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On the Abolition of Political Parties

Organizations of scale: multinationals, trading houses, banks, political parties, maybe bigness itself is the problem?
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Simone Weil, On the Abolition of Political Parties, trans. Simon Leys, with essays by Czesław Miłosz (“The Importance of Simone Weil”) and Simon Leys (“In the Light of Simone Weil: Miłosz and the Friendship of Camus”) (New York: New York Review of Books, 2013), 71 pp.

— from Common Knowledge, 21.3 (Fall 2015), 516-17.

“Political parties are a marvelous mechanism, which, on the national scale, ensures that not a single mind can attend to the effort of perceiving, in public affairs, what is good, what is just, what is true. As a result—barring a very small number of fortuitous coincidences—nothing is decided, nothing is executed, except measures that run contrary to the public interest, to justice and to truth.”

The relevance of these remarks of Weil’s, published in 1942, to contemporary political mischief is galvanizing. Her arguments are worthy of everyone’s serious consideration, in particular her philosophical account of those characteristics of a political party that lead to its becoming totalitarian—to the inevitable reversal, that is, from its being a means to its becoming an end. Since “a good tree can never bear bad fruit, nor a rotten tree beautiful fruits” is for her a trustworthy biblical text, she focuses on whether political parties contain enough good to compensate for their evils. The only legitimate reason to conserve anything is, Common Knowledge Published by Duke University Press Little Reviews 517 for Weil, its goodness. Given that her criteria for goodness are truth, justice, and public interest, she concludes that the “institution of political parties appears to be an almost unmixed evil” and that its abolition “would prove almost wholly beneficial.” Today, the quantity of “bad fruit” produced by our political parties makes one yearn for ways to nourish a “good tree.” One propitious means of preparing the ground could be to cultivate a wide readership for this essay by Simone Weil, together with the related pieces by Czesław Miłosz and Simon Leys that accompany it in this succinct volume.

— E. Jane Doering is a professor and the executive coordinator of the Teachers as Scholars Program in the College of Arts and Letters, University of Notre Dame. She is the co-editor of The Christian Platonism of Simone Weil (University of Notre Dame Press, 2004).

doi 10.1215/0961754X-3131207

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