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Political Theory

H21(b) - Solidarity and Organic Politics

Date: Jun 6 | Time: 03:15pm to 04:45pm | Location: SWING 305

Chair/Président/Présidente : Mara Marin (University of Victoria)

Discussant/Commentateur/Commentatrice : Mara Marin (University of Victoria)

Session Abstract: In The Division of Labor in Society Durkheim used the term mechanical solidarity to describe the social integration of pre-modern societies where shared normative outlooks directly reflected a shared way of life. In modern, industrial societies, on the other hand, people perform specialized tasks, which produce different lifestyles and values. According to Durkheim, organic solidarity emerges through the division of labor. Such solidarity, however, does not develop naturally, because modern individuals are not necessarily conscious of this interdependence. This panel uses the concepts “organic” and “solidarity” as a lens for thinking about political problems in new ways. This lens forces us to focus on key political ideas such as domination, dependence, care, and collective identity. If humans are organic – are born, grow and die within a given set of relations and ecosystem - then an organic political theory requires us to theorize what the best ethical and political relations are for people to not only grow but flourish (that is grow in a healthy way) at all stages of life. An organic approach helps makes visible forms of dependency that are rooted within particular power relations and contained within the private realm. Why has the organic approach to politics and the concept of solidarity received so little attention in political theory? These papers reflect on this question, by exploring the intellectual history of organic politics. The papers also engage critiques in the scholarly literature that suggest that this approach is depoliticizing and exclusionary.

Inorganic vs. Organic Politics: Barbara Arneil (University of British Columbia)
Abstract: As a first step in the development of an organic theory of politics, I begin by examining the etymology of the words organic and inorganic. By the early modern era, organic is defined as ‘pertaining to living beings’ or anything that lives, grows and dies - contrasted to inorganic as that which is not living. But if organic includes all carbon based living entities embedded with an evolving set of relations/ecosystem (people, plants, animals) and inorganic means inert objects that exist separately and independently of each other (rocks and minerals) why was the latter the foundation for social contract theory? I will argue we can see how the ontological foundations of the English Enlightenment, particularly classical liberal social contract theory were inorganic with people constituted as autonomous, rational, self-interested individuals separated from each other. This understanding of humans and politics as inorganic creates a profound flaw at the foundation of the Anglo American thread of classical liberal theory up to and including John Rawls. I will propose, instead, an organic political theory in which politics is greater than the sum of its parts, where political authority is something natural rather than artificial and where humans are ontologically embedded within a set of relations and ecosystem. The central question moves away from how to serve individual interests and instead ask how to create a healthy ecosystem and set of relations within which humans and other creatures can flourish from birth to old age.

Making Solidarity: Struggles Against Domination in the Welfare State: Steven Klein (University of Florida)
Abstract: According to many views, the modern welfare state presupposes solidarity. For some, solidarity is a pre-political resource, grounded in a shared culture and heritage, that motivates people to sacrifice for others. For more liberal views, solidarity arises from a pre-given moral demand based on how our actions affect others. These two ideals of solidarity then ground two competing visions of the welfare state: as either embodying a thick collective identity or else as a normative ideal divorced from political practice. In contrast, this paper argues for a view of solidarity as made and remade in the course of political struggles and shows how that better illuminates the relationship between solidarity and the welfare state. Drawing from Jürgen Habermas’s critique of domination, the paper develops an account of solidarity as forged through struggles against domination. Habermas argues that solidarity is produced in the political dynamic through which people come to recognize structures of domination and so open them up to change. The paper then shows how this understanding of solidarity can illuminate the politics of the welfare state, examining feminist mobilization in post-war Sweden. The paper reconstructs the interplay between gender domination, the welfare state, and social movements.

Solidarity Without Community: A Durkheimian Approach : Margaret Kohn (University of Toronto)
Abstract: In her book Political Solidarity, Sally Scholz distinguishes between political, social, and civic solidarity. Social solidarity is the bond between members of a community united by shared characteristics. Civic solidarity implies reciprocal obligations among members of a political community to protect the vulnerable. Political solidarity is the term that she uses to describe the relations between members of a social movement or activist group. The main objection to civic solidarity is that the bonds that link members of a polity or group also serve to marginalize or exclude outsiders. From this perspective, solidarity seems plagued by an insurmountable moral dilemma: the affective ties that motivate the good of mutual support among members undermine concern for needy outsiders. Habermas tried to solve this dilemma through the concept of constitutional patriotism, which suggested that attachment to universal ideals could be the basis of solidarity among members of a policy. In his essay “Against Fraternity,” Jacob Levy argued that the attempt to ground democratic politics on solidaristic belonging, including the fairly thin conception proposed by Habermas, rests on philosophical mistakes. Drawing on Durkheim, I explain the links between solidarity and individual rights. I also introduce the radical republican approach to the concept of solidarity, which is rooted in a theory of social property rather than ethno-national identity and explain how this provides a compelling response to critics.