On the Word "Kulturkampf"

In his rebuttal in the case Romer v. Evans, Justice Scalia likens Colorado's anti-gay Amendment 2 to a kulturkampf. Not knowing the word's meaning and history, I interpreted it simply as "cultural (kultur) struggle (kampf, analogous to Hitler's polemic Mein Kampf)". While this isn't a bad literal translation, it misses the historical association of the word.

Rather than originating with Hitler, the word came from one of his progenitors: Otto von Bismarck, the Iron Chancellor of late 19th century Germany. As part of his effort to consolidate power in the empire, he attempted to reduce the power of the Catholic church by requiring that education be the responsibility of the state. This kulturkampf, as he dubbed it, was a failure. Both Catholics and Protestants protested his policy.

By likening Amendment 2 to a kulturkampf, Justice Scalia might be conceding that this legislative attempt was doomed to fail, even though its founders had what they considered good intentions. However, drawing an analogy between this restrictive legislation and Bismarck's effort to concentrate governmental power by creating a suspect class was, if I may say so, injudicious. It just reinforces my belief that Amendment 2 was created with the sole intent to restrict legal rights.

It's more likely that Justice Scalia was using the word in its ahistorical sense, that of a struggle between religious and non-religious factions. This puzzles me: why would anyone want to drag something like religion into the realm of civil rights? Seems to me that one has, and should have, nothing to do with the other.

I can imagine a nation with civil rights, but without religion. I'd be terrified to live in a country with a religion and no civil rights.

Thanks to Y.R., who pointed out my error. Shame on me; information on Bismarck and his kulturkampf was just a Google away.

Last updated 18 December 2000
Contents ©2000-2002 Mark L. Irons