Literally meaning “struggle for civilization”, it was an attack on the Catholic Church in Germany called by Bismarck. The Jesuits were expelled from Germany, Catholic schools were closed, and the clergy could not criticize the government. Catholics pulled together and their power increased. As a result of the increase in power, Bismarck in 1880 repealed most of the anti-Catholic legislation.

Kulturkampf was one of the largest attacks on Christianity during the 1870's. The Catholic Church in Germany had been pressuring for the freedom of the churches, as was outlined in the newly-approved German constitution. At first, Otto von Bismark left the issue to the individual state in the German Confederation, but he eventually came to the opinion that the Roman Catholic Church was a threat to the German Empire's political unity. To reduce the church's power, Bismark used legislative measures that took control of education away from the Catholics.

In 1873, Otto von Bismark created the May Laws. These laws required all priests to be educated in German schools and universities. Also, potential clergymen had to pass several state-administered examinations. Finally, the state had the power to veto the appointments of priests. When the church complained and broke the May Laws, Otto von Bismark used the police. By 1876, all of the Catholic bishops in Germany had either been arrested or exiled.

Eventually, the Christians fought back. The Catholics had found allies who helped them avoid persecution. Bismark finally realized that his "Cultural Struggle" had taken education away from the church at the price of alienating a good proportion of the population. By the end of the 1870's, the chancellor abandoned Kulturkampf. The attacks were probably the largest mistake of Otto von Bismark's political career.

The Western Heritage. Donald Kagen. 1998

Kul*tur"kampf` (?), n. [G., fr. kultur, cultur, culture + kampf fight.] (Ger. Hist.)

Lit., culture war; -- a name, originating with Virchow (1821-1902), given to a struggle between the the Roman Catholic Church and the German government, chiefly over the latter's efforts to control educational and ecclesiastical appointments in the interest of the political policy of centralization. The struggle began with the passage by the Prussian Diet in May, 1873, of the so-called May laws, or Falk laws, aiming at the regulation of the clergy. Opposition eventually compelled the government to change its policy, and from 1880 to 1887 laws virtually nullifying the May laws were enacted.


© Webster 1913.

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