The ‘intellectual leprosy’ afflicting party politics

By | July 21, 2019

Robert Zaretsky writes:

In 1943, an obscure staff member of the London-based Free French Forces completed a short proposal for a new way to do politics following her country’s liberation. The author, Simone Weil, passed away soon after, while her paper, quickly shelved, baffled her colleagues. For a resistance movement committed to salvaging a democratic and republican France, a paper titled “On the Abolition of All Political Parties” was something of an outrage.

Little more than 75 years later, though Weil has become a world-renowned political and religious thinker, her paper remains outrageous. At first glance, it resembles Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal,” in which the 18th-century Anglo-Irish writer proposed cannibalism as a cure to starvation in Ireland. The one difference is that while Swift was ironic, Weil is anything but. Yet behind the sheer impracticability of her own modest proposal lies an analysis that, following Tuesday’s party-line vote in Congress on the motion to censure President Trump’s racist remarks, is more relevant than ever.

For Weil, all political parties, regardless of their ideological coloration, share three basic traits. They are dedicated to nurturing collective passions, designed to exercise collective pressure upon the minds of their members and devoted to their collective self-preservation. These traits, in turn, make it nigh impossible for the members of political parties to think and act as individuals. [Continue reading…]

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