Introduction to Solidarity
“Solidarity” has been something of a buzzword for a while. Many people use it to justify whatever it is they have on their agendas, while others use it to sound as if they’re with the program.
Yes, solidarity sounds good, so anything solidaristic must be good. What, however, is solidarity and solidarism all about?
Solidarism is defined in sociology as a theory that the possibility of founding a social organization upon a solidarity of interests is to be found in the natural interdependence of members of a society. Solidarity, a characteristic of groups per se, is defined as unity — as of a group or class — that produces or is based on community of interests, objectives, and standards.
Put another way, solidarism recognizes that, as Aristotle put it, “man is by nature a political animal.” Any social organization, from the smallest social group all the way up to the pólis or political unit, will only achieve unity (solidarity) by having or instilling a body of accepted common interests.
Solidarity is closely related to social charity — to all the social virtues, in fact — but is not, strictly speaking, itself a virtue. It is, rather, an essential part of every social virtue, without which social virtue would be impossible. Those who equate solidarity and social charity commit a “fallacy of equivocation,” meaning they confuse the meaning of a word in one context with the same or another word in a different context.
Thus, where solidarity is the acceptance of the principles that define a group as that group and no other, social charity is the virtue that commands us to love our institutions as we love ourselves. The key to social virtue — or any virtue — is that it must be completely voluntary, or it loses its virtuous character. It may be something very good, but it is not a virtue. This also applies to the parts of social virtue, such as solidarity and subsidiarity.
That is why Pope Pius XI made freedom of association the focus of his social doctrine, and the hallmark of social justice. He mentioned freedom of association explicitly nearly forty times in his 1931 encyclical Quadragesimo Anno, and countless times by implication.
Unfortunately, many people understand “solidarism” in the sense developed by sociologist Émile Durkheim. Durkheim was a great inspiration for socialists, modernists, and New Agers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Durkheim’s idea was that God is a “divinized society,” echoing totalitarian philosopher Thomas Hobbes and his concept of the State as a “Mortall God.” To Durkheim, then, religion is a social, not a spiritual phenomenon.
This, as Archbishop Fulton Sheen explained, puts collective man (and thus the State) at the center, not God. As the solidarist political scientist and jurist Heinrich Rommen analyzed this tendency to deify man and demote God, the error starts with a shift in the understanding of the natural law from the Intellect (reason) to the Will (faith).
This leads to pure moral relativism, even nihilism. Socialism (especially of the Fabian variety, but including infusions of Marxism as well), fascism, modernism, and New Age thought become the accepted political theory and the State is “overwhelmed and crushed by almost infinite tasks and duties.” (Quadragesimo Anno, § 78.)
Yes, solidarity is a good thing . . . but only if it is true solidarity, and not one of the many counterfeits and aberrations floating around.