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.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

The Rise and Development of Solidarism

A short time ago we looked over the website of an organization ostensibly dedicated to promoting solidarity and solidarism as the solution to the ills of the world.  Intrigued, we looked the website over carefully.  After a bit, we noticed something distinctly odd.  The organization talked a lot about solidarity . . . but didn’t define it anywhere!  We won't embarrass them by posting a link or revealing their Secret Identity.


In the Just Third Way we believe that solidarity is not just a feel good, vague term, but — along with subsidiarity — an essential component of the virtue of social justice.  The connection dates from the time that social justice was not yet discerned as a particular virtue, but “only” a principle.

In the late 1830s Msgr. Aloysius Taparelli, S,J., a leader in the Thomist revival, developed the idea of social justice as a specific, identifiable principle, although not a particular virtue with a definable act of its own. (A. Taparelli, Saggio Teorico di Diritto Naturale (1845); cf. Rev. William J. Ferree, S.M., Ph.D., The Act of Social Justice.  Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1942, ©1943, 83.) He intended this as an alternative to the Democratic Religion and Neo-Platonism of the socialists, particularly Félicité de Lamennais.

Félicité de Lamennais


Taparelli conceived social justice as a guiding principle to reform human institutions.  The idea was to conform institutions to the demands of individual human nature and the common good, bringing people together in solidarity.  In Taparelli’s thought all human matters, even (or especially) social improvement and the general welfare, must be subordinate to the natural law as understood in Aristotelian-Thomism and to the Magisterium of the Church.

Msgr. Aloysius Taparelli, S.J.


There are thus absolutes — natural rights inhering in each human person, such as life, liberty, and private property — that must remain sacred and inviolate, regardless of the needs of individuals or society.  Taparelli’s principle of social justice went no further than that.  He does not appear to have construed it as a virtue in the classical sense.  What he developed was not in that sense a true social ethics, but individual ethics with a good intention toward the common good. (Rev. William J. Ferree, S.M., Ph.D., Introduction to Social Justice.  New York: Paulist Press, 1948, 10.)

The big push for “solidarism,” however, came some decades later from a French sociologist.  David Émile Durkheim profoundly influenced ultrasupernaturalism and today’s popular understanding of religion.  A disciple of Saint-Simon, (Julian Strube, “Socialist Religion and the Emergence of Occultism,” Religion, 2016, 46:3, 264.) Durkheim is credited with the first scientific treatment of solidarism, a term he applied to a socialist — “entirely positivist” (Joseph A. Schumpeter, History of Economic Analysis.  New York: Oxford University Press, 1954, 413.) — form of corporatism (fascism).

David Émile Durkheim


Durkheim presented his religious theories in Les Forms Élémentaires de la Vie Religieuse (1912), “The Elementary Forms of Religious Life.” (Allen & Unwin in London and Macmillan and Co. in New York published the first English edition simultaneously in 1915.)  Fulton Sheen characterized Durkheim’s view of God as “a divinized society.” (Fulton J. Sheen, Religion Without God.  New York: Garden City Books, 1954, 54.) As Joseph Alois Schumpeter put it, for Durkheim, “religion is the group’s worship of itself.” (Schumpeter, History of Economic Analysis, op. cit., 794.)

This is a logical conclusion drawn from Durkheim’s belief that religion is a social, rather than a spiritual phenomenon.  Durkheim’s thought is similar to (if not the same as) the secular mindset guiding the Great Reset and related proposals.

At about the same time, Fr. Heinrich Pesch, S.J., worked to reorient Durkheim’s socialist-fascist version of solidarism to conform to natural law and Catholic teaching.  Many authorities believe Pesch made the most original contribution to Central European Catholic thought before 1918.  Often credited with being the founder of solidarism, he should more accurately be viewed as its redeemer, at least from a natural law perspective.

Fr. Heinrich Pesch, S.J.


Pesch began with the ultrasupernaturalist-socialist version of solidarism developed by Durkheim, based in part on the positivism of Comte and the New Christianity of Saint-Simon.  Bringing Durkheim’s concepts into conformity with the principles of Aristotelian-Thomism — particularly private property as a natural right (Gustav Gundlach, S.J., “Solidarist Economics, Philosophy and Socio-economic Theory in Pesch” Social Order, April 1951, 185.) — Pesch transformed solidarism from a statist/totalitarian philosophy, into a natural law, “person centered” system, but without making it a form of individualism. (Richard E. Mulcahy, S.J., The Economics of Heinrich Pesch. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1952, 6.)

In Pesch’s solidarism, the human person is at the center of the social system, and thus also at the center of economic activity.  For Pesch, society is neither a mere voluntary aggregate of individuals, nor an amorphous collective, a “substance” or abstraction independent of the individuals who compose it. (Alfred Diamant, Austrian Catholics and the First Republic: Democracy, Capitalism, and the Social Order 1918-1934.  Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1960, 161.)

Fr. Oswald von Nell-Breuning, S.J.


Pesch explained that society is a union of individuals all working toward common goals, but without prejudice to individual goals; the human person is not to be subsumed into the collective, any more than the natural order is to be absorbed by the supernatural order. (Cf. Wojtyła, “Thomistic Personalism,” Person and Community, op. cit., 174.) Keeping in mind that Pesch was an Aristotelian-Thomist, and thus recognized that God’s Intellect and Will are in perfect union and do not have separate acts, Pesch defined solidarism as “[t]he reciprocity and mutuality of human interests . . . based on the rational nature of the human personality.” (Diamant, Austrian Catholics and the First Republic, op. cit., 161.)

Although Pesch did not consider social justice a particular virtue — a development at the center of Pope Pius XI’s social doctrine (Rev. William J. Ferree, S.M., The Act of Social Justice.  Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1942 (© 1943), 84-85.) — the Holy Father did incorporate some of Pesch’s concepts into Quadragesimo Anno and Divini Redemptoris.  This was through the Königswinterkreis discussion group composed largely of Pesch’s students, two members of which, Father Oswald von Nell-Breuning, S.J. and Father Gustav Gundlach, S.J., were called to the Vatican in 1931 for consultation.

Despite the profundity of his thought, Pesch has suffered egregiously from latter day disciples who fail to see the distinction between his Christian solidarism and Durkheim’s fascist-socialist version.  In common with what happened to the work of both Chesterton and Sheen, and as we will see in the next posting on this subject, the tendency has been to impose a socialist and ultrasupernaturalist interpretation on Pesch’s solidarism, turning it into the very thing it was intended to counter.