Solidarity in diverse societies: beyond neoliberal multiculturalism and welfare chauvinism
Kymlicka Comparative Migration Studies
Solidarity in diverse societies: beyond neoliberal multiculturalism and welfare chauvinism
In the postwar period, projects of social justice have often drawn upon ideas of national solidarity, calling upon shared national identities to mobilize support for the welfare state. Several commentators have argued that increasing immigration, and the multiculturalism policies it often gives rise to, weaken this sense of national solidarity. This creates a potential “progressive's dilemma”, forcing a choice between solidarity and diversity. My aim in this paper is two-fold: first, to argue for the importance of national solidarity as a progressive political resource; and second, to discuss how it can be reconciled with support for immigration and multiculturalism. I will try to identify the prospects for a multicultural national solidarity - a multicultural welfare state, if you will - and to contrast it with the two obvious alternatives: a neoliberal multiculturalism that champions mobility and diversity at the expense of national solidarity; and a welfare chauvinism that champions national solidarity at the expense of immigrants and minorities.
Solidarity; Immigration; Multiculturalism; Neoliberalism; Welfare state
assumption that fellow Europeans are not really “others”; and so on. For the purposes
of testing whether ethnocultural diversity erodes a feeling of national belonging, should
a child of Irish immigrants who is born in London be counted amongst the national
“we” that is being challenged by immigration, or amongst the immigrant “they” who
pose the challenge? Any answer to the question seems arbitrary at best, and
meaningless at worst.
Once we recognize the contingency of perceptions of commonality and otherness, it
might seem that the very idea of a progressive’s dilemma relating to immigration is
unhelpful or misguided. There is no reason to assume in advance that immigrants form a
“they”, or indeed that the native-born form a “we”: the lines of identification are likely
to be infinitely more complex and variable. To assume otherwise is to commit the sin
of methodological nationalism: ie., to naturalize and reify the nation-state, to exaggerate
its internal cohesion, and to assume that it defines the natural boundaries of politics,
society and culture. Much of the existing literature on the progressive’s dilemma does
indeed suffer from this sort of methodological nationalism, and thereby implicitly and
uncritically “mirrors and legitimizes nation-building projects”
Nonetheless, I think the progressive’s dilemma cannot be dismissed so easily, in part
because nation-building projects – with their social constructions of a national `we’
and a foreign `they’ - are pervasive features of the contemporary world. Moreover, I
believe these projects are sometimes legitimate, not just in the sense that they comply
with minimal standards of democratic legitimacy and constitutional rights, but in the
deeper sense that they are justice-promoting. Nation-building projects can be, and
often have been, progressive political projects, mobilizing national solidarity against
One of the ironies of the ubiquity of methodological nationalism is that it has
discouraged investigation into the actual political functions of nationhood. Insofar as
nationhood is the “invisible background” for much of social science and political theory
, inadequate attention has been paid to the diversity of roles and functions
that nationhood actually plays in our social and political lives. Margaret
suggests we should view nationhood as a battery that energizes much of politics,
and like all batteries, it can be highly charged or more or less depleted, and it can be
used to power diverse projects, progressive and regressive. Scholars of migration are
typically conscious of one particular function of nationhood: namely, when it is a highly
charged battery used for the regressive purpose of excluding immigrants. But a fuller
analysis would reveal that nationhood can also serve as an effective battery for many
social justice claims.
And if so, then the progressive’s dilemma returns, not because immigration is an
abnormal contamination of naturalized nationhood, but because the progressive project
of defending immigration and multiculturalism may push in different directions than
the progressive project of defending national solidarity. Neither is more or less natural:
they are both projects for making the world more decent and humane. And the
challenge then is to think about how to reconcile them, and how to minimize any negative
effects each might have on the other.
So my aim in this paper is two-fold: first, to argue for the importance of national
solidarity as a progressive political resource; and second, to discuss how it can be
reconciled with support for immigration and multiculturalism. I will try to identify the
prospects for a multicultural national solidarity – a multicultural welfare state, if you
will – and to contrast it with the two obvious alternatives: a neoliberal multiculturalism
that champions mobility and diversity at the expense of national solidarity; and a
welfare chauvinism that champions national solidarity at the expense of immigrants and
Why might nationhood be progressive? Several political theorists have offered
normative justifications for the political project of nationhood, and I won’t attempt to repeat
all of the arguments here.2 So let me start with the simplest one – namely, the role of
nationhood in stabilizing the demos, the units of democratic governance. Some political
philosophers have implied that stability is assured simply by having a consensus on the
principle of democracy itself: if everyone agrees on the principle that decisions should
be made democratically, then democratic procedures will be stable. But a shared
consensus on democracy tells us nothing yet about the units within which decisions will be
made. Imagine that everyone on the continent of Europe shares a commitment to
democracy. That doesn’t yet tell us whether there should be one state in Europe, or
twentyeight, or two hundred and eighty. Nor does it tell us how the boundaries of these units
should be drawn: should they be drawn as straight grid lines of latitude and longitude,
or should they follow topography or historical settlement patterns? We cannot act
upon our shared democratic principles until we have at least a provisional consensus
on the number and borders of political units.
And yet nothing whatsoever in democratic theory entitles us to the assumption that
such a provisional consensus will emerge. On the contrary, democratic theory, on its
own, should lead us to the opposite expectation. After all, it’s the first premise of all
democratic theory that people diverge in their preferences. People differ in their
interests, their identities, their religious beliefs, and we need democracy precisely to reach
decisions in the face of these “facts of pluralism”.3 Yet all of these reasons for expecting
people to have diverging preferences about policy are also, prima facie, reasons for
expecting people to have diverging preferences about the units of democracy. In order
to get democracy off the ground, we need to somehow combine diverging preferences
about policy with converging preferences about units.
