Finding Comfort in the Need for Roots

I suspect that this is the second time (and perhaps not the last) in my working life as an adult when it will be my job to put on my game face, stiffen the ol’ upper lip, and go help other people process a big change in their world. I am no better prepared for it now than I was the last time.

I, too, am looking for comfort and help to process the change in the world. It is not the end of the world. Not yet, anyway. Nonetheless, it is a change, and I have to find a way to deal with it, just like everyone else. For me, finding a way to deal with it today (like so many days) involves turning to books.

A long while back, I ran a Women in Philosophy and Religion seminar in which we narrowed our focus to three authors: Simone de Beauvoir, Simone Weil, and Hannah Arendt. The choice was deliberate. I wanted students to see (a little bit, anyway) what these women saw in Europe, in humankind, and in themselves. It was, I think, a pretty good class, and the various texts worked very well together (especially Arendt and Weil). Sadly, I’m pretty sure I couldn’t get students here to enroll in a class like that now, but I wish I could.

I wish I could just sit down with them and read Weil’s The Need for Roots. It’s not an easy book, and there is much in it that one ought to question, but I think it is a timely book just the same. I want to read it next to The Origins of Totalitarianism again, and compare Arendt’s and Weil’s diagnoses of the conditions of their time, which might shed some small light on how we got where we are now. Note that I’m not suggesting some facile, oversimplified comparison of Trump to Hitler. No, what I’m interested in is the people (all of us), not The Man, and I think these women give us a humane and humbling (and sometimes a bit frightening) way to think about that and about what might be done.

Discourses, Up Close

A tiny little bit of the Loeb Classical Library edition of the first two volumes of the Discourses of Epictetus.

I also want to sit down with Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius. I wish I could show my students the subtle differences in their Stoicism, the ways in which their respective positions in the world might change how they understand what they’re doing. I’m currently reading Beyond Good and Evil with a class, and I wish we were far enough along and deeply enough acquainted with Nietzsche to see both the warning and the hope in a book like that.

One finds comfort where one can.


About L. M. Bernhardt

For a good long while (15 years or so), I taught philosophy at a little private university in northwest IA, and occasionally branched out into playing music, dabbling in photography, experimenting with food, and writing nonsense on my blog. The philosophy teaching part ended in 2017 (program elimination via prioritization), but never fear! I've just finished my MLIS at San Jose State University, and I'm currently on the market looking for new adventures in either philosophy or LIS. For now, I labor at a fairly interesting administrative job in order to support my dogs in the lavish manner to which they've become accustomed.
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4 Responses to Finding Comfort in the Need for Roots

  1. Sounds like a great class. I read Simone Weil in bits and pieces as a college student, but I can’t remember what work I read. There was an interesting combination of Christianity with certain elements of Marxism, as I recall, if I’m getting this right.

    And Arendt feels so a propos right now.


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