Christian democracy

Christian democracy is a political ideology which emerged in nineteenth-century Europe under the influence of conservatism and Catholic social teaching,[1][2] as well as Neo-Calvinism.[3][4] It was originally conceived as a combination of traditional Catholic beliefs and modern democratic ideas, and it grew to incorporate the social teaching of other Christian denominations, such as the Lutheran Church and the Reformed Church.[5] After World War II, the Protestant and Catholic movements of the Social Gospel and Neo-Thomism, respectively, played a role in shaping Christian democracy.[4] Christian democracy continues to be influential in Europe and Latin America, although it is present in other parts of the world too.[6]

In practice, Christian democracy is often considered centre-right on cultural, social, and moral issues (and is thus a supporter of social conservatism), and it is considered centre-left "with respect to economic and labor issues, civil rights, and foreign policy."[7] Specifically, with regard to its fiscal stance, Christian democracy advocates 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 centre-right overall, whereas in the very different cultural and political environment of North and South America they tend to lean to the left in economical issues, and to the right in social issues.[8]

Worldwide, many Christian democratic parties are members of the Centrist Democrat International. Examples of Christian democratic parties include Germany's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), the Austrian People's Party (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), the UK's Christian Peoples Alliance and factions of the Conservative Party,[9][10] Brazil's Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB).[11] Today, many European Christian democratic parties are affiliated with the European People's Party and many American Christian democractic parties are affiliated with the Christian Democrat Organization of America.

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, Switzerland: Christian Democratic People's Party of Switzerland (CVP), Christian Social Party (Switzerland) (CSP), Evangelical People's Party of Switzerland (EVP). Federal Democratic Union of Switzerland (EDU). In Latin America, by contrast, Christian democratic parties tend to be left-leaning and to some degree influenced by liberation theology.[12] 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, including liberalism and social democracy:

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."[14]

Christian democrats are usually socially conservative, and, as such, generally have a relatively sceptical 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.[15] Christian Democracy fosters an "ecumenical unity achieved on the religious level against the atheism of the government in the Communist countries."[13]

On economic issues, Christian democrats normally do not completely oppose capitalism as an economic system, unlike their repudiation of atheistic communism and similar ideologies,[16] 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.[17] At the same time, "Protestant political activism emerged principally in England, the Lowlands, and Scandinavia under the inspiration of both social gospel movements and neo-Calvinism".[4] After World War II, "both Protestant and Catholic political activists helped to restore democracy to war-torn Europe and extend it overseas".[4] John Witte explaining the origin of Christian democracy, states that:

Both Protestant and Catholic parties inveighed against the reductionist extremes and social failures of liberal democracies and social democracies. Liberal democracies, they believed, had sacrificed the community for the individual; social democracies had sacrificed the individual for the community. Both parties returned to a traditional Christian teaching of "social pluralism" or "subsidiarity," which stressed the dependence and participation of the individual in family, church, school, business, and other associations. Both parties stressed the responsibility of the state to respect and protect the "individual in community."[4]

As such, Christian democracy has been adopted by Roman Catholics as well as many Protestant and Eastern Orthodox Christians. 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.

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.[4] 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.

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 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), San Marino (see Sammarinese Christian Democratic 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).

In the United Kingdom Christian democracy is on the rise, especially within the Conservative Party which dominates centre-right politics in Britain. Within recent years the party has begun to adopt political views and policies which are characteristics of Christian democracy.[18] Specific Christian democratic parties in the UK also exist (see, Christian Peoples Alliance (CPA), The Common Good, Christian Party, Christian Democratic Party).

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.

Latin America

Christian democracy has been especially important in Chile (see Christian Democratic 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 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.[19]

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 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.

