Christian democrats: the forgotten tradition

Americans often wear their ideological badges with an excessive amount of pride. Whether that be Left or Right, Conservative or Liberal, Democratic Socialist or MAGA, these words tend to lose meaning as each political cycle goes by. Other worldviews, like Christian Democracy, get ignored in all the noise.

It can be exhausting. 

At their best, political labels tell you what someone stands for, including their principles and goals. Too often though, they become a means to name-call and dismiss the ideas of others. 

Growing up in such a tribalistic environment has taken its toll on many of our peers, so it is easy to see why most have no idea what a Christian Democrat is or what they believe. 

No, a Christian Democrat is not a member of the Democratic Party who goes to church. Nor is it someone who supports some sort of theocratic democracy just for Christians. The Christian Democratic tradition, which has its roots in European and Latin American politics, is distinct altogether from the paradigm of American Conservatism and Liberalism. 

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Whereas the former rests on free-market economics and social traditionalism, and the latter rests on economic interventionism and social progressivism, Christian Democracy rests on human dignity, community, and pragmatic policymaking. 

Christian Democracy grew out of the ancient Christian belief in the inherent and equal worth of every human being, and fully believes that  caring for the weakest members of society is the duty of every one of us. For a Christian Democrat, this solidarity is not just the duty of the individual to act charitably, but of society as a whole to reshape itself to care for the poor, the oppressed, and the vulnerable 

A Christian Democrat believes in social and legal protections for the unborn, the impoverished, and the persecuted who flee to our lands for help.

A Christian Democrat also believes in the centrality of community and relationships to human flourishing. Society is not a collection of isolated individuals, but a web of people who enrich each other’s lives. Christian Democrats believe that the building block of society is not the individual, but the original community, the family. Strong, healthy, and functional families are the single greatest resource people can have. From this inherited community, individuals build ties with their neighbors, then their schools and churches, then their whole towns, and up and up. 

The institutions of society ought to be built not just to encourage but enable people to participate in community.

Christian Democracy has always taken the best ideas of the ideologies around it. It has its core principles and ideals, but unlike mainstream American Liberalism and Conservatism, it is not wedded to specific methods. 

Where a progressive’s instincts might be to create a government program or a libertarian-conservative’s to slash taxes and regulations, a Christian Democrat approaches policymaking on a case-by-case basis. Christian Democrats realize that different methods can work at different times, and trying to force a one-size-fits-all agenda on society is bound to fail. 

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The best example of this is economics. Christian Democrats believe that the free market is an amazingly powerful tool to provide for society, and generally works better than government control. Experience, however, tells us that market failures can and do occur and affect real people’s everyday lives. For this reason, a Christian Democrat will typically support a moderate social-safety net and regulations to ensure the market continues to operate smoothly.

Where Christian Democracy fits in the United States is an open question. Whether you consider it a socially conservative form of progressivism, a communitarian form of conservatism, or something else entirely, it can offer a fresh perspective to college students fed up with the old Red vs. Blue fights. 

Though minds far greater than ours have championed the Christian Democratic ideals, we at The Collegiate Commons will do our best to forward human dignity, community, and practical reform right here in Indiana.

Marcus Bridgeman was the founding Opinion Editor at The Collegiate Commons. In his own columns, he focused on issues of public policy and political philosophy. Bridgeman is a native Hoosier and a law student. 

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