Would a Catholic political party be a good thing?

My short answer is no.

Christ’s Kingdom is, as He says in today’s Gospel, “not of this world.” We are called to build Christ’s Kingdom on earth not by ruling the secular realm and enforcing Christian morality and charity with the force of law, but by living out of vocation as Christians and winning hearts and minds by word and deed. Christians are called to transform society from within – we are “the salt of the earth,” ideally bringing out the best in all of our various communities. In this way, Christians do not need the secular law to be successful. I do not mean to imply that the secular law is not necessary for social order; it is clearly a fundamental component of the common good. Catholics do and ought to work for the common good in our political life, but we should not seek this good in the name of Jesus (of course everything we do ought to be for Jesus). He Himself did not establish a political party or an Earthly kingdom. His Kingdom is “not of this world,” and it is our task as Christians to build this Heavenly kingdom here on Earth. The Heavenly kingdom is not one of coercive political force, but freely given sacrificial Love.

22 Responses to Would a Catholic political party be a good thing?

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    I hear what you’re saying, but there is a pretty strong precedent for Catholic political parties.

    I am thinking of “Catholic Action”, a name given to Catholic political organizations in many countries during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They didn’t always run candidates or participate in elections but they always sought to apply the organized influence and pressure of a nation’s faithful Catholics on the political life of the country.

    They played a role in opposing both communism and fascism during that time. Later they became “Christian Democratic” parties, but the secularization of Europe has caused them to lose influence. In Latin America these parties, I think, are still somewhat strong.

    Wiki gets basic things right, so I’ll post the description of Christian Democracy here:

    “In practice, Christian democracy is often considered conservative on cultural, social and moral issues (social conservatism) and progressive on fiscal and economic issues. In Europe, where their opponents have traditionally been secularist socialists, Christian democratic parties are moderately conservative overall, whereas in the very different cultural and political environment of Latin America they tend to lean to the left.”

    Given that description I would call myself a Christian Democrat (in the European sense), if we had such a thing in the United States. In Britain and Canada I think the Red Tories are the closest equivalent and I agree with much of their political philosophy as well.

    I think such a party would actually do better in the United States than it has in Europe. I think the USCCB is basically Christian Democrat, I think many of the pro-life Democrats might be Christian Democrats, and I think a substantial number of Catholics and Protestants also fall into that category.

    If we take the “stay out of politics” idea to the maximum, we end up like the Amish or the FLDS. There is a great deal of non-political work that we have to do as Christians, but I think we are also tasked with maintaining society. The secular left and libertarian right are two political factions that subordinate the common good to extreme ideologies. We can’t simply cede the political field to them.

  • Eric Brown says:

    I agree with Donald. On the practical level, the party would split into half — liberals and conservatives, or down some other categorical line.

  • Blackadder says:

    For a Catholic political party to work, you would have to be in a society where the majority of people were Catholic or that had proportional representation, preferably both (I believe the examples Joe cites all fall into these categories). In the absence of that having a Catholic political party would be the functional equivalent of denying Catholics the vote (and that’s assuming you could get sizable numbers of Catholics to actually vote for it).

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    Well, hold on a sec.

    There are a couple of additional points to make.

    First of all, we have to consider that a political party, especially in the United States, does not necessarily have to be a contender for the presidency. That is only ONE elected office out of thousands. Independents have won important elections, governorships, senate and house seats, etc.

    Secondly, even if we left out running for any offices altogether, an independent party can still exert pressure on the major parties. Catholic Action was never really a party – it just had an influence.

    I am fairly certain that while Christians are supposed to participate in politics, it would be better for them not to be trapped in the American two-party system.

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    Next I would point out that conservative parties in Canada, Britain, and other countries that are not predominantly Catholic can nonethless hold to Catholic social teaching and values.

    In other words, a party need not be explicitly Catholic to be implicitly Catholic. It need not appeal only to Catholics, and indeed our social teaching has universal application. It is not “just” theology. It commonalities and even roots in pre-Christians such as Aristotle.

