Our Purpose

A lot is wrong with American politics today. There are a lot of reasons why special interests prevail, why out-of-the-box ideas seldom stand a chance, why common-sense solutions and compromises are log-jammed, why elections are contests of dishonest showmanship, and why many thoughtful voters are hard-pressed to find a candidate they can feel good about supporting. There are many reasons for these phenomena in contemporary politics in the United States, but one reason is more fundamental than the rest: American voters simply lack choices.

Unique among inhabitants of virtually all multiparty democratic nations in the industrialized world, the American citizen in a general election must usually choose between only two parties — the same two parties, election after election after election. The American two-party system drives a deep wedge into the populace and encourages thoughtlessness on the part of the voter. In the current system, a person is said to be a Republican or a Democrat typically by a yes-no, litmus-test issue such as abortion. While this and other issues like it are no doubt important, voters are often all to eager to consign themselves to the entire party platform. Groupthink and vitriolic partisan media lead some voters to settle right into their chosen parties and leave their brains at the door. Yet, loyalty to one of the two major parties means loyalty to a veritable conglomeration, as large as the nation itself, of diverse-minded constituents and entrenched special interests. Indeed, the two extant parties lack any clear theoretical foundation, but are swayed every which way, year-to-year, by various interests within the electorate and among campaign contributors. But the average voter is not accepting the narrative of hyper-partisanship. As Congress has become increasingly partisan, American voters have become increasingly independent. The voice of moderation has been drowned out by political opportunists and special interests. American voters deserve better. They deserve choice. They deserve a political landscape that is both more local and more diverse. And they deserve political parties that are philosophically rooted and intellectually honest.

Parties should exist not to court voters, but to present a vision for public policy and remaining true to it. By grounding themselves in first principles, third parties are able to question political dichotomies that are too often taken for granted. They bring honesty to political discussion because they adhere to clear and consistent ideological foundations. Unlike the two major parties, they can be for something without having to be against someone else. While many third parties exist in the United States today, there are a few factors that keep them on the margins of political action.

First, the predominant voting system used in American elections, plurality voting, encourages the electorate to only cast a vote for those candidates that they think can win. Electoral reform is necessary to amend this, but it is also important to keep the basic structure of our democratic system intact. Of the many forms that electoral reform can take, therefore, we believe that the instant-runoff system is the best option for state and national elections. In this system, voters may rank their preferences on the ballot and the second-choice vote is counted if a voter’s first choice is shown to have garnered the least amount of votes, and so on. This gives third parties a fighting chance while ensuring that no vote is “wasted.”

Secondly, third parties cannot gain traction because special interests give the two major parties an insurmountable financial advantage. The monetary power of these pockets of concentrated wealth is able to buy elections, as the electorate is inundated with dumbed-down, half-true stump speeches and campaign ads. Not only is the wealth of campaign finance concentrated in only two parties, there is far too much money being spent on campaigns in the first place. Sane and drastic campaign finance reform is necessary to improve the quality of campaign rhetoric and to loosen the grip of entrenched powers. We therefore support laws and constitutional amendments on the state and federal levels that limit the amount of money (called “soft” money) a political party may spend on a given campaign. Unlike other measures of campaign finance reform, which we also strongly support, this proposal directly limits the power of the two major parties on the side of spending rather than on the side of contributions.

Finally, third parties are kept on the margins of American politics because ideologically they are practically all, well, on the margins. Third parties today find themselves on every extreme of the political spectrum, but recent American history has not seen the long-running viability of a third party in the center. This fact is particularly shameful considering that the center comprises an enormous portion of American voters, who are continually disenfranchised by a primary process that ignores them. It is necessary that options are made available to those who hold more nuanced political views than those advocated by the two major parties or by extreme third parties.

That being said, our project here is not to merely create a centrist third party. Political parties must adhere to a firm ideological foundation, so as to avoid being driven in various directions by special interests or a fickle party base. Parties should stand on philosophical traditions that are rich, thoughtful, and unique, so that political discourse may benefit from the perspectives of a wide variety of well-defined stances. The existence of a multitude of viable parties allows voters to express themselves at the ballot box according to custom-fitted opinions on the issues. It also allows each party to be true to its principles, rather than making conflicting promises to different voters in order to get elected. It is our hope that this nation will flourish with numerous political parties, each offering and standing by specific positions with which other parties may compromise and form coalitions. Such an ideological mosaic would break down the entrenched polarization of party politics inherent in our current system and would foster the development of an independent and thoughtful electorate.

