Degree Year

1987

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Department

History

Advisor(s)

Robert Neil

Keywords

Rexist, Belgium, Europe

Abstract

Belgium in the 1930s was no different from the rest of Europe. It was in a crisis-financial, political, and, as it appeared to some, social. Unemployment reached a peak for the decade in 1934 (with 183,000 out of a population of about 8,092,000). Yet in the first half of the 1930s, the government had no working policy for either inflation or unemployment. Furthermore, the nature of Belgian politics at the time made Parliament ineffectual. Since the First World War, Belgium had been run by the Union Nationale, a coalition of the three strongest parties in the nation, the Catholics, the Socialists, and the Liberals (in the November, 1919 elections, the results in the Parliamentary House were 71 seats, 70 seats, and 34 seats, respectively). Although such a union guaranteed that a plurality of Belgian opinion would be heard, and protected against anyone party- and ideology- unfairly superseding others, it also made the process of change very slow. For instead of being able to work on proposals for policies, the party representatives spent most of their time concentrating on compromising with each other. Enacting new legislation was a trying process. As a result, it seemed to some Belgians that the government was not doing its job.

The younger generation of Belgians who had just reached the voting age of twenty-one were particularly aggravated by this stale and sluggish political system. Many of them wanted to have a voice in politics beyond their ballot, and were impatient to effect change within their country. Some sought out political youth groups, such as the Socialist youth, while others turned to more socially and religiously active groups, such as Catholic action. The Belgian Rexist movement emerged out of the latter.

The future Rexists were a group of university and secondary school students who wanted to bring moral and religious reform to their nation. The proselytizing aspect of Catholic action appealed to them because it offered them the chance to actively bring reform to society around them, and to immediately measure their results. At the same time, they realized that only through politics, only through entering the political arena could they accomplish the societal reforms they wanted on a grand scale. The history of the Rexist movement is the history of its attempting to bring Catholic activism for moral and religious reform to Belgium through political channels. It is also the history of the Belgian form of fascism. For in the process of its political development, Rex would be swayed by an ideology which was growing fast in all of Europe, and which seemed to offer an answer for some of the other Europeans who were searching for a way to reform their society: fascism. Because of Belgiums' historical and geographical situation. and because of the political tensions unfolding in Europe in the 1930s, the evolution of fascism in Rex would be important.

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