What Motivates Solidarity? An Alternative Approach to Christoph Engel’s

Margaret S. Archer

When Emile Durkheim confronted the failure of social solidarity to develop in nineteenth century France, because of people’s growing interdependence upon one another given the burgeoning division of labour, he proffered a range of ‘solutions’. All rested upon changes in social institutions: common schooling, occupational associations, and the abolition of inherited wealth etc.[1] In a variety of practical forms, which we can call ‘welfarism’, such remedies for declining solidarity have been with us ever since in the developed world. Some would call them Holistic, though that is not necessarily the case. Generically, these endorsed that the ‘redistribution’ of society’s scarce resources was capable of increasing solidarity and diminishing the chances of class warfare. This is only one solution on offer. In parallel, there are also the competing claims of Individualism, emanating from Classical Economics and now long enshrined in mainstream economics. These basically advocate ‘fair competition’ as their panacea, given their similar interest in obviating class conflict. As Zamagni once characterized this approach, the growth ensuing from harnessing talent to capitalism assumed ‘a rising sea would lift all boats’, leaving all better off and less disposed to the expression of disruptive grievances.

However, Holism versus Individualism is old division within the social sciences; one that was gradually superseded by new social ontologies that cast doubt upon the existence and ‘downward’ influence of ‘holistic entities’, unless they were viewed as ‘activity-dependent’ upon interested agents. The successors to the old debate were equally dubious about the social order deriving directly from the upward aggregation of individual doings and convictions[2].

In social and political policy, Holism had fostered the lab approach; Individualism the lib thrust, yielding what Donati usefully dubbed the lib/lab oscillation in stable democracies[3] and Archer termed ‘centrist politics’ in the last thirty years – a politics without conviction, but still reflecting a lib/lab compromise in the measures countenanced and legally enacted. As our collaboration intensified, what we elaborated[4] was an alternative to the above two approaches, namely ‘Relational Realism’. In opposition to Holism, Donati and I construed social institutions as the emergent properties generated by the interplay between structure, culture and agency and possessing their own properties and powers (for example, a centralized educational system exerts very different causal powers upon all actors within them).[5] In complete contradistinction to Individualism, we held relations between people and groups to be ontologically real and, in terms of explanation, considerably more powerful than any aggregate of individuals’ characteristics.

Engel is an unapologetic Methodological Individualist and therefore the old ontological terms in which he poses the question for our Workshop about solidarity are ones to which an alternative is proposed. Acknowledging only Individualism and Holism, he asks the question in terms of ‘which is the culprit: bad motives [individualist], or circumstances [holistic] that do even turn essentially good-natured individuals into beings who ignore the call of solidarity?’ (p. 1). What is welcome in his work is his openness to interdisciplinarity. However, the first element he offers to Catholic Social Teaching is ‘Behavioural and experimental economics’, which will be questioned, and, whilst he grants that the sociologists do indeed have a contribution to make, this is restricted to the ‘sociology of norms’ (p. 1), a restriction also requiring questioning – especially if the collaborative goal is ‘conceptualizing and testing motives that transcend profit maximization’ (p. 1). This, it must be acknowledged is Engel’s strength, that he does indeed hold that transcendence of the profit motive is necessary for the development of social solidarity.

The main grounds that justify advancing an alternative approach to that presented by Engel are the following and will take up the rest of this brief text:

1.    Explaining and understanding solidarity (and its opposite) cannot be captured by empiricism (observation using the perceptual criterion) nor by experimentation that depends upon the expression of attitudes upon which nothing whatsoever hangs for the subjects involved in his experiments.

2.    ‘Aggregate Individualism’ cannot account for solidarity (or its opposite) because this is/these are emergent from our social relations rather than being additive phenomena. The motivation promoting solidarity (and its reverse) are emergent outcomes of our human relationality not the summation of individual attitudinal differences, which in any case beg for sociological explanation in non-individualistic terms (involving ‘context- dependence’ and ‘concept-dependence’), because both ‘structure’ and ‘culture’ enter into their formation.

3.    Unlike mainstream economics (or the ‘Economic approach to Everything’),[6] the sole currency under which subjects consider the pay-offs (gains and losses) of their decisions are far from being exclusively monetary. Our ‘concerns’, the things that matter to us,[7] also involve and pre-eminently entail caring, time, and, above all, ‘relational goods’ whose recompense (or disappointment) is also not a material matter of $s, €s or £s. As Engel states, ‘generosity is sensitive to price – pure altruism is not a good explanation’ p. 3, but prices are not calculated exclusively or predominantly in cash terms; nor is pure individual altruism, as Engel states, a satisfactory explanans.

4.    The ‘social component’ cannot be reduced to cultural normativity or to normativity tout court. Our solidarity with others – especially distant others[8] – is rarely reducible to a matter of duty or social sanction. Frequently, it is non-normative: as in giving blood, acting as foster parents, couples living faithfully and with fulfilment together, those joining a pro-social voluntary association, preferring to work in a co-operative or volunteering for Médecins sans frontières. Sometimes they do gain social approbation, sometimes they are deemed foolhardy, but neither explain why they undertake any of these courses of action. Moreover, since the same actions may well attract both responses, it is more than hazardous to presume one homogeneous and shared ‘culture’[9] even within a limited geo-local context.

