Crucibles of Political Loyalty: Church Institutions and Electoral Continuity in Hungary

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Crucibles of Political Loyalty: Church Institutions and Electoral Continuity in Hungary

By Jason Wittenberg
Cambridge University Press, 2006
314 pp. $80.00

Wittenberg weighs in on a long-standing puzzle: Why, like a watermark on the printed page, do partisan loyalties survive within a society across generations and notwithstanding vast historical change -- in France, for example, from back across the Fifth, Fourth, and Third Republics, back even to the French Revolution, and maybe before? Even more striking is the mystery of how the loyalties prevalent in central Europe in the early twentieth century, particularly on the political right, survived the long communist interlude only to resurface almost intact in our own day. In Hungary, he locates his explanation in the role of the churches (Catholic and Calvinist). Local priests and pastors, lay leaders, and believers, by playing a skillful cat-and-mouse game with the regime and its tamed church leadership, preserved their earlier mass allegiance, including the potential political configurations within it. In so doing, they provided a parapet behind which many avoided assimilation into the new socialist order. This is a rigorous explanation for a hard case, with relevance for other authoritarian transitions, but it is less convincing in the wider world of partisan persistence.

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