This peculiar combination of diverging policy preferences and converging unit
preferences is the structural presupposition of democracy, but to repeat, nothing in
democratic theory entitles us to expect such a combination. So what does explain it? To
date, the answer is typically nationhood. Nationhood provides a sense of belonging
together and a desire to act collectively. Ideas of belonging together, collective agency
and attachment to territory are part of the very meaning of shared nationhood. Where
a sense of nationhood is widely diffused, people think it is right and proper that they
form a single unit, and that they should act collectively, despite their diverging interests
and ideologies.4 Nationhood, in short, generates converging preferences on units.
Nationhood may also help facilitate the sort of solidarity required for a redistributive
welfare state. To be sure, a sense of shared nationhood is not required for us to show a
humanitarian concern for the suffering of others. Humans as a species are not
psychopaths, indifferent to the suffering of others. We can be moved to provide aid in
response to famines in distant societies, or to provide emergency health care for tourists
who fall ill, without requiring that the recipients be “one of us”. We can recognize
duties of rescue to the needy, or duties of hospitality to the stranger, and some people are
even moved to protect members of other species who are suffering or in distress, or
who need protection from harm. These are all humanitarian responses to needs that do
not depend on any sense of nationally-bounded solidarity.
But the welfare state is not about a humanitarian impulse to relieve suffering, offer
hospitality, or rescue from distress. The welfare state, at least in the robust form
endorsed by progressives, is rooted in an ethic of social membership. As the term implies,
social justice is about the mutual concern and obligation we have as members of a
shared society, and rest on some image of a decent, good or just society and of the sort
of egalitarian relations that should characterize it. Social justice involves an ongoing
commitment to create and uphold just institutions,5 including (for example) the social
policies that help people avoid getting sick in the first place. If someone has a heart
attack in front of us on the street, we have a humanitarian obligation to assist, whether
they are tourists or citizens, but in the case of citizens, we also have an obligation to
identify and address factors (such as economic insecurity) that make some people
much more vulnerable to heart attacks than others. We typically do not think we have
a comparable obligation with respect to tourists. We might say that justice amongst
members is egalitarian, whereas justice to strangers is humanitarian, and social justice
in this sense arguably depends on bounded solidarities.6 Nationhood has helped to
secure such an ethic of membership, and its resulting bounded solidarity.7
This claim that the welfare state depends on national solidarity is controversial. There
are alternative explanations for the emergence and maintenance of welfare states that
emphasize the role of self-interest, strategic action, contestation and conflict rather
than feelings of solidarity. A prominent approach to explaining the historical
development of welfare states has been “power resource theory”, which associates a strong
welfare state with the relative strength of left political coalitions, incorporating strong
labour movements and successful left political parties, particularly social democratic
(Korpi, 1983; Esping-Andersen 1985, 1990; Stephens, 1979)
. On this view, the
size and shape of welfare states is determined by the balance of power between those
who have a self-interest in expanding the welfare state and those who have a
selfinterest in reducing it. The outcome of this bargaining game may be a stronger welfare
state if trade unions and social democratic parties are particularly powerful and/or able
to form strategic coalitions with other popular forces. But this need not require or
entail that anyone acts out of national solidarity.
Indeed this was how the left itself once understood the struggle for the welfare state.
Socialist parties initially understood themselves as class parties engaged in class
struggle, drawing upon class solidarity to defeat their class enemies. But the breakthrough
for social democracy occurred when they abandoned this self-conception, and
redescribed themselves as a “people’s party” representing the nation as a whole and
appealing to solidarity amongst co-nationals as a basis for social justice. As Sheri Berman
notes, this transition from class solidarity to national solidarity was bitterly contested on
the left in many European countries, in part due to the lingering influence of Marxism
and its doctrine that all history is the history of class struggle
. But the idea
of the welfare state as an expression of an ethic of nationhood – captured so evocatively
in Per Albin Hansson’s idea of a “people’s home” (folkhemmet), or in T.H. Marshall’s
claim that the welfare state rests on “a direct sense of community membership based on
loyalty to a civilisation that is a common possession”
(Marshall 1963: 96)
- proved to be
politically more effective.8
Note again how the welfare state here is tied to an image of social membership, not
universal humanitarianism. The assumption, for both the Swedish Social Democrats
and the British Labour party, is that we form a community, and that the function of
the welfare state is to ensure that everyone feels equally at home in the community,
that everyone can equally partake in the cultural life of the community and enjoy its
civilization, and that everyone can feel that they belong to the community and that the
community belongs to them. It is this vision of the welfare state as an expression of
national solidarity – and not just of class struggle or of universal humanitarianism – that
powerfully inspired social democratic politics.9
It remains true that the shape and size of the welfare state depends in part on the
balance of class forces. But the mobilization of national solidarity, alongside class
bargaining, also matters. This suggests that the linkages between strategic and solidaristic
accounts are complex and multi-layered. Successful efforts to create more redistributive
welfare states are always contested, not the spontaneous result of pre-existing feelings
of enhanced solidarity, and so depend on the contingent balance of power. But one of
the resources wielded by progressive actors in that contest is appeals to national
solidarity. Moreover, these reforms can over time reinforce feelings of national solidarity,
which help to secure the reforms against the vagaries of power politics, as they become
seen as common possessions or achievements of the nation, and not just the spoils of
partisan battles. After all, the power of trade unions and social democratic parties has
weakened at various times and places, yet welfare states have largely endured, arguably
because they helped to build the very feelings of national solidarity needed to sustain
So we have at least two strong reasons why nationhood can be seen as a progressive
political project: it can operate to stabilize democracy and to build and sustain
redistributive welfare states. A fuller discussion might examine other progressive rationales
for nationhood, including the importance of a shared national language for democratic
participation and equality of opportunity, or the role of nationhood in motivating
concern for future generations (understood as the nation’s future) and the environment
(understood as the nation’s homeland and patrimony). There are multiple factors that
help to explain the “elective affinity” between nationhood and liberal democracy
However, as we all know, this link between nationhood and liberal-democracy creates
endemic risks for all those who are not seen as belonging to the nation, including
indigenous peoples, substate national groups and immigrants. Since they are not seen as
members of the nation or people in whose name the state governs, and may indeed be
seen as potentially disloyal fifth columns, they are often not trusted to govern
themselves or to share in the governing of the larger society. And this exclusion is typically
then buttressed and justified by ideologies of racial inferiority or cultural backwardness.