The alternative approach of Relational Realism

There is not space to examine the progressive undermining of empiricism that began in the 1960s[10] and continues to gather momentum.[11] Certainly there are a few positions that tenaciously hold to Individualist empiricism in Sociology and thus parallel ‘Behavioural and Experimental Economics’, such as Rational Choice Theory,[12] Rational Actor Theory (Goldthorpe) and Analytical Sociology (Hedstrӧm and Swedberg). But, this is despite a growing barrage of critique that will only be treated here insofar as it has a direct bearing upon social solidarity which is actually a good touchstone for this ontological debate. My summary points follow the sequence outlined above.

First, the critique of empiricism focuses upon casting serious doubts on social reality being disclosed in universally observable terms, graspable by investigators through sense-data. Empiricism entails that ontological status is granted to ‘observables’ alone and causal powers[13] are accorded only on the ‘perceptual criterion’; the canon followed in Engel’s experiments. The causal contribution of ‘unobservables’ is disallowed entry. This creates problems for dealing with solidarity, the same ones that dogged Durkheim’s account of its role in suicide. Basically, solidarity is not just an objective matter of recording how respondents (such as student volunteers) state that they would apportion (hypothetical) cash resources to anonymous others but also of unobservable subjective factors (caring for the poor), beliefs (what constitutes a fair distribution of goods), political philosophy (about the point at which inequality becomes dangerous for social stability), structural influences (that have normalized inegalitarian distributions of society’s scare resources and created vested interests in their perpetuation) as well as cultural influences (that deontically place some beyond the pale for equitable treatment and justify disproportionate rewards for others).

For any particular respondent all of these are sieved through their personal reflexivity – again unobservable – in which different subjects assign their own ‘weights and measures’ to the above influences when making their responses in contexts they confront in daily life (including experimental ones) because there is no such thing as non-contextualized action. This was Durkheim’s problem, namely could persons be deemed to be objectively integrated into their social milieu (for example, by belonging to a large family) if subjectively they did not feel so? He simply assumed the former, thus presuming that those in similar objective circumstances would behave in the same ways. Yet, we know this is not the case. Similar social placement does not yield similar courses of action precisely because what matters to particular subjects differs[14] as do their reflexive deliberations about which course to follow.[15] Lack of space prevents me from going further into unobservable generative mechanisms, ‘which may be possessed unexercised and exercised unrealized, just as they may of course be realized unperceived (or undetected) by people’.[16] Nor can I discuss the implications of endorsing a stratified social ontology rather than the flat ontology of behaviourism.

Second, one point on which I think we can all agree is that ‘solidarity’ with others is not merely an abstract calculation of a ‘fair deal’ towards them, but also entails a relationship of warmth with them such that those with whom each of us links in solidarity constitute a ‘we’, in togetherness, not an aggregate of ‘I’s (like those filling in a questionnaire in much the same way). This concerns not only proximate others, but also includes distant others to whom some reach out ethically and empathetically.[17] The historical stumbling block has always been assigning ontological status to social relations rather than reducing them to those warm feelings that – to different degrees – most individuals entertain towards certain other people, thus making such warmth (or animosity) personal properties and banishing the relationship to the outcome of their conjunction.

In the social sciences, the problem from the beginning was always how to establish relations as real.[18] To the extent that they were taken seriously at all, relationships were generally handed over to hermeneutic understanding, often in the guise of interpretative approaches and methods. These provided no anchorage for ontological status because as can be illustrated from any dyad, mutual understanding of the pair depends upon two individual sets of beliefs which are both fallible[19] and also leads to infinite regress of the form ‘He believes that she believes, she believes that he believes, he believes that she believes that he believes…’, which not only has no terminus but remains completely individualistic. Ontological matters changed only when causality ceased (in the social sciences) to be uniformly assigned on the perceptual criterion but was increasingly attributed on the causal criterion itself. That, in a nutshell was when in the late 1970s and 1980s, relations came to be credited with causal responsibility for generating irreducibly relational consequences, namely ‘relational goods’ and ‘evils’.

Relational goods and evils are emergent properties and powers that are generated by the actors and agents by the interrelationship of those involved and whose production may not have been intentional on their part. Their emergence requires and derives from how the subjects involved combine together, which is not by simple aggregation. In fact, any relational good or evil is a new ‘third entity’ (a tertium) to which those generating it over time often orient their future actions towards defending or escaping it. It cannot be shared with those outside the relationship and it is non fungible; no-one can take away their ‘share’ of the football team or orchestra.

A simple example is the couple relationship in which relational ‘goods’ such as ‘trust’, ‘reciprocity’ and ‘reliance’ emerge, are appreciated as such, protected frequently by self-restraint, and acted upon. For instance, a husband may rely on the trust of his wife if he ventures to take time out of his static career to gain a degree, entailing a temporary drop in household income; equally she may restrain her personal purchases ‘for the good of the family’, which is real and not a reification. Relational ‘evils’ have the opposite causal effects, generating ‘suspicion’, ‘jealousy’ and ‘exploitation’ as Tolstoy illustrated in Anna Karenina for the downward trajectory of Anna and her lover Vronsky. What is good about emergent relational goods is that they are found so; that enhanced sociability is considered preferable to life as a social monad. Conversely, the exacerbation of relational ‘evils’ results in the breakdown of relations and the return of the parties involved to a monadic status of embitterment and future mistrust. Neither scenario can be bought by money (or protected by insurance) and cannot be generated by command or law.[20]

