A devout Catholic scholar, Hertling exercised considerable influence on Catholic social philosophy both from his university chairs at Bonn and then Munich and as head of the Görres-Gesellschaft (Görres-Society), which he founded to advance Catholic studies.
He served in the Reichstag (federal parliament) as a deputy of the Catholic Centre Party (1875-90 and 1896-1912) and was its parliamentary leader from 1909 to 1912. In 1912 King Ludwig III of Bavaria named him Bavarian prime minister and foreign minister, a position he was to retain until 1917. On Nov. 1, 1917, Hertling replaced Georg Michaelis as German chancellor to placate the Reichstag parties that had lost confidence in Michaelis.
Hertling, however, exercised little real power, which remained in the hands of the supreme military command headed by Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff. Hertling believed in ultimate German victory and never challenged the military. In September 1918, when Germany’s collapse became imminent, he stepped down rather than work with a government responsible to the Reichstag.