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Reviewed by:
  • Culture War: Secular-Catholic Conflict in Nineteenth-Century Europe
  • Roger Chickering
Culture War: Secular-Catholic Conflict in Nineteenth-Century Europe. Edited by Christopher Clark and Wolfram Kaiser.(New York: Cambridge University Press. 2003. Pp. viii, 368. $70.00.)

In an era when the term is being invoked to characterize everything from international terrorism to the American electorate and campus politics, it might [End Page 335] seem contrived to give the title Culture Wars to a book of essays on confessional strife in late-nineteenth-century Europe. The term itself, however, was first introduced (in the 1980's by the American sociologist James Davidson Hunter), as a (mis) translation of Kulturkampf, the emblematic German instance of the conflicts that provide the subject of this anthology. Several features of the volume make it a valuable addition to the literature. The first is the breadth of its coverage. Its essays span Europe from the United Kingdom to Italy and Hungary. It is broader in geographical, if not chronological scope that Ellen Evans' recent survey, which focused on the politics of confessional tension in continental western and central Europe. The theme of the anthology is also broader than Evans' work. As its title implies, it emphasizes the cultural dimensions of these tensions, which the editors lay out in two introductory essays. Christopher Clark analyzes the militant "New Catholicism,"while Wolfram Kaiser deals with its antipode, the militant European anticlericalism that encompassed moderate liberals, free-thinking progressives, and revolutionary socialists. The editors thus attempt to describe "the relationship between the New Catholicism and its various antagonists" as a transnational phenomenon, the common theme in a European-wide set of "competing programs for the management of rapid political and social change"(p. 13). It is a sign of their success that the other ten authors, whose essays on individual European countries constitute the bulk of the volume, address common elements in disputes that raged during the last decades of the century over civil marriage, charity, the disposition of religious property, and—above all—education. In every land, both parties to the disputes became increasingly versed in the techniques of popular mobilization, especially in the exploitation of the new national media. The essays then explore with particular success the rhetoric, imagery, and rituals that were popularized in the polemics—the Belgian "frère quêteur," the Spanish Good Friday banquet, the Masonic "Synagogue of Satan."

This is no introductory survey. The authors are a distinguished group of scholars, who attend to the rich variety of these culture wars in lands whose confessional history they know well. The cultural tensions were extraordinarily complex amid the political and social flux of the late nineteenth century. They were complicated by questions of gender and generations, uneven regional development, and differences of national political culture. With the exception of the United Kingdom, where they shared the role with Anglicans, Catholics everywhere made up the clerical party, but their antagonists were more often secularists than Protestants. In Italy and other Catholic lands, the tensions extended into the Church itself. In Austria, particularly in the Tirol, they were complicated by ethnic struggles, while anti-Semitism figured prominently in most countries. Perhaps the most complicated case was the Swiss, which Heide Bossard-Borner ably analyzes. Here the dynamics of the antagonism varied from canton to canton. Given the "cellular character" of this country, it is hard, she writes, "to write a coherent account of the place"(p. 281). Readers who do not have a firm grasp of the national histories will find it hard to make sense of the abundant detail offered in the other essays as well. Still, [End Page 336] for students of European Catholicism and confessional history, this volume is welcome indeed.

Roger Chickering
Georgetown University


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