosophy, edited by Diane Enns and Antonio Calcagno, 149–166. University Park: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015. Burns, Steven. “Justice and Impersonality: Simone Weil on Rights and Obligations.” La philosophie française contemporaine 49, no. 3 (October 1993): 477–486. Kennedy, Geoff. “Capitalism, Contextualisation and the Political Theory of Possessive Individualism.” Intellectual History and Political Thought 1, no. 1 (2012): 228–251. Larmore, Charles. “Liberal and Republican Conceptions of Freedom.” Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy 6, no. 1 (2003): 96– 119. Lloyd, Margie. “In Tocqueville’s Shadow: Hannah Arendt’s Liberal Republicanism.” The Review of Politics 57, no. 1 (Winter 1995): 31–59. Locke, John. Second Treatise on Government. Edited by Lee Ward. Indianapolis: Hackett, 2016. Macpherson, C. B. The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism: Hobbes to Locke. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1962. Marx, Karl. “Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844.” In The MarxEngels Reader, edited by Robert C. Tucker, 66–125. New York: W.W. Norton, 1978. ———. “On the Jewish Question.” In The Marx-Engels Reader, edited by Robert C. Tucker, 26–52. New York: W.W. Norton, 1978. McKay, Ian. “A Half-Century of Possessive Individualism: C.B. Macpherson an the Twenty-First-Century Prospects of Liberalism.” Journal of the Canadian Historical Association 25, no. 1 (2014): 307–340.

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Pettit, Philip. “Civilizing the Republic.” In Republicanism: A Theory of Freedom and Government, 241–270. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. ———. “Two Republican Traditions.” In Republican Democracy: Liberty, Law and Politics, edited by Andreas Niederberger and Philipp Schink, 169–204. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2013. Radzins, Inese. “Simone Weil on Labor and Spirit.” Journal of Religious Ethics 45, no. 2 (2017): 291–308. Roberts, William Clare. “Marx’s Social Republic: Political Not Metaphysical.” Historical Materialism: Research in Critical Marxist Theory 27, no. 2 (July 2019): 1–18. Simpson, Thomas. “The Impossibility of Republican Freedom.” Philosophy & Public Affairs 45, no. 1 (Winter 2017): 27–53. Skinner, Quentin. “Some Problems in the Analysis of Political Thought and Action.” Political Theory 2, no. 3 (August 1974): 277–303. Sparling, Robert. “Theory and Praxis: Simone Weil and Marx on the Dignity of Labor.” The Review of Politics 74, no. 1 (Winter 2012): 87–107. Thompson, Michael J. “Reconstructing Republican Freedom: A Critique of the Neo-Republican Concept of Freedom as Non-Domination.” Philosophy and Social Criticism 39, no. 3 (2013): 277–298. Weil, Simone. The Need for Roots. Translated by Arthur Wills. London and New York: Routledge, 2002. ———. On Science, Necessity, and the Love of God. Edited and translated by Richard Rees. New York: Oxford University Press, 1968. ———. Oppression and Liberty. Translated by Arthur Wills and John Petrie. New York: Routledge, 1958. ———. Selected Essays 1934–1943. Edited and translated by Richard Rees. New York: Oxford University Press, 1962.

CHAPTER 12

Thoughts on a Weilian Republicanism Julie Daigle

Simone Weil’s ideas on obedience echo several important politicophilosophical traditions. Her reflections on the importance of accepting and consenting to the ineliminable sufferings of human life are clearly reminiscent of the Stoics. But there is also a resonance between the civic spirit defended by Weil, and that of Plato’s Socrates. In fact, many of Weil’s writings consider the tension between obedience and resistance displayed in some of Plato’s dialogues. This tension can be measured when we compare, for example, The Apology of Socrates, where Socrates accepts his sentence while resisting the laws, to the Crito, where Socrates defends, instead, obedience to the laws. In the Crito, Socrates himself expresses this tension in terms that are resonant with Weil’s writings when he says that he is the slave (doulos 1 ) of the laws. But Weil’s ideas on obedience also have theological roots. According to Weil herself, it is in the Gospel that we must turn to find a proper model of obedience. There, one finds a particular type of liberty that is compatible with slavery. 1 J. Peter Euben, “Philosophy and Politics in Plato’s Crito,” Political Theory 6, no. 2

(1978), 149.

J. Daigle (B) School of Political Studies, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, ON, Canada e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s) 2020 S. Bourgault and J. Daigle (eds.), Simone Weil, Beyond Ideology?, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-48401-9_12

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The Gospels, it is true, are full of comparisons drawn from slavery. But in Christ’s mouth this word is an artifice of love. The ‘slaves’ are men who have wanted with all their heart to give themselves to God as slaves. And although that means a gift made on the instant and once and for all, subsequently these slaves never cease for one second begging God to allow them to remain in slavery.2

Weil adds that this conception of slavery is very different from the one embodied by the Romans. Indeed, the Gospels’ account is incompatible with the Roman conception. If we were God’s property, how should we be able to give ourselves to him as slaves? He has emancipated us in view of the fact that he has created us. We are outside his kingdom. Our consent alone can, with time, bring about an inverse operation and convert us into something inert, something analogous to nothingness, where God is absolute master.3

What is described by Weil here has ties to a much older tradition, one that she criticized because of what she perceived to be its likeness to Roman thought: the Jewish tradition.4 Let us recall Weil’s harsh words regarding Jewish obedience: In the texts dating before the exile, Jehovah’s juridical relationship to the Hebrews is that of a master to his slaves. They had been Pharaoh’s slaves; Jehovah, having taken them out of Pharaoh’s hands, has succeeded to Pharaoh’s rights. They are his property, and he rules them just like any ordinary man rules his slaves, except that he disposes of a wider range of rewards and punishments. He orders them indifferently to do good or evil, but far more often evil, and in either case they have to obey. It matters

2 Simone Weil, The Need for Roots: Prelude to a Declaration of Duties towards Mankind, trans. Arthur Wills, preface by T. S. Eliot (London and New York: Routledge, 2002), 274. 3 Ibid. 4 For an overview of Weil’s complex relationship to her Jewish roots, see Robert Chenavier: “Encadr´e: Anti-h´ebra¨isme, antijuda¨isme ou antis´emitisme?,” Esprit 8/9, no. 387 (2012); “Simone Weil, l’anti-h´ebra¨isme et les Juifs,” Cahiers Simone Weil XXX, no. 3 (2007); Daniel Lindenberg, “Politique de Simone Weil,” Esprit 8/9, no. 387 (2012); Emmanuel Levinas, “Simone Weil against the Bible,” in Difficult Freedom. Essays on Judaism, trans. Seán Hand (Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990).

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little that they should be made to obey from the basest motives, provided the orders are duly executed.5

Despite these harsh views and despite her reluctance to identify with her Jewish roots, Weil’s ideas on obedience might be closer to Jewish thought than she realized. Allow me to explain.6 In Exodus and Revolution, Michael Walzer explains how the Book of Exodus tells the story of a nation seeking to build a new relationship to obedience that isn’t synonymous with absolute submission to the tyranny and arbitrariness of the Pharaoh. This process isn’t without difficulty, however, since the Israelites tend to revert back to their old habits, even though they have left Egypt. Their murmurings against God and Moses, and their worshiping of the golden calf, are examples of this difficulty. The Exodus shows just how easily the Israelites regress into idolatry when confronted with the daily trials and tribulations of liberation. The concern with a type of obedience that is synonymous with liberty, that is, a type of obedience that is non-passive, non-idolatrous, and non-servile, is also a leitmotiv of Simone Weil’s oeuvre, as this chapter will show. Walzer notes that the difference between the Hebrews’ obedience in the desert and their obedience to Pharaoh in Egypt stems from a “political invention of the Book of Exodus”: the Sinai covenant between every individual (including women) and God.7 Every individual decides to obey voluntarily—each one consents —whereas in Egypt they were coerced into obeying the Pharaoh.8 Moreover, Walzer offers an interpretation that can apply to Weil’s view of the Hebrews as the slaves and property of Jehovah. There is, he writes, a real risk of confusion in the way that the Israelites’ relationship to God is understood because the word signifying “slave” and “servant” is the same in the Hebrew language. But the Hebrews didn’t see themselves as the slaves of God, notes Walzer; they saw themselves as his servants. Walzer’s interpretation allows us to reconcile the Hebrews’ view of obedience (from which Weil distanced herself) and the type of 5 Weil, The Need for Roots, 268. 6 Again, see Emmanuel Levinas, “Simone Weil against the Bible”. Cf. Emmanuel Gabel-

lieri’s critique of Levinas’ reading, “Simone Weil entre le paganisme et la Bible: un dialogue herméneutique avec Ricoeur, Lévinas, Schelling et Pascal,” Cahiers Simone Weil XVVI, no. 1 (2003). 7 Michael Walzer, Exodus and Revolution (New York: Basic Books, 1985), 74. 8 Ibid., 81.

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obedience Weil associated with the Gospels. In fact, Walzer draws connections between servitude understood as a form of service and Calvinist, classical and neo-roman conceptions of liberty. Indeed, there is a kind of freedom in bondage: it is one of the oldest themes in political thought, prominent especially in classical and neoclassical republicanism and in Calvinist Christianity, that tyranny and license go together. The childish and irresponsible slave or subject is free in ways the republican citizen and Protestant saint can never be. And there is a kind of bondage in freedom: the bondage of law, obligation and responsibility. True freedom, in the rabbinic view, lies in servitude to God. The Israelites had been Pharaoh’s slaves; in the wilderness they became God’s servants […]; and once they agree to God’s rule, He and Moses, His deputy, force them to be free.9

These last few words clearly evoke Rousseau’s Social Contract.10 Walzer underscores further this connection between Judaism and republican thought by reminding us of Rousseau’s praise of Moses in his Considerations on the Government of Poland. Walzer writes: “[Moses] transformed a herd of ‘wretched fugitives,’ who lacked both virtue and courage, into ‘a free people.’ He didn’t do this merely by breaking their chains but also by organizing them into a ‘political society’ and giving them laws.”11 Walzer’s book tantalizingly invites us to consider, then, the possible commonalities between Weil’s political thought and the republican tradition. The purpose of this chapter will be to uncover three crucial elements of Weil’s work that resonate with the republican tradition: her constant concern with eliminating all forms of domination and of social oppression, her defense of a certain type of patriotism and her agonistic and active view of citizenship. But before discussing these in turn, we will briefly look at the reasons why the link between republicanism and Weil’s thought might at first glance seem counter-intuitive. Then, after making a case for Weil’s place in a tradition of republican thought, we will also indicate that Weil distances herself from a type of machismo that is present in a certain strand of this ideological tradition. The chapter closes by briefly

9 Ibid., 52–53. 10 See Jean-Jacques Rousseau, On the Social Contract, Book I, ch. VII, trans. Donald

A. Cress, intro. Peter Gay (Indianapolis and Cambridge: Hackett, 1987). 11 Walzer, Exodus and Revolution, 53.

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considering some of the implications of all this for our understanding of Weilian obedience.

A Questionable Connection Republicanism is far from being a homogenous tradition; it is comprised of variegated points of view that sometimes contradict each other. There is no consensus on a republican timeline, or about the definitive representatives of this tradition. It is nevertheless possible to identify a few guiding principles that reflect republicanism’s general aims. Most authors associated with the republican tradition share a common concern with the res publica, meaning the things of the people or the common good.12 According to Frank Lovett, it is possible to identify at least two different readings of what has been called the classical republican tradition. On the one hand, civic humanists like Hannah Arendt and J.G.A. Pocock see in the Greeks, and particularly Aristotle, the origin of republican ideas. Freedom, for them, refers chiefly to political participation and to the exercise of civic virtue. On the other hand, for neo-republicans or civic republicans like Quentin Skinner, Maurizio Viroli, and Philip Pettit, the birth of republican thought can be traced back to the Romans. These contemporary authors see civic virtue and civic engagement as important for liberty, but here understood as nondomination.13 Naturally, there are some differences in emphasis among these three theorists. If Philip Pettit’s neo-republicanism focuses on freedom as non-domination, the mixed constitution, and a contestatory citizenship,14 Viroli sees important differences in the republican family in terms of the constitutional order of the republic, social equality, and foreign policy.15 Nevertheless, despite this variety of points of views among republican authors today, we can say that a preoccupation with civic virtue cuts across most of their works. As we will see in this chapter, this concern with civic virtue is certainly one we see in Weil. 12 Serge Audier, Les th´eories de la r´epublique (Paris: Editions ´ La D´ecouverte, 2004), 7. 13 Frank Lovett, “Republicanism,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer

2018 Edition), Edward N. Zalta, ed., https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2018/ent ries/republicanism/. 14 Philip Pettit et Alice Le Goff: “Entretien avec Philip Pettit,” Raisons politiques 2011/3, no. 43, 190. 15 Maurizio Viroli, Républicanisme (Lormont: Le Bord de l’eau, 2011).

