Friday, August 06, 2010

Sandel 10: Obligations of Solidarity are Only Trumped By Higher Obligations of Solidarity

My Theory Camp has been wrestling with Michael Sandel's Democracy's Discontent and Justice. Here is the best new idea I have had from reading these books:

If I have obligations of solidarity within an institution, I can choose to leave the institution, but only to serve a higher obligation.

Under a liberal theory, I can unchoose a practice if I simply no longer wish to do it. Since all the ends I pursue are ones I have chosen, there is no higher standard or obligation than my choosing it. However there are some institutions that require their members to have obligations of solidarity to one another if they are to function. Choosing that kind of institution means that I have also chosen to be obliged to remain in solidarity with the others in the institution because it does harm to those others if I simply quit.

In practice, we might leave the choice up to individuals to decide if the other obligation was, indeed, higher. In that case, from the outside, liberal quitting and solidarity quitting might look the same. However, from the inside, my motive, and my calculation, would be quite different. I would need to be able to justify to myself that I was leaving one obligation for a higher one. It would not be sufficient to quit an obligatory solidarity just because I feel like it, or because I don’t feel what I used to, or because it doesn’t meet my needs any more.

Allowing people to choose to solidary institutions for a higher obligation would let us reconcile the obligation with the reality of freedom.


Victoria Crowell said...

I have little to offer regarding this and the prior post in an academic sense, but I can say it agrees with many of the I've been chewing on lately drawn from religious texts.

Just because something is certainly worthwhile and worthy of participation, or even has some hold of responsibility us, does not mean that there are not many things that, no matter what, trump those and require a lessening of participation in the first, such that that which trumps the first obligation can be given its due time. (The text I was reading claimed God, then marriage are those two ultimate trump cards.)

It's a hard lesson to learn these days, especially for the hyper-involved of places like oh, say, my alma mater.

Gruntled said...

One thing we discussed in Theory Camp was that Sandel offers no account of how to rank obligations of solidarity. That may take the advanced course.