As discussion in the public square gets uglier and uglier, Andrew Nikiforuk returns to a suggestion Simone Weil made over eighty-five years ago: It's time to abolish political parties:
Simone Weil, a French philosopher and mystic, concluded that political parties had become organizations dedicated to one purpose: “killing in all souls the sense of truth and justice.”
Although her radical essay calling for the abolition of political parties wasn’t published until 1950, it remains the only polished political stone on a beach now smothered in plastic.
Weil believed that political parties smothered the search for truth, justice and democracy:
Weil measured the performance of political parties against three critical things that matter in life: truth, justice and the public interest. She found that they dishonored all three principles because a party’s essential character was anathema to such pursuits.
To Weil all political parties possess three dangerous traits: they work as machines to “generate collective passions;” they strive to exert pressure upon the minds of their members with propaganda; and they have but one goal — to promote their own growth “without limits.”
As such, every party becomes a means to an end and that end can only be totalitarian in nature.
Weil, then, regarded political parties as self-augmenting and self-serving entities primarily concerned about gaining and securing power.
Weil's diagnosis appears particularly accurate these days:
Today we’d recognize many of these characteristics in the constant campaigning, the rigorous branding and the ruthless employment of techniques to engineer votes either through Facebook or data miners like Cambridge Analytica
A 2014 book, Tragedy In the Commons, shed much light on the whole totalitarian story.
Based on interviews with exiting Canadian politicians, the authors found that their subjects shared a near total disdain for the discipline, feuds and partisanship of the party system. “As power consolidates under the party leader and staff, MPs become increasingly powerless and the voters increasingly disenfranchised, making the misfortune of this behaviour all the more acute,” concluded the authors.
So perhaps it's time our politicians took Weil's suggested oath of office:
“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.”
Pie in the sky? Perhaps. But consider the alternative.
Image: Colin Bennett