- The Rise and Fall of Triumph: The History of a Radical Roman Catholic Magazine, 1966–1976 by Mark D. Popowski
In the wake of the Second Vatican Council, Catholicism in North America has followed a trajectory that increasingly mirrors that of Protestantism and Judaism. Protracted contesting over the meaning and implementation of the Council and a weakened authority structure have produced a more fractured and polarized church. Popowski’s story of Triumph magazine, a lay initiative on the Catholic right that emerged in the wake of the Council, is an illuminating illustration of this dynamic. Triumph sat somewhere between the more radicalized traditionalism of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and his followers on the one hand, and (neo)conservative Catholicism on the other.
As intellectual history, Popowski’s study focuses on the animating religious and political motifs of the magazine’s stalwarts, notably scholars and intellectuals such as Frederick Wilhelmsen, Thomas Molner, John Wisner, Michael Lawrence and others. Central to Triumph’s war-of-ideas enterprise was the magazine’s founder, L. Brent Bozell, an Episcopal convert to Catholicism, Yale graduate, speech writer for Joseph McCarthy, inaugural staff associate editor of National Review, and William F. Buckley, Jr.’s lesser-known brother-in-law.
Popowski’s seven chapters cover the origins of Triumph in the post-World War II conservative intellectual revival, in reaction to the [End Page 74] spread of Catholic liberalism via Vatican II, and in the context of disaffection with American conservatism. Subsequent chapters treat the movement’s thinking on internal church affairs such as liturgy, priests and nuns, along with external issues surrounding politics and economics, racial strife, the Cold War, Vietnam, feminism, contraception, and abortion.
Two bedrock ideological motifs animated Triumph’s decade-long run. One was contra American exceptionalism: Triumph’s editors saw the United States as a degenerate secular liberal state that placed political authority in the hands of the people rather than Christ. The other related to Spanish Carlism, a mostly nineteenth-century Church/monarchy ideology transported to American via Bozell and Wilhelmsen – both of whom had lived in Spain and both of whom, in Carlist fashion, wanted to reconstruct America as a sacral society in which Christ through the moral authority of his church ruled over society. Ironically, as Popowski notes, Bozell was aware that, while Triumph’s criticism of the hierarchy signaled greater lay assertiveness in the church, it also undermined the very authority the movement sought to promote.
Popowski’s generally sympathetic narrative situates Triumph as a Catholic counter-culture initiative confronting an increasingly secularized world. The movement was also a classic manifestation of religious (and political) sectarianism and, more significantly, fundamentalism – in this case a lay-driven expression in contrast to the earlier anti-modernist integralism within the church’s Magisterium. The affinities between Triumph’s efforts and orientations and those of fundamentalist movements include the cultural framework of a crisis of identity and change; a totalistic ideology rife with millenarian motifs; dogmatic and inflexible thinking; confrontational dynamics of a movement that knows its enemies; the use of a militaristic lexicon; the grandiose sense of engaging in a cosmic confrontation of good and evil; and a Manichean world-view that sees the enemy as all alike. With few exceptions (Patricia Bozell, L. Brent’s wife), Triumph was, like most fundamentalist phenomena, a reactive and assertive male project driven by pollution dynamics oriented toward cleansing and purifying both church and state.
Although Popowski’s study is a thorough exposition of Triumph’s ideology, it sheds little light on how this Catholic phenomenon might be situated within the framework of the study of fundamentalism, or that of a theocracy-inclined Protestant phenomenon like Christian Reconstructionism, or the rise of the Religious Right in general. Nevertheless, the book is well-written, accessible to a broad [End Page 75] readership, and essential reading on Catholicism’s tumultuous post-Vatican II years. The shortcomings of not situating Triumph’s story within a more interpretive narrative of religion in the American and...