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A brilliant woman who was a study in fiercely maintained contradictions, a star student who went to work on a factory line, a Jewish convert to Catholicism who insisted on refusing baptism, Simone Weil is one of the most intransigent and taxing of spiritual masters, always willing to push her thinking—and us—one step beyond the apparently reasonable in pursuit of the one t A brilliant woman who was a study in fiercely maintained contradictions, a star student who went to work on a factory line, a Jewish convert to Catholicism who insisted on refusing baptism, Simone Weil is one of the most intransigent and taxing of spiritual masters, always willing to push her thinking—and us—one step beyond the apparently reasonable in pursuit of the one truth, the one good. She asks hard questions and avoids easy answers. In this essay—now in English for the first time—she challenges the foundation of the modern liberal political order, making an argument that will have particular resonance in present-day America. Examining the dynamic of power and propaganda caused by party spirit, the increasing disregard for truth in favor of opinion, and the consequent corruption of education, journalism, and art, Weil proposes that politics can only begin where the party spirit comes to an end. This volume also reprints an admiring portrait of Weil by the Nobel laureate Czesław Miłosz and an essay about Weil’s friendship with Albert Camus by the translator Simon Leys.


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A brilliant woman who was a study in fiercely maintained contradictions, a star student who went to work on a factory line, a Jewish convert to Catholicism who insisted on refusing baptism, Simone Weil is one of the most intransigent and taxing of spiritual masters, always willing to push her thinking—and us—one step beyond the apparently reasonable in pursuit of the one t A brilliant woman who was a study in fiercely maintained contradictions, a star student who went to work on a factory line, a Jewish convert to Catholicism who insisted on refusing baptism, Simone Weil is one of the most intransigent and taxing of spiritual masters, always willing to push her thinking—and us—one step beyond the apparently reasonable in pursuit of the one truth, the one good. She asks hard questions and avoids easy answers. In this essay—now in English for the first time—she challenges the foundation of the modern liberal political order, making an argument that will have particular resonance in present-day America. Examining the dynamic of power and propaganda caused by party spirit, the increasing disregard for truth in favor of opinion, and the consequent corruption of education, journalism, and art, Weil proposes that politics can only begin where the party spirit comes to an end. This volume also reprints an admiring portrait of Weil by the Nobel laureate Czesław Miłosz and an essay about Weil’s friendship with Albert Camus by the translator Simon Leys.

30 review for On the Abolition of All Political Parties

  1. 4 out of 5

    BlackOxford

    The End of Democracy After watching the Clinton-Trump election on television, I felt a compulsion to do something, anything, that might dull the emotional pain caused by the Trumpian irrationality and mendacity. I found succour of a sort, if little solace, in Simone Weil's 1943 essay, On the Abolition of Political Parties. On the one hand, the piece is prescient as a prediction of the party-political phenomenon of Trump and its causes. On the other, unfortunately, it offers no real alternative to The End of Democracy After watching the Clinton-Trump election on television, I felt a compulsion to do something, anything, that might dull the emotional pain caused by the Trumpian irrationality and mendacity. I found succour of a sort, if little solace, in Simone Weil's 1943 essay, On the Abolition of Political Parties. On the one hand, the piece is prescient as a prediction of the party-political phenomenon of Trump and its causes. On the other, unfortunately, it offers no real alternative to party organisation in a democracy. But perhaps the warning it provides, coupled with the confirmation of her hypothesis in almost every action of Trump and his supporters, may prevent a future descent into irrecoverable chaos. Weil takes her inspiration not from the usual ancient Classical Greek and Roman cultures but from the unlikeliest of sources for someone who is ultimately critical of mob rule, namely the French Revolution. For her, "The true spirit of 1789 consists in thinking not that a thing is just because such is the people’s will, but that in certain conditions, the will of the people is more likely than any other will to conform to justice."What impedes this spirit is the attempt to corrupt the free will and reasoning ability of individuals. The signal of such corruption is ‘passion’, that is emotional stimulus which stops reason and eliminates free will. For Weil, political parties are vehicles of collective passion whose function is to instil conformity through social pressure. The goal of political parties, that is of their members as well as their leaders, is growth in their own power without limit. Political parties kill conscience and promote mendacity, thus destroying the most fundamental connection with reality: Truth. “The truth which we desire but have no prior knowledge of... is a perfection which no mind can conceive of – God, truth, justice – [words] silently evoked with desire, have the power to lift up the soul and flood it with light. It is when we desire truth with an empty soul and without attempting to guess its content that we receive the light." Political parties blind us to this light. One is tempted to discount Weil’s desperately negative view until one remembers that Nazism, McCarthyism, and now Trumpism are all products of party-political democracies. Sinclair Lewis’s It Can Happen Here can and does happen here. Weil has an educational message for those in Anglo-Saxon countries, particularly Britain and the United States. She notes that the continental European political system not only demonises rival parties but as a matter of course threatens party rivals with prison and even extinction. Anglo-Saxon politics, Weil notes, hadn’t yet reached this level, preserving a fundamental civility that was real but, as she saw it, temporary. Because of factional dissatisfaction and frustration which are necessary consequences of democratic politics, the natural trajectory of democracy is toward the continental model. Donald Trump’s threat to prosecute and jail Hillary Clinton is a fulfilment of Weil’s prediction. As is the stubborn refusal of Trump’s Republican supporters - particularly religious evangelicals - to even recognise the possibility of immorality on the part of their chosen leader. Their consciences appear frozen and inoperable. Weil in fact implicitly anticipates this last point as well. She traces the origin of such obstinate mendacity to the Catholic Church’s attempt over many centuries to control the spread of sects and threatening (to it) divisions which followed the French Revolution. Parties act like mini versions of a secular Church. Unity is maintained through the generation of collective passion, a drug which should be banned like other harmful substances. Which provokes a thought that seems to be incipient in much of the wonder at Trump’s ability to attract and maintain such a stalwart following. Trump has in fact created a secular Church, with himself as self-designated pope. “There is no us without you” is the prayer of his congregation. Let us hope that like all such religions, Trumpism fragments into its own sectarian bits before it does any more harm to democracy.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Aubrey

    This is a horrible introduction to Simone Weil. I'm giving four stars to her actually doing her own thing, not the ninety-six actually seventy-one actually thirty-one pages that isn't fanboys or fanboys of fanboys. I don't regret requesting that the university buy (me) a copy, but I will if the edition proves such a turnoff and/or distraction to potential Weil enthusists that they chase after the much name-dropped Milosz and Camus instead. They both won Nobel Prizes, people. These are not the no This is a horrible introduction to Simone Weil. I'm giving four stars to her actually doing her own thing, not the ninety-six actually seventy-one actually thirty-one pages that isn't fanboys or fanboys of fanboys. I don't regret requesting that the university buy (me) a copy, but I will if the edition proves such a turnoff and/or distraction to potential Weil enthusists that they chase after the much name-dropped Milosz and Camus instead. They both won Nobel Prizes, people. These are not the nonconformists you're looking for. When the country is in the grip of a collective passion, it becomes unanimous in crime. So. Politics. And morals. And labels. The collective power versus the individual freedom. Weil seems to be a thinker who gave little shit about excuses for oppression and actually put her money where her mouth is, a combo that unsurprisingly resulted in a short lifespan if not a similarly stunted bibliography and, of course, my interest. I wasn't expecting the rationalist hand-waving that attempts to transform thought into a series of vacuumed assumptions in the name of mathematical "logic" and "truth", but Weil's actions speak louder than the words which eventually, fortunately, followed the former. Of what follows, this is the statement I wish to poke at most: Whenever a circle of ideas and debate would be tempted to crystallise and create a formal membership, the attempt should be repressed by law and punished. I as an individual fall within the jurisdiction of various circles of ideas and debate that have crystallized under a patriarchal, heteronormative, and ableist society. In reaction to this social effort to control those who are not men, straight, or neurotypical, I have sought out others with similar experiences, naturally gravitating towards groups that offered a confirmation of my reality backed by numerous members. The phrase above is very stirring and all, but parsed with such broad choices in vocabulary that condemnation falls upon the KKK and the LGBT community alike. I have my own issues with the latter's biphobia in an organization supposedly for social justice, but who is this "law", and what is the punishment. Weil's admiration for the Ancient Greeks, Plato in particular, does not reassure. What I wanted to find out from Weil was her dividing line between communal support and political party, personal validation and ideological indoctrination, taking a stand after years of dialectical self-reflexivity and seeing things only in black and white. What I found was a very small piece of her thought process and vague hinting at the whole of it in the words of this edition's two ending essays. Was Weil truly invested in contesting oppression at all times, or did she, like so many other thinkers, reduce the oppression of others to rhetorical flairs in order to enhance her philosophical toolkit? I'll have to read Simone Weil on Colonialism: An Ethic of the Other to begin to find out.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Sunny

