In this paper, I use the visual metaphor of a rope to explain solidarity as a constitutional aspect of rights. To constitute means ‘to socially institute, requiring commitments to be based on social understanding, in order to effectively realize them in law (Young 2012). The social institution of human rights such as the human right to health, or social security, can be understood as contingent on a variety of different ideas on solidarity that emerged at in particular places and times, with multiple strands winding together into composite understandings of solidarity.
To begin to make sense of the multi-stranded nature of the concept of solidarities, I use the analogy of a rope. Ropes are composed of multiple strands, and there are three main ways a rope can be constructed: i) a Hawser-laid rope is composed of three strands laid up right-handed. We can think of the three essential principles of the French Revolution – liberty, equality and fraternity as the three strands. ii) A Shroud-laid Rope, consists of four strands, also laid up right-handed, with a heart in the centre. Again we can imagine these three principles, wound around the ‘heart’ which I am going to suggest could be a core conception of ‘social decency’. iii) A Cable-laid rope, is composed of three right-handed hawser-laid ropes laid up together left-handed, or by three left-handed ropes laid up right-handed. The idea of strands being ‘laid’ in a direction, allows us to think about ideological differences – the sense of winding from left to right or right to left helps us think about how a conceptual element that begins on the ideological left can historically or practically end up being wound into a right-handed structure.