Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Introduction to Solidarism

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.
"Man is by nature a political animal"
Put another way, solidarism is a fancy word for recognizing 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 national 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 an understandable “fallacy of equivocation,” meaning they confuse the meaning of a word in one context with the same or another word in a different context.
To explain, 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.  Thus, Nazis and street gangs have a high degree of solidarity, but cannot be said to be virtuous in the classic or Christian sense.
Gangs have a high degree of solidarity
Institutions are intended to provide an environment within which people can acquire and develop individual virtue.  The Nazi Party and gangs do not provide such an environment, and are therefore flawed institutions.  A Nazi or gang member who truly loved his institution and who had a solid grounding in the precepts of the natural law (remember: charity, whether individual or social, is not true charity unless the demands of justice have been fulfilled; charity is the soul of justice, not its replacement) would organize with others and carry out acts of social justice to reform that institution so that it did provide the right environment in which it is possible to acquire and develop virtue.
Square Deal, not New Deal
(The implied paradox here is that the principles on which Nazi solidarity was based are not themselves consistent with the precepts of the natural law.  Reforming the Nazi Party would, to all intents and purposes, have resulted in the creation of an entirely new group with different fundamental principles.  It might still call itself “the Nazi Party” — although one would have to seriously question why anyone would keep that name — but it would no more be the original Nazi Party than today’s “Progressive Party” is the same as that which ran Theodore Roosevelt for president in 1912.)
One of the keys to social virtue — or any virtue, for that matter — is that it must be completely voluntary, or it loses its virtuous character.  It may be very good, but it is not a virtue.  This also applies to the parts of social virtue, such as solidarity and subsidiarity.
Given essential human dignity and the fundamental natural rights of life, liberty (freedom of association/contract), and private property, then, organized association must be free and uncoerced.  To be truly solidaristic, no institution or group can consist of conscripted, unwilling, or servile members, or it ceases to be virtuous.
Freedom of association key to social justice
Freedom of association — liberty, contract — is so important to solidarity (and thus to all the social virtues, especially social justice and social charity) that to speak of involuntary virtue or coerced virtue is to speak nonsense.  Such a statement is so contradictory that it is neither true nor false, regardless how much argument is made or evidence presented.  It is simply a meaningless noise as it violates the first principle of reason.
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 Quadragesimo Anno, and countless times by implication.
If good action is coerced, it might have good effects (although they will likely not last once the coercion is removed), but it is not virtuous.  It is therefore not justice, social or individual.  Thus, as Pius XI explained,
Pius XI
Moreover, just as inhabitants of a town are wont to found associations with the widest diversity of purposes, which each is quite free to join or not, so those engaged in the same industry or profession will combine with one another into associations equally free for purposes connected in some manner with the pursuit of the calling itself. Since these free associations are clearly and lucidly explained by Our Predecessor of illustrious memory, We consider it enough to emphasize this one point: People are quite free not only to found such associations, which are a matter of private order and private right, but also in respect to them ‘freely to adopt the organization and the rules which they judge most appropriate to achieve their purpose.’ The same freedom must be asserted for founding associations that go beyond the boundaries of individual callings. And may these free organizations, now flourishing and rejoicing in their salutary fruits, set before themselves the task of preparing the way, in conformity with the mind of Christian social teaching, for those larger and more important guilds, Industries and Professions, which We mentioned before, and make every possible effort to bring them to realization.  (Quadragesimo Anno, § 87.)
Unfortunately, many people — especially Catholics who have fallen under the influence of various New Age, socialist, or modernist doctrines — understand “solidarism” in the sense developed by Émile Durkheim.  Durkheim was a sociologist who was a great inspiration for the modernists and New Agers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
This, of course, raises the question, Who was Émile Durkheim?

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