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Before we take a look at how Weil fits with these republican themes, I wish to briefly identify some of the reasons why associating Weil’s oeuvre with this tradition might be deemed questionable. The association might seem counter-intuitive first and foremost because of Weil’s well-known criticisms of several republics, including one of the most important historical models for republican thinkers: the Roman republic. Weil expresses her hatred of the Roman republic in two texts: “Reflections on the Origins of Hitlerism” and “Cold War Policy in 1939.” Her judgments on the ancient Romans are extremely harsh. For example, she writes that: “[t]he sole superiority of the Romans was in arms and in the organization of a centralized State,”16 and that “Rome was the first not only to threaten but to destroy the freedom of the world.”17 The Romans were, according to Weil, pretentious, cruel, perfidious, liars, and manipulators who liked domination and valued prestige above anything else. Weil rejected the republicanism of the Romans in the same way that she rejected all other imperialist and belligerent politics, including the fascist politics of Hitler, who reminded her of Julius Caesar.18 Moreover, she saw a resemblance between the Third Reich’s foreign policy and the Roman republic of the second century. She added that the Roman Empire wasn’t responsible for Rome’s spirit of conquest: “imperial Rome was mainly concerned to guard its conquests; it made few new ones.”19 In truth, Weil believed, Rome’s illegitimate conquests were attributable to the Roman republic. Weil also expressed her opposition to another republic, one that was much closer to her: the French Third Republic (1870–1940). She believed that the Third Republic was an imperial and totalitarian regime, guilty of leading its compatriots to abandon their country. Weil admired instead the English monarchy and its “centuries-old tradition of liberty

16 Simone Weil, “The Great Beast. Some Reflections on the Origins of Hitlerism,” in Selected Essays 1934–1943, trans. Richard Rees (London: Oxford University Press, 1962), 90. 17 Aware of her hyperbolic use of language here, Weil adds: “at least, if we use the same exaggeration as the Latin writers and call a large area around the Mediterranean the world” (ibid.). 18 “If anyone resembles Hitler in his barbarity, premeditated perfidy, and skill at provocation, it is certainly Caesar” (ibid., 100). 19 Weil, “Cold War Policy in 1939,” in Selected Essays, 186.

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guaranteed by the authorities”20 —a regime she regarded as the embodiment of an authentically republican spirit: “The English have a kingdom with a republican content; we had a republic with an imperial content. Moreover, the Empire itself was linked, over and beyond the Revolution, back in an unbroken chain to the monarchy; not the ancient French monarchy, but the totalitarian, police-ridden one of the seventeenth century.”21 Here, one might ask: isn’t the republican tradition opposed to monarchy? Didn’t the French Revolution institute the First Republic in France against the Ancien Régime and absolutist monarchy? What’s interesting is that Weil offers us an alternative interpretation of the French Revolution. Positing herself explicitly against those who regarded the spirit of the Revolution as synonymous with progress and a break with the past, Weil thought that this spirit was, in fact, part of a long revolutionary tradition rooted in the Ancien Régime. […] the Revolution had a past in the more or less underground part of French history: everything connected with the freeing of the serfs, liberties of the towns, social struggles; the revolts in the fourteenth century, the beginnings of the Burgundian movement, the Fronde; and then writers like d’Aubigné, Théophile de Viau, Retz. Under François I, a project for creating a people’s militia was set aside, because the noblemen objected that if it was put into operation the militiamen’s grandsons would find themselves noblemen and their own grandsons serfs. So great was the dynamic force thrusting beneath the surface of this people.22

Weil distinguishes two types of monarchy: one, specific to the ancient monarchies of France and England, that she admires because of its republican spirit, and the other, exclusive to modernity, that she sees as potentially totalitarian. Weil thought that the French monarchy rooted in Antiquity contained within itself the Revolution’s spirit of liberty. Unfortunately, the Revolution itself propagated the second type of monarchy, whose harmful influence Weil recognized in the Third Republic. In effect, Weil thought that the Revolution propagated a centralized conception 20 Weil, The Need for Roots, 138. 21 Ibid., 119–120. It is nevertheless surprising that Weil makes no mention here of

British imperialism. 22 Ibid., 109–110.

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of the State as sole source of authority and subservient obedience. This centralized conception of the State, she believed, was inherited from Richelieu and Louis XIV,23 and perpetuated by Napoleon.24 For Weil, the idea of an “eternal France,”25 bearer of peace and liberty, is simply false, and it is a recent fabrication. “The truth,” according to Weil, “is that from the death of Charles V until the Revolution, France was known in Europe not as the home of liberty, but much rather of slavery, for the reason that taxation was controlled by no rules, but depended solely on the King’s will.”26 The tendency to view republicanism through the prism of antimonarchism appeared at a precise moment in history. James Hankins has shown that it is specific to modern thinkers whose arguments were inspired by a discursive practice popularized during the Italian Renaissance in works like Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Prince.27 It recognized the res publica as the government by the many, whereas premodern thinkers like Aristotle applied the term to different types of regimes, including the monarchy. For Hankins, this new conception of the res publica had two significant effects: first, the expression was used to describe particular States; then, the non-monarchical period of Roman history was called the “the Republic.” According to Philip Pettit, republicans have mostly been opposed to monarchy in cases of monarchial absolutism, undermining their ideal of liberty, but they have been much more tolerant of constitutional monarchism.28 Simone Weil’s remark concerning the English monarchy and its republican spirit reflects this; and here Weil is in fact echoing another philosopher associated with the republican tradition: Montesquieu. In the first part of The Spirit of the Laws (book 5, chapter XIX), Montesquieu 23 About Louis XIV who said “L’État, c’est moi” (I am the State), Weil recalls that

Montesquieu had shown that this was not a “kingly conception.” Weil, The Need for Roots, 116. 24 Weil was also convinced that this centralized conception of the State reached its ultimate expression in Germany. Weil, Selected Essays, 91–92. 25 The expression is from Maréchal Pétain. 26 Weil, Selected Essays, 95. 27 James Hankins, “Exclusivist Republicanism and the Non-Monarchical Republic,” Political Theory 38, no. 4, (2010). 28 Philip Pettit, Republicanism: A Theory of Freedom and Government (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 20.