Third, Christoph Engel’s experiments deal almost exclusively with monetary goods, as if cash incentives/disincentives are all that motivates human behaviour and that what we do with money is the sole indicator of our goodwill or indifference towards others who are worse off. Yet multiple currencies – time, effort, skills, self-giving involvement are also in play, meaning the fact that someone who refuses a cash donation to those in need is not necessarily less altruistic than the generous money donor. I once met a newly arrived Visiting Professor to Oxford University, a Mennonite, who was genuinely distressed that he could not differentiate among the many sleeping ‘rough’ between those in real need as homeless people and those seeking money for their next fix. His solution was to refuse all such solicitations but to volunteer to work for a night a week in a homeless shelter. (Perhaps Engel’s population of prisoners who gave more to charity than to their co-prisoners (p. 7) were reflexively deliberating in the same way, and having better knowledge of their fellow inmates!) Manifestations of solidarity do not turn their makers into suckers, as Engel rightly claims we mostly dislike, but if we steer clear of the cash nexus through use of our reflexivity that might turn out to be more demanding than giving a few $s we will not miss (for instance, we may well miss our Tuesday nights’ committed to the shelter).

In this respect, Titmuss’s finding about giving blood[21] is particularly salutary because it indicates the existence of an inverse relation between cash and ‘altruism’. When a financial reward was given to blood donors, it was found that both that the quantity and the quality of the blood given decreased. A significant proportion of potential donors wanted this action to be free-giving, not the exchange of equivalents.

Fourthly, Engel experiments with the hypothesis that were the recipients to be ‘a friend, or the friend of a friend, or the friend of a friend of a friend’ (p. 5) giving might be more generous than to anonymous recipients. His statistical conclusion is that ‘social proximity does clearly not increase giving’ (p. 5). I was rather surprised that a Methodological Individualist would not be daunted by such a finding, except for the fact that his data do show that for donors, recipients have to be considered ‘deserving’. Does this mean that ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ or that ‘human nature is not bleak’ (in its altruism towards humankind in general)? At any rate, it clears the ground for Engel to introduce the role (rather odd for an Individualist) that structural (redistribution measures) and cultural provisions (teaching solidarity) are useful and maybe necessary ‘nudges’; in short ‘Solidarity needs Institutional Support’ (p. 15).

Now, without being adversarial or even disagreeing entirely, I would like to run this through the brief previous discussion of ‘relational goods and evils’. To begin with, the definition of ‘social proximity’ (friends, friend of friend, friend of friend of friend), I find unduly empiricist for both friends of friends, let alone their friends, may be complete strangers, i.e. anonymous subjects. (Even further, you can love your friend but detest the company he/she keeps).

Let’s return briefly to relational goods and evils, where real proximity gives ample scope for both kinds of relational goods. In Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen gives a splendidly credible analysis of a relational ‘evil’ in a family setting. On his deathbed, John’s father extracts the promise that John will take care of his step-mother and her three daughters who would otherwise be penniless under his father’s Will. Now, fast-forward to John’s conversation with his mercenary wife Fanny and, though his own initial offer is to settle £1,000 on each of these proximate dependents, Fanny whittles him down, in four bargaining exchanges, to his dying father having meant no more than occasional gifts of game and farm produce – and John once more agrees and this time holds to his (selfish) promise. A range of repercussive relational ‘evils’ are then unleashed, before we get to the happy ending.

Interpretative freedom is a great battleground. The Individualist would presumably claim that John was ‘weak’ and susceptible to proximate pressures, whilst Fanny was ‘avaricious’ for herself and their only son and ‘strong’ enough to exert her claims over her spouse. The Relational Realist would dwell rather upon the chain of evils unleashed by this couple, until various unpredictable contingencies intervene. At the micro-level, interpersonal relations provide ample space for the emergence of relational goods and evils.

Conversely, as I will seek to demonstrate in the next section, proximity plays a considerable role in both promoting solidarity as does the quality of relations for inducing its opposite, at the micro and meso levels, but cannot do so at the impersonal macro-level. This leaves us with the problem of explaining what accounts for the huge difficulties, especially today, in establishing societal solidarity at the macro-level and will be examined in the last section.

Emergent Relational Goods as the basis of Solidarity: Considerations at the Micro, Meso and Macro-Levels

At the Micro-Level

Ultimately, solidarity derives from the relationality of Ego and Alter, and their subjective acknowledgement – under their own descriptions – that their relationship has a worth that exceeds them as two individuals as well as objectively being irreducible to them. In other words, their relationship itself has emergent properties and powers. It does not have the latter simply because those involved believe it to be the case: that would be to commit the ‘epistemic fallacy’, i.e. reducing the real to how it is taken to be. Any good sporting team, qua team rather than (a) an aggregate of personally talented players, or (b) the matrix of team strategies, illustrates these emergent relational goods. Acknowledgement of their worth may entail curbing individualism (for example, ‘sharing the ball’ means some players must restrict their personal brillo and that spontaneous readjustment to contingency must sometimes disrupt any matrix established in coaching to date, which are both part of what makes for a really good team).

