Skip to main content

Solidarity

SOLIDARITY

Solidarity, as defined by Pope john paul ii, represents "a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say for the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all" (Sollicitudo rei socialis, no. 38). Solidarity is a recurring theme in the writings of John Paul II. In the encyclical centesimus annus he says that the term describes "one of the fundamental principles of the Christian view of social and political organization," and notes that previous popes have identified the same principle under the name "friendship" (Leo XIII), "social charity" (Pius XI), and "the civilization of love" (PaulVI) (no. 3). John Paul II's repeated appeal to this principle in a variety of contexts makes it clear that solidarity is neither a vague feeling of compassion or commiseration, nor the union of one group in society over against another. Though the pope uses the word to describe the union of workers against the degradation of their work (Laborem exercens, no. 8), he insists that solidarity "aims at the good of social justice," and is not undertaken "for the sake of 'struggle' or in order to eliminate the opponent" (ibid., no. 20). It is a human and Christian virtue, describing the commitment to the common good. It has three principal manifestations, according to whether the common good is taken to refer to goods, activities, or the communion of persons. This same division is found in the treatment of solidarity in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 19401942.

According to John Paul II, the common good can consist of goods, realized in individuals, that share a common species. Because of our common humanity we can say that we share a common status, in the sense that no person is more or less human than another; that there are perfections common to us all, such as health, knowledge, and religious devotion; and that there are things whose use is inherently common, such as money, food, and technology. Each of these can be the ground of moral and legal rights, and thus can express a reason for solidarity. In sollicitudo rei socialis the "virtue" of solidarity is described initially as the willingness to make a moral response to common goods described in this way (no. 38). Likewise the Catechism says, "Solidarity is manifested in the first place by the distribution of goods and remuneration for work" (no. 1940). Solidarity thus described recognizes and is committed to the virtue of distributive justice, not only on the part of the state, but also on the part of other social groups: families, unions, business enterprises.

The common good can also be realized in the common activity of individuals. John Paul applies this idea to the domestic political order, international relations, the initiatives of intermediate societies, and economic life (cf. CCC 1941). In Centesimus annus he writes:

By means of his work a person commits himself, not only for his own sake but also for others and with others. Each person collaborates in the work of others and for their good. One works in order to provide for the needs of one's family, one's community, one's nation, and ultimately all humanity. Moreover, a person collaborates in the work of his fellow employees, as well as in the work of suppliers and in the customers' use of goods, in a progressively expanding chain of solidarity. (No. 43; cf. Laborem exercens, no. 8)

Insofar as the common good is constituted by common activity, having its own inherent perfection and value, the supplanting of that activity through the intervention of "higher" powers results in the loss of the good itself. The good is not simply the external result (e.g., the just distribution of goods), but the collaborative activity whereby the external result is produced. Pope John Paul speaks also, in the same vein, of the "subjectivity" of society, constituted by "structures of participation and shared responsibility" (Centesimus annus, no.46); totalitarian societies invariably bring about "the destruction of the true subjectivity of society and of the individual citizens"not because the State does a poor job of distributing common goods equitably, but because in such a society the individual and the people as a whole are reduced to objects.

The principal meaning of "common good" is found in the theological concept of communion: the greatest common good is the communion of persons. Papal and conciliar documents speak of "communion" typically in reference to those means by which the individual becomes part of, or grows in, the body of Christ (e.g., marriage, Eucharistic fellowship, baptism). It is this understanding of "common" that governs the others. In Sollicitudo rei socialis John Paul says:

Beyond human and natural bonds, already so close and strong, there is discerned in the light of faith a new model of the unity of the human race, which must ultimately inspire our solidarity. This supreme model of unity, which is a reflection of the intimate life of God, one God in three Persons, is what we Christians mean by the word "communion." (No. 40)

The Catechism (no. 1942) likewise speaks of solidarity involving the communication of spiritual goods. This communion has often, throughout Christian history, been the inspiration for the fostering of solidarity in temporal goods, impelling souls then and now to the heroic charity of monastic farmers, liberators of slaves, healers of the sick, and messengers of faith, civilization, and science to all generations and all peoples for the sake of creating the social conditions capable of offering to everyone possible a life worthy of man and of a Christian (Ibid., quoting a discourse of Pius XII).

Solidarity therefore involves charity as well as justice: communion in common goods and activities finds a root in the common nature of man, but it is ultimately secured by the recognition that every person is called to share in the communal life of the Trinity.

With this notion of solidarity, John Paul II has marked out the basis for an understanding of social and political life that challenges the distinctively modern notion of the political good. The revolutions of the nineteenth century produced an aggressively secularist and monistic notion of solidarity achieved by, or exemplified in, the state; in certain species of liberalism, on the other hand, a mechanistic notion of the market is given primacy. In Centesimus annus John Paul II criticizes any system that would "suffocate" the human person "between two poles represented by the State and the marketplace" (no. 49); in Evangelium vitae he warns that authentic solidarity is not compatible with the way the democracies understand themselves today. Contrary to their own constitutions, some human lives are deemed unworthy of protection. The "civilization of love" bases the social good on solidarity: the authentic interdependence of persons, leading to communion.

Bibliography: r. hittinger, "Making Sense of the Civilization of Love," In The Legacy of Pope John Paul II: His Contribution to Catholic Thought (New York 1999).

[r. hittinger]

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Solidarity." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Aug. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Solidarity." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 17, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/solidarity

"Solidarity." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Retrieved August 17, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/solidarity

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.