Christian democracy

Distributism Protestantism Centrist Democrat International

Christian democracy is a political ideology that emerged in 19th-century Europe under the influence of Catholic social teaching,[1][2] as well as neo-Calvinism.[nb 1] It was conceived as a combination of modern democratic ideas and traditional Christian values, incorporating the social teachings espoused by the Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed, and Pentecostal traditions in various parts of the world.[5][nb 2] After World War II, Protestant and Catholic movements of the Social Gospel and neo-Thomism, respectively, played a role in shaping Christian democracy.[4]

In practice, Christian democracy is often considered centre-right on cultural, social and moral issues, but centre-left "with respect to economic and labor issues, civil rights, and foreign policy" as well as the environment.[7][nb 3] Christian democrats support a social market economy.[7]

Worldwide, many Christian democratic parties are members of the Centrist Democrat International and some also of the International Democrat Union. Examples of major Christian democratic parties include the Christian Democratic Union of Germany, the Austrian People's Party, Ireland's Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, the Christian Democratic Party of Chile, the Aruban People's Party, the Dutch Christian Democratic Appeal, the Christian Democratic People's Party of Switzerland and the Spanish People's Party.[9]

Christian democracy continues to be influential in Europe and Latin America, although it is also present in other parts of the world.[10] Today, many European Christian democratic parties are affiliated with the European People's Party. Those with soft Eurosceptic views in comparison with the pro-European EPP may be members of the European Conservatives and Reformists Party. Many Christian democratic parties in the Americas are affiliated with the Christian Democrat Organization of America.

Political viewpoints

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, Belgium, and Switzerland) such as the Christian Democratic People's Party of Switzerland, the Christian Social Party, the Evangelical People's Party of Switzerland and the Federal Democratic Union of Switzerland. By contrast, Christian democratic parties in Latin America tend to be left-leaning and to some degree influenced by liberation theology.[11] However, these generalizations 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 conservatism, liberalism, and social democracy.


Initially, many Catholic political movements in the 19th century had opposed capitalism and socialism equally as both were seen as based on materialism and social conflict.[12] They instead preferred the ideal of self-sufficient peasants and the guild-organized craftsmen that many Catholic encyclicals advocated. However, many of these movements had later reconciled themselves to capitalism as the prevailing economic system by 1914 while at the same time helping to organize Catholic workers and peasants within that system, as socialism came to be seen as the greater threat.[12]

Consequently, this has led to the social market economy, which has been widely influential across much of continental Europe. The social market is a largely free market economy based on a free price system and private property, but is supportive of government activity to promote competitive markets with a comprehensive social welfare system and effective public services to address social inequalities that result from free market outcomes.[13] The market is seen not so much an end in itself but as a means of generating wealth in order to achieve broader social goals and to maintain societal cohesion.[14] This particular model of capitalism, which is sometimes called Rhine–Alpine capitalism or social capitalism, is contrasted to Anglo-American capitalism or enterprise capitalism. Whereas the former stresses partnership and cooperation, the latter is based on the unrestricted workings of market economics and as a consequence there is a willingness on the part of Christian democratic parties to practice Keynesian and welfarist policies.[14]

In recent decades, some right-leaning Christian democratic parties in Europe have adopted policies consistent with an economically liberal point of view but still supporting a regulated economy with a welfare state, while by contrast other Christian democrats at times seem to hold views similar to Christian socialism, or the economic system of distributism. The promotion of the Christian democratic concepts of sphere sovereignty and subsidiarity led to the creation of corporatist welfare states throughout the world that continue to exist to this day.[nb 4] In keeping with the Christian Democratic concepts of the cultural mandate and the preferential option for the poor, Christian justice is viewed as demanding that the welfare of all people, especially the poor and vulnerable, must be protected because every human being has dignity, being made in the image of God.[7][16] In many countries, Christian Democrats organized labor unions that competed with Communist and social democratic unions, in contrast to conservativism's stance against worker organizations. Standing in solidarity with these labor unions, In Belgium for example, Christian Democrats have lobbied for Sunday blue laws that guarantee workers as well as civil servants a day of rest in line with historic Christian Sabbath principles.[17]

Social policies

Christian democrats are usually socially conservative and generally have a relatively skeptical stance towards abortion and same-sex marriage, although some Christian democratic parties have accepted the limited legalization of both; they advocate for a consistent life ethic with regard to their opposition to capital punishment and assisted suicide.[18][19] Christian Democrats have also supported the prohibition of drugs.[nb 5] 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;[nb 6] at the same time, Christian Democratic parties enshrine confessional liberty.[23] Christian Democracy fosters an "ecumenical unity achieved on the religious level against the atheism of the government in the Communist countries."[nb 7]