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writes that England is a Free State and that it is “a republic disguised under the form of monarchy.”29 Similarly, Rousseau asserts in The Social Contract: “I therefore call every state ruled by laws a republic, regardless of the form its administration may take. For only then does the public interest govern, and only then is the ‘public thing’ [in Latin: res publica] something real. Every legitimate government is republican.”30 This being said, Robert Chenavier cautions against a too hasty rapprochement between Simone Weil’s thought and republicanism, by pointing out that legitimacy, for Weil, has nothing to do with the form of government or the political regime (something few republicans would agree with).31 For Weil, a government is not more or less legitimate if it is monarchical, republican, or even democratic. The principle on which legitimacy rests is justice. It is only when justice arises from the political regime and institutions that the latter can be considered legitimate. Hence, the legitimacy of any political regime, according to Weil, is always religious: “A supernatural factor in society is legitimacy under its double form of Law and attribution of the highest power in the State. […] There can be no legitimacy without religion.”32 The problem with Rome, according to Weil, was precisely spiritual. The Romans lacked spirituality and valued Rome above anything else, including morality. They loved neither the good, nor nature,33 and they subordinated everything to their imperialist policy: […] Rome came before anything else. Spiritual life at Rome was hardly anything more than an expression of the will to power. The Greek mythology was no more than a pastime, which left the mind completely free and uncommitted; but according to Cicero the Roman religion deserved reverence because of its connexion with the grandeur of Rome.34

29 Charles Louis de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu, The Complete Works of M. de Montesquieu (London: T. Evans, 1777), 4 vols. Vol. I, 88, 10/03/2020, https://oll.lib ertyfund.org/titles/837. 30 Rousseau, On the Social Contract, 38. 31 Robert Chenavier, “Simone Weil et Rousseau. Volonté générale, partis politiques,

république,” Cahiers Simone Weil XXII, no. 3, 1999: 302. 32 Simone Weil, The Notebooks of Simone Weil, trans. Arthur Wills (London and New York: Routledge, 2004), 553. 33 Weil, “The Great Beast,” in Selected Essays, 129. 34 Ibid., 116.

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This brings us to the last reason some readers might think that Weil’s writings really cannot be tied to the republican tradition: her criticisms of secularism. Indeed, a certain strain of republican thought insists on separating the affairs of the State (which fall into the public domain) from the affairs of the Church (which fall into the private domain). Born in the midst of the French revolutionary experience, this secular perspective was widely upheld in Weil’s France.35 Weil opposed radical French secularism (laïcité) that sought to rid public life of any religious influence, because she saw religion as a vital dimension of public life. But what is crucial to stress here is that Weil is clearly not the only republican thinker who believes this. As we will show below, a good share of classical republican authors, from Cicero to Tocqueville, including Machiavelli and Rousseau, recognized the importance of religion for politics, in ways that sometimes echo Weil’s political thought.36 If Simone Weil’s thought seems at first glance irreconcilable with republicanism on account of her opposition to monarchy and secularism, as well as her critique of the French and Roman republics, what we will see now is that her thought is in fact quite similar to key thinkers of the republican tradition (most notably Montesquieu and Rousseau). The striking affinities I will discuss below between Weil and the republican tradition are the following: a conception of freedom as non-domination, a defense of patriotism and an active and agonistic view of citizenship.

Eradicating Servitude: Freedom as Non-domination One of the important features of contemporary neo-republican thought is its understanding of freedom. In Republicanism, Philip Pettit describes freedom as non-domination, providing an intermediate alternative to Isaiah Berlin’s (1958) taxonomy of negative liberty (non-interference), and positive liberty (self-mastery).37 Pettit’s understanding of freedom

35 And it is certainly still very much alive today. See e.g. Cécile Laborde, Français, encore un effort pour être républicains! (Paris: Seuil, 2010). 36 We should add that for Machiavelli and Tocqueville, religion has an essentially instrumental function that we don’t find in the work of Cicero. It is subordinated to political life. 37 Philip Pettit, Republicanism, 21.

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does not stress the absence of interference (as various liberals did),38 but rather the absence of domination and submission to the arbitrary will of another. Neo-republican freedom recognizes the legitimacy of some interference, provided that it is neither the result of domination nor arbitrary power. For example, a law “that answers systematically to people’s general interest and ideas” would be acceptable.39 How does Weil’s conception of liberty compare to the one provided by neo-republican thinkers like Pettit? Liberty is admittedly one of the most complex concepts in Weil’s work. At least three explicit definitions of freedom can be found in her writings. In her Reflections on the Causes of Liberty and Social Oppression (1934), Weil describes freedom as a relationship between thought and action, whereas in The Need for Roots (1943), freedom consists mainly in the possibility of choice. We must also add a third definition of liberty—tied to a supernatural freedom, which implies the consent to necessity (necessity understood in light of the paradoxical presence and absence of God, of the Good and Justice). We think that another conception of liberty is present in Weil’s oeuvre, even if it is never formally outlined: a neo-republican conception of freedom as non-domination. One of the most striking signs of this is Weil’s constant concern, not to say obsession, with the figure of the slave and the role that the analogy with slavery plays in the way that she understands socio-political problems. Neo-republican authors often refer to slavery and the relationship between the master and the slave to describe the difference between freedom as non-domination and freedom as non-interference. For instance, Philip Pettit recalls that the Romans distinguished the free person (liber) from the slave (servus ), and they thought arbitrary power could be exercised on the latter.40 The important thing for neo-republican authors is this: a good master keeps his slave under his domination, even if he does not interfere directly in his life, either physically or morally. As mentioned above, this analogy with the relationship between master and slave also refers to the fact that republicans admit a certain type of interference, provided that it does not come

38 See chapter XXI in Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, ed. Edwin Curley (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1994). 39 Pettit, Republicanism, 35. 40 See Philip Pettit, “Freedom as Antipower,” Ethics Vol. 106, no. 3 (1996): 576; also

Republicanism, 31.

