24 December 2009

The Need for Roots by Simone Weil

The price is astonishing on this Amazon link, but there are paperback copies. Maybe there are even electronic ones.

In reading The Need for Roots by Simone Weil (my copy was translated by Arthur Wills) I treated it as a springboard for my own thoughts. Usually, I refrain from marking books--dog ears drive me nuts--but with this book I read with pencil in hand. I had to if I was to capture and elaborate the ideas lost amid Weil's sprawling writing. For example, when Weil writes about the exercise of authority, what springs to my mind is that those who submit to authority help to define it.

Reading "The Need for Roots" becomes a dialogue. And although parts of the book are dated (and fascinating for their window into the 1940s) the truths of the book apply today.

Uprootedness is by far the most dangerous malady to which human societies are exposed, for it is a self-propagating one. For people who are really uprooted there remain only two possible sorts of behaviour: either to fall into a spiritual lethargy resembling death,...or to hurl themselves into some form of activity necessarily designed to uproot, often by the most violent methods, those who are not yet uprooted, or only partly so.

To me, this is the nihilism of terrorists. Violence in place of hope.

I disagree with parts of "The Need for Roots" and other parts are simply tedious, but it is a book worth engaging with. It raises questions you might never otherwise consider, like do we restore someone's honour when we punish them?

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