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Friedrich Naumann, "What Does Christian-Social Mean?" (1894)

Friedrich Naumann (1860-1919) was a Protestant theologian and politician who sought to reconcile Christian values and an industrial economy with liberal democracy. He fought the forces of political conservatism, represented most famously in the theology of the anti-Semite Adolf Stöcker. Naumann synthesized his own blend of liberal and Christian values. He sympathized with unions and workers’ movements, seeking to integrate the social concerns of the lower classes into politics, and he argued for the abolition of the Prussian electoral law, which maintained voting privileges based on wealth. He went on to help form the Fortschrittliche Partei [Progressive Party] in 1910 and the Deutsche Demokratische Partei [German Democratic Party] in 1918, two of the leading liberal parties.

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The religious is, needless to say, only one aspect of Christian-social. The economic aspect must be in harmony with it. How do we arrive at a Christian-social conception of the economy? [ . . . ] The first approach recommended to us follows – that we should we assume a conservative stance, generally speaking, and then make some concessions in the direction of Social Democracy, that we should accept what is "legitimate." But what is legitimate about Social Democracy remains entirely unclear in this approach. The following objection, however, is important: the conservative program contains not a single sentence for employees, dependents, clerks, wage-workers, and day-laborers. It is a program for gentlemen. In the midst of this socially unsettled time, the suffering masses are not remembered with a single syllable on the great day at Tivoli. A party that thinks so little about the jobless, about those who labor and are laden down, cannot remain the only starting point for work among the people in the spirit of Jesus. This is also unchanged by the fact that one generally finds the most understanding for the church among conservatives. It is not “churchliness” we thirst for, but “brotherliness.” And because the time when Christian-social branches grew on the conservative tree seems to have passed, never to return, it makes sense to want to develop the economic program freely, that is to say, out of certain general moral principles. One takes the terms "brotherliness," "justice," "worth of the individual," "kingdom of God," "property," "family," and "work," clarifies them, defines them, and finally derives from them a conclusion that is as tangible as possible. This method should not be simply dismissed as useless speculation. This kind of mental work is the necessary accompaniment to our progress. For the Christian-socials, the science of ethics must be a treasure house of ideas, but one must not fall into the trap of an unhistorical era and seek to construct everything in heaven and on earth through logic and ethics. If we did that, we would merely replace the abstract system of Social Democracy with another similar intellectual edifice, and since the starting point would be an idealistic one, it would probably be an edifice with even less tangible content than the materialist construction. Our task is precisely to move out of socialist abstraction, under the guidance of Christian ethics, and to reach the ground of reality. In this spirit, I say in the first section: we must advance economic thinking precisely at those points where Social Democracy ends. We must adopt from the latter the question: What is being done for the lowest stratum of the people? On every issue, we must grapple internally with Social Democracy, in order to grow out of it, just like Social Democracy grew out of economic liberalism. These words already indicate that we cannot have a finished program today. If we did, we would not constitute a direction for the future, but at best only one for today.

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