Magazine article Modern Age

The Birth of an American Christian Democratic Party: Why Christian Democracy Can Succeed Where Other Third Ways and Third Parties Have Failed

Magazine article Modern Age

The Birth of an American Christian Democratic Party: Why Christian Democracy Can Succeed Where Other Third Ways and Third Parties Have Failed

Article excerpt

In the Politics, Aristotle considered the merits of a variety of constitutional models. Though it was common to divide them into the positive and negative forms of rule by the one, the few, and the many, he declared that most constitutions boiled down to either oligarchy or democracy. It would be natural to construe these as the rule of the few or the rule of the many, but Aristotle took pains to make it clear that he saw something else at issue: either the rich would rule or the poor would. One of his prescriptions for avoiding the abuses inherent in either of those outcomes was to seek a "middle" constitution. All states have three sections: the very rich, the very poor, and the ones in-between. The best state is one in which more people occupy the middle.

There is a political force in the modern world that finds its identity in navigating this middle ground. In a sense, this party represents the original third way between free-market liberalism and socialism. It has sometimes steered its centrist course so effectively that it has been accused of having no real commitments other than to being in the middle, wherever that is. In response, the Dutch political scientist Kees van Kersbergen has pointed out that the party in question works in such a way not because of a lack of conviction but rather because of the convictions it does have. It is a party that seeks to reconcile the different parts of society and to govern so as to achieve concord.

This party is the largely European political phenomenon known under the broad heading of Christian Democracy. For examples, one might think back to a figure such as the Christian statesman Abraham Kuyper, who once led the Netherlands, or look to the present, where Christian Democrats have governed or been part of governing coalitions in several nations, including Germany. My contention in this essay is that U.S. politics would be edified by the development of a Christian Democracy movement on American soil. And despite daunting obstacles, it would be possible too.

Assessing the American moment

In 2016, American politics took an unusual turn. New York real estate developer Donald Trump captured the Republican nomination for president with approximately 43 percent of the primary vote. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a self-identified socialist, lost in his primary battle against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with a similarly high level of support from Democratic voters. Both men campaigned on policies to protect or empower individuals who felt left behind by the American economy of the past couple of decades. Trump, of course, captured the presidency by charting a course through the Electoral College that many observers believed to be inaccessible to a Republican. Thanks to Trump's economic nationalism and Nixonian emphasis on law and order, the "blue wall" consisting of such states as Michigan and Pennsylvania, previously believed to be safe for Democrats, proved to be about as effective as the old Maginot line.

The election took place in the wake of the apparently spontaneous emergence of several protest movements in the post-crash Obama era. These included the Tea Party, which focused on reducing government debt and the scope of regulation as keys to bringing back prosperity, and Occupy Wall Street, which looked to government to redistribute wealth. The economic context of the 2016 election was also foreshadowed by Mitt Romney's campaign against President Obama in 2012, a campaign remembered (perhaps unfairly) for Romney's remark that 47 percent of voters were deaf to his appeal because of their dependence on the federal government for financial assistance. The comment fed into a preexisting controversy over whether our system had evolved into one of constant conflict between "makers and takers."

Suddenly, America seems less like a nation where everyone considers himself or herself middle class and more like one in which there is a class divide. …

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