Autonomous solidarity is a form of association that can be truly an expression of justice as it balances freedom and equality.
A big question, that is not necessarily at the forefront of public debate, is whether autonomy or liberty is more important. Liberty can easily be defined as freedom from government tyranny, and obviously is quite valuable in its own respect regardless of political ideology. There can be a leftwing or rightwing movement for liberty. Autonomy, on the other hand, must be defined strictly from its origins in ancient Greek. Autonomy translates into “self-law” and is the act of people creating the institutions that govern their lives in such a way as to be able to decide on actions that directly affect themselves. This definition implies that direct democracy is the best method to achieve this goal, whereas the definition of liberty never proposes a way to accomplish itself. In fact, some have argued that democracy can be a detriment to liberty since it can become mob rule. A republic where representatives govern has been seen as an improvement on direct democracy. But a republic carries with it the baggage of an inherent elitism, and over time has been shown to be also imperfect. If a democracy and a republic were compared based on the negative connotations of mob rule and elitism respectively, then an interesting factor emerges. The will of a mob may infringe on liberty at times, but this will has the potential to change over time. In contrast, the goal of an elite is always to perpetuate itself and its hierarchy. If democracy can be corrected to insure that liberty is not sacrificed, it will result in more autonomy. Therefore, autonomy has a more long-term importance. This autonomy can exist on the individual level or collective level, but the element of a new type of association must be formed in between in order to balance individual freedom and collective equality. This is what is called autonomous solidarity.
The basic unit of a social grouping is the individual, in that it is the most concrete and material part of any collective. This does not deny the independent existence of the collective, but the collective in itself exists as a form rather than a content. The individual interacts with other individuals in a positive way through a process of difference and solidarity, where the unique character of each individual is retained while still engaging in constructive collective action. Solidarity, as this constructive collective action, can be through individual equivalences or through individual differences. When individuals are different from each other, this can be due to a specialization of various abilities where each individual can not be self-sufficient. In other words, different individuals interact in order to fulfill needs they can not accomplish alone. But individual difference can also occur through comprehensiveness in that individuals can expand their own abilities through the interaction with others. Instead of being specialists, they become experts across a wide field of knowledge.
The movement from specialization to comprehensiveness insures that each individual will not be forced into any conformity, but the collective action becomes more prominent and useful to individual life. The collective organization of specialization is conducted through a centralization of power because a dependency is maintained, but the collective organization of comprehensiveness is through a decentralization of power. If individuals are unable to fulfill their own needs, then each member of the collective has a lack that can only be met by the collective. If power is evenly distributed to each member of the collective, then each individual can retain autonomy and is no longer dependent upon the collective. If a collective moves from specialization to comprehensiveness, it is possible to express each individual unique desire through finite group interests. The collective serves its purpose as a method to distribute power among all members. Overall, the relationship between the individual and the collective is a relationship between parts and relationships. Decentralization within the collective allows objective parts to become subjective parts. It is a process where the value of particular relationships is established, the knowledge of these relationships is obtained through experience, and finally the creation of new relationships is possible.
The purpose of a collective is to equally distribute power among its participants, and to correct the problems of hierarchy. If a collective does not uphold individual difference and solidarity, then it can degrade to individual equivalence and alienation. Forcing each participant to be exactly the same as every other individual makes it impossible for these individuals to be empowered through collective action. It can be very tempting to enforce a strict equality of identity in a collective as a way to properly communicate value within that collective. A communication of value occurs between those who are equivalent in their self interest. Any act of communication of value is consistent and incomplete, as a subset of a reality that is itself inconsistent and complete. Therefore, a communication of value is an external discontinuity from the reality it is embedded in, and an internal continuity within the collective. The communication of value in a collective must be clear in order to be effective, and this clarity requires a communication between equals. But care must be taken that this equality is not absolute or universal as to eradicate the unique characteristics of each individual. If absolute equality occurs, then each individual is subsumed under the monolithic collective and there is no way that power can be shared by participants.
