Solidarity: A conceptual history

The word “solidarity” has come a long way since Napoleon’s famous Code civil first introduced it in 1804. Sven-Eric Liedman traces the roots of the concept and examines theÊvarious meanings that the word has assumedÊ- both historically and in the present.

Paris, 1900

Paris, which had been the “capital city” of 19 century Europe, aspired to the same status in the 20 century. The choice of Paris for the site of the 1900 World’s Fair suggested that the city had retained its pre-eminence. With more than 50 million visitors, it was the biggest exhibition of all time. An exposition universelle had never been so all-inclusive. The whole world was open to view – the riches of the colonies, the marvels of technology and the opulence of the metropolises.

Nevertheless, the fair was more retrospective than futuristic. The exhibition claimed to represent a bilan du XIXe sicle (an evaluation of the 19 century).1 The scorecard was wholly predictable: it had been the Golden Age of reason and science, the energy conservation law, the theory of evolution, the steam engine and the harnessing of electricity. Such was the French Republic’s ideology, an official refutation of the “powers of darkness” that obscured the luminous age in a longing for the comfort of religion, the delusions of spiritualism and the specious security of tribal allegiances.

The exhibition would dispel these threats to clarity and radiance.

Railroad tracks, the consummate symbol of unstoppable progress, stretched all the way to the newly constructed Gare d’Orsay exhibition area. The city launched a subway system. The fair exalted the , still a curiosity at the time. In fact, it was the first year that the word appeared in the French Academy’s dictionary. JosŽé Mariade HéŽréŽdia, who penned exquisite sonnets, was one of the few who preferred the more poetic .

By culture did not take a back seat by any means. Everything was represented – theater, music halls, salons, literature, the fine arts. There were a good many visionary projects as well. The exhibition appointed a delegation to create a global language called Ido that would be even better than Esperanto.
The socialists held both a French and an international congress. The French meeting ended in chaos after the revolutionaries and reformers concluded that they couldn’t sit in the same room. The international get-together dealt with the less divisive issue of whether a socialist could participate in a government with non-socialists. Alexandre Millerand had already done so in France. The congress decided that such compromises were permissible in exceptional cases.

As Minister of Trade, Millerand delivered the opening address.2 To nobody’s surprise – not even our own – he lauded progress, enlightenment and science. What might astonish us, as opposed to his contemporaries, is the assertion that “Science reveals to us society’s material and ethical secret, which may be summarized in one word – solidarity.”

Can he possibly have used such a word?

Actually, his formulation was very much par for the course. was in vogue at the time. The World’s Fair even held a conference on the topic of , the objective of which was to improve the educational system in order to create more useful and responsible citizens. Some of the participants – including sociologist ƒmile Durkheim, historian Charles Seignobos and politician/ideologue/subsequent Nobel prizewinner LŽéon Bourgeois – are still read today. All of them talked about solidarity.

All sociology students have read about Durkheim’s ideas on the subject at one time or another. According to the textbooks, he related solidarity to the fundamental structure of society. On the other hand, they rarely make a connection with how public officials use the word in our times. Whereas politicians pay homage to an ideal or an ethical norm, Durkheim is portrayed as having spoken of social realities only.

But Durkheim did not believe that morality could be separated from social reality. Even De la division du travail social (The Division of Labor in Society), his early dissertation in 1893 on the various types of solidarity, argues that morality may be studied just like any other social phenomenon.3 According to Durkheim, morality consists of rules of behavior as defined by a particular society. Thus, there is no point in raising the objection that human beings possess ethical freedom and responsibility. On the contrary, society and nature are amenable to the same methods of investigation. If social scientists didn’t propound laws just like physicists and biologists, intellectual chaos would result.

In other words, morality and mores – the customs that people observe – are inextricably connected. Rather than an ideal, solidarity is chiefly a living reality.

Durkheim does not regard his theory of solidarity and the division of labor as a matter for scholars only. Quite the contrary, it has practical implications. For him, only the social sciences can gauge , the moral health, of a society. In addition, they are able to foresee trends and propose reforms that will promote and enhance the morality of the future.

You might say that a sociologist is a physician for society as a whole. Like any living organism, society is a body in a state of constant change. Typical of the decades preceding World War I, Durkheim draws countless parallels with the world of biology. Like many of his contemporaries, he believed that solidarity was just as pervasive among plants and animals as among human beings. The idea was so uncontroversial at the conference on social education that it required little elaboration. Bourgeois, the conference’s most prominent figure, returned time and again to what he called natural solidarity. Nobody took issue with him, and many concurred.

Bourgeois’ 1896 book SolidaritŽ was to come out in a number of new editions. Each time, he added fresh material – including his presentations at the 1900 meeting. Highly symbolically, the eighth and final edition was released in 1914. The concepts of solidarity that he had fashioned were buried alongside of peace in Europe. The budding solidarism movement languished into obscurity.

