The Kulturkampf (1871–78), meaning “cultural conflict,” was a political struggle that raged between Otto von Bismarck and the Catholic Church over the place and power of the church in German society. Given the recent unification of Germany, Bismarck was highly suspicious of any institution that threatened the stability of the Reich or rivaled the new imperial state for the loyalty of the German masses. Although the new German Empire largely consisted of the old Protestant-dominated North German Confederation, Bismarck worried that the admission of Catholic south German states and the existence of large Catholic minorities in Alsace-Lorraine and Prussian Poland might upset the religious balance of power and lead to sectarian conflict, which would rip apart the empire. These fears deepened in 1870 with the creation of the Center Party, formed to represent Catholic political interests, and the Vatican Council’s decree that the pope was infallible when speaking on matters of faith and morals. Both measures implied that Catholics owed their primary loyalty to the pope and would use the Center Party to do his bidding.
   Bismarck responded to this implied threat by unleashing a series of laws designed to slash the power of the Church and eliminate its ability to indoctrinate German citizens by putting schools under state supervision. In 1871, the imperial government passed laws forbidding priests from using their pulpits to discuss politics, expelling the Jesuit order from Germany, putting religious schools under state supervision, and purging religious teachers from state-run educational institutions. In May 1873, the so-called Falk Laws, named after Prussian Minister of Culture Adalbert Falk, extended state control over the clergy by regulating the ordination of priests, mandating civil marriage, and granting state agencies disciplinary power over the Church. Priests and bishops who refused to comply faced arrest or expulsion from Germany.
   A combination of fierce Catholic resistance to these measures, most visibly expressed by the Center party’s doubling of its seats in the 1874 Reichstag elections, and pragmatism forced Bismarck to reconsider his anti-Catholic stance. Eager to secure the support of the Center Party for his anti-Socialist campaign and an increase in import tariffs designed to protect his political base, Bismarck began gradually rescinding the more repressive anti-Catholic laws. This process was greatly facilitated by the death of Pius IX and the ascension of the more conciliatory Leo XIII as pope in 1878. Despite its domestic resolution, the Kulturkampf had long-lasting colonial implications. Concerned that hostility from German colonial officials could negatively affect their evangelical efforts, Catholic missionaries attempted to prove their loyalty by becoming staunch supporters of official colonial policies. In particular, German Catholic missionaries tended to accept and implement official directives regarding the shape and content of education in the German colonies.
   See also <>.
    Clark, Christopher, and Wolfram Kaiser. Culture Wars: Secular-Catholic Conflict in Nineteenth Century Europe . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003;
    Gross, Michael B. The War against Catholicism: Liberalism and the Anti-Catholic Imagination in Nineteenth Century Germany . Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2000;
    Ross, Ronald J. The Failure of Bismarck’s Kulturkampf: Catholicism and State Power in Imperial Germany, 1871–1887 . Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1998;
    Smith, Helmut Walser. German Nationalism and Religious Conflict: Culture, Ideology, Politics 1870–1914 . Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995.

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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