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from arbitrary power. It can be legitimate when it stems from the laws of a good republican government.41 From her earliest lycée writings to her last articles written for the French resistance, Weil always sought to identify and eradicate the subtlest forms of social oppression and domination. She never ceased to think of liberty in conjunction with obedience to a legitimate, non-arbitrary power. Before her year of factory work, Weil mostly understood freedom in a way similar to the Stoics, as an inner phenomenon relating to individual thought. At the same time, however, she remained concerned with the problems of oppression and domination, which she understood as an unlimited and capricious constraint. But after her factory work experience, she began to think about liberty in light of the fundamental question of work and the submission to necessity. It is from this question that she would conceive the conditions of the non-domination of the individual. Even if, at this time, Weil believed that it was impossible to completely eliminate social oppression, she also thought that we must do everything in our power to understand its conditions and to mitigate these conditions. Weil was keenly aware of the complexity of the problem of the domination of the weak by the strong. As we will see later on, two classical republican philosophers, La Boétie42 and Machiavelli43 would become particularly important for her thinking on this problem.44 Weil’s understanding of freedom as non-domination is also evident in her reflections on possible remedies for colonial oppression. The argument she offers against the subjugation of other countries is precisely a neo-republican argument according to which freedom cannot be reconciled with an arbitrary power that accords itself the right to decide on the

41 Pettit, Republicanism, 35. 42 On La Boétie’s republicanism see Marta García-Alonso, “La Boétie and the Neo-

Roman Conception of Freedom,” History of European Ideas 39, no. 3 (2013). 43 Machiavelli is one of the most cited references of the republican canon. See e.g. J.G.A. Pocock, The Machiavellian Moment: Florentine Political Thought and the Atlantic Republican Tradition (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1975); Gisela Bock, Quentin Skinner, and Maurizio Viroli, eds., Machiavelli and Republicanism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990). For a critique of the republican reading of Machiavelli see John McCormick, “Machiavelli Against Republicanism: On the Cambridge School’s Guicciardinian Moments,” Political Theory 31, 5 (2003). 44 Weil’s criticism of Machiavelli’s realist politics in her tragedy, Venice Saved, must nevertheless be noted.

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future of the other. Weil sees colonization as the enslavement of a foreign nation. About the French colonies, she writes: Even if the French people in the colonies suddenly adopted the most humane, the most benevolent, the most disinterested practices, that in itself would not suffice to arouse in the empire the feelings necessary to the security of France. It is indispensable that French subjects have something of their own that they would be likely to lose under another rule; and to that effect it is indispensable that they cease being subjects, in other words passive beings, well or badly treated, but completely subject to the treatment meted out to them. They must start the process, soon and quite rapidly, of evolution from the status of subject to that of citizen.45

The only condition that would guaranty the freedom of France’s colonies, according to Weil, is that they no longer be ruled by the arbitrariness of France. Weil even discounts France’s benevolence toward her colonies, for even a magnanimous and generous France represents a threat to their freedom. Weil wishes to make of France the flagship of freedom it once was for its citizens and the world: “There must not be a single genuine lover of freedom in the whole world who can have a valid reason for hating France; all serious men who love liberty must be able to be glad that France exists.”46 It is precisely this passion for freedom that Weil defends in her writings from London, where she tries to think of how France could become, once again, a model of freedom throughout the world. Freedom as non-domination is also at the heart of Weil’s ethics, understood as the love of neighbor, a type a friendship that is expressed through respect for the consent of the other.47 Finally, what is also in line with neo-republicanism is Weil’s conviction that only the obedience to a law to which every citizen has consented can ensure that one is free. For Weil, this type of obedience, which preserves freedom, goes hand in hand with a specific type of patriotism that she tries to think through in The Need for Roots. What we would like to show now

45 Simone Weil, Simone Weil on Colonialism. An Ethic of the Other, ed. and trans. J.P. Little (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003), 69. 46 Weil, “Cold War Policy in 1939,” in Selected Essays, 194. 47 See e.g. Weil’s “Forms of the Implicit Love of God,” in Waiting for God, trans.

Emma Craufurd, intro. Leslie A. Fiedler (New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2009).

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is that Weil’s deep concern with civic virtue also shows striking affinities between her political thought and the republican tradition.

Patriotism We can observe both Weil’s convergence and her divergence from some of the central tenets of republican thought on the issue of patriotism. Weil follows many republican authors in her defense of patriotism, but the finality she attributes to it is quite different from most republican thinkers: while for the latter, patriotism is the highest good, for Weil saintliness is the highest good. Republican authors, and especially neo-republican ones, defend the idea that the protection of the common good and freedom as nondomination require civic virtue. This virtue increases the likelihood that the laws and the institutions of a political community will be geared toward eliminating domination. Hence, for republicans, civic virtue includes patriotism, which motivates individuals to respect the common good and their duties toward the law. Viroli notes that, since Cicero, republicans have made an effort to distinguish the patria (the res publica) from the natio.48 Weil is in line with the republicans as she attempted to differentiate patriotism from nationalism in The Need for Roots.49 In fact, according to Viroli, Weil’s compassionate patriotism is exemplary of republicanism’s “patriotism of liberty.”50 Compassion is not only a Christian value, but also a distinctive character of republican patriotism. Christian or republican, the patriotism of compassion is righteous because it allows us to keep both eyes fixed on our country’s greatness and miseries. […] Weil’s patriotism of compassion is a powerful antidote to the nationalist’s love of country that preaches the necessity of defending the country’s culture and history as values to be retrieved and defended in their entirety, as goods to be cherished because of their distinctiveness and particularity, because they are ours. Like the patriot, the nationalist also looks at his country’s history and feels attached 48 If Viroli theorizes patriotism, it is because he finds this has been done insufficiently by neo-republican authors. Viroli, Républicanisme, 81. 49 We write that she “attempted” to do so because some doubts have been cast on the success of this enterprise. 50 Viroli talks about a “patriotism of liberty,” in For Love of Country: An Essay on Patriotism and Nationalism (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995).