But in 1900 it appeared to be invincible. In a year that would later be regarded as the pinnacle of , solidarism was set forth as the ultimate solution of society’s fundamental problems. As the official ideology of the Third Republic, it seemed to resolve the conflict between liberal economism and socialist collectivism.4 It respected both the individual and the group, initiative and responsibility, the rights of workers and the prerogatives of employers. While forming the ideological kernel of the Radical and Radical-Socialist Party (a name that was cumbersome enough to bridge widely divergent principles), solidarism could appeal to both a brilliant scholar like Durkheim and a leading socialist like Millerand. Durkheim’s political allegiances are notoriously hard to pin down. Although he defended certain conservative canons, he also sympathized with a non-revolutionary, internationally oriented brand of socialism. He may not have been one of the movement’s most ardent followers, but he was more than willing to attend a conference suffused by its precepts. His presentation abounded with ideas about society, morality and the educational system. The university should teach that “the sense of solidarity is the foundation of morality…[since] it is necessary to show the young that human beings are by no means isolated within themselves, but are part of a totality from which they cannot be separated other than in their thoughts, that society lives and operates in them and represents the best aspect of their own nature.”5

Durkheim’s words might seem remote from our sensibilities, just as outmoded as the technological innovations that fascinated visitors to the World’s Fair. What remains today of his organic social analysis? What is left of the magnificent turn-of-the-century Paris that zealous photographer ƒmile Zola was able to capture such that time itself is more palpable than the ostensible subjects of buildings and people?6

The Grand Palais, its foundation cracking, is still there, along with Orsay Station – an art museum nowadays.

But what about solidarity, the foundation of morality?

What’s in a word?

The word solidarity comes from French. It harks back to the Latin , which means sturdy, firm and undivided. As early as the 16 century, French lawyers spoke of in a sense that is still current in many languages today. If a loan has multiple guarantors and the borrower defaults, one of them pays the entire amount and is subsequently reimbursed by the others. English jurisprudence uses the phrase “joint and several liability”, but the concept is the same – what we in common parlance call “all for one and one for all.”

“Solidarity” appeared in Code civil, Napoleon’s famous statute book of 1804.7 A few years later, Charles Fourier incorporated the word into his vocabulary, lending it the political and ideological nuance that it has retained to this day.

Though opinionated and eccentric, Fourier was a brilliant and groundbreaking social philosopher. In addition to playing a decisive role for early socialism in general and Marx in particular, Fourier’s vision of a harmonious new society spawned a large coterie of devotees ready and willing to put it into practice.

ThŽorie des quatre mouvements (Theory of the Four Movements ), Fourier’s first major work, came out in 1908 when Napoleon was at the height of his power.8 In it, he sketches the contours of a totally new society. The civilization that so smugly looks down on barbarians and savages is in reality a hodgepodge of blind and anarchistic competition, large-scale excess and a scandalous waste of talent and emotion. It singles out reason as the most important human attribute, whereas passion is the quality that propels humanity forward and enriches our lives. Associated with faith in reason is the concept that all people are basically equal. But Fourier maintains that we are unequal and that it is our very differences that permit us to cooperate with each other. Such collaboration would be most fruitful in small, independent ideal communities that he calls phalanxes. Not only will they prohibit duplication of labor, but nobody will have to do the same thing from dawn to dusk. People will switch tasks several times throughout the day, and everyone will be dependent on all the others.

One of Fourier’s core concepts is that ethics, its philosophers and champions are products of civilization. Although morality appears to live a life of its own, it has no intrinsic value and is ultimately superfluous. In a properly constructed society, moral philosophy will disappear. Once people are able to realize their true individual natures, while experiencing both variety and camaraderie with others, abstract decrees and commandments will be meaningless. Sermonizing that leaves the essential anarchy and inequities of civilization untouched will no longer linger on and create an illusory sense of affinity. The phalanxes will be pervaded by what Fourier calls solidarity.

The word slinks almost unnoticeably in and out of his writing. As the supreme coiner of words and concepts, Fourier didn’t attach undue significance to a term that had been borrowed from legal jargon.
Nor did Auguste Comte, another great social philosopher. He discussed solidarity here and there, mostly in the fourth volume (1839) of Cours de philosophie positive, his monumental exposition on the foundations of positivist philosophy.9 The volume took up the subject of “social physics,” or what Comte would call sociology.

Comte isn’t enamored of the kind of small-scale approach that absorbed Fourier. The question he poses is how to ensure social cohesion within France and other large national entities. Although Comte regards history as an engine of inexorable progress, he also foresees dangers. While such advances encourage diversity and differentiation, there can be a kind of splintering effect as well. The division of labor is a necessary but insufficient consolidating force – left to itself, it will go too far.

Comte believes that everything – whether it be nature or human society – is proceeding toward intelligence, the cerebral sphere. Thus, the government that rules a country takes on greater and greater significance. As the country’s brain, the primary task of a government is to sustain and bolster an advanced society’s sense of solidarity. That is the only way to avoid (disordered specialization).

Like Durkheim later on, Comte talked about the feeling of solidarity. But as opposed to Durkheim, he doesn’t regard that feeling as following inevitably from the harmonious division of labor. Government has to act deliberately for that to happen. The basic responsibility of government is to illuminate the truth for its citizens. That awareness will automatically bring about a general feeling of solidarity.

Comte uses the word without going into a lengthy explanation, assuming that his readers will know what he is talking about. Never does he make solidarity the fulcrum of his argument.

