Why One of France’s ‘Most Subversive’ Philosophers Chose to Work in a Factory

Simone Weil Saw Assembly Line Labor as a Distillation of French Society's Hierarchies and Inequities

In December 1934, Auguste Detoeuf interviewed an applicant for a job at one of his factories. Ordinarily, Detoeuf did not make hiring decisions—he was, after all, the director of Alsthom, France’s largest maker of electric equipment. Yet Detoeuf was hardly an ordinary businessman. A graduate of France’s elite engineering school, the École polytechnique, Detoeuf neither talked the talk or walked the walk of French industrialists. He dressed, as one friend sighed, like a romantic violin virtuoso, and confessed to being an intellectual manqué.

Detoeuf no more belonged behind this particular desk …