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The Dignitatis Humanae Institute: Clergy, Aristocrats And The Populist-Right?

My first introduction to the secretive lobby group known as the Dignitatis Humanae Institute (DHI) was back in the summer of 2011 and the failed presidential run of the Fine Gael candidate Gay Mitchell, who strongly denied that he was one of several members of the organisation serving in the European Parliament. Headquartered in Italy, the militantly conservative think tank was founded by:

…a small group of Catholic European parliamentarians and politicians, the body is made up of working groups in several parliaments with a view to spreading worldwide.

Its aim, according to Benjamin Harnwell, the institute’s founding chairman, is to be a platform through which Christian politicians can better present coherent, moderate and mainstream responses to the growing number of radical and extremist secularists in public life.

To its chagrin, the DHI – which rarely engages with the mainstream press – has made some modest headlines in recent months through its association with Steve Bannon, the controversial former White House adviser and election strategist for Donald Trump. A few weeks ago the news and current affairs publication Politico was reporting that:

The new head of Italy’s Democratic Party wants to stop Steve Bannon’s plans to create a training school for nationalists in an old abbey.

Nicola Zingaretti has written to Culture Minister Alberto Bonisoli, of the governing 5Star Movement, asking him to halt Bannon’s plans to transform Trisulti Charterhouse, a former Carthusian monastery in Collepardo, a tiny village outside Rome.

Zingaretti also offered the minister an alternative plan for the abbey, which has been leased to the Catholic foundation Dignitatis Humanae Institute, considered the “cultural arm” of Bannon’s populist push in Italy and in Europe.

Trisulti Charterhouse, a sprawling centuries old Carthusian monastery owned by the Cistercians and the new home of the DHI, is just the sort of majestic place that many of the ancien régime backers of Bannon and company in Europe would feel at home in. From Open Democracy:

In 1986, Princess Gloria von Thurn und Taxis threw a three-day party for her husband’s sixtieth birthday. Guests ate a cake decorated with 60 marzipan penises and were treated to a performance from the princess who, dressed as Marie Antoinette and accompanied by the Munich Opera, sang ‘Happy Birthday’ from astride a gilded cloud.

This week, the now 59-year-old princess is scheduled to speak at a major international gathering of anti-abortion and anti-LGBT rights groups. This is the 13th World Congress of Families (WCF) being organised in the Italian city of Verona where…

This year’s congress, held ahead of the European parliamentary elections in May, is headlined ‘The Wind of Change’. Italy’s deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini – who once said “if you grow up with parents or a parent who is gay… you start with a handicap” – is among the far-right politicians expected to attend.

While far-right leaders from Italy to Hungary position themselves as siding with the ‘grassroots’ against liberal elites, this is also a VIP-studded network: Princess Gloria – a friend of Steve Bannon, who plans to use her palace in Germany as a summer school for European populists – is not the only aristocrat involved.

openDemocracy reviewed the programmes for each of these events since 2004, and found about 100 politicians among the 700 people listed as speakers over the 15 years – along with an archduchess from Austria, a French prince, and a Portuguese duke.

Strange times make for strange allies. Or perhaps not so strange?

(For more on the Princely House of Thurn and Taxis, see this related article, “From AMC’s Lodge 49 To The Imperial Mail Of The Holy Roman Empire“.)

7 comments on “The Dignitatis Humanae Institute: Clergy, Aristocrats And The Populist-Right?

  1. Des Hanrahan

    What is the point of this organisation when Opus Dei has, been around since the thirties?

  2. That’s telling, the detail about the birthday cake and then the social conservatism. There’s a thesis to be done about one tranche of reactionary thinking that seems all too happy to impose its view on people while tacking in different directions itself in its own behaviours.

    • I’ve seen people in conservative circles do similar things. Usually they justify this by saying “Well as long as no actual rules have been broken there’s nothing wrong with it.” and then insinuate that liberals are the real Puritans.

      One example I ran into was the advice of Southern Baptist psychologist advising fathers to shower with their young sons and “family nudity” from early childhood to preteens as a way of preventing kids from growing up GLBT-The rationale was based in Freudian notions of gender identity reinforcement.

      When me and a bunch of people suggested that there was no real evidence behind it, that Freud had largely been debunked, and many kids starting around 5-6 would find such practices embarrassing if they were out of line with community norms.

      Of course we were accused of being “Left Wing Puritans” and that we were so repressed and uptight we’d rather watch people become “deviants” and wash our hand of it “than see sexuality dealt with in a family context”.

      It’s also fairly common with some rural fundamentalist for the boys, men, and toddlers to walk around naked while women starting as young as 3 years old are expected to have their ankles, wrist, and collars covered at all times. This wouldn’t be the LDS/FLDS usually but more like “young earth” and other groups that started in 1960’s/70’s.

      • Well, that Southern Baptist line on families doesn’t sound sensible to me.

        I was, and this is no doubt naive, surprised to read that Sarah Sanders despite being religiously conservative likes her glasses of wine. No harm there, but puritanism ain’t what it used to be!

        • You might want to look into how The Puritans of Colonial New England acted. They were notorious for extremely heavy drinking and ribald conversation between unrelated mixed sex groups-as long as you didn’t actually do the deed talking wasn’t a sin. And drinking wasn’t wrong either.

          Calvinists in North Anerica didn’t start frowning on heavy drinking until well into the 1800’s (convenient that it was so soon before The Great Famine-earlier they be in no position to stereotype anybody as a pack of drunks.

          Also I’m wondering if you’ve ever heard of a custom called a “bundling board” as an examplar of old-times Puritanism.

          Lest you think this is only a Western Christian thing, there are some of the rulings of the Ayatollah Khomeini such as saying transsexualism was a sunless medical problem despite all the things forbidden or his rulings for if a man has sex with a chicken-his own family can’t eat the bird but the people on another street can.

          Of course that’s nothing look up Gandhi’s sexual history.

  3. Religious conservatism is more of an Eastern and Southern European phenomena because it would be very difficult to find like minded recruits in Sweden Denmark UK (apart from the North) and the Baltic States.

  4. aistin@eircom.net

    Open Democracy and the guardian are progressive liberal rags acting as effective controlled opposition. Aren’t these the same organs that sided with NATO during the Syrian proxy-war? You don’t have to be Christian or Catholic to realise the far-right label on all opponents of transnationalism and transhumanism is propaganda. Traditionalism and cultural nationalism are Ireland’s only saving grace. Get with the programme, Sionnach.

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