From New World Encyclopedia

The German term Kulturkampf (literally, "culture struggle") refers to German policies in relation to secularism and the influence of the Roman Catholic Church, enacted from 1871 to 1878 by the Chancellor of the German Empire, Otto von Bismarck.

Until the mid-nineteenth century, the Catholic Church was still a political power. The Papal States were supported by France but ceased to exist as an indirect result of the Franco-Prussian War. The Catholic Church still had a strong influence on many parts of life, though, even in Bismarck's Protestant Prussia. In the newly founded German Empire, Bismarck sought to bolster the power of the secular state and reduce the political and social influence of the Roman Catholic Church by instituting political control over Church activities.

The 1871 Kanzelparagraf marked the beginning of a series of sanctions against Catholicism that Bismarck imposed until 1875. To characterize Bismarck's politics toward the Catholic church, the pathologist and member of the parliament of the Deutsche Fortschrittspartei (Progressive Liberals) Rudolf Virchow used the term Kulturkampf for the first time on January 17, 1873, in the Prussian house of representatives.[1] As this conflict brought him an ever growing political defeat, he moderated his struggle with the Catholic Church and in the wake of Pius IX's death on February 7, 1878, reconciled with the new Pope, Leo XIII, lifting most sanctions except for the Kanzelparagraf (which remained in force till 1953) and civil marriage.

It is generally accepted among historians that the Kulturkampf measures targeted the Catholic Church under Pope Pius IX with discriminatory sanctions. Many historians also point out anti-Polish elements in the policies in other contexts.[2][3][4][5][6][1][7]


Because the German Empire had descended from the 1866 North German Confederation, Bismarck saw the addition of the southern German states (especially Catholic Bavaria) as a possible threat to the Empire's stability. Tensions were also increased by the 1870 Vatican Council proclamation on papal infallibility. There were also significant Catholic populations in eastern parts of Germany (mainly Poles), the Rhineland and in Alsace-Lorraine. Moreover, Bismarck had deliberately formed the German Empire against interference from Austria, a more powerful Catholic country than those previously mentioned. Among the measures taken to reduce the influence of the Catholic Church was the addition in 1871 of § 130a to the German Criminal Code (Strafgesetzbuch), which threatened clergy who discussed politics from the pulpit with two years of prison; this article was dubbed the Kanzelparagraph (from the German Kanzel—"pulpit").

In March 1872, religious schools were forced to undergo official government inspection and in June, religious teachers were banned from government schools. In addition, under the May Laws administered by Adalbert Falk, the state began to monitor closely the education of clergy, creating a secular court for cases involving the clergy, and requiring notification of all clergy employment. That same year the Jesuits were banned (and remained banned in Germany until 1917) and in December, the German government broke off diplomatic relations with the Vatican. In 1875, marriage became a mandatory civil ceremony, removed from the control of the Church. Bismarck even blamed the poisoning of a popular lion from Berlin Zoological Gardens in 1874 on Catholic conspirators. On July 13, 1874, in the town of Bad Kissingen, Eduard Kullmann attempted to assassinate Bismarck with a pistol, but only hit his hand. Kullmann named the church laws as the reason why he had to shoot Bismarck.

The Papal encyclical Etsi multa (On the Church in Italy, Germany and Switzerland) of Pope Pius IX, in 1873, claimed that Freemasonry was the motivating force behind the Kulturkampf.[8] The Catholic Encyclopedia also claims that the Kulturkampf was instigated by Masonic lodges.[9]

Bismarck's attempts to restrict the power of the Catholic Church, represented in politics by the Catholic Centre Party, were not entirely successful. In the 1874 elections, these forces doubled their representation in the parliament. Needing to counter the Social Democratic Party, Bismarck softened his stance, especially with the election of the new Pope Leo XIII in 1878, and tried to justify his actions to the now numerous Catholic representatives by stating that the presence of Poles (who are predominantly Catholic) within German borders required that such measures be taken.

The general ideological enthusiasm among the liberals for the Kulturkampf[10] was in contrast to Bismarck's pragmatic attitude towards the measures[10] and growing disquiet from the Conservatives.[10]

All in all, the Kulturkampf was hardly a success of Bismarck's government, despite temporary gains within the government itself.[11]

Kulturkampf in the Prussian Province (Duchy) of Posen/Poznań

The Kulturkampf had a major impact on the Polish-inhabitated regions of Prussia. At this time Poland did not exist as a state and had been partitioned between Austria, Prussia (which in turn became part of the German Empire), and Russia. The struggle against Catholicism and Catholic southern German states started almost simultaneously with an extensive campaign of Germanization in the lands formerly belonging to the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the Polish Kingdom. Because of that, in European historiography the anti-Catholic elements of the Kulturkampf are usually tied to Germanization efforts involving language and culture within the empire.[7][12]

