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Chapter 5 A Libertarian Socialist Response to the ‘Big Society’: The Solidarity Economy

The Third Sector

ISBN: 978-1-78052-280-7, eISBN: 978-1-78052-281-4

ISSN: 2046-6072

Publication date: 8 November 2011


Purpose – The aim of this chapter is to deconstruct the idea of a ‘Big Society’. We do so by underlining the left libertarian tradition in which civil society led economic activity such as the solidarity economy is embedded.

Methodology – By analysing the thought of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, a key thinker and activist in the 19th libertarian socialist movement, we identify the principles guiding the solidarity economy. We illustrate our argument by drawing on qualitative research conducted on solidarity economy organisations in France.

Findings – The solidarity economy illustrates an alternative to both capitalism and state socialism: libertarian socialism. This chapter demonstrates that this left libertarianism is not a new utopia. It is rooted in the long (but marginal) history of libertarian socialism, which was born in the 19th century.

Originality – An economy managed from the left based on libertarian political principles seems to be a novel experiment. We seek to illustrate what this may look like using the example of the present solidarity economy. However, we also emphasise that this would imply a reversal of the political programme of the ‘Big Society’. It would imply the redistribution of economic and political power not only from the state to local communities, but also from company directors and their shareholders in order to realise not a charitable but an economically empowered civil society.



Frère, B. and Reinecke, J. (2011), "Chapter 5 A Libertarian Socialist Response to the ‘Big Society’: The Solidarity Economy", Hull, R., Gibbon, J., Branzei, O. and Haugh, H. (Ed.) The Third Sector (Dialogues in Critical Management Studies, Vol. 1), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 117-137.



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