Christian democracy

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Christian democracy is a political ideology which emerged in nineteenth-century Europe under the influence of conservatism and Catholic social teaching.[1][2] It was originally conceived as a combination of traditional Catholic beliefs and modern democratic ideas, but over time it grew to incorporate a variety of views from different Christian denominations and from different political thinkers. Christian democracy continues to be influential in Europe and Latin America, though throughout Europe the movement has been weakened by growing secularism.[3]

In practice, Christian democracy is often considered centre-right on cultural, social, and moral issues (and is thus a supporter of social conservatism), while advocating a social market economy. In Europe, where Christian democrats defined their views as an alternative to the more leftist ideology of social democracy, Christian democratic parties are moderately conservative and center-right overall, whereas in the very different cultural and political environment of South America they tend to lean to the left in economical issues, and to the right in social issues.[4]

Examples of Christian democratic parties include Germany's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), The Austrian People's Party (Österreichische Volkspartei, ÖVP), Ireland's Fine Gael, Chile's Christian Democratic Party, Belgium's Christen-Democratisch en Vlaams and Humanist Democratic Centre, Switzerland's Christian Democratic People's Party, the Netherlands' Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA), Italy's Union of Christian and Centre Democrats (UDC), and some factions of the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB).[5] Today, many European Christian democratic parties are affiliated with the European People's Party.

Political viewpoints

As with any political ideology, Christian democracy has had different manifestations over time and between countries; there are several types of ideology that are called Christian democracy.

As a generalization, it can be said that Christian democratic parties in Europe tend to be moderately conservative, and in several cases form the main conservative party in their respective countries (e.g. in Germany, Spain, and Belgium).[citation needed] In Latin America, by contrast, Christian democratic parties tend to be left leaning and to some degree influenced by liberation theology.[6] These generalizations, however, must be nuanced by the consideration that Christian democracy does not fit precisely into the usual categories of political thought, but rather includes elements common to several other political ideologies:

  • In common with conservatism, traditional moral values (on marriage, abortion, etc.), opposition to secularization, a view of the evolutionary (as opposed to revolutionary) development of society, an emphasis on law and order, and a rejection of communism.
  • In contrast to conservatism, open to change (for example, in the structure of society) and not necessarily supportive of the social status quo.
  • In common with liberalism, an emphasis on human rights and individual initiative.
  • In contrast to liberalism, a rejection of secularism, and an emphasis on the fact that the individual is part of a community and has duties towards it.
  • In common with social democracy, an emphasis on the community, social justice and solidarity, support for a welfare state and support for regulation of market forces.[citation needed]
  • In contrast to social democracy, most European Christian Democrats support a relatively free-market economy and do not adhere to the concept of class struggle. This has not always carried over to some Latin American Christian Democratic Parties, which have been influenced by liberation theology.

Geoffrey K. Roberts and Patricia Hogwood have noted that "Christian democracy has incorporated many of the views held by liberals, conservatives and socialists within a wider framework of moral and Christian principles."[7]

Christian democrats are usually socially conservative, and, as such, generally have a relatively skeptical stance towards abortion and same-sex marriage, though some Christian democratic parties have accepted the limited legalization of both. Christian democratic parties are often likely to assert the Christian heritage of their country, and to affirm explicitly Christian ethics, rather than adopting a more liberal or secular stance.

On economic issues, Christian democrats normally do not completely oppose capitalism as an economic system, unlike their repudiation of atheistic communism and similar ideologies,[8] though they do see the economy as being at the service of humanity. The duty of the state towards society is of real importance for Christian democrats, though some would see this duty as being mostly to create the conditions for civil society to flourish, while others would see it as a more direct duty of the state towards citizens. In recent decades, some right-leaning Christian democratic parties in Europe have adopted policies consistent with an economically liberal point of view but still support a regulated economy with a welfare state, while by contrast other Christian democrats at times seem to hold views similar to Christian socialism.


