Theses Doctoral

Slaying the Leviathan: Catholicism and the Rebirth of European Conservatism, 1920-1950

Chappel, James Gregory

This dissertation argues that Catholic social thought was a central component of post-1945 West European reconstruction: it simultaneously provided a vocabulary for a post-fascist order, brought Catholics into coalition with liberals and socialists, and inspired much of the social policy of the new republics. This was, to many, a shocking outcome, as Catholics a few decades earlier had been largely opposed to the democratic Versailles order. Their continent-wide transition to democracy has yet to be convincingly explained. The answer, I argue, should be sought at the level of social thought.

Following a number of anthropologists and political scientists, I suggest that modern governance is related far more closely to social theory, and social science, than it is to political theory, narrowly understood. Catholics lacked a genuine political theory, but they did not lack a sociology--and it is the latter that is required to govern a modern state. Following this insight, my research uncovered the forgotten universe of Catholic social science, showing how it was produced in the interwar years and put into practice after 1945. I trace three figures as exemplars of three different regional traditions: Jacques Maritain (France), Waldemar Gurian (Germany), and Eugen Kogon (Austria). Their stories of exile, incarceration, and furious intellectual production are paradigmatic of Europe's tragic century. Each of them began on the authoritarian right wing, suffered at the hands of Nazism, and emerged after 1945 as leading lights of the Christian Democratic culture that remade Western Europe.

The dissertation traces their stories in deep context as a way to reconstruct the social-scientific, transnational imagination of interwar Catholicism. This methodology allows us to see how European Catholics, faced with interwar crisis, developed theories of economic growth and political order that were just as sophisticated as anything on offer from socialists or liberals. In the end, it was more influential as well--the European welfare state, after all, was born under Catholic auspices. The research contained in this dissertation draws on research from over a dozen archives and more than seventy periodicals and newspapers. This source base allows for a reconstruction of the transnational network of Catholic knowledge production across, primarily, France, Germany, and Austria, but also into Switzerland, Italy, Iberia, and the Atlantic World more broadly.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Pedersen, Susan G.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
August 27, 2012