1.3.11 Conclusion: solidarity and its absence

Back to 1.3.10

Unit 1 Contents


As we approach the end of Unit 1, here is an exercise, the first in this module.  You will need pen and paper.

Then see the ‘Response’ that is accessible by clicking where indicated below.  (The point is not to look at this first.)



Here is a list of the principles of CST we have looked at in part 3 of this unit:

  • Justice (1.3.1)
  • The common good (1.3.2 and 1.3.3)
  • Respect for human dignity (1.3.4)
  • Protection of human freedom (1.3.5)
  • The ‘preferential option for the poor’ and the ‘universal destination of material goods’ (1.3.6)
  • Subsidiarity (1.3.7)
  • The priority of labour over capital (1.3.8)
  • Integral human development (1.3.9)

You might wish to use the links in the list above to scan through the pages on some of these again.  (They will open them in separate windows.)

Answer two questions:

1.  In the first part of this unit, you looked at a quick summary of the principles of CST (screen 1.1.6).  What principles outlined there are not in the above list?

2.  Try to write a very brief summary of how the principles we have just looked at fit together into a coherent whole.  (You might want to use a spider diagram in working out how to do this.)

The first question is straightforward – and of course you could just look at 1.1.6 to get the answer.

The second question is not easy, although the text on screen, especially at the start of both 1.3.4 and 1.3.9, should have helped you to have a sense of how they can be understood in relation to each other.

Spend about 15 minutes thinking through how those concepts fit together.  Perhaps there are real tensions between some of them which give you good reasons for thinking they don’t cohere very well.

You might want to use a visual device like a spider diagram to make connections.


RESPONSE TO EXERCISE: Click here [To be added later]


But to all these worthy principles, someone might object: isn’t all this hopelessly unrealistic, indeed utterly naive?  Why outline this great vision of human fulfilment and the common good when it’s clear that all human societies are basically contests for power in which people use all kinds of means to get us much of what they want from others for themselves?

This is an unsurprising reaction to what we’ve looked at.  Of course it needs to be answered.



How would you respond to that objection?


To conclude our study of the main principles of CST in this unit, here are two points in response to that.

First, the fact of human evil is simply not in itself a reason for giving up on a vision of the common good.  Just because someone is committed to such a vision does not for a moment imply that they are failing to recognize human sin and the severity and pervasiveness of its effects.

Secondly, we need to bring in the principle of ‘solidarity’.  This makes clear that CST is not remotely naive about its vision of the common good.  Solidarity is defined in terms of persevering commitment to the common good.  The main point this makes is simple.  The common good has no chance of coming to exist unless people are deliberately, deeply and enduringly committed to acting in ways that will bring it about!  The trouble is that many people are not committed in this way.

Beyond this, there can be great social evils – irreducibly common bads, we could say – such as societies built on slavery or racial segregation.  CST uses the language of ‘structures of sin’ to describe these, as I’ve mentioned already.  We shall look closely at what this means later, in Unit 6.

But CST calls people to practise solidarity.  Pope John Paul II described this as follows:

[Solidarity] is not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far.  On the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good. (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, #38, italics added)

Focusing on solidarity is a good way to conclude this unit’s introduction of CST’s main principles, because, as that quotation makes clear, it brings us back to the common good – which can be seen as the overarching principle in CST.  The Church calls for the practice of solidarity, however grim and oppressive circumstances might be – such as in the Communist regime of 1950s Poland in which the future Pope’s own commitment to solidarity was forged. The emphasis on this principle surely manifests a clear-eyed realism about the common good.

In the same passage as just quoted, John Paul describes solidarity as also a ‘virtue’. We saw earlier that justice is a virtue (on the first of these pages on CST’s principles, 1.3.1).  This raises the question: what is a virtue?  In describing justice, I said that a virtue is a well established habit of acting in a morally good way, and hence a quality of character.  It will be helpful to add to this a brief outline of Christian teaching about the virtues.

Catholic Christianity took over from ancient Greek thought the idea that there are four main virtues that characterize a good person:

*  justice

*  courage (or, in an older term for this, fortitude)

*  temperance

*  practical reasonableness (or, in an older term, prudence).

These are known as the ‘cardinal virtues’.

In light of the New Testament, the Christian tradition added to this list, emphasizing especially faith, hope and love.  St Paul refers to these three together at the end of 1 Corinthians 13 and they are known as the ‘theological virtues’.  Apart from these three, a longer list of what St Paul called the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23) are also virtues, including joy, patience, gentleness and self-control.

If we reflect on what these various words mean, we can see that they all refer, not only to what particular actions can be like, but to qualities that a person can have.  If, for example, you have the virtues of courage and gentleness, it means that you are a courageous person and a gentle person.  You are characterized by courage and gentleness, not just at a particular moment, but over time – indeed, let us hope, for the rest of your life.  Virtues are formed in us over time, and once they have been formed, acting in line with them becomes a matter of habit: we don’t need to think about it very much, because doing so is now part of the way we are.

You might like to see what the Catholic Catechism says about the virtues.


Optional reading (5pp)

Catechism of the Catholic Church, ##1803-1845, ‘The Virtues’ (Part 3, sec. 1. chapter 1, Art. 7)


Solidarity is a virtue too, John Paul says in Solicitudo Rei Socialis, and a later article in the Catechism reinforces this by calling it “is an eminently Christian virtue” (#1948). While all the virtues are needed, both for each person to be fully human and for good human relationships, we need especially to be characterized by solidarity if we are going to act, even in adversity, to make a reality of the common good.



End of 1.3.11


Module B outline

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