Christian democracy as a political movement was born at the end of the 19th century, largely as a result of the papal encyclical Rerum novarum of Pope Leo XIII, in which the Vatican recognized workers' misery and agreed that something should be done about it, in reaction to the rise of the socialist and trade union movements. The position of the Roman Catholic Church on this matter was further clarified in subsequent encyclicals, such as Quadragesimo anno, by Pope Pius XI in 1931, Populorum progressio by Pope Paul VI in 1967, Centesimus annus, by Pope John Paul II in 1991, and Caritas in veritate by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009.[9] Christian democracy has evolved considerably since then, and it is no longer the Catholic ideology of Distributism, although it is based on Catholic social teaching, as outlined in the 2006 official "Catechism of the Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church". (In Germany, for example, the Christian Democratic Party emerged as a grouping dominated by Rhenish and Westphalian Catholics, but also encompassed the more conservative elements of the Protestant population.) Following World War II, Christian democracy was seen as a neutral and unifying voice of compassionate conservatism, and distinguished itself from the far right. It gave a voice to "conservatives of the heart", particularly in Germany, who had detested Adolf Hitler's regime yet agreed with the right on many issues.

In Protestant countries, Christian democratic parties were founded by more conservative Protestants in reaction to the political power of liberal tendencies within the Protestant churches. In the Netherlands, for instance, the Anti Revolutionary Party was founded in 1879 by conservative Protestants; it institutionalized early 19th century opposition against the ideas from the French Revolution on popular sovereignty and held that government derived its authority from God, not from the people. This Burkean position is sometimes also called Christian Historian. It was a response to the liberal ideas that predominated in political life. The Christian Democrats of Sweden, rooted in the Pentecostal religious tradition, has a similar history.

While Christian democracy is of Roman Catholic origin, it has been adopted by many Protestant and Eastern Orthodox Christians as well. Some Christian democratic parties, particularly in Europe, no longer emphasize religion and have become much more secular in recent years. Also within Europe, two essentially Islamic parties, the Democratic League of Kosovo and Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (usually known by the Turkish acronym AKP, for Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi) have moved towards the tradition. The Democratic League of Kosovo is now a full member of the Centrist Democrat International (see below).

Christian democracy can trace its philosophical roots back to Thomas Aquinas and his thoughts on Aristotelian ontology and the Christian tradition. According to Aquinas, human rights are based on natural law and defined as the things that humans need to function properly. For example, food is a human right because without food humans cannot function properly. Modern authors important to the formation of Christian democratic ideology include Emmanuel Mounier, Étienne Gilson, and Jacques Maritain.[citation needed]

Christian Democratic initiatives based on its philosophy also have practical and political results in the movement's direction. Christian Democrats believe in the importance of intermediary organizations that operate in between the individual and the state. Therefore, they support labor unions but in many countries organized their own Christian trade unions separate from socialist unions. These unions in turn formed the strong left wing of many CD parties. Christian democratic opposition to secularism and support of religious organizations as intermediary organizations led to support for church operated schools, hospitals, charities and even social insurance funds. This resulted in strong Christian Democratic support for the government (or mandatory payroll tax) social welfare funding of these institutions.

Christian democracy around the world

The international organization of Christian democratic parties, the Centrist Democrat International (CDI), formerly known as the Christian Democratic International, is the second largest international political organization in the world (second only to the Socialist International). European Christian democratic parties have their own regional organization called the European People's Party, which form the largest group in the European Parliament, the EPP Group.

Christian democracy in Europe

Christian democracy has been especially important in the politics of Italy (inspired by Luigi Sturzo; see Christian Democracy (Italy)), Norway (see Christian Democratic Party of Norway), and Germany (see Christian Democratic Union (Germany) and Christian Social Union in Bavaria). Major Christian democratic influence can also be seen in the politics of Austria (see Austrian People's Party), Hungary (see Fidesz/Hungarian Civic Party, Christian Democratic People's Party (Hungary)), Belgium (see Christian Democratic and Flemish (CD&V), Humanist Democratic Centre (CDH) and Christian Social Party (CSP)), Finland (see Christian Democrats (Finland)), France, Ireland (see Fine Gael), Luxembourg (see Christian Social People's Party), Malta, the Netherlands (see Christian Democratic Appeal), Portugal (see Democratic and Social Centre – People's Party), Poland (see Civic Platform and Polish Peasants' Party), Romania (see Christian-Democratic National Peasants' Party), Spain (see, Partido Popular, Democratic Union of Catalonia), Sweden (see Christian Democrats (Sweden)), Ukraine (see Christian Democratic Union (Ukraine)) and Serbia (see Christian Democratic Party of Serbia). Christian democracy is not very strong in the United Kingdom where the Conservative Party dominates conservative politics and does not advocate Christian democratic platforms, but Christian democratic parties do exist. The Christian Peoples Alliance (CPA), The Common Good, the Christian Party and the Christian Democratic Party are the four Christian democratic parties currently in the UK. Recently there is a Christian democracy party in Greece but not very strong yet.

