In the 1920s and 1930s, the Catholic Church sought to increase its involvement in public life, politics, and social issue throughout Latin America. In Argentina, this desire led to the Churches involvement—both directly and indirectly—in a series of coups, revolutions, and counter revolutions. At the same time, a fascist, nationalist movement began to form in Argentina, inspired in part by European fascists, though distinct in its deep-seated connection with Catholicism. This ideological movement, called nacionalismo, often conflated fascism with Catholicism, and posited violence as the ultimate expression of these beliefs. Nacionalista religious violence would not fully actualize until decades later during and in the years preceding Argentina’s Dirty War, but traces of it can be seen throughout the latter half of the twentieth century. In the 1940s, Juan Peron rose to power on a wave of fascism, however his increasingly populist and secularist leanings ultimately put him at odds with both the nacionalistas and the Catholic Church. His removal from office in 1955—orchestrated by Catholics in the military and supported by the Church—demonstrates the significant amount of influence Catholicism held in Argentina. The combination of the Catholic Churches growing political power and the innately violent nature of nacionalismo can help explain many of the social and political upheavals that occurred in Argentina throughout the latter half of the twentieth century. The emergence of this Catholic-fascist kinship contributed significantly to the overthrow of Peron in 1955 and the state terrorism that occurred during Argentina’s Dirty War in the 1970s, giving insight into the role that religion plays in government, politics, and revolution.

The growing strength of both the Catholic Church and nacionalismo in twentieth century Argentina—fortified by their sympathetic, even cooperative relationship with each other—are essential components of both the rise and fall of Juan Domingo Peron, perhaps the country’s most influential politician of all time. In the 1920’s and 1930’s, the Catholic Church worked to increase its influence and involvement in public life, politics, and social issues in Argentina, following a global trend of Catholic revival. Meanwhile, the fascist nacionalismo movement, fundamentally linked to the Catholic faith, also began to form in Argentina—again following wider trends of fascism, particularly in Europe. Although not all clergymen were nacionalistas—indeed Catholicism often enabled leftist action like the labor movement—most nacionalistas used Catholicism to justify and support their actions, at times with clear endorsement and encouragement from the Church. The movement reached its height in the early 1940s, when Peron rose to power with the support of the Church and a legacy of fascist sympathies. However, his focus on social welfare and his popularity among the working classes quickly distanced him from the nacionalistas, and his burgeoning authoritarianism and secularism ultimately alienated the Catholic Church as well. The events leading up to Peron’s removal from office in 1955, which was orchestrated by nacionalistas in the military and supported by the Church and Catholic laymen, demonstrate the significant influence of Catholicism and fascism in Argentina. These two elements—Catholicism and fascism—were an underlying current, always moving and shaping the country in some way, and even coming to define Argentina’s fraught twentieth century.



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