Criticism - Solidarism


Notwithstanding the popularity of the term 'solidarity' and the numerous attempts made to give effect to the doctrine of which we have just given a summary account, it would be a mistake to imagine that the theory met with sympathy everywhere. On the contrary, it was subjected to the liveliest criticism, especially by the Liberal economists.

It is not that the Liberals deny the existence of solidarity or disap­prove of the results which follow from its operation. The discovery of the law of solidarity under the familiar aspect of division of labour and exchange constitutes a part of their own title to fame, and extrava­gant were the eulogiums which they bestowed upon its working.

They still, however, hold firmly to the belief that economic solidarity is quite sufficient, and that it is also the best imaginable, despite the fact that it may be our duty to organize it afresh. Is it possible to improve upon a system of division of functions which gives every one, every day of his life, the equivalent of the service which he has rendered to society? Bastiat in his fable The Blind and the Paralytic compares this distribution of social effort to an understanding between two such persons, whereby the blind does the walking and the maimed indicates the direction.

Members of this school were strongly of the opinion that it was quite enough to let this principle of each for all work itself out under the pressure of competition. And as a matter of fact is it not to the interest of the producer to consult the wants and tastes and even the fancies of the public? Altruism pursued in this spirit, as it well might be, mani­fests itself as an incessant desire to satisfy the wants of others, and even to live for others. It loses none of its force by becoming, instead of a mere ideal, a professional necessity which no producer can afford to neglect without running the risk of failure. And it is not only between producers and consumers, but also between capital and labour, that such solidarity exists. Neither can produce without the other, and the interest of both is to have as large a produce as possible. A similar kind of solidarity exists among nations. The richer our neigh­bours are the better chance of our finding an outlet for our products.

Moreover, none of these solidarity but is essentially just, since every one receives the exact equivalent of what he gives. What can the new doctrine of solidarity add to this, unless it be, perhaps, an element of pure parasitism?

For what is the essence of the new doctrine if it is not that those members of society who are possessed of a certain superiority of posi­tion, either material or intellectual (which is very often the result of the greater contribution which they have made to the material or intellectual capital of society), by a bold inversion of their material positions should find themselves treated as the debtors of such as have not succeeded? The natural result is that there are springing up every­where in society whole classes who are living upon the claims of soli­darity, just as their predecessors lived upon the claims of Christian charity. More daring than their forebears, they have none of the humility of the ordinary beggar, but boldly demand their due; not for the love of God, as was wont with the true mendicant, but in the name of some quasi-contract, with a policeman within hailing distance lest the debtor should not acquit himself in a sufficiently graceful fashion. Hence the swarm of pensioners and semi-invalids, of unem­ployed who patronize the relief works, and of victims of accidents more or less real, of parents who have their children reared for nothing, of manufacturers and proprietors who make a profit directly or in­directly out of the existence of public rights, and of public servants who in the name of professional solidarity trample national solidarity underfoot and sacrifice the interests of both taxpayer and consumer.

The economists have never held the doctrine that commutative justice by itself—mere do ut des—is enough. Adjacent to the realm of justice lies the domain of charity. But to annex this zone to the dominion of justice and to claim solidarity as a justification seems utter futility.

There is no avoiding this dilemma. Either they get the equivalent of what they give, which is the case under a system of free exchange, or they do not—in which case they must be getting either more or less. In other words, they are either parasites or destitutes—a case of ex­ploitation or of charity.

