The Loyal Opposition: Religious Europeans between Fascism and Christian Theology, 1918–1968

Dr. Simon Unger-Alvi

This project evaluates connections between Christian intellectuals and fascist ideologues in Italy, Germany, Austria, and France. In order to question binary distinctions between "resistance" and "accommodation", my research focuses on opponents and supporters of fascist regimes who came into direct contact with each other. While countless exponents of Christian-conservative milieus shared a common aversion against the anti-Christian elements of fascist and National Socialist ideology, the same intellectuals often thought they discovered a misguided, yet fundamentally healthy religious impulse in political movements that claimed to establish new forms of "community" and cultural "wholeness".
Based on private diaries, exchanges of letters, and newspaper articles, this study researches patterns of religious thought that led Christians to take part in European dictatorships. In particular, it sheds new light on ambivalent biographies of intellectuals who morally criticized fascism, but simultaneously felt compelled by theological arguments to accept criminal regimes. Primarily, the project engages with contemporary discussions of bible passages such as Romans 13 and with debates on the Protestant Doctrine of Two Kingdoms. However, it also analyzes the Christian reception of political books such as Oswald Spengler's The Decline of the West. My work shows that religious discourses were characterized by shared themes and recurring leitmotifs, such as the idea to accept fascism as willed by God and as a European "fate".
A crucial part of this research will be to examine to what extent intellectual patterns of the 1930s and 1940s were perpetuated in the post-war period. Christian democratic parties of the 1950s, for example, often propagated the ideal of a "third way" in order to save European culture from both the communism of the Eastern bloc and the "materialism" of the Anglo-American sphere. In this context, the study highlights the European dimension of reactionary ideas surrounding themes of "occidental" identity in this period. Facing these themes, the challenge is to reconstruct mentalities for which the question of fascism was not of primary political concern. Instead, it must be understood how former supporters of fascist regimes cooperated with former critics in order to find common answers to shared questions of modernity, secularism, and an alleged cultural "decline" in Europe. Ultimately, the project uncovers continuities of religious thought, for which the preservation of the Christian occident always seemed to rank higher than the question of democracy and dictatorship.

Dr. Simon Unger-Alvi
Researcher Contemporary History
+39 06 66049242