Explain Why Bismarck Carried Out Kulturkampf in the 1870s.

Explain Why Bismarck Carried Out Kulturkampf in the 1870s.

The German word Kulturkampf refers to the struggle between Otto Von Bismarck -chancellor of the newly formed German and the man in charge of German Unification – and the Catholic Church. Kulturkampf was in introduced by the newly elected chancellor Bismarck in 1871 as a targeted attack towards the Catholic’s political influence in the newly unified Germany. The German Empire was proclaimed in 1871 after the defeat of the French in the Franco-Prussian war, naming the king and prime minister of Prussia, Wilhelm 1st and Otto Von Bismarck, the Kaiser of Germany and the German chancellor.

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As soon as Bismarck was in power, he began the Kulturkampf. Prussia had expanded greatly in previous years and by 1871, Prussian population included 16,000,000 Protestants and 8,000,000 Catholics (1/3 of Prussian population). This meant that the Catholic Church had a massive amount of influence within German politics as the majority of the southern states were dominated by Catholics. The division between the two religions was clearly visible as well, with Catholics and Protestants living in their own separate districts of Prussia.

It was seen that Protestants were the main supporters of Bismarck and his policies, as Protestants were seen as having a higher social status and Catholics were seen as unskilled workers and peasants. However, in 1870 the Centre Party (or Z Party as they were in the middle of left wing and right wing politics) was formed to defend the interests of the Catholic Church in Germany. Although the supported Bismarck’s policies in general, Bismarck distrusted the Centre Party as he didn’t like the idea of Catholic influence in German politics. This wasn’t helped the Vatican Council issuing the Doctrine of Papal Infallibility in 1870.

The doctrine stated that the pope (currently Pope Pius 9th and Bismarck’s “arch nemesis” during his enforcement of the Kulturkampf) was correct in all doctrinal matters and could never be challenged. This doctrine however, led to the Reichstag passing the Kanzel Paragraf or ‘Pulpit Paragraph’ in 1871, preventing the use of the doctrine for political purposes. This meant that the Catholic Church had not much of say in political matters, and that Bismarck could control his parliament. Bismarck still feared however the Church had far too much involvement with his state.

He was right to be afraid as well. The Centre Party had 63 seats in 1871, but by 1874 the Centre Party won 91 seats in the Reichstag, making it the second largest party in the Reichstag. This threatened Bismarck’s control as he thought the Catholics would cause civil disobedience if the Centre Party – or more like the Vatican – disagreed with policies of the state. Bismarck also saw that by introducing a Kulturkampf, he could not only rid Prussia and the German Empire of Catholic influences, but destroy the minority groups and races that disliked Bismarck’s policies.

Groups such as the Prussian Poles and the locals from the newly-conquered Alsace-Lorraine became members of the Centre Party as a way into the Reichstag. Bismarck saw that, to preserve his newly united Germany, he must crush all opposition. Overall, Bismarck introduced the Kulturkampf as a way of further showing Prussian dominance and control in unified Germany (we can see more evidence of this in later years when Bismarck introduces the anti-socialist laws).


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