The properties involved for a couple are shared ‘relational goods’ (such as trust and reliance) that cannot be produced by aggregation and are also deemed highly worthwhile by both. As ‘strong evaluators’[22] (Taylor 1985), Ego and Alter, the members of a close family, friendship group, work team or orchestra recognize the value of what they have generated together, which cannot be reduced to the sum of each and every contribution and usually defies inter-personal substitutions. This recognition means respect, sometimes even reverence, for the relational goods generated and concern for the preservation, prolongation and, in different ways, propagation of this worth, all of which engender commitment to fostering the relationship itself.

Let us move towards solidarity at the micro-level by considering a couple (a pair of friends, a sporting partnership, co-authorship or an instrumental duo) that is deemed good by both parties. In so doing, Ego and Alter recognize that they have generated a common good. Prior to having evaluated their relationship as ‘good’ and worthwhile maintaining, they may have experimented at, say, playing doubles with different tennis partners. Alternatively, the nature of their relationship may preclude experimenting with ‘substitutes’ for fear of damaging it, as in marriage and marital fidelity.

Ego and Alter then have a shared concern for this ‘relational good’, which entails reflexive deliberation about the relationship qua relationship and its well-being. Only they know what is ‘good’ about it from the inside; no-one else can have their first-person experience, and anyone who tries is providing their own fallible interpretation in the third-person, as Davidson maintained. Together, Ego and Alter have established the ‘tolerances’ and ‘intolerances’ of their relationship. This is literally their ‘common knowledge’ because they have co-produced it and could not have it otherwise. Importantly, this is neither to maintain that they think (say or believe or are bound by) the same thing, contra Plural Subject theorists such as John Searle, Margaret Gilbert or Raimo Tuomela.[23] Nor is it to claim that either of them is correct, for fallibility is shared too. However, the justification for their ensuing solidarity is ontological and not fundamentally epistemic, since it rests on the relational goods themselves and not on how they are taken to be. The co-ordination of any outstanding partnership is objective and independent of subjective beliefs being shared by the partners about it; their mutual respect for it is compatible with one holding ‘It was meant to be’, whilst the other thinks ‘What a piece of luck’. In other words, it is evaluative but does not necessarily result from shared norms, such as keeping promises or conforming to marital fidelity.

Escaping the Double Hermeneutic

This is implicitly denied when such Ego/Alter relationships are considered only individualistically and hermeneutically from the limited interpretivist perspective (for example, King 2004). Yet this is the attraction is of the ‘Thee-ness’ portrayed in Buber’s Ich-Du (I-You) relations, although Buber himself held such relationships to be substantially reduced in modernity. Basically, the argument would be that a couple could succeed in forging a life together (for example, ‘our’ life as a couple after we leave university) on the basis of hermeneutically entering in to one another’s aspirations for what kind of life that would be, given appropriate unselfish detachment on the part of both. Empirically, it is also quite likely that in this example their (external) conversations together will have covered this ground to the best of their abilities. But, the best of their abilities are not good enough because they cannot avoid the double hermeneutic. However hard the two try, they produce Alter’s interpretations of Ego’s self-interpretations and vice versa, doing so seriatim and with no way out of this trap. Goodwill on both sides cannot extricate them from it, meaning that hermeneutics cannot provide a secure basis for forging a life that captures what the two people value most. In short, it cannot be a route to ‘We-ness’, underpinning their solidarity, which is not distorted by fallible interpretations and partial misinterpretations.[24]

It is quite different if, instead of hermeneutic understandings, we consider the fact that Ego and Alter both orientate themselves not directly to one another but to the emergent relational goods they generate. This furnishes the basis for solidarity that develops in so far as Ego and Alter have this common focus and this communal experiential basis of being beneficiaries of their own ‘commonwealth’. The couple in question is now co-oriented towards a real emergent property, their relational goods.[25]

The double hermeneutic is escaped by replacing ‘direct’ inter-personal relationships by ones mediated through an emergent – and thus irreducible – relational good. In such cases, dyadic relations are really triadic, but the ‘third component’ – the relation as tertium – is not a person or a thing but rather the product of persons. The tertium is not an additional relationship as such; it is always dependent on its generators and ceases to be if they stop being a couple, even though it cannot be reduced to them. It is real by virtue of its causal powers, which is how relational goods and evils are accorded ontological status.

The internal effects of relational goods are directly paralleled by external ones. Because their relationship is of worth to both, its well-being promotes ‘free-giving’ and reciprocity instead of the exchange of equivalents. Interchange rather than exchange is involved, since sustaining their relational goods is of concern to each of the couple because it has become (partly) constitutive of whom both Ego and Alter are. In turn, this defies a calculative or instrumental rational approach, for relationships of intrinsic worth cannot be sustained by the contractual dealings of market exchange. On the other hand, there is no need to posit any remarkable unselfishness on the part of Ego or Alter, since both are beneficiaries of the relationship they have generated and now seek to maintain together.

At the Meso-Level

The above discussion about the emergence of solidarity and its internal and external effects is applicable to broader settings with bigger numbers. Take the university department in which most of us work. It is not possible either to understand or explain what our colleagues do or refuse to do (their contributions, reactions, motivations etc.) on an intra-departmental basis by examining every permutation of relations between these Egos and Alters hermeneutically (See Figure 1). For many, everything they do in the department or refuse to do (in terms of teaching, administration and research) is mediated through an intangible relational good, generated by them and countless unknown others – the discipline.

