No Political Society Can Deliver Us from Humanity's Innate Fear

"No society has been able to abolish human sadness; no political system can deliver us from the pain of living, from our fear of death, our thirst for the absolute. It is the human condition that directs the social condition, not vice versa."

Eugène Ionesco (1909-1994) was a French-Romanian Absurdist playwright and 24-year member of the Académie française. His most essential plays, including works like Rhinocéros and The Chairs, are touchstones of mid-century French avant-garde theatre. A world-renowned and respected writer, Ionesco died in 1994 at the age of 84.


The human condition was a matter of great interest to Ionesco. He wrote that the same universal fear of the unknown and unknowable unites all of humanity. No social means could ever deliver the population from that fear — it's something that transcends politics altogether. Yet throughout the 20th century and certainly long before (and after), many politicians and political systems have promised said deliverance. "Support us," they would say, "and there will be nothing to fear." Ionesco sought to remind the world not to be deceived by these empty offers of solace:

"I believe that what separates us all from one another is simply society itself, or, if you like, politics. This is what raises barriers between men; this is what creates misunderstanding. ... No society has been able to abolish human sadness; no political system can deliver us from the pain of living, from our fear of death, our thirst for the absolute. It is the human condition that directs the social condition, not vice versa."

Source: "A Reply to Kenneth Tynan: The Playwright's Role" in The Observer (29 June 1958)

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