Friday, 7 January 2011

"Indignez-vous!" - A Beautiful French Dream?

A 19 page political essay has been hailed by Le Monde readers as the most important publication of 2010 in France.  Indignez-vous is a call to arms for the French to react to, resist and engage with society and social problems:
This is an appeal to citizens, young and old, to take responsibility for the things in our society that don't work.
The essayist, 93 year old French resistance hero Stephane Hessel, also calls on his countrymen to reclaim the spirit of the resistance in which he was part:
I would like everyone – every one of us – to find his or her own reason to cry out. That is a precious gift. When something makes you want to cry out, as I cried out against Nazism, you become a militant, tough and committed. You become part of the great stream of history... and this stream leads us towards more justice and more freedom but not the uncontrolled freedom of the fox in the hen-house. 
Featuring in bestseller lists for two months, the book has now sold over 600,000 copies - after an initial print run of just 6,000.  Indigène, the book's publisher, reportedly expects sales to top a million.  It's currently available for £2.41 on and is sold for 3€ in France, a small price to pay for an inspiration to indignation, which the author describes as "precious", and his wish for each and every reader.

While some attribute the book's success to its' appeal as a genuine battle cry from a man all too familiar with the necessity for practical action (and not just big idealistic talk), others find fault with its generalizing, unoriginal and superficial content - after all it's not uncommon to decry social and political apathy.

Social engagement and activism leading to genuine social amelioration - Hessel's contention is a rather beautiful dream, n'est pas?  But, I confess, it's one that I - as a very much post-1968 child - can't really believe in.  I'm reminded of the recent student demonstrators, surely the British poster children for committed social indignation, as individuals standing up for themselves, their peers and their descendants in a fight against the government's funding cuts and reforms.  Yet, as far as I can tell, the demonstrations achieved little in real terms - cuts will still be deep, education compromised.  Little that is, apart from a vilification of students in the press, with a violent hard core of protesters being extrapolated into a raging, dirty mass of student yobs. Kettle them all before they raze parliament! I'd be interested to hear what Hessel thinks the student demonstrators should do next.  Could he write another bestseller, another twenty or so pages on what to do when the government hasn't listened, when indignation stagnates to bitter resignation?

-- Alicia, with thanks to the folks on H-France for an initial heads up about Indignez-vous

No comments:

Post a Comment