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The Catholic Historical Review 88.4 (2002) 785-788



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Konfession, Milieu, Moderne: Konzeptionelle Positionen und Kontroversen zur Geschichte von Katholizismus und Kirche im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert. By Johannes Horstmann and Antonius Liedhegener. (Schwerte: Katholische Akademie Schwerte. 2001. Pp. 159.)

In 1966 the German sociologist M. Rainer Lepsius coined the term "socio-moral milieux" to describe four large political blocs—Catholics, socialists, conservatives, and liberals—which, in his eyes, led to social fragmentation and political gridlock in his native country in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Although few use the word "milieu" to designate either the liberals or conservatives, the phrase "Catholic milieu" has become common currency for those trying to understand the critical role played by the German Catholic minority in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Germany.

To address some of the controversies that have arisen in conjunction with the use of this "Catholic milieu," Antonius Liedhegener and Johannes Horstmann have put together a short compendium of essays and conference reports from prominent junior and senior scholars in the field. The introduction by Liedhegener and Christoph Kösters is a report of the 1997 annual conference for research in Catholicism at Schwerte. Of the four essays, only one, a discussion of the Catholic milieu in the East German diaspora by Wolfgang Tischner, is an original contribution; the other three essays by Olaf Blaschke, Wilfried Loth, the Arbeitskreis für kirchliche Zeitgeschichte, Münster (Working Group for Recent Church History), have all been published elsewhere, but owe much to the debates which took place at Schwerte in 1997 and 1999.

As the title promises, much of the discussion in this collection centers on conceptual problems of definition and terminology. In a plenary session, conference participants discussed the number, extent, origins, and erosion of milieux in German society. They repeatedly disagreed over what actually constituted the Catholic milieu. Some defined it as a tight-knit sphere of "social communication," whereas others denoted it as large group in society organized through a collective understanding of the world and shared meanings (kollektive Sinndeutung).

As abstruse as these discussions appear to be, they point to broader and more concrete differences in the understanding of the role of Catholicism in German society. By asking whether the Church's role is primarily social, religious, ideological, or political, one can more effectively pinpoint the Church's larger impact on society.

This point is best illustrated by Wilfried Loth, whose pioneering book on Catholics in Imperial Germany came under fire from many subsequent historians of German Catholicism. In his essay, "Milieux or Milieu?" Loth offered a defense (and modification) of his earlier work. Loth had argued that German political Catholicism did not base its support upon one singular, monolithic Catholic milieu, but upon an amalgamation of assorted "partial-milieux," which could be mobilized against the state (and its process of forced secularization [End Page 785] during the Kulturkampf). Catholic Germany was heterogeneous: "partial-milieux" existed for Catholic industrial workers, nobility, artisans, an educated and educating middle-class (Bildungsbürgertum), and farmers.

In contrast, the Working Group for Recent Church History in Münster argued that the basis for religious identity remained a common religious understanding of the world. To answer the criticisms posited by this group, Loth pointed to the anticlericalism within many Catholic workers and artisans which existed in spite of the prevailing climate of ultramontanism in the second half of the nineteenth century. Yet Loth's reasoning does contain a logical flaw. Drawing a parallel to German nationalism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, one can argue that German nationalism varied according to class, confession, and region; some groups, the upper middle class, for instance, were more avowedly nationalist than others, such as industrial workers. Yet these differences do not mean that there was no such thing as German nationalism: they simply mean that one needs to differentiate more carefully between different layers of nationalism. This, ultimately, is Loth's point. He concludes that one simply must point to the complexity of the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-0708
Print ISSN
0008-8080
Pages
pp. 785-788
Launched on MUSE
2003-01-17
Open Access
No
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