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Definition: Kulturkampf from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

German word for a policy introduced by Chancellor Bismarck in Germany in 1873 that isolated the Catholic interest and attempted to reduce its power in order to create a political coalition of liberals and agrarian conservatives. The alienation of such a large section of the German population as the Catholics could not be sustained, and the policy was abandoned after 1876 to be replaced by an anti-socialist policy.


Summary Article: Kulturkampf
from The Columbia Encyclopedia

(kʊltur'kämpf´´) [Ger.,=conflict of cultures], the conflict between the German government under Bismarck and the Roman Catholic Church. The promulgation (1870) of the dogma of the infallibility of the pope in matters of faith and morals within the church sparked the conflict; it implied that the pope was the defender of the church against incursions by states. The German bishops and most lay Catholics supported this dogma. Bismarck, who was anxious to strengthen the central power of the new German Empire, feared the strongly organized church, which found its political voice in the Catholic Center party (organized 1870). The Center party received additional support from particularists in Bavaria and from other disaffected minorities such as the suppressed Poles in Prussia and the Guelph party of Hanover, which refused to recognize Hanover's annexation (1866) by Prussia. In his opposition to the church, Bismarck found himself in alliance with the liberals, the traditional opponents of the church. The struggle was initiated by the abolition (July, 1871) of the Catholic department in the Prussian ministry of culture. Feelings grew stronger when Bismarck gave support to the small group of churchmen led by Döllinger who refused to accept the dogma of papal infallibility. In 1872, Bismarck gave the state direct control of the schools in Prussia and obtained the expulsion of the Jesuits, first from Prussia and then from Germany as a whole. The May Laws (of May, 1873) restricted the disciplinary powers of the church, placed the education of the clergy under state supervision, and provided for the punishment of those who refused to cooperate. Next, civil ceremonies became obligatory for marriages in Germany. The church resisted these laws, and many clerics were imprisoned or removed from office for their refusal to comply. Meanwhile, the Center party increased its strength significantly. After its large gains in the Reichstag elections of 1878, Bismarck began to moderate his policy, influenced also by the alienation of the liberals through his protective tariff policies. The death of Pope Pius IX (1878) aided the gradual resolution of the conflict. Many of the antichurch laws were repealed or fell into disuse. In 1887 a modus vivendi was reached with Pope Leo XIII. In evaluating the Kulturkampf in Germany it is important to remember that the church was at odds with a number of European states during this period.

  • See Walace, L. P., The Papacy and European Diplomacy, 1869–1878 (1948);.

see also bibliography under Bismarck, Otto von.

The Columbia Encyclopedia, © Columbia University Press 2017

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