Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Rise of Christian Democracy in Europe

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Rise of Christian Democracy in Europe

Article excerpt

The Rise of Christian Democracy in Europe. By Stathis N. Kalyvas. (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press. 1996. Pp. xi, 300. $45.00 clothbound; $19.95 paperback.)

Most scholars agree that Christian Democratic parties are anomalous in a modern, secular age; not only do they represent a curious hybrid of secular and sectarian interests, but they can also embody electoral coalitions that transcend economic, regional, and even ethnic differences to maintain political power over long periods of time. Stathis Kalyvas has a theory to explain these curiosities.

Kalyvas proposes that Christian Democratic parties in Austria, Belgium, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands originated from decisions of nineteenthcentury political actors, namely, the Church and conservative political elites. Though these actors may not have initially intended to create confessional parties, Kalyvas asserts that they set the process in motion" by creating a new political consciousness or identity amongst lay Catholics. Fueling the long-term political separation of Catholics from non-Catholics and of conservative Catholics from more liberal-leaning ones, this unique political identity has become mobilized and institutionalized in Christian Democratic parties. According to Kalyvas, this is the source of the parties' longevity, even in the secular context of modern European politics.

Unlike other theories on this subject, Kalyvas' is a rational actor model; it considers Christian Democracy in the political context of actors, preferences, and strategies. Bringing together two separate traditions in the literature, Kalyvas argues that the Church and conservative elites joined forces to confront nineteenth century Liberal attacks on Catholicism. The Church, with its extensive network of literate and active clergy, brought a depth of organization to the conservative causes whereas the lay conservative leadership gave the Church something it was neither willing nor capable of achieving on its own-parliamentary representation through a political party. Unfortunately for them, the two forces unintentionally combined to produce political Catholicism, a selfsustaining movement, which eventually embued the lower clergy, the press, and the leaders of the new political party, and its many ancillary organizations with mass-based authority. In this way the parties were transformed from Catholic political parties to Christian Democratic ones. …

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