Christian democracy

Christian democracy is a political ideology that seeks to apply Christian principles to public policy. It emerged in nineteenth-century Europe under the influence of conservatism and Catholic social teaching.[1] It continues to be influential in Europe and Latin America, though in a number of countries its Christian ethos has been diluted by secularisation.

In practice, Christian democracy is often considered conservative on cultural, social and moral issues (social conservatism) and advocates a social market economy in the economic field (crossing over with social democratic economics but based on the family). In Europe, where their opponents have traditionally been secularist socialists, Christian democratic parties are moderately conservative overall, whereas in the very different cultural and political environment of Latin America they tend to lean to the left.

Examples of Christian democratic parties include the German Christian Democratic Union (CDU), the Christian Democrat Party of Chile, the Christian Democratic People's Party of Switzerland, the Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) in the Netherlands and the historical Christian Democracy in Italy.


Political viewpoints

As with any political ideology, Christian democracy has had different manifestations over time and between countries; there are two broad ideologies that are called Christian Democracy.

As a generalisation, 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 progressive and influenced by liberation theology.[2] These generalisations, 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 socialism, an emphasis on the community, social solidarity, support for a welfare state, and support for some regulation of market forces.
  • In contrast to socialism, most European Christian Democrats support a market economy and do not adhere to the doctrine of class struggle. This does not necessarily carry over to some Latin American Christian Democratic Parties, with their Liberation Theology influence.

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."[3]

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 tend not to challenge capitalism as an economic system, unlike their explicit repudiation of communism and similar ideologies,[4] 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 merely to create the conditions for civil society to flourish outside the boundaries of the state, 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, while by contrast other Christian democrats at times seem to hold views not dissimilar from 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 a subsequent encyclical, Quadragesimo Anno, by Pope Pius XI in 1931.[5] 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. 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. It held the position that government derived its authority from God and 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 about Aristotelian ontology and the Christian tradition. According to him, human rights are 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 democracy around the world

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The international organization of Christian democratic parties, the Centrist Democrat International (CDI), 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 Armenia (see Republican Party of Armenia), Austria (see Austrian People's Party), Belgium (see Christene Volkspartij, Christian Democratic and Flemish and Humanist Democratic Centre), Finland, France, Ireland (see Fine Gael), Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands (see Christian Democratic Appeal), Portugal (see Democratic and Social Centre – People's Party), Poland (see Civic Platform and Polish Peasants' Party), Ukraine (see Christian Democratic Union (Ukraine)), Spain (see, Partido Popular, Democratic Union of Catalonia), and Sweden (see Christian Democrats (Sweden)). Christian democracy is not very strong in the United Kingdom where the Conservative Party dominates conservative politics and does not advocate Christian democratic platforms.

The Nationalist Party of Malta is a Christian democratic party and has won seven out of ten general elections since Malta's independence in 1964. Currently governing, it has won its third consecutive general election in 2008. It advocates staunch Christian values including bans on abortion and divorce.

Christian democracy in Latin America

Christian democracy has been especially important in Chile (see Christian Democrat Party of Chile), among others, and also in Mexico, starting with the ascendancy of President Vicente Fox in 2000, and in 2006 with Felipe Calderón Hinojosa (see National Action Party (Mexico)).

Christian democracy in Australia

Christian democratic parties in Australia are said to include not only the party called 'The Christian Democratic Party", but also the Democratic Labor Party (which is a social democratic party) and Family First Party (which is 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 neoliberal/New Right tendencies within both the ALP and Liberal parties throughout the eighties and early nineties.

A new Christian party that found its first 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.

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. However, as of 2 September 2010, the DLP may win the sixth senate seat in Victoria.

Notable Christian democrats

Similar but unaffiliated parties and politicians

Though they do not identify with Christian democracy directly, being Judaic, Israel's Shas (orthodox Sephardic Orthodox party) and United Torah Judaism (orthodox Ashkenazi party) are politically similar to Christian democratic parties, due to their combination of conservative social and religious policies with an emphasis on increased social spending. They also tend to be centrist and relatively flexible in terms of their positions on national security and the peace process.

Turkey's conservative Justice and Development Party (AK Party) bears important similarities to the West's Christian democratic parties. Broadly pro-Western and inclined to economic liberalism, the AKP rejects Turkey's traditional stringent anti-clericalism in favor of a more friendly separation of church and state.[6]

Francis Davis, a former advisor to both the Labour and Colaition governments in the UK blogs at and has a close interest in Christian Democratic parties

New Zealand

Until 1993, New Zealand's first-past-the-post electoral system, like that of the United States, imposed strong centralizing and bipartisan pressures on its political configurations, which disadvantaged minor parties. For this reason, Catholics have remained enmeshed within the New Zealand Labour Party. As in Australia, conservative Catholics opposed Labour and National New Right policies during the 1980s and 1990s. However, the New Zealand Labour Party never split as the Australian Labor Party did in the 1950s.

However, by the 1980s, New Zealand Catholic voting patterns were diversifying. Class seemed to trump confessional adherence, as older Catholic sectarians died off, and became less able to enforce preferred economic and social policies through unified bloc pressure. Occupational and class divisions may have led to left/right bifurcation. Rural Catholics might therefore vote National due to occupational preferences as farmers, while urban working-class Catholics might have voted Labour, Alliance or Green, due to each party's commitment to stronger social policy expenditure, or commitment to peace movement and anti-war stances.

In 1993 New Zealand introduced the Mixed Member Proportional system of proportional representation, which created greater openings for small parties, and since 1996 all governments have involved coalitions. An example of this is independent MP Gordon Copeland being aligned with New Zealand's Labour Party-led government in matters of confidence and supply for the 2005-2008 term, but voting along social conservative lines in other matters.

Within the New Zealand National Party, Bill English has often voiced anxieties about the New Right direction of his party since the late 1990s, consistent with what one would expect from a European Christian democrat.

By contrast, Jim Anderton broke away from the Labour Party and was party leader of the New Labour Party and Alliance until left/pragmatist strains broke it apart in 2001–02. Since then, his Progressive Party has adopted social conservative stances against prostitution in New Zealand, euthanasia, and decriminalisation of cannabis (marijuana), while strongly supporting increased expenditure on public health, social welfare and public education; all these policies are consistent with a Christian democrat framework.

See also

International Christian democratic organizations

Related concepts


  1. ^ A. Heywood, Political ideologies. An introduction, New York, Macmillan, 2003, 89
  2. ^ Tad Szulc, 'Communists, Socialists and Christian Democrats', Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 360, pp. 99-109, p. 102
  3. ^ Roberts and Hogwood, European Politics Today, Manchester University Press, 1997
  4. ^ Moos, M. (1945) 'Don Luigi Sturzo – Christian Democrat', American Political Science Review, 39(2), pp. 269-292, p. 269
  5. ^ Sturzo, L. (1947) ‘The Philosophic Background of Christian Democracy’, The Review of Politics, 9(1), pp. 3-15, p. 5
  6. ^ Hale, William (2005). "Christian Democracy and the AKP: Parallels and Contrasts". Turkish Studies 6 (2): 293–310. doi:10.1080/14683840500119601. 
  • Kalyvas, Stathis N. and Kees van Kersbergen (2010). Christian Democracy. Annual Review of Political Science 2010. 13:183–209.

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