Archives For Goodness

Details about Simone Weil’s life and thought are enigmatic. Other than what’s included in the general encyclopedic biographies circling the internet, I know very little about her. Unlike someone such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, there is no long, authorised biography written by her friends. What knowledge I have been about to find out about her, is padded by what I’ve learnt from conversations with internet friends, whose admiration for her work has increased over the years.

Simone was a French intellectual. Like Jacques Ellul, Weil worked in the French resistance, was an admirer of Karl Marx, and a contemporary of Albert Camus.

Weil moved back towards Roman Catholic Christianity and took an interest in Catholic mysticism. This detached her from the French intellectual trends of her day. Weil also made a break with Marxism. Whilst Weil remained a fan of Karl Marx, alongside her criticism of [crony] capitalism, she also wielded a heated criticism of Marxism.

Some of these criticisms are set out in Oppression & Liberty, 1955. Weil’s major criticisms begin with the monopoly of centralisation. This is what Weil says fuels forms of ‘bureaucratic oppression’ from a ‘bureaucratic caste’[i]:

‘All exclusive, uncontrolled power becomes oppressive in the hands of those who have the monopoly of it… instead of a clash of contrary opinions, we end up with an “official opinion” from which no one would be able to deviate.’ (pp.15 & 16)

Three bureaucracies exist: these are ‘state, capital industries and worker’s organisations (trade-unions)’ (p.17). Given the right environment (such as Germany in the 1930s) all three can merge into one. The state takes control of the market and runs it from a centralised politick, with a salaried and bureaucratic hierarchy. Weil calls this ‘state capitalism[ii]’. This means that the economy is managed by the government and government approved capital industries. In 1930’s Germany, this manifested as a dictatorship resting on the twin supports of trade unions and the national-socialist movement[iii]’ (p.25).

The zenith of all of Weil’s criticisms is when she calls Marxism ‘a fully-fledged religion in the impurest sense of the word’ (p.165). Two other earlier statements back this up: ‘‘Marxism is the highest spiritual expression of bourgeois society’ (p.124); ‘Marxism is a badly constructed religion; it has always possessed a religious character’ (p.154).

In a similar way to Jacques Ellul, Weil advocates the truth in Marx’s critique, but is not a believer in Marxism.  For her, the social, economic and political mechanisms of bureaucracy and industry, turn men and women (the working class), into machines. The working class becomes a means to an end.

Weil’s praise for Marx doesn’t go any further than this:

the truth in Marx’s critique is found in how he ‘defined with admirable precision the relationships of force in society […] Two things in Marx are solid and indestructible. First: method; study of and defining the relationships of force. Second is the analysis of Capitalist society as it existed in the 19th Century – where it was believed that in industrial production lay the key to human progress ’ (p.152).

Weil’s short lived praise for Marx ends here: ‘Marx was an idolater; he idolised the Proletariat and considered himself to be their natural leader’ (p.151); Marx made oppression the central notion of his writings, but never attempted to analyse it. He never asked himself what oppression is’ (p.154)

Oppression & Liberty concludes with Weil’s summary of Marx’s failings. This includes his obsession[iv] with production, class war and moralism.

‘The only form of war Marx takes into consideration is social war – (open or underground) – under the name of class struggle.  Class struggle or social war is the sole principle for explaining history. Marx was incapable of any real effort of scientific thought, because that did not matter to him. All this materialist was interested in was justice. He took refuge in a dream and called it dialectical materialism.’ (pp.178 & 180)

As Weil explains,

‘Marx fell back into the ‘group morality which revolted him to the point of hating society. Like the feudal magnates of old,  like the business men  of his own day, he had built for himself a morality which placed above good and evil the activity of professional revolutionaries; the mechanism for producing paradise’ (p.182). Marx’s ‘moral failing was that he do not seek the source of the good in the place where it dwells.’ (p.183).

When I was given a copy of Oppression and Liberty, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  I hadn’t planned on reading the book, but I’m thankful to have had the chance to make a careful study of it.

The subject matter is dense. This is made more complex by Weil’s writing style. However, this complexity doesn’t make Oppression & Liberty unbearable to read. Weil takes aim at a lot of relevant themes which pose serious questions for our contemporary setting. These themes include unintended consequences, ‘bureaucratic oppression’[v], monopolies, power, materialism, group-think morality, sociopolitical force, the mechanisms of power, and subjectivism.

