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Clerical fascism (also spelled Clerico-Fascism) is an ideological construct that combines the political and economic doctrines of fascism with theology or religious tradition. The term has been used to describe organizations and movements that combine religious elements with fascism, support by religious organizations for fascism, or fascist regimes in which clergy play a leading role. The classification of clerical fascism is rejected by some scholars. For Catholic clerical fascism, the terms Catholic integralism and Catholic corporatism are sometimes used, although these may have points of disagreement with fascism.
The term clerical fascism (clerico-fascismo) seems to have emerged in the early 1920s in Italy to refer specifically to the faction of the Catholic party PPI-Partito Popolare Italiano (precursor of Christian Democracy in Italy), which chose to support Benito Mussolini and his régime. It was allegedly coined by Don Luigi Sturzo, an Italian priest and Christian Democrat leader who took the opposite option and was forced into exile in 1924. Historian Walter Laqueur found the term 'clerical fascism' mentioned earlier, even before Mussolini's March on Rome (October 1922), referring to "a group of Catholic believers in Northern Italy who advocated a synthesis of Catholicism and fascism".
Sturzo himself made a distinction, within Italian Catholics leaning toward fascism, between the "filofascists", who left the Catholic party PPI very early, in 1921 and 1922, and the "clerical fascists", who stayed in the party after the March on Rome until 1923, advocating collaboration with the fascist government. Eventually even the latter group converged gradually with Mussolini, abandoning the PPI in 1923 and creating the Centro Nazionale Italiano, before the PPI was disbanded by the Fascist régime in 1926.
The term has since been widely used by scholars, such as Hugh Trevor-Roper, who sought to refine a typology of fascism, contrasting authoritarian-conservative 'clerical fascism' with more radical variants.
Examples of clerical fascism
Examples of dictatorships and political movements involving certain elements of clerical fascism include the Croatian Ustaše movement, Obraz in Serbia, António Salazar in Portugal, Engelbert Dollfuss in Austria, Getúlio Vargas in Brazil, the Iron Guard movement in Romania, which was led by the devoutly Orthodox Corneliu Zelea Codreanu, the Rexists in Belgium and Vichy France.
The government of General Franco in Francoist Spain had Nacionalcatolicismo as part of its ideology. It has been described by some as clerical fascist, especially after the decline in influence of the more secular Falange beginning in the mid-1940s.
Scholars who accept the term clerical fascism nonetheless debate which examples in this list should be dubbed clerical fascist, with the Ustaše being the most widely included. In the above cited examples, the degree of official Catholic support and clerical influence over lawmaking and government varies. Moreover, several authors reject the concept of a clerical fascist régime, arguing that an entire fascist régime does not become ‘clerical’ if elements of the clergy support it, while others are not prepared to use the term ‘clerical fascism’ outside the context of what they call the fascist epoch, between the ends of the two world wars (1918–1945).
Some scholars consider certain contemporary movements to be forms of clerical fascism, including Christian Identity and possibly Christian Reconstructionism in the United States; svetosavlje as form of militant orthodoxy in Serbia; militant forms of politicized Islamic fundamentalism and anti-democratic Islamism; and militant Hindu nationalism in India.
Overuse of the term
Political theorist Roger Griffin warns against the "hyperinflation of clerical fascism". According to Griffin, the use of the term 'clerical fascism' should be limited to "the peculiar forms of politics that arise when religious clerics and professional theologians are drawn either into collusion with the secular ideology of fascism (an occurrence particularly common in interwar Europe); or, more rarely, manage to mix a theologically illicit cocktail of deeply held religious beliefs with a fascist commitment to saving the nation or race from decadence or collapse". Griffin adds that ‘clerical fascism’ "should never be used to characterize a political movement or a regime in its entirety, since it can at most be a faction within fascism", while he defines fascism as "a revolutionary, secular variant of ultranationalism bent on the total rebirth of society through human agency".
- Alois Hudal
- Fatherland Front
- Iron Guard
- Latin Conservatism
- Mohammad-Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi
- Neofascism and religion
- Positive Christianity
- Unione Nazionale
- Griffin, Roger Fascism, Totalitarianism and Political Religion, p. 7 2005Routledge
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- Walter Laqueur, "The Origins of Fascism: Islamic Fascism, Islamophobia, Antisemitism", Oxford University Press, 25.10.2006
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- Carlo Santulli, Id.
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- Roger Griffin, "The 'Holy Storm': 'Clerical fascism' through the Lens of Modernism", Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions, Vol. 8, N.2, 213-227, June 2007.
- Roger Griffin, Id., p. 215.
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