But Hippolyte Renaud, one of Fourier’s adherents, took that step. SolidaritŽ, a booklet that he published in 1842, was so popular that a number of new editions were to follow.10 The booklet’s optimism might strike us as naive. According to Renaud, evil is a fruit of ignorance and Fourier’s theory represents the ultimate knowledge. A human being cannot be happy without others. But a tightly knit network of phalanxes around the world will bind people together through une loi divine, La solidarit, the divine law of solidarity.
The 1840s were incomparable years, particularly when it came to political ideas. Utopias were designed, ideal communities were founded on faraway continents and many European countries advanced ineluctably toward revolution. The word solidarity took on a new luster, signifying a free and blessed country that stood in opposition to the stagnation that obstructed society’s view of the glorious future.

As always, a cherished word took on many different meanings. Neither the Fourierists nor Comte’s even smaller band of followers could master its nuances. Before the decade was over, it had spilled over to German and English (in 1844, an American writer complained of “the uncouth French word, solidarit, now coming in such use”).11 A conservative German philosopher adopted the word in 1850, cautioning that it did not require people to sacrifice their individual ways of life.12 FrŽdŽric Bastiat, a liberal French economist, asserted that society is nothing more than a composite of reciprocal solidarities.13 He asked himself whether freedom and individual responsibility necessitated a modification of that natural state of affairs. His answer was no – people are always fully accountable for their actions. Whatever a person does ultimately comes home to roost, i.e. an economically unregulated society contains a kind of built-in mechanism of justice.

Bastiat was a rare breed – not many liberals of his ilk used the word solidarity.

But it was closely associated with the workers’ movement, of which Karl Marx was the guiding light. Thus, it may be surprising to learn that he began employing the word rather late in his career and never incorporated it into his theories. Regarding solidarity as more appropriate to the sphere of political propaganda, Marx first acceded to its use with the founding of the First International in 1864.

The reason for the delay is not hard to understand. Whereas the concept of solidarity that grew so popular in the 1840s had encompassed all of society, Marx was interested in the cohesion of the working class only.

The idea of fraternity from Christianity and the French Revolution was still integral to socialist thinking during the earlier decade.14 Both Marx and Engels were instrumental in changing the slogan of Bund der Gerechten from “All people are brothers” to “Workers of the world, unite.”

But even in addressing the delegates to the First International, Marx could still talk about . Meanwhile, the provisional rules of the International spoke of “solidarity among workers of various trades in every country.”15

From all appearances, Marx did not play a decisive role in altering the terminology. But a brush maker by the name of Johann Philipp Becker was an ardent champion of the word solidarity. Though much less well known, he had long been close to Marx. Given that Becker accorded greater significance to trade unions than Marx did, he gravitated toward Bakunin’s anarchists at a certain point. But he returned to the fold when the schism between the Marxists and anarchists brought down the entire International.

Becker’s greatest influence was as editor of a journal entitled Der Vorbote (The Harbinger). In it, he made a noble attempt to draw a clear conceptual distinction between brotherhood and solidarity. According to him, solidarity is (the brotherhood of deeds) and should not be confused with the bourgeoisie’s . Rather than being a moral issue, solidarity is a matter of reciprocity and affinity. He suggests that the French word be translated as (joint and several liability).16

Becker’s distinction is key in that he reflects Marxism’s customary distrust of an official or all-embracing morality that tends to obfuscate rather than alter the realities of the world. The basis of solidarity was the actual role of workers in society.

The international aspect of the solidarity concept nurtured by the workers’ movement was to be crucial for the future. Of equal significance is that the concept remained outside the scaffolding of Marx’s theories. Nor did such thinkers as Kautsky, Lenin, Gramsci, Mao Tse-tung or Sartre who subsequently enlarged upon Marx’s ideas ascribe solidarity much theoretical importance. It was a straightforward word to be used in the realm of political rhetoric, union meetings and one-to-one conversations. It also appears in fiery revolutionary songs, such as Brecht’s “SolidaritŠtslied” of 1931, the refrain of which goes:

Forward, without forgetting
Where our strength can be seen now to be!
When starving or when eating
Forward, not forgetting
Our solidarity!17

The power of the word stemmed from its flexibility, durability and emotional intensity. On the other hand, a term like “exploitation” – which appeared in both theoretical and political contexts – quickly led to widespread confusion.

But the word solidarity had one drawback – it has a penchant for growing vague and elusive. “Real socialism” as practiced in the Soviet Union and its border states harbored few compunctions about sweeping it under the rug. The Great Soviet Encyclopedia didn’t use it at all, while the highly esteemed East German Philosophisches Wšrterbuch defined it as synonymous with “socialist internationalism” as summed up in a two-column entry18 and cited by the Soviet Union when invading both Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan.

Thus, the Polish labor movement took a bold step by calling itself Solidarity. Quite simply, workers adopted a word that the rulers had jealously guarded for their own purposes. In doing so, they gave it back the meaning that Becker and the First International had in mind.
As a matter of fact, the word had been well entrenched among workers every since that time. The purpose of a union is to distinguish one group from everyone else on the basis of a simple, palpable set of interests. The word solidarity fits the bill perfectly.
But we’ve gotten a century ahead of ourselves. The Paris Commune of 1871 and its bloody dissolution first linked solidarity with the workers’ movement in a serious way. The governments of Europe had an exaggerated sense of the First International’s role in directing the revolution and its ability to organize uprisings in other countries at the drop of a hat. They came to associate the word solidarity with a kind of international conspiracy. The solution was to give the international workers’ movement a taste of its own medicine by forming an equally cohesive alliance of conservative governments. Without a trace of irony, they spoke of a under which the maxim “All for one and one for all” would be just as inviolable as it was among the mutinous workers.19

