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  • Cited by 1
  • Print publication year: 2006
  • Online publication date: March 2008

9 - The Christian churches and politics in Europe, 1914–1939



Any survey of the power and influence of the Christian churches in Europe undertaken in the summer of 1939 would have been largely pessimistic. Be it in the few remaining parliamentary regimes of Europe or the heterogeneous and increasing number of authoritarian, quasi-authoritarian or simply dictatorial regimes that were becoming the new European norm, the influence of the Christian churches, political parties and values appeared to have receded considerably over the twenty-five years since the outbreak of the First World War. Socialism, still rooted in much of Europe in the anti-clerical culture of its nineteenth-century origins, had become a major electoral force and an intermittent party of government in many states. In addition, its fission after the First World War had given rise to a militantly atheist communism which, despite its repeated failure to extend its power in Europe beyond the frontiers of the Soviet Union, had established itself by the 1930s as a durable and, in some areas, important presence in European politics. Undoubtedly the most dramatic trend, however, was the emergence of forms of right-wing politics separate from or even emphatically hostile to Christian ideas. Though elements of this ‘dechristianisation’ of the political right had been evident since at least themiddle decades of the nineteenth century, it acquired emphatic importance after the First World War. Italian Fascism and German-Austrian Nazism were dissimilar and profoundly unstable amalgams of diverse ideological influences, within which Christian ideas, both Catholic and (in the case of Germany) Protestant in origin, had a significant presence.