Comment

Could Christian Democracy solve Britain and America’s problems?

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There is a rather good article in the Guardian about Christian Democracy. Yes, really. Specifically, the authors wish to talk about the political situation in America, but in passing they define Christian Democracy as having three core principles:

The first is that the Christian tradition of natural law implies a commitment to the idea of the inherent dignity of the human person, which in turn sustains certain fundamental moral commitments – for instance, to the sanctity of human life, the importance of the traditional family and, more generally, moral authorities to guide human conduct.

The second is a moral critique of capitalism based on the assumption that Christianity is incompatible with materialism and commands a duty of charity towards the poor and needy….

Finally, the third core principle of the Christian democratic ideology is 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.

These are principles that all readers of the Catholic Herald would, I am sure, applaud. The difficulty comes with their application. Just how are we to promote international solidarity, for example? Are institutions such as the EU and UN fit for purpose? That is surely up for debate, but no one can doubt that internationalism is something dear to Catholic hearts.

Another thing to note is that, though these principles clearly spring from Catholic tradition, they can also be taken up by other Christians, other religious believers, or even by atheists. Democracy is a process, and like all processes, it needs to deliver values. Christian Democracy provides the values that democracy cries out for. Just having elections is never good enough: one has to vote inspired by a desire to maximize the good, and that means you have to have a vision of the good.

Christian Democratic parties in Europe have had a mixed record, but even in the case of Italy, where the Christian Democrats imploded in a welter of scandals, one should not deny that a great deal was achieved in the decades immediately after the War. So, one should not be too sniffy about the record of Christian Democracy, which, on the whole, is a good one; though, like every political creed, it does need periodic renewal and reinvention.

Does Christian Democracy have anything to offer countries of the Anglosphere? Our current government in Britain seems a little short on the ideas front, so any discussion of core principles would surely be welcome. But I would not hold my breath. All British politicians seem suspicious of ideas, given that ideas in modern Britain are seen as divisive. To talk about natural law in Britain today would be to ignite an enraged debate (or more accurately, would perhaps provoke an enraged desire to shut down any debate), given the sensitivities that surround matters such as abortion and transgenderism. And that is precisely the problem: we march toward the acceptance of certain extreme positions (such as a woman’s right to choose, or a person’s right to choose their sex) without any real examination of the issues that underlie them. We have, by refusing to talk about core principles, got ourselves into the absurd situation where we all have to pretend to believe in certain ‘truths’ which most of us know are anything but.

The authors of the article see ‘secular authoritarianism’ as the polar opposite of Christian Democracy, and they are surely right about this. It is often useful to be able to name and understand your opponent. Secular authoritarianism certainly seems to be in the saddle here in the UK, even if the Prime Minister is a vicar’s daughter. Sadly, there does not seem to be much prospect of change. Perhaps over the water in the Irish Republic we can hope for a rebuff of secular authoritarianism in the forthcoming referendum on the Eighth Amendment.