    Game changing book. I went to the dentist the other day for a hygiene check and he said that at the end it would feel as though my teeth had shifted. My brain had shifted similarly after having read parts of this. I can’t believe I had never heard of her before and not read anything by her prior to this book. She died in 1943 in Ashford England In a sanatorium apparently from malnutrition as she had starved herself as she was eating the same rations as her French country folk had been allotted b Game changing book. I went to the dentist the other day for a hygiene check and he said that at the end it would feel as though my teeth had shifted. My brain had shifted similarly after having read parts of this. I can’t believe I had never heard of her before and not read anything by her prior to this book. She died in 1943 in Ashford England In a sanatorium apparently from malnutrition as she had starved herself as she was eating the same rations as her French country folk had been allotted by the Germans. She talks with the cutting directness of a Nietzsche but with a thousand times more simpler use of words. She talks simply about the skank that we see happening around us pretty much globally. No I’m not saying that the totalitarian situation or communist example is much better but I do know that if had been watching division 4 football matches with division 4 football players all my life that wouldn’t stop me from thinking that a division one standard could exist. Republic, democrat, tory, labour, left, right; they are the magician’s legerdemain which distract us from other possible modes we could construct and live in. Would you like a medium or large café latte sir? .. Umm no just make it a small one. The best bits were as follows: • “We pretend that our present system is democratic, yet the people never have the chance nor the means to express their views on any problem of public life. Any issue that does not pertain to particular interests is abandoned to collective passions, which are systematically and officially inflamed.” • “Collective thinking cannot rise above the factual realm. It is an animal form of thinking” • If they try to react against party control, this very impulse to react is itself unrelated to the truth and as such should be suspect.” • “Political parties are a marvellous 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 – except for a very small number of fortuitous coincidences – nothing is decided, nothing is executed, but measures that run contrary to the public interest, to justice and to truth.” • “If one were to entrust the organisation of public life to the devil, he could not invent a cleverer device.” • “Nearly everywhere – often even when dealing with purely technical problems – instead of thinking, one merely takes sides: for or against. Such a choice replaces the activity of the mind. This is an intellectual leprosy; it originated in the political world and then spread through the land, contaminating all forms of thinking. This leprosy is killing us; it is doubtful whether it can be cured without first starting with the abolition of all political parties.” • KEY POINT: “She was not more dialectical than many who practise the dialectical art by changing it into an art of compromises and who buy the unity of opposites too cheaply. “

  4. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    March 2020 update- Simone Weil was right.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Eadweard

    " Democracy, majority rule, are not good in them selves. They are merely means towards goodness, and their effectiveness is uncertain. " - " When a country is moved by a collective passion, the likelihood is that any individual will be closer to justice and reason than is the general will -or rather, the caricature of the general will. " - " 1. A political party is a machine to generate collective passions. 2. A political party is an organisation designed to exert collective pressure upon the minds " Democracy, majority rule, are not good in them selves. They are merely means towards goodness, and their effectiveness is uncertain. " - " When a country is moved by a collective passion, the likelihood is that any individual will be closer to justice and reason than is the general will -or rather, the caricature of the general will. " - " 1. A political party is a machine to generate collective passions. 2. A political party is an organisation designed to exert collective pressure upon the minds of all its indi vidual members. 3. The first objective and also the ultimate goal of any political party is its own growth, without limit. " - " Just imagine: if a member of the party (elected member of parliament, candidate or simple activist were to make a public commitment, 'Whenever I shall have to examine any political or social issue, I swear I will absolutely forget that I am the member of a certain political group; my sole concern will be to ascertain what should be done in order to best serve the public interest and justice.' Such words would not be welcome. His comrades and even many other people would accuse him of betrayal. Even the least hostile would say, 'Why then did he join a political party? - " - " When a country has political parties, sooner or later it becomes impossible to intervene effectively in public affairs without joining a party and playing the game. Whoever is concerned for public affairs will wish his concern to bear fruit. Those who care about the public interest must either forget their concern and turn to other things, or submit to the grind of the par ties. In the latter case, they shall experience worries that will soon supersede their original concern for the public interest. Political parties are a marvellous 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 -except for a very small number of fortuitous coincidences -nothing is decided, nothing is exe cuted, but measures that run contrary to the public interest, to justice and to truth. " - " The institutions that regulate the public life of a country always influence the general mentality -such is the prestige of power. People have progressively developed the habit of thinking, in all domains, only in terms of being 'in favour of' or 'against' any opinion, and afterwards they seek arguments to support one of these two options. This is an exact transposition of the party spirit. Just as within political parties, there are some demo cratically minded people who accept a plurality of par ties, similarly, in the realm of opinion, there are broad-minded people willing to acknowledge the value of opinions with which they disagree. They have com pletely lost the concept of true and false. Others, having taken a position in favour of a certain opinion, refuse to examine any dissenting view. This is a transposition of the totalitarian spirit."

  6. 4 out of 5

    julieta

    I have been interested in the figure of Simone Weil for a long time (one of my beloved poets Rosario Castellanos mentioned her a lot, and she was becoming more involved in her thought by the end of her life) Her biography involves spirituality, as much as philosophy, political thought, humanism and mysticism. But this is the first book I have actually read of hers. And I feel it is a good place to start, since she is speaking of simple truths, that to me describe the person she is, the one I onl I have been interested in the figure of Simone Weil for a long time (one of my beloved poets Rosario Castellanos mentioned her a lot, and she was becoming more involved in her thought by the end of her life) Her biography involves spirituality, as much as philosophy, political thought, humanism and mysticism. But this is the first book I have actually read of hers. And I feel it is a good place to start, since she is speaking of simple truths, that to me describe the person she is, the one I only imagine her to be. What she defends here is what the title says, that she believes that political parties are basically machines that try to artificially make their members have the same opinions on every subject. They forget the pursuit of truth and goodness, and they turn it into a pursuit of more people joining that party, and forgetting their differences, and even forgetting to think for themselves. "Nothing is more confortable than not having to think". So the mass becomes one, and the sense of the good and truth is forgotten for whatever the party promotes. Of course this was written when totalitarianism was taking everything with it, when so many people died in the hands of the nazis. I do find it food for thought to read this in what is supposed to be a very different moment in history. I think it leaves me with the question of, how much do we give up of our opinions to agree with the "group" we wish to become a part of. What I find here, is how necessary it is to respect what our deep self dictates for us, and even if this is a utopian way of thinking (the disappearance of political parties does not seem like a possibility in this day and age, when democracy is managed in groups and not as individuals). What she proposes here seems to me maybe impossible in practice, but I can't help loving the questions she rises. She seems like an anarchist, in the sense that she believes in the individual more than the mass, and I guess the way I feel this could be practiced is in questioning everything, and not just agreeing with whatever the people we decide to believe in choose to express their views. Another thing she mentions which I will be thinking about for sometime, is of how in the practice of discussion we are educated to think only in terms of for or against, and that reduces our thought to the simplest form, without elaborating our opinion in freedom and expressing it in its entirety. This is a point for education in general, which I know will be making its rounds in my head for a while. "Nearly everywhere- often even when dealing with purely technical problems-instead of thinking, one merely takes sides: for or against. Such a choice replaces the activity of the mind. This is and intellectual leprosy; it originated in the political world and then spread through the land, contaminating all forms of thinking." Of course she also defends the possibility that everyone can have their own opinion, and we must respect that. In practice, that sometimes seems impossible, with the way people speak in social media in present times. I believe that imagining possibilities is a great way toward questions, towards questioning what we ourselves think. And even if Weil seems like a utopian, I think she does bring questions which can help us think of reality of the present times with a clear eye.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Sander

