The word “solidarity” has an interesting history, I learned at the Sozialethik-Symposium: “Solidarität in der Krise” from 28 to 30 April 2011 in Vienna-Mödling. This conference was organised by the Institut für Sozialethik der Katholisch-Theologischen Fakultät (Vienna) and the Vereinigung für katholische Sozialethik in Mitteleuropa. Ever since the Middle Ages, one of the guest speakers explained, solidarity was the individual’s legal responsibility to pay collective debts. It meant, for example, that if two or more business partners had taken out a loan collectively, and one of them would go bankrupt, the remaining partner(s) had to repay the entire sum (“solidum”).

On my way to Vienna, I had been reading Slavoj Žižek’s essay Multiculturalism (1997/Dutch translation Intolerantie). The Slovenian philosopher, whose theme smoothly coincides with solidarity, investigates the following question: “How are we to reinvent the political space in today’s conditions of globalization?” Put differently, where ends solidarity and where begins subsidiarity?
The emergence in the 20th century of the so-called “risk society” has drawn the attention once again to the individual’s responsibility, who this time, however, seems less and less in control. Our society has become complex, to the extent that we just can’t know what is the right thing to do. As a consequence, it looks as if it is impossible to show our solidarity. Where to begin? How can we get our priorities right? Here, the self-regulating free-market economy kicks in. If we cannot decide ourselves what is good for us collectively, the global economy will do the job for us. And in fact, while global capitalism has taken over control, politics have become more and more depolitised: devoid of meaning. Politics (leftwing, conservative and liberal), ethics and philosophy, thus Žižek, merely smoothen the advent of the global economy, but never address the root problem: a blind faith in salvific global capitalism. Meanwhile, nobody can be held accountable and nobody is responsible. For that reason, Žižek writes, politicians should aim at the impossible, and not at what is possible in the margins of global market-oriented capitalism. In his essay, the Slovenian philosopher quite adequately explains how right-wingers like Jean-Marie LePen in France and Geert Wilders in the Netherlands fit the picture. Leaving the global aside and confining themselves to a claustrophobic space (the nation state), they simply put focus on minor issues: identity politics, immigration, good old moral values, and so on.
Now, if we, as Christians, think about solidarity, should we aim at the impossible, rather than at the possible? (FH)