Abstract and Keywords
Lay political forces shaped the development of the Kingdom of Italy, adhering to Cavour’s “Free Church in a Free State” policy. Right and left wing liberals adopted policies aimed at secularizing the state and reducing the Church’s privileges. The introduction of universal male suffrage in 1912 and the birth of mass parties reduced the influence of the traditional liberal secular elite. After Fascism, lay forces were spread thinly across the political spectrum and had limited electoral weight. However, they were able to exercise considerable influence: often in coalition with the Christian Democracy (DC), lay parties managed to counterbalance its clerical tendencies. Moreover, they successfully carried out a series of civil rights battles in the 1970s, overcoming the DC’s opposition and the inadequate secularism of the Italian Communist Party. In the Second Republic, secularism has weakened: explicitly lay parties have virtually disappeared while both center-right and center left have been highly receptive to religious influence.
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