In short, while liberal-democracy has benefitted in important ways from its link with
nationhood, minorities have often paid a high price. They have been faced with social
stigmatization and racialization, at best offered a stark choice of assimilation or
exclusion, and at worst subject to expulsion or genocide.
This is why, in my view, any legitimate form of liberal nationalism must be
supplemented and constrained by multiculturalism
. Multiculturalism aims
to mitigate the costs to minorities of the elective affinity between liberal democracy
and nationhood. If liberal democracy had not entered the world tied to ideas of
nationhood, it is possible that we would not need multiculturalism, at least not in the form
we know in the West. But in our historical situation, some remedy was required for the
unjust and exclusionary consequences of the privileging of nationhood and its
And this raises the progressive’s dilemma. We need multiculturalism to make liberal
nationalism legitimate, but multiculturalist reforms may weaken the bonds of
nationhood and hence its ability to secure stability and solidarity. I should emphasize that I
am not claiming – as some of my liberal nationalist colleagues do – that nationhood is
the only possible basis for achieving progressive ends, or that there are no alternative
ways of generating converging preferences on political units, or generating a solidaristic
ethics of social membership. I welcome attempts to develop alternative accounts of
political order that seek to avoid reliance on nationhood, including various post-national
cosmopolitan, agonistic, or ecological theories of democracy and citizenship. One of
the central tasks of political theory is to imagine other worlds – to theorize possible
alternatives to nationhood as the basis for democracy and redistribution. Political theory
should open up our political imagination, not close it down.
However, one test of the adequacy of any such alternative is that it gives some
account of what generates converging preferences about the unit of decision-making in
the absence of nationhood. And in my view, the existing alternatives available in the
literature fail this test. Theorists clearly assume such converging preferences, but offer no
explanation for them. And if we scratch the surface, it becomes clear that they typically
smuggle back in the very assumptions of nationhood that they purport to reject. I think
this is true, for example, of
) accounts of
postnational democracy, or
) account of rhizomatic democracy. And having
underestimated the extent to which their own theories rely on nationhood, they also
systematically underestimate the need to supplement and constrain nationhood by
So the construction of post-national alternatives to liberal nationalism remains an
important task for future work. But in the meantime, for the foreseeable future at least,
we live in a world where nationhood serves important political functions. And this
inevitably leads to the question of how multicultural diversity affects these functional
roles. In particular, does multiculturalism erode national solidarity, as the progressive
Beyond Neoliberal Multiculturalism and Welfare Chauvinism
It is worth pausing to consider why this worry has become so prominent in recent
years. Part of the explanation, I believe, is that the rise of multiculturalism in many
countries in the 1980s and early 1990s coincided with the rise of neoliberalism and the
restructuring of the welfare state. Moreover, the same international organizations that
championed neoliberalism in the 1980s – such as the World Bank, the OECD or the
EU12 – also pushed multiculturalism. As a result, in at least some countries, citizens
experienced the rise of multiculturalism as part and parcel of an (imposed) neoliberal
package: they were told to better respect migrants and minorities at the same time they
were told to gut their social protection schemes. Or put another way, they were told to
extend equality to minorities, but the meaning of “equality” was being reduced and
reinterpreted in a neoliberal form, as essentially equal access to (or perhaps better,
equal exposure to) the competitive global marketplace. The result has been aptly
described as a form of “neoliberal multiculturalism” (or “Benetton multiculturalism”): the
equal right of all to market themselves and their culture, and to safely consume the
cultural products of others, indifferent to issues of disadvantage. In short, inclusion
Indeed, some commentators assume that this is the original and essential form of
multiculturalism. Perhaps the best-known version of this argument is from Slavoj
Žižek, who famously stated that multiculturalism emerged as the “cultural logic of
multinational capitalism” (Žižek, 1997). Similar arguments have been made by other
commentators, whether in relation to immigrants
, national minorities
(Cardinal & Denault, 2007)
or indigenous peoples
. In each case, the
central argument is that multiculturalism emerged as a technique of neoliberal governance,
as a way of integrating minorities and minority cultural products into global markets.
I have elsewhere argued that this story is demonstrably wrong as an account of the
genealogy of multiculturalism
. Multiculturalism arose in the 1960s,
well before the era of neoliberalism, and was rooted in a social democratic impulse,
defended as a natural extension of civil rights struggles and citizenship struggles.
