The absorption of social democracy in Europe has made its continued existence as an organized movement superfluous. As recent elections have shown, the demand for political ideas and representation appears on the center-right of the political spectrum among Christians, conservatives, and supporters of free markets.
For three generations, European politics has generally been dominated by two rival orientations: Christian, conservative and center-right people’s parties on one side, and social democrats on the other. In certain countries such as France and Italy, communist parties were a third force in the 1950s and 1960s, then faded away in the 1970s and 1980s.
By tradition, the Christian and conservative groups included a social agenda in their programs. This was never an exclusive domain of the social democrats.
Franz Josef Strauss, the longtime leader of the Christian Social Union (CSU) – the Bavarian leg of Germany’s Christian Democratic coalition, the CDU/CSU – was careful to pursue policies that left no room for parties to the right of the Christian Democrats. Unfortunately, this wisdom was ignored by center-right leaders in recent decades. To widen their support, many Christian Democratic and People’s parties in Europe shifted to the left, becoming in fact (if not in name) social democrats. This left a vacuum not only on the right, but also for Christians, conservatives and economic interests. New parties were needed, as these views had not disappeared.
The social democrats are in a tough situation. In their present form, they are not needed any more. The main purpose of their existence was to defend the working class. This aim has been fulfilled, as the working and employed population has now largely joined the middle class – the new bourgeoisie. Yet social democratic parties have ignored this success, instead opting to punish their natural supporters through bureaucracy and high taxes, which hurt business, kill jobs, and stunt budget revenue. The irony is that Europe’s so-called center-right, having shifted to the left, is following the same disastrous path.
Europe’s traditional left and its so-called center-right have both become social democratic movements.
What we are left with is two social democratic movements: the traditional social democrats, who have achieved their historical aims and thus become redundant; and the so-called center-right (composed of Christian Democrats and people’s parties), which has jettisoned its Christian, conservative, patriotic and economic legacy for electoral and populist expediency. Each of these movements promotes an excessive welfare state, a policy that works to the long-term detriment of economy and society, and in consequence of working people.
For all practical purposes, it is time to say goodbye to Social Democracy and congratulate them. Their goal of lifting the working population to prosperity has been achieved, thanks to a combination of market economies, entrepreneurship, and social measures. But what to do about the vacuum on the center-right? How to regain the plurality of opinion so necessary for a sustainable democracy?
Plurality does not require ideology. There are enough issues in political life to fuel debate. Christian and conservative values embody the core interests of Europe’s people. Intelligent conservatism means preserving the good but being open to improvement. Christianity stands for humanity, but also for tolerance and the rule of law. These principles have a future.
However, we should remain open to movements challenging established parties. In society and in nature, change and disruption are among the few lasting principles. Other constants that do not change are individual behavior and certain basic human rights, such as freedom of choice. These are principles that today’s socialist and overly bureaucratic systems tend to ignore.
Christian Democratic and people’s parties have an important role to play in Europe, on the condition that they abandon their old-fashioned, hypocritical and unnecessary bias toward Social Democracy – no matter how expedient that may be.
The 2019 European elections should be a wake-up call to the continent’s politicians to get back to the real world.