Christian democrats' views include traditional moral values (on marriage, abortion, prohibition of drugs etc.),[25] opposition to secularization, opposition to state atheism, a view of the evolutionary (as opposed to revolutionary) development of society, an emphasis on law and order, and a rejection of communism.[24][6] Christian democrats are open to change (for example, in the structure of society) and not necessarily supportive of the social status quo, and have an emphasis on human rights and individual initiative. A rejection of secularism, and an emphasis on the fact that the individual is part of a community and has duties towards it. An emphasis on the community, social justice and solidarity, support for a welfare state, labor unions and support for regulation of market forces.[26] Most European Christian Democrats reject the concept of class struggle (although less so in some Latin American countries, which have been influenced by liberation theology), opposing both excessive State institutions and unregulated capitalism in favor of robust non-governmental, non-profit, intermediary institutions to deliver social services and social insurance.

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."[27]

Christian democrats hold that the various sectors of society (such as education, family, economy and state) have autonomy and responsibility over their own sphere, a concept known as sphere sovereignty.[28] One sphere ought not to dictate the obligations of another social entity; for example, the sphere of the state is not permitted to interfere with the raising of children, a role that belongs to sphere of the family.[28] Within the sphere of government, Christian democrats maintain that civil issues should first be addressed at the lowest level of government before being examined at a higher level, a doctrine known as subsidiarity.[7] These concepts of sphere sovereignty and subsidiarity are considered to be cornerstones of Christian Democracy political ideology.[29]

As advocates of environmentalism, Christian democrats support the principle of stewardship, which upholds the idea that humans should safeguard the planet for future generations of life.[7] Christian democrats also tend to have a conciliatory view with respect to immigration.[30]


19th century

The origins of Christian democracy go back to the French Revolution, where initially French republicanism and the Catholic church were deeply hostile to one another as the revolutionary government had attacked the church, confiscated the church's lands, persecuted its priests and had attempted to establish a new religion around reason and the supreme being.[31] After the decades following the French revolution, the Catholic church saw the rise of liberalism as a threat to catholic values. The rise of capitalism and the resulting industrialization and urbanization of society were seen to be destroying the traditional communal and family life. According to the Catholic Church liberal economics promoted selfishness and materialism with the liberal emphasis on individualism, tolerance, and free expression enabled all kinds of self-indulgence and permissiveness to thrive.[31]

Consequently, for much of the 19th century the Catholic church was hostile to democracy and liberalism. Later, however, many political Catholic movements were formed in European countries advocating reconciling Catholicism with liberalism, if not democracy. From about the 1870s, political Catholicism emerged based on the idea that it was to the Church's advantage to participate in the modern political process,[12] and it became a significant force in Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, and Austria. These Catholic political movements tended to have many similar policies of opposition to liberal secularism, civil marriage and state control of education. They were also against the common view of liberalism that church and state must be separated.[12] Consequently, they were closely connected to the church and confined to the faithful. The first priority was privileging Catholic teaching and the church in politics. Democracy was chosen because it was an expedient political tool, not because democracy was seen as an ideal.[12]

In Protestant countries, Christian democratic parties were founded by more conservative Protestants in reaction to secularization.[6] 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. 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.[6]

20th 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.[32] 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] Modern authors important to the formation of Christian democratic ideology include Emmanuel Mounier and Jacques Maritain.[33] John Witte, explaining the origin of Christian democracy, states:

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]

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 "Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the 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.

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).[citation needed]

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. 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.[citation needed]

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 European People's Party Group.

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 (regarded by some as a conservative party), the Democratic Labor Party (regarded by some as a social democratic party), and the former Family First Party (regarded by some as a liberal democratic party).

The Democratic Labor Party (DLP) was formed in 1955 as a split from the Australian Labor Party (ALP). In Victoria, and New South Wales, state executive members, parliamentarians and branch members associated with the Industrial Groups or B. A. Santamaria and "The Movement" (and therefore strongly identified with Roman Catholicism) were expelled from the party, and formed 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. This 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 heavily lost ground in the federal election of 1974 that saw its primary vote cut by nearly two-thirds, and the election 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 (now the Democratic Labour 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 2010 Australian federal election, the DLP won the sixth senate seat in Victoria, giving it representation in the Australian Senate.[34]

The Christian Democratic Party (initially known as the "Call to Australia" party) is identified with Protestantism and the strongly religious conservative end of the Australian political spectrum. It is active in state politics. It gained 9.1% of the vote in the New South Wales (NSW) state election of 1981. This 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 Legislative Council for most of its existence and currently holds the Balance of Power.[35] The CDP saw a surge in support during the 2016 Federal Election with a 96% increase in NSW.[36]

