Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index


The German term Kulturkampf (literally, "cultural war") commonly refers to the early years of the 1871 German Empire, when Reichskanzler Otto von Bismarck attempted to reduce the influence of the Catholics in Germany.

The German Empire was dominated by Kingdom of Prussia, like most of northern Germany a Protestant state; having evolved from the 1866 North German Confederation, the addition of the southern, Catholic states (especially Bavaria) caused Bismarck to perceive a danger to the stability of his system.

Among the measures taken to reduce the influence of the Catholic church was the addition of  130a to the German Criminal Code (Strafgesetzbuch) in 1871, which threatened clergy discussing politics in office with two years of jail term; this article was dubbed Kanzelparagraph (from German Kanzel = "lectern"). In addition, the state began to closely monitor the education of clergy, installed a secular court for court cases, and prescribed to be notified whenever clergy were employed. In 1872, the Jesuits were banned. Possibly most consequential, in 1875, the obligatory civil wedding took marriage out of the hands of the church.

His attempts to restrict the impact of the Catholic Church, represented in politics by the Center Party, did not prove very successful however; after 1878, Bismarck rather joined forces with the Catholics to oppose socialism. However, one of the persistent results of the Kulturkampf was alienation of the Catholics from the Eastern provinces of Germany (East Prussia, West Prussia, Provinz Posen, Silesia), that helped them to find again their Slavic or Polish roots. Thus Polish national awakening spread to the areas i.e. Silesia, where the upper classes of the society had communicated in German for the long time already.

In the United States, the term kulturkampf has been used by Patrick Buchanan, among others, to describe what he saw as an analogous conflict starting in the 1960s and continuing to the present between religious social conservatives and secular social liberals. This theme of cultural war was the basis of Buchanan's fiery keynote speech at the 1992 Republican National Convention, which was seen by political commentators as alienating many social moderates from the Republican party and helping to elect Bill Clinton.