chapter  10
10 Pages

Catholicism and Fascism in Belgium Bruno De Wever

Let us start with some preliminary remarks about the situation in Belgium on the eve of the First World War. These not only allow a general picture to be obtained of Belgium in that era, but they also reveal some aspects that are important for this article. In the first place, Belgium was an established liberal democracy. The Belgian constitution of 1831 was the most liberal of the time and, in the course of the long nineteenth century, the classic liberal political institutions developed in a relatively stable political climate. The Catholic Church signed up to this evolution. The constitutional freedoms offered it the possibility of expanding a Catholic state within the Belgian state. Even the ultramontane movement in Belgian Catholicism signed up to the Belgian constitutional institutions after the death of Pope Leo XIII in 1878. This provided a stimulus for the further expansion of a Catholic network of organisations in the cultural, social and political fields, one in which the clergy played a leading role. Catholicism had an unimpaired position in the countryside. Only in the towns was there an anti-clerical counterforce among parts of the liberal bourgeoisie and in the socialist workers’ movement. Together they formed a political counterweight that, however, carried no real weight. Indeed, the Catholic Party was in power on a national level without interruption from 1884 until the First World War. Catholic-clerical supremacy was based on the fact that the Catholic faith was very widespread among the population.1