Community and Social Solidarity
Individualism has such a hold on American society that the values of community or social solidarity have received relatively scant attention. Most often a sense of national community or social solidarity has appeared in response to foreign threats or natural disasters. This form of social solidarity is not unusual, but other societies, frequently with organic pasts, have been able to transcend community based solely on such threats, and social programs have been relevant to these achievements. For instance, while the British criticize nearly innumerable specifics of their National Health Service, they nevertheless derive a sense of community and comfort from its existence. And the Swedes have made some progress in reducing income differentials through solidaristic approaches to wages.
But Sweden has a tradition of state paternalism, and American individualism may prohibit similar social program contributions in the United States.
Yet we often hear discussions these days of Americans' yearning for a sense of community. Individualism, it seems, fails to fulfill personal needs for fellowship and a sense of meaning derived from contributing to broadly recognized values. Historically most American experience with community has been local and voluntary, but other aspects of social solidarity are relevant to national scales of action, for example, exhibiting concern for fellow citizens' medical-care needs by establishing a national program.
Whether public programs can, outside of wartime, engender social solidarity against the background of the individualistic American political culture is unclear. Up to now the categorical character and political vulnerability of American public assistance has often made these programs sources of divisiveness. More promising is the example of social security, which suggests that Americans are willing to support an involuntary social insurance program that is broadly inclusive. It does not, therefore, seem foolish to hope that socioeconomic rights that are inclusive and generally compatible with American political culture might further the values of community and social solidarity.