The Family First Party is a former political party which was linked with Pentecostal Church and other smaller Christian denominations, and was also identified with the strongly religious conservative end of the Australian political spectrum. 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. Family First was merged with the Australian Conservatives Party in 2017.[37]

North America

In the United States, the American Solidarity Party is a minor third party which identifies as a Christian democratic party.[38]

The Center for Public Justice is a Christian democratic public policy organization that advocates to "bring the principles of a Christian worldview to bear on the political realm."[39]

See also

International Christian democratic organizations

Related concepts



  1. ^ "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."[3]
    "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."[4]
  2. ^ Pentecostals have also secured parliamentary representation in countries such as Australia, Colombia, Nicaragua, and Peru, and have helped form Christian political parties that have won parliamentary seats. A noteworthy case is Sweden's Christian Democrats party, not only because it is in a continent where Pentecostals have struggled to make political headway but also because its Pentecostal founder, Lewi Pethrus, who challenged secularization by creating institutions to foster a Christian counterculture, was active at a time when Pentecostals in Sweden or the United States shunned politics.[6]
  3. ^ 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]
  4. ^ The Christian democrats promoted a corporatist welfare state, based on the principles of the so-called "sphere sovereignty" and "subsidiarity" in social policy.[15]
  5. ^ Conservatives, including the Christian Democrats, favor an abstinence strategy that aims at a controlled use of legal drugs such as alcohol, nicotine, and medical drugs, on the one hand, and prohibiting the use of illegal drugs (whether soft or hard), on the other.[20][21]
  6. ^ 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)[22]
  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.[24]


  1. ^ Heywood 2012, p. 83.
  2. ^ Galetti 2011, p. 28, 3.4.
  3. ^ Monsma 2012, p. 13.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Witte 1993, p. 9.
  5. ^ Freeden 2004, p. 82.
  6. ^ a b c d Robeck & Yong 2014, p. 178.
  7. ^ a b c d e Vervliet 2009, pp. 48–51.
  8. ^ Kte'pi 2009, p. 131.
  9. ^ Van Hecke & Gerard 2004.
  10. ^ Müller 2014.
  11. ^ Szulc 1965, p. 102.
  12. ^ a b c d e Adams 2001, p. 60.
  13. ^ Turner 2008, pp. 83–84.
  14. ^ a b Adams 2001, p. 84.
  15. ^ Bak et al. 1996, p. 56.
  16. ^ Mainwaring 2003, p. 181.
  17. ^ Witte, Craeybeckx & Meynen 2009, p. 119.
  18. ^ Engeli & Varone 2012, p. 109.
  19. ^ Cimmino 2017.
  20. ^ Kerbo & Strasser 2000, p. 101.
  21. ^ Coleman, Kerbo & Ramos 2001, p. 413.
  22. ^ van Kersbergen 2003, p. 63.
  23. ^ Heffernan Schindler 2008, p. 144.
  24. ^ a b Dussel 1981, p. 217.
  25. ^ Poppa 2010, p. 12.
  26. ^ Matlary, Veiden & Hansen 2011.
  27. ^ Roberts & Hogwood 1997.
  28. ^ a b Monsma 2012, p. 133.
  29. ^ Lamberts 1997, p. 401.
  30. ^ Almeida 2012, pp. 117-.
  31. ^ a b Adams 2001, p. 59.
  32. ^ Sturzo 1947, p. 5.
  33. ^ Pombeni 2000.
  34. ^ "It's official – DLP wins Vic Senate seat". Australian Conservative. Archived from the original on 14 December 2010. Retrieved 23 March 2012.
  35. ^ "Christian Democratic Party". Christian Democratic Party. Retrieved 20 October 2017.
  36. ^ "2016 Federal Election Results Update". cdp.org.au. 21 July 2016.
  37. ^ "Bernardi's Australian Conservatives to merge with Family First". ABC News. 25 April 2017. Retrieved 20 October 2017.
  38. ^ Longenecker 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.
  39. ^ Domenico, Roy Palmer; Hanley, Mark Y. (2006). Encyclopedia of Modern Christian Politics. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-313-32362-1. The Center for Public Justice is a public policy organization, now located in Annapolis, Maryland, which undertakes to bring the principles of a Christian worldview to bear on the political realm. It is rooted in the European Christian democratic tradition, particularly as developed in the Netherlands by Guillaume Groen van Prinsterer (1801-1876), Abraham Kuyper (137-1920), and Herman Dooyeweerd (1894-1977).