Sunday, October 28, 2018

Avoiding partisanship

Aeon posts an interesting essay about Simone Weil, (1909-1943) from which:
.... Weil, a firm believer in free thought, argued that: ‘The intelligence is defeated as soon as the expression of one’s thought is preceded, explicitly or implicitly, by the little word “we”.’ Uncritical collective thinking holds the free mind captive and does not allow for dissent. For this reason, she advocated the abolition of all political parties, which, she argued, were in essence totalitarian. To substantiate this claim, Weil offered three arguments:
  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.
These tentacular organisations make people stupid, requiring a member to endorse ‘a number of positions which he does not know’. Instead, the party thinks on his behalf, which amounts to him ‘having no thoughts at all’. People find comfort in the absence of the necessity to think, she claims, which is why they so readily join such groups. ....
I think political alliances, i.e. parties, are inevitable in a democracy but I also think she was right about the effect of political partisanship.
Weil supported the freedom of individual expression. (She believed, however, in certain speech restrictions for institutions such as newspapers and government propaganda offices that, as collectivities, were, for her, naturally suspect.) She writes that ‘complete, unlimited freedom of expression for every sort of opinion, without the least restriction or reserve, is an absolute need on the part of the intelligence’. The health of the intelligence relies on full access to the facts, and without it, thinking is always deficient. She would have sided with even the most detestable of speakers, if for no other reason than that thy enemy must be known.

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