The best method to prevent equivalence and alienation, and instead to promote difference and solidarity, is to organize finite collectives with finite group interests. With small groups that have sharp borders with a larger social reality, there can be an equality of self interest among members and a difference of individual desire. This distinction can be the expression of a finite group interest, in contrast to a universal interest that would be an abstract interest through infinite collectives. The group interest is a concrete interest through finite collectives that are also subsets of infinite collectives. What this means is that the best articulation of individual desire is through finite groups that have clear collective interests that are not necessarily universally applied. These finite groups can overlap in membership or collaborate together to form a universal group interest, but this universal group interest is not as relevant to human collective action or goals. Finite collectives and a finite group interest protects both freedom and equality so that collective action becomes worthwhile for individuals who would be exploited or marginalized if isolated from each other. Finite collectives are useful as parts within reality, and in order to preserve both freedom and equality must practice both the voice option and the refusal option. The voice option and the refusal option are defined by how they relate to an external reality. The voice option is the ability of each individual in a collective to be an equal participant, while the refusal option is the ability of each individual to leave a collective. The voice option must not interfere with the refusal option of others, and the refusal option must not interfere with the voice option of others. When the voice option and the refusal option within finite collectives are practiced, the voice option is an array of closed internal relationships within the collective in question while the refusal option is open external parts. The voice option and the refusal option are instruments that allow a permeability between each collective and the overall reality, and that makes finite collectives possible and practical.
The relationship between separate individuals and collectives, and how that relationship is mediated, can determine how freedom and equality is properly expressed. It can be clearly seen that freedom begins as an individual phenomenon, where individual humans possess a subjective unconscious that is manifested as objective creations. These objective creations occur in the social field as political choices, cultural ideas, and economic objects. On the other hand, it is also clear that equality is a collective phenomenon. Collectives exist in objective reality as a grouping of individuals, but it is through collectives that there can be subjective use of these objective creations. Collectives that allow full participation and an equal sharing of power expands freedom by making sure that each individual is not only able to create but make use of the tools in a society.
Both individual humans and collectives, comprised of humans, exist within a context of reality. This objective reality contains subjective individuals who make use of their objective background of reality to express each subjective perspective. These subjective individuals are a particular contingency, in that their actions can cause certain effects that are not limited to specific causes. Individual humans are not needed in order to initiate certain effects, especially effects within a society. On the other hand, objective reality is a universal necessity. The background of reality needs to exist in order for things to happen in the material and the social world. The freedom of subjective individuals is limited by the facts and causality of objective reality. The subsumption of this particular contingency by the universal necessity of reality can obscure any empowerment that can occur through individual freedom within collectives. There is a sense that reality in itself absolutely predetermines any social action and makes the idea of human freedom much more limited. The facts of reality make certain human actions seem impossible, but collective action can do more than each isolated individual. The denial of such collective action is an attempt to restrain the full expression of freedom. For example, the subjective collectives that form within objective reality can fully enhance human knowledge that is vital to human freedom. Knowledge has always developed through the effort of subjective collectives, in an attempt to codify truth. Truth exists independently of human experience in objective reality. Knowledge is a particular mediation of truth, and is embedded in social interactions where autonomous solidarity is most needed. Autonomous solidarity can breach the gap that may seem to appear between each human and the reality they find themselves in.
Humans exist in both a private and a public realm, to the extent that their identity is divided in two. The private and public realm is within both reality and the experience of reality. The private and the public has a very specific relationship, where the private is a subset of the public and the public is independent of the private. In this way, the private can be described as subjective and the public can be described as objective. The private is the difference of many while the public is the equivalence of the one. This relationship fits neatly with the relationship between reality and experience. The experience of reality can only exist as a subset of reality and reality in itself is independent of any possible experience of that reality. There can be many different experiences, but there is only one equivalent reality. Since human life has a split between the private and the public, human interaction with reality and experience can alter these various elements. Here one will find a private reality and a public experience. There is always an aspect of private life that is never captured by a public field of experience. This surplus of private reality recedes beyond the limits of experience. The limit of public experience also corresponds to the limit of experience that is never able to encompass all of objective reality. What is real within the private realm is human desire and the commons of nature that desire initially works with. What is experienced is the public process of social production where the products of human desire that make use of the commons is subsequently incorporated into the social field. Private reality is therefore individual, and public experience of this private reality is collective. In the material perspective, this is inverted where reality is collective and experience is individual. Human interaction creates a space of experience, and this process is developed through autonomous solidarity. Autonomous solidarity recognizes both the individual and the collective, and is expressed through democracy. Autonomous solidarity insures that a democratic process does not degenerate to the coercion of absolute freedom or the conformity of absolute equality. It is through the autonomous solidarity of democracy that freedom and equality can maintain a balance.