Moreover, the initial reaction of Thatcherite and Reaganite neoliberals was to reject
multiculturalism, precisely because it was seen as a project of the social democratic (“nanny”)
welfare state. And in some countries, neoliberals never relinquished this original
hostility to multiculturalism.
But for a variety of complex reasons, neoliberals in some countries – and in some
international organizations - eventually decided they could work with multiculturalism,
transforming it in a neoliberal direction, reframing it as a project of market inclusion
rather than citizenship. Multiculturalism, as reimagined by neoliberals, was not about
redressing the social and political marginalization of minorities generated by the
privileging of nationhood. Rather, it was about enabling minorities to use their cultural
markers as a source of market inclusion, either directly through commodifying cultural
products (dress, music, food etc.), or indirectly by exploiting (transnational) ethnic
networks as sources of social capital. And it was about persuading majorities to feel
comfortable and competent when interacting with minorities in the workplace and
marketplace, including the migrant workers desired by employers
. It was
this neoliberal version of multiculturalism – ethnicity, mobility and intercultural
competence as market assets - that was promoted actively in the 1980s and early 1990s,
and that in some places eclipsed the earlier more emancipatory vision of
As a result, many citizens experienced multiculturalism and neoliberalism as a single
phenomenon, as two sides of the same coin that threatened inherited schemes of
national solidarity. And understandably, many citizens recoiled from this image of
neoliberal multiculturalism, and mobilized to defend national solidarity and the welfare
state. But all too often, this mobilization has taken the inverse form of neoliberal
multiculturalism: that is to say, welfare chauvinism, or solidarity without inclusion. Social
protection is reserved for those who fit some narrow definition of national belonging.
Immigrants’ access to the welfare state is not only delayed or deferred for varying
periods of time, but a range of new obstacles are put in place that make it difficult or
unpredictable to meet these thresholds for access. Proposals for this sort of welfare
chauvinism were initially formulated by far-right anti-immigrant populist parties, but
have become distressingly popular across the political spectrum, and indeed
implemented as public policy, as mainstream parties of both the right and centre seek to
avoid bleeding votes to the populist right.14
At times, then, we seem confronted with a stark choice between neoliberal
multiculturalism – inclusion without solidarity – and welfare chauvinism – solidarity without
inclusion. As stated earlier, my preference is for a third option: inclusive solidarity
through a multicultural welfare state.15 But is this a realistic possibility? It may sound
attractive philosophically, but is it politically viable, or do we face a hard trade-off
between national solidarity and multiculturalism? As Paul Collier notes, "most people
who consider themselves progressive want multiculturalism combined with rapid
migration and generous social welfare programs”, but he argues that “some combinations
of policy choices may be unsustainable", and he claims that multiculturalism and
national solidarity are such an unsustainable combination
(Collier, 2013: 264–5)
Is it sustainable, and if so, what would be the sources or preconditions of such an
inclusive solidarity? This is a key question, but unfortunately we have little surprisingly
little research on it.16 Neither the welfare state literature nor the multiculturalism
literature has attended in any depth to the role of solidarity, either as a precondition or
an outcome. Relatively little has been written about the extent to which the welfare
state or multiculturalism presuppose solidarity, create solidarity, or erode solidarity.
This partly reflects the dominance of the power resources theory within the welfare
state field, but it is also reflects the fact that the very concept of “solidarity” has been
neglected in social sciences and political theory. Several commentators have noted the
and “surprising gap”
of solidarity as
a subject of research in sociology
(Reynolds, 2014: 1; Alexander, 2014)
, political science
(Stjernø, 2004: 20) or in moral and political philosophy
(Bayertz, 1998: 293; Scholz,
. Wilde speculates that this is because solidarity is seen as “confined to the
realm of rhetoric” – as a rhetorical trope of politicians – and not something fit for
serious theoretical work (Wilde, 2007: 171).17 Alexander speculates that solidarity is
ignored because it does not fit well with “influential theories of modern society”:
Solidarity is a central dimension of social order and social conflict, yet it has largely
been absent from influential theories of modern society. Most of the big thinkers,
classical, modern and contemporary, have conceived prototypically modern
relationships as either vertical or atomized. Modernization is thought to have
smashed affectual and moral fellow-feeling: because of commodification and
capitalist hierarchy (Marx), because of bureaucracy and individualistic asceticism (Weber),
because of the growing abstraction and impersonality of the collective consciousness
allows egoism and anomie (Durkheim). Postmodernity is typically seen as liquefying
social ties and intensifying narcissistic individualism (Baumann); or as creating new
forms of verticality, for example, the disciplinary cage (Foucault). (Alexander, 2014:
In short, “much of contemporary social theory has tried to make solidarity disappear”.
Yet I agree with Alexander that solidarity “remains a central dimension of cultural,
institutional and interactional life in contemporary societies”
(Alexander, 2014: 304)
justice to be possible, “citizens need to be motivated by solidarity, not merely included
(Calhoun, 2002: 153)
Given the meagre literature, my discussion of the sources of inclusive solidarity will
inevitably be partial and speculative, and intended primarily to spur more and better
research. But we can start with some good news. Despite the pessimistic claims of some
of the earliest proponents of the progressive’s dilemma, it is now clear that there is no
inherent or universal tendency for multiculturalism to drive down solidarity.