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to it. He sees, however, no fragility or reasons for shame […] The patriot sees a more variegated picture composed of transient greatness and glory; past or present crimes and scandals; past or present miseries and humiliations. It is all his; he does not flee, he does not want to forget. He accepts everything, but not everything has the same value or belongs to him in the same way. Some moments of the nation’s history bring joy, others indignation, others shame – the most distinctive feeling, perhaps, of the patriot’s love.51

Viroli also notes that, in the works of classical republicans, the love of country is synonymous with “a charitable love of the republic (caritas reipublicae) and of one’s fellow citizens (caritas civium).”52 Weil’s writings and the way that she lived her life provide strong examples of this republican charitable love of country. As soon as Weil became aware of the existence of any form of oppression and injustice, she took it upon herself—oftentimes at the expense of her own physical wellbeing—to understand and eliminate their causes. She also believed, like most republicans, that the transmission of the caritas reipublicae and of the caritas civium depended on two institutions: education and religion. Education and religion, implemented by the State, help to arouse the love of country by encouraging individuals to develop and cultivate civic virtue and participate in public affairs. Similarly, the role of education according to Weil is to create motives for patriotic actions.53 In this regard, she has much in common with Rousseau, who clearly saw ties between his political ideal (laid out in part in The Social Contract ) and the educational project he offers in Emile. In his Considerations on the Government in Poland, Rousseau gave us a clear overview of the way that he understood the relationship between education and the love of country in a republic: it is education that you must count on to shape the souls of the citizens in a national pattern and so to direct their opinions, their likes, and dislikes that they shall be patriotic by inclination, passionately, of necessity. The newly born infant, upon first opening his eyes, must gaze upon the fatherland, and until his dying day should behold nothing else. Your true republican is

51 Ibid., 165–166. 52 Viroli, Républicanisme, 81. 53 This is especially true in her last work The Need for Roots: see e.g. 188.

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a man who imbibed love of the fatherland, which is to say love of the laws and of liberty, with his mother’s milk. That love makes up his entire existence: he has eyes only for the fatherland, lives only for his fatherland; the moment he is alone, he is a mere cipher; the moment he has no fatherland, he is no more; if not dead, he is worse-off than if he were dead.54

In “Are we Struggling for Justice?”, written with the reconstruction of France after the Second World War in mind, Weil uses almost the same words as Rousseau: What we need is something a people can love naturally from the depths of its heart, from the depths of its own past, out of its traditional aspirations, and not through suggestion, propaganda, or foreign import. What we need is a love imbibed, quite naturally with one’s milk, a love which brings young people to conclude once and for all deep in the innermost part of their hearts a pact of fidelity of which a whole life of obedience is but an extension.55

Furthermore, Rousseau and Weil both offer models of political communities where religion has a practical purpose in that it fosters civic virtue. In his Considerations, Rousseau mentions his admiration for Moses, Lycurgus, and Numa, three ancient legislators who used religion to found stable political communities oriented toward the common good.56 The use of religion to encourage civic virtue is also mentioned in The Social Contract when, in chapter VIII of book IV, Rousseau discusses the need for a civil religion. For Weil too, religion has this practical function. The relationship between the republic and religion plays out on two levels for her. For the majority of citizens, Weil recognizes the need for a sort of civil religion of Christian inspiration à la Rousseau. But as a good Platonist, Weil acknowledges as well the need for another register at which religion could play a role and which would encourage a few exceptional individuals to strive for sainthood. Both levels involve a spirituality that would

54 Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Government of Poland, trans. Willmoore Kendall (New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1972), 19. My emphasis. 55 Simone Weil, Writings Selected, ed. Eric O. Springsted (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1998), 128. My emphasis. 56 Rousseau, The Government of Poland, 5.

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allow all dimensions of life, including especially work, to bathe in a mysticism geared toward God (the absolute Good).57 The word “spirituality” understood this way implies, according to Weil, no “particular affiliation” and could be accepted by all, from Communists to Christians.58 If Weil recognizes the primacy of sainthood over citizenship, it is because she is very much aware that patriotism always threatens to become a form of idolatry. Like most republicans, Weil believes that education and religion aim at fostering civic virtue, but she also thinks that they have the power to teach individuals compassion, humility and the type of attention required for a patriotism that is non-idolatrous— a patriotism that can safeguard freedom. These qualities are particularly important to create non-servile citizens because they allow individuals to understand the meaning of obedience, as well as the possible effects of disobedience. For Weil, the most important virtue, a virtue that should be accessible to the masses inspired by a “genuine élite,” is the virtue of spiritual poverty.59 This virtue must be synonymous with material poverty, but it also involves enduring, without any type of compensation, “the pains and humiliations of poverty.”60 In addition, education and religion can encourage what Weil calls decreation. Decreation is essential, for Weil, to avoid the double source of idolatrous corruption that is the self and the social. It helps to cultivate the civic virtue of citizens, so that they are more interested in the common good than in their own private and selfish interests. This brings us to the third characteristic Weil shares with republicanism: an active and agonistic view of citizenship.

An Active and Agonistic Citizenry Though Weil always admired Rousseau, her appreciation for his Social Contract changed over time. In her Lectures on Philosophy (1933–1934), she stated that a society that is founded on the free consent of individuals would be ideal, although it “cannot be realised because men are 57 Weil, “A War of Religions,” in Selected Essays, 215. 58 Weil, The Need for Roots, 97. The important thing to remember here is that this

spirituality must not be attached to an organized religion or religious institution. Mysticism must nevertheless permeate all dimensions of public and private life. 59 Weil, “A War of Religions,” in Selected Essays, 216. 60 Ibid.

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not good.”61 But toward the end of her life, Weil’s Rousseauist convictions became much stronger and explicit. This is particularly striking in her writings from London, where she noted that Rousseau was a “lucid and powerful spirit […] of genuinely Christian inspiration,”62 and that, save for a couple of chapters, “few books are as beautiful, strong, clearsighted and articulate as Le Contract social.”63 Weil believed that despite its great influence over the years, this book had nevertheless not been read correctly; as a result, Rousseau’s most powerful insights had remained unexplored.64 Weil’s note On the Abolition of All Political Parties aims precisely at highlighting these insights. Like Rousseau, Weil believed that all justice comes from God. But the difficulty with this, according to both Rousseau and Weil, is that the direct communication of justice, from God to society, is impossible, which makes the creation and the respect of laws necessary.65 For the laws to conform to justice, they must, for Rousseau, emanate from the general will. Weil regrets that her compatriots lack a clear understanding of this concept, even though it is foundational to the republican ideal. Two facts, notes Weil, led Rousseau to believe that the general will points to justice and liberty: “First, reason perceives and chooses what is just and innocently useful, whereas every crime is motivated by passion. Second, reason is identical in all men, whereas their passions most often differ.”66 Taking the French revolutionaries as an example of this, she goes on to suggest that: “The true spirit of 1789 consists in thinking, not that a thing is just because such is a people’s will, but that, in certain conditions, the will of the people is more likely than any other will to conform to justice.”67 What Weil admired most in Rousseau—and what she thought her contemporaries ignored—are the two conditions that he identified so that the general will may align with justice and truth. The first is to ensure 61 Simone Weil, Lectures on Philosophy, trans. Hugh Price and intro. Peter Winch (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978), 153. 62 Weil, “Human Personality,” in Selected Essays, 19. 63 She writes this in her note On the Abolition of All Political Parties, trans. Simon

