May 22, 2009

Pilarisation and Power

So how did this system of "pillars" or Spheres" Kuyper helped build work?

The fundamental factor to realise is that this is not just about something that affects the political-it's about something that affects every course of life. Kryper's and his associates theory of Sphere sovereignty both reflected and shaped this. ON the one hand it was (at least in one sense) just a good description of Dutch life- secularism (increasingly the secular labour based sub culture), Catholicism and Reformed traditionalism (itself like secularism increasingly divided) decisively shaped peoples entire way of life in every detail from leisure time to sexual views to attitudes to foreign peoples-there was in Holland no general "sphere" of values -though no doubt Kryper wished there was . The tendency of western nations in general to adopt such tendencies in the early 20th century is often underrated-it is often used to understand the politics of Germany for example though it's often disputed how the divisions should be seen Protestant, Catholic, Social Democratic or National, catholic and Social Democratic for example. It strikes me such an informal pillarisation can actually work quite well to understand lands Like the UK, the United States or Spain it is not really used for as well.

AT the same the power of Sphere Sovereignty and it's increasing domination as an ideology in the early 20th Century Netherlands was to make this even more a reality than it was when Kryper began his carer-and make the Netherlands the paradigm of such. For one thing government funding was divided between intuitions both formally and informally. This was not just true of education but was true for example of administrative jobs and government appointments. So pervasive was this system of deals that in the late twentieth century it was even true of many major Dutch corporations-who for example often deliberately split senior positions between Catholics and Protestants.

What affected the ability? One was the cohesiveness of the different pillars-that is however strong a system of pillarisation was as it obviously varied from pillar to pillar-how much people really identified with a pillar rather than broader society, how much the party could rely on its support base come hell or high water. of the different pillars Catholics, Protestants, socialist and liberal I would say that the Catholics probably had the strongest pillar in this regard- the amazing strength of all catholic institutions in the Netherlands into the 1960's is amazing to behold. Conversely the liberals were almost certainly the weakest. Perhaps the most obvious sign of this was they lacked former intuitions outside the party-they tended to be close for example to the main business confederation but there was no formal ties the way there was between the ARP and major protestant papers. The result was the liberals having been the dominant tendency into the early 20th century withered away over the 20th century. It was only when Pillarisation really took knocks in the 1960's that they made a revival. Nor is this just psychological information of interest only to political anoraks. The values of the liberal party were in constant decline for the decades after the turn of the century. For the first few decades secularism was gradually marginalised in Dutch public life- so much so the labour party and even more avidly the liberals themselves formally disowned it. Particularly by the mid 20th century free capitalism was also on the back foot in Holland- as the welfare state and to some degree others form of government intervention grew sharply. It's not a coincidence that the collapse of pillarisation saw the reversal of such trends.

Another important factor was the attitudes of the different blocks to each other. NO matter how strong a block was given all were far off a majority the attitudes of other pillars was crucial to public policy. So the Catholic party was one of the two largest parties consistently from the first world war to the 1960'#s and in government consistently-but was unable to liberalise processions through the countryside in the face of the united opposition of the protestant" majority. This was why Kryper and even after his death his Anti-Revolutionary Party were so crucial-and so powerful at driving the agenda in the early 20th century. This dominance was not just over the blocks but also over the Christian Historicists, the more establishment, aristocratic, and theocratic alternative from within his own block.

Essentially every other block preferred the ARP to the alternatives. The Seacoasts preferred them to the alien and papal linked Catholics and to the hopelessly bourgeois Liberals (and initially the more aristocratic Christian Historicists). The Catholics preferred them to the hostility of the secular parties and the more theocratic Christian historians. The liberals preferred them to the "superstitious" "backward" and "alien" Catholics and to the terrifying Socialists (at least once the Socialists were a powerful enough force). The Christen historicist’s unsurprinsgly preferred their fellow conservative Protestants to the rest of the political spectrum. At the same time Catholic and Secularists alike preferred tee more Pluralistic ARP to the notion of a party that wished to restore their status to the traditional marginal one- one tolerant for the early modern era it should be noted but not tolerant ) . Thus the ARP was the fulcrum party. Even post war this endured to some degree and gave the ARP an influence out of proportion to their number. In the interwar period they essentially set the governing agenda of the Netherlands. The importance of these factors is well illustrated by Vilno in this typically excellent post.

The image above is that of the symbol of the Netherlands-the royal crest. In the early 20th century the continuing dominance of a monarchist, conservative Protestant house as the supreme symbol of the nation well illustrated the continued dominance of the Protestant side of the Netherlands through their well built ideological hegemony.