Christian democracy was birthed by Catholic and neo-Calvinist political movements that developed in response to rising secularism and the failures of the liberal order in the 19th century in central and northern Europe. But what is Christian democracy? Is it just dominionism (the attempt to make a government of Christians) or theocracy (the rule of the clergy) under nicer branding? Is it just a European political ideology that has no bearing on the United States?
It is none of these things. To put it simply: Christian democracy is a political ideology based on three major ideas: natural law, a critique of capitalism and communism, and internationalism.
The first of these ideas, natural law, is a moral theory based on the early philosophies of the pre-Socratics, a group of philosophers in Greece before the birth of Socrates. The pre-Socratic understanding was enhanced by Aristotle and the Roman stoics, reaching its zenith in the scholastic philosophy of Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas. Natural law, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is “a body of unchanging moral principles regarded as a basis for all human conduct.”
According to natural law theory, there are objective moral standards that are derived from the basic nature of human beings and nature in general. Natural law was used to combat the idea of the divine right of kings, and it gave rise to the idea of the social contract. More importantly, natural law implies a commitment to the inherent dignity of the human person. According to natural law, human beings, from conception, have dignity, and this dignity cannot be lost by someone’s actions.
This commitment to the inherent dignity of the human person leads the small third party of which I am a member – the American Solidarity Party – to push for a society that is Pro-Life for the Whole Life, from conception to natural death. Unlike the two major parties in the United States, a commitment to the natural law leads the American Solidarity Party to oppose not only abortion, but also capital punishment and other threats to human dignity.
The second idea underlying Christian democracy is a critique of capitalism and communism. Christian democracy views the materialism of the modern world as a problem and emphasizes charity to the poor as a duty of the human person. This idea led to the creation of “welfare states” in several European countries following the end of the Second World War as Christian democratic parties took power in Western Europe.
“The American Solidarity Party is the only Christian Democratic party large enough to merit notice in the United States, and its commitment to natural law, its distributist economic outlook, and its emphasis on international solidarity are key to the party’s appeal.”
Christian democracy’s critique of capitalism and communism led to the American Solidarity Party’s commitment to distributism, a third-way economic idea based on the widespread distribution of private property, making every man an owner. In keeping with natural law’s commitment to the inherent dignity of human beings, this policy of widespread distribution of private property ensures a fairer distribution of power in society, making more people owners of the means of production. Moreover, it ensures that wealth is better distributed locally, meaning that your local community will be better off, while large landowners are disincented, causing an end to speculation and unproductive land.
The final idea behind Christian democracy is internationalism. This internationalism is a commitment to international cooperation between nations and Christian democratic parties around the world. Moreover, the internationalism of Christian democracy sees the importance of solidarity between nations, especially regarding the duty of care that richer nations have for poorer ones. Christian democratic parties led the way in the creation of the United Nations and the European Union and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Christian democracy may have started in Europe, but it has spread throughout the world. There are several Christian democratic parties in Latin America, with the PAN and COPEI especially prominent in Mexico and Chile, respectively. The Christian Democrat Organization of America (ODCA) has 30 member parties in 21 countries, representing about 30% of all registered voters in Latin America. Christian democracy has also spread to Africa, where it is popular in the central part of the continent, and Asia, where it is popular in the former Soviet states, the Philippines, and Lebanon.
Finally, although Christians developed Christian democracy, Christian democracy is not a confessional ideology, meaning that Christian democracy is not limited to Christians. Many Christian democratic parties in Europe are led by non-Christians; Ireland’s Fine Gael, led by the Leo Varadkar, is a prominent example. Further, Christian democracy has spread to the Islamic world, with Turkey’s ruling AK Party and Kosovo’s Democratic League being two of the most well-known examples.
The American Solidarity Party is the only Christian Democratic party large enough to merit notice in the United States, and its commitment to natural law, its distributist economic outlook, and its emphasis on international solidarity are key to the party’s appeal. The American Solidarity Party, like Christian democracy more generally, is inclusive and is open to members both religious and non-religous, Christian, Muslim or Hind – you do not need to be a Christian recognize the value of these principles, which are capable of uniting us regardless of one’s reasons for holding them.
Nicholas Mataya is a teacher in San Antonio, Texas. He is married with one child and another on the way. He is the Secretary of the Texas Solidarity Party and Vice-Chair of the Bexar County Solidarity Party.