The word proved to be almost endlessly pliant. Along with the French solidarism movement of the 1880s and 1890s were the Marxists, anarchists and syndicalists who carried on the legacy of the defunct First International. Some of them underwent remarkable ideological metamorphoses and eventually found themselves far to the right. But they never lost sight of solidarity, which came to signify a nation’s inherent cohesion.20

Even Christianity, particularly the Catholic Church, got in on the act well before the turn of the 20 century. German theologians and social philosophers led the charge. Spurning both the workers’ movement and capitalism, they envisioned a society in which competition would make way for solidarity. Their ideal was the cohesion that characterizes a well-adjusted family. By extension, an entire society could function in a similar manner.21

Though not new in themselves, these ideas took on fresh implications by linking up with the view that the church should enter into a dialogue with modernity instead of rudely turning its back. Solidarity even popped up in Pope Pius XI’s famed encyclical of 1931, which advanced the principle of subsidiarity as the solution of key social problems. What he was getting at was a structure in which decisions would be made at the lowest possible level, be it the international community, the nation, the region or the family. Thanks to the European Union, subsidiarity is now a firmly established word.

Ever since the 1931 encyclical, popes have had a good deal to say about solidarity. Though didn’t find its way into Latin until 1964, modern languages had adopted it much earlier.

John Paul II frequently relates solidarity to his concept of personality. The individual is in danger of melting into the crowd, becoming faceless and replaceable. But by cultivating your personality, you can remain autonomous while contributing to the cohesion of the larger group. In learning to identify that which binds you to others, you develop a sense of solidarity.

Such an approach eschews not only the collectivism espoused by socialism, but the individualism that is the hallmark of liberalism. In the commonwealth foreseen by the pope, rich and poor are aware of their dependence on each other. That leaves no room for either class struggle or the merciless competition of market liberalism.22

John Paul II crowns a tradition that is more than a century old. The Christian solidarity of his late-19 century predecessors was special in a couple of respects. Up until that time, the word referred to a wholly new possibility – whether it be the phalanxes, the role of the working class or the interdependence that would characterize an enlightened state. But the popes linked it to the Christian tradition, in particular Jesus’ declaration to his disciples that “Inasmuch as you have done it for the least of My brothers, you have done it unto Me”.

Furthermore, Fourier, Marx and Bourgeois had made a clear-cut distinction between solidarity and philanthropy. But according to the popes, helping the poor is the highest manifestation of Catholic theology’s concept of (love for one’s neighbor). One of them went so far as to say that “human solidarity has no firm basis beyond Christian charity.”

Nevertheless, this perspective by no means represents all of Christian thought on the subject. Then as well as now, many theologians and clergy (Catholic and Protestant alike) sought to ally themselves with socialism and even adopted many of its fundamental concepts of solidarity. Most firmly rooted in Latin America and with European antecedents all the way back to the mid-1800s, Liberation Theology constitutes a powerful radical current that is wholly anathema to the Vatican’s way of thinking.

Solidarity today

Words are not isolated phenomena. Most of them point in some way, shape or form to how things are or ought to be. But who is it that defines the way things are or the ideals that mold our view of the future? The answer to that question is decisive as to what we perceive and aspire to. Hallowed words like democracy, freedom and justice are subject to a continual, if covert, tug of war. Blasphemous labels like Fascism, Nazism and Communism are blithely ascribed to one’s opponents. The allure of maintaining that Nazism and Communism are birds of a feather is that you can thereby invalidate the entire Left, even its most middle-of-the road advocates. Likewise, liberals are quick to point out that human inequality is the cornerstone of Nazism. , the entire Right is tainted.

The renaissance of the word solidarity may be an indication of an insistent problem that needs to be defined, evaluated, made manageable and rendered amenable to solution. But the outlines of the problem remain hazy. Globalization in its character of both threat and promise is certainly involved here. Though the menace is often chalked up to obsequiousness to the market, huge government bureaucracies bear much of the onus as well. The ground constantly shifts and the term solidarity is almost always amorphous, shrouding itself in each particular context or in some tradition that is taken for granted rather than explicitly stated.

But useful distinctions sometimes emerge. Per Svensson, a Swedish essayist and journalist, differentiates between abstract, formal solidarity and that which emanates from empathy and a sense of personal identification. The tension he identifies is so powerful that you’re tempted to speak of two different solidarity concepts whose kinship is tenuous at best.23

The Third Way, sociologist Anthony Giddens’ 1998 book on the new face of European social democracy, doesn’t even acknowledge the conflict that Svensson pinpoints.24 Giddens is not simply a celebrated social scientist but a close associate of Tony Blair, the man who has taken it upon himself to transform Britain in general and the Labour Party in particular. As what people in the know call Blair’s leading ideologue, Giddens cites a typical statement by the prime minister on the very first page of his book. Whereas globalization elicits bull-headed resistance among the old Left and a spirit of in the new Right, Blaire summons adherents of the Third Way to strive for “social solidarity and prosperity.”

