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Posted March 10, 2010

Book: Recovering Solidarity: Lessons from Poland’s Unfinished Revolution
Author: Gerald J. Beyer
University of Notre Dame Press. Notre Dame. IN. 2010. Pp. 324

An Excerpt from the Introduction:

This book assumes that ideas matter. Sir Isaiah Berlin astutely observed that “when ideas are neglected by those who ought to attend to them. . . they sometimes acquire an unchecked momentum and an irresistible power over multitudes of men that may grow too violent to be affected by rational criticism.” Of course, Berlin was not talking about ideas in abstractio. Any attempt to understand the role of ideas in human history must understand the social forces that breathe life into them. In other words, we must be attentive to the link between theory and praxis. This analysis of the contemporary Polish situation rests on these methodological assumptions. It attempts to keep the link between concepts and actions and policies that embody them in constant view.

An Excerpt from the Book:

People will not act in solidarity if they do not trust one another, at least on some basic level. If one is convinced, as Thomas Hobbes was, that “man is a wolf to man” (homo homini lupus), then one will desperately protect one’s own interests, often at the expense of others. In essence, the ethic of solidarity was an ethic of hope — hope in the human person and in the reality of human freedom. Human freedom in this sense is understood as the freedom to do good, which entails many possibilities not included in merely pursuing one’s own interests. Poles were certainly cognizant of the depths of human evil, most horribly exemplified as Auschwitz and Kolyma. Yet, during the height of the Solidarity era, Poles believed in the human ability to do the good. This anthropology of hope was not naive; it did not forget the evils of Auschwitz, Kolyma, or the 1956 Poznan and 1970 Gdansk massacres. However, it left room for the possibility of change (conversion, in the religious terms), even among tho1. The se who perpetrated such great evils. Zbigniew Stawrowksi contends that the Solidarity movement was a time of mass conversion. He does not mean by this an explicit return to faith in God. In his view, many atheists and agnostics underwent conversion in the sense that they decided to live according to their conscience, as opposed to the dictates of Communism. In this vein, Michnik speaks of a “religious renaissance,” which was “a collective return to issues of transcendence.”

Table of Contents:

1. The ethic of solidarity form 1980-89

2. The eclipse of solidarity after 1989

3. Poverty in Poland after 1989: empirical signs of the failure of the revolution

4. Recovering and applying an ethic of solidarity to Polish poverty

5. Freedom and participation as social products

6. Promoting an ethic of solidarity as evangelization: the Church’s social witness in Poland since 1989

Conclusion: is solidarity possible in a neoliberal capitalist world?