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The German term Kulturkampf (literally, "cultural fight") commonly refers to the early years of the 1871 German Empire, when Chancellor Otto von Bismarck attempted to reduce the influence of the Catholics in Germany, but can be used to refer to similar cultural conflicts at other periods and in other places.
The German Empire was dominated by the Kingdom of Prussia, which was, like most of Northern Germany, a Protestant state. Because the empire had evolved from the 1866 North German Confederation, Bismarck saw the addition of the southern German states (especially Catholic Bavaria) as a threat to its stability. There were also Catholic minorities such as the Poles and the French of Alsace and Lorraine. Further, Bismarck had deliberately formed the German empire against any interference from Austria, a more powerful Catholic country than the others listed.
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; this article was dubbed the Kanzelparagraph (from German Kanzel = "lectern", "pulpit"). In addition, the state began to closely monitor the education of clergy, created a secular court for cases involving the clergy, and required notification of all clergy employment. In 1872, the Jesuits were banned. Most important of all, perhaps, marriage became an obligatorily civil ceremony in 1875, removing it from the control of the church.
One of the persistent results of the Kulturkampf was the alienation of Catholics in the Eastern provinces of Germany (East Prussia, West Prussia, Provinz Posen, Silesia) from the state, which encouraged them to rediscover their Slavic roots. Thus the Polish national awakening spread, including the areas where the upper classes of the society had long spoken German.
Bismarck's attempts to restrict the power of the Catholic Church, represented in politics by the Centre Party, did not prove very successful however and after 1878, Bismarck joined forces with Catholics to oppose socialism.
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 to many social moderates in the Republican party and aiding the election of Bill Clinton. The term culture wars has become common and is, as of 2004, now used by both liberals and conservatives in the US. Others deny that there is such a thing, citing statistics to show that the liberal values have already won.
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