By Gaither Stewart
"When it is authentic believing is uncertain like existence." – (Nicola Chiaromonte, To Believe or Not To Believe.)
Solidarity is the fundamental link that unites human beings. In every time and every place. A tsunami strikes Asia, and other humans rally to help. A hurricane hits the Gulf peoples, and solidarity nations rush to their aid. The instinct for solidarity is in the nature of the human race. Solidarity departs from the concept that all men are brothers, of a common origin. On the most basic level solidarity is the sense of participation in the difficulties and bad luck of others.
On a political and social level, solidarity expresses the concordance of many in aspirations to help each other. Solidarity is a fundamental word among progressives that differentiates them from the Right. In a world intent on economic and scientific progress at the cost of a widening gap between rich and poor, the survival of the human instinct for solidarity has never been more essential. In this respect, solidarity is not an abstract ideal. That four-fifths of the world consists of have-nots is a fact.
Therefore solidarity is a cornerstone of moral conduct. It reflects a desire to be a good man. Solidarism is an ethical-social doctrine founded on the principle that the human being, though remaining an individual, realizes himself in a natural society—for example, of family and nation and today of the universe—whose members are linked by solidarity. Solidarism also claims a historic-judicial base in that each human benefits from the patrimony handed down to him by past generations; he is indebted to the past and should compensate by helping his contemporaries.
Yet, after these definitions, we recognize that in practice social solidarity is contradicted by the class structure of society and its resulting conflicts. Above all, as anyone can see today, the idea of solidarity is annihilated by the existence of war. It’s inconceivable that a war government can lay claim to principles of social solidarity.
Why Speak of Solidarity?
Industrial society has made a fetish—no! not simply a fetish, but a god—of scientific progress. Political elections show that the most successful political movements are those that best promote the vague concept of economic progress. Yet the very nature of progress is elusive. Though in theory progress guarantees happiness for the greatest number of people, it is contradictory because it ignores what is best for the neglected minority that needs more solidarity.
Anyway, we don’t know exactly what happiness is or even how to measure it. Perhaps it means only a state free of suffering, or of not suffering too much. Something close to well-being! On the other hand it is disputable that that kind of happiness is the ultimate aim of human life at all. It is worth remembering that Protestant culture started with Martin Luther who rejected the whole idea of happiness, pronouncing his gloomy theology and Weltanschauung of ‘leiden, leiden, Kreuz, Kreuz’ which means suffering and the cross.
Once ruling classes found it advantageous to keep the working class on the verge of starvation to keep them obedient. Today they know it is better to give them enough to make them complacent— in industrialized societies, a house, a car and a TV set—while ignoring the poverty of the rest. The god-Progress promises us the maximum happiness by changing the material conditions of life.
Yet it has an undesirable collateral effect: it infects the mind with an expensive disease called no-think. As a result the individual doesn’t know if he is happy or not. That is the reason political leaders devote so much effort to assuring their people that they are well off.
And that is why we need agitators: to tell people they are not happy. That it’s stupid to be happy in their situation. For the truth is most people just exist. If you don’t resist and rebel it means you are blind. For anyone would admit that it’s stupid to be content with a life of a house, a car and a TV set.
That is to say that the price of progress is high for the individual. Moreover—and something to consider—progress at any cost is not consonant with democracy. The greater the impulse toward material progress, the less space remains for solidarity, the less for democracy, and, in the extreme, the nearer totalitarianism.
The paradox is that the god-Progress is the only acceptable universal god that allows people to continue to act loyal to their traditional gods, obliged “to want to believe.” Let the old God remain, build altars to Him, worship Him at the rites on traditional days, recite prayers to the heavens, include Him in the Constitution, name Him in the classrooms and in speeches to the nation, even go to war for Him. But everyday worship and veneration and recognition are reserved for another: the pragmatic undemocratic god of Progress.
Philosophers tell us that our era is not an era of faith. That it’s rather an era of bad-faith. One reason is that the god-Progress has little room for real values like solidarity. That means that ours is an era of beliefs maintained by force, in want of real ones. “Flag” and “our values” and “our way of life” cannot be enough.
In democratic societies diverse and tolerated opinion and interest groups coexist. Though in opposition one to the other, the interest groups are marked by multiple convergences. Let’s say as in the Democratic and Republican parties in the USA—though there are prevailing tendencies in each party, each contains a bit of everything so that once in power they are more convergent than divergent.
