“Christian Europe” and the normalization of the radical right

One of the most unsettling ways in which postwar Europe used its alleged Christian identity was to normalize modern totalitarianism. Illustratively, by the end of the Second World War active efforts began to be made throughout the continent to prove that Spanish dictator Francisco “Franco was not really a ‘fascist’, but was in fact an old-fashioned conservative”.[1] Building upon interwar pro-Francoist discourses, a new narrative took shape around the vital importance of incorporating Catholic anti-communist Spain into a new European and Western alliance against “the Asiatic forces” of the East.[2] Aiming at promoting and achieving such incorporation, a Friends of Spain association was established in London and Glasgow. The society aimed at “promoting better social, economic, and cultural relations” between Britain and Spain. It supposedly had “no political aims other than the restoration of normal diplomatic relations with the Spanish Government”.[3]

The Friends of Spain argued that Francoist Spain stood for the same Christian Western civilization to which Britain belonged. Excluding it from a new transnational alliance would thus be a victory for the “enemies of Christianity and the British Empire”, namely Soviet Russia.[4] Spaniards were Britain’s “fellow men, fellow Europeans, and fellow Christians, sharing a common heritage”.[5] Franco’s cause was that of Britain: to fight for the prosperity of Christian civilization, for the “fundamental historical forces of Western Christianity”.[6] More importantly, the Francoist state as the “champion of Christian civilization” was needed to stimulate both Europe and America to establish a “Christian order of things with freedom”.[7] Undeniably, they claimed, putting an end to hostility toward Spain would be to “bravely tak[ing] the lead in the defence of democratic liberties”.[8]

Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, the Friends of Spain were successful in bringing to the fore a view of Europe that was at once defined by seemingly democratic values such as (ethno)pluralism, tolerance, and justice[9], while also preaching an “exclusivist approach to the boundaries of democracy”.[10] The Friends of Spain reached “high places of [the British] Government” and, in the House of Commons as in the House of Lords and in the press, they effectively functioned as a pressure group against attempts to undermine Franco’s right to govern.[11]

Today, the idea that Europe is formed by a group of associated Christian states has emerged once again on the radical right discourse to (re)define the European Union and its enemies. According to the historian Amanda Kluveld, reference to the (Judeo-)Christian roots of Europe, which never materialized in the EU Constitution, “has become a term that is increasingly used in sweeping statements about national and international current affairs”.[12] Remarkably, radical right populism in countries such as the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, or Germany have frequently referred to their so-called “Judeo-Christian tradition” to vaguely depict an idea of who they are while also defining those who allegedly represent a threat to their identity. The myth of a “Christian Europe” has been largely used in a secular sense, referring to culture, tradition or heritage rather than religion. It is precisely by using “secularism” as the signifier that discourses around the Christian identity of Europe have served to normalize both extreme nationalism and radical right movements that are currently challenging democracy from within.

The idea that a given set of “Christian values” is what bind us together once allowed for (non-Soviet) European totalitarian states to be recognized. The very same idea is now allowing for the normalization of rhetoric on nation against integration, recuperation against globalisation, and restriction against freedom of movement. The truth is that the Christian identity of Europe has always been a construct. Today, it is a national(ist) means by which a transnational idea of democracy is being altered with the support of many.

During the Cold War, western democracies accepted the Spanish dictatorship of Francisco Franco because they believed fascistic regimes were the lesser evil when faced with the USSR. Franco died in bed in November 1975 after almost forty years of ruling an oppressed and irretrievably hurt country. Are we going to let the new radical right follow the same path? In the face of hate, we must stand out, for as Timothy Snyder said in his manifesto On Tyranny, “someone has to”.[13]

Ms Bàrbara Molas is a Doctoral Fellow at CARR and a Doctoral candidate in History at York University, Toronto. Her profile can be found here:

© Bàrbara Molas. Views expressed on this website are individual contributors and do not necessarily reflect that of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). We are pleased to share previously unpublished materials with the community under creative commons license 4.0 (Attribution-No Derivatives).

 

[1] N. Copsey, A. Olechnowicz (eds.) (2010), Varieties of Anti-Fascism: Britain in the Inter-War Period, p. 259.

[2] Burnley Express, 19 January 1949.

[3] The Scotsman, “Glasgow and the West. Friends of Spain Society”, 8 July 1950, p. 5; Catholic Standard, 21 July 1950, p. 5.

[4] Loveday, Arthur (1949), Spain 1923-1948: Civil War and World War, pp. 217, 227. Loveday was one of the Friends of Spain.

[5] A letter from Dom Columba Cary, Elwes of Ampleforth Abbey, to The Times in June 1950. Cited in N. Copsey, A. Olechnowicz (eds.), Ibidem, p. 258.

[6] Jerrold, Douglas (1937), Georgian Adventure, p. 367. Douglas Jerrold co-founded the Friends of Spain.

[7] Derry Journal, “Spain”, 24 January 1951, p. 4; Jerrold, Douglas (1938), The Future of Freedom, p. 254.

[8] Irish Independent, 27 July 1950, p. 6.

[9] It was argued that accepting Francoist Spain into a new Western alliance was only fair, for Franco’s coup d’état in July 1936 had prevented Communism from setting foot on Europe through the Peninsula, thereby saving the Western civilization as a whole.

[10] Kluved, Amanda, “Secular, Superior and, Desperately Searching for Its Soul: The Confusing Political Cultural References to a Judeo-Christian Europe in the Twenty-First Century”, in Nathan, Emmanuel; Topolski, Anya (eds.) (2015), Is there a Judeo-Christian Tradition? A European Perspective, p. 255.

[11] Shields Daily News, “Franco tries to have it both ways”, 4 March 1944, p. 7; Western Morning News, “Friends of Spain”, 21 September 1946, p. 2. After the United Nations admitted Spain in 1955, the group continued to exist although this time as a cultural and pedagogical institution under the name of Anglo-Spanish League/Society. See del Campo, Luis Martínez: www.britishspanishsociety.org/article/celebrating-100-years/, accessed May 2019.

[12] Kluved, Amanda, Ibidem, p. 245.

[13] Snyder, Timothy (2017), On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from Twentieth Century, p. 51.