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Christian Democracy in Europe—and America?

This short essay in the Guardian makes a case for a Christian-democratic movement in the US to counter the rise of secular authoritarianism. The authors state that it was a distinctly Christian Democratic movement that successfully defeated fascism in Europe; they claim a similar movement is needed here.

Given evangelicals’ remarkably comprehensive (and revolting) capitulation to Trumpism, and liberal Protestants’ own unthinking embrace of the Democratic platform, it’s hard to see how such a movement could gain any traction. (The American Solidarity Party is giving it a go, but their quest seems quixotic rather than realistic).

Christian democracy’s three core principles, according to the authors:

  1. a belief in the “inherent dignity of the human person” that leads to a pro-life stance that includes opposition to both abortion and the death penalty
  2. a “moral critique of capitalism”
  3. a “resolute internationalism, which translates into a commitment to both supranational cooperation amongst established powers and a duty of solidarity with respect to less fortunate peoples and countries.”

There have been times when the Democrats have had a lot more integrity than they currently do with respect to #2 and #3. And there have even been times when they’ve been hospitable to pro-life members. But it’s quite a feat of memory to muster more than a handful of recent exceptions (Minnesota’s own Collin Peterson is one.)

As for the Republicans, they’ve always paid lip service to pro-life policies while doing their best not to enact them—and thus lose a block of voters that might otherwise support Democrats. Their internationalism is certainly resolute—but it’s of a war-mongering variety utterly lacking in compassion for or comprehension of any foreign state other than Israel. And a moral critique of capitalism? Well, don’t hold your breath.

Patrick Deneen has argued that the dominant movement in each party is toward libertarianism: the Republicans increasingly jettison socially conservative policy initiatives, while Democrats do their smarmy best to cozy up to the Davos set while wondering why their base doesn’t show up to vote. So I think Deneen’s clearly right. In this context, that means that any Christian democratic movement is going to be as repulsive to Democratic politicians as it is to Republican ones. And given the structure of our politics, any such movement will have to arise from within one of two parties that are actively opposed to its core tenants.

Christian democracy is, frankly, incomprehensible in modern American politics, however necessary it may be. In any case, though, the essay is worth reading, as is the excellent Samuel Moyn essay they quote from. For a deeper historical perspective on the rise of Christian democracy in Europea, read Tony Judt’s Postwar.