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Italy's radical left and Catholics

Anyone who has followed American politics in recent
years knows the revolution that has taken place in the "religious vote."
Once the Democrats were the party of immigrant Catholics, and the
Republicans the party of the Protestant establishment; today the Democrats
tend to be the party of secularism, and Republicans the party of voters
for whom religion is a major concern.

Now a provocative article by Italian political scientist Ernesto Galli
della Loggia suggests there is a parallel phenomenon in Italy, which he
calls the "death of cattocommunismo," the term for the Catholic
version of leftist radicalism which was long a potent force in Italian
politics.

First, Galli della Loggia argues that the great political debate which
created the ground for cattocommunismo in the first place, the
struggle between capital and labor, is no longer the defining issue. Look,
he says, at the actual problems we face: competition with new global
actors such as China and India, migratory flows, the demographic crisis of
Europe, the impossibility of sustaining current levels of social spending,
and the decline in the stability of work. Which of these problems, he
asks, is born of a conflict between capital and labor?

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His answer is "none."

Further, he argues, in Europe these days economic policy is largely set
in Brussels by the European Union, and even the most radical "reformed
communists" in Italy and elsewhere have to accept it.

Second, Galli della Loggia says that the traditional social base of the
radical left -- industrial workers, farmers, and rural craftsmen -- are
today on the verge of disappearing, and have been replaced by civil
servants, teachers, employees of large corporations, university
professors, and other members of the middle and upper-middle classes.
These groups are economically interested in the protection of a strong
public sector, but no longer conserve anything of the antique leftist
hostility to individualism, hedonism, materialism, and in general for the
middle class. Today, the ethic of the left tends to be "to each his or her
own," requiring the state to remain neutral in the face of various
lifestyle choices.

All this means, according to Galli della Loggia, that the magnetic
appeal of cattocommunismo in the early 20th century, that of a
meeting between "two peoples" in defense of social solidarity and the
"humble Italy," against the Italy of the signori and the
bourgeoisie, is largely finished. Instead, the radical left and Catholics
find themselves on opposite sides of the culture wars. The left supports a
"subjectivist" ethics, while Catholics defend the values of human life and
traditional visions of the family.

Of course, some of his language is a bit loaded, and things are
inevitably more complicated than Galli della Loggia's brief sketch may
suggest.

Yet Galli della Loggia is nevertheless on to something. The rise of
debates over sexuality and the family, rather than economics and
international policy, has indeed tended to drive religiously serious
voters to the right. Whether this is an inevitable long-term trend, or a
process capable of being reversed, may have a lot to say about the future
of Western politics.

The e-mail address for John L. Allen Jr. is href="mailto:jallen@natcath.org">jallen@ncronline.org

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