Therefore extremists inside modern societies like to speak of the mediocrity of democracy. Weaklings! Sissies! No guts to take a stand! Democratic mediocrity, they call it. Away with the mediocracy! For example, National Health Care and welfare is the stuff of sissies who can’t make their way. The real success story, they preach, is the man capable of lifting himself by his own bootstraps.
Yet solidarity concerns every human being. Social solidarity and justice go hand in hand—charity-solidarity and a sense of justice united against social injustice. Justice is the application of charity-solidarity. And justice has true moral value only if executed for the benefit of the poor and oppressed.
There can be no justice without solidarity. In this sense slogans like “America first” is not only unjust; it is immoral.
Solidarity is morality at work. It is a truism that the more powerful a person is, the less he needs from others and as a corollary the weaker is his morality. If you are powerful enough you can do without morality, like the rich man who can permit himself the luxury of not carrying money in his pockets and acting as if he were poor while wallowing in wealth. That is the way of the world.
Left and Right
At play here are some of the basic values that separate Left and Right forever. As said above, alliances occur in society, groups and movements merge, sometimes for tactical reasons, sometimes for strategic reasons. Some theorists, usually reactionaries, claim that ideologies are dead which means the disappearance of humanistic aspirations. I disagree. I agree with Harvard Professor Michael Walzer that such talk would mean “closing down of the possibilities for public intellectual and emotional commitment.” A premature announcement, he writes, “that lingers in our minds as disturbing predictions.”
I think we should be clear on one thing: Left and Right can never be the same. Many factors distinguish Left and Right: opposing positions regarding the roles of religion, traditions, race, family, nation, freedom, democracy, peace and war. The most frequent criterion to distinguish one from the other is the position on the ideal of equality. Equality concerns an enormous number of aspects of life: race, class, education, work, opportunities, suffrage. When we speak of equality, certain questions must be answered: Equality for whom? Equality in what? Equality based on what criterion?
Egalitarians favor in general whatever makes men more equal. That is, helping the weak. That is, solidarity. That is, if necessary, welfare and charity.
Since man is man and not God and although each is aware of himself as one among six billion others, he is also aware that because of his mortality he is in the end alone in the universe. Because of his solitude you might expect that his natural inclination would be toward solidarity. But that’s not the case. His consciousness of himself as an individual has made him also the cruelest of all beings. When that side of man predominates, he rejects solidarity, detests other men and, in his folly, tries to raise himself above others.
Something to Believe in
Here we might pose the underrated question: What do we really believe in? Actually no one has an acceptable answer to the basic question of how to live and what to do for one’s salvation. It’s easy to claim to believe in things in which we no longer really believe but continue to believe we believe. For many it’s not that only-on-Sunday God. Each individual must seek his own belief, in the realization that he will never know for sure in what he believes, or to what degree.
“Authentic belief,” as the Italian essayist Nicola Chiaromonte wrote in To Believe and Not to Believe, “is uncertain like existence, and like existence it is already present before one is even aware of it. Explicit beliefs instead concern generally a fictitious world in which real and authentic beliefs are confused with those maintained in form as articles of faith, or perhaps as fanaticism, but are no longer alive. Therefore it is easier to say in what one does not believe than to formulate what one truly believes. And this is also the reason that one who sees and denounces the falseness concealed behind official professions of faith can be so easily accused of not believing in anything.”
In a time when authentic belief has declined, the ideal of Equality is, I suggest, worth consideration. Cynics scoff at the idea of the equality of human beings. I don’t know if a majority agrees with that view but certainly many are content to let Equality lie quietly and undisturbed in the Constitution. The difficulty of achieving redistributive political policies for the defense of the unprotected is confirmation of the low esteem for equality.
Egalitarian policies are those that at least tend to remove obstacles that make men less equal. That characteristic distinguishes the political Left from the Right: the Left aims at greater equality; the Right at less. (I can’t consider these old terms outdated! On the contrary.) This can be deduced from the survival of the utopian theme of the removal of what has been considered the chief obstacle to equality since ancient Greece: private property.
It’s easy to conclude that the world is what it is and that we have to live in it as best we can. But I believe we can imagine it better than it is. Since 1968 youth movements of the world have marched under the slogan that a different world is possible. And what’s wrong with the idea of Utopia as a guide? As Oscar Wilde wrote, “a map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at ….” Otherwise we might as well accept that we are what we were destined to be, to do the miserable things we do, and that our lives as they are, are a necessary part of the order of things.
-Gaither Stewart is a Senior Special Contributing Editor at Cyrano’s Journal and a seasoned professional journalist and essayist. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.