This writer has been considered by many to be one of the most original religious and political thinkers of the 20th century. She was born in Paris, in 1909, into a French Jewish bourgeois family with an extraordinary intelligence. Many great writers were full of praise for her intelligence and asceticism Andre Gide called her the best spiritual writer of the 20th century while Albert Camus thought of her as one of the most important social political thinker since Karl Marx. The poet T.S.Eliot acknowledge her genius akin to that of the saints. Yet why then is Simone Weil not better known as a writer and her writings not widely read?
For those who are Christians, Simone Weil s thought and writings appear to be outside the limits of what most Christians believe to be the orthodox Christian faith. She also refused baptism, claiming that she could not subscribe to the whole Catholic dogma In a word- a Christian from the exterior. She wrote to cross boundaries of Christian thought with the Bible. Greek Mythology especially believing that the great Greek Epics of Homer and the ideas of Plato could be a spiritual source of a human community stretching beyond the confines of Christianity. She made a special study of the social writings of Karl Marx. In other words. she was tackling social and political issues from a Christian perspective.
A book that brings together these diverse beliefs was “,The Need For Roots” (L”Enracienement) published in English in 1952. This book which in essence is a powerful denunciation of the false values of our civilization and Simone Weil sets out to show us a radical vision for spiritual and political renewal to fight against the de-humaning of the cult of materialism with its philosophy of greed and accumulated wealth.
In The Need for Roots Simone Weil discusses the nature of the obligations, at once, absolute and are directed solely towards the human being as such and not towards any state or collectivity. These obligations are the medium of man’s earthly needs – to feed the hungry the fear of violence ,punishment with honour and security with risk. Basically then for Simone Weil in the realm of human affairs this is the only eternal obligation toward the human being which is unconditional and insofar as this world is concerned it has no foundation. Its only verification in this world is the common consent accorded by universal conscience. She believes as a Christian that the human being has an eternal destiny unlike collectivities which have none and therefore the one obligation a human being possesses is respect. Thus obedience is the consent to nourish and maintain the spiritual needs of the human being’s soul, but she points out that you can reconcile obedience with liberty in the example of a society where the principal motive is the desire for gain, the human soul is starved of obedience because the essence of obedience is consent and consent is not a thing that can be bought and sold. It is the quantitative difference established by money that introduces of inequality everywhere. It is with this idea of inequality that she attacks The French Revolution of 1789 in that its declaration of Liberty, Fraternity and Equality she believed was destroyed by its greedy acquisition of its colonies. For Simone Weil the men of the 1789 were simply substituting the inequality of the Ancient Regime for the New Regime- one form of inequality as unwholesome as the other. Another important concept here in her discussion of liberty is freedom of expression as a need of the soul as well. Simone points out here that it is an expedient in the practical affairs of life in our freedom to use our intelligence as intelligence resides solely in the human being as an individual, and she attacks the relentless critics of that spurious self-sacrifice which creates group solidarity when people renounce the first person singular only to substitute for it the first people plural .Her she proposes that the expression of opinion by any group should be forbidden by law. When a group begins having opinions it inevitably tends to impose them on its members and in the end they are compelled to leave the group if they express opinions contrary to it. She would have agreed with what Leon Trotsky, the Russian revolutionary, said that there is only one party in power and all the rest are in prison. Being Rooted then is one of the important needs of the human soul but Simone Weil insists that this does not imply the superiority of the collectivity over the individual but rather so if and when a collectivity is valuable it is because it is food for human souls and unlike material food ,it is unique and irreplaceable. She is saying a loaf of bread can be substituted for another but each cultural tradition is unique.
Uprooted for Simone Weil really means spiritually uprootedness which is the universal malady of Western Society an has reduced it to a proletarian condition. This idea is formulated probably from her work alongside the Renault factory workers believing in that she could endeavour to introduce a little play into the cogs of the machine which was grinding they down. She/ found in the writing of Karl Marx and Jean –Jacques Rousseau the idea of dignity in labour/work. The life of the workers as. the great anonymous mass of the underprivileged is essentially a lifetime spent in mindless drudgery and where ,according to Simone Weil ,it reaches a point that if the workers prefer to work mindlessly then our whole civilization is a failure. Oppression and the capitalist system are the causes which exploit productive work reducing men and women to the status of passive instruments carrying out ideas in which they do not participate. When this happens society has become proletarianised and the peoples’ way of life has been spiritually uprooted.
An important view of Simone Weil is her vision of the State She insists that the State must enlarge and refresh the human environment and not turning its own territorial frontiers into prison walls for thought. The modern State she believes has seemed to have lost wherever principle it is to discriminate between authority and tyranny and between liberty and license. She insists that we must distinguish between ideas of glory and grandeur and the sins of idolatry- false conceptions of greatness can very easily turn out to be some form of idolatry She has pointed out that the vast Imperial Roman Empire was in many ways anticipated the fascist ideologies and brutalities of Nazi German.
It is ultimately the way she shows how force lives in different guises from coercive force on the poor of the world, the most victimized, to military force to kill as in massacre or Terrorism, Racism and. Hatred. These ideas have a definite ring to them insofar as they are all still with us today as modern pitfalls.
The Need for Roots by Simone Weil is composed of a rare mixture of unusual intellectual thought and missionary zeal. In her own life she made rare and strange personal sacrifices as when for example she refused to eat more food than her French comrades in les Services De La France when she was in London in the early 40s. .Many people thought that her self-induced starvation, which caused her death at the age of 34 ,was a form of suicide .While this conclusion is open to moral debate ,there is no getting away from the fact she was an extraordinary individual with an immense intelligence and culture and her original ideas of love of God ,love and respect for the individual’s liberty and her continual fight against social injustices and the evil of the Totalitarian States demands that we do need to listen to Simone Weil again.