Crossnational studies show that countries which have gone farther down the road of
embracing multiculturalism policies have on average fared as well as other countries in
maintaining social spending, in maintaining public support for redistributive programs, and
in maintaining attitudes of inclusive solidarity (
Banting & Kymlicka, 2006
, (in press;)
Brady & Finnigan 2014
Kesler & Bloemraad 2010
Guimond et al. 2013
While multiculturalism and neoliberalism may have coincided in some countries in the
1980s, it is now clear that the impact of the latter was largely independent of the
former, and that countries which rejected multiculturalism fared no better in defending
the welfare state than those countries that embraced multiculturalism. Whatever the
relationship between multiculturalism and solidarity, it is not a simple hydraulic one, in
which one goes down when the other goes up.
But this isn’t to say that there aren’t more specific contexts or dimensions where they
might conflict. Moreover, the findings to date do not provide much guidance for
predicting what would happen if, as many progressives desire, we attempted to strengthen
either multiculturalism or redistribution beyond what currently exists. It would help if
we could move beyond bare regression models to uncover some of the actual
mechanisms that underpin (or erode) inclusive solidarity.
As a start, I’d like to return to the rise of neoliberalism in the 1980s, which is widely
seen as a paradigmatic example of the decline in solidarity. Was there a significant
decline in solidarity at this time, and if so, what caused it? I’ve already mentioned that it
is implausible to blame multiculturalism – the depth of neoliberal reforms was not
connected to the presence or absence of multiculturalism policies - but what then did
cause the decline in solidarity?
One perhaps surprising answer is that there may not in fact have been any significant
change in feelings of solidarity, as least as measured by support for general principles
of the welfare state. Several studies have shown a remarkable stability in attitudes to
the role of the state in reducing inequalities and ensuring equal opportunities before,
during, and after the heyday of neoliberalism in the 1980s and 1990s.18 This period
witnessed significant changes in the strategic balance of power held by various actors, but
not it seems in underlying public attitudes.
If we dig a bit deeper, however, it turns out that there have been more subtle changes
in attitudes of solidarity.
Cavaillé and Trump (2015)
argue that, at least in the British
case, while there has been little change in public support for the general principle that
the state should reduce inequality (what they call “redistribution from”), there has been
a hardening of attitudes towards specific recipients (what they call “redistribution to”),
including the unemployed, single mothers and immigrants. Put more colloquially, it
seems that the public continues to think that the rich don’t deserve their good fortune,
and so should be taxed, but have started to believe that perhaps the disadvantaged do
deserve their bad fortune, and so are less keen to support them.19
What explains this hardening of attitudes to the recipients of welfare? Commentators
typically refer to “deservingness” judgements, which include judgements about the
extent to which someone’s misfortune or disadvantage was under their voluntary control.
But the evidence suggests that deservingness judgements also track three other criteria:
“identity” (the extent to which recipients are seen as belonging to a shared society),
“attitude” (the extent to which recipients are seen as accepting benefits in the spirit of
civic friendship); and “reciprocity” (the extent to which recipients are seen as likely to
help others when it is their turn to do so).20
The relevance of these criteria should not be surprising if, as I argued earlier, the
welfare state is not primarily about either class struggle or universal humanitarianism, but
rather about an ethic of social membership. Judgements of identity, attitude and
reciprocity are all different dimensions of the idea that the welfare state embodies
Marshall’s “direct sense of community membership”.
It is also perhaps not surprising that these criteria work to the detriment of
immigrants. While several recipient groups are burdened by deservingness judgements,
immigrants in Europe invariably come out at the bottom of the ranking of deservingness.
Van Oorschot indeed calls this “a truly universal element in the popular welfare culture
of present Western welfare states”
(Van Oorschot, 2006: 25)
.21 This is arguably a key
factor in explaining the rise of welfare chauvinism, at the expense of a more inclusive
If this is indeed part of the explanation for the failure of inclusive solidarity, then the
urgent question is how we can counteract these trends? One option, in line with power
resource theory, is to hope that immigrants over time will gain enough voting clout to
muscle their way into the welfare state, even in the face of negative deservingness
judgements.23 Another option, in line with post-national cosmopolitanism in political
theory, is to hope that citizens can be persuaded to separate their views of the welfare
state from ideas of community membership, and to instead appeal to universal
Both of these options seek to extend protection to immigrants without relying on
national solidarity. But as I’ve indicated, I believe that national solidarity will continue to
play an important role in shaping the welfare state for the foreseeable future, and we
need therefore to think seriously about how immigrants can be part of an inclusive
To make progress on this question, we need to better understand why immigrants
are at the bottom of the deservingness ladder. In the literature on anti-immigrant
attitudes, two broad explanations are offered: one rooted in perceptions of economic
threat or economic burden (e.g., immigrants as free riders), and the other in
perceptions of cultural threat (immigrants as irremediably other). How we build inclusive
solidarity will depend, at least in part, on the weight we assign to these two dynamics.