After the Falk Laws (May Laws) had been passed, the Prussian authorities started to close down most of the public financed schools teaching the Polish language. German language schools were promoted as an alternative. In November 1872 minister Falk ordered all classes of religion to be held in German by the spring of the following year. The wave of protests on the side of Polish Catholics and the clergy was pacified the following year, when the Catholic Seminaries of Posen and Gniezno were closed down, and the state took up the supervision of education, previously carried out mostly in church-sponsored schools. The estate of the Church was confiscated, monastic orders dissolved, and the paragraphs of the Prussian constitution assuring the freedom of the Catholics were removed. In Greater Poland the Kulturkampf took on a much more nationalistic character than in other parts of Germany.[13]

Soon afterward, the Prussian authorities responded with repressions; 185 priests were imprisoned and several hundred others forced into exile. Among the imprisoned was the Primate of Poland Archbishop Mieczysław Ledóchowski. A large part of the remaining Catholic priests had to continue their service in hiding from the authorities. Although most of the imprisoned were finally set free by the end of the decade, the majority of them were forced into exile. Many observers believed these policies only further stoked the Polish independence movement. There is also a question regarding possible personal antipathy towards Poles behind Bismarck's motivation in pursuing the Kulturkampf.[14] Contrary to other parts of the German Empire, in Greater Poland—then known under the German name of Provinz Posen—the Kulturkampf did not cease after the end of the decade. Although Bismarck finally signed an informal alliance with the Catholic church against the socialists, the policies of Germanization did continue in Polish-inhabited parts of the country.[13]

In 1886, in line with Eduard von Hartmann's slogan of eradication of Slavs on the German soil, the authorities in the Prussian part of Poland prepared a new policy of Germanization of the land. According to Heinrich Tiedemann, the author of the plan, the reason why all earlier attempts at bringing more German settlers to the Poznań area failed was that they allegedly "felt uncertain and alien" there. The proposed solution was to assure them through the elimination of the Poles from public life and land property, as well as to promote land acquisition by administrative means. The state-controlled Colonization Commission was to buy off land and estates from the local Poles and sell it, at a much lower price, to Germans. Although it managed to attract circa 22,000 families to the area,[15] the overall percentage of Polish inhabitants of the land was not changed. Similarly, the activities of the Eastern Marches Society met with little success. Instead, the German actions following the start of the Kulturkampf resulted in strengthening the Polish national awareness and creation of several nationalist organization similar to the ones created against the Polish culture and economy. By 1904, when the new law on settlement which effectively forbade Polish peasants from construction of new houses, the sense of national identity was strong enough to cause a period of civil unrest in the country. Among the notable symbols of the era were the children's strike of Września and the struggle of Michał Drzymała who effectively evaded the new law by living in a circus van rather than a newly-built house.

All in all, the policies of Germanization of the Poznań area mostly failed. Although most of the administrative measures aimed against the Poles remained in force until 1918, between 1912 and 1914, only four Polish-owned estates were expropriated, while at the same time Polish social organizations successfully competed with German trade organizations and even started to buy land from the Germans. The long-lasting effect of the Polish-German conflict in the area was development of a sense of Greater Polish identity, distinct from the identity common in other parts of Poland and primarily associated with nationalist ideas rather than socialism, which prevailed in other parts of the country in twentieth century.

Modern uses of the term

The word Kulturkampf has also been used to refer to similar cultural conflicts in other times and places. In the United States, the term "culture war," a calque of Kulturkampf, was popularized to describe the polarization of the country around a set of cultural issues. The expression was introduced by the 1991 publication of Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America, by James Davison Hunter. In that book, Hunter described what he saw as a dramatic re-alignment and polarization that had transformed American politics and culture.

He argued that on an increasing number of "hot-button" defining issues—abortion, gun politics, separation of church and state, privacy, homosexuality, censorship issues—there had come to be two definable polarities. Furthermore, it was not just that there were a number of divisive issues, but that society had divided along essentially the same lines on each of these issues, so as to constitute two warring groups, defined primarily not by nominal religion, ethnicity, social class, or even political affiliation, but rather by ideological world views.

Hunter characterized this polarity as stemming from opposite impulses, toward what he refers to as Progressivism and Orthodoxy. The dichotomy has been adopted with varying labels, including, for example, by commentator Bill O'Reilly who emphasizes differences between "Secular-Progressives" and "Traditionalists."

The term was picked up by Patrick Buchanan during his run for the Republican nomination for President in 1992. This theme of "culture war" was the basis of Buchanan's keynote speech at the 1992 Republican National Convention. The term "culture war" had by 2004 become commonly used in the United States by both liberals and conservatives.

