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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.

This talk is part of the World History Workshop series.

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