Though the book mentions the word 13 times in 150 pages, it never lets the reader in on what non-social types of solidarity may entail. Nonetheless, a certain pattern begins to take shape. Whenever associated with collectivism, solidarity takes on a negative connotation. One of the whipping boys of political terminology nowadays, collectivism was part and parcel of the traditional workers’ movement. As a result, the solidarity propounded by the Third Way must join forces with contemporary individualism. According to Giddens, “Solidarity has long been a theme of social democracy.” But he goes on to say that Marxism was ambivalent when it came to individualism and collectivism. Marx wrote that a socialist society would allow each person to fully and freely develop his or her individual gifts. Still, both socialism and Communism as practiced in the real world emphasized the role of the state in forging equality and solidarity. Giddens claims that such a strategy is futile in our times. The world of today fosters a non-egoistic “new individualism” that poses no threat to social solidarity. On the other hand, our challenge is to find new ways of ensuring that cohesion.

Borrowing a phrase from German sociologist Ulrich Beck, Giddens refers to the modern phenomenon as “institutionalized individualism,” arguing that it is a product of the institutions associated with the welfare state. For him the primary beneficiary of these institutions is not the family, but the individual. Each person is dependent on employment, which in turn stands or falls with education and mobility. In other words, an individual chooses his or her own profession and place of residence regardless of tradition or family considerations.

Paradoxically, the same collectivism that contributed so much to the emergence of the welfare state has spawned a new type of individualism. It’s like a play produced and directed by the cunning reason of which Hegel spoke.

But Giddens is also guided by another idea. He maintains that once a relatively prosperous democracy has ensured people’s basic necessities, they tend to seek a better quality of life (which he defines as the opportunity for self-realization, meaningful work and satisfying leisure activities) as opposed to additional material advantage. The new spirit of individualism is accompanied by greater skepticism of political authority.

Rather than an adversary, Giddens regards globalization as a possible ally. He wants to curb market forces, restrain unproductive currency trading, and rectify an irrational state of affairs in which only five percent of financial transactions involve goods and services. However, he likes the fact that each point on earth is increasingly linked to the whole. According to Giddens, the very process of globalization accords greater importance to local and regional entities. He readily admits that national institutions will continue to play a key role. But some decisions that once were the purview of the state will now accrue to global organizations, whereas others will fall to regions, municipalities or individuals.

Some of today’s most pressing problems – “the weakening sense of solidarity in some local communities and urban neighbourhoods, high level of crime, and the breaking up of marriages and families” – can be alleviated accordingly. Instead of harkening back to the old type of affinity, local communities will be better able to mobilize their resources in order to improve the material and social condition of deteriorating areas. Education, universal healthcare and crime fighting will liberate people from oppression. The society envisaged by the Third Way ascribes great importance to the family – not the patriarchal setup of the past, but a new (by definition, good) one based on equality between the sexes.

Giddens acknowledges that our problems are not simply local in nature. The 1990s were characterized by the increasing isolation of large groups of people from the rest of society. Those on the lower rungs of the social ladder are not the only victims: “Exclusion at the top is not only just as threatening for public space, or common solidarity, as exclusion at the bottom, it is causally linked to it.” Once more, the solution is education, healthcare and crime prevention. Like Blair, Giddens steers clear of any hint that tax policy can contribute to greater equality. He never mentions taxes when listing the duties that national governments should retain, but rather a series of areas – collective welfare and security, education – that require tax revenue. Solidarity is the last thing on his mind here.

Just as revealingly, the phrase “international solidarity” does not appear once in the book.

Other than the sense that there are two brands of solidarity – old and collectivistic vs. new and individualistic – Giddens makes little attempt to circumscribe the word. It’s more like a discreet servant who pops in whenever called upon and exits just as soundlessly as he enters.

Postmodernity and Its Discontents (1997) by the astute and prolific Polish-British sociologist Zygmunt Bauman doesn’t mention the word until the last page. He argues that postmodern politics must be guided by the triumvirate of freedom, difference and solidarity, that solidarity is the necessary condition and the essential contribution of the collective to the preservation of freedom and difference.25 In other words, freedom and difference derive naturally from postmodern society, whereas solidarity must be a creature of politics. Nevertheless, it can easily flip over into intolerance, thereby encroaching upon freedom while narrowing the innate differences among individuals and groups.

Whereas Giddens associates solidarity with “the new individualism,” Bauman links it to the overall collective. It’s just one more example of how the word has been pulled in all directions like some kind of Barbapappa blob.
Few are the postwar social scientists or philosophers who have devoted much attention to the word solidarity. One of them is American philosopher Richard Rorty, particularly in his 1989 book Contingency, Irony and Solidarity.26 His ideas have aroused a great deal of attention and discussion.

Rorty aligns himself with pragmatism, the school of philosophy that has generally held sway in North America for over a century. Pragmatism assumes a close affinity between thought and action while denying that there is an ultimate truth available to either scientists or philosophers. Rorty has been heavily influenced by a number of postmodernists without resorting to their idiom – his style is unpretentious, straightforward and easily accessible.

Rorty regards himself as a liberal in the American, as opposed to European, sense of the word. As an unswerving pragmatist, he does not believe that there are such eternal values as freedom, justice or democracy. A terminology capable of unveiling some sort of ethical truth is equally quixotic. On the other hand, he posits the existence of many competing terminologies, each of which is contingent and suitable for particular contexts. Rorty calls himself an ironist in that he maintains a relativistic, skeptical attitude even to his own convictions. The principles to which he adheres are not some kind of eternal discoveries, but rather inventions intrinsic to a particular historical situation.

His relativism notwithstanding, Rorty does not consider faith in progress to be an indefensible philosophical position. Quite the contrary, he is unreservedly optimistic in the belief that modern society is drawing more and more people into its open and tolerant embrace. The merchants of doom, on the other hand, claim to discern the disintegration of democracy.

For Rorty, solidarity – one of his key concepts – is growing ever more inclusive. As such, he is careful to point out what solidarity is not. It isn’t an inner quality that people possess as part of their genetic makeup or a “core self” that they may be unable to fully cultivate. It isn’t a universal principle that an individual, guided by erudite philosophers, can discover.

Solidarity is always directed toward “one of us,” and “us” cannot refer to all people The use of “we” assumes the exclusion of someone who belongs to the others – and those others are always people, not animals or machines.

That may sound a bit far-fetched, if not shocking, since the people who are excluded are thereby defined as deviant. But Rorty’s point is that concrete circumstances determine which qualities are selected for censure. During the Nazi occupation, Danes and Italian were more inclined to shelter Jews than were Belgians – who didn’t regard them as integral to the community. The logical conclusion is that a number of common concerns linked Jews to the rest of Danish and Italian society.

Rorty occasionally implies that the very process of naming a group is decisive in itself. He asks himself how liberals should relate to African-American youth who find themselves in a hopeless situation. The most powerful approach is not to argue that black people are “fellow human beings,” since that phrase is much too vague. A more effective way of going about it is to point out the wrongness of other Americans being treated in such a manner.

In other words, we can make the “Other” one of us simply by re-labeling him or her. That sounds a bit dubious, and Rorty would certainly concede that more durable bonds than words are required. In fact, he acknowledges as such when he discusses how to forge solidarity in places like Bosnia or Alabama despite a legacy of hatred. For a pragmatist, it’s like sewing a quilt with “a thousand small stitches.” The stitches must consist of human relationships of various types, as well as common external concerns.27

Rorty consistently links solidarity to pain. He quotes another American philosopher that “liberals are the people who think cruelty is the worst thing we do.”28 Thus, the suffering of others calls upon us to express our solidarity. But what happened to the sense of “we”? Doesn’t it exclude certain people, whether or not they are in pain? Based on his optimistic standpoint, Rorty argues that more and more people are being incorporated into the overall community. In doing so, he leaves himself open to the objection that modern times have seen many communities tear themselves apart, many affinities go up in smoke, and many quilts – whether finely stitched or not – unravel.

Rorty is keen to make a distinction between the public and private spheres. The private sphere includes the meaning of life, given that only the individual can define it for himself or herself. But suffering and pain, as well as their antidote of solidarity, are public concerns.

Why is the word solidarity so essential for Rorty? Presumably he sees it as one element of a radical, non-socialistic vocabulary capable of reconciling cohesion and community with individualism and respect for the private realm. Solidarity is a key concept in Rorty’s pragmatic ethics.

Historian Peter Baldwin views the matter quite differently in The Politics of Social Solidarity (1990). Solidarity “is only misleadingly analogous to altruism. An individual sentiment, altruism is generally confined to narrow circles of the like-minded. Solidarity, in those few instances where it has been realized, has been the outcome of a generalized and reciprocal self-interest. Not ethics, but politics explain it.”

In contrast to Rorty, Baldwin makes a razor-sharp distinction between philanthropy – which is based on the dependence of one party on the other – and solidarity – which is based on interdependence. A welfare system that proceeds from solidarity is all-inclusive. Regardless of your status in society, you are entitled to assistance if you become sick, unemployed or too old to work.

In Baldwin’s view, such a system requires the support of the middle class and cannot proceed solely from the workers. Rather than seeing themselves solely as welfare’s bankrollers, the middle class soon discovers that it has the most to gain from such an arrangement.

Thus, Baldwin dismisses a number of common explanations for the emergence of the general welfare, including the orthodox Marxist view that government sick pay and retirement benefits are a ruse by the ruling class to keep workers under their thumb. Similarly, he rejects the typical social democratic notion that the working class builds up the welfare system. Nor does he believe that government bureaucrats, let alone the market, can do so. The proper formula is an alliance among the various classes on the basis of self-interest.

So far, Baldwin’s approach seems to be all of a piece – emotions have no part in the mechanism of solidarity. But at one point he appears to contradict that assessment: “Without some sense of collective identity, of community or ‘sameness,’ even a shared predicament is unlikely to prompt mutual aid.”29
It may appear at first glance that contemporary ideas about solidarity lack inner consistency. A natural suspicion is that the word has become a kind of chameleon. However, there’s little doubt that it possesses an allure that tempts many thinkers to affix their own particular definition.

But we can map a common terrain, a problem complex in which the various definitions are interrelated.

Variations on a theme

The dictionary of the Swedish National Encyclopedia (Nationalencyklopedin) defines solidarity as “a feeling of affinity with and willingness to support and assist other people,” followed in tiny letters by “particularly members of the same group.”

The most interesting word here is “feeling.” Solidarity is a sense of, as opposed to actual, affinity. The word is obviously charged. It is closely related to empathy, which the dictionary describes as “the ability to identify with.” Or even more like “brotherhood” or a “personal relationship” that is “based on the feeling of commonness.”30

Durkheim, on the other hand, is careful to distinguish between (interdependence) and .31 He sees the division of labor as bringing people together like the various organs of the body. Just as the heart cannot survive without the brain or lungs, a shoemaker needs the butcher and the baker. People in a well-functioning society are aware of such relationships, and their ethics are a manifestation of that consciousness.