It is further pointed out that the whole trend of evolution appears to give no countenance to this doctrine of solidarity, and that conse­quently it is of the nature of a retrograde movement. Even in the bio­logical realm we come across what looks like a persistent effort to attain independence or autonomy, a struggle on the part of the individual to free himself from the trammels of his descent. Such must be the explanation of man's heroic efforts to leave the earth and rise towards the skies, and the consequent exultation which the aviator feels when he finds that he has overcome the force of gravity and broken the last link which bound man to his mother earth. Turn­ing to criminal law, we are met with similar considerations there. The collective responsibility of the whole family or tribe seemed quite just to the primitive mind, and the sons of the Atridae and the descen­dants of Adam suffered with hardly a murmur for the sins committed by their parents.2 But to us the doctrine is simply revolting. Whenever such penalties are demanded by nature we can only submit with the best grace that we can command. We are reluctantly bound to admit that the innocent does suffer for the faults of others—that the child perishes because the parent was a drunkard. But we, at any rate, regard such things as evil, and valiantly struggle against them. We are not much given to raising altars to Eumenides. When solidarity breeds contamination we seek to counteract it by a strict individualism that immunes. The innumerable fetters that had been riveted together by the old co-operative regime were ruthlessly torn off by the French Revolution. Why attempt to forge new chains by giving to each individual a hypothetical claim upon his fellows?

The moralists in their turn have also raised objections. They want to know what new principle of morality solidarity professes to teach. When it has been shown that my neighbour's illness may easily com­pass my own death, what new feeling will the mere proving of this beget in me? Will it be love? Is it not much more likely to reveal itself as a desire to keep him as far from me as possible—to get rid of him altogether like a plague-stricken rat, or at least to see that he is locked up in some sanatorium or other? I may perhaps be found more willing to contribute towards the upkeep of the sanatorium, but the dominant motive will be fear, or self-interest, if that word seems preferable.

Thus solidarity, while it does not seem to contain any new doctrine of love, tends to weaken and to suppress the sense of responsibility by treating society as a whole, or at least the social environment, as the source of our errors, our vices and crimes. Individual responsibility, however, is the very basis of morality.

Such are the criticisms preferred by individualist economists. It would be a mistake to imagine, however, that the socialists, the anarchists, or the syndicalists have treated the doctrine with any greater degree of indulgence. The proposal to reconcile masters and workmen, rich and poor, in a kind of silly, sentimental embrace is a menace to socialism and a denial of the principle of class war.

All such criticism, however, utterly fails to convince us. It may be well, perhaps, to get rid of the coercive element in the discharge of social debt, but that does not do away with the valuable contribution made by solidarity both to social economics and to ethics.

Solidarity by itself does not furnish a principle of moral conduct, since it is just a natural fact, and as such it is non-moral. Whenever we imagine that solidarity is something evil, that judgment in itself is a proof that we have had recourse to some criterion outside solidarity itself by which to judge of its good or evil features. It is quite possible also that the idea may be exploited for the profit of the egoist. If solidarity is nothing but a mere cord binding us together it may quite possibly happen that it will be used to exalt some people and to pull others down, and the number brought low may even exceed the number raised up. We need not be surprised if occasionally we find that instead of increasing the power of good we have extended the opportunity for evil. But we must speed the coming of these new powers in the hope that in the end good will triumph over evil. Soli­darity by itself cannot furnish a rule of moral conduct to such as have none already; but, granting the existence of a moral principle, it matters not whether it be egoism or altruism, solidarity supplies us with a leverage of incomparable strength.

In short, it teaches us three important lessons:

1. It shows us that all the good which has happened to others has added to our own well-being, and that all the evil that has befallen them has done us harm, and that consequently we ought to encourage the one and discourage the other, so that a policy of indifferent abstention is no longer possible for any of us.

The mode of action prescribed may be frankly utilitarian, but there is an element of triumph in getting the egoist to forget himself and to remember others, even though it be but for a time. A heart that beats for others, though the reason perhaps be selfish, is a somewhat nobler heart. It is doubtful whether we can ever get pure altruism without some admixture of self-interest. The Gospel only asks that we should love our neighbour as ourselves. Solidarity makes a similar demand, neither more nor less, but undertakes to prove that the neighbour is really myself.