North America

In the United States, the American Solidarity Party (formerly known as the Christian Democratic Party USA) is a minor third Christian Democracy party in that country.[20] 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.[21]

Notable Christian democrats



The Americas

See also

International Christian democratic organizations



  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. Monsma, Stephen V. (2012). Pluralism and Freedom: Faith-based Organizations in a Democratic Society. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 13. ISBN 978-1-4422-1430-9. This is the Christian Democratic tradition and the structural pluralist concepts that underlie it. The Roman Catholic social teaching of subsidiarity and its related concepts, as well as the parallel neo-Calvinist concept of sphere sovereignty, play major roles in structural pluralist thought.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Witte, John (1993). Christianity and Democracy in Global Context. Westview Press. p. 9. ISBN 978-0-8133-1843-1. Concurrent with this missionary movement in Africa, both Protestant and Catholic political activists helped to restore democracy to war-torn Europe and extend it overseas. Protestant political activism emerged principally in England, the Lowlands, and Scandinavia under the inspiration of both social gospel movements and neo-Calvinism. Catholic political activism emerged principally in Italy, France, and Spain under the inspiration of both Rerum Novarum and its early progeny and of neo-Thomism. Both formed political parties, which now fall under the general aegis of the Christian Democratic Party movement. Both Protestant and Catholic parties inveighed against the reductionist extremes and social failures of liberal democracies and social democracies. Liberal democracies, they believed, had sacrificed the community for the individual; social democracies had sacrificed the individual for the community. Both parties returned to a traditional Christian teaching of "social pluralism" or "subsidiarity," which stressed the dependence and participation of the individual in family, church, school, business, and other associations. Both parties stressed the responsibility of the state to respect and protect the "individual in community."
  5. Freeden, Michael (2 August 2004). Reassessing Political Ideologies: The Durability of Dissent. Routledge. p. 82. ISBN 978-1-134-52146-3.
  6. Müller, Jan-Werner. The End of Christian Democracy. 2014
  7. Wankel, Charles (2009). Encyclopedia of Business in Today's World. SAGE Publications. p. 131. ISBN 978-1-4129-6427-2. The basic tenets of Christian Democracy call for applying Christian principles to public policy; Christian Democratic parties tend to be socially conservative but otherwise left of center with respect to economic and labor issues, civil rights, and foreign policy.
  8. Petri, Dennis. A Short History of Christian Democracy.
  11. Van Hecke, Steven and Gerard, Emannuel. Christian Democratic Parties in Europe since the End of the Cold War, Cornell Press.
  12. Szulc, Tad. "Communists, Socialists and Christian Democrats". Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. 360: 102.
  13. 1 2 Dussel, Enrique (1981). A History of the Church in Latin America. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. p. 217. ISBN 978-0-8028-2131-7. European Christian Democracy after the Second World War really represented a common political front against the People's Democracies, that is, Christian Democracy was a kind of ecumenical unity achieved on the religious level against the atheism of the government in the Communist countries.
  14. Roberts and Hogwood, European Politics Today, Manchester University Press, 1997
  15. Kersbergen, Kees van (2 September 2003). Social Capitalism: A Study of Christian Democracy and the Welfare State. Routledge. p. 63. ISBN 978-1-134-81834-1. The main ideological and integrative theme present from the start concerned an emphasis on general Christian values, both as a moral rejection of the atheist, immoral and materialist Nazism and as a manner of distinction vis à vis social democracy. The thrust of the Christian democratic argument was that politics had to be founded in Christianity and that a moral recovery was a prerequisite for social and economic recuperation. It was imperative to concede the importance of Christian ethics after an epoch of such inhuman and atheist cruelty (Heidenheimer 1960:33-4; Mintzel 1982:133).
  16. Moos, M. (1945) 'Don Luigi Sturzo – Christian Democrat', American Political Science Review, 39(2), pp. 269–292, p. 269
  17. Sturzo, L. (1947) 'The Philosophic Background of Christian Democracy', The Review of Politics, 9(1), pp. 3–15, p. 5
  19. 'It's official – DLP wins Vic Senate seat', Australian Conservative,
  20. Longenecker, Dwight (12 May 2016). "Is It Time for a US Christian Democracy Party?". Aleteia. Retrieved 5 July 2016. In 2011 the Christian Democratic Party USA was formed, and after the 2012 election it was re-named as the American Solidarity Party. Small political parties in the United States do not have a great track record, but given the choices available to Christians, the American Solidarity Party may offer a way to vote according to one's conscience and according to their simple motto: Common Good. Common Ground. Common Sense.
  21. Longenecker, Dwight (25 August 2016), "This man says America's ready for a centrist Christian party", Crux, retrieved 26 August 2016


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