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Social Antagonism between Protestants and Catholics (1870s-1880s)

Eduard Hüsgen (1848-1912) was the co-founder and long-time chairman of the Augustinus Association for the Benefit of the Catholic Press [Augustinus-Verein zur Pflege der katholischen Presse]. In this excerpt from his 1907 biography of Center Party leader Ludwig Windthorst (1812-1891), Hüsgen emphasizes the impact of Protestant-Catholic social antagonisms in Germany’s small and medium-sized cities. In 1871, Hüsgen had been dismissed from judicial service in Prussia because of his affiliation with a Center Party newspaper. He was not alone in suffering this sort of discrimination. The Kulturkampf (“cultural struggle”) of the 1870s and 1880s widened the gap between Protestants and Catholics. Throughout the imperial period, Catholics were significantly under-represented in the ranks of civil servants and in industry, trade, and commerce. Because Catholics tended to live in more rural regions, they were over-represented in agriculture.

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That which has been designated as the Kulturkampf was the mobilization of confessional opposition to Catholicism, the mustering of state power at higher and lower levels, and the use of all instruments of power that education and property could afford against anything labeled Catholic or even remotely associated with the Catholic Church.

Like a poisonous atmosphere, like a kind of disease, it hovered over our fatherland. Catholic and enemy of the Reich, Catholic and unpatriotic, ultramontane and hostile to the fatherland, follower of the Center Party and opponent of any cultural aspirations – according to common belief, these were equivalent terms. It was a matter of good taste, as it were, to make Catholics aware of their political and social inferiority in the clearest possible way and to deny them equality in public and private life. When people began to feel shame about this situation, they were to remember – as Reichstag representative Hänel said in parliament on January 12, 1882 – that “engaging in the Kulturkampf was necessary, correct, and patriotic, and even a prerequisite for acceptance into high society. One simply had to exhibit blind determination in following all the demands raised by the government and the Conservatives with respect to church legislation; otherwise, one ran at least the risk of being somewhat disreputable, politically speaking.”* In this context, however, one must not forget that every now and then the Progressives and the National Liberals were even worse than the Conservatives.

The confessional and political differences were so substantial that a gaping rift ran through society, carrying division and discord all the way into the bosom of the family. A Catholic with steadfast convictions was actually regarded as a mere second-class citizen. As a matter of fact, even Catholic men who did not support the Center Party, and who instead preferred the ranks of its political opponents, were not taken seriously and encountered a certain degree of mistrust, unless they distinguished themselves through a particular breed of ruthlessness in the battle against their co-religionists.

* Stenographische Berichte über die Verhandlungen des Reichstages, 5th legislative period, 1st session 1881/82, p. 563.

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