The Emancipation of Catholics, Jews, and Protestants: Minorities and the Nation State in Nineteenth-Century Europe

By Ricci, Emil Anthony | The Catholic Historical Review, April 2001 | Go to article overview

The Emancipation of Catholics, Jews, and Protestants: Minorities and the Nation State in Nineteenth-Century Europe


Ricci, Emil Anthony, The Catholic Historical Review


The Emancipation of Catholics, Jews, and Protestants: Minorities and the Nation State in Nineteenth-Century Europe. Edited by Rainer Liedtke and Stephan Wendehorst. (New York: Manchester University Press. Distributed in the U.S.A. by St. Martin's Press. 1999. Pp. x, 223. $79.95.)

The historiography of European religious minorities traditionally focuses upon the idea of emancipation. Concerned primarily with advancing the civil and legal rights of religious minorities, emancipation became the subject of intense debate in several major European countries during the nineteenth century. In their volume entitled The Emancipation of Catholics, Jews, and Protestants: Minorities and the Nation State in Nineteenth-Century Europe, Rainer Liedtke and Stephan Wendehorst offer a series of interesting essays by a group of international scholars who examine emancipation within the context of nineteenth-century nation building. The result is a fine collection of historical studies delineating the process through which Catholics, Jews, and Protestant minorities in nineteenth-century Great Britain, France, Italy, and Germany achieved equal legal standing with members of the majority religious group.

Using a comparative historical approach, the essays in this volume offer detailed and critical narratives of how Catholics, Jews, and Protestants gradually became assimilated into the social and political mainstream of nineteenthcentury European life. What emerges is an understanding of the emancipation process within the conceptual framework of European nation building. Thus, each essay seeks to demonstrate that legal and political rights for religious minorities were linked closely to the formation of more modern and secular nation states. Nevertheless, conditions for Catholics,Jews, and Protestants differed widely throughout Europe, influencing the pace of legal and political recognition for each group. For example, in his treatment of French Protestants (pp. 56-82), Andre Encreve notes that Catholic hostility toward the Huguenots was so intense that even by the end of the nineteenth century French Protestants remained a highly suspect community. Similarly, Wolfgang Altgeld's essay on German Catholics (pp. 100-121) documents carefully the political and social oppression Catholics faced within a deeply national Protestant culture. Altgeld, however, attributes Catholic failure to gain "formal" emancipation, not so much to Protestant political and religious antipathy, as to Catholic adherence to the old rural social and economic order. By the 1870's, Germany was transformed into a major industrialized state. Therefore, the failure of many German Catholics to progress economically and socially in a modern industrial society hindered emancipation significantly. But even after Bismarck's Kulturkampf, more progressive and liberal middle-class Catholics favored integration into the wider national community. Even so, emancipation proved a formidable struggle.

Like the experiences of French Protestants and German Catholics, other essays in this volume document conditions specific to particular religious minorities. Thus, as Ian Machin explains in his discussion of British Catholics (pp. 11-32), Catholic Emancipation was a direct result of Irish pressure (p. 14), although discrimination against English Catholics socially and professionally continued well into the twentieth century (p. …

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