Christian and Democratic Union – Czechoslovak People's Party in the Czech Republic is an example of relatively small Party with major influence. Eventhough its electorate is lower than 10% it remained in almost every Government since fall of Communism due to its Centrist nature and high Coalition potential.

Slovakia has two major Christian Democratic Parties. Christian Democratic Movement was established in 1990 and became the second strongest party in the Country after the first Democratic Election. The Party then dropped to only 8%. Slovak Democratic and Christian Union – Democratic Party was formed in 2000 as a split from Christian Democratic Movement and became the major Centre-Right Party until 2012 Election defeat. Both Parties are considered to be political Partners.

The Nationalist Party of Malta is a Christian democratic party and has won seven out of eleven general elections since Malta's independence in 1964. It advocates staunch Christian values including bans on abortion and, until recently, divorce. It is currently in opposition after a landslide victory by its rival the Labour Party in 2013.

Christian democracy in Latin America

Christian democracy has been especially important in Chile (see Christian Democrat Party of Chile) and Venezuela (see COPEI – Christian Democratic Party of Venezuela), among others, and partly also in Mexico, starting with the ascendancy of President Vicente Fox in 2000, followed by Felipe Calderón (see National Action Party (Mexico)). Cuba counts with several Christian democratic political associations, both on the island and in exile. The most significant is perhaps the Movimiento Cristiano de Liberación (MCL) (, led by Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá, who was killed in a tragic automobile accident in the summer of 2012 and has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. In Uruguay, the Christian Democratic Party of Uruguay, although numerically small, was instrumental in the creation of the leftist Broad Front in 1971.

Christian democracy in Australia

Christian democratic parties in Australia include the Christian Democratic Party, the Democratic Labor Party (regarded by some as a social democratic party), and the Family First Party (regarded by some as a liberal democratic party).

In Victoria, and NSW Australian Labor Party (ALP) state executive members, parliamentarians and branch members associated (rightly or wrongly) with the Industrial Groups or B. A. Santamaria and The Movement, were expelled from the party (against that party's rules). They formed a new party, soon to be known as the Democratic Labor Party (DLP). Later in 1957, a similar split occurred in Queensland, with the resulting group subsequently joining the DLP. The party also had sitting members from Tasmania and New South Wales at various times, though it was much stronger in the former mentioned states.

The party was in agreement with the ruling conservative Liberal and Country parties on many issues, which resulted in their preferencing of these parties over the ALP. However, it was more morally conservative, militantly anti-communist and socially compassionate than the Liberals. The DLP was defeated by the federal election of 1974 that saw its primary vote cut by nearly two thirds, and the entry of an ALP government. The DLP never regained its previous support in subsequent elections and formally disbanded in 1978, but a small group within the party refused to accept this decision and created a small, reformed successor party.

Though his party was effectively gone, Santamaria and his National Civic Council took a strong diametrically opposed stance to dominant Third Way/neoliberal/New Right tendencies within both the ALP and Liberal parties throughout the eighties and early nineties.

