Here’s a term that I don’t see often enough.

From a summary of the work of the Dutch sociologist Arend Lijphart:

In the fifties and the sixties many political scientists in the Western world were concerned with the crucial question of how political systems could be made both stable and democratic. Their concern to find an answer to this question had clearly been stimulated by their desire “to clean the world up” after the chaotic Second World War, to prevent a further spread over Western Europe of the Communist type of totalitarian stability, and to support the democratic experiments of the newly independent but unstable countries of the Third World. In their search for the conditions of stable and democratic political rule most of these political scientists came to believe that political fragmentation of a society poses enormous obstacles to the realization of stability and democracy. In their view the cleavages or fragmentation, created by differing social, ethnic, religious, and cultural groups, had somehow to be overcome before there could be any prospect of a stable, democratic regime.

In other words, in the fifties and sixties, the mainstream opinion of political scientists was that diversity and democracy can’t coexist.

About fifteen years ago this dominant belief among political scientists was challenged by the young Dutch Arend Lijphart. In 1968 he published his The Politics of Accommodation: Pluralism and Democracy in The Netherlands. Both within the country and elsewhere (thanks to the English edition) the work was highly acclaimed. Its success was due, in large part, to his description of Dutch politics as a paradoxical case of strong social segmentation or pillarization which was also marked by stability and democracy. That is, contrary to expectations, Holland is both stable and democratic despite its extensive social cleavages.

A notable (and likely unique) feature of Dutch pillarization was the tradition of cooperation among the elites of the different pillars. Needless to say, this will not be replicated in any redevelopment of pillarization today…

But how did pillarization work? A firsthand account of pillarization is given here:

I am Protestant by birth and when I talk to my Catholic peers it seems to us that we are from different countries. … When I was born my mother was helped by a Protestant midwife and my birth was announced in the Protestant newspaper. The announcements (and paper) were printed by a Protestant printer. … I went to a Protestant school … we didn’t go to the greengrocer next door, who was Catholic, because we imagined that the quality was no good and the prices exorbitant, but rather, we went several blocks away to the Protestant greengrocer where they had exactly the same things but we believed that the quality and the prices were far better … we went to Protestant summer camps … and followed the Protestant t.v., radio, and newspapers.

In other words, pillarization was a system of mass voluntary segregation. Members of one phyle chose to take part in only the social institutions associated with that phyle. Some people tried to reject pillarization, but in practice, they ended up in the Liberal pillar.

Secularization led to depillarization in the Netherlands. In Belgium, on the other hand, pillarization had both a religious (Catholics vs. Protestants vs. Liberals and Socialists) and an ethnic (Walloons vs. Flemings vs. Germans) aspect. Belgium is still pillarized—and between its political deadlock, the now-infamous failure of its police, and the dysfunction of Molenbeek, it’s no model of good governance.



5 responses to “Pillarization

  1. Pingback: Pillarization | Reaction Times

  2. Frog Do May 28, 2016 at 5:27 pm

    Does this mean we can start talking about the Ottomans again.

  3. Derfel May 29, 2016 at 4:42 pm

    That was how apartheid was supposed to work, but because the black pillars were dysfunctional blacks began to demand inclusion in the institutions of the “white” pillars.

  4. Pingback: This Week in Reaction (2016/05/29) - Social Matter

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