So far, ‘the discipline’ has been assumed to be a relational good; orientation towards it and working for it (reviewing, editing, organizing events etc.) contribute incrementally to its development and diffusion and, if all goes well, broaden the circumference of solidarity because all colleagues are beneficiaries of its growth and prestige. However, there are circumstances under which the discipline as generated becomes a relational evil. Currently, in most developed countries, political relations[26] (expressed through funding, reward and recognition for departments and academics) seek to enforce particular ‘appropriate’ orientations towards each discipline (via various performance indicators and associated sanctions for non-compliance).

The results are relationally negative and have damaging consequences for departmental solidarity: collaboration become competition; informal esteem becomes a formal hierarchy with the ‘non-research active’ at the bottom; concern for students becomes keeping ‘office hours’; journals are selected for their ‘impact factor’, articles written with a weather eye to citation indices and so forth as we know too well. Departmental relations themselves only deteriorate under the dehumanization inherent in this induced instrumental rationality which bites hard into collegial solidarity.

The above arguments base solidarity and its loss on the Realist claim that emergent properties have, when exercised, both internal and external causal powers, unless these are counteracted. Namely, they have the power to modify their constituents and the power to have not only internal effects and also ones outside and beyond them that affect solidarity and subsidiarity alike. Solidarity arises from those actions of reciprocal consideration, care and trust between colleagues, where for example one colleague receives teaching cover from another for a week because he/she has a publishing deadline to meet and meeting it enhances their departmental relational goods. Subsidiarity ultimately derives from placing their munera at the service of one another, in order to foster their relational goods. Another colleague may not personally seek the establishment of a particular Research Centre but will co-operate and collaborate in it as an act of reciprocity – and an invitation to its later extension.

Problems at the Macro-level

Why can the above arguments about solidarity not simply be projected onto the ‘big screen’, as if all social relations were homological with micro and meso-level ones? In principle, it might seem that there is no reason why solidarity (and its opposite) should not work in the same formal manner within larger groupings, that is, by the orientation of group members to the relational goods (and evils) generated at the macro-level. It would follow from such an argument that its most powerful positive expression would ultimately be the orientation of all members of the social order to the common good qua relational good, because unlike utilitarian indices of the ‘total good’, used in the market economy and liberal political philosophy,[27] it discounts the well-being of no-one. In that case, solidarity would be maximally inclusive.

The big problem for the Market, State and, perhaps surprisingly, the Third Sector alike generically derives from the same source; namely that ‘[t]he gap between micro- (interpersonal) relations and the membership of a public macro-institution becomes so wide as to render the constitution of a ‘We’ improbable’.[28] Two shared features militate against solidarity in all three institutional components at the Macro-level.

The first could be called the consequences of the ‘missing middle’. In other words, the organizations, networks and movements that once linked the micro- to the macro-level have atrophied. In the Market this is epitomized by the shrinkage of the Trade Unions, in the State by the shrinking membership of Political Parties and in the Voluntary sector by the increasing gulf between the big professionalized global players, who take on both Market and State, and the plethora of local associations that remain localized. The traditional social movements that once supplied the link are now missing. It has become vastly easier to organize popular demonstrations of ‘outrage’[29] but hugely more difficult to weld any of them into durable organizations with a specific agenda. Howls of populist protest are registered at the macro-level, but protestors play no part in designing the palliative measures intended to defuse them. When this lack of solidarity becomes threatening, resort may be made to Referenda, but with dangerously uncertain outcomes – as the Brexit result illustrates only too well. The alternative is for the elite to resort to the military.

Second, and in very different ways, the three major parts of the macro-level have become increasingly competitive and competition is the ultimate enemy of solidarity and solidary cooperation. The combined effect is to enlarge the scope or scale of the ‘missing middle’.

Although, by definition, capitalism is inherently competitive, as is not universally the case for Markets, the globalized and financialized economy intensified competitiveness. The reason being that whilst once the state of collective wage labour mattered to every entrepreneur, as did corporate decision-making to the workforce, and produced a brief ‘golden age’ of mutual regulation in the post-Second World War decades in Western developed countries. This period has now ended. The advent of multi-national corporations freed them from dependency on a given national constituency of organized workers. Their global workforce was changeable, production locales were moveable and hence those employed were was not required to give even grudging legitimation to the multinational firm. As synergy with digitalization[30] generated a great augmentation in financialized capitalism, the cooperation of labour shrank in importance in the so-called ‘knowledge economy’. Profit and labour became distanced from one another, displaced by the relationship between profit and banking.[31] This argument is very over-compressed, but I want to fast-forward to its consequences.

Worldwide, we now face the paradox that whilst absolute poverty is declining, the income and wealth differentials between the rich and poor are universally on the increase. Such growing inequalities are ever more inimical to solidarity. Those INGOs canvassing for a ‘decent wage’, those nations that have introduced a ‘minimum wage’ are at best showing some humanitarianism, but they do not diminish inequalities. These provisions may buy short term quietism but do nothing to reverse the plummeting decline in social integration. Further loss of solidarity is hostage to the Market’s competitive gains through banking manoeuvres, tax evasion, more elaborate digitalized stock market trading – all of which most of the ‘99%’ of losers fail to understand and in none of which can they compete. The resulting backlash of xenophobia is scapegoating, but it further exacerbates social fragmentation.

