The War against Catholicism

Liberalism and the Anti-Catholic Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Germany
Michael B. Gross
This is an innovative and important study of the relationship between Catholicism and liberalism, the two most significant and irreconcilable movements in nineteenth-century Germany


After the defeat of liberalism in the Revolution of 1848, and in the face of the dramatic revival of popular Catholicism, German middle-class liberals used anti-Catholicism to orient themselves culturally in a new age. Michael B. Gross 's study shows how anti-Catholicism and specifically the Kulturkampf—the campaign to break the power of the Catholic Church—were not simply attacks against the church, nor were they merely an attempt to secure state autonomy. Instead, Gross shows that the liberal attack on Catholicism was actually a complex attempt to preserve moral, social, political, and sexual order during a period of dramatic pressures for change.

By offering a provocative reinterpretation of liberalism and its relationship to the German anti-Catholic movement, this work ultimately demonstrates that in Germany, liberalism itself contributed to a culture of intolerance that would prove to be a serious liability in the twentieth century. It will be of particular interest to students and scholars of culture, ideology, religion, and politics.

Michael B. Gross is Associate Professor of History at East Carolina University.

Praise / Awards

  • "A lucid, innovative work of top-flight scholarship. Gross shows us the depths of anti-Catholicism in nineteenth-century Germany; he explains why the German Kulturkampf had such force and why prominent liberals imagined it as a turning point not only in Germany but in world history."
    ---Helmut Walser Smith, Vanderbilt University
  • "A marvelously original account of how the Kulturkampf emerged from the cultural, social, and gendered worlds of German liberalism. While not neglecting the 1870s, Gross's analysis directs historians' attention to the under researched 1850s and 1860s---decades in which liberals' anti-Catholic arguments were formulated against a backdrop of religious revival, democratic innovation, national ambition, and the articulation of new roles for women in society, politics, and the church. The drama of these decades resonates in every chapter of Gross's fine study."
    ---James Retallack, University of Toronto
  • "Michael Gross has put the culture back into the Kulturkampf! Integrating social and political analysis with illuminating interpretations of visual and linguistic evidence, Gross explores the work of religious cleavage in defining German national identity. An emerging women's movement, liberal virtues, and Catholic difference come together to explain why, in a century of secularization, Germany's Catholics experienced a religious revival, and why its liberals responded with enmity and frustration. Vividly written and a pleasure to read, this groundbreaking study offers real surprises."
    ---Margaret Lavinia Anderson, University of California, Berkeley
  • "Gross has read all the pertinent archival sources for this trenchant, revisionist study of nineteenth-century German liberalism and the Kulturkampf. His sensitivity to such varied, often neglected aspects of the topic as the role of women in the community and the impact of Catholic missionaries on German Protestantism, is a refreshing expansion of focus."
    ---American Catholic Historical Association, announcing The War Against Catholicism as the 2004 John Gilmary Shea Prize winner
  • "Michael Gross has written a fascinating account of the centrality of confessional polemic to the development of nineteenth-century German liberalism, offering not only new and important insights into the nature of the liberal 'imagination' between the 1850s and 1870s, but also demonstrating with impressive verve, the extent to which the scholarly study of religion in modern Germany has progressed over the past couple decades."
    ---German Studies Review

  • "Whatever the course of future debate, it is certain that all future discussions of Germany's conflicted, confusing path to modernity will have to take note of Gross's powerful, outrageous, and disturbing exploration of the troubled liberal imagination."
    ---American Historical Review

  • "The studies of Catholic piety, associational life, and political movements have...promoted major revisions in our understanding of modern German society, culture, and politics. Historians have devoted much less attention, however, to the equally impressive reaction to this Catholic revival, namely, the unleashing of a lively and wide-ranging anti-Catholic polemic...a thoroughgoing analysis of nineteenth-century anti-Catholicism has long been lacking. With the publication of Michael B. Gross's [book], this lacuna has been finally addressed, and in a first-rate fashion."
    ---Journal of Modern History

  • Winner: 2004 John Gilmary Shea Prize from the American Catholic Historical Association

Look Inside

Copyright © 2004, University of Michigan. All rights reserved. Posted August 2004.

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Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 376pp.
  • 13 B&W photographs in text along with 12 tables.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Paper
  • 2005
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-03130-6

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  • $31.95 U.S.