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the Complete Review
the complete review - polemic


Time for Outrage !

Stéphane Hessel

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To purchase Time for Outrage !

Title: Time for Outrage !
Author: Stéphane Hessel
Genre: Polemic
Written: 2010 (Eng. 2011)
Length: 37 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Time for Outrage ! - US
Time for Outrage ! - UK
Time for Outrage ! - Canada
Indignez-vous ! - Canada
Time for Outrage ! - India
Indignez-vous ! - France
Empört Euch ! - Deutschland
Indignatevi ! - Italia
¡Indignaos! - España
  • French title: Indignez-vous !
  • Translated by Damion Searls, with Alba Arikha
  • Foreword by Charles Glass
  • Also published (in the US) in the 7-14 March 2011 issue of The Nation

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Our Assessment:

C : muddled (if passionate) polemic

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 11/2/2011 Christian Geyer
Frankfruter Rundschau . 10/1/2011 Arno Widmann
Libération . 11/11/2010 Eric Loret
The New Republic . 17/2/2011 Adam Kirsch
Télérama . 9/1/2011 Thierry Leclère
Le Temps . 4/1/2011 Caroline Stevan
TLS A 15/4/2011 Sudhir Hazareesingh
Die Zeit . 14/1/2011 Gero von Randow

  From the Reviews:
  • "Warum 3,99 Euro für diese dreißig Seiten hinlegen ? Weil man dafür ein Lebenselixier erhält, eine Erinnerung an das Beste in uns." - Christian Geyer, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Es sind nicht die Anliegen Stéphane Hessels, die einen seinen kleinen Essay skeptisch betrachten lassen. Es ist der Überschwang, das Feuer. Aber das ist sicher einer der Gründe für den Erfolg des kleinen Pamphlets. In Gestalt von Stéphane Hessel meldet sich gewissermaßen der Gründungsmythos des neuen Frankreich -- die Résistance -- selbst zu Wort. Sie stimmt ein Klagelied an: Ihr verratet meine Ideale, ihr verratet mich. Aber sie bleibt nicht dabei stehen. Sie ruft zum Kampf gegen diesen Verrat auf." - Arno Widmann, Frankfruter Rundschau

  • "Hessel en appelle à chacun, pour qu'il se trouve un «motif d'indignation» afin de résister." - Eric Loret, Libération

  • "Hessel blames the paralysis of the Third Republic on the selfishness of the rich. But surely another important cause was the debasement of its political discourse, its rhetoric of treason and subversion -- in short, its toxic level of indignation. "Get angry" is not a political motto. It is an anti-political motto. And it may be that it is this legacy, rather than the noble legacy of the Resistance, that Indignez-vous ! is actually transmitting to its millions of frightened readers." - Adam Kirsch, The New Republic

  • "Indispensable." - Thierry Leclère, Télérama

  • "(A) rousing call to reject apathy and engage in a "peaceful insurrection" against all the injustices that blight the contemporary world (.....) Above all, Time for Outrage ! is eloquently indignant about the enduring violations of Palestinian rights by Israel, with the complicity of the international community (.....) Hessel’s outrage also reflects the despair of many French progressives at the vapid and fissiparous state of the Left. He does not address or seek to transcend this fragmentation; indeed it might be argued that his appeal remains rooted in a moralist individualism which inherently limits the scope for effective collective action." - Sudhir Hazareesingh, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Das ist alles recht grob geschnitzt, stellenweise falsch, trifft aber einen Nerv im Land der Égalité." - Gero von Randow, Die Zeit

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Time for Outrage ! is a small, short pamphlet -- Hessel's own contribution takes up less than twenty pages of the English translation (even with its very generously spaced pages) -- but it struck a nerve, proving to be a document of and for the times, at least in France. In just a few months it has already sold somewhere near a million copies (published in the fall of 2010, it nevertheless was -- by far -- the bestselling book in France in 2010); as I write this it is still the bestselling title on the French Amazon site, as well as now at the German Amazon (the UK one ? not so much ...). This call for outrage clearly resonates with a French readership -- in no small part because of its author, a moral authority (heroic member of the French resistance, Nazi concentration camp survivor, and diplomat who helped draft the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights) who, now a nonagenarian, here calls on the young to show their outrage, in the spirit of the French resistance. It's a heartwarming success story; too bad it's a pretty poor piece of work.
       Hessel begins his polemic with a reminder of the National Council of the Resistance's programme, finalized on 15 March 1944, "a collection of principles and values for Free France that still provides the foundation of our country’s modern democracy". He finds that: "All of these social rights at the core of the Programme of the Resistance are today under attack", from freedom of the press to education without discrimination, and he points the finger straight at a culture and politics that venerates only "the power of money" -- which "has never been as great and selfish and shameless as it is now" The critique of capitalism is loud, harsh, and completely superficial, and Hessel does himself (and his readers) no favors with simplistic pronouncements such as:

