On the Abolition of All Political Parties
About two years ago, my country was facing a referendum on the usage of rivers and nearby land. The exact question is actually irrelevant; the point is that about 80% of the people were against, and only about 20% were pro. Two things struck me at the time. First, that the percentages and demographics of public opinion matched the government approval, and second, that our representative, that is to say, a parliament member who was elected in our community, never bothered to talk about it with his constituents but merely parroted whatever his party bosses told him. ‘In our party, we think that…’
So we have two problems working in concert here: tribal group thinking and the suppression of individual thinking on the part of the representatives. Both of which were recognized by Simone Weil in her 1943 essay “On the Abolition of All Political Parties,” which she wrote in the middle of the Second World War.
At the beginning, Simone posits that thinking in the spirit of goodness and logic will tend to align to produce the same results, thinking from passion will lead the way to differentiation, which in a funny way reverberates Tolstoy’s introduction to Anna Karenina: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Simone, however, begins by taking a kernel from Rousseau’s book Le Contrat Social:
“Rousseau took as his starting point two premises. First, reason perceives and chooses what is just and innocently useful, whereas every crime is motivated by passion. Second, reason is identical in all men, whereas their passions most often differ. From this it follows that if, on a common issue, everyone thinks alone and then expresses his opinion, and if, afterwards, all these opinions are collected and compared, most probably they will coincide inasmuch as they are just and reasonable, whereas they will differ inasmuch as they are unjust or mistaken.
It is only this type of reasoning that allows one to conclude that a universal consensus may point at the truth.
Truth is one. Justice is one. There is an infinite variety of errors and injustices. ”
The problem with political parties and group (tribal) thinking is that they hijack the potential for collective passion. The larger…