    Incredible essay that I will keep close by at all times. As well, I've just found a new favorite writer. Incredible essay that I will keep close by at all times. As well, I've just found a new favorite writer.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Levi

    I was hoping Weil’s conclusion would end up being something about how politics is one of life’s most abbreviated categories of existence and how it should thus be avoided, etc. but she’s quite a bit smarter (and more practical) than I. She makes a lot assumptions (and takes a lot for granted, argumentatively) but she’s probably right anyways so I’ll let it slide 😎 Milosz’s little bio/essay is pretty cool too.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Barry

    Weil sets out the defining characteristics of a political party: 1. A political party is a machine to generate collective passions. 2. A political party is an organization designed to exert collective pressure upon the minds of all its individual members. 3. The first objective and also the ultimate goal of any political party is its own growth, without limit. Thus defined, a political party will then by its nature seek to pursue its own dominance eventually becoming totalitarian. She notes that p Weil sets out the defining characteristics of a political party: 1. A political party is a machine to generate collective passions. 2. A political party is an organization designed to exert collective pressure upon the minds of all its individual members. 3. The first objective and also the ultimate goal of any political party is its own growth, without limit. Thus defined, a political party will then by its nature seek to pursue its own dominance eventually becoming totalitarian. She notes that party members are compelled to act in the best interest of the party rather than of the citizens in general. They vote for the party rather than for the good. Surely we’re seeing this to some extent today. I’m not sure however whether her third point is by necessity always true. A party may form to work toward a specific goal (for instance, abolishing political parties!) and then disband upon successfully accomplishing its aim (or failing to). Another way to attenuate the totalitarian nature of parties would be to ensure that there are multiple parties competing for the favor of the populace. The two-party system now seems akin to the Coke/Pepsi stand-off. They are each content to share domination of the market as long as they remain for practical purposes the only two. There’s also the question of whether it would even be possible to eliminate parties in a representative government. Would they always arise spontaneously? In addition to the title essay, this little book includes an essay about Weil by Czeslaw Milosz, and an essay about Weil, Milosz, and Camus by Simon Leys.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Michael Arnett

    In the title essay, Weil analyzes political parties and the party spirit. She concludes that all political parties, no matter how noble their intentions or how fully they claim to represent the public good at their inception, ultimately "aspire toward totalitarianism", that is, complete control and requiring complete and unthinking loyalty from their members. Its sole purpose becomes its own indefinite perpetuation; it becomes about itself: "Once the growth of the party becomes a criterion of go In the title essay, Weil analyzes political parties and the party spirit. She concludes that all political parties, no matter how noble their intentions or how fully they claim to represent the public good at their inception, ultimately "aspire toward totalitarianism", that is, complete control and requiring complete and unthinking loyalty from their members. Its sole purpose becomes its own indefinite perpetuation; it becomes about itself: "Once the growth of the party becomes a criterion of goodness, it follows inevitably that the party will exert a collective pressure on the people's minds. This pressure is very real; it is openly displayed; it is professed and proclaimed. It should horrify us, but we are already too much accustomed to it." And it is not just in politics that the party spirit has taken hold: it is palpable in the arts and sciences and, of course, religious denominations, where it has its origins. I read the book twice. It's a slim 70 pages, with the title essay occupying less than 40. The rest of the volume contains an essay on Weil by the poet Czeslaw Milosz, and another essay on Weil AND Milosz by Simon Leys, who passed away just a couple months ago (the same day as Robin Williams, I believe) and who translated Weil's essay. I have been wanting to read Weil for years now and this felt like a good introduction to her life and work. I also adore Milosz and Leys, and having all three in this volume was like listening in on a brilliant conversation.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Justin Evans

    The only thing I needed to know about this was that Ensor's 'Christ's Entry into Brussels' was on the cover. It helped that I'm curious about Weil, and that NYRB put it out, and that sometimes I just want a book I can finish in an hour or two. And the title helped a lot. But really I just needed the cover. Weil's argument is quite clear, and seems pretty accurate: partisanship distorts thought, whereas disinterested thought helps politics. The relevance to our present political rhetoric is prett The only thing I needed to know about this was that Ensor's 'Christ's Entry into Brussels' was on the cover. It helped that I'm curious about Weil, and that NYRB put it out, and that sometimes I just want a book I can finish in an hour or two. And the title helped a lot. But really I just needed the cover. Weil's argument is quite clear, and seems pretty accurate: partisanship distorts thought, whereas disinterested thought helps politics. The relevance to our present political rhetoric is pretty clear. Consider, "Nearly everywhere - often even when dealing with purely technical problems - instead of thinking, one merely takes sides: for or against. Such a choice replaces the activity of the mind." Now consider the political 'debates' about [insert any contentious political issue here.] The essay is padded out with another essay by Milosz, which I found very puzzling at times and insightful at others; and one by Simon Leys, which was unnecessary. A beautiful little artifact, anyway, and a stimulating after-lunch read.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Richard

    In short: parties compel people to treat politics like team sports and are therefore antithetical to the pursuit of truth and justice. This also applies more broadly to ideologies and religions. A short but well argued and worthwhile essay. Also included are interesting pieces by Czesław Miłosz (on Simone Weil) and Simon Leys (on Czesław Miłosz.)

  13. 4 out of 5

    David Ranney

    When a country is in the grip of a collective passion, it becomes unanimous in crime. If it becomes prey to two, or four, or five, or ten collective passions, it is divided among several criminal gangs. Divergent passions do not neutralise one another, as would be the case with a cluster of individual passions. There are too few of them, and each is too strong for any neutralisation to take place. Competition exasperates them; they clash with infernal noise, and amid such din the fragile voic When a country is in the grip of a collective passion, it becomes unanimous in crime. If it becomes prey to two, or four, or five, or ten collective passions, it is divided among several criminal gangs. Divergent passions do not neutralise one another, as would be the case with a cluster of individual passions. There are too few of them, and each is too strong for any neutralisation to take place. Competition exasperates them; they clash with infernal noise, and amid such din the fragile voice of justice and truth are drowned. and Political parties are a marvellous 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 -- except for a very small number of fortuitous coincidences -- nothing is decided, nothing is executed, but measures that run contrary to the public interest, to justice and to truth. and Nearly everywhere -- often even when dealing with purely technical problems -- instead of thinking, one merely takes sides: for or against. Such a choice replaces the activity of the mind. This is an intellectual leprosy, it originated in the political world and then spread through the land, contaminating all forms of thinking. This leprosy is killing us; it is doubtful whether it can be cured without first starting with the abolition of all political parties.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Bevan

    This edition is from NYRB Books, with an attractive cover illustration taken from a painting by James Ensor. Simone Weil presented some interesting arguments for doing away with political parties. Surely, this essay would not go over well with current leaders in any of today’s democracies. Nevertheless, one cannot deny the intellectual power and moral force of this remarkable thinker.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Storm

    Foolish or brilliant and both. People should read this book.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Philip

