Reimagining American Community



imone Weil’s distinctive amalgam of admirers — which ranges from Catholic popes to Marxist critics and includes writers as diverse as Albert Camus and T.S. Eliot–provides already a hint as to why Weil inspires many of us here at Solidarity Hall.

Famously erudite, she was a graduate of the most elite schools in France (including the renowned Lycee Henri IV).  Never satisfied with mere political theorizing, she worked in a factory for a year in the 1930s to understand the reality of a worker’s day-to-day existence.

The same quality in Weil that makes her unacceptably extreme to mainstream thought or to society intellectuals like Susan Sontag, makes her a very useful starting point for those of us interested in questioning fundamentals.  Weil absolutely rejected the modern age’s lowering of standards inaugurated by Hobbes, Locke, Smith and their French counterparts.  For her and her kindred spirits, the striving for spiritual perfection will remain forever the natural estate of man.  Money, rights, democracy and similar ‘middle values’ (as Weil called them) cannot of themselves form a human culture.

Among her other broad themes was our need for roots (also the title of one of her most influential works).  Also: the centrality of labor in a well-organized culture, and the need to connect all labor with beauty, which is a religious category for Weil (discussed in her essay, Prerequisite to Dignity of Labor). Along with her skepticism about progress, especially in philosophy, but also as a technological project.   Finally, the vital connection she saw between love and truth.

Simone Weil died in 1943 at the age of 34.

About the Author
Paul Grenier grew up in a working class northern California suburb. While his New England father was out building factories and shopping malls, his Austrian WWII refugee mother was instilling in him a love for Tolstoy. The result has been something of a split professional personality. Currently he does urban redevelopment work by day, and writes, translates or philosophizes with Russian friends by night. In the past he has worked as a simultaneous (Russian-English) interpreter and as a researcher and writer at a New York think tank. He has written for the Huffington Post, the Baltimore Sun, Godspy, and Second Spring, among other places (torture or city architecture being the most frequent topics). Paul enjoys re-reading Jane Austen and Harry Potter novels in Spanish. He gets a thrill from teaching teenagers at St. Nicholas Orthodox Cathedral in Washington, D.C., a little gig he recently took on with the support of his wonderful wife and co-teacher, Svetlana. Despite his best efforts to be sociable, he often retreats into a (Platonic) cave and refuses to come out for tea.