Friday, August 10, 2007

Religious Contradance: Everybody swing to the right?

During a rather blasé search for new material concerning German history on the blogosphere, I came upon an unusual new blog: one written by Ludwig Windthorst, one of the founders of the Zentrum and a towering figure in Catholic democracy, called Der Vasall!

I doubt that it is the historical Windthorst, or even a coincidental appellation, but the blog takes on an interesting subject: the theological basis for monarchy in Catholicism. Well, it's more of a Catholic perspective on politics, an interesting "thought experiment", but apparently German bloggers seem to pine for monarchy with some frequency (if the links are any indication).

Anyway, blogger Windthorst raises an interesting question: is monarchy a "right" form of state? is it necessarily conservative? On the surface, his claim that it could be both holds water. The alliance of European kings and queens with more conservative parties, especially nationalist parties, is inseparable from historical development. Who would join the radicals who called into question the legitimacy of monarchy? Even talk of "nation" from the right could be uncomfortable for the monarch trying to fit into the modern world.

This leads to another question: how did religion, particularly Catholicism, affect the political orientation of monarchy? Was there a swing to the right?

The question only makes sense, of course, in terms of modern partisan politics in an era of popular participation. Party platforms articulated the relationship between head of state, legislature, and administration. Religious voters, who reluctantly came into the system, tended to see the monarch as a guarantor of religion in public life. On paper, it would seem that religious voters would carry the monarch with them.

However, it was never so neat. In France, Bourbonists and Catholics seemed to make common cause against godless republic. Germany was a more complicated story. Protestants seemed strongly to support the Hohenzollern dynasty, but Catholics and Jews were a different story. In the wake of anticlerical repression, German Catholics demanded rights of self-governance even as they trumpeted the principle of monarchy. On the other hand, German Jews seemed to tolerate the Protestant aura of German culture while asking for the deconfessionalization of public life.

Religious voters were, however, only one aspect of the Church. Clergy also affected political life (even though they claimed neutrality). Yet still, there is ambiguity. Missionaries on the frontier of Spanish America generally restrained Spaniards from overtly abusing and exploiting native subjects, especially converts (even as they profited from them). In early 20th-century Africa, missions were safe havens from the plantation economy and a place from which Africans could reconstruct their lives. More importantly, the Rhenish Mission in South-West Africa protected natives from the physical manifestations of aggressive, nationalistic rhetoric. In many nations, clergy encouraged the state to undertake more social programs, both as a reflection of religious conscience and to dampen the growth of socialism. Leo XIII's Rerum Novarum attempts to balance the two impulses of the Church, supporting patriarchy (by extension, monarchy) and the cultivation of social services.

Assessing the effects of the Church is difficult because after the Reformation, the Church cannot be isolated. In general, religion became more reliant on the state. Efforts to restore the universal church and promote the authority of the Papacy succeeded only ideologically.
Doctrines, such as Papal Infallibility, negatively effected religious voters of many nations, forcing clergy and voters alike to qualify their intent and reach into public life.

The Septennat Crisis in Germany provides an important example of the relationship between Catholicism and the state. In its platforms, the Zentrum consistently argued for the restraint of the military budget. Their opposition to military spending further cast Catholics into the category of "enemies of the state." In the 1880s, Bismarck concluded a treaty with the Papacy which included issues related to the military budget. Accordingly, the Pope instructed the deputies of the Zentrum to approve the Septennat. Rather than falling in line, the deputies refused, and the historical Windthorst declared that the party was not an organ of the Church. Twenty years later Catholic politicians would not hesitate to vote for more military spending, but the crisis marked the divergence of the Catholic public in Germany and Rome. If one of them asserted more influence on the Hohenzollern monarchy, it was the former.

Catholicism could push monarchy in either direction. But, if the Church encourages the monarchy to move to the left, it is usually only on two grounds: first, caring for the needs of the people and second, supporting the rights of individuals and minorities (subject to qualification). Social programs were among the most important areas of state growth in the twentieth century and must be taken seriously as evidence of a liberal redirection of monarchy. What we could not expect is that Catholicism would encourage monarchs radically to reconstruct the state and authority.

Crossposted at Cliopatria


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