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Solidarity and democratic theory today



As political instability moves throughout Europe, North and South America questions concerning the proper constitution of a society for a liberal democracy have arisen as urgent. These questions often take the form of how it is that we might develop both an open and a unified society. Concomitant with this are the development of various movements for greater legal protection for members of traditionally dominated groups. Solidarity comes to take a formative role in individual agents’ political lives as organized protest, strikes, and other forms of strategic action are executed in response to democratic decay. Solidarity is thus posed with a double task: to further the democratic project via the development of strong social bonds and via strategic action designed to undermine unjust, illegitimate, or dominative features of contemporary social and political life. Fulfilling both demands at once seems impossible, given traditional liberal democratic political thought, which formally excludes strategic action from the procedure of legitimation. This is a primary difficulty of democracy today: we lack the normative and political resources to properly understand how people can maintain a democratic ethos when the formal institutions of democratic life are in disarray.This panel seeks to explore the difficulties of democracy in contemporary life through the lens of solidarity. Once solidarity was considered to be a necessary feature of democratic life. Yet, contemporary democratic theory all but considers the necessary role this social value plays in the legitimation of law and the development of individual people as citizens or members of a political group.

Questions that might be raised, non-exhaustively, as follows:

  • What role does, or ought, solidarity to play in transnational political organizations (for example, in the European Union)?
  • How does the debate between solidarity organizations aimed at recognition and those aimed at redistribution play out in contemporary society and political thought?
  • What can this tell us about the relationship of power to solidarity?
  • What normative features must a group have to be considered a solidarity group, and is it possible for solidarity to be enacted in a solitary way?
  • What challenges are posed to developing greater degrees of social and political solidarity by financialized capitalism, rising nationalism, and the destruction of the traditional social democratic welfare state?
  • What is the relation between class based, or identity based, solidarity groups and democratic legitimation?
  • Are class-based or identity-based solidarity groups aiding or detracting from the aim of building a democratic society?
  • In what way can historical accounts of solidarity’s role in democratic theory inform either contemporary political action or theory?