The failure of Bismarck’s Kulturkampf: Catholicism and state power in Imperial Germany, 1871-
- One of Bismarck’s lost battles is the Kulturkampf which was a church-state conflict in 1871-87
- Prussia and Germany’s political authority had the ability to implement and enforce government
policies in the face of the concerted and often imaginative opposition of German Catholics and the
- There are two major inter-related issues:
1. The Kulturkampf battle fronts
2. The nature of the Bismarckian authoritarian state
- Ronald J. Ross suggests that deeply-rooted Reichtsstaat traditions frustrated the realization of the
government’s political agenda
- A successful enforcement of government policies depend on public support which the Kulturkampf
did not constitute a majority of non-Catholic Germans and some would critic and actively oppose it.
- State officials suffered from “arrogance of power.” They were certain of eventual success and refused
to reassess their battle plans and weaponry even when the Catholics wouldn’t surrender.
- The price of the Kulturkapf and the destruction of religion was high.
- Abolition of some church religious orders impaired the education and the health services run by
priest or members of the clergy.
- Attacks on the church strengthened the chief political arm of German Catholicism, the center party
and other mass Catholic organization.
- Rebelliousness and sedition broke out and state officials were helpless and concerned that further
coercion would intensify lawlessness
- Government officials were unable to silence the Catholic press.
The weaknesses of the Bismarckian authoritarian state:
- Administrative machinery had not kept pace with the growth of its economic and military power
- Prussian civil servants continued to be guided by traditions, customs and the Reichtsstaat mentality
of the mid-19th century.
- Olds means and structures were assumed to still be effective
- Bismarck was unwilling to alter his fighting forces
- The price of modernization would have been too high
- The new Reich and Bismarck’s dominant position was created through labor
- Competing interests had to be carefully balances
- Modernization was needed to win the Kulturkampf and it would endanger the existence of the new
- The Kulturkampf affected the opposite of what Bismarck intended to. It inhibited the hoped-for
process of consolidation and actually intensified divisions