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  • Catholic Modern: The Challenge of Totalitarianism and the Remaking of the Church by James Chappel
  • Jan Nelis
Chappel, James – Catholic Modern: The Challenge of Totalitarianism and the Remaking of the Church. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2018. Pp. 342.

Catholic Modern: The Challenge of Totalitarianism and the Remaking of the Church by James Chappel invites the reader to reflect upon Catholic attitudes during the twentieth century, roughly from the 1920s until the 1960s. Contrary to what the title suggests, it is not the Catholic Church and clergy, but mainly the Catholic laity and Catholic intellectuals who are at the core of Chappel's analysis, which, indebted to the most fruitful currents in Anglo-Saxon intellectual history, presents an incisive account of how Catholics became (and not were) modern in the selected time period. Unlike work by such scholars as Roger Griffin, whose take on the relationship between Fascism and modernism in Modernism and [End Page 219] Fascism. The Sense of a Beginning under Mussolini and Hitler (2007) orbited around an in-depth and minutely de- and reconstructive analysis of modernism itself, Chappel adopts a more "integrative" approach, which in a certain sense sees both notions, Catholic and modern, as one, indeed as "Catholic-modern." This has the advantage of clarity, and of a strict focus on the issues at hand, as is reflected in the book's structure, which presents a fluid combination between chronological and thematic readings. Analyzed against the backdrop of European and global political, social, and cultural history, Catholic Modern's subject matter is discussed in a very straightforward manner, with a focus on France, Germany, and Austria. This reader would like to have seen countries such as Spain and above all Italy included, but, that being said, the book's originality and the chosen angle largely make up for its tight geographical coverage.

This book, which in a sense can be considered a product of the increasing interest in the (new) sociology of ideas, uses a wide variety of printed materials, correspondence, et cetera, to determine the ways in which Catholic modernism often "took place" in regional and local contexts rather than in a given national space (p. 8), and how such microsocial contexts were in turn influenced by and affected the national and transnational context. It shows how totalitarianism challenged and consequently "forged" Catholic modernism through confrontation rather than through infiltration. Indeed, the two main forms of Catholic modernism were antifascist and anti-Communist (p. 13), even if the anti was clearly much more emphatic in the case of Communism than in that of Fascism, and even if anti-Communist often effectively seemed to imply pro-fascist (p. 59). However, by focusing on modernism, the question of the degree of consensus between Catholicism (the Catholic church) and the various fascist varieties of totalitarianism is largely left aside because of lesser relevance in this particular context. In addition, Catholic modernism was a current in European Catholicism, but it is not representative of all of Catholicism. Catholic modernism is further divided into two varieties: (dominant and largely anti-Communist) "paternal" (chapter 2) and (marginal and largely antifascist) "fraternal" (chapter 3) Catholic modernism.

The book continues with a focus on Christian Democracy, which bore the heritage from the immediate past and integrated both currents in an intellectual and ideological space in which consumerism would soon make its flamboyant entry. Translated into the image of the "consuming family," the ideological presuppositions that guided Catholic intellectual thought in the 1930s were reproduced with slight adaptations; as a consequence, whereas the Catholic ethical agenda underwent no significant changes, Catholic thought on social and welfare policies, at the service of happy family life, soared and contributed to the survival, and often revival, of Catholic social and political power, partly also thanks to the absence, during the immediate postwar period, of organized states (p. 147). Thus, the period of what is generally being termed "Catholic triumphalism" under Pius XII could start. Catholics presented themselves, for electoral and other reasons, as bearers of the heritage of heroic resistance, whose central concern was the care for social policies. [End Page 220]

This situation continued and policies and thought were refined throughout the...


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