As a generalization, it can be said that Christian democratic parties in Europe tend to be moderately conservative, and in several cases form the main conservative party in their respective countries (e.g. in Germany, Spain, Belgium, and Switzerland: Christian Democratic People's Party of Switzerland (CVP), Christian Social Party (CSP), Evangelical People's Party of Switzerland (EVP), and Federal Democratic Union of Switzerland (EDU)). In Latin America, by contrast, Christian democratic parties tend to be left-leaning and to some degree influenced by liberation theology. These generalizations, however, must be nuanced by the consideration that Christian democracy does not fit precisely into the usual categories of political thought, but rather includes elements common to several other political ideologies, including conservatism, liberalism, and social democracy.
Initially, many Catholic political movements in the 19th century had opposed capitalism and socialism equally as both were seen as based on materialism and social conflict. They instead preferred the ideal of self-sufficient peasants and the guild-organized craftsmen that many Catholic encyclicals advocated. However, by 1914 many of these movements had later reconciled themselves to capitalism as the prevailing economic system while at the same time helping to organize Catholic workers and peasants within that system, as socialism came to be seen as the greater threat.
Consequently, this has led to the social market economy, which has been widely influential across much of continental Europe. The social market is a largely free market economy based on a free price system and private property, but is supportive of government activity to promote competitive markets with a comprehensive social welfare system and effective public services to address social inequalities that result from free market outcomes. The market is seen not so much an end in itself but as a means of generating wealth in order to achieve broader social goals and to maintain societal cohesion. This particular model of capitalism, which is sometimes called Rhine–Alpine capitalism or social capitalism, is contrasted to Anglo-American capitalism or enterprise capitalism. Whereas the former stresses partnership and cooperation, the latter is based on the unrestricted workings of market economics and as a consequence there is a willingness on the part of Christian democratic parties to practice Keynesian and welfarist policies.
In recent decades, however, some right-leaning Christian democratic parties in Europe have adopted policies consistent with an economically liberal point of view but still supporting a regulated economy with a welfare state, while by contrast other Christian democrats at times seem to hold views similar to Christian socialism, or the economic system of distributism. The promotion of the Christian Democratic concepts of sphere sovereignty and subsidiarity led to the creation of corporatist welfare states throughout the world that continue to exist to this day.[nb 4] In keeping with the Christian Democratic concepts of the cultural mandate and the preferential option for the poor, Christian justice is viewed as demanding that the welfare of all people, especially the poor and vulnerable, must be protected because every human being has dignity, being made in the image of God. In many countries, Christian Democrats organized labor unions that competed with Communist and social democratic unions, in contrast to conservativism's stance against worker organizations. Standing in solidarity with these labor unions, In Belgium for example, Christian Democrats have lobbied for Sunday blue laws that guarantee workers, as well as civil servants, a day of rest in line with historic Christian Sabbath principles.
Christian democrats are usually socially conservative and generally have a relatively skeptical stance towards abortion and same-sex marriage, although some Christian democratic parties have accepted the limited legalization of both. Christian Democrats have also supported the prohibition of drugs.[nb 5] Christian democratic parties are often likely to assert the Christian heritage of their country, and to affirm explicitly Christian ethics, rather than adopting a more liberal or secular stance;[nb 6] at the same time, Christian Democratic parties enshrine confessional liberty. Christian Democracy fosters an "ecumenical unity achieved on the religious level against the atheism of the government in the Communist countries."[nb 7]
Traditional moral values (on marriage, abortion, prohibition of drugs etc.), opposition to secularization, opposition to state atheism, a view of the evolutionary (as opposed to revolutionary) development of society, an emphasis on law and order, and a rejection of communism. Christian democrats are open to change (for example, in the structure of society) and not necessarily supportive of the social status quo, have an emphasis on human rights and individual initiative. A rejection of secularism, and an emphasis on the fact that the individual is part of a community and has duties towards it. An emphasis on the community, social justice and solidarity, support for a welfare state, labor unions and support for regulation of market forces. Most European Christian Democrats reject the concept of class struggle (although less so in some Latin American countries, which have been influenced by liberation theology), opposing both excessive State institutions and unregulated capitalism in favor of robust non-governmental, non-profit, intermediary institutions to deliver social services and social insurance.
Geoffrey K. Roberts and Patricia Hogwood have noted that "Christian democracy has incorporated many of the views held by liberals, conservatives and socialists within a wider framework of moral and Christian principles."
Christian Democrats hold that the various sectors of society (such as education, family, economy and state) have autonomy and responsibility over their own sphere, a concept known as sphere sovereignty. One sphere ought not to dictate the obligations of another social entity; for example, the sphere of the state is not permitted to interfere with the raising of children, a role that belongs to sphere of the family. Within the sphere of government, Christian Democrats maintain that civil issues should first be addressed at the lowest level of government before being examined at a higher level, a doctrine known as subsidiarity. These concepts of sphere sovereignty and subsidiarity are considered to be cornerstones of Christian Democracy political ideology.
As advocates of environmentalism, Christian democrats support the principle of stewardship, which upholds the idea that humans should safeguard the planet for future generations of life.