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Carolyn M. Warner, "Christian Democracy in Italy: An alternative path to religious party moderation," Party Politics, 19 (March 2013), 256-276. [Available at ]

First paragraph:
How did a political party that was stridently anti-Communist, that was pro-Catholic church, and a refuge for post-war conservatives come to be known as a moderate centre-right party? How did it retain the votes of practising Catholics while distancing itself from the Catholic Church? How did this religious party become moderate? The party in question is Democrazia Cristiana (DC), Italy's post-war Christian Democratic party. The fate of its predecessor, the Partito Popolare Italiano, and the DC's long dominance of Italian politics may provide some insights into the party moderation thesis. As Schwedler points out (2011), there are various angles to this thesis, some emphasizing moderation of process (party rejection of violence to attain its ends), some emphasizing moderation of ideology (party rejection of extremist positions). The main question of both strands of the literature is how do religious parties become moderate? Much of the literature has focused on whether, how and why party participation in democratic system processes leads to party moderation. Yet the history of Christian Democracy in many countries suggests that 'external' historic factors may create moderate religious parties; inclusion in a democratic system is not necessary for moderation. Instead, for such parties, their initial concern in the democratic system may be to prevent the emergence of rival, radicalized faith-based splinter parties or wholesale collapse of the democratic system.

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Operating in the context of democratic institutions that they have had a hand in shaping, at times Christian Democratic parties in various countries have set aside obtaining religious goals in order to form or be included in governing coalitions, participate in legislative quid-pro-quos and adjust to constituencies which become less religiously observant than they were when the parties were established. For the DC, strategic context and choices, the management of the relationship with the dominant organized religion, and use of patronage all were important to its establishment. The party used the support of the Catholic Church, its ancillary organizations and Catholic voters to win the dominant position in government shortly after World War II. Other possible Catholic parties were rapidly eliminated as politicians and voters converged on the governing party. During the Cold War, the DC retained the votes of devout Catholics, and could count on the Church's endorsement at every election, given the lack of viable alternatives to the DC (Pasquino, 2003; Pasquino and McCarthy, 1993). The DC's access to the spoils of office, its evoking the Communist threat, and its monopoly of the Catholic vote, enabled it to shelve the essence of its Christian Democratic message and instead create a polity in which the party and its coalition partners immoderately plundered the state.

Last updated March 2013