Christian Democracy and the Political Foundations of Social Solidarity

Friday, July 14, 2017
JWS - Room J10 (J355) (University of Glasgow)
Dennie Oude Nijhuis , History, Leiden University
This paper provides an alternative explanation for the importance of Christian democracy for the postwar expansion of the welfare state. While it agrees with previous studies on the importance of partisan competition, it argues that strong electoral competition weakens the commitment of Christian democratic parties to introducing and upholding equitable and generous welfare programs. The paper emphasizes that generous and inclusive welfare states require strong levels of risk and income redistribution that often benefit a relatively small group of voters at the expense of a majority of the electorate. Based on an analysis of Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands, it argues that the absence of strong competition over middle class votes greatly facilitated the postwar expansion of the welfare state in these countries. As electoral competition intensified, it became more difficult to impose solidaristic welfare arrangements. The paper challenges existing theoretical approaches to the welfare state, which tend to view solidarity as an expression of common group interest and consequently explain successful welfare initiatives to these groups’ ability to mobilize or otherwise exert political influence, whether these are wage earners, self-employed persons or even firms.