Over at Boston Review, Princeton political scientist Jan-Werner Müller has written a lengthy article considering the rise of Christian (Catholic) Democratic parties in Western Europe and the Christian socialism of Jacques Maritain that had gained political traction in the middle years of the last century. He considers whether this history, largely unrecognized in the United States, bares any lessons for the prospects of overtly religious political parties—like the AKP in Turkey—in liberal democracies.
[L]oud voices proclaiming that Islam and democracy are incompatible remain in Turkey, and, of course, are not limited to it. Their pronouncements are reminiscent of what many secular liberals in nineteenth-century Europe had to say about democracy and religion, though with an important and instructive twist: back then,Catholicism was deemed an insurmountable obstacle to liberal democracy. Leading French Republican Léon Gambetta famously exclaimed “Le cléricalisme, voilà l’ennemi!” in 1877. In fact, far into the twentieth century prominent politicians and social scientists asserted that Catholicism explained the persistence of dictatorship in Latin America and on the Iberian Peninsula. Catholicism, in the words of Seymour Martin Lipset, appeared “antithetical to democracy”; Pierre Trudeau claimed that Catholic countries
are authoritarian in spiritual matters; and since the dividing line between the spiritual and the temporal may be very fine or even confused, they are often disinclined to seek solutions in temporal affairs through the mere counting of heads.
And as with Muslims today, Catholic citizens were suspected of maintaining transnational ties and ultimate loyalties to spiritual institutions elsewhere—a suspicion that still mattered in John F. Kennedy’s election campaigns.
Yet during the second half of the twentieth century, Christian—which mainly meant Catholic—Democratic parties emerged and flourished in Western Europe and, to a lesser extent, Latin America. These were—and in some degree remain—moderately religious parties. They advance political programs infused with select doctrinal values while firmly upholding democratic structures and respecting the separation of state and church.
Read the full article here.