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Catholicism and Nationalism: Changing Nature of Party Politics

0 Comments 🕔09.Apr 2015

Madalena Meyer Resende’s Catholicism and Nationalism book deals with the role of Catholic political actors on the development and evolution of the Spanish and Polish party systems.  In particular, it focuses on the transformation, or lack thereof, with regards to the center-right and right state nationalisms in both countries. The core factor stressed by the author is the Catholic Church’s political stance during the transition and consolidation of democracy in both countries.

In Spain, according to the author’s narrative, the Church decided to opt out from politics after decades of heavy involvement with the authoritarian regime that cited National-Catholicism as its official ideology. This choice would explain why the religious cleavage in Spain progressively lost importance, and why the center-right camp reunited in a single party that incorporated liberals, Christian democrats, and conservative nationalists in an essentially moderate program that toned down the traditional Spanish nationalism of the right and transformed it into what the author classifies as an “extroverted” nationalism. This paved the road for the right’s embrace of the country’s decentralized institutional architecture and its enthusiastic incorporation of Spain into the European Union (EU).

In contrast, the Catholic Church under the communist regime in Poland was often persecuted. Therefore, during the transition to democracy, the Polish church did not seek detachment from politics but instead pursued active involvement to advance its ultimate interests and ideological goals. This would have lead to a politicization of the traditional National-Catholic ideology and the formation of a conservative, “introverted” nationalist political pole that, alongside a traditional National-Catholic conception of Polishness, fueled an often skeptical attitude towards the European integration, in competition with the extroverted liberals.

The book addresses an important and often overlooked topic—the evolution of state nationalisms in the context of transitions from authoritarianism to democracy. A systematic analysis of the evolution of the right’s understanding of nationalism in Poland and Spain proves very interesting and can offer useful insights for a general understanding of the processes of democratization and reinterpretation of the state nationalism.

The ambition of the book, however, goes beyond the juxtaposition of two narratives concerning the Spanish and Polish cases. It aims to offer an analytical argument to explain opposing outcomes. Poland and Spain are both Catholic countries that have experienced a transition to democracy in the recent decades. The author presents the research design as an example of the ‘Most Similar Systems Design’. However, beyond the book’s outcome of interest there are many other differences between the two in the nature of the regime, the internal diversity or the geopolitical position, so whether these two cases really do constitute a good example of MSSD is indeed questionable.

Apart from the general argument, the book presents a novel conceptual distinction between introverted and extroverted nationalism. The typology, which the author carefully distinguishes from the overused ethnic-civic opposition, does not refer to the internal conception of the nation advanced by a specific nationalism but, rather, to its external relations – how it related to other nations and the sharing of sovereignty both via supranational integration and multinational federalism in polities with multiple nations.

While the idea behind the typology is attractive, it is not clear why we should use the same analytical tools to refer both to the foreign policy stances of state nationalists and their approach towards internal demands of recognition and self-government stemming from sub-state nationalists. In many respects, these are two fundamentally different problems, and analytically it is unclear why an extroverted attitude towards, say, the European integration, should correspond with an open approach towards recognition of internal nationalist demands.

Applying the introverted-extroverted typology to the foreign policy orientation seems indeed easier than using it to conceptualize the nationalist’s approach to the challenges of sub state nationalism. Indeed, it seems that applying the idea of extroverted nationalism to the Spanish right adaptation and to the decentralized institutional structure of the post-francoist Spain constitutes a little bit of a conceptual stretch. An even superficial reading of the Spanish right’s  statements makes it clear that they do not treat the issue of autonomy and political decentralization as a case of external relations with other nations but, rather, a question of the internal structure and institutional organization of the Spanish nation. While generally accurate, despite some minor omissions and mistakes, the Spanish narrative deployed by the author seems to artificially portray the Spanish right’s nationalism as more extroverted that it actually is, at least in what refers to the sub-state nationalism accommodation.  The debates of the late 90’s and early 2000’s that constitute the core of the transformation of the Spanish right-wing nationalism could probably be better portrayed using the book’s own definitions, as a move towards civic nationalism rather than an example of extroverted nationalism. Moreover, these developments were followed by a backlash and a return to a more traditional conception of the Spanish nation and a re-politicization of the religious issues after the left-wing victory in the 2004 general election.

In any case, the book taps into an under discussed, albeit relevant political phenomenon, and offers ground for a potentially fruitful avenue of research. The configuration of state nationalisms has many policy implications, and heavily influences the decisions that governments take in both foreign and internal policy areas. Therefore, understanding the conditions under which these nationalisms will take a more open or closed approach to their external relations seems a particularly pertinent research topic. Madalena Meyer-Resende’s book is certainly a good point of departure for further explorations of the issue.

Reviewed by Jordi Muñoz, Autonomous University of Barcelona

Catholicism and Nationalism: Changing Nature of Party Politics
by Madalena Meyer Resende
Hardback / 108 pages / 2015
ISBN: 978-0-415-67007-4

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