Reassessing Political Ideologies: The Durability of Dissent

By Michael Freeden | Go to book overview

6

The ideology of Christian democracy1

Paolo Pombeni

During a lecture broadcast by the BBC in November 1945, the historian A.J.P. Taylor offered an interesting, and at the time entirely original, analysis of the ideological panorama of post-war Europe (in which, incidentally, he did not include Great Britain). 2 But the most novel feature was not Taylor's description of the change then taking place in political parties of Marxist, socialist or communist inspiration, which he viewed as offering a broad range of catch-all ideological proposals:

They want a strong government which will run economic life; but they want also to be able to grumble against it. They want the state to do things for the good of individual human beings; they do not want individuals to have to do things for the good of the State. In other words, they want socialism, but they also want the Rights of Man.

Perception of this transformation was already quite widespread, and it rested, as Taylor himself pointed out, on the contribution made by these parties to the struggle against fascism. Rather, the novelty of Taylor's analysis lay in its understanding of the importance assumed by the Christian democracy parties in a context where, he believed, the ideology of capitalism had now been marginalized, reduced to nothing more than a hangover from the war: 'Nobody in Europe believes in the American way of life - that is, in private enterprise; or rather, those who believe in it are a defeated party and a party which seems to have no more future than the Jacobites in England after 1688'.

For Taylor, the novelty was Christian democracy, although he placed it in the category of the 'conservative' and 'peasant' parties (a judgement which, as we shall see, cannot be historically justified). Although the Catholic parties had garnered votes from the old right, Taylor regarded them as anti-capitalist and not opposed to nationalization. They comprised a section of the popular classes marked out by a boundary that was 'not social, but religious'. It was this feature that most forcefully struck Taylor, who rightly pointed out that the Roman Church had taken the side of the fascist dictators.

Now, for almost the first time in modern history, it seems to be taking a democratic, indeed revolutionary line. Instead of demanding a privileged position for itself, the Roman Church is beginning to defend toleration

-80-

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