    1. A political party is a machine to generate collective passions. 2. A political party is an organisation designed to exert collective pressure upon the minds of all its individual members. 3. The first objective and also the ultimate goal of any political party is its own growth, without limit. ..."We pretend that our present system is democratic, yet the people never have the chance nor the means to express their views on any problem of public life." "Goodness alone is an end." *See Edit Note* All 1. A political party is a machine to generate collective passions. 2. A political party is an organisation designed to exert collective pressure upon the minds of all its individual members. 3. The first objective and also the ultimate goal of any political party is its own growth, without limit. ..."We pretend that our present system is democratic, yet the people never have the chance nor the means to express their views on any problem of public life." "Goodness alone is an end." *See Edit Note* All right: So I'm an independent. Problem solved. (Actually, on more than one occassion reading this, I thought: "Huh. ACTUAL Independents (or the one I'm thinking of) HAD to have read Weil and been influenced by her. *Ahem* Just imagine: if a member of the party (elected member of parliament, candidate or simple activist) were to make a public commitment, 'Whenever I shall have to examine any political or social issue, I swear I will absolutely forget that I am the member of a certain political group; my sole concern will be to ascertain what should be done in order to best serve the public interest and justice.' Such words would not be welcome. His comrades and even many other people would accuse him of betrayal. Even the least hostile would say, "Why then did he join a political party?' - thus naively confessing that, when joining a political party, one gives up the idea of serving nothing but the public interest and justice. The man would be expelled from his party, or at least denied pre-selection; he would certainly never be elected. Or perhaps this: When someone joins a party, it is usually because he has perceived, in the activities and propaganda of this party, a number of things that appeared to him just and good. Still, he has probably never studied the position of the party on all the problems of public life. When joining the party, he therefore also endorses a number of positions which he does not know. In fact, he submits his thinking to the authority of the party. As, later on, little by little, he begins to learn these positions, he will accept them without further examination... Weil's not wrong here, is she? We can think of Candidates who have tried to buck the trend, no? Or in our own lives? (If you don't have stories, I do.) I read a review that says this is a poor introduction to Weil. And that they were concerned that people would be taken with Camus and Simon Leys, and Czesław Miłosz and kindof ... you know ... pass over Weil herself. While that wasn't the case for me, I fully intend to read AT LEAST "The Love of God" as well as "Justice and Human Society" by the end of the year, if not then by early next year. How does that sound? *Edit* I want to add here that I just read Gooseberries by Anton Chekhov. (Well, I read it in Saunder's A Swim in a Pond in the Rain.) The idea of goodness alone as an end is fresh in my mind.

  17. 4 out of 5

    muthuvel

    This small book with 3 essays provide a concise essence on who Simone Weil was, what she stood for, and how she influenced next generation thinkers like Camus, Czesław Milosz. 1. On the Abolition of all Political Parties by Simone Weil - ★★★★ 2. The Importance of Simone Weil by Czesław Milosz - ★★★★ 3. In the light of Simone Weil by Translator Simon Leys - ★★★★ "Political parties do profess, it is true, to educate those who come to them: supporters, young people, new members. But this is a lie: it i This small book with 3 essays provide a concise essence on who Simone Weil was, what she stood for, and how she influenced next generation thinkers like Camus, Czesław Milosz. 1. On the Abolition of all Political Parties by Simone Weil - ★★★★ 2. The Importance of Simone Weil by Czesław Milosz - ★★★★ 3. In the light of Simone Weil by Translator Simon Leys - ★★★★ "Political parties do profess, it is true, to educate those who come to them: supporters, young people, new members. But this is a lie: it is not an education, it is a conditioning, a preparation for the far more rigorous ideological control imposed by the party upon its members." "In this world only human beings reduced to the lowest degree of humiliation, much lower than mendicancy, not only without any social position but considered by everybody as deprived of elementary human dignity, of reason – only such beings have the possibility of telling the truth. All others lie." "The religious problem occupied a significant place in the friendship between Camus and Milosz. Camus was an atheist who doubted his own atheism, and Milosz was a Christian who doubted his own Christianity. Doubt was a common concern of both; the mystical certainty of Simone Weil was for them a guiding light in the mist."

  18. 5 out of 5

    Jim

    This slim book is actually by three authors: Half is an essay by Simone Weil entitled "On the Abolition of All Political Parties." This is followed by a 1960 essay by the Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz on "The Importance of Simone Weil" and a current essay by Simon Leys on "In the Light of Simone Weil: Milosz and the Friendship of Camus." The result of this organization is to make this a work of political philosophy combined with a tribute to its author. Weil is most convincing on he subject of politi This slim book is actually by three authors: Half is an essay by Simone Weil entitled "On the Abolition of All Political Parties." This is followed by a 1960 essay by the Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz on "The Importance of Simone Weil" and a current essay by Simon Leys on "In the Light of Simone Weil: Milosz and the Friendship of Camus." The result of this organization is to make this a work of political philosophy combined with a tribute to its author. Weil is most convincing on he subject of political parties: The goal of a political party is something vague and unreal. If it were real, it would demand a great deal of effort and attention, for the mind does not easily encompass the concept of the public interest. Conversely, the existence of the party is something concrete and obvious; it is perceived without any effort. Therefore, unavoidably, the party becomes in fact its own end.And what should we be aiming for if not the success of a political party? According to Weil, the answer if "truth, justice, and the public interest" -- things which get lost in the hugger-mugger of party politics.

  19. 4 out of 5

    J.

    I was apprehensive recalling how quickly Weil can at times slide from mysticism to the political muddle of, say, The Need For Roots, but I have to admit that my fears were misplaced: this is a serious, abstract work of Platonic ontological ethics, traits probably well-served by its severe brevity. (I'd recommend just ignoring the essays by Milosz and Leys by whatever trick you use to ignore Thibon's intolerable insertions in Gravity and Grace.) I was apprehensive recalling how quickly Weil can at times slide from mysticism to the political muddle of, say, The Need For Roots, but I have to admit that my fears were misplaced: this is a serious, abstract work of Platonic ontological ethics, traits probably well-served by its severe brevity. (I'd recommend just ignoring the essays by Milosz and Leys by whatever trick you use to ignore Thibon's intolerable insertions in Gravity and Grace.)