In 2006, the new DLP experienced a resurgence. The successor party struggled through decades of Victorian elections before finally gaining a parliamentary seat when the Victorian upper house was redesigned. Nevertheless, its electoral support is still very small in Victoria (around 2%). It has recently reformed state parties in Queensland and New South Wales. In the Australian federal election, 2010, the DLP won the sixth senate seat in Victoria, giving it representation in the Australian Senate.[10]

Another Christian party that found strength in 1981 was the Christian Democratic Party (initially known as the "Call to Australia" party). It gained 9.1% of the vote in the New South Wales (NSW) state election of 1981, but its vote rapidly[citation needed] declined thereafter. This Protestant party had some very similar social policies to the DLP. Its support base has generally been restricted to NSW and Western Australia, where it usually gains between 2–4% of votes, with its support being minuscule in other states. It has had two members of the NSW state parliament for most of its existence.

Another Australian Christian democratic party of note is the Family First Party. It has had one or two members in the SA parliament since 2002, and in 2004 also managed to elect a Victorian senator. Its electoral support is small, with the largest constituencies being South Australia (4–6%), and Victoria (around 4%). Family First generally receives lower support in national elections than in state elections.

Christian democracy in the United States

In the United States there have been various attempts to create Christian democratic parties, similar to their European and Latin American counterparts, but efforts have generally run against the formidable strength of the existing bipartisan Democratic/Republican party system. One such party, the Christian Democratic Party USA, recently changed its name to the American Solidarity Party. The name is based on the Polish Solidarity Movement, whose first chairman was Lech Walesa. The Party has incorporated the Consistent Life Ethic into its platform. Its emblem is the Pelican, a traditional Christian symbol of charity.

Notable Christian democrats


The Americas


See also

International Christian democratic organizations

Related concepts


  • Gehler, Michael; Kaiser, Wolfram (2004), Political Catholicism in Europe 1918—1945, Routledge, ISBN 0-7146-5650-X 
  • Gehler, Michael; Kaiser, Wolfram (2004), Christian Democracy in Europe since 1945, Routledge, ISBN 0-7146-5662-3 
  • Gehler, Michael; Kaiser, Wolfram; Wohnout, Helmut, eds. (2001), Christdemokratie in Europa im 20. Jahrhundert / Christian Democracy in 20th Century Europe, Böhlau Verlag, ISBN 3-205-99360-8 
  • Kaiser, Wolfram (2007), Christian Democracy and the Origins of European Union, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 9780521883108 
  • Kalyvas, Stathis N. (1996). The Rise of Christian Democracy in Europe. Cornell University Press. ISBN 0-8014-8320-4. 
  • van Kersbergen, Kees (1995). Social Capitalism: A study of Christian democracy and the welfare state. Routledge. 
  • Lamberts, Emiel, ed. (1997), Christian Democracy in the European Union, 1945/1995, Leuven University Press 
  • Mainwaring, Scott; Scully, Timothy R. (2003), Christian Democracy in Latin America: Electoral Competition and Regime Conflicts, Stanford University Press, ISBN 0-8047-4597-8 
  • Van Hecke, Steven; Gerard, Emmanuel (2004), Christian Democratic Parties in Europe since the End of the Cold War, Leuven University Press, ISBN 978-90-5867-377-0 
  • Kalyvas, Stathis N. and Kees van Kersbergen (2010). "Christian Democracy". Annual Review of Political Science 2010. 13:183–209.


  1. A. Heywood, Political ideologies. An introduction, New York, Macmillan, 2003, 89.
  2. A. Galetto, Nino. Christian Democracy: Principles and Policy Making, Berlin, Konrad Adeneaur Stiftung, 1990.
  3. Müller, Jan-Werner. The End of Christian Democracy. 2014
  4. Petri, Dennis. A Short History of Christian Democracy.
  5. Van Hecke, Steven and Gerard, Emannuel. Christian Democratic Parties in Europe since the End of the Cold War, Cornell Press.
  6. Szulc, Tad. "Communists, Socialists and Christian Democrats". Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. 360: 102. 
  7. Roberts and Hogwood, European Politics Today, Manchester University Press, 1997
  8. Moos, M. (1945) 'Don Luigi Sturzo – Christian Democrat', American Political Science Review, 39(2), pp. 269–292, p. 269
  9. Sturzo, L. (1947) ‘The Philosophic Background of Christian Democracy’, The Review of Politics, 9(1), pp. 3–15, p. 5
  10. 'It’s official – DLP wins Vic Senate seat', Australian Conservative,

External links