Democratic Corporatism in Western European Catholicism

Catholicism, industry and the social question: The picture shows a crowd gathering in front of a Bochum steel plant in West Germany to celebrate Catholic Day on September 4, 1949.

A concept of economic and social order – and its transitions from the interwar period to the 1950s

My postdoctoral project focuses on the origins of democratic corporatism in western Europe between the 1930s and 1950s. After 1945, Christian Democracy and Social Democracy shaped state building and market economies in major parts of western Europe. In Christian Social circles especially, politicians, employers, trade unionists, political scientists and economists called for employers’ and employees’ associations (“corporations”) to be increasingly involved in the state legislative process. In this manner, the class struggle should be addressed in a peaceful way. This integration process through democratic corporatism should not lead to coercive associations as in authoritarian states.

There are two faces of corporatism – one authoritarian and one democratic. Yet as scholarship has focused almost exclusively on the former and has largely ignored the latter, we are still struggling to understand the mid-20th century transformation of Catholic Europe towards liberal democracy. Who “democratized” corporatism? In which countries was democratic corporatism promoted as particularly worthy of support? This is where my project sets in: In the interwar period, political publicists advanced the concept of corporatism, which had already been developed in the 19th century.

For further information, see also my website at the Oxford Center for European History and my article on the “Rerum Novarum” terrace restaurant at the 1935 World’s Fair in Brussels.

Excerpt from a 1939 essay by the French Christian Social trade unionist Louis Terrenoire (1908–1992).

He joined the Resistance in 1940. After 1945, he was an influential European politician and pursued under de Gaulle the idea of democratic corporatism.

Terrenoire’s example stands for the liberation of western Europe – but also for the highly managed democracy of “men in suits” in the postwar period.

Other projects

Spaces of Memory

The publication series “Spaces of Memory” aims to provide an innovative platform for trans-disciplinary research in the field of memory studies. It focuses on the construction and mediation of narratives, discourses and images of memory in the public sphere, in literature, art, the media, educational institutions, both in present and past societies. My contribution is dedicated to the appropriation of modern church architecture and economic corporatism from young Catholics’ perspective in the interwar years and after 1945. The anthology edited by Prof. Dr. Franziska Metzger and Prof. em. Dr. Dimiter Daphinoff will be published by Böhlau in 2025.

Rotary Club

Book chapter on the 100th anniversary of the Rotary Club Zurich, together with Prof. em. Dr. Georg Kohler, Dr. Niklaus Peter, Prof. Dr. Claudia Franziska Brühwiler and Prof. em. Dr. Carl-Hans Hauptmeyer

Muri Abbey 1027–2027

Research in the archives of the Muri-Gries monastery in South Tyrol together with Prof. Dr. David Neuhold

Handbook article on the constitutional history of Switzerland 1870–1914

Together with Prof. Dr. Andreas Kley