  20. 4 out of 5

    August Denys

    I read this over three years ago in the course of a day. The book is not all that long, really, it is merely three essays in one book. The first is an original one by Simone Weil [vei] and the other two simply expositions on Simone Weil and her importance. On this second reading I have definitely grown more and learned more about Simone Weil, particularly her activities in and out of her academic setting and the tragedy of her early death. However, as I got to the second half of her essay, in wh I read this over three years ago in the course of a day. The book is not all that long, really, it is merely three essays in one book. The first is an original one by Simone Weil [vei] and the other two simply expositions on Simone Weil and her importance. On this second reading I have definitely grown more and learned more about Simone Weil, particularly her activities in and out of her academic setting and the tragedy of her early death. However, as I got to the second half of her essay, in which I was coming to understand more and more her position, I began to see more and more of her problems. Seeing these problems with knowing her intellectual development I cannot but be amazed and disappointed where she ended. That is she started politically under the influence of anarchism and Marxism and yet somehow ended by being a Christian Platonist. For this book, it is necessary to know of her Christian Platonism, but it is also simultaneously baffling that she was previously, and possibly still was, an anarchist. That she was influenced by the Platonic metaphysics is obvious in this book, but the fact that she started as an anarchist would seem to be a contradiction because the Platonic metaphysics is the paradigmatic example of a metaphysics which hierarchical while anarchism by principle is anti-hierarchical. This is just a strange biographical insight that can confuse the reader, for her project in this book is against Political parties because they are mendacious and Totalitarian, yet Plato was Totalitarian. That Plato is, to repeat, a paradigmatic example of Totalitarianism in philosophy, that is, if we look towards Plato's Republic and its philosopher kings, then the state apparatus that Plato creates is Totalitarian by definition. She thus doesn't argue against Totalitarianism, instead, she is merely arguing for a different formulation of Totalitarianism. In her criterion, the criterion of Goodness, it is based on Truth and Justice. This is all to say that her metaphysical foundation betrays her project because it doesn't allow for an outcome other than Totalitarianism. Thus she betrays one of her conclusions that "There is a natural affinity between totalitarianism and mendacity." (pg. 14) That there is not just an affinity between them but we can say that one implies the other, that is, Totalitarianism implies mendacity. It may be harsh to put it like this, but her solution to the problem shifts it onto another problem. While she is correct that a political party which is created to become a means for some end and thus because of its nature becomes an end in itself, her substitution for Goodness being the end in a way has the opposite problem, that is, Goodness is an end that becomes an impossible means. That is, early in the essay she starts with Rousseau and his conception of a General Will. This General Will is the conception that if everyone worked through the reasoning, making themselves devoid of passions, then they would all come to the same conclusion. But to do this the End of Goodness becomes the Means of Goodness. She mixes the Platonic question of "How should we live?" with the Enlightenment question of "How should we act?" By doing so, she makes the end that is the Platonic Goodness into the question of what act, or means, will correspond to this goodness. A further problem with the essay is that, as a Platonic thinker is a problem thinker and not a system thinker, she focuses on the Problem of the Political Party to the omission of surrounding social reality. That is, she sets out to prove that Political Parties are in themselves bad, that she shows there exists an internal contradiction in their very nature, and as such we should abolish political parties. She does this through the examination of collective passions, that collective passions are bad, and that parties serve only to amplify collective passions while simultaneously seeking more and more power. However, what is missing is an examination of power or force. What do I mean? She focuses so much on the Political Party as a contradictory totality that she doesn't 1) see other competitive social powers, such as Capitalists and she doesn't 2) see what forces internal to the political party point where. For more on the second point, the political party is led by a machine that amplifies collective passions. But where is the source of this passion? It is said earlier that people all have different passions, so then it is the case that there is a unity of some resonating passion, a passion that is held in common. This is all to say, the collective passions have to necessarily become a singularity. From that singularity a direction or a vector can be found. In a sense she somewhat refers to this when she is critiquing people calling themselves socialists or conservatives. She does this with reference to Stalin where she says "Stalin embodies the Communist collectivity, but he lives far away and it is not possible to reach him by telephone." (pg. 20) She misplaces the passion internal to the party ideology in some other, singular person. She doesn't give the passion to the ideology in which a logic could then be carried out about its necessary end/conclusion. But to lastly focus on a problem I mentioned earlier, by focusing solely on the problem of Political Parties and none of its external social factors she does not compare the other social problems that could arise with the abolition of Political Parties. If you know a little of Weil's history, then you know of her solidarity with working people and that she took time away from teaching to actually work in factories. That she gained the experience of what it was to be a worker, that she not only could see the exhaustion from working factory shifts, but that she experienced the physical and mental exhaustion, and to her the life of a laborer was a soul crushing one in that it did not allow one to have consciousness of a soul for as long as she worked. This is all to say that 1) she new Capitalists existed, 2) that there is a union between workers, and 3) that there is an unequal distribution of power between these two. So, while a political party in itself is bad, the abolition could be much worse. Without the party formation in place, you have more individuals that could be under the influence of a Capitalist regime which can more easily create formations than the individual. This is to say, if the party system is abolished, then you have to work from individual power. However, individual power is not equal. Capitalists have more power than workers, and Capitalists are already, by being in their position, slaves to their passion. That is, the Capitalist is a slave to an end other than Goodness, they are slave to profit. Thus, with the Capitalist having by nature more power and a passionate nature to profit, they can without the use of the party apparatus cause collective passions to be the guiding force of people. This is very similar to what we have in American today, for while she rails on Partisanism and she talks about the end not being goodness, we in American are faced with a two party system that has the same passion in mind for our ends, Business. The only difference being the moral structure that supports the business system. And this was not created by the parties, but the parties follow this from external pressure. Should you still read a flawed essay? Yes. There is much to gain from seeing the flaws in a work of philosophy. Furthermore, what I see to be flaws may not be seen as flaws by others. That she is working from Christian Platonism is obvious. There are many allusions that resonate with Platonism, the idea of there being two realms, one of facts the other of eternal truths, and much more. She did at one point betray her Christian Platonism by falling back upon a paradox of Zeno: "Yet how can we desire truth if we have no prior knowledge of it?" This is the mystery of all mysteries." (pg. 21) How can we reach the turtle if we have not already reached it? How can the arrow hit the target if it is not already at the target? Nevertheless, it is a brilliant example of Platonic problem solving, it just happens to be that the problem begets other problems or that we might say it is not the true problem. Read it to see how her thought moves.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan Norton

    Simone Weil was a very profound thinker but like all philosophers her writings vary in quality and should not be taken uncritically. They were never written to be treated as such and she would despise such an attitude as idolatry. Her topical political writing after the Fall Of France was rather poor, she fell for some very glib "cultural" explanations that were no doubt circulating amongst the stunned intellectual class both at home and in exile, who couldn't accept that it was simple cowardice Simone Weil was a very profound thinker but like all philosophers her writings vary in quality and should not be taken uncritically. They were never written to be treated as such and she would despise such an attitude as idolatry. Her topical political writing after the Fall Of France was rather poor, she fell for some very glib "cultural" explanations that were no doubt circulating amongst the stunned intellectual class both at home and in exile, who couldn't accept that it was simple cowardice and inadequate training caused soldiers to run away from German tanks, rather than the supposed influence of Gide's novels. This particular essay was written not long before her death in 1943 and so shouldn't be treated too harshly as she wasn't in good condition by then. Nevertheless the argument is weak in scope and detail. She too quickly excuses the British party system in order to focus on French politics. Her objections to mindless orthodoxy hardly fit the historical story of the National Assembly in the 20s and 30s: endless coalitions collapsing because there was *too little* consensus, not too much. The ideological submission of the Communist Party seems to mesmerise her, yet the CP had quite a few splitters and defectors (including stalwarts who went over to the Right and ended up as Vichyites and Nazis). Some of her objections to the notion of a general "point of view" are frankly adolescent. The charm and power of Weil is in her near-saintliness, but here the unworldliness is merely naivete. The strongest points here are the reiteration of her opposition to "the Great Beast" of mass society, and its suppression of the individual conscience. But party politics, apart from its most poisonous extremist varieties, is a very weak and vinegary specimen of that particular brew.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Ben

    One cannot serve both God and Mammon. If one's criterion of goodness is not goodness itself, one loses the very notion of what is good. Once the growth of the party becomes a criterion of goodness, it follows inevitably that the party will exert a collective pressure upon people's minds. This pressure is very real; it is openly displayed; it is professed and proclaimed. It should horrify us, but we are already too much accustomed to it. Political parties are organisations that are publicly and off One cannot serve both God and Mammon. If one's criterion of goodness is not goodness itself, one loses the very notion of what is good. Once the growth of the party becomes a criterion of goodness, it follows inevitably that the party will exert a collective pressure upon people's minds. This pressure is very real; it is openly displayed; it is professed and proclaimed. It should horrify us, but we are already too much accustomed to it. Political parties are organisations that are publicly and officially designed for the purpose of killing in all souls the sense of truth and of justice. Collective pressure is exerted upon a wide public by the means of propaganda. The avowed purpose of propaganda is not to impart light, but to persuade. Hitler saw very clearly that the aim of propaganda must always be to enslave minds. All political parties make propaganda. A party that would not do so would disappear, since all its competitors practise it. All parties confess that they make propaganda. However mendacious they may be, none is bold enough to pretend that in doing so, it is merely educating the public and informing people's judgment. Political parties do profess, it is true, to educated those who come to them: supporters, young people, new members. But this is a lie: it is not an education, it is a conditioning, a preparation for the far more rigorous ideological control imposed by the party upon its members.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Mansell

    So, Weil is basically calling out Brexit Britain as a step closer to a totalitarian state where Brexit is a result of Intellectual Leprosy, a consequence of the ‘rigorous ideological control imposed by the party’; but in a paradox, Brexit Britain breaking away from the EU is a break from the collective state who have ‘betrayed’ the British people, oh well at least that’s so according to ‘covert’ partisan thought, This Paradox is that for Weil the contemporary situation is absurd because ultimate So, Weil is basically calling out Brexit Britain as a step closer to a totalitarian state where Brexit is a result of Intellectual Leprosy, a consequence of the ‘rigorous ideological control imposed by the party’; but in a paradox, Brexit Britain breaking away from the EU is a break from the collective state who have ‘betrayed’ the British people, oh well at least that’s so according to ‘covert’ partisan thought, This Paradox is that for Weil the contemporary situation is absurd because ultimately it is a result of ‘Choose a side or Die’ (remember BETTER DEAD THAN RED and viceversa?). Very wisely Weil stipulates that it would have been better, which is that, ‘would it not be easier to simply ask the British public to mediate and express their feelings on Brexit?’ In answer We would know how far ‘intellectual leprosy’ has spread because no doubt the ‘feelings’ expressed would simply be YES or NO, which is why CORBYN had such an issue getting elected because the media was focusing on how he wasn’t clear on Brexit because he was in more of a state of mediating (and towards leaving the EU) because isn’t Evil always going to win when the People are presented with Binary decisions?

