The emergence of pillarization in the Netherlands

A par­ty defining itself merely as the representative of a certain, clearly distinguishable part of the population, automatically rafrains from addressing itself to potential voters not belonging to this part of the population. It sets drastic limits to its potential voter-reservoir. This self-chosen restraint only seems sensible if there is a likelihood of compensating for this loss of possible voters by an eventually total absorption of the chosen group. To this end the parties not only claimed to be the only representatives of this part of the population. They moreover tried to integrate their followers as totally as possible into their sphere of influence, mainly by creating a system of organizations and associations that corresponded to the various party lines. The result was a fairly complete exclusiveness and absorption of all members of the group in question. The pillars thus created were defined by their belief or ideology and deliberately closed to non-members.

At this stage it becomes clear, that the Socialist pillar is oriented along the same lines as the denominational pillars. The Socialists too had a clearly defined reservoir of followers—the workers. They had a common ideology; they closed their front against dissenting ideologies; they created a broad network of organizations and associations into which they tried to integrate all social activities of their followers. They used the same ideologically based exclusiveness and the same totality of absorbing their followers as the denominational parties did. The only difference was that they could not take over an existing network of church associations—they had to create everything from scratch. So the Dutch parties, deciding to recruit their followers exclusively from an ideologically clearly defined group, had to anticipate two consequences—a desirable and an undesirable one: By pillarization they could ensure a longlasting, nearly blind loyalty but on the other hand they had to accept a strict limitation of their sphere of influence, because all members of different religious or ideological groups were by definitionem beyond reach. …

It appears very much as if the parties decided to choose pillarization after checking the costs and benefits of mobilizing ideologically defined groups. They compared the disadvantages of limiting their sphere of influence with the big advantages: if a realistic chance could be expected to gain a majority, pillarization would be the best strategy possible for gaining both: majority and loyal voters. Indeed, all three parties—the Catholics, orthodox Protestants and Socialists—seem to have reckoned with this possibility. The Catholics expected to gain a majority among the population in a surprisingly short time because of their high fertility rate. They dreamed of the ’Catholic Netherlands’ and of an unchallenged political supe­riority. The orthodox Protestants clearly wanted to gain as many voters as possible from liberal Protestantism. They at least explicitly strived for the Protestant’s dominance and for a structuring of social life according to their religious beliefs. The Socialists assumed that the workers would help them to gain a majority at the polls, as they likewise hoped in other countries too. All three of the parties could reasonably count on winning the majority because of the considerable overlapping of the categorial groups (for example among the Catholic and Protestant workers). The condition was that they succeeded in mobilizing totally their specific reservoirs. The course of events however showed that the parties considerably overestimated their possibilities of such total mobilization. Only the Catholic were able to win over nearly the whole Catholic part of the population. They profited mostly from the support of the organizationally united Catholic church. The Socialists and especially the Protestants were less successful. So it is no surprise that the ’doorbraak’ — a refrainment from pillarization — was explicitly justified by the disappointment of hopes for a majority.

Pillarization in the Netherlands is linked so closely to the origin and the behaviour of the political parties, that each attempt to explain it without reference to these parties must necessarily lead to contradictions. Pillarization is not the consequence of struggles for emancipation or for protecting the identity of the churches only, it is mainly an effect of the mobilization activities of the Dutch political parties, focussing on religious and ideologically defined groups and arguments, during a time of specific conflicts.



5 responses to “The emergence of pillarization in the Netherlands

  1. Pingback: The emergence of pillarization in the Netherlands | Reaction Times

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