Weil, Simone (1909–43)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DD070-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved February 20, 2019, from

3. Violence and justice

This creates some problems in her social thinking. Much of what she writes suggests that social life and cooperative labour is always ‘primitively’ a common sacrifice of individual desires before the given imperatives of collaboration. The struggle for social dominance is the struggle for the position of least sacrifice. She writes with great eloquence about the distortions of awareness produced by the exercise of force, both in the powerful and the powerless, and she is deeply sceptical about prevailing models of political legitimacy, resting as they do upon uneasy truces between different centres of power and interest. In her very substantial late (and unfinished) essay L’enracinement (1949) (The Need for Roots (1952)), designed in part as a vision for post-war France, she pleads for a society in which the impersonal instrumentalism of labour in a capitalist economy is replaced by work that can more readily be grasped as direct confrontation with necessity. This implies a radical dismantling of international capitalist structures, including colonialism, and a reorientation towards local (regional rather than national) sociopolitical units. It also means the dismantling of ‘modern’ political structures, such as political parties and trade unions, since these take for granted the ‘violence’ of competitive interests. Justice will emerge not from bargaining but from the common reality of encounter with necessity; and this spiritual anchor for justice will be nourished by the corporate appropriation of a local past, a specific and harmonious culture. Weil did not shrink from the further implication that there could be no long-term future in such a society for religious or cultural minorities: they would be gently but firmly educated out of existence. Nothing could more clearly underline her own passionate rejection of her Jewishness, her own ‘roots’. It is a final, and revealing, paradox in an oeuvre full of contradictions, yet so often profound in its critiques of modernity, of moral illusion and of cheap religious consolation. Only gradually has she come to attract serious philosophical study, rather than either mere abuse or hagiography; but she deserves just the unsparing ‘attention’ she herself so forcefully commends.

Citing this article:
Williams, Rowan. Violence and justice. Weil, Simone (1909–43), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DD070-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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