Karl Baron von Vogelsang was born in 1818 in Liegnitz, Prussian Silesia, to a Pomeranian noble family. Studying law and political science in Bonn, Rostock, and Berlin, he inherited an estate in Mecklenburg in 1848 and was elected to the Grand Duchy’s legislature.
Two years later, in Berlin, he met that city’s new Catholic bishop, Wilhelm Emmanuel von Ketteler – later, as Bishop of Mainz, to become famous as a proponent of Catholic social teaching.
Under his influence Vogelsang and many of his friends converted. All of them would go on to have notable careers as either laity or clergy, but their conversion meant the end of their official careers in Prussia and Mecklenburg. Sooner or later, they all moved to Austria.
Two years after his conversion, Vogelsang married Bertha Sophie von der Linde; the union produced 11 children. In 1864 the Vogelsangs moved to Vienna, and nine years later Vogelsang became chief editor of the Viennese newspaper Das Vaterland, known for its Catholic, monarchist, and federalist views.
For Vogelsang and his allies, “Conservative” included ameliorating the horrible conditions of the proletariat – both as a good in itself and a religious duty, as well as a way of preventing social unrest. But his interests were not confined to the plight of labourers – he searched for an organic state framework to aid the Church on its salvific mission.
Vogelsang’s Christian Social movement won the support of the prime minister, Count Taafe (who governed 1878-1893). Despite Liberal opposition, Taafe’s government adopted working hours regulations, Sunday rest, accident and health insurance, and cooperative law.
But Vogelsang’s sphere extended further than Austria: he was a leading figure in the meetings in Fribourg, Switzerland of Austrian, French, German, Swiss and other Catholics interested in “the social question”, and was an acknowledged influence on Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical, Rerum Novarum.
Vogelsang had died in a traffic accident the year before that encyclical. Neither his work nor his legacy died with him, however. He is considered the father of Catholic and Christian Democratic political parties across the world from that day to this.
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