Insofar as immigrants are seen as disproportionately reliant on social assistance, and
therefore as free-riders, then the relevant responses might be to redesign the welfare state
to make it more universalist. We know that deservingness judgements are “primed” when
the welfare state is organized on a more selective basis, using means-tested benefits,
which makes recipients more visible, and invites – indeed almost requires – debates about
their deservingness. Various scholars have shown that this dynamic, and its pernicious
effects on immigrants, is diminished in more universalistic welfare states
(Van der Waal, De
Koster & Van Oorschot, 2013; Larsen, 2006; Swank & Betz, 2003; Van Oorschot, 2000;
Kumlin & Rothstein 2010; Rothstein 2015)
We might go further and argue that social policy needs to be reorganized to focus
more on “predistribution” rather than “redistribution”
- that is, changing
how markets distribute rewards in the first place. This includes policies such as higher
minimum wages, laws to facilitate union organizing and collective bargaining, or
strengthened labour activation policies.25 It could also include more radical proposals
for “stakeholder grants” (Ackerman & Alstott, 1999) and “property-owning democracy”
, aimed at giving everyone a “fair stake” in society, and equalizing the
assets that people bring to the market.26 Relying exclusively on post-hoc redistribution
creates a double jeopardy: the rich are inclined to believe they have ‘earned’ their
income, and to doubt the deservingness of welfare recipients. As Hacker notes,
progressive reformers need to focus on market reforms that encourage a more equal
distribution of economic power and rewards even before government collects taxes or
pays out benefits. This is not just because pre-distribution is where the action is. It is
also because excessive reliance on redistribution fosters backlash, making taxes more
salient and feeding into the conservative critique that government simply meddles with
“natural” market rewards (Hacker, 2011)
I’m sympathetic to such proposals, which surely would reduce the scope for negative
deservingness judgements regarding immigrants, and which in any event are
intrinsically desirable from a liberal egalitarian perspective. However, I do not believe that these
reforms are a full answer to the challenge of inclusive solidarity. One obvious problem
is sequencing. Once it’s up and running, a stakeholder society that prioritizes
predistribution over redistribution may minimize perceptions of free-riding and economic
burden, but how do we get from here to there?
Moreover, I do not believe that perceptions of economic burden are the primary
obstacle to inclusive solidarity. Several studies of the sources of anti-immigrant attitudes
find that while immigrants are seen as both economic and cultural threats, the cultural
threat is the more powerful factor. For example, most people would rather have fewer
immigrants who are a net drain on the welfare state than have large numbers of
immigrants who are net contributors to the welfare state
(Sniderman & Hagendoorn, 2007;
Sides & Citrin, 2007)
. This is confirmed by Edward Koning’s comparative analysis of welfare
chauvinism, which shows that the desire to withhold benefits from immigrants is not
correlated with actual levels of welfare dependence. Even low levels of welfare dependence can be
mobilized to justify welfare chauvinism if politicians present the recipients as a cultural threat,
while quite high levels of welfare dependence may not trigger welfare chauvinism if politicians
do not frame this as an issue of cultural threat (Koning, 2013). In short, the perception of
economic burden is an effect of perceptions of cultural otherness, not vice versa.
If true, this suggests that redesigning the welfare state to minimize opportunities for
deservingness judgements is not sufficient. We need to directly tackle perceptions of
cultural “otherness”, and to support perceptions of shared membership. But how should
we do this? Here we see a clear fork in the road, with a choice between coercive civic
integration and liberal multiculturalism.
In a peculiar and perhaps perverse way, some of the coercive and paternalistic “civic
integration” policies spreading throughout Europe can be seen as a response to this
challenge.27 While part of the impetus for these policies is simple xenophobia, other
defenders of these policies may sincerely believe that they can help overcome
deservingness judgements to achieve inclusive solidarity. If immigrants are forced to learn the
national language and to take integration classes and perform public service in return
for welfare, this may counteract the image of not belonging and not reciprocating. If
immigrants are seen as not complying with an ethic of social membership, well then
let’s force them to comply!
I have elsewhere argued that such policies – when mandatory – involve a level of
coercion and paternalism that is illiberal, and so normatively illegitimate
.28 But for our purposes, a deeper problem is that this approach is self-defeating.
When the state claims that these polices must be mandatory in order to be effective,
then it in fact confirms public suspicions that immigrants, left to their own devices, are
by inclination uninterested in belonging, and unwilling to contribute and reciprocate.
To counteract deservingness judgements, we need instead to create opportunities for
immigrants to voluntarily indicate their sense of belonging, civic friendship and
Moreover, these civic integration policies arguably bring nationhood into the story in
the wrong way. Nationhood works best when it is deep in the background, as a
takenfor-granted presupposition of social life, such that it can indeed be “invisible”. The
invisibility of nationhood may be a methodological sin in social science, but it is arguably
a social virtue. For when nationhood is highlighted or primed – when it is taken from
the back of people’s minds to the front of their minds – there is evidence that it triggers
xenophobia. This is one of the results of what are called “mere mention” experiments.
In these experiments, one group of respondents is asked “do you believe immigrants
deserve this or that right”. Another group of people are asked the same question, but
with a national prime: they are asked: “You are Dutch: do you believe immigrants
deserve X”. The “mere mention” of nationhood produces systematically harsher
answers.29 Coercive civic integration policies are, in effect, repeated iterations of these
mere mention tests: repeatedly poking and prodding immigrants, asking “are you Dutch
yet?”. This perhaps explains why the evidence to date suggests that civic integration
policies are not overcoming exclusionary forms of solidarity
(Goodman & Wright 2015;
Gundelach & Traunmüller, 2014)
What is the alternative? I would suggest that we need to develop a form of
multiculturalism that is tied to an ethic of social membership: that is, a form of
multiculturalism that enables immigrants to express their culture and identity as modes of
participating and contributing to the national society. A solidarity-promoting
multiculturalism would start from the premise that one way to be a proud and loyal Canadian
is to be a proud Greek-Canadian or Vietnamese-Canadian, and that the activities of
one’s group – be they religious, cultural, recreational, economic or political – are
understood as forms of belonging, and of investing in society, not only or primarily in
the economic sense, but in a deeper social sense, even (dare I say it?) as a form of
Indeed if there is one thing to be said on behalf of Canadian multiculturalism, it is
precisely this: multiculturalism in Canada has always been seen, by both immigrants
and native-born citizens, as a means of contributing to society, and indeed a form of
nation-building.30 It is a means of staking a claim to social membership, in part by
seeking the accommodations needed to participate more fully and effectively, but also
of fulfilling the responsibilities of social membership. I do not think this is unique to
Canada: I see the same link between multiculturalism and national contribution in
(Levey, 2008, 2016)
or Scotland (Hussain & Miller 2006).
