An answer to her question involves inserting the philosophical tradition of human rights into the equation - something Marx failed to adequately account for. The human rights tradtion is a tradition of the individual positioned AGAINST the state. The classic liberal position based on Kant is that individual possesses inherent dignity and this property led to his ethical foundation of the “categorical imperative”. This categorical imperative was translated in politcal terms by John Locke and positions human rights as an individualistic enterprise and makes the state subordinate to the individual. In many ways, this is a triumph and an important distinction that facilitates human flourishing. It does not however lend itself easily to a notion that the state, or collective has any role in redistributing goods from "each according to their ability to each according to their need".
As the industrial age was in full swing, Marx analyzed the forces of history and saw capital as disconnected from labour, requiring collective intervention to redress this wrong. Again, this was a strong position based on the empirical evidence that he saw. His idea resonated with many activists and with it came the birth of unions, worker rights movements, guaranteed income, and a host of other socio-political movements.
The problem is as Weil points out, this dialectal principle does not produce egalitarian results. Critics of Marxism and its political offshoot communism, appeal to “dignity” as an anti-Marxist concept that has economic and politcal applicability that lends itself, (although I would argue not necessarily), to a capitalist and individualist paradigm. Marx understood the dignity of workers, at least implictly, but never developed a systematic aritculation of how to conceive dignity. Instead, he tended to follow Hegel's dialectical theory that saw history as a determinative process and workers would inevitably be swept up into its dialectic (as Trotsky famously said, you may not be interested in the dialectic but the dialectic is interested in you!). But the very determinism of history as Marx interpreted it, has been critiqued by scholars such as Foucault who see no such inherent historical determinism.
In an essay, entitled, A critical legal conception of human dignity, Matthew McManus (2019) takes a middle position arguing that human dignity needs to be defined as “self-authorship” and self- authorship is defined as ability to “to transform the world… by transcending and shaping the sociohistorical contexts (we) inhabit” (p 63). This is an appealing concept as it goes beyond the scientific necessity and determinism of history that undergirds classic Marxist theory. It also resonates, in my view, with Berdyaev’s philosophical/theological conception as creativity as the imago Dei of humanity.
Nobody can argue that we are not a product of our socio-cultural contexts and this context shapes does indeed how we think and behave in the world but not necessarily. As, McManus (2019) writes: “we often conflate sociohistorical contexts with scientific necessity. Because we are influenced by all external features in the world, it can be easy to think that, as all individuals are to some extent unchangeably determined by biological laws, so too is who we are necessarily determined by the political, cultural, legal, and economic arrangements particular to the sociohistorical context we inhabit. Unger called on us to reject this “false necessity” and recognize that all sociohistorical contexts, as the product of deliberate human activity and even design, are ultimately characterized by their plasticity. We can deploy our “context-transcending” powers to reshape them according to our will and interests” (p. 63).
In my view, the process does not end there, provided we are deeply informed by the corpus of human rights both philosophically and politically. And here, the Kantian tradition of inherent dignity IS a useful concept to predicate a moral and legal tradition of human rights. Political liberals such as Locke, saw the political implications of this idea. The Lockean idea that, at least in principle, we all possess natural freedom and natural rights broke down the former history of political systems built on monarchy and inherited privilege (Goodhart, 2018, p. 407). Locke's idea gave birth to modern democracies which while imperfect, created the philosophical impetus for all manner of rights claiming. These rights claiming activities by various groups and minorities became an emancipatory act in which appeal to dignity was utilized as a moral claim and ultimately enshrined in law; thereby shaping the cultural mores of society. In a previous post, I referenced an earlier article, Constructing dignity: Human rights as a praxis of egalitarian freedom by Michael Goodhart on the emancipatory nature of human rights. I will continue with his thought as it now comes full circle to address Weil’s question of "why the oppressed in revolt have never succeeded in founding a non-oppressive society.
The reason is that we must abandon the view that there is some kind of egalitarian, Utopian promised land towards which the march of history is lurching. As Goodhart (2018) concludes: “It is impossible to “get it right” with respect to egalitarian freedom. New and changing forms of subjection will continually emerge through the dynamic social processes that structure our world; the meaning of egalitarian freedom and the bundle of rights necessary for its realization, therefore, can never be settled or fixed…Those struggles in turn shape our understanding of those values and what they require in changing circumstances. The account’s emphasis on dignity as a political aspiration in constant and productive (generative) tension with the ongoing reality of domination, oppression, and exploitation clarifies what might be done to achieve dignity in the domain of real politics” (p. 415).
That doesn’t mean we don’t work in history or become too detached but it does prevent us from inevitable social justice or activist fatigue understanding that our perspectives can never become fixed.