The gap between richest and poorest has never been so wide, competition and the circulation of capital never so encouraged.
       Whether the gap has ever been so wide depends, of course, on definitions (details of the sort Hessel never bothers with -- not even bothering to say: gap in what ?). France remains a state with relatively low income inequality -- its Gini coefficient is apparently up to about 33, but in recent decades (and especially in the early 21st century) it was among the lowest of the major industrial nations (see, for example, the chart on this page); it remains in a whole different league than, for example, the far more unequal US (and also does not appear to be at any sort of historic domestic high). (Seen globally the issue is far more complex, but a very visible super-rich class shouldn't obscure widespread (if uneven) general gains in quality of life.) As to the 'competition and circulation of capital', surely in the past year or two -- certainly in the time before Hessel penned these few words -- there's been a damper put on that, too (whatever it is). Possibly Hessel points his accusing finger in the right direction, but with just such ... outraged flailing about he is presenting the problems and issues only in the most simplistic terms.
       Hessel observes: "My long life has given me a steady succession of reasons for outrage", and he's done well to constructively channel that outrage; clearly he means to exhort his readers to follow a similar path, specifically the "young people of today". Indeed, Time for Outrage ! -- or, as the even more to the point French title, Indignez-vous !, has it -- is a clarion call for ... outrage itself, which Hessel thinks will lead to something good. He even suggests: "Look around you, and you will find things that vindicate your outrage (...) Seek, and ye shall find !" -- suggesting it's okay for outrage to precede having a reason for that outrage: it's good enough to feel that indignation, and then just find something to channel it against. Preferably something good for society, obviously -- though Hessel doesn't consider the other, rather less constructive ways youth have often found to channel pent-up and very general outrage. (At least Hessel is careful in promoting non-violence here --it seems to have dawned on him that just unleashing outrage, without any checks, might not be the best thing.)
       Hessel maintains:
The Western obsession with productivity has brought the world to a crisis that we can escape only with a radical break from the headlong rush for ‘more, always more’ in the financial realm as well as in science and technology. It is high time that concerns for ethics, justice and sustainability prevail.
       Admirable though this may be (maybe ...), there's not much argument in support or defense of this argument -- well, this is a polemic, after all, and apparently there isn't space for that sort of thing here -- but it's odd then that when he gets down to what's really upsetting him he reveals (and goes on at (relatively) considerable length) that: "Today, my strongest feeling of indignation is over Palestine, both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank". This is certainly a situation which one can get indignant about; nevertheless, it has relatively little to do with, for example, the "Western obsession with productivity". And that is perhaps the greatest failing of Time for Outrage !: polemicizing aside, it's simply (and even literally) all over the map, without any focus. Hessel beats his chest and incites with the broadest of generalizations, but even those sympathetic to his causes can't make or take much from arguments that are often little more than simplistic preaching ("It is high time that concerns for ethics, justice and sustainability prevail" ! Amen !).
       Hessel apparently suggests that people choose their own targets -- once they're good and outraged already ... -- but maybe a more carefully considered explanation of what specifically they should be outraged about (beyond vague perceptions such as: "The immense gap between the very poor and the very rich never ceases to expand"), and what might be done about it, would be more helpful. Hessel's idealistic call to the barricades is all well and good (and French), but ultimately -- as presented -- not very constructive. (It looks all the more feeble when contrasted with the peoples' movements in the Maghreb countries and Egypt of early 2011, where outrage has been well harnessed and channeled.)
       Hessel mouths the right sentiments:
I am convinced that the future belongs to nonviolence, to the reconciliation of different cultures.
       But as presented this is little more than idealistic wishful thinking. Who wouldn't love the 'reconciliation of different cultures' ? (Well, once we figured out what's meant by 'reconciliation' -- which some 'cultures' surely would see rather differently than others.)
       In best polemic manner, Hessel notes: "Yet we must keep up hope -- we must always hope" -- but it's this reliance on vague feeling, on that 'thing with feathers', rather than tangible, constructive criticism and ideas (the only call for action here is a call simply for (outraged) action) that limits the value of this pamphlet.
       Hessel closes with a reminder of the sixtieth anniversary of the programme of the National Council of the Resistance in 2004 (yes, at least he elegantly brings his short essay around full-circle), and notes the Resistance veterans:
continue to call for ‘a true peaceful uprising against the means of mass communication that offer nothing but mass consumption as a prospect for our youth, contempt for the least powerful in society and for culture, general amnesia and the outrageous competition of all against all.’
       So even in closing, he offers only the most general broadsides against what's become of modern (French) society.
       What's sad about all this is that this man is better than this. His accomplishments endow Hessel with great moral authority -- but he still has to present his arguments better (and to present better arguments -- the basic thrust of this, the simplistic 'indignez-vous !' is, as presented, just plain silly); there's no reason to think he wouldn't have been capable of it.
       Substantively, this polemic is tremendously disappointing.

       If of questionable literary value, Time for Outrage ! must nevertheless be taken very seriously, its phenomenal success (at least in France) suggesting Hessel did something very right (as did his publisher, in how they priced and packaged the essay). Charles Glass' useful Foreword to the UK (Quartet) edition provides some context (and additional background information about Hessel's fascinating life), but there's probably a whole book in describing and analyzing how the French took to this short essay, and why. As to how it will resonate -- and who it might incite to outraged action ... -- that (at this point) still remains to be seen.

- M.A.Orthofer, 27 February 2011

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Time for Outrage !: Reviews:

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About the Author:

       French diplomat and author Stéphane Hessel was born in 1917.

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© 2011 the complete review

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