  • Elaine Krewer says:

    I say no. The Church would suffer from being too strongly identified with one political party or faction within a party. Political parties go in and out of power in cycles and I would not want the Church to be completely discredited or powerless during the inevitable periods when the “Christian” party was out of power. We have already seen this happen with the pro-life movement, which put all its “eggs” in the political “basket” of the social conservative wing of the GOP.

    I would rather see principles of Catholic social teaching such as pro-life and subsidarity promoted within BOTH of the existing parties — well, actually ALL the existing parties, including Greens, Libertarians, etc. to the extent that is possible.

  • Blackadder says:

    First of all, we have to consider that a political party, especially in the United States, does not necessarily have to be a contender for the presidency. That is only ONE elected office out of thousands. Independents have won important elections, governorships, senate and house seats, etc.

    You do occasionally get an independent candidate who wins a major election, but this is almost always personality driven, and attempts to parlay this into a more stable party structure (like with Ross Perot and the Reform party) have been largely unsuccessful. There are a couple of third parties (e.g. Libertarians, Greens) who manage to win a handful of smaller races, but it’s not clear why they wouldn’t be better off working within one of the two main parties, unless it is an issue of preferring purity to impact.

    Next I would point out that conservative parties in Canada, Britain, and other countries that are not predominantly Catholic can nonethless hold to Catholic social teaching and values.

    I suspect that if you read the election manifestos of the Tories in Canada and the UK, you would find much that you don’t like (the same is probably true for a lot of Christian Democratic parties too, but whatever). However, if a party like the Tories is the goal, you’d be better off trying to change one of the two main parties to be more in line with these views than you would starting from scratch.

    I am fairly certain that while Christians are supposed to participate in politics, it would be better for them not to be trapped in the American two-party system.

    The two party system is a function of how we conduct elections in the U.S. I see no benefit from ignoring that fact.

  • Rick Lugari says:

    A Catholic party would be the ideal way to galvanize the Catholic vote. I can see Michael Iafrate running for the office of president of the united states of amerikkka and Don McClarey running his campaign. Or picture Minion on the Sunday morning talking head shows arguing in support of a party that will protect the right to life and respect the dignity of the common man.

    Oh, what fun.

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    BA,

    “There are a couple of third parties (e.g. Libertarians, Greens) who manage to win a handful of smaller races, but it’s not clear why they wouldn’t be better off working within one of the two main parties, unless it is an issue of preferring purity to impact.”

    The reason why third parties continue to exist is mostly to exert pressure on the two major parties. Ralph Nader, for instance, has always argued that his presence on the ballot puts pressure on the Democrats to move further to the left. Whether or not this ever happens, I can’t say for certain – but I do think that the presence of a third party at the very least forces the major parties to address certain issues with more time and respect than they would otherwise give them. If they don’t, they will lose votes to the third party.

    A Catholic party might function in a similar way. It might not be able to move party platforms but it may be able to shake up individual races. It can serve as a form of political discipline on Republicans and Democrats.

    “I suspect that if you read the election manifestos of the Tories in Canada and the UK, you would find much that you don’t like”

    If I had to like everything in a political platform before I supported a candidate for that party, I would be an anarchist.

    The question is, which one has the most stuff I like and the least stuff I dislike? Without a doubt the answer would be Christian Democratic and Tory parties.

    “However, if a party like the Tories is the goal, you’d be better off trying to change one of the two main parties to be more in line with these views than you would starting from scratch.”

    Well, I do think it is worthwhile to make the Democrats more socially conservative and the Republicans more respectful of alternatives to economic libertarianism. A Catholic party might drive one or the other in the right direction – probably the Dems.

    “The two party system is a function of how we conduct elections in the U.S. I see no benefit from ignoring that fact.”

    Now who said anything about “ignoring”?

    Acknowledgement is not acquiescence. Pragmatically we may vote for a major party but that does not mean that, as many Christians have done, passively signing off on those parts of the party platforms that are contrary to the Gospels or the teachings of the Church.

