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the Complete Review
the complete review - politics

On the Abolition
of all Political Parties

Simone Weil

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To purchase On the Abolition of all Political Parties

Title: On the Abolition of all Political Parties
Author: Simone Weil
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: (1943) (Eng. 2013)
Length: 75 pages
Original in: French
Availability: On the Abolition of all Political Parties - US
On the Abolition of all Political Parties - UK
On the Abolition of all Political Parties - Canada
Note sur la suppression générale des partis politiques - Canada
Note sur la suppression générale des partis politiques - France
Anm. zur generellen Abschaffung der politischen Parteien - Deutschland
Manifesto per la soppressione dei partiti politici - Italia
Nota sobre la supresión general de los partidos políticos - España
from: Bookshop.org (US)
  • French title: Note sur la suppression générale des partis politiques
  • First published in La Table ronde in 1950
  • Translated and with a Foreword by Pierre Ryckmans (Simon Leys)
  • With an essay by Czesław Miłosz on 'The Importance of Simone Weil'
  • With an afterword by Simon Leys on 'Miłosz and the Friendship of Camus'
  • Also translated by Ames Hodges as Note on the Abolition of All Political Parties (2013)

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Our Assessment:

(--) : nicely assembeled little volume

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Australian . 9/2/2013 Geordie Williamson
Irish Times . 21/3/2015 J.-W. Mueller
Süddeutsche Zeitung . 17/10/2010 Jens Bisky

  From the Reviews:
  • "What makes her thought so special, so bracing and so strange, is its combination of philosophical rigour and spiritual compass. Like any secular thinker she starts with a definition of terms and proceeds with all the logical thoroughness of her great European precursors (.....) Weil's argument against party politics is too dense with implication to be unpacked in a few paragraphs. Yet her conclusion is admirably direct (....) Only in solitude, writes Weil, free from the dogmas of authority, whether issuing from church or state, can one truly aim for the good. Many sensible readers will find this an absurd position, a recipe for anarchy." - Geordie Williamson, The Australian

  • "Weil’s criticism of parties makes little sense unless one shares her belief that there is a clearly discernible common good for any country. Weil was sure of it (.....) (T)he coherence of Weil’s proposal rises and falls with the idea of a single truth, or a single common good -- ideas that democrats today tend to reject in the name of pluralism. Or do they ?" - Jan-Werner Mueller, Irish Times

  • "Die kurze Schrift ist überreich an solchen sehr klaren, sehr strengen Sätzen. Das ist eine Sprache, die zur Meditation einlädt, nicht zum Gespräch. (...) Wenn Simone Weils "Anmerkung" heute dennoch berührt, dann vor allem durch den klaren Duktus, die rousseauistische Leidenschaft fürs Gemeinwohl und den ungeheuren Ernst der Argumentation." - Jens Bisky, Süddeutsche Zeitung

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       In her essay On the Abolition of all Political Parties Simone Weil argues that:

The evils of political parties are all too evident; therefore, the problem that should be examined is this: do they contain enough good to compensate for their evils and make their preservation desirable ?
       Looking around, just over eighty years after Weil wrote this, political parties and various party-systems do, indeed, seem not to have all too much to recommend them, whether in essentially single-party states such as China, the United States -- dysfunctionally dominated by two parties --, or the many multi-party states around the world and the crowded, messy governing coalitions that often result (Belgium, Israel, etc.).
       Weil's basic argument is simple: "unavoidably, the party becomes in fact its own end", and rather than serving the interests of the public is focused on its own survival and success (whereby success is measured in survival, and in clinging to power).
       As she points out:
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.
       She easily concludes:
If one were to entrust the organisation of public life to the devil, he could not invent a more clever device.
       Weil makes a reasonable point: rather than the politician/legislator choosing the best course for the public in the decisions s/he makes, the party relies on and demands fealty: more or less whatever the party says, goes, with the party's primary interest not in serving the public and doing what is best for the population generally, but rather retaining and strengthening whatever hold on power it has. (The American Republican Party in recent years has become a good example of what this can lead to.)
       An absolutist idealist, Weil sets the bar very high with her focus on (and belief in) 'goodness' -- which, she avers: "can only be truth and justice; and, then, the public interest". Would, of course, that it were that easy -- that 'truth' and 'justice' were readily determinable (and agreed upon by all), that we could definitively state what is and isn't in the 'public interest' (never mind that different parts of the public are differently affected by policy decisions). Weil unfortunately just takes them as given -- what 'goodness' etc. is is obvious to her and there's no doubt to be had about it.
       Yet arguably even more problematic is the real-world realization of Weil's ideal: what political system can function without groupings that are, or become, 'political parties' -- other than the obviously unacceptable outright despotic ones ? Occasionally, matters come up in legislatures where parties allow for a 'conscience vote' -- legislators freed to vote as they see fit (as Weil thinks they should in all cases) -- but no party would stand for all decisions to be made on this basis. Even more significantly, elections in essentially all countries are built around a party system; it is almost impossible for an individual to stand for office without some form of party-backing (whereby 'party' does not necessarily mean a traditional political organization -- though of course it usually is), and Weil offers no suggestions, much less a blueprint, for an alternative.
       It is easy to argue that political parties are a bad thing -- but, in the absence of a viable alternative (and Weil offers none), it's hard not think of them as, like democracy itself, nevertheless the best of all bad possibilities.
       If less of real-world-interest, Weil's idealistic essay is of literary-philosophical interest and appeal, her conviction (cum absolutism) impressively expressed -- and this little volume is further enhanced by the inclusion of essays by Czesław Miłosz on 'The Importance of Simone Weil' and translator Simon Leys on 'Miłosz and the Friendship of Camus'. These, as well as Leys' introductory notes, also serve as a good introduction/overview of the strange and brilliant Weil's fascinating and all-too-brief life.
       Weil's 'On the Abolition of all Political Parties' is a fine, short representative piece giving some insight into this remarkable, even fanatical idealist, and, along with the supplementary pieces included here, this volume makes for a good little overview of her life and thought (and passion). Criticism of the abomination that is political parties is, of course, also always welcome, and Weil's basic points are certainly valid; as such it can also serve, limitedly, as a starting point for discussions on how to better the system(s).

- M.A.Orthofer, 14 May 2024

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On the Abolition of all Political Parties: Reviews: Simone Weil:
  • Simone Weil at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French philosopher Simone Weil lived 1909 to 1943.

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© 2024 the complete review

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