Durkheim’s use of the word was typical of his time and has lived on to this very day. The above discussion has identified two versions. Svensson does not write about actual interdependence in society, but rather of an abstract system based on norms and legal regulations. But empathy, the other side of his equation, is definitely within the realm of feeling. Baldwin’s ethics appear to proceed from feeling as well, while the rules that the community follows stem from concrete political decisions.
Since Rorty makes no such distinction, he doesn’t pit solidarity against philanthropy Baldwin. That influences his concept of solidarity, since philanthropy is always a matter of emotions that invoke empathy and individual choice.

My own approach is to strictly separate the reality and feeling of solidarity. Furthermore, I break down actual solidarity into that which is socially, politically or legally based.

There is also another distinction that needs to be made here. The word solidarity was associated early on with the motto “All for one and one for all.” But what is meant by “all”? Remember that the Swedish National Encyclopedia’s dictionary added in fine print “particularly members of the same group.” Presumably that group could range anywhere from the family to the whole of humanity.

Durkheim defined the group as all of society – a rather straightforward approach at first glance. Mechanical solidarity, which is based on homogeneous societies, assumes an equality among human beings that provides for cohesion. Organic solidarity, on the other hand, proceeds from inequality and is more steadfast.

According to Durkheim, modern society does not extend beyond a nation’s borders. At this point, the idea that the entire world will form a is a mere pipe dream.

The early socialist workers’ movement looked at solidarity very differently. Solidarity, the common interest, is confined to a particular class but not to any one country. It’s true that society binds the classes together in a deadly embrace. Capitalists need workers and vice versa. But workers can expect no mercy from capitalists. They can improve their status only by cementing their bonds with each other.

While the movement regarded solidarity as a reality, it argued that workers needed to be conscious of it in order to wage a successful battle. Feeling was of secondary importance, making for more fervent agitation and more powerful revolutionary songs.

To sum it up, “all” means the entire nation for Durkheim and a particular class for Marx.
My third key distinction is between solidarity based on reciprocity and that which exists chiefly for the benefit of the most needy citizens. Whereas Durkheim and Marx advocate the first type, Rorty seems to approach the second. As soon as the boundary between solidarity and philanthropy is crossed, the emphasis begins to fall on the downtrodden. Nevertheless, my distinction is not always easy to make. For instance, there is no unambiguous way of categorizing Baldwin’s interpretation of solidarity’s role in a cohesive world community. He proceeds from what people need rather than what they deserve. So is solidarity only for those who require help? In an all-inclusive system, everyone can play that role and reciprocity is restored.

Once again, solidarity is a highly malleable concept. The source of its popularity is not hard to comprehend. Nor is it surprising that its ingredients vary over time and across the ideological spectrum. Solidarity is about cohesion, so much so that it occasionally (as in the case of Durkheim) professes to answer sociology’s fundamental query: what holds society together? Why don’t people abandon a collective that places so many demands on them? Other, more modest, tasks are onerous enough: the ability of the working class to achieve its goals, the international community, the unity of the nation, care for those in distress, the general security and simple respect for other people.
This article is based on the first part of the Att se sig sjŠlv i andra – om solidaritet (Bonnier EssŠ, 1999).

"Bilan...", see Jacques Chastenet: La rŽpublique triomphante 1893-1906 (vol. III of Histoire de la troisime rŽpublique, Paris: Hachette, 1955), p. 207. On "teuf-teuf", ibid. p. 189.

On Millerand's speech, see Charles Gide and Charles Rist, Geschichte der volkswirtschaflichen Lehrmeinungen (translated from French, Jena: Gustav Fischer, 1923) p. 643.

Durkheim and morality according to De la division du travail social (in the 2 French edition, Paris: PUF, 1930 and later), pp. xxxvii-xli.

The Third Republic's official ideology; see J.E.S. Hayward, "The Official Social Philosophy of the French Third Republic: LŽon Bourgeois and Solidarism", in International Review of Social History Vol. VI (1961) pp. 19-48. See also Steven Lukes, Emile Durkheim: His Life and Works. A Historical and Critical Biography (1 edition 1973, later Stanford: Stanford U.P., 1985), p. 351.

Durkheim quote cited by Fritz K Ringer, Fields of Knowledge: French Academic Culture in Comparative Perspective, 1890-1920 (Cambridge et al.: Cambridge U.P., 1992) p. 235f.

Zola's photographs in the volume Zola photographe (Paris: Dano‘l, 1979 and later).

In Napoleon's Code civil solidarity appears in Article 1211; see TrŽsor de la langue franaise (Tome 5, Paris 1992, pp. 623-26).

Fourier's work is entitled ThŽorie de quatre mouvements et des destinŽs gŽnŽrales (1808), in Oeuvres compltes de Charles Fourier (Tome I, Paris: Aux bureau de la phalange, 1861, pp. 272-85).

Comte, Cours de la philosophie positive, Vol. IV, facsimile in Oeuvres d'Auguste Comte, Vol. IV (Paris: ƒd. Anthropos, 1969), pp. 431, 485-96 and 517 ff.

Renaud, SolidaritŽ. Vue synthŽthique sur la doctrine de Ch. Fourier (1842, 3 edition Paris: Librairie PhalanstŽrienne, 1847). Quote p. 37.

