The 94-Year-Old Frenchman Behind ‘Occupy’
Stephane Fredric Hessel's best-selling brochure helped launch the movement.
December 4, 2011 - 12:01 am
The very concept of getting “outraged“ was already successfully tried in 1996 by another French author with similar political views. Viviane Forrester authored the much lengthier but equally thin in intellectual terms L’Horreur Economique (The Economic Horror). As for the tent villages on public space, that had been tested in Paris from 2006 to 2009 by “Les Enfants de Don Quichotte” (“Don Quixote’s Children”), a group agitating for housing rights.
In his recently released book Red Army, Aaron Klein argues that the old radical and pro-Soviet networks of the Cold War era have resurfaced in contemporary American politics. This powerful organization helped Barack Obama conquer the Democratic Party and then the White House, and this American Red Army, as he calls it, stands behind the Occupy Wall Street movement.
What Klein says about the U.S. is true of many other countries as well. Most of the radical groups that have been operating in Western countries since the mid-90s — from the anti-globalist and Green movements to the Islamists and anti-Israel militants — can be traced to radical and pro-Soviet Cold War-era networks. In many instances, they have the same goals (with some adjustments), the same tactics (in a slightly modified or modernized form), and even the same personnel.
Stéphane Hessel’s popularity derives from his longevity and a grandiose but carefully edited personal narrative. His parents were the models for Jules et Jim, a famous novel turned into a famous film. The rest of his life, however, seems to be ridden with exaggerations, half-lies, and riddles.
The circumstances under which he was arrested by the Gestapo in 1944 and transferred to a “special camp” in Germany are obscure. He was not “one of the drafters” of the UN Human Rights Charter of 1948 as he has often maintained, but merely a junior assistant to the Charter’s main editor, the great French jurist René Cassin. While making, all in all, a prestigious career at Quai d’Orsay (the French Foreign Office), he was nevertheless barred from many sensitive jobs. In fact, many of his colleagues wondered whether he was not a bit too left-wing.
It comes as no surprise that such a man has been willing to lend himself to the “outraged“ movement, even only as a fellow traveler. And to achieve fame by the same token.