The Revelations of Simone Weil: Like Alexei Navalny, she embodied her ideals despite the personal cost. (Megan Dent, Feb 25, 2024, The Dispatch)

Some may associate theology with cloisters, and mysticism with escapism. Many may associate philosophy with classrooms. Simone Weil combusts these associations. She refused to advance ideas that she had not lived or, more specifically, that she had not substantiated with her own body in the coarse complexity of the real world. She remained tenaciously committed to reality—its pain, its unpalatability, its contradictions—for all of her short and remarkable life. “She didn’t only make very strong comments, she went out and did them, which absolutely astounded people,” one scholar said recently.

In recent days, many have been similarly astounded by the example of Alexei Navalny returning to Russia in 2021, into the hands of those who’d poisoned him and who would eventually kill him. Freedom in Russia was no mere idea for Navalny. It was a hope that he carried back to his country in his own body, the novichok barely out of his bloodstream.

Much of our own politics has become the opposite: disembodied. Reductive answers to intractable questions are the bread and butter of the internet. Never has it been easier to assert, with utter conviction, ideas that are simply untethered from the irreconcilable qualities of reality. This can lead to profound dishonesty—to lies about the world as it really is. Often those making the strongest claims have the least to lose. Their own bodies aren’t on the line.

But Weil, by contrast, embodied paradoxes, evading simple political or ideological definitions. She was, in the apt words of a recent biographer, “an anarchist who espoused conservative ideals, a pacifist who fought in the Spanish Civil War, a saint who refused baptism, a mystic who was a labor militant, [and] a French Jew who was buried in the Catholic section of an English cemetery.”