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  • Konfession, Nation und Rom. Metamorphosen im schweizerischen und europäischen Katholizismus des 19. und 20. Jahrhunderts
  • Emiel Lamberts
Konfession, Nation und Rom. Metamorphosen im schweizerischen und europäischen Katholizismus des 19. und 20. Jahrhunderts. By Urs Altermatt. (Frauenfeld: Verlag Huber, an imprint of Orell Füssli Verlag, Zurich. 2009. Pp. 442. €39,90. ISBN 978-3-719-31457-6.)

The well-known Swiss historian Urs Altermatt, emeritus professor of the University of Fribourg, has published an impressive study on the relation between Catholicism and the nation-state in Switzerland. He mainly focuses on the cultural discourse about the religious and national identity of Swiss Catholics in connection with the process of their political emancipation. [End Page 831]

After the defeat of the Catholic cantons in the Sonderbundskrieg and the formation of a federal Bundesstaat in 1848, Catholics stood outside the Swiss nation, which in fact was constructed by Protestant and liberal elites. Catholics were branded as enemies of the fatherland, and they withdrew into their own subculture. Slowly, they regained ground in the political institutions of their Stammländer, but on the federal level they were confronted with a national government that was monopolized by Protestants and radical Liberals. In those difficult circumstances, they strove for the greatest possible autonomy of their Church and for a policy of decentralization. As was the case in other countries, international ties with the papacy strengthened the cohesion among Catholics in the Pianische Epoche. A number of very interesting pages in the book are devoted to this aspect.

As in Germany, anti-Catholicism culminated in the 1870s in a virulent Kulturkampf. This culture war forced Catholics onto the defensive, but at the same time it increased their strength. Social mutations and the starting process of democratization further extended their political influence. Anticlerical Liberals subsequently saw themselves compelled to abandon their politics of exclusion. In 1887 the Katholisch-Konservativen acquired the status of a recognized opposition, and in 1891 they obtained, for the first time, a representative in the federal government. Consequently, Catholics gradually accepted the 1848 constitutional framework and associated themselves more and more with the nation. Their slow march out of cultural exile began after 1900. Changes in the electoral system (the introduction of proportional representation in 1919) reinforced even more their political power, and, in 1948, during the celebration of the centenary of the modern Bundesstaat, they manifested themselves as unconditionally loyal Swiss citizens.

Their successful integration into Swiss society weakened the cohesion among Catholics. Different other factors, such as an increasing secularization and growing individualism, caused the religious-cultural factor to become less important to their sense of identity. The secular culture of the nation state showed itself stronger than religion, which was slowly reduced to its ethical dimension. The assimilation with the dominant cultural pattern amounted to a kind of "Protestantization" of Swiss Catholicism. Analogously, bonds with the papacy gradually weakened as a binding element in the Catholic community. This is explained in detail in a very interesting and clarifying chapter (pp. 227-59).

The changing relationship between Swiss Catholicism and the papacy constitutes the most important European dimension in Altermatt's book, together with a short account of "religion and nation in Europe" (pp. 27-54). The rest of the study deals exclusively with Swiss Catholicism and has to be seen as an excellent case study in that area. It offers a solid and well-founded survey of the interrelationship between Catholicism and the nation state in Switzerland. [End Page 832]

Emiel Lamberts
Catholic University of Leuven


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