Italy’s economic expansion after World War Two triggered significant social and cultural change. Secularization accompanied this development and triggered alarm bells across the nation’s immense Catholic community. The Devil and the Dolce Vita is the story of that community – the church of Popes Pius XII, John XXIII and Paul VI, the lay Catholic Action association, and the Christian Democratic Party – and their efforts in a series of culture wars to preserve a traditional way of life and to engage and tame the challenges of a rapidly modernizing society.
Roy Domenico begins this study during the heady days of the April 1948 Christian Democratic electoral triumph and ends when pro-divorce forces dealt the Catholics a defeat in the referendum of May 1974 where their hopes crashed and probably ended. Between those two dates Catholics engaged secularists in a number of battles – many over film and television censorship, encountering such figures as Roberto Rossellini, Luchino Visconti, Federico Fellini, and Pier Paolo Pasolini. The Venice Film Festival became a locus in the fight as did places like Pozzonovo, near Padua, where the Catholics directed their energies against a Communist youth organization; and Prato in Tuscany where the bishop led a fight to preserve church weddings. Concern with proper decorum led to more skirmishes on beaches and at resorts over modest attire and beauty pageants. By the 1960s and 1970s other issues, such as feminism, a new frankness about sexual relations, and the youth rebellion emerged to contribute to a perfect storm that led to the divorce referendum and widespread despair in the Catholic camp.
"An extremely interesting and well-presented analysis of the Church’s losing battle to preserve its vision of ‘Catholic Italy’ against the forces of liberalism and secularism...I do not think anyone else has really focussed so sharply on the issues discussed here."~John Pollard, author of The Vatican and Italian Fascism, 1929-1932: A Study in Conflict
" The Devil and the 'Dolce Vita' addresses a key topic and a key period in contemporary religious history, crucial to understanding the different trajectories of America and Italy: the culture of Italian Catholics from the early post-World War II to the mid-1970s, the first decade of the post--Vatican II period. Highly recommended for all those who want to understand the important differences within Catholicism in the Western Hemisphere in ….dealing with secular modernity."~Massimo Faggioli, Villanova University
"Roy Domenico has written a masterful account of the cultural politics of Italian Catholics and their effort to temper politics with religion in the three decades that followed World War II. Clearly argued and lucidly written, The Devil and the 'Dolce Vita' unravels the struggle of Italian Catholics against the challenge of secularization, lending new insights into the Catholic reformulation of the modern. Grounded in extensive archival research, this work deserves as wide a readership as its scholarship is sophisticated and original."~Rosario Forlenza, Luiss University
"In his suggestively titled The Devil and the 'Dolce Vita,' Roy Domenico, one of our leading scholars on contemporary Italy, offers a refreshing look into the cultural politics of Italian Catholicism in the crucial decades after the fall of Fascism and the end of the Second World War. Domenico masterfully weaves together broad narrative threads of post-war Italian history with detailed analysis of lesser-known sources that tell us much that we did not know about Catholic attempts to influence cultural practices and social mores. This engagingly written book will greatly enrich our understanding of the often caricatured and polemicized place of Catholicism in Italian politics and civil society."~Robert A. Ventresca, King’s University College at Western University
"Between Church and politics, faith and hedonism, The Devil and the 'Dolce Vita' is an accurate and compelling portrait of the Italian Catholic world at the time of the great secularization."~Eliana Versace, Istituto Paolo VI, Italy