Monday, December 19, 2016

Avery Kolers's "A Moral Theory of Solidarity"

Avery Kolers is Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Social Change minor at the University of Louisville. Since completing his PhD at the University of Arizona, he has published widely in the areas of social and political philosophy and applied ethics. His first book, Land, Conflict, and Justice: A Political Theory of Territory (2009) was awarded the Canadian Philosophical Association's Biennial Book Prize.

Kolers applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, A Moral Theory of Solidarity, and reported the following:
Suppose we want to be in solidarity with others in a shared struggle. Should we join with those we already agree with? Or should we join with others before knowing whether or how far we agree with them?

A major theme of A Moral Theory of Solidarity is that taking sides is prior to agreement, and this for at least two reasons. First, as a sociological matter of fact, we tend to side with people on the basis of mutual recognition, sympathy, or prior relationship, and only afterwards come to understand the issues at stake in the struggle. Second, what is distinctive about solidarity as opposed to coalition or alliance is precisely that solidarity involves sticking with others through thick and thin. Whereas coalitions fracture over ideological or strategic disagreements, solidarity involves deferring to the group even when we disagree.

But just for that reason, solidarity can be a perilous idea. How can we know whether we are “on the side of the angels,” and not “on the wrong side of history”?

Page 99 of the book is considering the hypothesis that we should defer to others when we are in a certain kind of relationship with them. I call this relationship deference.
In relationship deference, then, our ends are chosen in dialogue with others…. We decide upon ends together. Hence the group is prior to any particular aims, and the justice of the ends … cannot be taken for granted…. [Person] B might disagree with the action—might think it ill-advised or immoral or otherwise inapt. But that does not automatically count as a reason for B not to do it. Rather, provided B is interested in maintaining the relationship, such doubts serve to initiate a critical dialogue the purpose of which is as much to maintain the relationship as it is to accomplish any particular action.
I argue that, although relationships “are an indispensable part of the process of deference when we are engaged with the same group over time,” nonetheless “relationship deference is not self-sufficient; it requires appeal to social structures.” This is because we should actively seek to enter into such relationships with those who are oppressed, and within such relationships we should defer to them. For this reason, relationship deference must be supplemented or superseded by what I call structural deference to the least well-off.

The book goes on to defend solidarity with the oppressed on the basis of equity or fundamental equal treatment. To be in solidarity is to treat people equitably, and, since equitable treatment is intrinsically valuable, solidarity-as-equity is intrinsically valuable—even, or especially, if we fight a losing battle.
Learn more about A Moral Theory of Solidarity at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue