Sometimes an ordinary word, due to its context or what you might have on your mind at the time, strikes you with more force than it otherwise would. That happened when I ran across solidarity in an article last night. The article, Why Twitter May Be Ruinous for the Left, discusses how political, and cultural disputes play out over Twitter. The author, Robinson Meyer, pairs solidarity with identity:
The bedrock of politics is that it forges what the left wing calls solidarity: a sense of shared identity or common interest that transcends whatever other differences among people exist.
I am not sure if Meyer intends that sentence to speak on his own behalf, or on behalf of Bonnie Stewart, an academic he quotes shortly before. I think he speaks for both. In any case, that is not how I would define bedrock of politics. Politics aims to resolve disagreements in a way that people do not kill each other. Even when it fails, and people do kill each other, politics continues.
We have seen plenty of references to tribes the last several years, as if that explains the extreme partisanship we observe. In fact, tribal politics does explain a lot, but political parties have always operated as groups and sub-groups of like-minded people. Why the gradual, unsettling turn toward unrelenting, petty viciousness in our current conflicts?
We have always witnessed inter-tribal warfare as one species of conflict. The great significance of nations, historically, is that they subsumed tribes. Fighting became a lot more deadly when nations unified disparate groups with different intersts, then organized them to fight other groups designated as enemies. People with power always try to sell fear and hate.
Elizabeth Warren loves to talk about how she’ll fight for the people she represents. Her message is, “Unite behind me, and we’ll strike down our enemies.” Yet solidarity comprises only the first stage in a political progression. Destruction of opponents, possible only when people act in concert, comprises the second. Exercise of power after you clear the field comes last.
Practically, political unity operates as a pre-condition for all-out war.
If that strikes you as a zero-sum conception of politics, it is. It makes no room for collaboration with people who disagree with you. When you enter the political arena with other fighters, you agree to kill-or-be-killed rules. You will be crushed if you do not survive. Do we need more reasons to explain the Republican party’s solidarity as it defends its leader? Unity offers your only haven when you believe your enemies act in bad faith – rather, openly try to destroy you.
Thus solidarity is not an innocent, good-feel strategy for mutual support, though it does satisfy people’s need to contribute to a cause greater than themselves. Practically, political unity operates as a pre-condition for all-out war. You may not have to choose a side, but once you enter the arena, solidarity offers your only chance for survival when you have no plan, or ability to conciliate your opponents.
In the end, does it matter whether you cancel someone with a military weapon, or with a Twitter mob? Yes it does, but these tactics acquire a similar air of finality, with similar effects. You disarm your opponents. You deprive them of their ability to function, let alone fight. You win through weight of numbers, solid weight, irresistible, crushing weight.