Since democratic politics, whether constituted by political parties or coalitions, consists in electoral contestation, they too, again by definition, are competitive. But the terms of the competition are entirely different and for nearly 40 years could no longer be characterized as the Right versus the Left, as presenting counter-ideologies or alternative strategic blueprints for running their countries in the developed world. With the demise of Social Democracy,[32] representation has itself become ambiguous and government tactical rather than strategic. St Simon’s ‘administration of things’ has displaced the ‘government of people’. As the politics of conviction has vanished, with decreasing voter turnout in developed countries and increasing attention riveted on the management of austerity, what are parties and coalitions now fighting over?

The answer may seem simplistic but it is the battle for the middle ground. Confronted with the loss of social solidarity, the manifestly unappealing nature of the Third Way, the rhetoric of the 1% versus the 99%, politics has become unapologetically centrist. It may still employ diluted fragments of the old lib/lab division in its public policies, but the appeal is now to some construct of a majoritarian ‘middle’ that supposedly outnumbers supporters of the ultra-right or ultra-left. These constructs seek to persuade that there remains a solidary, though disgruntled, majority whom they would represent: hence the rhetoric about ‘one nation’, ‘ordinary hard working people’, ‘middle England’, etc. Any who doubt this should listen to Prime Minister Theresa May’s first address to the British Conservative Party today (5.10.2016) that even named and demonized their opponent, the ‘Metropolitan elite’. Ironically, Sociology can congratulate itself; it has convinced our leaders that social stratification has, indeed, changed from being triangular to become diamond-shaped. Yet, the question remains, is this ‘middle’ not also a ‘missing middle’ in terms of solidarity?

Indeed it is, as elsewhere, not just in Europe, which is why so many politicians from Hungary to the USA reach out to popular xenophobia as the lowest common denominator, to which they respond with promises of building walls and the use of razor wire on their borders. These are distressing ways of fabricating a temporary national political consensus but they are powerful distractions from revealing how politics without conviction actually manages governance. Elsewhere, I have written about ‘Anormative bureaucratic regulation’,[33] which could just as well have been entitled ‘Government in the Absence of Social Solidarity’. Without the power any longer to ‘Command and Control’,[34] without any normative consensus upon which to build, without the ability to direct the global economy and without social solidarity beyond their rhetorical constructs, administrative regulation sedulously expands to replace cooperation by regulatory coordination.

Although fragmentation can be exaggerated if it makes no allowance for the growth in international law, human rights law, and the definition of new universal legal prohibitions (for example, ‘Crimes against Humanity’), all the same these developments do not nullify the fragmenting bindingness of normativity in most parts of the life-world (locally, regionally, generationally, sexually, ethnically, linguistically etc.) and that the bonds of social solidarity have shrunk accordingly. This is what Douglas Porpora has persuasively and pertinently diagnosed as the ‘macro-moral disconnect’, where the guidelines for behaviour show a growing detachment from systems of social normativity (religious and secular alike), which are increasingly confined to the private domain[35].

The Ideal Type that follows aims to accentuate the most salient features that are distinctive of ‘anormative regulation’, without pretending to exhaustiveness or to having eliminated all overlap with other concepts.

·      Regulations do not attempt to meet any form of ‘normativity requirement’, legal, conventional or personal,[36] but are the means of avoiding such appeals, yet they remain regulatory.

·      Regulations exert a causal force not a moral one. They are unrelated to the approbation, approval or assent of those to whom they apply (in some of their actions), although they are not met with a high rate of non-compliance.

·      Regulations do contain ‘normative operators’ (words such as ‘ought’ or ‘must’ and is ‘required’/’prohibited’ or ‘permitted’ under certain conditions). However, they work through the instrumental rationality of the subjects in question, who feel no obligation but are calculative or prudential in their responses, according to their means.

·      Regulations have a heteronomous character, depending upon fines, penalizations and prohibitions, which are punitive without subjects incurring either a criminal record or attracting social sanction.

·      Regulations have to be actual (it would sound odd to talk of the ‘dead letter of the regulation’), but they can be displaced and replaced overnight without any appeal to the ‘democratic defence of validity’.

·      Regulations do not necessarily stem from authorities within the legal order. Many do (as in planning regulations), but many others originate from retailers (concerning conditions for return, reimbursement or recompense for products), train and bus services, private utilities, landlords (no pets), hotels, companies, banks, financial services, libraries and taxi drivers. The law may or may not uphold any of the above.

·      Regulations do not depend upon such social conventions as maintain; often their avowed aim is the opposite, as in combatting discriminatory practices or policing acceptable vocabulary and behaviour.[37] In fact, convention is now more frequently re-made by regulation than vice versa.

·      Regulations are concerned with the social co-ordination of action and practises rather than with issues of social co-operation or re-distribution. They are at most binding (without entailing a sense of obligation) but never socially bonding. Hence the connection with a decline in social integration.

·      Regulations differ from laws or other forms of rules in terms of what makes them social. Bureaucratic regulations have an external not an internal social impact. What makes them social is that people (largely) behave in conformity to them, thus producing manifest social regularities.

