Prof. dr. Andreas Kinneging, University of Leiden School of
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.
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
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.
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?
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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:
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?
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.