Solidarity and Care Coming of Age: New Reasons in the Politics of Social Welfare Policy.


Aging brings about the ordeal of coping. Younger people also cope, but for those in old age, the ordeal is so often elegiac, forced upon the self by changing functions within the body and by the outside social world, with its many impediments to the continuity of former roles, pursuits, and self-identities. Coping with change can be affirming, but when what is being forgone seems more valuable than what lies ahead, it is travail. For most, the coping is managed more moderately by a sense of resignation. This is especially true for those who survive into profound old age, when one is viewed as if being old is one's essential identity and nature. We must recognize and affirm difference and change without stigmatizing or losing sight of the specific capabilities and circumstances of the individual. This is what I think the often-used, but less often clearly defined, notion of a "person-centered" orientation should signify. Individuals age, but so do societies, not simply because they have a large population over age sixty-five, but in the sense that societies as a whole are also buffeted by significant disruption in orders of meaning. Aging has a public as well as a private manifestation, a social as well as a personal embodiment, and how it is paid attention to in culture, politics, and policy makes a great difference to how aging is concretely experienced in human lives. In this essay, I explore how the moral imagination nurtured by the practices of solidarity and care-and nurturing them in turn-can come of age-and how these practices can take their rightful place in an ethically mature political culture.