The Path to Christian Democracy: German Catholics and the Party System from Windthorst to Adenauer

The Path to Christian Democracy: German Catholics and the Party System from Windthorst to Adenauer

The Path to Christian Democracy: German Catholics and the Party System from Windthorst to Adenauer

The Path to Christian Democracy: German Catholics and the Party System from Windthorst to Adenauer


From the time of Bismarck's great rival Ludwig Windthorst to that of the first post-World War II Chancellor, Konrad Adenauer, the Catholic community in Germany took a distinctive historical path. Although it was by no means free of authoritarian components, it was at times the most democratic pathway taken by organized political Catholicism anywhere in Europe.

Challenging those who seek continuity in German history primarily in terms of its long march toward Nazism, this book crosses all the usual historical turning points from mid-nineteenth- to late-twentieth-century German history in search of the indigenous origins of postwar German democracy. Complementing recent studies of German Social Democracy, it links the postwar party system to the partisan traditions this new system transcended by documenting the attempts by reform-minded members of the old Catholic Center party to break out of the constraints of minority-group politics and form a democratic political party. The failure of those efforts before 1933 helped clear the way for Nazism, but their success after 1945 in founding the interdenominational Christian Democratic Union (CDU) helped tame political conservatism and allowed the emergence of the most stable democracy in contemporary Europe. Integrating those who needed to be integrated--the cultural and political conservatives--into a durable liberal order, this conservative yet democratic and interdenominational "catch-all" party broadened democratic sensibilities and softened the effect of religious tensions on the German polity and party system.

By crossing traditional chronological divides and exploring the links between earlier abortive Catholic initiatives and therange of competing postwar visions of the new party system, this book moves Catholic Germany from the periphery to the heart of the issue of continuity in modern German history.


The ghost of the first German republic has persistently haunted the second; it has been anything but exorcised by reunification. But the success of the Bonn Republic in achieving democratization, western integration, and then, in 1990, reunification -- in short, virtually everything Konrad Adenauer set out to do forty years earlier -- makes timelier than ever the need to explore the indigenous sources of political innovation that led to Bonn's not being Weimar.

Perhaps the most important indigenous innovation was the Christian Democratic Union (CDU). Although Green and neonationalist fringe groups continue to excite more fascination, it is the remarkably centripetal nature of the party system that has consistently distinguished postwar German democracy from the earlier period; and the cdu, the party of Adenauer (and Helmut Kohl), was the essentially new and even paradigmatic feature in the West German party system. the cdu, not the more thoroughly studied Social Democratic Party (SPD), integrated those who needed to be integrated -- the cultural and political conservatives -- into a durable liberal order. the policies and electoral successes of this interdenominational and socially diverse catch-all party reflected and promoted a transformation in the impact of religious and ideological tension on the western German polity and party system. With the fall of the Berlin Wall, the western cdu became also the paradigm for many easterners, though in a very different context and with consequences that are yet to be seen.

This book investigates the long-term process of democratization in Germany (before its recent reunification) by examining the issue of partisan alignment as played out within the country's largest but politically least researched minority group: the (mostly western) Catholic community. I begin in 1870, with the birth of a specifically Catholic-oriented party, the Center party of Ludwig Windthorst, amidst the . . .

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