·      Regulations are ultimately intrusive of previously unregulated (or more loosely regulated) domains.[38]

Their effectiveness and, indeed, acceptance, I maintain, depends upon low social solidarity itself and drives it even lower,[39] even within the Third Sector. First, there is the paradox of the Charities, namely that as they grow in number – undoubtedly testifying that the ‘goodwill’ Engel detects has not atrophied – but socially they become more competitive rather than cooperative. This is symbolized in the Mega-Philanthropy status contest; will the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation succeed in eliminating malaria before the parvenu, Mark Zuckerberg, does away with disease altogether? Its predecessors were the expensive ‘plate dinners’, given in any cause, and patronized for the sake of a photo-call. Now, with the growth in Charitable organizations, comes a Catch 22. Competitively, to have an impact, they resort to the tactics of any other political interest group, by employing professional lobbyists, who are not cheap. In consequence, their overheads rise disproportionately in relation to donations. A new competition is unleashed with its own League Table, appealing to donors as being the most effective Charity to sponsor (that with proportionately the lowest overheads). The potential cooperation between those with similar goals is sacrificed to the language and tactics of the mainstream Business School – and it works in the same fragmentary way for supporters of stray cats and dogs as for human causes.

Second, voluntary and pro-social initiatives, such as Food Banks or Microcredit, are at the mercy of ‘colonization’ from above. This unleashes ‘the paradox of incorporation’, such as affected the European Trades Unions long before them. On the one hand, as the centre-right attempts to roll back the Welfare State, the Food Banks are relied upon politically as the resort of the destitute. Aware of this blatant lib move, the centre-left remains critical that this is political opportunism and withholds active solidarity from their lab humanitarian supporters, alienating many of them. Public-Private ‘partnerships’ use the rhetoric of cooperation but in practice tilt to benefit either the State or the Market, doing nothing for Civil Society.

Lastly, the impulse towards free-giving is hampered by a barrage of anormative bureaucratic regulations: the legal and fiscal intricacies that surround gaining charitable status; the standardized governmental templates controlling application for it (on pain on waiting many months for a decision); the inescapable house inspections in the name of Health and Safety that follow, whether the intended beneficiaries are Asylum seekers or an old dog needing a home.[40]


A robust Civil Society is not reducible to an aggregate of small, localized initiatives, however innovative and enthusiastic they may be. It needs to be the source of societal Solidarity, providing the cement for social integration and cohesion on a worldwide scale. Expressions of individual goodwill, such as those that Engel has recorded are necessary but not sufficient conditions for its realization. Structural, cultural and adiaphoric obstacles block its consolidation by fragmenting potential collaboration and cooperation. Bottom-up pro-social initiatives are indispensable, but equally important are the means and mechanisms for their upward interlinkage. Without this, Top-down interests and influences repressively distort and progressively dilute the most promising source for building social solidarity. These are the effects I have attributed to the ‘missing middle’. Without that, the social sciences know well that the combination of low social integration and low system integration are the formula for social breakdown in all its destructive forms.


[1] Emile Durkheim, 1933, The Division of Labour in Society, Book 3, ‘Abnormal Forms’, New York, Free Press.

[2] Margaret S. Archer, 1995, Realist Social Theory: The Morphogenetic Approach, Ch. 2, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

[3] Pierpaolo Donati, 1991 Teoria relazionale della società, Milan, Franco Angeli.

[4] Archer and Donati (Eds.), 2008, Pursuing the Common Good: How Solidarity and Subsidiarity can Work Together, Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences Vatican City.

[5] Margaret S. Archer, 2013 [1979], Social Origins of Educational Systems, Abingdon, Routledge.

[6] Garry Becker, 1976, The Economic Approach to Human Behaviour, Chicago, University of Chicago Press.

[7] Andrew Sayer, 2011, Why Things Matter to People, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

[8] Daniel Finn (Ed.), 2014, Distant Markets, Distant Harms, Oxford, Oxford University Press.

[9] Margaret S. Archer, 1988, Culture and Agency, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

[10] May Brodbeck (Ed.), Readings in the Philosophy of the Social Sciences, 1971, New York, Macmillan and John O’Neill (Ed.), Modes of Individualism and Collectivism, London, Heinemann.

[11] Roy Bhaskar, The Possibility of Naturalism, 1989, Hemel Hempstead, Harvester Wheatsheaf & 2016, Enlightened Common Sense: The Philosophy of Critical Realism, Abingdon, Routledge.

[12] See Margaret S. Archer and Jonathan Q. Tritter (Eds.), 2000, Rational Choice Theory: Resisting Colonization, London, Routledge.

[13] R. Harré and E.H. Madden, 1975, Causal Powers: A Theory of Natural Necessity, Oxford: Blackwell.

[14] Harry G Frankfurt, 1988, The Importance of What We Care About, Ch. 7, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

[15] Margaret S. Archer, 2003, Structure, Agency and the Internal Conversation; 2007, Making Our Way Through the World: Social Mobility and Human Reflexivity; 2012, The Reflexive Imperative in Late Modernity, all Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

[16] Roy Bhaskar, The Possibility of Naturalism’, Ibid., p. 13.

[17] Pierpaolo Donati, ‘The Morality of Action, Reflexivity and the Relational Subject’ in Daniel Finn ‘Distant Markets’ op cit.

[18] Marx being the only exception – with his distinction between a ‘class in itself and for itself’.

[19] Donald Davidson, 1984, ‘First-Person Authority’, Dialectica, 38: 2-3.

