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You have noticed that after the recent attack on Israel various politicians arrived in the country to express “solidarity” with the Israelis. It’s odd really, because, as you can see from the above graph, the term really takes off with the rise of socialism in the 19th century. “Expressions of solidarity and fraternity” used to be what the USSR sent to beleaguered “national liberation” movements—now it’s what Western leaders say all the time.

It’s because we live under socialism, of course—the idea that, say, Lord Salisbury (or even Alec Douglas-Home) would express “solidarity” with another people is almost inconceivable (like some grubby Trotskyist student group, “The Sussex University branch of Students for a Socialist Society sends its fraternal greetings and solidarity to our Cuban comrades…”). There’s something inherently portentous about “solidarity”—I mean, why not “lots of love xxxx”?

Well, comrades—sorry, I mean gentlemen—where does “solidarity” come from originally, anyway? Not from the socialist movement, actually—though the socialist movement popularised the term. No, it comes from the Encyclopédie (1765)—in other words, it comes from the original “la revolution”, the French Revolution. Citoyenne! Solidarité!

Yet, per the Encyclopédie, the term does not refer to “social solidarity”—rather it refers to a type of loan that is taken out jointly but which benefits one person. You can see how this sense of the term, from commerce, was expanded out to Jacobinism and socialism: it’s a loan type that is “all for one, one for all”—you take out the loan as a group, one man benefits, but you’re all liable. In other words, the collective is prepared to take the stick, to sacrifice itself, for the individual. Solidarity!

In its oldest sense, the word originates in “solid”—so it’s about being a solid collective mass. I think this etymology interests in two respects: firstly, it’s clearly still Denis Diderot’s world and we’re just living in it—by which I mean it’s still the world of the Encyclopédistes, progenitors of Enlightenment and Jacobinism. We still use their terminology and jargon for basic political functions—now more than ever, as it turns out.

Second, it demonstrates how commerce and egalitarianism, far from being opposed, are actually related. It’s the rise of the commercial middle classes, represented by men like Adam Smith, who oppose both aristocrats and priests that sets the scene for revolution—they also worship non-coercive action and materialist hedonism.

At first, these merchants sweep away aristocrats and priests—but their financial activity creates a proletarian mob which is then incited against them and, in turn, sweeps them away.

Hence it makes sense for “solidarity” to originate in commerce and then become a socialist term—and, so it seems, the term has conquered the world. And politicians are not statesmen anymore, but rather go to Israel to express weepy solidarity with survivors from the kibbutzes—to embrace them and utter meaningless platitudes about their “pain” and “grief” (doubly meaningless in the case of Biden, who doesn’t even know what day of the week it is).

Anyway, we’re still living in the Enlightenment—still living under Jacobinism. Still tyrannised by a concept developed by the Encyclopédistes that has morphed into some sentimental exercise in wuv. It’s a testament to the power of ideas, and to the power of the Encyclopédie itself.


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