Stéphane Hessel: Indignez-Vous! /Time for Outrage!/Empört Euch!



Bookaroundthecorner reviewed this tiny little booklet a few days ago and since I had bought it last October when it came out and am one of the happy few to own a first edition, I thought I might as well read it. Besides it is only 13 pages long + an additional 14 of introduction and afterword.

Since the French original came out the essay has been translated into many different languages and is a success pretty much everywhere. There is always a very good indicator whether a book is spoken of in Germany when you look at the number of reviews and the number of comments the reviews get on amazon and whether there are articles and TV programs on Swiss TV as well.

Reviews of Indignez-vous! generated up to 200 comments on One could say that Stéphane Hessel hit a nerve.

In France alone it sold far over 600’000 copies, in Germany I think it hit the 1’000’000 mark a while back already.

Hessel, a German Jew,  is a charismatic man and  looks back on a life story that isn’t shared by many. Hero of the Resistance, member of de Gaulle’s Free French organisation in London, he was captured upon returning to France in 1944, tortured and sent to two different concentration camps which he both escaped. He helped to draft the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 and became a famous French advocate for Human Rights.

With this background and credibility it isn’t surprising that he would make people listen.

Time for Outrage!

Time for Outrage!

Hessel wants to incite a sense of outrage in his readers. Outrage is the fuel for resistance and the only way to stop things as he says. Our world is drifting away from democratic principles with the supremacy of money over everything else.

The worst attitude facing social injustice and exploitation is indifference. There are numerous things that outrage Hessel, one of the most important ones – and source of a lot of controversy – is his take on the situation in Palestine and his statements against the Israeli government. Despite being of Jewish origins he was promptly accused of anti-Semitism. Silly, really as there is a long tradition of Jewish intellectuals,  starting with Hannah Arendt, who criticized Israel.

Empört Euch!

Empört Euch!

It may come as a surprise but his answer to all the problems and conflicts is non-violence. Be outraged, do not stay indifferent and change things in a nonviolent way, is his core message.

That this book is such a success in France where the current politics give a lot of reason for outrage isn’t surprising. That it is an equal success in Germany isn’t any more astonishing. You cannot write anything and name Jews, Resistance, Nazism, concentration camps and Israel and not be read in Germany. To overlook this book would seem to many a German intellectual almost a sign of anti-Semitism. But there is more to it. His call for non-violence is something that strikes a chord in Germany more than anywhere else. The last time people were really outraged, they ended up killing people (RAF) and this cannot be a solution.

Still, why is it such a success? I think because it is so unflinching. There isn’t any superfluous word in this slim book, no adornment, no digression.

It is short and to the point and tells you without any ambiguities what his author considers to be right and wrong.

I am one of those who is against all sorts of relativism that seems to me just a means to avoid clear thinking and taking responsibility. The most outrageous things are just explained away by people who do not want to take position. There isn’t an excuse for everything, no matter how much some would like this. I particularly abhor cultural relativism and can still remember how I was ostracized as a young student because I dared criticizing the practice of female genital mutilation practiced in many African countries. One female fellow student dared telling me that I was “showing all the sings of the deluded belief of Western and Judeo-Christian supremacy” in criticising an African custom. Now I may be naive but I think whenever something harms someone it can not be right, whether this may be rooted in someone’s culture or not.

Another point in which I agree with Hessel is when he makes clear that outrage that leads to terror is not a solution.

Hessel would like to reach young people but I have my doubts whether his essay is read by the very young. I think those under 30 are getting more and more apolitical. I’m not even sure that growing insecurity will wake them up. Still, one should always try.

Hessel is a “phenomenon” that our world needs. A world that tends to pay attention to the young and good-looking rather than to the elderly. Although strong in numbers they seem to be treated more and more like a minority.  We need positive role models in every age group. Hessel demonstartes that you can be 93 years old and your thinking can still be fresh, your engagement intense and your ideas important enough to create an interest in a lot of people.

I attached a great interview for German-speaking readers.

14 thoughts on “Stéphane Hessel: Indignez-Vous! /Time for Outrage!/Empört Euch!

  1. Thank goodness people with integrity and authority like Hessel are still publishing this sort of thing and getting their voices heard. Money dulls and distorts principles and goodness only knows that we still desperately need our principles in this crazy world.

    • It’s great, isn’t it? One would never think it is possible that his message can get so much attention. I’m a bit annoyed by the English cover. Why did they have to choose French colors. This marginalizes the book. The recption in France and Germany is where different. In France it is seen as a political manifesto for the socilaist party whereas in Germany and Switzerland they empahisze the universality of his message.

  2. I enjoy reading your post a lot.
    Did you know that most Muslim hate Israel for attacking Palestine? I am one of them,BUT I am not anti Jewish in the sense that I do not hate ALL Jewish, I only hate Israel as a country. I am very curious with this book, such thin book with a very deep thought.

    • Thanks, Novia. I have a feeling it will be available online shortly. What he says about Israel is not appreciated at all. In France there is already a wave of anti Indignez-vous! publications. I think Germany and Switzerland react much more positive after all. Switzerland obviously, we are a neutral country and against all war in any case and Germayn, I guess because they learned from the history. You are correct and it is important to state it again and again. Being against the Israeli politics isn’t being anti-Semitic. It’s a very bad situation and once more an inheritance from WWII.

  3. I read Book Around the Corner’s review and have thought about this little book a few times since then. Is its popularity, do you think, partially due to the number of wars around the globe?

    • I guess to a certain extent people would like to believe that conflicts could be resolved in a non-violent way and that’s how he gives hope but I do believe what is herad much more is his call to fight indifference and to state clearly that not everything is acceptable. From what I read of the reception of the book, at least outside of France, non-violence isn’t really mentioned all that often.
      In France there is a counter-reaction that is very strong. The proble I personally have with the book is that it should serve as a political manifesto for a certain part. No matter what they say all over the globe, I haven’t seen one party in the past handling things better than another one. Politics mostly equals corruption.

  4. This is completely new to me – but a book I would very much like to read. Your review is highly informative and the link to the video is very useful – so thanks for sharing

    • You’re welcome. It is short but worth reading and reading the reactions as well. The interview is very interesting. The journalist is Swiss. I don’t know if you know the TV station, 3sat, it is a Swiss/German/Austrian co-production and usually very good. A lot of cultural programs.

  5. I didn’t know it was translated into English. The cover is ugly, it ridicules a respectable intelligent old man.

    Your review perfectly gives the tone of the book. I see you liked it more than I did. Your analysis is accurate. Still, I can’t see the draw. There’s nothing new in what he says and I expected a new light. That’s why I was so disappointed.

    I’m not saying he isn’t right (he is) but other voices have been saying the same things for years. You just need to listen to the good radio shows and stop watching TF1 at 8pm. I think television is playing with fire by frightening people to catch audience with sensational news. Frightened people vote for what they think is security and close themselves to everything foreign. I think the older you get, the more attached you are to security. And our countries get older and older. I’m curious to see what will happen in France in 2018-2025 when the baby-boom of years 2000 is old enough to vote and baby-boomers from the 1940s aren’t so numerous.

    PS: I think it’s seen as a manifesto for the socialist party as Stéphane Hessel has always acted as a counsellor for liberals. (He worked for Mendes-France for example). He wasn’t a Gaullist.

    • The English cover is horrible. Really bad a great disservice to the booklet. The last part is where I have a problem. I don’t like manifesto’s but did I like it overall? Yes and no. I wasn’t disappointed, it’s pretty much what I expected and I sort of liked the brevity. I think it is important that one says the same things over and over again but there are a few points that are not thought through to the end. I think the reactions are interesting, he is an interesting person. I didn’t have the time for a thorough analysis which would imply reading more articles etc. See what those who criticize him say. Given the fact that I bought it before it was spoken of says that it might be somewhat more in line with my thinking on the other hand the word “résistance” caught my interest. Slightly misleading.

  6. I’d not heard of this before–I will have to check out your link as it does not appear to be available in the US–Amazon shows the UK (am guessing it is a UK pub?) publication. I also wonder about the younger generation and their indifference. With so many advances you would think the world would be such a better place but there seem to be just as many problems and maybe even more…

    • Yes, you are right. To a certain extent the younger generations is Europe and the US have really been pampered. Why fight if you have everything? Whnever I see an interview or article about Hessel it is hardly ever by a young journalist either.

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