THE Global Justice Movement Website

THE Global Justice Movement Website
This is the "Global Justice Movement" (dot org) we refer to in the title of this blog.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Personalism and Solidarism

As we saw in the previous posting on this subject, we saw how the “personalism” of Pope John Paul II fit into the broader framework of social virtue, particularly social justice . . . which is not socialism, however much some confused people insist that it is.


Today we look at another subject that quite a few people seem to have confused with socialism: solidarism.  Part of the problem, of course, is that solidarism has also been confused with socialism.  So has capitalism . . . the first socialists, in fact, were capitalists!

No kidding.  Robert Owen and Friedrich Engels were wealthy capitalists.  Other early socialists were aristocrats and bourgeoisie.  Go figure.  Of course, they always exempted themselves from the abolition of private property.  Evidently, they knew how to keep it from corrupting them, not like the rest of us.

Karol Jozef Wojtyła


Anyway, returning to solidarism, the concept of solidarity is a key element in John Paul II’s personalist thought. (Solicitudo Rei Socialis, §§ 38-40.) This is not Émile Durkheim’s fascist-socialist solidarity, although that is how many people still interpret it.  John Paul II’s — Karol Jozef Wojtyła — solidarism derived from that of Fr. Heinrich Pesch, with whose work he was familiar.

In Wojtyła’s thought, solidarity is a characteristic of groups per se, a principle that fulfills and completes that general justice which permeates all virtue, a sort of “general social charity.”  As such, it relates to social charity as legal justice relates to social justice, viz, a general virtue as it relates to a particular virtue: “Solidarity is undoubtedly a Christian virtue. In what has been said so far it has been possible to identify many points of contact between solidarity and charity, which is the distinguishing mark of Christ's disciples.” (Ibid., § 40.)

Fr. Heinrich Pesch, S.J.


That is, solidarity is an awareness of rights and duties within a particular group that define how sovereign individuals relate as persons to one another and to the group.  All people as members of a group have solidarity when they have that awareness and can participate fully as members of that group.

Solidarity is an essential prerequisite for social justice, for only members of groups can carry out acts of social justice.  Cooperation is achieved, not by absorbing people into the group or collective, but by mutual interaction and give-and-take in exercising rights and attaining the common goals and aspirations of the group.  Each and every human being, even — or especially — as a member of society retains his uniqueness and individuality.  As Wojtyła explained,

Only the human being as a person is the true center of morality, whereas every society and social group bases its morality on the human being as a person and derives its morality from this source.  The concept of social morality is, of course, something very real and continually evolving, but it in no way represents an attempt to substitute society for the human person as the substantial subject of moral values and the proper center of morality. (Wojtyła, “The Problem of the Theory of Morality,” Person and Community, op. cit., 155.)

Robert Owen


Personalism is not, strictly speaking, a philosophy in the academic sense, i.e., a system of philosophical concepts, such as Thomism or Platonism.  Emmanuel Mounier claimed that personalism was not a philosophy in any sense and insisted on calling it a movement.

Not going to Mounier’s extreme — which may have contributed to his split from Jacques Maritain — personalism is often described as an intellectual stance or worldview with schools of thought co-existing in many faiths and philosophies. (Thomas D. Williams and Jan Olaf Bengtsson, “Personalism,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,, accessed June 29, 2021.) That is why Wojtyła formed his thought within the larger context of the philosophy of Aquinas.

Solidarity and personalism are related but are not the same thing.  A group can have a high degree of solidarity, but not be personalist, e.g., street gangs and Nazis.  Construing solidarity as a virtue in the classic sense as enthusiasts and other moral relativists often do — that is, good in and of itself and inherent by nature in all human beings — obscures this important distinction.  Making acceptance of a group’s principles inherent in human nature violates free will and turns solidarity as conceived in Pesch’s and Wojtyła’s thought into just another form of socialism and fascism à la Durkheim.

Pope Pius XI


Personalism enables us to evaluate a philosophy to see how well — or if — it conforms to the particular, even unique needs of every human being as a human person and special creation of God.  Wojtyła’s personalism brings together the concrete, objective reality of each human person, and the abstract, theoretical-moral plane of metaphysics (that is, the natural law) to reconcile the actual to the ideal and bring them together to mutual advantage. (Gian Franco Svidercoschi, Stories of Karol: The Unknown Life of John Paul II.  Liguori, Missouri: Liguori/Triumph, 2003, 139-140.)

Combining Pius XI’s social doctrine with Wojtyła’s personalism gives us a complete way of understanding how each human person fits into the social order in a consistent way — and precisely why the Great Reset and similar proposals are not compatible with the natural law and Catholic social doctrine.

Specifically, if an interpretation of a doctrine or principle of a faith or philosophy that claims to be personalist or consistent with Catholic social teaching results does not respect the dignity of every human person, that interpretation is by definition incorrect or faulty.  As Wojtyła and others have realized, personalism and the respect for human dignity at the heart of Catholic social teaching are inseparable concepts; one is incomplete without the other.  Not even a Great Reset can change that.