Christian Democracy vs Clerico-Fascism

by Elias Blum

I’m glad that more an more people are starting to reject and oppose neo-liberalism. The ideology of free market fundamentalism that has dominated public discourse and public policy across the West for the last few decades has turned out to be great for the very rich, not so great for the middle, and disastrous for the poor and the environment. Some critics are even coming to see neo-liberalism not only as an economic system that fails to provide for ethically just outcomes, but also for its failure as philosophy which at its root dehumanises us into mere self-interested, utility-maximising economic abstractions.

Neo-liberalism ignores many things that have an importance place in securing the common good and in promoting human flourishing, cannot quantify or commodify them: public duty, civic spirit, honour, tradition, family and faith.

But my fear is that some of the critics of neo-liberalism target their ire too broadly. The popular outrage at neo-liberalism is in danger of turning into an outrage against liberalism itself, giving rise to reactionary, neo-fascist and anti-democratic movements.

The intellectual reaction is also worrying. Under the name of ‘post-liberalism’, a group of influential academics – with ties to the Conservative party and also to certain sections of the Labour party – have turned against liberalism as a whole. They object not only to the neo-liberalism of the last few decades, but to the constitutional liberalism of the last half millennium.

Many of the ideas that are described as ‘post-liberal’, in their ‘Red Tory’ or ‘Blue Labour’ guises (I cannot see the difference, except for the label and perhaps a shade of emphasis) are drawn from Christian Democratic thought – which, like civic republicanism, the other emerging challenger of philosophical liberalism, has Aristotelian roots.

I’m very sympathetic to Christian Democracy. It has a better, more sustained, more powerful and convincing ethical and economic critique of neo-liberalism than the secular left has ever come up with. But there’s a big difference between Christian Democracy and Clerico-Fascism. That difference is that Christian Democrats support other elements of liberalism – liberalism in the sense of an open society, separation of church and state, social and political pluralism, a democratic system of government with guaranteed rights, a written constitution, and a system of checks and balances. These elements of the liberal tradition are good. They should be honoured, cherished, nurtured and protected. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath-water.

Clerico-Fascists do not believe in any of that. They reject the liberating power of the reformation and of the liberal revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries. They have no time for human rights or genuinely constitutional government in a democratic guise. Essentially reactionary and dripping with the flummery of monarchism, they want to turn the clock back to an imagined romantic medieval fantasy land, with happy serfs mumbling mass under the rule of paternalistic lords and benign abbots. We don’t need that.