Book review: Hessel and Morin — The Road to Hope

  • January 18, 2012

People & Protest

Pierre Laernoes reviews the latest book by the 94-year old French resistance hero and author of Indignez-Vous. The road to hope lies in transformation.

“Under good government, poverty is shame; under bad government, wealth is shame.”

— Confucius

You may remember Stéphane Hessel, the 94-year old French resistance hero, from his various notable efforts in the name of humanity. His latest contributions are mainly delivered in writing, in the form of books or pamphlets, such as Indignez-Vous. Hessel’s call for indignation and taking action was heard beyond the French boarders and inspired the name of the Spanish indignados movement, that rapidly spread throughout Europe and to the United States.

Now that the feeling of indignation has ignited all around the globe (from North Africa to Spain, and from Greece to India), content must be given to those movements. In a more opinionated piece entitled Le Chemin de l’Espérance (the Road to Hope), Hessel, along with Edgar Morin, tries to present his constructive ideas to the global problems humanity is facing.

In the last few weeks, there has been quite some talk about the creation of a Global Forum for what has come to be called the Occupy movement. At these occupation sites, one can often notice the disparity of causes and the lack of unity in the demonstrators’ claims. This is one of the crucial elements picked up by ROAR activists during the manifestation in Amsterdam on October 15th.

The necessity for clear content and structured solutions to problems created by neoliberal economics (best described as a three-fold phenomenon of globalization, development and westernization), is a dire one. The impotence of the global economic system to redress vital issues condemns it to disintegration or regression, unless it manages to create the conditions of its own metamorphosis, which would allow humanity to survive and to transform itself.

Clearly, to engage in this metamorphosis there must be discourse and debate on the content. It is to this process that Hessel & Morin aim to contribute, clearly stating at the end of Le Chemin de l’Espérance that: “Our suggestions are not exhaustive, they are formulated to be criticized, completed, reinterpreted.” It is in the same line of thought that ROAR is actively publishing articles to contribute to the content of this global revolutionary movement.

Once again, Hessel attempts to ignite people’s minds, instigating them to reflect and to participate. Naturally, I would invite you to read this short book if possible. In addition, the aim of this short article is to engage in a discussion on the matters discussed in Le Chemin de L’Espérance.

What are the problems?

Hessel & Morin present a structured argument. First of all, what are the problems facing humanity as a whole? According to the authors, the negative side of globalization has allowed for an uncontrolled race towards a chain of catastrophes.

The unchecked take-off of the manipulative and destructive powers of science and technology and of profit-based economics are responsible for the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the degradation of the biosphere, and the replacement of 20th century totalitarian regimes with a limitless financial capitalism, which reduces states and people to mere subjects of speculation, creating the conditions for a return of xenophobia and racism.

In detail, the problems are various: the untamed appetite of making profit, the degradation of social solidarity, the hyper-bureaucratization of public administration, the exacerbation and pressure of competitiveness (a degenerated form of competition), the domination of the quantitative over the qualitative, the intoxication of consumers, the degradation of products and of food by industrialization, the impotence of consumers, the powerlessness of small and middle-size farmers, and so on.

What are the solutions?

1) Globalize and de-globalize

One of the solutions presented is to globalize and to de-globalize at the same time. We must maintain the globalization of what gives us humans the feeling of community in destiny, of facing life-threatening concerns together — in other words, we must globalize consciousness. But we must de-globalize the economy at the same time, to make room for a social economy and an economy of solidarity, to safeguard local autonomy.

To transform, we must substitute the unilateral imperative of growth with a complex imperative, identifying what should grow and what should not. Sectors that could grow include green energy, public transport, social work, education, culture and arts, and sustainable infrastructure aimed at the humanization of large urban centers.

In parallel, we must decrease industrialized agriculture, fossil fuel and the use of nuclear energy, reduce our dependence on intermediary parasites (such as large distribution companies), war industries, advertising and consumer intoxication, superfluous consumption and wasteful lifestyles. Instead of arguing for growth or against, it seems more coherent to make a list of what should grow and what should not.

If we realize that the metamorphosis needed can only occur via the development of a multiform process, we can already suggest a renewed form of global governance which would transform and reform the United Nations (a fundamentally flawed body at the ethical level).

2) The Politics of Well-Living

In opposition to well-being, which has come the mean nothing more than a material measure of comfort, well-living does include some material well-being, but needs to be opposed to a quantitative conception in pursuit of the illusionary well-being of ‘always more’.

As such, it focuses on a well-being in affection, self-realization and development, and morality. Hessel uses the image of prosaic life versus poetic life. Prose is what we live without joy, in obligation — while poetry is all that provides us with fervor, exaltation, fulfillment and what we find in love, friendship, collective activities, music, dance, parties, games. Prose allows us to survive, poetry makes us feel alive!

3) The Revitalization of Solidarity

Hessel suggest the creation of Brotherhood Houses in cities to regroup all the social public institutions to provide for a better, stronger and more accessible social service center. These centers will become hubs of friendship and of attention for others. Hessel & Morin also emphasize the necessity of creating a civic service of fraternity to amend the  gaping social hole of Western society.

4) The Politics of Youth

One oft-debated issue these days is insecurity. At the core of this problem is often the youth. We should remember that the violence and criminality arising from youth in socio-economic difficulty, is that the ones who are rejected by society will reject it in turn. Prevention is key. It is a matter of recognizing one’s dignity.

Today’s youth is the weak link, as it remains the least integrated element in the global economy — but in another way, it could also be the strongest link, owing to the enormous energy, the great aspiration, and the vast capacity for revolt it possesses.

As such, the youth can be explosive and act as an emancipator, but it can also be destructive if rejected and marginalized. Examples are numerous: France in 2005, Tunisia in early 2011, London in the summer of 2011. Again, the key element to remember is the need to recognize the dignity of those individuals.

5) Fighting Inequality

When thinking of the shortcomings of capitalism, the first thing that comes to mind are the social inequalities the system tends to produce. The increase of those inequalities aggravates the forms of poverty and greatly contributes to social misery, increasing the power of the rich and intensifying corruption within the ruling class — all while a small oligarchy enjoys incredible fiscal privileges.

Hessel and Morin suggest the creation of three permanent councils: a council for the struggle against inequality, launching an attack on excesses in remuneration at the top and on what is lacking at the basis of society; a council aimed at inverting the capital-labor disequilibrium created since the 1980s; and a council dealing with social and human transformation — the later being in charge of dealing with natural, biological and social problems induced by the degradation of the biosphere.

Until now, this article has presented various elements of Hessel and Morin’s discourse. It is not detailed and does not present all their points of argument. Furthermore they state themselves that their observations and analyses are not exhaustive. They are about creating the content of our Revolutions. Most of the solutions presented have been elaborated in the French context. However much of these ideas may be exported and adapted to a different socio-economic-cultural environment.

I would like to invite to read the works by Stéphane Hessel, resistance hero and world advocate of humanity and to react in any form that seems suitable to you.

Pierre Laernoes

Pierre Laernoes is a Dutch-French musician and translator based in Utrecht, the Netherlands.

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