[20] For discussion in much greater detail see Donati and Archer, 2015, The Relational Subject, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

[21] Titmuss, Richard, The Gift Relationship: From Human Blood to Social Policy (1970). Reprinted by the New Press, with new chapters 1997, John Ashton & Ann Oakley, London, LSE Books.

[22] Charles Taylor, 1985, ‘Self-Interpreting Animals’, in his Human Agency and Language, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

[23] For a comparative critique of these three authors, see Donati and Archer, The Relational Subject, Ch. 2, Ibid.

[24] On the basis of ‘Thee-ness’, let us assume that Ego and Alter both seriously attempt to consider their future way of life from one another’s point of view and to give this parity of importance with their own through self-detachment. The trouble is that given the double hermeneutic and there being no way of escaping from it, the couple may end up living a modus vivendi that satisfies neither of them because their interpretive understandings of what matters to one another have both failed, at least to some degree. Consequently, not only does the couple live somewhere or somehow that both find wanting, but each remains puzzled at the discontent of the other whose (interpreted) concerns they had genuinely sought to satisfy. Since both have engaged in this hermeneutic process it becomes difficult for either to say ‘Why on earth are we living here or like this?’ because each will think that it was the concerns of the Other that were responsible.

[25] Note that their relationship need not be the ‘ultimate concern’ of either Ego or Alter. It only has to be a concern of both, which the two consider worth sustaining.

[26] Their advent requires a morphogenetic analysis in itself.

[27] Stefano Zamagni, 2011, uses the following metaphor to differentiate between the Total Good and the Common Good: ‘The total of an addition remains positive even if some of its entries cancel one another out. Indeed, if the objective is the maximisation of the total good, it may be convenient to nullify the good (or welfare) of some, if the gains of others more than offset the losses of the former. In a multiplication, this is clearly not possible because even if only one entry is zero, so is the result of the product.’ In his ‘The proximate and remotes causes of a crisis foretold’ in José T. Raga and Mary Ann Glendon (eds.), Crisis in the Global Economy: Re-Planning the Journey, Vatican City, 2011, pp, 322-3.

[28] Donati and Archer, 2015, Ibid, p.191.

[29] Manuel Castells, 2012, Networks of Outrage and Hope, Cambridge, Polity.

[30] Margaret S. Archer, 2014, ‘The Generative Mechanism Re-configuring Late Modernity’, in Archer (Ed.), Late Modernity: Trajectories towards Morphogenic Society and ‘How Agency is Transformed in the Course of Social Transformation’ in Archer (Ed.), 2015, Dordrecht, Springer.

[31] This is too compressed. See, Jamie Morgan & William Sun, forthcoming 2017,‘Corporations, taxation and responsibility: practical and onto-analytical issues for morphogensis and eudaimonia – A posse ad esse?’, in Archer (Ed.), 2017, Morphogenesis and the Good Life, Dordrecht, Springer.

[32] D.J. Bailey, 2009, The political economy of European social democracy, Abingdon, Routledge.

[33] Margaret S. Archer, 2017, ‘Anormative Bureaucratic Regulation’, in Archer (Ed.) Morphogenesis and the Good Life, Ibid.

[34] Regulation by ‘command and control’ (CAC) is the preserve of the state, using legal rules backed by criminal sanctions. ‘It is “centred” in that it assumes the state to have the capacity to command and control, to be the only commander and controller, and to be potentially effective in commanding and controlling. It is assumed to be unilateral in its approach (governments telling, others doing), based on simple cause-effect relations, and envisaging a linear progression from policy formation through to implementation’. Julia Black, 2001, ‘Decentering Regulation; understanding the role of regulation and self-regulation in a post-regulatory world’. Current Legal Problems. 54:1, 103-146.

[35] Douglas V. Porpora, 2001, Porpora, D.V. (2001). Landscapes of the Soul: The Loss of Moral Meaning in American Life. Oxford, Oxford University Press. Porpora, D.V. et al. (2013). Post-Ethical Society. Chicago, Chicago University Press.

[36] Such as Korsgaard’s ‘reflective endorsement’,1996, Korsgaard, C.M. (1996). The Sources of Normativity. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press. Korsgaard, C.M. (2009). Self-Constitution: Agency, Identity, and Integrity. Oxford, Oxford University Press.

[37] It is not illegal to swear, conventionally many do, but we are sternly warned not to affront railway personnel or cabin crew in this way.

[38] Such as EU regulation No. 730/1999 on the retail of carrots, banning the public sale of forked specimens or those with secondary roots.

[39] I have developed this argument elsewhere, see Note 33.

[40] On a personal note, I have provided a small but comfortable house that fellow-parishioners have generously furnished and equipped for victims of Human Trafficking. It now stands ready and waiting to receive them – but empty! This is a good illustration of the ‘missing middle’. Having completed a mass of documents to gain Unincorporated Charitable status, having undergone a successful House inspection, having written to dozens of bigger agencies working in the field, we still have not been given a single referral. Each agency recommends that we contact another until the circuit repeats itself, each warns of the pitfalls to be confronted, there is no agency – Diocesan or of local or regional government – that sees its role as facilitating interlinkage between initiatives expressive of solidarity and seeking to integrate the most marginalized. Meanwhile, the house remains unoccupied while the needs of refugees increase exponentially.


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