We are often confronted with the eternal temptation of Christian churches: riding piggyback on the secular state or political parties in order to achieve its mission. Recently, we have seen scenes of Russian Orthodox priests blessing high-tech weapons of war. There is nothing more unfavourable to the clerical Church than socialism. Working in collaboration with a right-wing party is tempting, because the party in question finds the Church useful. Is this a good thing, especially if the right-wing political party advocates killing or banishing certain categories of human beings?
It is no new problem, and is presented in different ways in the US than in Europe. The American situation depicts this relationship between neo-conservatives and Zionists with fundamental Protestants. Here in Europe, we have the variations on the theme of Italian Fascism and the various authoritarian regimes of countries like Spain that had differing relationships with the Nazis during the 1933-1945 era. Attitudes vary considerably in France in regard to the Front National of Mrs Marine Le Pen. I have to say she is a temptation in regard to the nullities and scoundrels who represent the other parties in France!
In particular, the right-wing parties are opposed to the old socialist anti-clericalism of the late nineteenth century with personalities like Jean Jaurès and Emile Combes. Perhaps it can be argued that the cause of anti-clericalism is clericalism. When bishops and priests get too big for their boots, they can only expect a backlash from those who have lost the faith, in some cases because of them. In the present day, there is terrible pressure against the clergy because of large numbers of child sex abuse cases. It is often ignored that this phenomenon is probably more widespread in political establishments, business, education, the police and just about every instance that deals with children and vulnerable adults.
Superficially, the Church and right-wing politics may have a lot in common, but the differences do cause friction. In the early twentieth century, Charles Maurras with his Action Française and its integral-nationalist ideas incurred the displeasure of Pope Pius XI in the 1920’s. Maurras’ ideas were more concerned with politics than with religion.
Pius XII is often accused of having been too “close” to the Fascists and Nazis. He rehabilitated Maurras, and the French episcopate sided with Marshal Pétain (who collaborated with the Nazis under the Occupation). In justice to Pius XII, we do know that he was strongly opposed to Hitler and did all he could to save Jewish people from extermination. Much of the “crisis” caused in the French Church after Vatican II was an opposition between an episcopate with politically ambiguous ideas and a rank-and-file clergy that sided with the Résistance, the communists and socialists. This opposition panned out in the 1960’s and produced the famous reaction of May 1968. The current went along with De Gaulle.
The traditionalist reaction in France was opposed to De Gaulle’s policies and sided with what remained of the extreme-right, weakened as it was by the defeat of the Nazis in 1945. Already in 1946, there was a new organisation of young people in France, inspired by ideas from extreme-right army officers in Algeria. When Vatican II seemed to go down the road of socialism, this also reinforced links between nationalists and ultra-Catholics.
The Front National was founded in France by Jean-Marie Le Pen, who was of the anti-Gaullist tendency in the French army serving in Algeria. It prospered in the most dechristianised parts of France rather than among the old Catholic bourgeoisie. Only at the end of the 1970’s did Le Pen begin to appeal to traditionalist and nationalist Catholics.
Supporters of the Front National would not be restricted to the Society of St Pius X founded by Archbishop Lefebvre. When groups of traditionalists rallied to Rome in 1988 as a result of disapproval of the four episcopal consecrations, many took the same political ideas with them. Some, like my old superior at Gricigliano, had never been with the SSPX, but rather with Cardinal Siri in Genoa. He also strongly supports the Front National, or at least he did when I was in his institute. Many of the issues held in common between nationalists and traditionalists are connected with legitimate resistance to the worst excesses of socialism, like the abolition of independent schools, abortion and the erosion of the family.
Marine Le Pen has refined the image of her party to some extent, getting rid of the embarrassing comments from her father affirming that the Holocaust was only a “detail” of the history of World War II. Such statements are usually construed as implying “denial” or an attitude of belittling. The French nationalists maintain the republican secular line (separation of church and state), but apply it in relation to Muslim immigrants rather than the way the old socialists applied it against the Catholic Church. This would be a further motivation to uphold the nation of Christian civilisation in some way.
The temptation is there. The next presidential election in France will be in 2017. Present day prognostics for central and left-wing politics are not bright, and the resentment is felt. Many challenges from outside the country may influence things somewhat. What would life be like under Le Pen’s presidency? We should not exaggerate – there will be no concentration camps or genocide, but there may be an exit from the European Union and crackdowns on immigrations and problems with law and order. How sound will it be in economic terms?
Nationalism is tempting, but we do have to ask the question about whether we are attracted through hatred and intolerance for people outside our direct experience. If we refuse multiculturalism, do we have any culture left ourselves. Many of the jackbooted thugs of the 1930’s and 40’s showed little in the way of culture or love of humanity. We live in a political and spiritual vacuum from all points of view and “colours”. When we arrive at that point, things become very frightening.
A see the rise of Vladimir Putin, and am myself tempted to see him as someone who can save us from ourselves, get rid of all those nasty head-choppers in the Middle East and American oligarchs and self-interested elite. I wonder if he is too good to be true! What can I believe of what I read?
Probably the answer is to continue to go along with the worn-out conservatives and socialists, which are only really two facets of the same thing, whatever that is – and try to live in parallel. The Church has lived in the catacombs before and can do again. We don’t need to be affirmed by worldly power or secular politics, and more that Christ did when he said that his Kingdom was not of this world. Of course, without the money, we have to downscale – we have no choice about it. In the end, the only Christianity with any credibility and worth anything will be what has survived going it alone contra mundum. Of course we run the risk of ending up with an Orwellian dystopia or a Caliphate, but that seems to be life.