Who is Simone Weil?

In her short life, Simone Weil (1909-1943) fought in the Spanish Civil War, worked as a machine operator and farm laborer, debated Trotsky, taught high school students and union members, and was part of the French Resistance. The daughter of affluent Jewish parents, she spent her life advocating for the poor and disenfranchised in France and for colonized people around the world, bravely organizing and writing on their behalf. A consummate outsider, who distrusted ideologies of any kind, at 34, Simone Weil left behind a body of work that fills fifteen volumes and establishes her as a brilliant political, social, and spiritual thinker.

In her writings, she analyzed power and its dehumanizing effects, outlined a doctrine of attention and empathy for human suffering, and critiqued Stalinism long before most of the French left-wing. She believed intellectual work should be combined with physical work, and that theories should evolve from close observation and direct experience.  And, after three Christian mystical experiences, she began grappling with religious faith, its role in human history, and the shortcomings of organized religion. Her best-known works, all published posthumously, are Gravity & Grace, Oppression & Liberty, Waiting for God, and The Need for Roots.

Her ideas have influenced countless people, including Susan Sontag, Graham Greene, and T.S. Eliot. The New York Times described her as “one of the most brilliant and original minds of twentieth-century France.” But by far her biggest advocate was the existentialist philosopher Albert Camus who played a major role in getting her work published after her death. He even made a pilgrimage to her writing room before leaving for Stockholm to receive the Nobel Prize in 1957. Yet, despite these luminary supporters, Simone Weil is a little-known figure, practically forgotten in her native France, and rarely taught in universities or secondary schools. Slowly that is starting to change. Our goal is for An Encounter with Simone Weil to fuel a growing interest in Weil at a time when her ideas and her example are uncannily relevant to the world today.