  24. 5 out of 5

    Marco Matos

    OBS: Firstly, and before I start this review, let me say that i think Weil's writing is very redundant, sometimes even contraditory or tautological, and dull, in a bad sense. This matter - political organization and its social effects - is actually one of my favorites subjects to read about, but this essay was a difficult and, sometimes, not interesting to read. . Well, i don't know if any book left me so divided in the last years as this one. The problem with political parties is one of the basi OBS: Firstly, and before I start this review, let me say that i think Weil's writing is very redundant, sometimes even contraditory or tautological, and dull, in a bad sense. This matter - political organization and its social effects - is actually one of my favorites subjects to read about, but this essay was a difficult and, sometimes, not interesting to read. . Well, i don't know if any book left me so divided in the last years as this one. The problem with political parties is one of the basic problems of political environment. Simone Weil has a good catch when she says that political parties can easily derive people of their capacity to think in accordance with some of their personal beliefs, thus being encapsulated by a blindfolded accordance with the party ideals. I agree that this is actually a terrible menace, however, in practice, Simon Weil's critics seem, to me, a bit reductive. Weil seems to prove a good point, but, in order to manage that, she jumps to rather contraditory conclusions that really get on my nerves. I will comment the text according to main motifs she delves in, trying to be the more suscint i can. *On the nature of truth and rationality* : Weil seems to think that truth is a self evident thing when it is achived and that humans, individually, have an inate capacity for truth, that sometimes, according to what i caught from Weil's explanation, is as it was given from the above. So, what Weil proposes is that singular individuals, with no collective aggregation, should voice their opinions on a topic, and then truth will appear in the similarities between opinion. This has some problems, but is rather great, and shares huge similarities with the anarchist belief. However, Weil says too that sometimes democratic elected truth may not be in accordance with justice, and so it could have to be suplemented by something. So, Weil says that truth is innate and just in itself, and truth is the similarities between singular people judgement of things, but that this same truth could not be just altogether, not being truth at last. Later in the essay, Weil seems to contradict this again, stating that: "Truth is one. Justice is one. There is an infinite variety of errors and injustices. Thus all men converge on what is just and true, whereas mendacity and crime make them diverge withouth end" This vision seems to me rather naïve. But one can ask, according to Weil, what is truth to the author? And can humans really behave rationaly and according to their inner truth, without self prejudice? Isn't, that, in fact, the classic problem of political science: the fact that people behave, generally, in strange and contradictory ways? This leads me to the next point. *Collectivism Vs Individualism*: We have a major problem in our society today, that is its individual nature. Since Thatcher commentary that there is no such thing as society but only singular individuals that we seem to get more further from a collectivist from of thinking, the only way we can manage, in my beliefs, to really make a change in the world. According to this matter, one can say that it's true the black community gained a lot of rights in 1960's America, but one cannot erase the role that the civil rights movements, social parties itself, had on it. The same for Mandela and the fight against Apartheid. The same for the Sufragette Movement. This is my problems with anarchism itself: it presupposes that singular people, with individual rights and desires, can unite in social matters willingly. I can enjoy this idea, but i cannot endorse it. In our more and more individualised society we can see what self-centered people can do to harm society. Anarchism could only function in a world that had a high rate of education, not just scientific but, at most, social and cooperative. But we do not live in a society like this and we are further away from it. This leads me to my next point: *We should not abolish parties, but open them to a common ground*: That's what i think. I know it has a dose of utopia on it. Weil is correct when she says that parties blindfold the capacity to think. If i'm a reformist and not a revolutionary is because i really think we should listen to everyone and decide on a common ground. However, i'm a socialist. In the same manner, Weil is an anarchist. So, the problem is not the collectivism of the parties itself, but the relations of power inside them. The problems seems to be, always, the relations of power (See Illouz in this matter). And this is a feudal or capitalist problem itself. But lets look at current USA or at Brazil to think about it. Since we manage to focus socially on identity politics, we have been creating a clash that has led to major implications on power. An example is Trump. Trump is the product of a major group of republicans that are tired of demonstrations blaming the white middle-class people for the fall of western civilzation. I'm not saying that this isn't true - I, in fact, agree partially with it - but the problem is that when one party starts to blame citizens withouth embracing their beliefs and struggles and discussiong them, we are not creating opportunities to grow, but more holes in the hopes for the future. So, what one should do is open parties to a more common ground perspective, as we can beneficiate from dialogue in the public sphere. But not individual dialogue, as I think, differently from Weil, that one person is more capable of turning things in his favour than a collective organization based upon common ideas, who's members are going to have in account the lives of the others, and not just their self beliefs and desires. I could elaborate more on this, give the example of Black Lives Matter, Liberal Feminism or the Queer Movement and the way their highly organised blaminh scheme is a treath to democracy itself, and to collective communication, but i think i've managed to convey my point, as briefly as i can.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Tyler Simonds

    A short book, HIGHLY recommended. It contains an essay of Simone Weil’s that Simon Leys translated into English. It concludes with an essay by Czeslaw Milosz and one of the translator’s. Smarter people than I have reviewed this book. However, I want to extend a personal recommendation to friends who may be reading. Leys’ essay ends abruptly but Weil offers a timely critique of political parties. I appreciate Weil’s passion. Biographers have pointed out that she was incredibly sincere—to the poin A short book, HIGHLY recommended. It contains an essay of Simone Weil’s that Simon Leys translated into English. It concludes with an essay by Czeslaw Milosz and one of the translator’s. Smarter people than I have reviewed this book. However, I want to extend a personal recommendation to friends who may be reading. Leys’ essay ends abruptly but Weil offers a timely critique of political parties. I appreciate Weil’s passion. Biographers have pointed out that she was incredibly sincere—to the point of apparently starving herself in the mid-1940s to protest an issue of mistreatment. SPOILER ALERT... Group identity always leads to totalitarianism.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Zbigniew Zdziarski

    Yes, very good! Abolish all political parties, indeed. This is the first time I have read any Simone Weil, and it definitely is not that last. She's a breath of fresh air in mid-20th century France (I'm looking at you de Beauvoir and Sartre). I didn't agree with all of Weil's arguments (especially those against the Catholic Church and her conviction that political parties are pretty much the root of all our problems) but generally speaking she makes some damn good points! I can't wait to read mo Yes, very good! Abolish all political parties, indeed. This is the first time I have read any Simone Weil, and it definitely is not that last. She's a breath of fresh air in mid-20th century France (I'm looking at you de Beauvoir and Sartre). I didn't agree with all of Weil's arguments (especially those against the Catholic Church and her conviction that political parties are pretty much the root of all our problems) but generally speaking she makes some damn good points! I can't wait to read more of her.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Eric Stephen

    Like a clean scrub of the brain. "Nearly everywhere - often even when dealing with purely technical problems - instead of thinking, one merely takes sides: for or against. Such a choice replaces the activity of the mind. This is an intellectual leprosy; it originated in the political world and then spread through the land, contaminating all forms of thinking." Like a clean scrub of the brain. "Nearly everywhere - often even when dealing with purely technical problems - instead of thinking, one merely takes sides: for or against. Such a choice replaces the activity of the mind. This is an intellectual leprosy; it originated in the political world and then spread through the land, contaminating all forms of thinking."

