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.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Solidarism, Personalism, and Social Justice

If you want to trigger a violent discussion in pretty much any forum, you don’t need to drag in politics, religion, or even the Great Pumpkin.  No all you need is to mention social justice.  Regardless how you define it, somebody else will tell you that you’re wrong and everything you say is a lie, not to mention stupid, vindictive, ignorant, stupid, vicious, stupid, malicious, stupid and just plain stupid.  And that’s when they’re being polite about it.


As we saw in the previous posting on this subject, the concept of solidarity suffers from a similar series of misconceptions.  This is not surprising, as solidarity and social justice are very closely linked, although they are not the same thing — although you’ll have a hard time convincing a number of people of that.  They might not know what solidarity and social justice are all about, or even be able to define them other than vaguely or confusingly, but they will fight you to the death for it.

Solidarity is also a key concept in the personalism of Karol Józef Wojtyła (Pope John Paul II), as he noted after his election to the papacy in §§ 38-40 of Solicitudo Rei Socialis.  Of course, in many cases, all that means is more opportunities to misunderstand solidarity and social justice along with personalism. . . .

Karol Józef Wojtyła


We need to make it clear that when we speak of solidarity here, it is not Émile Durkheim’s fascist-socialist solidarity, although that is how many people still interpret it.  Wojtyła’s solidarism is in the same Aristotelian-Thomist family of thought as that of Fr. Heinrich Pesch.

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.)


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. (Cf. Divini Redemptoris, § 29.) 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.)

Emmanuel Mounier


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 is 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.

Pope Pius XI


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 ultrasupernaturalists often do — that is, good in and of itself and inherent by nature in all human beings — obscures this important distinction.  Requiring acceptance of a group’s principles as a precondition for recognizing personality 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.

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 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.  The problem is how to put these principles into action — and that is covered in the next posting on this subject.