- Die Zentrumspartei im Kaiserreich: Bilanz und Perspektiven eds. by Andreas Linsenmann and Markus Raasch
What a difference a generation makes. Ignored by historians as recently as the 1970s, German political Catholicism has attracted enough attention since that time to generate a library of monographs. The literature has been exhaustive: period-histories of the Center party; parliamentary studies; biographies; documentary collections; socioeconomic studies; regional and institutional analyses; church-state relations; and Catholic relations with Bismarck, Hitler, Social Democrats, and Jews. Central to all have been three issues: the viability of the concept of a gluey Catholic "milieu"; the place of that milieu at the frontier of "tradition and modernity"; and the self-understanding of the Center party as both a Catholic sanctuary and a cross-demographic "people's party" (p. 14)—at once both reclusively self-limiting and expansively engaged in the saga of contemporary German history.
What more needs to be done? Quite a bit, argue the editors of this worthwhile volume. How the Center party got itself together locally, how it communicated with voters, clerics, and deputies, and its activities in the "Catholic diaspora" (p. 11) all have been wanting of attention. The Center party's memory culture, its rituals, its discussions of alterity, and its transnational place in the history of democratization all deserve more systematic consideration. And despite the attention recently paid to such aspects of Catholic history as piety, apparitions, and the construction of gender, historians have shied away from applying the methods of the "history of everyday life" and the "cultural turn" specifically to political Catholicism.
Based on a conference held in Mainz in the fall of 2014 on the Center party in the Kaiserreich, this book gathers twenty-one essays in response to a call to open "new perspectives on Center-party historiography" through a dialogue with both "representatives and critics of a cultural history of politics" (p. 14). The resultant essays are grouped under seven rubrics: the provenance and contours of the purported "Catholic milieu"; the Center as a policy-shaped party (particularly social and colonial policy); intra-regional contestation; relations with "the others" (from Bismarck to local Protestants and Jews); transnational ties; transgenerational memory; and whether political Catholicism still exists today.
Although many of the essays offer valuable contributions, few are methodologically innovative. "Everyday life" and the "cultural turn" seem limited here to [End Page 814] things like the self-understanding of the Catholic nobility. Not surprising is Tina Eberlein's and Markus Raasch's discovery that nobles saw themselves as models of Catholic manhood, particularly in their engaged and loving fatherhood. More intriguing is Barbara Jahn's exploration of these families' efforts beyond 1945 to reaffirm their distinctive relevance. Whereas the East Prussian Protestant nobility was decisively weakened by the ravages of war followed by Communist land reform, Catholic nobles in the West retained property, investment possibilities, and such signs of social deference as one family's third generation of presiding over the annual Catholic Conventions (Katholikentage). Accepting that noble cross-denominational solidarity was now both possible and necessary, Catholic nobles supported the new Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and embraced the Federal Republic as many of them had never embraced the old Weimar Republic. Conservative resistance to Hitler enabled nobles to cast themselves, uncritically and en masse, as "the conscience of the nation" (p. 466); and Catholic nobles compounded this claim by also noting the "special role" (p. 465) afforded by the embattled prior history of the Catholic milieu. The division of the country increased the capacity of the Catholic Church to influence West Germany's institutional structure; and noble-Catholic men's clubs, including many with famous Center-party forbears, retained considerable prestige in the postwar era.
In the older historiography, the solidarity with which Catholics identified with and voted for the Center party rendered them the quintessential example of imperial society's division along multiple sociological fault lines into self-standing "social/moral milieus" (Rainer Lepsius). According to theorists who sought to understand why Germany...