  28. 4 out of 5

    Katie Parsons

    What nonsense. Political parties are bad, corrupt, driven by their very nature to communicate propaganda and grow at all costs. Yes. And? I'd be very interested to hear some suggestions for building power, making change, and governing that don't involve these evils, but the author doesn't seem to have any. What nonsense. Political parties are bad, corrupt, driven by their very nature to communicate propaganda and grow at all costs. Yes. And? I'd be very interested to hear some suggestions for building power, making change, and governing that don't involve these evils, but the author doesn't seem to have any.

  29. 5 out of 5

    JC

    Okay, firstly, I have a thing for James Ensor, and especially this painting that NYRB chose for Weil’s book cover. I discovered it in a Benedict Anderson book, and it’s become one of my favourite paintings. It is an allusion to a large 1886 Brussels march and the painting has this colourful flair of pre-Lenten Karneval festivities. In his book “A Brief History of the Masses: Three Revolutions” Stefan Jonsson writes of Ensor and this painting: "It is well known that Ensor's intellectual friends an Okay, firstly, I have a thing for James Ensor, and especially this painting that NYRB chose for Weil’s book cover. I discovered it in a Benedict Anderson book, and it’s become one of my favourite paintings. It is an allusion to a large 1886 Brussels march and the painting has this colourful flair of pre-Lenten Karneval festivities. In his book “A Brief History of the Masses: Three Revolutions” Stefan Jonsson writes of Ensor and this painting: "It is well known that Ensor's intellectual friends and acquaintances were socialists and anarchists, a few of them even veterans of the Commune, like the geographer Elisee Reclus... the painting is partly modeled on newspaper illustrations depicting a huge socialist march that took place in Brussels on August 15, 1886… Ensor's painting shows these creatures returning to the city to hail the return of the Messiah. The bear-men, ape-men, rhinoceros-men, and other chimeras flock around the Christ. Agamben would see all of them as homines sacri, resurrections from primordial times. They symbolize the outlaws, those who are deported from the city to allow society to be created. Agamben's theory also sheds light on why Ensor and the Belgian labor movement were happy to look on Christ as the incarnation of global revolution. The Crucified personified homo sacer. His return prophesies a new social order. ...Homo sacer is the eternal outcast: the native, the Jew, the refugee, the woman, the monster, and the madman.” I think it’s fitting because Simone Weil was certainly an outcast of sorts in the intellectual and leftist circles she was involved in. I think that’s partly why I was so drawn to her as an undergraduate student. Anyways, this was a fairly interesting little essay by Weil, but I think the two essays that accompanied it were really important for contextualizing Weil’s text. One of the faith-related podcasts I listen to most frequently is the Magnificast, hosted by two Christian communists. They’re fairly non-sectarian communists, who engage very openly with anarchists, democratic socialists, Catholic workers, et al., who they invite onto their show to find common terrain with. However, I have found communists to be very focused on party politics. People like Jodi Dean seem to have quite a bit of currency these days, and one of the foremost action items these sorts of leftists tend to put forward is to join the party (the communist party, that is). I came into leftist politics by way of anarcho-socialist tendencies, so I have felt a little uneasy about radical leftist party politics, but having very little knowledge about their lines of reasoning, I have been trying to read and understand their perspectives more. However, this book articulates most of the feelings I already currently have, so I didn’t feel as engaged at some points of the text, until I later read the other two essays, which really helped me understand Weil’s relationship to other communists and Marxists and how she really was engaged in worker struggles in very serious ways, and came out very critical of these political parties for very particular reasons. Weil sees political parties as intrinsically totalitarian. I think you don’t even have to look much farther than Canadian party politics to see this in action. I mean Harper has gotten most of the criticism about this sort of totalitarian party control (quite deservedly) but it’s hard from my angle to see how Trudeau is very different. The SNC Lavalin case is a very obvious example, but another one that sort of flew under the radar was the coerced resignation of John MacCallum (who I sat adjacent to once at Sam Woo in Mississauga; very random aside, haha). After MacCallum spoke truthfully about the Meng Wanzhou detainment and extradition trial, he was thrown out of his office. I suppose if you don’t toe Trudeau’s party line, you are to ‘take a hike’. Weil bases her argument on Rousseau’s notion of ‘general will’. I was surprised to read her write: “Few books are as beautiful, strong, clear-sighted and articulate as Le Contrat social (with the exception of some of its chapters.)” Will have to get to this book soon, it’s still sitting on my shelf and haven’t skimmed past the first few pages yet. I have been curious about Rousseau ever since I learnt of his influence on revolutionary movements and on Goethe’s earlier more revolutionary-inclined writings (which I was reading about around my trip to Wetzlar). While Rousseau's 'general will' has sometimes been interpreted as a 'dictatorship of the proletariat', I think further comments by Rousseau would suggest otherwise. In "Socialism: Utopian and Scientific", Engels is quite critical of the utopian socialism birthed from Rousseau's bourgeois revolutionary writings. Of Saint-Simon, Fourier, and Owen, he writes: "Like the French philosophers, they do not claim to emancipate a particular class to begin with, but all humanity at once." Engels goes onto say: "It was this very circumstance that made it possible for the representatives of the bourgeoisie to put themselves forward as representing not one special class, but the whole of suffering humanity." Weil's appeals to Rousseau, reason, and most vaguely inner 'light' were inevitably criticized by Trotksy along parallel lines. The thing is Weil was squarely on the side of the workers her entire life, even working alongside them in factories, and it was authoritarian communists that tortured justifications for the purpose of some theoretical abstraction rather than focusing on the actual workers themselves. Anyways, I think it’s useful to know Simone Weil’s deep engagement with leftist politics and organizing to better situate this text. I found the introduction written in the New Left Review to Weil’s “Meditations on a Corpse” to be really useful — especially mentioning her "solidarity work with the local trade unions and writing in La Révolution prolétarienne, a libertarian journal of the left edited by militants expelled from the Communist Party", as well as the classes she taught on Marxism for workers at the Labour Exchange, her admiration of proto-leftcoms like Rosa Luxemburg, and her debates with Trotsky (who once stayed at her parents’ house, among others like Camus, the day he received the Nobel Prize). I think that provides some insights as to where she’s coming from. Her critiques in many ways are from an insider perspective, she's not an armchair theorist. I think Weil's critique of political parties here is important particularly coming out of her experiences with communist party politics. I was shocked to learn about how long Hobsbawm (a historian I greatly admire) toed Stalin’s line in Britain, and felt able to justify it. He eventually did publicly recognize the monstrosity of the purges that Stalin carried out. I think so many communists, even today, remain in denial about a lot of things like that. Conversely, many people have a very intolerant attitude towards communists, asking how could one self-identify as a communist after all the atrocities that were committed under its banner. I am more sympathetic to communists because I am a Christian, and far more atrocities were committed under the banner of my faith than the communist one. I think people like Marika Rose put forward an important point that neither Christians nor communists can deny the atrocities committed under their banners and claim they stemmed from some inauthentic version of their faith or political tendency. Rather they have to confront such horrors face on, and accept complicity while working tirelessly to prevent them from happening ever again. Otherwise, one returns to a sort of denial that is not that different from those under Stalin's thumb. One of the struggles I have with Weil is I find her very difficult to understand — like any good mystic inevitably will be. This is why despite being very fascinated by her since my undergraduate years, I have yet to finish any of her posthumously published books, until this one (which is more an essay than a book). There’s something to Trotsky’s critique of Weil’s writing as a ‘regression into individualistic liberalism’. That is sort of how it reads on surface. And how a lot of the text reads for me still, but I know for a fact there’s more under it. It just requires a lot of attention. Ah — attention. The big theme for Simone Weil. Sarah Coakley has mentioned that one her most formative encounters in her youth was reading Simone Weil. This was when Coakley was around 12 years old, and it was in this period of her life that she decided she wanted to be a theologian. She references this passage from a letter Weil wrote to Father Perrin (Superior of the Dominicans of Montpellier) in 1942 as an address to school children and their studies. Weil writes: “The love of our neighbour in all its fullness simply means being able to say to him: “What are you going through?” It is a recognition that the sufferer exists, not only as a unit in a collection, or a specimen from the social category labelled “unfortunate,” but as a man, exactly like us, who was one day stamped with a special mark by affliction. For this reason it is enough, but it is indispensable, to know how to look at him in a certain way. This way of looking is first of all attentive. The soul empties itself of all its own contents in order to receive into itself the being it is looking at, just as he is, in all his truth. Only he who is capable of attention can do this. So it comes about that, paradoxical as it may seem, a Latin prose or a geometry problem, even though they are done wrong, may be of great service one day, provided we devote the right kind of effort to them. Should the occasion arise, they can one day make us better able to give someone in affliction exactly the help required to save him, at the supreme moment of his need.” I think this quote helps illuminate a few similar lines that show up in this Weil essay: “Yet how can we desire truth if we have no prior knowledge of it? This is the mystery of all mysteries. Words that express a perfection which no mind can conceive of -- God, truth, justice -- silently evoked with desire, but without any preconception, have the power to lift up the soul and flood it with light. It is when we desire truth with an empty soul and without attempting to guess its contents that we receive the light. Therein resides the entire mechanism of attention. …True attention is a state so difficult for any human creature, so violent, that any emotional disturbance can derail it. Therefore, one must always endeavour strenuously to protect one's inner faculty of judgement agains the turmoil of personal hopes and fears.” Coakley’s first volume of systematic theology is constructed around the theme of desire. It’s how she is able to explore themes of sexuality and gender fluidity, saying things like: “[Desire] is more fundamental, ultimately, because desire is an ontological category belonging primarily to God, and only secondarily to humans as a token of their createdness ‘in the image’.”  What is interesting is so much of Coakley’s theology can be summed up within the previously cited Simone Weil quote. Weil makes the equivalency between God, truth, and justice because they all cannot be fully conceived of with the mind (a liberal move, but okay, let’s see where we can go with this). Truth/God can be silently evoked (or recalled?) with desire. The posture of this desire is a kenotic one. Weil mentions both in her 1942 letter and in this party-abolition text about an ‘empty’ soul; we must empty our soul of our ‘preconceptions’ to receive others/God. This is also another large theme in Coakley, in her first volume of systematic theology ‘God, Sexuality, and the Self’ she writes: “It is easy, from a privileged position, to be morally righteous about justice for the oppressed, while actually drowning out their voices with the din of one’s own high-sounding plans for reform… contemplation… its practised self-emptying inculcates an attentiveness that is beyond merely good political intentions. Its practice is more discomforting, more destabilizing to settled presumptions, than a simple intentional design on empathy. …For the very act of contemplation… is an act that, by grace, and over time, inculcates mental patterns of ‘un-mastery’, welcomes the dark realm of the unconscious, opens up a radical attention to the ‘other’ …The desire not to ‘master’ cannot be summoned by mere good intention or fiat. It is a matter, I submit, of waiting on divine aid and transformation, a transcendent undoing of manipulative human control or aggression.” And so for Weil and Coakely, attention works by way of fostering and allowing desire to flourish by way of a sort of kenosis, which enables a glimpse into the truth (most often of the other/God, and their suffering in the world). This for Coakley is the way of “undoing manipulative human control or aggression”. This is exactly at the heart of this text on the totalitarian nature of political parties. I do not have the same forceful conviction as Weil that political parties are evil. I am not someone calling for their abolition, because Weil did not convince me on this point — likely because I do not have the capacity to grasp her arguments which are densely formulated and fairly abstruse. However, I think a lot of leftist politics, particularly communist politics, could benefit greatly from this sort of spiritual practice. Simon Leys in this book’s final essay talks about Milosz’s experience as an attache in Washington and Paris for the Communist regime, but upon recognizing the moral unacceptability of the compromises that the Stalinist regime required of him, Milosz defected. Leys writes of Milosz’s experiences in Paris: “At first, and as long as he was carrying the prestigious title of an official representative of ‘Democratic Poland,’ the French ‘progressive’ intelligentsia (under the pontificate of Sartre-Beauvoir), had warmly welcomed him; but as soon as it became known that he had defected, he was treated as a leper.” Czeslaw Milosz’s essay was very interesting for me, especially his discussions of Camus, his elaborations on Weil’s notions of gravity (necessity) and grace, her thoughts on how the advancement of technology creates hierarchies (it reminded me of Ivan Illich), and Weil’s affinities for the Albigensians and the theme of God’s absence. Although I probably disagree with Milosz’s emphasis on early Marx over later writings, I thought I would just close out this reflection with three quotes I particularly appreciated from his essay: “Leszek Kolakowski, a Marxist professor of philosophy in Warsaw, states bluntly that all the structures of modern philosophy, including Marxist philosophy, have been elaborated in the Middle Ages by theologians and that an attentive observer can distinguish old quarrels under new formulations. He points out that History, for instance, is being discussed by Marxists in the terms of theodicy — justification of God.” “As for Karl Marx, he was a seeker of pure truth; he wanted to liberate man from the visible and invisible pressures of group ethics by denouncing them and by showing how they operate. Because of that initial intention of Marx, Marxism is much more precious for the Christians than any idealistic philosophy.” “I resented the division of Poland into two camps: the clerical and the anticlerical, nationalistic Catholic and Marxist — I exude of course the apparatchiki, bureaucrats just catching every wind from Moscow. I suspect unorthodox Marxists (I use that word for lack of a better one) and non-nationalistic Catholics have very much in common, at least common interests.”