This, I think, is the most promising avenue for inclusive solidarity – a multicultural
liberal nationalism, if you will. I believe it is more promising than relying on the
vagaries of power politics or an appeal to universal humanitarianism or on coercive civic
integration. I emphasize, however, once again, that this is highly speculative. We do not
have the sort of evidence needed to confirm the reciprocal impacts of multiculturalism,
national solidarity, and the welfare state. And even if the evidence existed, it would just
push the question back. If multicultural nationhood is the precondition of inclusive
solidarity, what are the preconditions of multicultural nationhood?31
And here, as a last word, let me enter a word of caution, particularly in light of the
theme of this conference. I believe that multicultural nationhood is both a normatively
attractive ideal, and a potential source of inclusive solidarity, and that we have at least
some partial instantiations of this ideal in the real world. But the cases I’ve mentioned
– Canada, Australia and Scotland – share an important feature. They are societies
whose immigrants have traditionally been seen as permanent residents and future
citizens. Or at any rate, their policies of multicultural nationalism are built on this
assumption. And this assumption is partly what makes the model of
multiculturalism-asnational-contribution powerful and plausible: permanent residents and future citizens
have a clear self-interest in investing in society, becoming members, and contributing
to it. It is far less clear that this model of multiculturalism works for temporary
migrants, and indeed both Canada and Australia have recently been struggling with the
question or whether or how their multiculturalism policies apply to temporary
Some people believe that the very distinction between permanent and temporary
migration is breaking down, and that we will soon be living in a world of “superdiversity”
with a multitude of legal statuses that are neither wholly temporary nor wholly
permanent, but rather have varying degrees and levels of conditionality and precariousness
(Vertovec, 2007, 2016)
. I am far from sure that such a world is desirable. I am even less
sure what would be the source of solidarity in such a world of liquid mobility.
1There are now hundreds of studies done on this topic. For recent meta-analyses of
these studies, documenting their inconclusive results, see
Van der Meer and Tolsma,
); Stichnoth and Van der Straeten, (2013);
Stolle and Harell,
note, this literature seems to have reached a “stalemate”.
2For influential accounts, see
famously argued that political theorists need to treat these facts of
pluralism as a permanent feature of any free society. Unfortunately, like most other
contemporary political theorists, he does not apply his own logic to the question of
units of governance, and assumes instead that preferences on that question will be
4And conversely, the relatively few cases in the West where boundaries are unstable
are cases of competing nation-building, as in Northern Ireland, Belgium and Cyprus. If
nationhood offers the clearest route to generate converging preferences on units, so
too competing nationhood offers the clearest route to disrupt that convergence,
generating the need for models of multination states that seek to ensure fairness amongst
the competing national groups in their ability to enact their national identities (through
language rights and self-government powers etc.).
5For a related point, see Bauman’s discussion of the need to look beyond
momentary “carnivals of solidarity” to see whether and how solidarity operates in the “the
silence of the dispassionate routine” of institutionalized social life
6As Laitinen and Pessi put it, not all pro-social feelings qualify as solidarity: “as
solidarity is often based on we-thinking, it can be separated not only from anti-social
egocentrism, but also from one-sided `thou-centrism’, such as altruism, sympathy, caring,
or Christian charity. While these concentrate on the wellbeing of the other or you, the
target of concern in solidarity can be us together”
(Laitinen & Pessi, 2014: 2)
7Some cosmopolitan theorists have raised philosophical objections to this picture
of bounded solidarity, and argue that we should think of ourselves as equally obligated
to all humans, close or distant, insiders or outsiders. I will not enter into that
philosophical debate here, except to note that (a) all existing welfare states do rely on
bounded solidarity; and (b) we should not assume that renouncing appeal to bounded
solidarities and removing the distinction between insiders and outsiders will lead to
levelling up the treatment of outsiders. It might instead lead to levelling down of the
treatment of insiders. It may be that bounded solidarity was (and continues to be) needed
to motivate people to accept obligations beyond duties of rescue and humanitarian
8See historian Ben Jackson’s observation that historically successful appeals for
egalitarian politicians in the USA and the UK tended to be expressed in the idiom of
national solidarity, and that “redistribution expressed the fairness and solidarity of the
(Jackson, 2009: 239)
9There is considerable variation across time and space in the extent to which a
strong welfare state is seen as necessary to instantiate this ethic of social membership –
compare the US and Sweden. But while the ethic of social membership implicit in
nationhood is not inherently linked to pro-redistributive views, it is inherently egalitarian
in its conception of social status, or at least anti-elitist. In earlier periods of European
history, elites tried to dissociate themselves from `the plebs' or `the rabble', and
justified their powers and privileges precisely in terms of their alleged distance from the
masses. The lords were seen, not only as a different class, but as a different and
superior race of people, with their own language and civilization, unrelated to the folk
culture of the peasants in their midst, and this was the basis of their right to rule. The rise
of nationalism, by contrast, valorized `the people'. Nations are defined in terms of `the
people' - ie. the mass of population on a territory, regardless of class or occupation
who become "the bearer of sovereignty, the central object of loyalty, and the basis of
(Greenfeld, 1992: 14)
. The “arrival of nationalism” therefore “was
tied to the political baptism of the lower classes”
(Nairn, 1977: 41)
. The use of the
vernacular in modern political life is a manifestation of this shift, confirmation that the
political community really does belong to the people, and not to the elite. And while
national communities still exhibit major economic inequalities, the different economic
classes are no longer seen as separate races or cultures. It is seen as right and proper
that lower-class children are exposed to the high culture of literature and the arts
(which itself has become expressed in the vernacular), while upper-class children are
exposed to the history and folk culture of the people. All individuals within the territory
are supposed to share in a common national culture, speak the same national language,
and participate in common educational and political institutions. In short, nationalism
created the myth of a single national community which encompasses all classes on the
territory. And within the Western democracies, substantial progress was made towards
realizing this myth, as the achievement of a wider franchise, mass literacy and the
welfare state enabled almost all citizens to participate, however unequally, in common
national cultural and political institutions operating in the vernacular. This vision is
under strain, given recent trends towards rising inequality, but national identity has
remained strong in the modern era in part because its emphasis on the importance of
`the people' provides a source of dignity to all individuals, against all the other social
forces that work to separate elites from the masses. We can see the Occupy movement
as an attempt to reassert this image in the face of growing inequality and the societal
divorce of the 1% from the masses. As discussed below, it is not clear that ‘postnational’
approaches have any comparable capacity to bind elites to the masses.