Leys (New York: New York Review Books, 2013), 19. Weil also recommends the careful reading of The Social Contract in The Need for Roots, 28. 64 Ibid. 65 See e.g. Rousseau, Social Contract, 36–37. 66 Weil, On the Abolition, 19-20. 67 Ibid., 22.

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that the general will is not the expression of collective passions. And the second is that the people may express their will regarding the problems of public life, and not only choose between individuals.68 Recognizing that these two conditions have never been fully met, Weil claims that France has never known a true democracy. This observation leads her to formulate two pressing questions that can guaranty the legitimacy of French republicanism: “How to give the men who form the French nation the opportunity to express from time to time their judgment on the main problems of public life?” and “How, when questions are being put to the people, can one prevent their being infected by collective passions?”69 Any sound answer to these questions will reveal, according to Weil, the necessity of applying an idea to which Rousseau himself was completely devoted: the abolition of political parties. She notes in The Need for Roots: “Rousseau had clearly demonstrated how party strife automatically destroys the Republic.”70 If political parties deserve to be abolished, for Weil, it is in part because they contribute to the fabrication of collective passions. Moreover, all parties, without exception, exert undue pressure on the minds of their members through propaganda. But their biggest fault of all is that they aim, ultimately, at their unlimited growth. These three faults reveal, on Weil’s reading, the potentially totalitarian nature of political parties.71 Indeed, parties tend to confuse ends and means. Even if all parties say that they are working for the public good, in most cases, this stated intention ultimately becomes a mere means to increase their power. The unlimited growth of the party becomes conditional to the public good being achieved. But for Weil, a political party cannot be considered a legitimate end, or a good in itself. The criterion of goodness “can only be truth, justice; and then, the public interest.”72 Even democracy, stresses Weil, is not good in itself. It is always a means to achieving justice. What is more, parties, in general, never ask themselves if this or that measure they have decided to adopt serves justice.

68 Ibid., 22–24. 69 Ibid., 25–26. 70 Weil, The Need for Roots, 28. 71 Weil writes that party strife inevitably leads to the single party. See The Need for

Roots, 27. 72 Weil, On the Abolition, 18.

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It is fidelity to official party lines that is of utmost importance for party members. Weil also observes that no amount of power accumulated by political parties could ever suffice to achieve the conceptions of the good that they defend. The reason is that these conceptions of the good are always fictions: “Parties that are loosely structured and parties that are strictly organized are equally vague as regards to doctrine. No man, even if he had conducted advanced research in political studies would ever be able to provide a clear and precise description of the doctrine of any party, including (should he himself belong to one) of his own.”73 Weil also believes that the totalitarian logic she sees in political parties manifests itself in the most unexpected dimensions of social life. It permeates, according to Weil, all areas of human thought, to the point that individuals are less likely to reflect deeply on social issues. Rather, they are more inclined to say that they are either “for” or “against” certain opinions, and then to find arguments to support their choice.74 As such, Weil insists that political parties always lead to a triple lie: toward the party, the public, and toward oneself. It is impossible, she thinks, to be faithful to justice, truth and to the party line. Weil nevertheless recognizes the difficulty of influencing public affairs without being involved in a political party. But she does offer a few alternatives. First, she proposes that candidates and members of Parliament should have the opportunity to express themselves on specific issues, in their own name and without party involvement. The representatives of the people could then join forces around specific issues that each person sees as important. Intellectual circles could also form around certain journals of political ideas without committing the loyalty of its members. These circles should be characterized by their fluidity, whereby each member is free to come and go.75 It seems that, for Weil, like Rousseau, collective judgment (or the general will) may come close to justice provided that individual judgment be free from the influence of passions, of factions and political parties, and of collectives more generally. If Weil recommends the openness to a diversity of perspectives on the good, she does not think that the reconciliation of these different points of view or the evacuation of conflict between

73 Ibid., 29. 74 Ibid., 55. 75 Ibid., 50–52.

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these viewpoints is possible. Reconciliation is not possible because there is no direct access to the good, only mediations of it. Thus, justice and the good can only always remain aspirations. Nonetheless, Weil invites her readers to engage in continuous effort to bring about the truth and the good in the city. Quite significantly for our purposes here, Weil insists that this requires a certain degree of conflict or agonism, which can have salutary effects on social life. What Weil champions, however, is not an unbridled agonism. This is clearly so because Weil equally values social order (in spite of its inherent imperfections) and cherishes mutual understanding, cooperation and compassion. The peculiar type of agonism Weil embraces is apparent, first and foremost, in her description of social life, which she sees as a constant battle between, on the one hand, the natural struggle for power, and, on the other hand, supernatural love which opposes justice to force. We can also find signs of Weil’s agonistic vision of politics in her essays on La Boétie’s Discourse on Voluntary Servitude 76 and on Machiavelli’s writings on the Florentine revolt of the Ciompi.77 Weil’s article on La Boétie describes conflict as inherent to the nature of things and as conducive to liberty, provided its potential for violence is contained; and her piece on the Ciompi celebrates conflicts between social classes. Still it ought to be said that despite the relatively positive perspectives Weil offers here on civic tensions, she always remained quite pessimistic about the possibility that these tensions could succeed in eliminating social oppression.

A Republicanism That Is Anti-machismo Having underscored some of the commonalities between Weil’s writings and the republican tradition, we would now like to underline Weil’s specific contribution to this tradition. We would also like to venture a hypothesis about what this rapprochement can offer in terms of our understanding of Weil’s conception of obedience.

76 Simone Weil, “Meditation on Obedience and Liberty,” in Oppression and Liberty, trans. Arthur Wills and John Petrie (London and New York: Routledge Classics, 2004). 77 Weil, “A Proletarian Uprising in Florence,” in Selected Essays.