For our ideological basis, we choose the tradition of Christian democracy, a political movement that was founded in Europe in the late-19th century. Christian democracy is informed by the Christian worldview as well as a commitment to cultural pluralism, envisioning a society in which all religious convictions and secular world views are able to coexist. One of this theory’s major points of departure is an emphasis on the intrinsic worth of every human being, as well as a recognition that every person has the capacity to do both good and bad. It is therefore a rejection both of overly-pessimistic and overly-optimistic views of man, of utopianism, and of material theories of human nature. It affirms that a spiritual element must be acknowledged in order to understand the public life of human beings.

Christian democracy’s conclusions regarding public policy are therefore nuanced and fall neither always on the “right” nor always on the “left”. Its history attests to its earnest effort to transcend such political labels in order to offer a pragmatic application of the traditional Christian worldview to political action. Indeed, it has not shied away from finding parallels with a wide range of political ideologies as diverse as conservatism, liberalism, social democracy, libertarianism, and Green politics. Christian Democracy was conceived on the heels of the Catholic Church’s first major clarification of its social teaching in 1891. Since that time it has been influenced by many great political thinkers, Protestant and Catholic alike, including Reinhold Niebuhr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Abraham Kuyper, G.K. Chesterton, Dorothy Day, Jacques Maritain, and Robert Schuman.

The Christian democratic movement emerged at a crucial time in history, as Western society tried to grapple with its transition into a pluralistic, global, and market-dominated age. In the turbulent modern West, various political philosophies emerged but successively failed to create a just and sustainable society. Laissez-faire capitalism, Marxism, fascism, imperialism — all of these social orders have neglected to uphold the full dignity and worth of the human person. Christian democracy does not believe that any single modern ideology can create a perfect society, but rather that the best solutions to many problems lie in a more traditional understanding of human nature, property ownership, and work. Today, deep and critical questions about man’s place in the world loom as large as ever. Christian democracy has asked them for over a century, and in doing so it has played a major role in European politics ever since. It has, for example, been instrumental in drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in forming the European Union. Sharing its philosophical foundations with Christian democracy is Distributism, a profoundly insightful third-way economic theory for our time. We look forward to a new age for Christian democracy, in which it is able to enrich American political discourse with its understanding of world affairs and the human condition.

Fully appreciative of the ways in which the American tradition differs from European tradition in regards to religion’s relation to government, we know that an American Christian democratic movement must place special emphasis on upholding freedom of conscience and multiculturalism as bedrocks of our society. Whereas Europe’s Christian heritage looms large in the maintenance of its cultural and historical identity, the United States was founded upon the principles of a separation between church and state. We maintain that the federal government has no Constitutional right to grant a privileged position to any particular religious group, nor indeed should it grant such a status to any secular worldview. In either case, such an establishment would be an affront to our nation’s rich tradition of religious liberty.

We strive, as well, for a distinction between personal religious conviction and public policy, as do Christian democratic movements elsewhere. The Norwegian Christian Democratic Party has affirmed this principle on its website:

The Christian Democrats are inspired by the Bible and by Christian tradition, yet it is important to maintain that religion and politics exist on two different levels. Salvation is the goal of Christianity, whereas the goal of politics is to create a good society for all, regardless of religious conviction. The aim of the Christian Democratic ideology is democracy in which diversity and the respect for individuals and their different choices are among the most important values.

The purpose of including the word “Christian” in our name, therefore, is not to be exclusive, but to be specific. The movement intends to be Christian in philosophy, but not in identity. That is, we use Christianity as a theoretical basis not in an effort to establish it as a privileged position in our society, but in order to let the voice of the Christian tradition be heard in contemporary political discourse. We would like to draw inspiration from the tradition of a specific time, place, and worldview (as well as from other sources), but we also heartily welcome the participation and ideas of individuals and organizations that do not identify themselves with Christianity. This blog is a space for anyone to propose policies or to give their feedback on policy proposals. While the tradition of Christian democracy will be used as a reference point throughout this process, all are encouraged to participate regardless of religious affiliation.

On this blog, we are going to refine policy agendas through a process of posting and receiving comments from others. Discussion will center around Christian democratic theory, along with that of the Christian tradition at large and of other spiritual, economic, or political movements. Posts and comments should be mindful of the complexities of applying these theories to the issues we face in the United States today. We would be thrilled for you to share your thoughts with us: our effort to transcend the moods and prejudices inherent in contemporary politics obliges us to remain absolutely open to any insights you have to offer. If there are points expressed on the blog to which you would like to express clarifications or disagreements, please do not hesitate! We want your voice to be heard and considered. If you would like to contribute to this blog, please email us at kgmauer@wisc.edu.

True to Christian democracy’s principle of subsidiarity, we encourage the introduction of Christian democratic principles on the state and local levels before their introduction on a national stage. Our efforts will therefore be directed accordingly, and a special page on this blog has been created for the purpose of organizing the development of Christian democracy within various states.

We thank you for your interest.

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