10This is a central theme in
Brooks and Manza (2007)
, who argue that welfare state
regimes endure, despite declining working class power, in part because they have
become embedded in public discourse and collective memories, albeit to different degrees
in different countries.
11Since this IMISCOE conference is on mobility, I will focus on immigrant-origin
multiculturalism, rather than the claims of indigenous peoples or substate nations.
Insofar as the latter raise issues about territorial boundaries and self-determination
claims, they not only challenge the role of nationhood in generating solidarity, but even
its ability to stabilize boundaries
12All these organizations eventually retreated from more extreme forms of `market
fundamentalism’, and some commentators argue that we can therefore distinguish a
“neoliberal era” (say, 1980 to 1995) from a “post-neoliberal era” (say, 1995 to the
economic crisis of 2008), which did not reverse neoliberal market reforms, but which
qualified and supplemented them with social investment policies. For an excellent
history of neoliberalism, and its uneven rise and fall, see
Evans and Sewell (2013)
13This trajectory is not unique to multiculturalism: for example, we can see similar
transformations from emancipatory to neoliberal versions of gay rights. And in both
cases, the trajectory is contested, and the struggle between the two versions remains
Reeskens and Van Oorschot (2012
). In these
cases, “a strong defense of social solidarity – a strong internal ‘community of fate’ - seems
to have come bundled with strict boundaries to the outside” (
15Logically, a fourth option is neoliberal assimilation. As noted earlier, that indeed
was the initial position of Thatcher and Reagan, and it seems to be returning in some
parts of the right in the US and UK, and perhaps elsewhere. From a philosophical
perspective, neoliberal assimilation involves a puzzling mix of economic liberalism and
16And Collier himself provides no evidence that multiculturalism policies erode
17For similar observations about how solidarity has been dismissed by academics as
“rhetorical” or “ceremonial”, see
Laitinen and Pessi (2014)
18For arguments about the stability of attitudes of solidarity, see
Brooks and Manza
Cavaillé and Trump (2015)
on public opinion regarding “the undeserving rich”.
20For a review of these findings, see Van Oorschot (2006).
21According to Van Oorschot, we should expect immigrants to be seen as
undeserving because “one can assume that migrants will tend to `score’ less positively, or
more negatively, on all criteria usually apply when assessing a person’s or a group’s
(Van Oorschot 2005: 6)
22As Van Oorschot notes, deservingness judgements are essentially the flip side of
feelings of solidarity: “In fact, one could argue that the difference between both
concepts is more a matter of disciplinary origin and context, with `solidarity’ having a
tradition in sociology, and `deservingness’ having its roots in social psychology”
Oorschot 2005: 10n3)
23That voting clout does indeed matter has been documented by
Michalowski and Strinnbe, (2012
24See, for example,
25“Prepare not repair”, as the slogan goes
(Morel, Palier & Palme, 2011)
26For a helpful review of these models of egalitarian capitalism, see Ackerman,
Alstott and Van Parijs (2006) and
O'Neill and Williamson (2012)
27For overviews of this trend, see
puts it, these policies manifest a “Schmittian
29Interestingly, this effect is not found in Canada
30This analysis is shared by both defenders of Canadian multiculturalism, such as
myself and Varun
, and critics, such as Gerald
. They view the fusing of multiculturalism with nation-building as
an abandonment of its emancipatory potential. I view it as enabling an ethos of social
membership that affirms both diversity and solidarity.
31For some speculations, see
The author declares that he has no competing interests.
An earlier version of this paper was presented at the IMISCOE “Mobility in Crisis” conference at the European
University Institute in January 2015. Thanks to Rainer Bauböck, Peter Scholten, Willem Maas and Claus Offe for their
challenging commentaries at the conference, and to Sue Donaldson and Keith Banting for their suggestions. The
paper draws on work being conducted in collaboration with Keith as part of our project on “The Strains of
Commitment: The Political Sources of Solidarity in Diverse Societies”.
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