(German “struggle for civilization”). Church-state conflict in Prussia and elsewhere in the 1870s. It was so called first by Richard Virchow, an atheistic scientist, in 1873. It was mainly inspired by Otto von Bismarck, who feared that Catholic influence would endanger German unity. Its antecedents included the mixed-marriage dispute in Cologne in the 1830s, Protestant resistance to Catholic demands for increased liberties, hostility by German liberalism, and the 1870 decree of papal infallibility. It began with the abolition of the Catholic bureau in the Prussian Ministry of Education and Public Worship (1871). Bismarck appointed Adalbert Falk as Minister of Public Worship (1872). He expelled the Jesuits, brought education under state control, and passed the famous May Laws.* When Pius IX protested, Bismarck severed diplomatic relations with the Vatican. In 1875 the Roman Catholic Church was deprived of all financial assistance from the state, and religious orders were compelled to leave the country. Catholic resistance remained firm, and several bishops and priests were imprisoned.
A change of policy came later when Emperor William I favored a more moderate approach; the rise of the Socialists as a new political enemy, coupled with the election of a more conciliatory pope (Leo XIII), convinced Bismarck that a concordat with the Vatican was a better solution. Falk was dismissed (1879), diplomatic relations were restored with the Vatican (1882), and the May Laws modified (1886-87). In other German states, in Austria, and in Switzerland, similar but less extreme legislation prevailed for a time, but religious peace was eventually restored.
See J.B. Kissling, Geschichte des Kulturkampfes im Deutschen Reich (3 vols., 1911-16); and H.W.L. Freudenthal, “Kulturkampf” in New Catholic Encyclopedia (1967), vol. 8.