Class and Religious Identity: The Rhenish Center Party Inwilhelmine Germany

Class and Religious Identity: The Rhenish Center Party Inwilhelmine Germany

Class and Religious Identity: The Rhenish Center Party Inwilhelmine Germany

Class and Religious Identity: The Rhenish Center Party Inwilhelmine Germany

Excerpt

A religious animosity divided the state created by Prussia's armies and its most brilliant statesman, Otto von Bismarck. Germany's Catholic minority was frequently viewed by the Protestant majority as backward; by the Protestant clergy as heretical; by court and government officials as seditious and tied to a foreign power. Catholics viewed Bismarck's creation with equal misgivings; they complained that the institutions which controlled the state—court, army and government—systematically discriminated against them. To defend the rights of their co-religionists, Catholic politicians created a political party, the Center. Ironically most post‐ Bismarckian governments could only achieve a majority in the Reichstag with Center support. While Catholics were engaged in their struggle against Protestant adversaries, they also had to find ways to adapt to the changes that industrialization had brought to their lives. This study examines how Catholics of the Rhineland dealt with these threats to their religious and political culture.

Chronologically, this study will range from the early 1890s to the outbreak of the First World War. The early 1890s are a suitable point of departure, for they mark a turning point in the history of German political Catholicism. The church-state confrontation of the 1870s, known as the Kulturkampf, had died down by that time allowing the Center Party to pay attention to pressing political, social and economic questions rather than to fighting the state. Wilhelm II ascended the throne in 1888, and Bismarck's chancellorship survived the young Kaiser's investiture by less than two years. Lastly, the Center itself underwent a generational change after the death of Ludwig Windthorst, the party's legendary leader and perhaps Bismarck's staunchest and most skilled opponent in the Reichstag. As younger men succeeded as leaders, the party gradually moved away from the traditional politics of notables to a modern organization that took account of the large middle-class following of the Center and the political demands of Catholic workers. The year 1914 seems to be a . . .

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