Justice Antonin Scalia referenced the term in the Supreme Court case Romer v. Evans, 517 U.S. 620 (1996), saying "The Court has mistaken a Kulturkampf for a fit of spite." The case concerned an amendment to the Colorado state constitution that prohibited any subdepartment from acting to protect individuals on the basis of sexual orientation. Scalia believed that the amendment was a valid move on the part of citizens who sought "recourse to a more general and hence more difficult level of political decision making than others." The majority disagreed, holding that the amendment violated the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 New Catholic Dictionary, Kulturkampf. Retrieved January 8, 2009.
  2. Norman Davies, God's Playground (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982, ISBN 0-231-05353-3).
  3. Adam Zamoyski, The Polish Way: A Thousand-Year History of the Poles and Their Culture (Hippocrene Books, 1993, ISBN 0-7818-0200-8).
  4. Maciej Milczarczyk and Andrzej Szolc, Historia; W imię wolności (Warsaw: WSiP, 1994, ISBN 83-02-05454-2).
  5. Andrzej Chwalba, Historia Polski 1795-1918 (Krakow: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 2000, ISBN 83-08-03053-X).
  6. Piotr Szlanta, Admirał Gopła, Mówią wieki 501 (09/2001).
  7. 7.0 7.1 Leonore Koschnick and Agnete von Specht, The Social Dimension: "Founders" and "Enemies of the Empire," Bismarck: Prussia, Germany, and Europe. Retrieved January 7, 2009.
  8. EWTN, Etsi Multa. Retrieved January 7, 2009.
  9. Catholic Encyclopedia, Masonry (Freemasonry). Retrieved January 8, 2009.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Jeremy Rabkin, A Supreme Court in the culture wars. Retrieved January 8, 2009.
  11. Piotr Stefan Wandycz, The Price of Freedom: A History of East Central Europe (London: Routledge, 2001, ISBN 0-415-25491-4).
  12. Henry Bogdan, From Warsaw To Sofia; A History of Eastern Europe, Edited by Istvan Fehervary (Santa Fe, NM: Pro Libertate Publishing 1989, ISBN 0-9622049-0-0).
  13. 13.0 13.1 Jarmila Kaczmarek and Andrzej Prinke, Two Archaeologies in one Country: Official Prussian versus amateur Polish activities in Mid-Western (i.e.: Greater) Poland in XIXth-early XXth cent, Poznań Archaeological Museum publications. Retrieved January 8, 2009.
  14. Eugene Kalkschmidt (ed.), Bismarcks Reden (Berlin: Deutsche Bibliothek).
  15. Wielka Encyklopedia PWN, KOMISJA KOLONIZACYJNA.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Blackbourn, David. Marpingen: Apparitions of the Virgin Mary in Nineteenth-Century Germany. Oxford, 1993. ISBN 9780679757788.
  • Bogdan, Henry. Istvan Fehervary: From Warsaw To Sofia; A History of Eastern Europe. Santa Fe, New Mexico: Pro Libertate Publishing, 1989. ISBN 0-9622049-0-0
  • Chwalba, Andrzej. Historia Polski 1795-1918. Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 2000. ISBN 83-08-03053-X.
  • Davies, Norman. God's Playground. New York: Columbia University Press, 1982. ISBN 0-231-05353-3.
  • Hazen, C. D. Europe Since 1815. New York, 1910. OCLC 1153921.
  • Hunter, James Davison. Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America. New York: Basic Books, 1992. ISBN 0-465-01534-4.
  • Milczarczyk, Maciej, and Andrzej Szolc. Historia; W imię wolności. Warsaw: WSiP, 1994. ISBN 83-02-05454-2.
  • Robinson and Beard. Development of Modern Europe. Boston, 1908. OCLC 577136.
  • Ross, Ronald J. The Failure of Bismarck's Kulturkampf: Catholicism and State Power in Imperial Germany, 1871-1887. Washington, D.C., 1998. ISBN 9780813208947.
  • Wandycz, Piotr Stefan. The Price of Freedom: A History of East Central Europe. London: Routledge, 2001. ISBN 0-415-25491-4.
  • Zamoyski, Adam. The Polish Way: A Thousand-Year History of the Poles and Their Culture. Hippocrene Books, 1993. ISBN 0-7818-0200-8.

External links

All links retrieved April 25, 2018.


New World Encyclopedia writers and editors rewrote and completed the Wikipedia article in accordance with New World Encyclopedia standards. This article abides by terms of the Creative Commons CC-by-sa 3.0 License (CC-by-sa), which may be used and disseminated with proper attribution. Credit is due under the terms of this license that can reference both the New World Encyclopedia contributors and the selfless volunteer contributors of the Wikimedia Foundation. To cite this article click here for a list of acceptable citing formats.The history of earlier contributions by wikipedians is accessible to researchers here:

The history of this article since it was imported to New World Encyclopedia:

Note: Some restrictions may apply to use of individual images which are separately licensed.