2. It shows us how the results of our actions return upon ourselves with their harvest of suffering or joy a thousand times increased. This gives it its character for solemnity and majesty which has made it such an exceedingly favourable instrument for moral education. To our care is entrusted the welfare of souls, and just as we are led to see that we never really had a right to say that this or that matter was no concern of ours, so we also find ourselves relieved of that other equally heinous maxim, namely, that certain matters concern ourselves alone. Far from weakening the sense of responsibility, as some writers main­tain, it is obvious that it increases it indefinitely.

3. It is true that in a contrary fashion it renders us more indulgent of the faults of others, by showing how often we have been unconscious accomplices in their crime. Morally this is a gain, for it helps us to be more indulgent towards others, but more severe upon ourselves.

From the standpoint of sociological evolution we are confronted with the dissolution of many of the older forms of solidarity and with the emergence of new ones. What really takes place is an extension of the circle of solidarity through the family, the city, and the nation until it reaches humanity—such expansion being accompanied by a doubly fortunate result. On the one hand corporate egoism becomes so ennobled and extended that it includes the whole of humanity, with the result that the strife between antagonistic interests becomes less acute. The old argument from independence had already grown blunt in the struggle with division of labour. Degree of independence is not the sole measure of personality. The savage beneath his ancestral tree is independent, and so perhaps is Ibsen's hero in revolt against society. The king on his throne, on the other hand, who never speaks except in the plural number, is always conscious of his dependence. But the savage because of his independence is powerless, whereas the king because of his dependence is very powerful. Solidarity, whether it be like the rope that binds the Alpine climber to his guide which may lead them both to the abyss, or like the patriotism that rivets the soldier's gaze upon his country's flag, cannot detract from individu­ality. If it be true, as was said just now, that the crystal is the earliest effort of the individual to render itself independent of its environment, we must never forget that it is also the earliest realization of true solidarity in the form of association.

As to the argument of the economists that mere exchange is the only form of solidarity that is at all compatible with the demands of justice, all the schools whose fortunes we have followed in the course of this volume have declared against this view, not excepting even the Mathematical school, the latest offspring of the Classical tradition. Esau's bargain with Jacob, the contracts between the Congo Company and the blacks, or between the entrepreneur and the home-worker, are irreproachable from a Hedonistic standpoint (see p. 509). But no one would consider such primitive exchanges, which, as Proudhon elo­quently remarks, savour of retaliation—an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth—as evidence of the existence of solidarity.

Even if we conceived of exchange as a balance the two sides of which are in equilibrium, it is impossible to escape the conclusion that the contracting parties fare rather differently when they do not start on a footing of complete equality. There is always a Brennus ready to throw his sword into the scales.

It is only natural that we should ask ourselves what is to be done under such circumstances. Must we be content simply to resign our­selves to our fate? This seems inevitable if it be true, as the economists seem to suggest, that human relations depend entirely upon exchange and its derivatives—selling, lending, wage-earning, etc. But it is quite otherwise when these human relations are regarded as the outcome of association, whether professional, mutualist, or co-operative.

In this spirit the worker subscribes to his union with a view to increasing its strength. Undoubtedly he reckons upon getting a higher wage, but there is no necessary relation between his membership of the union and the eventual rise in wages which he expects. The mutualist supports his society in the hope that he may add to the general feeling of security. Undoubtedly in his case again he reckons upon the society paying his doctor should he fall ill, but scores of members pass through life without making any demand upon their society at all, contributing much more than they withdraw. In this way the good lives pay for the bad ones. The member of the co­operative society, in a similar fashion, is more concerned about a fuller satisfaction of his need than he is about the amount of profit that he can get out of it. In short, whereas under a competitive system each one tries to get rid of his neighbour, under a regime of association every one would try to make some use of him. The object of solidarity is to substitute 'each for all' as a principle of action instead of 'each for himself.' Every step taken in this direction, whether we wish it or no, implies a movement away from the regime of exchange in the direction of solidarity.