In contemporary America, the signposts point to George Orwell’s 1984, that dystopian society where contradictions are etched in stone, and where truth is its opposite. It is a dimension of mind, a dormant mind, in which the truths of the party defy all other truths, where party loyalty trumps all other loyalties, and where the party line is the line to be toed.
In this domain, political parties become ends in themselves, as if they embodied all truth.
Start there, and you can begin to understand why Simone Weil (1909-1943) called for the abolition of political parties. Radical? Indeed. Then again, sometimes it takes an outsider to alert us to what we cannot see within the confines of our own political predicament.
Washington Independent Review of Books
Review of: L’avenir de l’intelligence et autres textes, by Charles Maurras, edited by Martin Motte // 1,280 pages, €32,00
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Every year, France’s Ministry of Culture publishes an official volume to commemorate major anniversaries in French history, covering past events as well as the lives of prominent personalities. Assembled by a team of historians and approved by the Ministry, the list mixes victories and failures, the honored and the notorious—judging events and personalities strictly on the basis of their historical significance. In 2018, the judges placed Charles Maurras on the list, noting the 150th anniversary of his birth. Protests ensued. The judges insisted that commemoration is not the same as celebration, to no avail. Bowing to pressure, the Minister of Culture recalled and re-edited the volume. Maurras’s name was effaced from the official history.
The same year saw the release of a new anthology of Maurras, the first edition of his works to be arranged and published since 2002. It, too, caused a scandal. Reviewers deplored “the return of a fascist icon.”
Publishing an anthology of Maurras is an offense against the postwar consensus and the “official history” of the twentieth century. Yet the case for studying Maurras is hard to deny. He was historically significant. As a political journalist, essayist, and poet, writing for more than six decades, he reached a wide audience and maintained enormous influence. Charles Péguy, Marcel Proust, and André Malraux all praised his talent. Those who acknowledged their intellectual debt to Maurras include philosophers Louis Althusser, Pierre Boutang, Jacques Lacan, Jacques Maritain, and Gustave Thibon, and novelists Georges Bernanos, Michel Déon, Jacques Laurent, and Roger Nimier. French president Georges Pompidou, the pragmatic conservative of the 1970s, praised Maurras as a prophet of the modern world. T. S. Eliot, who read Maurras for years, said that Maurras had helped him toward Christianity. Maurras was, for Eliot, “a sort of Virgil who led us to the gates of the temple.”
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“The Revenge of Maurras,” First Things (Nov. 2019)
Presented at The European Consortium for Political Research (ECPR) General Conference, University of Montreal, Canada; Mark Devenney, University of Brighton, author and presenter.
Simone Weil—philosopher, activist, mystic—is one of the most uncompromising of modern spiritual masters. In “On the Abolition of All Political Parties” she challenges the foundation of the modern liberal political order, making an argument that has particular resonance today, when the apathy and anger of the people and the self-serving partisanship of the political class present a threat to democracies all over the world. Dissecting the dynamic of power and propaganda caused by party spirit, the increasing disregard for truth in favor of opinion, and the consequent corruption of education, journalism, and art, Weil forcefully makes the case that a true politics can only begin where party spirit ends.
This volume also includes an admiring portrait of Weil by the great poet Czeslaw Milosz and an essay about Weil’s friendship with Albert Camus by the translator Simon Leys.
Simon Leys, trans., New York Review of Books, 2014