French resistance hero, co-drafter of Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and author of pamphlet that helped inspire a global youth uprising, dies.
Hope has always been one of the dominant forces of revolutions and insurrections, and I still retain hope as my design for the future.
Jean-Paul Sartre, in his last interview, three weeks prior to his death.
To create is to resist. To resist is to create. Those are the words with which French resistance hero and public intellectual Stéphane Hessel closed off his 2010 pamphlet, Indignez-Vous. The 32-page booklet went on to sell 4.5 million copies in 35 countries and, a year later, helped to inspire a global youth uprising, as protesters throughout world — from the Spanish indignados and the Greek aganaktismenoi on to the occupiers at Wall Street and beyond — took up his call for a “peaceful insurrection” against the inequities of global capitalism.
Writing at the noble age of 92, Hessel urged today’s youth to resist the injustices of our globalized world — the growing gap between the rich and poor, the subversion of democracy by powerful corporations, the global ecological crisis, the systematic mistreatment of immigrants, the Israeli crimes against the Palestinian people — with the same outrage and ferocity with which his generation fought Nazi tyranny. “The reasons for outrage today may be less clear than during Nazi times,” he wrote. “But look around and you will find them.”
Stéphane Hessel lived a remarkable life in more ways than one. A Jewish-born resistance fighter who was apprehended and tortured by the Gestapo and sent to Buchenwald concentration camp, he not only survived the Holocaust by escaping imprisonment after swapping identity with a deceased friend, but also went on to become an influential French diplomat who would help draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Throughout his professional life, he remained fiercely critical of French and Israeli government policy.
Despite this — and unlike the young generation that took up his call for resistance — Hessel retained a firm commitment to liberal democracy, supporting François Hollande’s bid for the French presidency last year. Perhaps as a refusal to let go of the institutions which he risked his life defending, Hessel even expressed his skepticism about the indignados‘ unwillingness to get engaged in electoral politics in Spain, possibly mistaking their rejection of representative institutions for political apathy.
“Indifference,” wrote Hessel, “is the worst of attitudes.” Only through constant critical engagement with the social, economic, political and ecological injustices occurring around us can we start to alleviate some of the suffering experienced by our fellow human beings. In Indignez-Vous, Hessel deliberately refused to propose a concrete program for change, nor a detailed vision of an alternative world order. Rather, he saw within the act of resistance the seedlings of the creation of a better world. For Hessel, it all starts with a sense of outrage.
«Le motif de la résistance,» he wrote in his pamphlet, «c’est l’indignation.» Therefore, “we, veterans of the Resistance movements and the Free French Forces, we call upon the younger generations to revive, to pass on, the heritage of the Resistance and its ideas. We tell them: take over, indignez-vous! Get angry! Our political, economic and intellectual leaders and society as a whole should not stand down, nor let themselves be impressed by the present international dictatorship of the financial markets, which is threatening our peace and democracy.”
Hessel died on Tuesday at the age of 95. And while he died indignant at the state of the world in which he lived, he carried with him into his grave an immense dignity that could serve as a shining example to all of us involved in the struggle. “I am eagerly awaiting the taste of death,” he told RTL in an interview back in 2011. “Death is something to savor, and I hope to savor mine. In the meantime, given that it has not yet happened and that I’m generally getting around normally, I’m using the time to throw out some messages.”
Hessel may not have lived to see the full fruit of his life’s work, and his faith in liberal democracy may not be shared by those inspired by his call-to-action, but at least he got to experience the early stirrings of the global resistance that he so championed. It is through the legacy of those who chose to struggle that the fruits of resistance will one day ripen. May our comrade savor death like he savored the sweet taste of resistance and triumph in the face of the greatest evil the world has ever seen. A hero has died. Millions more will rise.
« Créer, c’est résister. Résister, c’est créer. »
To create is to resist. To resist is to create.