The May Laws of 1873 constituted the centerpiece of Kulturkampf legislation. Tensions between Bismarck and the Pope only worsened over the next two years. By the end of the decade, however, Bismarck had recognized that counter-efforts by Catholic clergy and their congregations had largely frustrated his plans. The insufficiency of state institutions to combat one-third of the empire’s population had been strikingly revealed. By 1878, the Chancellor had many reasons to welcome back into the government fold the principal political representative of Catholic interests, the German Center Party, which drew on a wide variety of ecclesiastical and lay organizations (D5). The Center Party commanded a large caucus of Reichstag deputies representing Catholic constituencies. In such regions it was often a foregone conclusion that the Center candidate would emerge victorious on election day, not only due to the clustering of Catholics in specific regions of Germany but also because deep-seated social antagonisms divided Protestants and Catholics and contributed to the latter’s feelings of discrimination (see Chapter 4). Between 1878 and the mid-1880s, the Kulturkampf was slowly wound down (D6). Bismarck, however, never admitted defeat publicly, and confessional peace in the Wilhelmine era remained fragile.
Bismarck gradually escalated repressive measures against the allegedly “revolutionary” threat of Social Democracy during the 1870s (D8, D9, IM3, IM4, IM5, IM6). Two assassination attempts on Kaiser Wilhelm I (D11, D12, D13, IM7, IM8) led to passage of the Anti-Socialist Law in October 1878 (IM12). The campaign to outlaw Social Democratic activities was even more popular among bourgeois Germans than the Kulturkampf, and its failure proved to be an even greater blow to the authority of the Bismarckian state. The two campaigns shared many features. They both raised hopes among middle-class liberals that a campaign against “enemies of the empire” would consolidate the strength and inner unity of the new nation state, either by reasserting the authority of the state over followers of the Pope or by defending private property and the established social order against the forces of revolution. Both led to liberal self-recrimination and second thoughts about the wisdom of designating any single political movement as “beyond the pale” (D10, D14, D15, IM13). Both demonstrated that the police, the courts, and state administrators lacked the means or were insufficiently committed to combating a political ideology that represented such a large portion of the population (D39, IM14, IM15). And both contributed directly to strong feelings of solidarity among the targeted group, increasing their electoral success and parliamentary influence.