I recently read Simone Weil’s short essay “On the Abolition of All Political Parties” in which she unequivocally states that political parties should be dissolved because they do not have enough goodness in them to counteract the evil they produce. As Weil points out, our Western modes of governing are not inherently good, but rather only means of reaching goodness. What is more, she says, their effectiveness is never clear or certain. For all the good, idealistic intentions behind the concept of governing, it is the variable nature of the human character that is the mechanism behind how justly or unjustly society is governed and whether the goals proposed by those who have formed the type of government in question are reached; thus, the success or failure of any enterprise is grounded in how individual human beings perceive the world and how they go about implementing their vision.
According to Weil political parties have three characteristics:
• They are machines to generate collective passions
• They are organizations designed to apply collective pressure to the minds of its members
• The first goal (generating collective passions) as well as the end goal of any party is its own unlimited growth
“In principle,” she writes, “a party is an instrument to serve a certain conception of the public interest.” In order to do this, she says, the party must gain great power, hence becoming effective in terms of serving the public interest. For Weil the major issue is how any politician can serve truth and justice if they are beholden to the oppressive and corrupt ideology that the abstract entity that is their party spreads; if they cannot think with their own mind, make critical judgments, and only espouse the narrow, corrosive beliefs of their party, if their voice is that of the party and not their individual self, then truth and justice fall victim to the limitless power each party seeks and so does the public interest. Eventually, this insatiable hunger for absolute power over the wills and minds of the people, and the institutions and other (technological) instruments of propaganda and power leads to totalitarianism and an even deeper, more sinister desire for total international dominance at the expensive of all other nation-states, the belief in a world order governed by one elite government, with one rule of law, one religion, one culture, and one ubiquitous, fully militarized policing force.
For the Romantic artist, poet, and mystic William Blake (1757–1827), the Jehovah of the Old Testament embodied this frightening scenario in a solitary figure. Seeing this, in his private mythology of creation, fall, and redemption Blake created a similar character in his wooly-haired old god Urizen, who feared death and, to counteract the fear and anxiety born of his ignorance of the fact that individual perspective creates your (positive or negative) vision (interpretation) of what you perceive, created an oppressive, colorless world devoid of imagination and passion to secure himself against his own fear-filled perception of the world.
Weil had an extremely dark, pessimistic, but honest and intelligent view of political parties, and the argument she develops is strong and persuasive; it is a shame, however, that the abolition of the political party system she desired isn’t even remotely possible at this moment in time, witness this most pivotal of years in our history as a nation as we elect a new president who will lead us through the final years of this decade, setting the country on its course for the next, a decade in which technological advancements will be more legion than they were in the past ten years and global affairs will become ever more pressing and problematic, our alliances and allegiances ever more tenuous and difficult to navigate.
Political parties seek to create mindless, soulless zombies out of their members through the use of propaganda, which endeavors to persuade that the beliefs and doctrines the party espouses are the correct, more constructive and productive set of beliefs in contrast to the opposing party’s ideology. They lambast the other party’s ideas and its members to paper over the truth about both parties and their ideas, namely, that the objectives of each party are self-serving; they have no desire to serve the public interest, for which they profess till they are blue and red in the face that they do. Political parties condition their members and candidates to rattle on loudly and obnoxiously about the most narrow-minded and destructive of ideas not just ideologically but practically speaking, and which are masked as modes of salvation and a return to the utopian vision of yesterday—a world that never existed except in the minds of the angry and fearful today; those who cannot see that progress comes whether one wants it or not, and in many different shades and colors, not just black and white.
Political parties work to control and lead the masses by playing upon their collective fears and desires; their ideologies and the practical application of these have nothing, absolutely nothing to do with truth, but with keeping the weak-minded, the angry, and the fearful under control, lacking in critical thought and judgment, and when it serves their goals, to incite and enflame that anger, that fear, that weakness, because in a herd there is no thinking, only emotion, which creates chaos and further division within the party, within the nation, for eventually the truth will out about how humans really feel, what they really believe, whatever that may be, and this will expose fractures and fissures throughout the nation; as of late, one of the many truths to surface is that political parties do not care for truth or justice, they do not serve truth or justice or the public interest at large (as Weil attested to in her piece), but their own party endgame and the wealth- and power-creating goals of the major players in the parties.
Weil locates the origin of this “mechanism of spiritual and intellectual oppression” of party members’ minds and souls in the Catholic Church’s long fight against heresy that found its most terrifying moment in the Inquisition. She states that this war on differing beliefs led to the Reformation and Renaissance humanism, which each culminated in the French Revolution, and we all know how that turned out.
Weil closes her essay by remarking on how the institutions of public life regulate the thinking of the people, creating an oppressive thought process that is no process at all; it is only determining whether one is in favor of something or against it, and not having any understanding as to why one believes so. This is a horrifyingly destructive and caustic result of the crystallization of corrosive ideologies within the political realm that she ends by saying is an “intellectual leprosy” that has spread everywhere, corrupting all modes and manner of thought.
As she says midway through the work, and as commonplace as it is it bears repeating, seeing as we are in the most frighteningly tumultuous of times we’ve been in in a long time: “Nothing is more comfortable than not having to think.” And when you don’t think or raise your voice, it’s easier for politicians to lead the people to slaughter.
To think critically for oneself, to become the black sheep in a sea of white wool and then vocalize one’s beliefs, that is revolutionary, that is how one entrenches cracks in a papered-over broken system of government and society that can change the nation and the world irrevocably.
We may not triumph today but we will someday, but only if we do not rest and do not let the system tear us down, as it rears its ugly head by attacking us on all fronts and in all ways because it fears for its survival, a survival predicated on keeping us mindless and soulless, unthinking and lacking in compassion and acceptance. If we engage with others who may not be in our party, if we use reason and critical judgment, unclouded by our emotions and passions, we may come to find, as Weil notes, that we share many of the same beliefs with members of the opposing party. The simple truth is that political parties serve only to divide the nation to achieve objectives that have nothing to do with the people.