Portrait Courtesy of La Voix De L’enfant
Since its publication in October 2010, Stéphane Hessel’s manifesto Time for Outrage! has sold somewhere in the vicinity of 3 million copies and been translated into 40 different languages, which is pretty remarkable for a thin political pamphlet written by a 94-year-old. Then again, Stéphane isn’t an ordinary 94-year-old—he’s a genuine hero of the French Resistance who survived two concentration camps and took part in drafting the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Time for Outrage! so captivatingly expresses discontent with the past decades of financial and political oppression it’d spark political awakening even in the worst kind of glassy-eyed Jersey Shore fan. Not surprisingly, there’s been some controversy over Stéphane’s pamphlet, but we’re sure he can handle it. When we spoke to him recently, he sounded as robust and clever as ever.
VICE: Why do you think you’ve been criticized for inciting “indignation for indignation’s sake” and condoning violence?
Stéphane Hessel: People who don’t go beyond reading the title tend to interpret it in the wrong way. I agree, indignation for indignation’s sake would lead nowhere. Indignation must have an outcome, and the outcome must be an engagement, a taking on of responsibility, which then leads you to action.
Is it OK to get angry in the sense of going out on the streets and smashing things, like the August riots in London?
That was something very specific: a matter of culture clashes and people not being recognized in the way they want to be recognized. In the suburbs of our large cities those issues are important, but they shouldn’t be confused with the general movement of the indignant, which is a nonviolent fight against the financial powers.
How does one fight such an enemy?
It is more difficult to fight a vague enemy like the financial powers than it is to fight a foreign army that is occupying your territory. But it’s just as important. It’s a fight that can be waged by mobilizing ordinary people with electoral power and making them aware that things can be changed and must be changed. The problems we face today are just as dangerous as the fascist, Stalinist, and other big movements, which were overcome by mobilizing civic resistance.
I take it you support the Occupy movement?
Yes! Important values, such as fighting social injustice and the preservation of the planet, are not being met by our governments; therefore, it is time for us to protest.
What would you tell young people who feel the world is fucked no matter what they do?
Well, my first message is that if you open your eyes, you will find something that is unacceptable and then be shaken out of your indifference. You will get worried, as you should be, and feel that you should do something about it. It is not impossible even for smaller groups to become efficient if they are determined. Indifference has always existed. Even during the Second World War, for instance, the Resistance in France was a small minority. But the small minority was finally accepted as the necessary guide to the future. If things are allowed to go on the way they are now, in about 20 years, it won’t be possible to live on this planet anymore.
Do you believe the world could change for the better?
Not only is it possible, it is certain and necessary. We live in a world that needs a radical transformation. When that need is felt all over the world, it’s sure to happen. I only hope it will happen soon because we’ve already lost a decade.