Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Italian Social Catholics

Italian politics is in the news again, this time over the Italian parliament’s confidence vote in favor of the embattled Silvio Berlusconi and the accompanying protests. Italian politics is often the subject of ridicule by Italians themselves and by people outside the country. From lecherous and greedy politicians to shadowy connections with the criminal world, Italy is often portrayed as a nation with one foot in modernity and the other in a culture that is still beset by old woes. However, there was a time when Italy produced an energetic and important strain of Catholic social thought, combining the traditional religiosity of the country with a concern for the problems posed by modernity. Not satisfied with the idea that Christianity could just lock itself away from the problems of the modern world, the Italian Social Catholics were instrumental in developing ideas that helped to influence the post-war settlement in Italy through their involvement with the powerful Christian Democratic Party.

Arguably the most famous Social Catholics of the post-war period where the “Little Professors,” centered on Giuseppe Dossetti and including Amintore Fanfani, Giorgio La Pira, and Giuseppe Lazzati. Other politicians, such as Aldo Moro, could also be included within the Christian Democratic “Left.” While there were important differences between these men, in general they shared a commitment to Christian thought as a potent antidote to atheist Marxism as well as to the injustices of capitalism that often led people to embrace anti-Christian ideologies.

While they arguably failed to achieve the just Christian society they sought to create, the Italian Social Catholics are important because they understood that if religion was simply reduced to a personal eccentricity as opposed to an active force in the world there would be little hope of it succeeding in a modern world increasingly dominated by materialist ideologies. With the end of the Cold War and the ascendancy of neoliberalism, the message of the Italian Social Catholics is as important as ever. Over time, I will try my best to write about the various Italian Social Catholics, their strengths and weaknesses, successes and failures, and what they can teach us today.


  1. 'the message of the Italian Social Catholics is as important as ever.'

    Entirely agree, and look forward to reading your posts on the subject.

    Interestingly in Scotland, the Roman Catholic Church was strongly connected to the post-war Labour Party. Now the leader seems to incline towards the SNP. I suppose it's the result of the cultural left seeping into New Labour. Still, be curious to see if the Catholic Church regains some of its strength in Scotland (where it's actually the largest denomination).

  2. Hi Gregor,

    That is interesting about Scotland. I believe something similar may have happened in the United States. Roman Catholics used to be one of the main pillars of the New Deal Coalition but now many Catholics vote Republican. The movement of the Democratic Party towards social liberalism, especially on abortion, has helped lose them many Catholic votes.

  3. I agree with Gregor, and identify myself with a Celtic Catholic Labourism which, unfortunately, has no real place in British politics anymore. As in Tip O'Neill's America, it was a politics based on the doorstep, and on the real concerns of real people for justice and bread and security. It wasn't hostile to pople doing well, and was conservative in its social values, but it was a product of communities of persons; it is hard to beieve in anyone from that tradition actively believing in abstract social forces or idealised individuals or economic dogma when real people's jobs and businesses were at stake.

    One of the most tedious and predictable things about the modern left is their furious desire to hate catholicism and the western tradition whilst drivelling on a bout abortion and defining people by their sexual identity. It really saddens me, but any trip to, say, or the Guardian (now with added and ubiquitous antisemitism) would tend to conirm that. The right are as bad, as I discovered over the 'mosque' issue in New York.

    What we need is a sensible, social justice, plural and personalist community of people who have friends and family in the real world to face peak oil, stagflation, and the bankster-ridden ruins of the credit bubble and rebuild. That's where I think that the Italian tradition you refer to, and henry George, and people like John Medaile, can teach us much....

  4. By the way, I apologise for the vagueries of my ancient keyboard in that last comment. At least it was not submitted in green ink....

  5. Hi Mr. Meenagh,

    No problem. Yes, it is unfortunate that there is not much of a grassroots populism today, at least not when compared to other periods of history. I agree that today's Left is very out of touch with everyday working people, especially on cultural issues. In addition to Salon and the Guardian, another example of this would be Alternet sometimes has very good articles about corporate misdeeds and other topics, but they also mix this good investigative journalism with bizarre pieces defending prostitution as a road to empowering women and other such things that I am sure many working people would find offensive.