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The Greatness of the 
Yale Political Union
Derek Webb • This is not just another Yale Political Union polemic • November 1997

Before you breezily pass over this article for the greener pastures of the latest pornography in Rumpus, I want you to know one thing: This is not another article about the dissolution of the Yale Political Union. Rather, it is a story about its heroism.

Defenders of the honor of this institution are today few and far between. Why is this? Why have Union members remained silent as their critics rejoice and pour forth sacred oils upon what they believe to be the dead body of the Yale Political Union?

Those who know at Yale, the readers of the Daily News, may have been led to believe that the answer to this is simple. The answer is shame. Shame induces silence, and the recent “troubles” and “scandals” of the YPU have been enough to silence the blushing vestal virgins of this once chaste organization.

Let us, for the sake of the uninitiated, review these scandals. They are three in number. The first scandal involved the President of the Union himself. The members of the Union sought to impeach him because of his general incompetence. Instead of being impeached, he resigned. Someone else took his place.

The second scandal involved an organization within the Union that people call the Conservative Party. Many members resigned, their Chairman resigned, and things were generally confusing for the membership when they had to decide who out of the five would be the leader of conservatism at Yale. But, in the end, they decided on someone.

The third scandal involved the Independent Party. Some members felt that their chair was undesirable. He hadn’t defended the first guy in the first scandal and was an obnoxious personality. They threatened to impeach him, but after the charges were dropped the chair resigned. First, some inanimate object took his place. Then a human male, then a human female took over the helm.

As I have said, those who know understand that it has been on account of these scandals that responsible people can no longer credibly defend the Yale Political Union. This, however, is a lie.

It is not surprising that those who attempt to reason as objective surveyors of the activity of the Yale Political Union fail to apprehend the deeper truths involved. The silence of the most likely defenders is highly confusing from such a perspective. Union observers quickly conclude that it is because they have nothing to say that they say nothing. But those engaged, committed, and involved in the life of the Political Union, those who do not read the Daily News for the “truth” or the “real story” about its life, know better. It is not because they have nothing to say in defense of the Union that they are silent. Rather, it is because they have far too much to say that they are silent. It is the silence of initiates and of close friends. It is the divine and mysterious silence that always accompanies the awareness of the real. It is the silence of those who share a secret too great to be uttered.

I have thought long and hard as to the propriety of revealing the secret of the Yale Political Union. How would I communicate it? Who would believe me? Could it be understood? I am not confident that it can be fully understood, but the duty to defend the Union weighs heavily upon me. So I will try.

The basic truth of the Political Union, the heroic truth of the Political Union, is that it is an institution committed to nothing. I can already hear the complaints of the sophisters and rationalists among you. If you are offended by this, do not read further. It will be of no avail to you. If you are a sensitive soul, if you are a free spirit, I encourage you to listen.

The Political Union is an institution committed to nothing. I mean by this that there are no goals external to its existence. It does not exist for particular aims or purposes. Its activity does not truly come about because people want to accomplish things. Thus, life in the Political Union fails to have what philosophers call “justification.” The question, “Why is there a Political Union rather than no Political Union?” does not have a true answer.

But as I have said, there is engagement in the Union. People can dwell there. When asked why someone dwells there, no sufficiently helpful answer can (or ought) be given. The true activity of the Yale Political Union is personal self-overcoming. It is the exalted behavior of those sensitive souls who realize that the absence of rules is the impetus for creativity and genius. As in the epic movie “Lawrence of Arabia,” the initiates of the Political Union boldly declare that “Nothing is written” and take up the challenge to create beautiful experience. Put simply, the Political Union is formless, ruleless potentiality. It is the grinding despotism of genius in conflict with itself.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt deeply misunderstood the Political Union. His misunderstanding was that the PU was “for” things. It existed in order to create a certain kind of person. This kind of thinking has long afflicted those who have attempted to understand life in the PU. And it is this kind of thinking which has ultimately been the cause of all the suffering in the Union.

When former President David Perlstein complains at the end of four years of bitter PU experience that “We all cut deals to get elected and it’s a dirty game,” he shows he has not learned this lesson. When current President Peter Norman asserts that “I have better things to do with my life than play Machiavellian games,” he shows he is not yet ready for mature leadership. When Andrew Diamond opines honestly “I honestly believe the Union needs electoral reform,” he reveals himself to be a sworn enemy of all that is true and meaningful in the Political Union.

Liberal Party Chair Pete Stein is correct when he says, “Perlstein and his old camp—they’re the old school and that’s what we’re trying to change.” But he might as well have not said anything at all when he then utters these hateful words: “the whole culture of holding office to pad resumes and attaining vengeance.” His is the high road to suffering and ignorance.

These people, and those like them, are often called “hacks.” I think a more appropriate term of derision would be “union-rationalists,” or perhaps, “the hateful ones.”

The Political Union must now be radically reinterpreted and understood. Those experts who lay claim to “knowing” the Political Union today are in deep error. Their error is in believing in “transcendental” or “other-worldly” goals for Political Union life. But their misunderstanding of the Political Union is not just theoretical. It is also extremely dangerous. It is the cause of all bitter disappointment and suffering in every PU member. The challenge is this: to overcome this understanding and to reveal the secret and truly liberating life of the PU to all those who will hear and feel its truth. The Political Union is committed to nothing.

—Derek Webb is a senior in Davenport College


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Yale University is not responsible for its 
contents. By the same
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