Something To Believe In
solidarity is contradicted by the class structure of society. The idea
of solidarity is annihilated by the existence of war. It is inconceivable
that a war government can lay claim to principles of social solidarity.
it is authentic believing is uncertain like existence.”
(Nicola Chiaromonte, Credere E Non Credere)
is the fundamental link that unites human beings. In every time and
every place. A tsunami strikes Asia, and other humans rally to help.
A hurricane hits the Gulf peoples, and solidary nations rush to their
aid. The instinct for solidarity is in the nature of the human race.
Solidarity departs from the concept that all men are brothers, of a
common origin. On the most basic level solidarity is the sense of participation
in the difficulties and bad luck of others.
On a political
and social level, solidarity expresses the concordance of many in aspirations
to help each other. Solidarity is a fundamental word among progressives
that differentiates them from the Right. In a world intent on economic
and scientific progress at the cost of a widening gap between rich and
poor, the survival of the human instinct for solidarity has never been
more essential. In this respect, solidarity is not an abstract ideal.
That four-fifths of the world consists of have-nots is a fact.
solidarity is a cornerstone of moral conduct. It reflects a desire to
be a good man. Solidarism is an ethical-social doctrine founded on the
principle that the human being, though remaining an individual, realizes
himself in a natural society—for example of family and nation
and today of the universe—whose members are linked by solidarity.
Solidarism also claims a historic-judicial base in that each human benefits
from the patrimony handed down to him by past generations; he is indebted
to the past and should compensate by helping his contemporaries.
these definitions, we recognize that in practice social solidarity is
contradicted by the class structure of society and its resulting conflicts.
Above all, as anyone can see today, the idea of solidarity is annihilated
by the existence of war. It’s inconceivable that a war government
can lay claim to principles of social solidarity.
society has made a fetish—no! not simply a fetish, but a god—of
scientific progress. Political elections show that the most successful
political movements are those that best promote the vague concept of
economic progress. Yet the very nature of progress is elusive. Though
in theory progress guarantees happiness for the greatest number of people,
it is contradictory because it ignores what is best for the neglected
minority that needs more solidarity.
don’t know exactly what happiness is or even how to measure it.
Perhaps it means only a state free of suffering, or of not suffering
too much. Something close to well-being! On the other hand it is disputable
that that kind of happiness is the ultimate aim of human life at all.
It is worth remembering that Protestant culture started with Martin
Luther who rejected the whole idea of happiness, pronouncing his gloomy
theology and Weltanschauung of ‘leiden, leiden, Kreuz, Kreuz’
which means suffering and the cross.
classes found it advantageous to keep the working class on the verge
of starvation to keep them obedient. Today they know it is better to
give them enough to make them complacent— in industrialized societies,
a house, a car and a TV set—while ignoring the poverty of the
rest. The god-Progress promises us the maximum happiness by changing
the material conditions of life.
Yet it has
an undesirable collateral effect: it infects the mind with an expensive
disease called no-think. As a result the individual doesn’t know
if he is happy or not. That is the reason political leaders devote so
much effort to assuring their people that they are well off.
And that is why we need agitators: to tell people they are not happy.
That it’s stupid to be happy in their situation. For the truth
is most people just exist. If you don’t resist and rebel it means
you are blind. For anyone would admit that it’s stupid to be content
with a life of a house, a car and a TV set.
That is to
say that the price of progress is high for the individual. Moreover—and
something to consider—progress at any cost is not consonant with
democracy. The greater the impulse toward material progress, the less
space remains for solidarity, the less for democracy, and, in the extreme,
the nearer totalitarianism.
is that the god-Progress is the only acceptable universal god that allows
people to continue to act loyal to their traditional gods, obliged “to
want to believe.” Let the old God remain, build altars to Him,
worship Him at the rites on traditional days, recite prayers to the
heavens, include Him in the Constitution, name Him in the classrooms
and in speeches to the nation, even go to war for Him. But everyday
worship and veneration and recognition are reserved for the pragmatic
undemocratic god of Progress.
Philosophers tell us that our era is not an era of faith. That it’s
rather an era of bad-faith. One reason is that the god-Progress has
little room for real values like solidarity. That means that ours is
an era of beliefs maintained by force, in want of real ones. “Flag”
and “our values” and “our way of life” cannot
societies diverse and tolerated opinion and interest groups coexist.
Though in opposition one to the other, the interest groups are marked
by multiple convergences. Let’s say as in the Democratic and Republican
parties in the USA—though there are prevailing tendencies in each
party, each contains a bit of everything so that once in power they
are more convergent than divergent.
extremists inside modern societies like to speak of the mediocrity of
democracy. Weaklings! Sissies! No guts to take a stand! Democratic mediocrity,
they call it. Away with the mediocracy! For example, National Health
Care and welfare is the stuff of sissies who can’t make their
way. The real success story, they preach, is the man capable of lifting
himself by his own bootstraps.
concerns every human being. Social solidarity and justice go hand in
hand—charity-solidarity and a sense of justice united against
social injustice. Justice is the application of charity-solidarity.
And justice has true moral value only if executed for the benefit of
the poor and oppressed.
be no justice without solidarity. In this sense slogans like “America
first” is not only unjust; it is immoral.
is morality at work. It is a truism that the more powerful a person
is, the less he needs from others and as a corollary the weaker is his
morality. If you are powerful enough you can do without morality, like
the rich man who can permit himself the luxury of not carrying money
in his pockets and acting as if he were poor while wallowing in wealth.
That is the way of the world.
At play here
are some of the basic values that separate Left and Right forever. As
said above, alliances occur in society, groups and movements merge,
sometimes for tactical reasons, sometimes for strategic reasons. Some
theorists, usually reactionaries, claim that ideologies are dead which
means the disappearance of humanistic aspirations. I disagree. I agree
with Harvard Professor Michael Walzer that such talk would mean “closing
down of the possibilities for public intellectual and emotional commitment.”
A premature announcement, he writes, “that lingers in our minds
as disturbing predictions.”
I think we
should be clear on one thing: Left and Right can never be the same.
Many factors distinguish Left and Right: opposing positions regarding
the roles of religion, traditions, race, family, nation, freedom, democracy,
peace and war. The most frequent criterion to distinguish one from the
other is the position on the ideal of equality. Equality concerns an
enormous number of aspects of life: race, class, education, work, opportunities,
suffrage. When we speak of equality, certain questions must be answered:
Equality for whom? Equality in what? Equality based on what criterion?
favor in general whatever makes men more equal. That is, helping the
weak. That is, solidarity. That is, if necessary, welfare and charity.
is man and not God and although each is aware of himself as one among
six billion others, he is also aware that because of his mortality he
is in the end alone in the universe. Because of his solitude you might
expect that his natural inclination would be toward solidarity. But
that’s not the case. His consciousness of himself as an individual
has made him also the cruelest of all beings. When that side of man
predominates, he rejects solidarity, detests other men and, in his folly,
tries to raise himself above others.
TO BELIEVE IN
Here we might
pose the underrated question: What do we really believe in? Actually
no one has an acceptable answer to the basic question of how to live
and what to do for one’s salvation. It’s easy to claim to
believe in things in which we no longer really believe but continue
to believe we believe. For many it’s not that only-on-Sunday God.
Each individual must seek his own belief, in the realization that he
will never know for sure in what he believes, or to what degree.
belief,” as the Italian essayist Nicola Chiaromonte wrote in To
Believe and Not to Believe, “is uncertain like existence, and
like existence it is already present before one is even aware of it.
Explicit beliefs instead concern generally a fictitious world in which
real and authentic beliefs are confused with those maintained in form
as articles of faith, or perhaps as fanaticism, but are no longer alive.
Therefore it is easier to say in what one does not believe than to formulate
what one truly believes. And this is also the reason that one who sees
and denounces the falseness concealed behind official professions of
faith can be so easily accused of not believing in anything.”
In a time
when authentic belief has declined, the ideal of Equality is, I suggest,
worth consideration. Cynics scoff at the idea of the equality of human
beings. I don’t know if a majority agrees with that view but certainly
many are content to let Equality lie quietly and undisturbed in the
Constitution. The difficulty of achieving redistributive political policies
for the defense of the unprotected is confirmation of the low esteem
Egalitarian policies are those that at least tend to remove obstacles
that make men less equal. That characteristic distinguishes the political
Left from the Right: the Left aims at greater equality; the Right at
less. (I can’t consider these old terms outdated! On the contrary.)
This can be deduced from the survival of the utopian theme of the removal
of what has been considered the chief obstacle to equality since ancient
Greece: private property.
It’s easy to conclude that the world is what it is and that we
have to live in it as best we can. But I believe we can imagine it better
than it is. Since 1968 youth movements of the world have marched under
the slogan that a different world is possible. And what’s wrong
with the idea of Utopia as a guide? As Oscar Wilde wrote, “a map
of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing
at ….” Otherwise we might as well accept that we are what
we were destined to be, to do the miserable things we do, and that our
lives as they are, are a necessary part of the order of things.
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