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Andreas Kinneging - Some remarks on solidarity
.: Data publikacji 03-Gru-2005 :: Odsłon: 2104 :: Recenzja :: Drukuj aktualną stronę :: Drukuj wszystko:.

Prof. dr. Andreas Kinneging, University of Leiden School of Law

I have been asked to say a few words about solidarity as a philosophical notion as a kick-off, so to speak, for the discussion. What I have to say about it does not draw from a secure knowledge well grounded in a careful and prolonged study of that notion, I am afraid. My remarks are little more than some ruminations on a concept that, until the present, I have never given much thought.

Then why the heck are you on this panel, you might think. Well, I guess that is because I am a political, legal and moral philosopher by profession, and I have been doing little else for the past 25 years than read the great books in political, legal and moral philosophy, from the pre-Socratics to the post-modernists. And sometimes I even write a few words about them. Thus, it is understandable that the organizers believed that I knew something about solidarity. As I said, however, I don’t. Having expressed these caveats, let me make a few remarks anyway.

To begin with, when I began thinking about solidarity some time ago, in preparation of today’s speech, my ignorance of the subject stroke me as rather peculiar. Here you are, I was thinking, a connoisseur in political, legal and moral philosophy; how come you know nothing on this subject? If solidarity is in the works of the great philosophers I should know about it. Could it be, I then asked myself, that they do not speak of it, could it be that the notion of solidarity is absent from their works? And indeed, I believe that it by and large is absent.

Plato and Aristotle certainly do not speak of solidarity, neither do Augustine and Aquinas, nor do Hobbes and Spinoza, or any of the other great philosophers, as far as I know, before the nineteenth century. How come?

The etymological dictionary is helpful at this point. It tells us that the notion of solidarity is a neologism, going back no further than the end of the 17th century in France, and the end of the 18th century in Germany.

So the great philosophers before the nineteenth century did not use the term solidarity, simply because they could not: it wasn’t part of their language. It just did not exist yet. But what about the thinkers of the nineteenth and twentieth century? Hegel certainly does not use it. In the Grundlinien der Philosophie des Rechts both in the section on the family and in the section on the corporation, the two sections where one would most expect its employment, he speaks of “sittliche Einheit”, not of solidarity. I don’t think John Stuart Mill ever used the word. Nietzsche certainly didn’t. And neither, to my knowledge, does any of the twentieth century political, legal and moral philosophers of consequence. John Rawls is silent about it. Even in Habermas it isn’t much of a theme, at least in the books I have read.

Who does use the notion of solidarity? One of the few authors that I know of is Emile Durkheim. It is central to his 1890 book on the division of labour. But where did he get it from? My guess is that he got is from Marx and Engels and their followers. That lot used it quite a bit. I hence believe, although I am far from able to provide conclusive evidence for it, that the notion of solidarity became a catchword in socialist circles, somewhere around the middle of the nineteenth century. And as we know, it has remained a socialist catchword ever since. The former Dutch prime-minister, Wim Kok, for instance, went into the election campaign with the slogan ‘strong and solidary’. And the average Dutch socialist politician cries solidarity ever other sentence or so.

Interestingly, in the early twentieth century the term was adopted from the socialists by catholic social theorists such as Heinrich Pesch (1854-1926), and Oswald von Nell-Breuning (1890-1991), the ghostwriter of Pius XI’s Encyclical Quadragesimo Anno (1931). If I am not mistaken, however, it wasn’t Pius XI but his successor Pius XII who first employed the term in an Encyclical: namely in the 1939 Encyclical ‘On the Unity of Human Society’. From then on, the notion of solidarity has become a common and accepted phrase in catholic social thought, a status it has kept until today. We even find it a couple of times in the Church’s new Catechism.

Now, can we explain why this happened? Why in the nineteenth century the socialists began to employ the notion of solidarity, and why somewhat later the Catholic Church picked it up and adopted it? Solidarity, as we all know, refers to a sense of social unity, of togetherness, of fellowship, of the obligation of being mutually helpful. It is linked to, or related to such notions as loyalty, and patriotism, but also to notions such as neighbourly love and compassion; notions that, contrary to solidarity, do play an important role in the great tradition of legal, moral, and political philosophy. So why this neologism?

I believe that, in a nutshell, the following story lies behind it. The first to use the term solidarity were the socialists. They did so in the context of an industrialising and urbanising world, in which the laws of the market became more powerful every day, and in which a working class arose. A working class between whose members a natural loyalty did not exist, such as exists within a family or within a village. Now, what the socialists aspired to was exactly that: a sense of loyalty between de workers. But they couldn’t call it that, because concepts like loyalty are too clannish. One is loyal to one’s tribe, to one’s Gemeinschaft, in Tönnies’ sense. The working class is not a tribe, but a mass of atomistic individuals. One cannot be loyal to a person one does not know. Loyalty is based on a common history, preferably going back for ages. What is needed is loyalty without its specific connotations. Hence, solidarity comes in.

But why not use the notions of neighbourly love and compassion? Well, first of all, these were Christian notions, and most socialists have always been anti-Christian. But, more importantly and profoundly, neighbourly love and compassion are typically virtues concerned with the relation between individuals. Their object is always an individual person. Neighbourly love is something one is supposed to practice with regard to one’s specific neighbour, face to face. It is not something applicable to groups, let alone to masses. There we need something else, a virtue that relates to the anonymous everyman: one for all, all for one. Here, solidarity comes in.

Now, why did catholic social thinkers, and later the catholic church adopt this socialist notion? Well, it was easy for them to do so. First, because many of the worries the socialists had about the modern industrialised, urbanised, market society, were shared by Catholics and the catholic church. And, second, because it was a virtue closely related to Catholicism’s principle virtue: neighbourly love.

The only thing that remains a riddle is why solidarity never became a rallying-cry in protestant circles. After all, protestants too are Christians, and they too were faced with the modern world. Maybe one of you can answer this question?

Wrapping up, let me finish by saying that now that I have given it some thought, the notion of solidarity seems to me eminently worthy of more attention by political, legal and moral philosophers, than it has received until now. I may write a few words about it myself, someday.

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