The latter coming out through her discussion and warning about seeking morality in places other than where genuine goodness and authentic morality dwells. This can be interpreted to mean that God is the only means by which humanity has a moral anchor. Weil’s example of this is Karl Marx and his obsession with justice, production and power. These led to contradictions in his theory and its application. His subsequent moral failing was that his quest for morality searched everywhere, but where the source of goodness and authentic morality is, can, and therefore, ought to be found.

Oppression & Liberty is a book that teaches something new each time it’s opened. Weil’s book is a gold mine, with a complex nature and a variety of themes which require careful navigation. Because of this it’s difficult to take ownership of Weil’s main points with just one reading.

Oppression & Liberty’s main theme pivots on an analysis of Karl Marx. Within this analysis, Weil yields a critique of Marxism. This criticism is balanced by her agreement and disagreement with Marx. For Weil, any centralised control of an economy (monopoly), leads to the oppression and tyrannical rule over those who work under it, or are made to serve it. In sum, this criticism states that despite appearances, Marxists, plutocrats and bureaucrats alike, all pose a threat to equity and morality.

The warning from Simone Weil in Oppression & Liberty is loud and clear: those who chose to entertain Marxism, big bureaucracy or crony capitalism, ride the backs of monsters.


References:

[i] Weil, S. 1955, Oppression & Liberty, 2001. Routledge Classics, ‘the dictatorship of the bureaucratic caste’ (p.14)

[ii] Weil credits Ferdinand Fried with the term and its definition.

[iii] An interesting add-on to this is Weil’s statement: ‘The communists accuse the social-democrats of being the “quartermaster-sergeants of fascism”, and they are absolutely right.’ (p.27)

[iv] Ibid, (p.178)

[v] ‘the bureaucratic oppression; the bureaucratic machine’, (p.13)

The Stamp Is Real

August 31, 2014 — 8 Comments

IMG_20140831_110903When my daughter brought this stamp to me earlier today, I couldn’t shake these four words.

The. Stamp. Is. Real.

Yesterday she was blessed with a collection of stamps from my step-father, who is himself an avid stamp collector. He seemed pretty keen to pass down some decent stamps to her from his own collection.

I’d never seen this stamp before and so I was curious about it.

Despite the obvious absence of the word ‘created’, the theological statement printed on it still speaks volumes. I also think that the absence of the word ‘created’ only intensifies the inference of meaning that the image projects.

It doesn’t point to some idea of a  ‘moral’ golden era; or an epoch of ignorance and anxiety about scientific contributions to how we understand the world around us. With the exemption of the unity (not necessarily a unity free of conflict) and freedom that Christianity has undergirded in the West for centuries, it’s debatable about whether any such eras existed anyway.

The statement on the stamp is simple.

Whether we consider creation to be word-instant or evolution-distant, it doesn’t dampen the significance of ‘In the beginning God…’ 

It may be too bold to suggest it, but there is a possible interchange, although not without some degree of caution, between Darwin’s  ‘Power of Selection’ and the ‘Power of the Holy Spirit’, which would potentially still allow room for Darwin’s original observations, whilst not endorsing natural theology {more my Pentecostal tendencies perhaps…? Either way, don’t shoot me on this, it’s a work in progress. I’ll let you know where I land}.

What the image does do is stamp onto us a point of reference outside ourselves; a point of being where we are raised beyond our ability to raise ourselves. Freely raised by God towards the goal (telos) of fellowship with Him.

When we say ‘the stamp is real’ we are saying in a round about way that something like righteousness or goodness cannot easily be dismissed as a social construct.

For this reason:goodness resides outside humanity and is only present in humanity because of God’s merciful “yes” and just “no” to us. The change in our being presupposes the power to change our being and it rests on a dynamic summons to genuine freedom. It is sealed on our hearts, in our minds and upon our souls by the Holy Spirit (Eph.4:30).

It’s not, but it might seem like a cheap pun to say that this stamp reminds us of God’s stamp-of-approval; his “Yes” in Christ as the ‘beginning’ of restoration for all creation. His words breathing life into dust – whispering purpose to us. His love grounding you and me in the person of Jesus Christ, worked out in our lives through the promise and power of the Holy Spirit (2. Peter.1:3-7).

For:

‘In Christ you were chosen before the foundation of the world.
In him you have redemption.
In him you have forgiveness.
In him you have wisdom and insight.
In him we are united.
In him we have obtained an inheritance.
In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance..’
(Ephesians 1:13-14 ESV)

The stamp is real folks.

August 22_2014 NASA Instagram

August 22_2014 NASA Instagram