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Why we should abandon political parties

By Peter Bowden - posted Monday, 25 March 2024

Should we abandon political parties? The answer is yes. An unlikely combination of a French philosopher, Simone Weil, Hitler in WWII, the current United States imbroglio, and the Australian independents in the last election - the Teals - give us the reasons.

Simone Weil was the philosopher, born in Paris on February 3, 1909, the second of two children to comfortably off agnostic and secular Jewish parents. Her father was a medical doctor, and her brother, the 3-year older Andre, would become one of the most renowned mathematicians of the 20th century.

A first-rate scholar of philosophical thought, Simone Weil topped the entrance exam for the prestigious École Normale Supérieure. She also finished first in the exam for the certificate of "General Philosophy and Logic"; Simone de Beauvoir finished second.


Weil was proficient in Ancient Greek by age 12. She later learned Sanskrit so that she could read the Bhagavad Gita in the original. Albert Camus, who collected and published much of Weil's work after her death, and once called her "the only great spirit of our time". Since 1955 more than 2,500 scholarly works have been published about her, including close analyses and readings of her publications.

Weil participated in the French general strike of 1933, called to protest against unemployment and wage cuts. The following year, she took a 12-month leave of absence from her teaching position to work incognito as a labourer in two factories, one owned by Renault, believing that this experience would allow her to connect with the working class. In 1935, she resumed teaching and donated most of her income to political causes and charitable endeavours.

In 1936, despite her professed pacifism, she travelled to the Spanish Civil War to join the Republican faction. During her stay in the Aragon front, Weil sent some chronicles to the French publication Le Libertaire, and on returning to Paris, she continued to write essays on labour, on management, war, and peace.

While in Assisi during the spring of 1937, Weil experienced a religious ecstasy in the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli-the same church in which Saint Francis of Assisi had prayed. She was led to prayer for the first time in her life. During World War II, she lived for a time in Marseille, receiving spiritual direction from Joseph-Marie Perrin, a Dominican Friar. Around this time, she met the French Catholic author Gustave Thibon, who later edited some of her work.

Weil did not limit her curiosity to Christianity. She was interested in other religious traditions-especially the Greek and Egyptian mysteries; Hinduism (especially the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita); and Mahayana Buddhism. She believed that all these and other traditions contained elements of genuine information. In 1942, Weil travelled to the United States with her family. She had been reluctant to leave France, but agreed to do so as she wanted to see her parents to safety and knew they would not leave without her.

Weil wrote The Iliad, or the Poem of Force, L'Iliade ou le poème de la force, a 24-page essay, in 1939. First published in 1940 in Les Cahiers du Sud, the only significant literary magazine available in the French free zone. As of 2007, it was still commonly used in university courses on the Classics.


Simone Weil wrote Note sur la suppression générale des partis politiques "On the abolition of all political parties" in 1943, at the very end of Weil's tragically short life.

Weil based much of her thinking on Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) and the General Will. Thomas Paine had described the 1700s as "The Age of Reason" and "The Enlightenment,". Rousseau in his book, The Social Contract (1762) in common with Hobbes and Locke, Rousseau required the assent of all to the social contract. The General Will, in political theory, is a collectively held will that aims at the common good or common interest.

"Man is born free; and everywhere is in chains. One thinks himself the master of others, and still remains a greater slave than they." Rousseau argues that freedom and authority are not contradictory since legitimate laws are founded on the general will of the citizens. In obeying the law, the individual citizen is thus only obeying himself as a member of the political community. The phrase "general will", as Rousseau used it, occurs in Article Six of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (French: Déclaration des droits de l'Homme et du citoyen), composed in 1789 during the French Revolution.

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About the Author

Peter Bowden is an author, researcher and ethicist. He was formerly Coordinator of the MBA Program at Monash University and Professor of Administrative Studies at Manchester University. He is currently a member of the Australian Business Ethics Network , working on business, institutional, and personal ethics.

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