The Power of Words: Conflict Without Objective

In the opening paragraph of The Power of Words Simone Weil notes that while technology has provided a degree of security by giving a measure of control over nature, the threats of conflict and destruction between groups of men cancel out any potential benefit or security that technology brings. Weil however, suggests it is futile to blame technology for the creation of weapons that deliver mass destruction as ‘it is dishonest to blame inert matter for a situation in which the entire responsibility is our own.’ (p.239)

In observing (and participating in) the conflicts of her time, the Spanish Civil War, the conflicts between communists and fascists, or between factory workers and capitalists, Weil concludes that the true danger of these conflicts is that ‘they are conflicts with no definable objective’ (p.239) and that history attests to the fact that conflicts without objective are the most bitter and the most bloody.

A conflict with a clear objective provides a measure of proportion and a guide for the effort and cost necessary. However, a conflict with no objective allows for no assessment of proportion or balance of alternatives. In a conflict without an objective, the very conflict and sacrifices already incurred becomes the justification for continuing the conflict and sacrifice. Weil grimly remarks that in such conflicts ‘there would never be any reason to stop killing and dying, except that there is fortunately a limit to human endurance.’ (p.240)

Weil is interested in examining the root of such conflicts, and not their symptoms. Despite her Marxist background and anarchist activity in the Spanish Civil War, Weil does not see it as necessary to explain conflict through economic, colonial or religious struggles. She baldly states that ‘there is no needs of gods or conspiracies to make men rush headlong into the most absurd disasters. Human nature suffices.’ (p.241)

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