Ideological revival of the Christian Democrats is impossible

European People's Party logotype. Photo: Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Christian democracy in the West has adopted the world of values of the Left. This is something it cannot be forgiven for, because it is an abdication not only of its own identity as a political movement, but above all of its own identity as a people of faith, says Professor Paweł Skibiński, historian, political scientist and university lecturer.

TVP WEEKLY: Groupings belonging to the European People's Party, an international grouping that presents itself as Christian Democrat, today hang on their banners the demands of the left, for example demanding the right to free abortion. What exactly was - and is today - Christian democracy?

From a historian's point of view, this term is not unambiguous. It took its name from papal documents, used especially by Leo XIII. At that time, Christian democracy was understood as a social movement of Catholics whose aim was to imbue social life with Christian values. At the time, it was far from being understood as a specific political movement, let alone a single party.

In fact, Pope Leo XIII, in his encyclical 'Graves de Communi' issued in 1901, warned that Christian democracy should not be given a political meaning and should not be pursued solely in the form of a Catholic political party.

Yes, because it was an all-embracing social movement that could have political implications, but could not be limited to them. Over time, especially in relation to the German experience, in view of the dominance of Protestant and socialist elements, it became necessary to form a Catholic political party. The main party of Catholic opposition to Bismarck's policy and the Kulturkampf in Germany was the Centre, also active in the Prussian partition. This kind of experience introduced into the space of Catholic thinking the perception of a Catholic party as something normal.

Until the 19th century, Catholics tended to believe that all political orientations should take into account the realisation of Christian values in social life. This was also the view of the Catholic Church. The original Christian-Democratic thought, especially in Germany, was therefore a defensive thought. It was based on the belief that Catholics had to defend themselves against aggression from Protestantism, later also from Marxism. Christian-Democratic thought was also influenced by the fact that there were also Catholic groups in France, for example, who wanted to reconcile Catholicism with the values of parliamentary democracy within the Third French Republic.

A difficult task.

This was all the more difficult as the identity of the French Republic was built on strong anticlericalism and secularism. It was somewhat different in Belgium, where the democratic government was more open to cooperation with the Church. It was more or less in this spirit that the Christian Democrats developed until the interwar period.

And what happened in the inter-war period?

Two important developments overlapped with the past experience. The Centre Party in the Weimar Republic collaborated with moderate Marxists from under the SPD to defend German democracy. The second significant event was the activity of the Italian People's Party, the so-called Popularists, which existed between 1919 and 1924. The last leader of this party before its dissolution by Benito Mussolini was one of the later iconic post-war leaders of Christian Democracy, Alcide de Gasperi. These two experiences were to reconcile Catholicism with interwar parliamentary democracy in the liberal-socialist version.

At the same time, other Christian-social ideas emerged in Europe under the influence of Pius XI, which could be called authoritarian social Catholicism. Such currents emerged strongly in Austria, Portugal or Spain, among others.

In the form of corporatism.

These were expressed, among other things, in attempts to transfer the corporate socio-economic order - outlined in the documents of Pius XI - to the political field. In this context, the names of Engelbert Dolfuss, António de Oliveira Salazar, José Gil-Robles can be mentioned. At the time, these figures were associated with social Catholicism and Christian democracy in the broadest sense.

This trend within Social Catholicism balanced the direction of the Centre and the Populists, or some French Christian Democrats, rather towards the left of the political scene.

The corporatism proposed by Pope Pius XI differed from the one introduced in Italy ruled by Benito Mussolini?

read more here.