The name of the American is Parke Godwin; quote from Arthur E. Bestor, "The Evolution of the Socialist Vocabulary," in Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 9, 1948, p. 273.

The name of the German was Heinrich Bernhard Oppenheim; he was a "right-wing Hegleian." His text is in the major work Philosophie des Rechts und der Gesellschaft, of which the passage referred to (Chapter 40) appears in H. LŸbbe (editor), Die Hegelsche Rechte: Texte... (Stuttgart: Friedrich Fromann) p. 195f.

FrŽdŽric Bastiat, Harmonies Žconomiques (1850, vol. VI in Oeuvres compltes, Paris: Guillaumin, 1855) pp. 559-566.

On brotherhood as term and concept, see the article "BrŸderlichkeit" (by Wolfgang Schieder) in Reinhart Koselleck et al (editors), Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe... (Volume I, Stuttgart: Ernst Klett, 1972), particularly p. 577ff.

Marx and brotherhood in Inauguraladresse der Internationalen Arbeiter-Assoziation, in Marx-Engels Werke (Vol. 16, Berlin: Dietz, 1964) p. 12.

Becker on solidarity in Vorbote no. 8, 1866. see also no. 3, 1871. - In the large collection of letters in Marx Engels Werke, you can get a good idea of the shifting relations among Marx, Engels and Becker.

Brecht's "Solidarity Song" was put to music by Hanns Eisler. - The refrain in German is: "VorwŠrts und nicht vergessen/ worin unsre StŠrke besteht!/ Beim Hungern und beim Essen/ VorwŠrts, nie vergessen/ Die SolidaritŠt!"

Georg Klaus - Manfred Buhr (editors), Philosophisches Wšrterbuch (Volume II, 1964, 2 edition Berlin: VEB, 1975).

On , see Ludolf Herbst, Die erste Internationale als Problem der deutschen Politik in der ReichsgrŸnderzeit. Ein Beitrag zur Strukturanalyse der Politik "monarchischer SolidaritŠt" (Gšttingen: Gšttinger Bausteine zur Geisteswissenschaft, 1975).

A Second International, dominated by Marxists, was founded in Paris in 1889.

Two influential German Catholic thinkers were Franz Hitze and Heinrich Pesch. Hitze's most important work was Kapital und Arbeit und die Reorganisation der Gesellschaft (Paderborn, 1880); about solidarity, particularly p. 435f.

A highly factual presentation of Catholic solidarity thinking in general and the current pope's in particular is Kevin P. Doran, Solidarity: A Synthesis of Personalism and Communalism in the Thought of Karol Woytila/Pope John Paul II (New York: Peter Land, 1996). The quote on p. 13 - from Pius XII - is cited in Doran, p. 82. - The word "caritas", which means either period of scarcity or devotion and love in classical Latin, means "philanthropy" in modern languages under the influence of Christian thinking. In French, "faire la charitŽ" means to practice charity toward the poor (Le Micro-Robert), the same thing in Italian (Zanichelli), and in English "giving voluntarily to those in need" is the primary meaning of "charity", whereas the sense of love of your neighbor has become subordinate (The Concise Oxford Dictionary).

Per Svensson in Tomas Andersson (editor), Solidaritet, en antologi (Gšteborg: Trots Allt, 1998), p. 56.

Anthony Giddens, The Third Way: The Renewal of Social Democracy, Cambridge: Polity Press, 1998. Blair quote p.1, on collectivism and individualism pp. 34-37, on globalization and a new solidarity p. 78f., on the danger of the isolation of the elite and the lower class p. 105ff.

Bauman, Postmodernity and Its Discontents, New York University Press, 1997.

Contingency, Irony and Solidarity, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

Ronald A. Kuipers analyzes Rorty's concept of solidarity in Solidarity and the Stranger: Themes in the Social Philosophy of Richard Rorty (Lanham: Christian Studies Today, 1997). The quote from Rorty on the quilt is cited on p. 73 (which actually comes from a yet unpublicized essay by Rorty entitled "Ethics Without Universal Obligation").

The American philosopher who speaks of cruelty toward others is Judith Shklar.

The final passage in Peter Baldwin's The Politics of Social Solidarity: Class Bases of the European Welfare State 1875-1975 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), p. 299. On the difference between philanthropy and solidarity p. 29, the general welfare system p. 47-54, the alternative explanations p. 39-47, and the quote "Without some sense..." p. 33.

The French Le Micro-Robert is not as unambiguous as the Swedish National Encyclopedia. For the word , it offers the alternative "people who are or feel connected through common responsibility or common interests." Approximately the same pattern appears in Langenscheidts Grosswšrterbuch but with the emphasis on interest: solidarity joins those who have the same interest or who feel a sense of affinity. In both cases, solidarity is primarily a fact and secondarily a feeling. The order is reversed in the Oxford Concise Dictionary: "unity or agreement of feeling or action, esp. among individuals with a common interest."

Durkheim, De la division du travail social, p. 19, 27, 31 and passim. On society's boundaries and human brotherhood ibid. 401f. - David Lookwood compares the social views of Durkheim and Marx in Solidarity and Schism: 'The Problem of Disorder' in Durkheimian and Marxist Sociology (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992), though without taking up Marxism's concept of solidarity.

Published 16 September 2002
Original in Swedish
Translated by Ken Schubert

© Sven-Eric Liedman eurozine


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