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Shelby’s Account of Solidarity and the Problem of Compatibility.

In We Who Are Dark, Tommie Shelby urges black Americans to adopt a form of solidarity to address the continuing problem of racial injustice. He presents a characterization of what he calls “robust group solidarity” (hereinafter RGS), which he claims black Americans ought to adopt in their struggle to be free and equal citizens. His interest-based approach and his five criteria—group identification, special concern, common values, loyalty, and mutual trust—are one of the first clear accounts of solidarity in the analytic tradition.

Where Shelby comes up short is in reconciling this account of solidarity with the kind of autonomy to which he is also committed. Shelby seems to believe that respecting a basic level of autonomy is an essential part of any claim to political legitimacy, but that it is not the only central political value. Solidarity is also of central political importance in that it provides a way to oppose racial injustice. He is a compatibilist in that he believes autonomy and solidarity to be capable of functioning together. The problem I address here is that RGS is incompatible with the kind of autonomy to which Shelby is committed.

I start this article by outlining the two main features of Shelby's account of solidarity and then explaining how it means to work as a normative and motivational concept. First, it is an interest-based, rather than an identity-based approach to solidarity. This has serious value, as, over and above their conceptual confusion, identity-based approaches are much more difficult to reconcile with autonomy than interest-based approaches. Second, I will delve into the five criteria that constitute RGS. While these criteria seem suited to explaining a kind of strong solidarity, some of them cannot be reconciled with autonomy. Third, I will address the kind of normativity generated by RGS. Ultimately, I believe Shelby is committed to viewing solidarity as generating weighty pro tanto reasons for action that derive their motivational force both from their normative force and from the role the interest around which solidarity arises plays in the lives of the individuals involved. The kind of loyalty RGS demands undermines the kind of ability to choose meaningfully central to autonomy. Following this account of RGS, I will explain the kind of autonomy to which Shelby is committed and how some parts of RGS—in particular the outcome obligation to be loyal to the members of one's group—can undermine this autonomy.

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