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As we saw at the beginning of this chapter, one of Weil’s major criticisms of republican politics concerned its use of force (and exemplary here of Weil’s concern was the case of the Romans). Take, for example, this passage from her “Reflections on the Origins of Hitlerism”: The Romans nearly always assumed towards defeated kings this attitude of legitimate masters punishing rebellion. The same illusion was fostered by the ceremony of the triumph, that horrible institution which Cicero thought so decorous. Both by word and by deed Rome always made it appear that she was punishing her enemies as a matter of duty, and not for her own interest or pleasure.78

Weil’s critique of the adoration of force and the will to power also comes through in her reading of Thucydides. She writes: “we see in Thucydides how clearly the Athenians, when they perpetuated cruel abuses of power, were aware they were doing so. Minds of such lucidity can never build up a world empire.”79 In addition, Weil celebrated the God of humility of the Gospels over the vision of an all-powerful God of the Old Testament that leads armies into massacres and violent conquest. What I would like to suggest now is that we can see in these passages an implicit critique of the machismo that has sometimes been identified with republican civic virtue.80 Weil is indeed opposed to republican virtù understood according to the etymological meaning of the word virtus (which comes from vir or “man”81 ) and embodies the spirit of military conquest and domination. Thus, Weil implicitly criticizes thinkers associated with the republican tradition she otherwise admires. This is the case for Machiavelli, who emphasized the importance of a citizenship that is always ready to fight for the republic. The same applies to Rousseau, whose admiration for the Romans’ model of civic organization expressed in Book IV of The Social Contract probably horrified Weil, though she

78 Weil, Selected Essays, 114. 79 Ibid., 115. 80 See Hanna F. Pitkin, Fortune Is a Woman: Gender and Politics in the Thought of Niccoló Macchiavelli (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984) and Robert E. Goodin, “Folie Républicaine,” Annual Review of Political Science 6 (2003): 65–66. 81 Pitkin, Fortune Is a Woman, 25.

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never mentions it. According to Doering, it is probably this aspect of Rousseau’s thought that Weil had in mind when she wrote in her note On the Abolition of all Political Parties that “[f]ew books are as beautiful, strong, clear-sighted and articulate as Le Contrat social (with the exception of some of its chapters ).”82 Contrary to Machiavellian virtù and grandezza, Weilian civic virtue is not a belligerent virtue, motivated by will to power and an ideal of conquest and expansion. It is a virtue that is associated rather with traits that have been traditionally defined as feminine. One of the most significant traits of Weilian civic virtue is tenderness.83 She writes in her “Plan for an organization of front-line nurses” that Hitlerism could only be fought with a counter force to the “heroism of brutality” of the S.S. that would combine “cool and virile resolution” with tenderness.84 She calls here for a type of greatness that is entirely different than Machiavellian grandezza, and that would be synonymous with compassion, attention, love of one’s neighbor, and especially gentleness. In a letter to a recipient who has not been identified, Weil also noted: “violence is often necessary, but in my eyes there is grandeur only in gentleness (by which, as you know, I don’t mean anything mawkish).”85 Indeed, she believed that this virtue of gentleness could even lead to war in certain necessary situations, that is, when the peace and liberty of all countries are threatened by excessive power. In Cold War Policy in 1939, Weil stated that France must not neglect its offensive power, but must carefully consider how and when to exert this power:

82 E. Jane Doering, “Jean-Jacques Rousseau et Simone Weil: deux théoriciens d’une

politique moderne,” Cahiers Simone Weil XV, no. 3 (1992): 246; Weil, On the Abolition, 19 (my emphasis). 83 Obviously, men have also praised tenderness and gentleness throughout history. Jesus is an example, or Stoics like Marcus Aurelius who writes: “And let this truth be present to thee in the excitement of anger, that to be moved by passion is not manly, but that mildness and gentleness as they are more agreeable to human nature, so also are they more manly; and he who possesses these qualities possesses strength, nerves, and courage, and not the man who is subject to fits of passion and discontent” (Marcus Aurelius, Thoughts of Marcus Aurelius, trans. George Long (Glasgow: Good Press, 2019), XI, XVIII). 84 Simone Weil, Simone Weil: Seventy Letters, trans. and ed. Richard Rees (London: Oxford University Press, 1965), 150–153. 85 Weil, Selected Essays, 79.

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Some kind of offensive is indispensable. We, too, must have a positive force, but not in the field of violence and will-to-power; in that field we are beaten in advance. It is right to demand from France a policy of generosity but she no longer has it in her power to be generous to Germany and its clients. One is not generous to those who are stronger than oneself; one is generous, if at all, to those who are at one’s mercy.86

In light of this, we can say that Weil’s republicanism attempts to overcome the excesses of imperialism and machismo that we find in the writings of certain republican thinkers. To understand Weil’s thoughts on obedience in light of the republican tradition and of the works of republican authors that inspired her can do several things for Weil scholarship. Firstly, it allows us to circumscribe some of the conditions identified by Weil under which liberty would be assured. In an article that attacked Weil for her “antipolitical” stance, Conor Cruise O’Brien criticized Simone Weil for mentioning liberty as one of the needs of the soul in The Need for Roots, without saying what the guarantees of this liberty would be.87 Revealing Weil’s republican leanings allows us to uncover some of the means that she had envisaged for this purpose. Her constant efforts to propose ways of eradicating the arbitrary use of power and domination in all its forms, her insistence on the importance of civic virtue and non-idolatrous patriotism, and finally, her recognition of a certain type of conflict as an ineliminable and salutary dimension of social life, all offer concrete means to protect political liberty. Finally, our reflections on Weil’s republicanism also allow us to distance her thought from critics who would like to see in her writings an apolitical mysticism. There is in Weil’s oeuvre, as we hope to have shown, a deep concern for political liberty, a liberty that must always be guarded against the many forms of servitude that keep human beings from meaningful human experiences.

86 Ibid., 193. 87 “There would be liberty, or something so described, coming second after ‘order’

and just before ‘obedience’ among the needs of the soul, but the guarantees of liberty in no way indicated.” O’Brien, “Patriotism and The Need For Roots. The Anti-Politics of Simone Weil,” The New York Review of Books, vol. 24, no. 8 (1997).

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