University of Cambridge > > World History Workshop > The Reception of Christian Democracy in Chile: A Case of "Borrowed Doctrine"?'

The Reception of Christian Democracy in Chile: A Case of "Borrowed Doctrine"?'

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This paper considers the origins of Christian Democracy in Chile from the early 1930s to the victory of the first Christian Democratic president, Eduardo Frei Montalva, in 1964. I argue that, as with other ‘received’ political doctrines in Latin America, Chilean Christian Democracy emerged out of ideas circulating in Europe, but by the early 1960s, had developed into a markedly different movement from its European counterparts. I consider the emergence of social Catholicism from the 1860s onwards, and the papal encyclicals that addressed ‘the social question’ in 1891 and 1931, in the light of their impact on a generation of young Chilean Catholic students between 1927 and 1934. In the later period, I argue that development of late nineteenth century European Catholic social movements from anti-liberal instruments of the church to aconfessional political parties provided a blueprint for Christian Democracy in Chile. The adaptation of Christian Democracy in Chile will be examined with particular reference to social policy; it is argued that both the structuralist school of development and ‘marginality theory’ provided a crucial mechanism for the application of a European doctrine to the Chilean context. The transmission of political ideologies is a recurrent theme in Latin American history; this paper draws on the recent revival of interest in European Christian Democracy, and seeks to widen debate over the origins of one of Chile’s most influential political parties.

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