Where is Solidarity? The reason the world and Europe suffer Ujhelyi István

The Circle of Sharing

The most apparent dominant system in our world today is capitalism. Yet capitalism is a very generic concept. On its basis, capitalism can be defined by being a “system within agents pursue activities for personal reward.” In our society Reward is financial—since we live in societies dominated by finance and the exchange medium of money. Agents are employers or employees; activities are businesses or work; Reward is either called profit (for employers), or wage (for employees).

Yet capitalism and any other word that describes a social system has different variants. For our world—in most cases—the Reward is for the Individual, a single human being who is left free to spend, save, waste or gift their Reward as they please.

Yet, in most cases, individuals are not alone. People live in households, families, villages, cities, nations and continents. There is a great deal of sharing in any form of organisation. This implies that a type of Reward will be shared, because it is necessary to delegate resources in an effective way, so that both the the members of the organisation and the very structure of the organisation itself can survive and thrive. However, it is not always easy to make people to share.

Our world is described as “liberal”; that is, a world where individuals are free—in free association with each other with a minimum contribution to the association according to pre-agreed rules (social contract). Sharing, in that case, is justified for the good of the Association. Yet what is this Association? An Association is a circle of people where its members interact and share each other's Reward. But how is a Circle defined? Well, that's the question.

People define their Circle of Sharing in different ways, but the most apparent to the near-totality of cultures today is the Family, however wide this might be. Sharing is not only a financial activity. It entails both a spirit of identity and cultural affinity. Family is often the first Circle of Sharing after the Self, the Individual. There can be, of course, natural Families or acquired Families, by inheritance or choice respectively. And the criteria of what makes a family vary.

In any case, when the Circle widens, it can include more levels of identity, constantly shifting and overlapping. One can be in a Circle of a village, a tribe or a nation; a religious community, a football club, or a language group; people can define themselves on an educational level.

When the Individual sacrifices part of his individuality for the Circle, then we have Solidarity. This is when Sharing becomes alive. Solidarity has taken different names throughout history, either as charity, socialism or communitarianism, or patriotism. Unjustly, it has been seen as the antithesis of individuality—however, it does not have to be antithetical. Rather, the individuality is empowered by the sense of community, social interaction and participation; recent psychological and neuroscientific studies have confirmed that. But it has to come from the Individual's choice.

Sometimes, though, choice is not an option. The quality of relations within a society varies and is primarily defined by the structure of Power. To organise society, Power uses forms of coercion and consent, force and persuasion, sticks and carrots. Power defines the targets of the Circle of the Community it is responsible for. Unfortunately, sometimes Power is restricted in supporting the narrow interests of its own little Circle, which it has created for itself. Yet Power can be wider and all-encompassing; it can be democratic, accountable; it can be a public thing (res publica, republic).

And, of course, Power is not only defined by the width of its Circle. It is also judged by the goals it sets; that is, is it more inclined to use sticks or carrots, will it use coercion or consent, will it provide punishment or reward? Capitalism, for instance, is a system in which Power is exerted through Rewards, but no state abandons the force of coercion—the two co-exist combined on different proportions. Thus any given society can have its own coordinates in a cartesian system comprised by two basic axes:

  1. 1)One axis representing how wide the Circle of Sharing is.
  2. 2)The other axis representing the level of coercion in relation to consent that those in Power exert.

This comes down to the all-familiar “political compass”. You can check more about it here and even try the test to check where you and your values fall on in the cartesian system: https://www.politicalcompass.org/test

To re-cap, human society is comprised by Individuals who form an Identity which creates a Circle of Sharing. The Circle of Sharing is affected by the goals of Power. Individuals are either convinced or coerced, or both. In capitalist societies Individuals aspire for Rewards; either profits, or wages, or better rank or power—or more freedom.

Why is this analysis important?

It is important to understand the will of the individual in relation the Circle of Sharing—because it explains many contemporary phenomena.

For instance, Europe is now tantalised by various events due to a confusion of what the Circle of Sharing really means. In European history, the Circle of Sharing was initially confined to the family for the commoners and to dynastic interests for those in power (still, a form of family). Yet, as ethnocultural identities developed and shaped into nations, these new communities were identified with the power of the state. Power became more public. Even if it was represented by a family of royals, it had to match the community. Thus, the new system of nation-states established and spread throughout the continent.

As the organisational and coercive power of the state increased after the seventeenth century, there was more pressure on widening the Circle of Sharing and solidarity, to legitimise this increased power. This was reinforced with the further need to regulate national life, given the inequality produced by a new socio-economic organisation: industrial capitalism. Masses of impoverished workers could become victims of exploitation by wealthy industrialists in appalling working conditions. To combat social resentment, solidarity was re-branded from being for those in Power, or for the state, to become for the good of the masses, for the Public. That is how socialism began to develop as an ideology; it highlighted the need to make what was private into something public, to benefit all; that is, to ensure that the Rewards of those with political and economic power would be shared in a wider scope. Even today, socialism has sometimes been used as a synonym to define the provision of public goods—a new form of solidarity.