    I’m not committed to the idea of a Catholic (or Christian Democratic) party. I do see it as one possible way to push either of the major parties in a direction we want them to go.

  • Elaine Krewer says:

    I have to admit, however, that the notion of a Catholic political party in the U.S. would be a sort of poetic justice since there was once a major ANTI-Catholic party in the U.S. — the American Party or “Know Nothings,” most of whom who were eventually absorbed into the original Republican Party along with the Whigs and various groups opposed to slavery.

    However, Lincoln famously said of the Know Nothings that if they got control, the Declaration of Independence would have to be rewritten to say that “all men are created equal, except Negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics.”

  • American Knight says:

    I thought the USCCB was the Catholic political party!

    Judging on the success of that endeavor this is a horrible idea.

    Additionally, the two party system is a farce – there is only one party with a few wings that differ on a couple of minor points. The wings do agree on one thing: More national government.

    This is bad for Catholics becuase Ceaser wants you to render everthing to him. God only wants what he doesn’t let Ceasar keep.

    No Catholic should belong to any party. We must always vote in what is likely to be the least damaging way to our INFORMED Catholic conscience.

  • jonathanjones02 says:

    Interesting topic Zach. In the U.S., our political parties are both entrenched and weak due to the structure of winner take all. I think that would have to change, to something like a proportional system, for a “Catholic” party to find grounding.

  • Pinky says:

    At the risk of being flippant, we need two Catholic parties in the US, the Democratic and Republican.

    Eric is right that there’s too great a difference between the orthodox Catholic right and orthodox Catholic left to fit into one party. That’s fine; the Church is supposed to be so big that all the birds of the air can nest in its branches. And the Church is on shaky ground when it gets too overtly involved in politics (think Italian history).

    We individual Catholics need to make the organizations we belong to more Catholic. In the recent health care debate, some Catholic Democrats were being forthrightly pro-life. I’ve heard Catholic Republicans talking about how to best help the poor. These are promising signs.

  • Phillip says:

    I think it would be problematic. There are Catholic moral principles and then there is concrete application to particular problems. I think even beyond the left/right divide this would result in division and further splitting. Not to mention the necessary compromise that politics requires that is not moral cooperation and would offend a number of faithful as not being sufficiently “Catholic.”

  • Ric Stoliker says:

    Of course there should be a Catholic Party!! Look around…before the end of this century…America will have a mostly Catholic Hispanic majority!! The Anglo-Saxon protestant dominated poltical concensus will soon be a memory…the election of Obama is a sign post of these changes. However the “Great Recession” and the continued decline of the capital driven economy is evidence that the transition may be rough and costly..especially for the poor and middle class. We live in an oligarchy…driven by profits and imperial power. To refuse to organize politicaly is to abandon the people of the Western Hemisphere to the greed and corruption of the Dems and Repubs…THAT would be a sin!! We need a faith based party…NOW more then ever!!!

  • John J Curti says:

    Morals need to be restored into the political system otherwise societal chaos will come. Religion and politics do not mix because One teaches the truth while the other is deceptive. I strongly believe that the forbidden fruit Adam & Eve partook was politics. The first part of the first death was their descention from paradise to this world. Life is wonded by original sin. This life is the consequence of this sin. God said, “evil is already destroyed now it is for all mankind to echo that expression. No. 1 lie: Conservatism & Liberalism are not inimical forces. They are as compatable as Mind & Will. Be conservative in thought & Liberal in action, not the other way around. No. 2 Lie: Seperation of Church & State, not so in the constitution. The seperate & equal powers of the legislature, Executive & the Judicial make up the government but what should as well be recognized is Religion Family & Government which make up a greater entity ie CIVILIZATION. It was through the civilized that these came to be. the American form of government is the oldest in the world. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution is the greatest document divised by man. It has brought us the most powerful nation on earth. It recognizes God as the giver of our rights. once again America must rise up against the socialist who are trying to take over. If there is ever going to be a world government, America should be at the helm

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