published by Princeton University Press Translated from the French by Steven Rendall.
“There is a terrible blindness in happiness. Just as trash, in the consumerist universe, ends up invading every space and reminding us of its existence in countless nauseating ways, so suffering, unable to express itself, has begun to proliferate, increasing our awareness of our vulnerability. The West’s error, in the second half of the twentieth century, was to give its people the mad hope that an end would soon be put to all calamities; famines, poverty, disease, and old age were supposed to disappear within a decade or two, and a humanity cleansed of its immemorial ailments would appear at the gateway to the third millennium having proudly eliminated the last traces of hell. Europe was supposed to become, as Susan Sontag put it, the sole place where tragedies would no longer occur.
Democracy is ambivalent about suffering; because it rejects suffering, suffering is made the basis of rights that are always being newly discovered. Democracy’s great issues are first of all negative: reducing poverty, putting an end to inequality, fighting disease. A contradiction inheres in the designation of the problems we are trying to do away with: if all suffering gives someone a claim to a right and provides a foundation for the latter, physical and psychological pain gradually becomes the measure of all things. What was previously seen as a matter of course is now seen as unjust, arbitrary.”