The Need for Roots

simone-weilI read Simone Weil’s The Need for Roots at a time when life around me made its thesis particularly stark. I had been contemplating how deeply rooted most of the things are that give me joy and support in life: the work place founded half a millennium ago, my Christian faith, the LDS community, my family, my experience as an economically liberated citizen of a centuries’ old constitutional democracy. Even quirky things like the custodianship of my father’s stamp collection, stamps he has collected since the 1950s. So many good things in my life are rooted: old but not stale, secure but still dynamic.

Contrast this with the uprootings causing turmoil in the Middle East. To take one example: the plight of the Christians of Syria and Iraq whose once anciently-rooted communities have been torn up by war and terror. Writing as a French woman at the end of the Second World War, Simone Weil (1909-1943) has much to say about our societies’ current ailments while also offering us a glimpse of a nascent France in her own time.

I suppose to talk about roots is to perhaps admit a degree of conservatism but it is also to admit, if one is honest, that rootedness has much to do with the luck of birth as anything else. To build walls only around the roots of the privileged is to deny the less fortunate the opportunity to do the same. In reading, Weil I thus had my own political One Nation Conservatism confirmed. That is if I read her correctly, as the book is incredibly dense at times and much of the discussion of life in France passed me by.

Has anyone else read Weil?

I’m going to be working my way through the Church Times 100 Best Christian Books on Twitter — @bycommonconsent #ct100 #books #christian — and will post something here about one book in each group of ten. Please follow along.

Church Times 100 Best Christian Books: #100
The Need for Roots: Prelude to a Declaration of Duties Towards Mankind
by Simone Weil

From the publisher:

Hailed by Andre Gide as the patron saint of all outsiders, Simone Weil’s short life was ample testimony to her beliefs. In 1942 she fled France along with her family, going firstly to America. She then moved back to London in order to work with de Gaulle. Published posthumously The Need for Roots was a direct result of this collaboration. Its purpose was to help rebuild France after the war. In this, her most famous book, Weil reflects on the importance of religious and political social structures in the life of the individual. She wrote that one of the basic obligations we have as human beings is to not let another suffer from hunger. Equally as important, however, is our duty towards our community: we may have declared various human rights, but we have overlooked the obligations and this has left us self-righteous and rootless. She could easily have been issuing a direct warning to us today, the citizens of Century 21.

Judges’ and contributors’ comments:

This dense book was written by the French philosopher Simone Weil in 1943 looking for a regeneration of society after the War. She sees society as having been ‘Uprooted’ from its real foundations and shows how new roots could be established politically, spiritually and socially. Its radical nature means that it has been ignored especially by those who need to understand it, not least our political and spiritual leaders. This is a book to grapple with, and to allow it to disturb us.


  1. Jason K. says:

    Thanks for this, Ronan. Not that I need more to read, but that’s a pretty great list. I’m looking forward to your future reviews. Can I put a plug in for Sarah Coakley’s “God, Sexuality, and the Self” when the time comes around? I reviewed it for BCC, but I’d love you read your response to it.

  2. Yes, this is important. This one has been on my to do list for a while.

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