Yet in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries this Circle of Sharing still covered national communities. The national community was seen as the provider of socialistic solutions against the problems caused by domestic and international capitalists, who were seen as privateers against the common interest. That is how there was talk of “national” socialism. The totalitarian regimes of Nazism and Stalin's “socialism in one country” developed from ideas like these. Equipped by the dramatic increase of state power, these regimes crushed the Individual and the classical liberal ideal, whence the socialist idea began in the first place. International solidarity—both Marxist socialism or liberal/bourgeois cosmopolitanism, or universalist Christianity could not surpass the patriotic forces of nationalism. Indeed, Georges Orwell wrote in 1940 in the Lion and the Unicorn

One cannot see the modern world as it is unless one recognizes the overwhelming strength of patriotism, national loyalty. In certain circumstances it can break down, at certain levels of civilization it does not exist, but as a positive force there is nothing to set beside it. Christianity and international Socialism are as weak as straw in comparison with it. Hitler and Mussolini rose to power in their own countries very largely because they could grasp this fact and their opponents could not.

After the war, the fathers of European integration tried to formulate a model to avert another European conflict, where Nazism and Stalinism failed to do. Withholding the core principles of classical liberalism—that is, the rule of law, the sanctity of the individual etc.—but acknowledging the power of the nation-state, they created institutional tools to oversee economic activity across the borders in the extent that it would create interdependence. This way the activity in one's nation territory would be subject to activities in another nation's. This system is called neofunctionalismand is the basic foundation behind what became the European Union.

In a way, neofunctional ideas do create a new Circle of Sharing. However, instead of corresponding to a Circle of Solidarity, they focus on a Circle of Interest. Interest can facilitate to sharing, but are its roots deep enough as solidarity through group identity?

In the nation-state, cultural, ethnic, religious, or linguistic affinities are powerful identities, which convince people to share their resources to other compatriots in need. Londoners are happy to pay for health services in Yorkshire. Parisians would fund a school in Orleans. Would Finns be willing to sponsor unemployment checks to the unemployed of Athens or Madrid?

The problem is not easy to solve. However, Europe has enjoyed a great deal of unity for decades. Symbolic events like the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Eurovision, low-cost airlines and educational programmes like Erasmus etc. are examples of European togetherness. But there are voices in Europe today, which are sceptical to the European project, nihilistic over transnational solidarity and they cherish the “good old days” of patriotic unity and national autonomy.

But patriotic unity or national solidarity is also something that is withering from within. Eurosceptic, conservative and nationalist groups in each country are actually a reaction to internal disunities and strifes, more than anything else. Globalised capitalism has exposed European society to competitive cheap labour in other continents, leading to recessions, de-industrialisation and unemployment. Austerity programmes, designed to balance state spending in the new competitive world, have paralysed public goods and services that people were used to getting for granted.

People start feeling that their own nation is not supporting them; they feel excluded from its Circle of Sharing, from its Solidarity. In combatting this—like in any time in history, whenever similar problems were presented—, new identities are being created. There are new we's and us's, new 'others', new Circles of Solidarity, narrower and less diverse, with less Sharing. The refugee/immigrant crisis has exacerbated this. Similar patterns are seen in America's rise of xenophobia—not unrelated to the economic woes of the last decade. When the state cuts on its own citizens—when it cuts on us—why should we provide for the other, or the alien?

The situation gets more complicated, when the refugees and the migrants are mistaken for one another. Or—even worse—when born and bred citizens, but descendants of immigrants (who came into Europe due to Europe's colonial past) generations ago, are still seen as immigrants. Ethnic and religious tensions and mistrust overlap with economic marginalisation and end up in racism or radicalisation.

How should Europe address to this?

There are many ways to close the gaps between people. The first step is to identify the Circle of Sharing; how keen people are to share. Secondly, it is important to find solutions to widen the Circle. Would that be the old postwar Christian and/or social democracy? Would it be the new twenty-first century entrepreneurship with open doors to the advancing world of hi-tech? Would it be through education and skill-building? The options are many and that is a good thing.

In conclusion, it is therefore important to safeguard the human element of sharing, otherwise people will not even be individuals but rather islands of loneliness. How can systems stay interdependent—as neofunctionalist ideas aspired—if the social fabric is torn and there are no systems left to be interdependent with one another?

Europe has to widen her Circles of Sharing: with herself, between her constituent nations, within her nations themselves and the people with each other, beyond any border.