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jordan

    Simone Weil’s essay talks about how people are pulled either into the light of truth through a sense of unbiased reason, or away into the darkness through the bouts and vicissitudes of passionate desire. But each person’s pull away from the light is in a different direct, and each person’s pull towards it is in the same direction. This is a basic assumption of the goodness of democracy. (If democracy is not good, it is not what we should be practicing. If Hitler had never risen to power but the Simone Weil’s essay talks about how people are pulled either into the light of truth through a sense of unbiased reason, or away into the darkness through the bouts and vicissitudes of passionate desire. But each person’s pull away from the light is in a different direct, and each person’s pull towards it is in the same direction. This is a basic assumption of the goodness of democracy. (If democracy is not good, it is not what we should be practicing. If Hitler had never risen to power but the Weimar Republic still committed the atrocities of World War II through a democratic process it does not make those atrocities somehow less atrocious.) Political parties, on the other hand, serve to focus and align the chaotic desires of darkness and bundle them together into a force with power. It makes no sense, these days, to criticize someone for saying “As a democrat,” or “as a republican,” but these statements are parroted nonsense. It is not interesting or useful to know what a representative’s party stands for when we purportedly elected them for their ability to represent our own or on their views being a close enough reflection of our own. For this and other reasons all political parties should be abolished. We should replace them with a kind of informal forum, or as she calls them a series of journals, to which one may read or contribute, but to which one would not belong, but orbit, or be a reader of, or a writer in, but never a member, or subordinate, or a parrot of. In that way each person, each representative evaluates for themselves the plans and policies and proposals of the others, asking questions and offering criticism, and each shall cast their votes, when the time comes, in the light of their own reason and the will of those whom they represent. I basically agree with everything she says. The trouble is that it makes action difficult. One of the ways in which she criticizes political parties is how they develop a binary stance towards or against something, how they drain from the issue all nuance and use propaganda and slander to vie for power. The trouble is that our votes work this way, most of the time. One piece of legislation, arguments for or against. She doesn’t talk about it much, but in an ideal congress there would be a deliberation, proposals sent out and digested, discussion had, amendments made, and the best and most just proposal would succeed. That takes a long time, though. Maybe it should. I don’t know. But I agree with her. And her words are stark and piercing in the firelight of the current political climate.

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