By Ger Mennens for openDemocracy
In the case of the seventeenth century Dutch Republic, there was no single, dominant religion. There was also no absolute majority religion. Instead, each province and each town had its own religious cultural groups.
Since 2010, the Netherlands have been governed by a right-wing coalition, that, under pressure of the populist Freedom Party, is in the process of breaking with a century-long tradition of tolerance. Dutch tolerance was a product of the seventeenth-century Golden Age which has sent multiculturalism flowing through our culture ever since. Nowadays, multiculturalism is seen as an evil by the ruling Dutch right-wing coalition. Moreover, Dutch minister of Homeland affairs, Piet-Hein Donner, says, “Netherlands’ society is not multicultural at all.” This is clearly not a descriptive statement. What he means is, “Holland ought not to be multicultural.” This statement marks a dramatic breach with a century-long historic Dutch tradition, a breach with Dutch political culture. It is not “typically Dutch” at all. If we examine why and in what way tolerance and multiculturalism form the essence of Dutch cultural identity, we will soon see that these virtues brought prosperity to the Netherlands. In the light of these findings, it is highly doubtful that discarding multiculturalism is likely, as claimed, to lead to a better society.
In the seventeenth century Dutch Republic, pluralism of religion was at the core of our culture. Or, more specifically, since culture is often defined by religion, there was no secularism or Leitkultur. In all the other European countries there was a unity of state and religion in which the established church played a role in unifying the people. The state used the disciplines of religion to centralize society and religion was thereby an important tool in pre-modern nation-building.
All this did not apply in the case of the Dutch Republic. There was no single, dominant religion. There was also not an absolute majority religion. Instead, each province and each town had its own religious cultural groups. In the Republic everyone had individual freedom of conscience and no one could be prosecuted for his or her religious views. The Republic was therefore unique in Europe. It was a state in which diversity was the essence of its culture.
The reason for this was that from the Golden Age onwards, decentralization was institutionalized. Dutch people disliked centralization. Every city and every province was sovereign, so each unit was under its own jurisdiction. There was no support for a central, unifying religion. The provinces - ‘Gewesten’ - only co-operated one with the other in the event that this was necessary for reasons of warfare or the furtherance of trade. Trade concerns were actually the main driver for this political system. State organization can be seen as having been subordinated to the interests of efficient trade and in pursuit of economic interests that made the Republic the wealthiest pre-modern country in the world.
In organizing the Republic so that co-operation led to economic growth, the main negotiating parties – the Gewesten – showed a great deal of tolerance and respect for the actors’ differing religious and cultural identities. Participation, consensus and respect for one’s cultural-religious identity went hand in hand in the Republic. Tolerance was not so much a virtue, as a pragmatic necessity. Tolerance was all about making money. The seventeenth-century Republic first began to thrive by recognizing that a culture of tolerance attracted traders from all over the world. Many people in Europe escaped to the Republic when they found themselves prosecuted for their religious views in their respective homelands. People from different cultures, with their different backgrounds and forms of expertise helped to enrich the Republic. Knowledge and experience coinciding from plural backgrounds ensured a more innovative and modernizing economy, altogether fitter for competition.
Multiculturalism was therefore a precondition for economic growth. Meanwhile, even though towns and provinces were officially tolerant, small minority cultures and religions still had to pay the relative majority culture (those were the Protestants) money in order to be allowed to express their culture and religion. Again, pragmatism and moneymaking was at the heart of tolerance. In the colonies, for instance, Muslims were allowed to build their mosques because these Muslims were wealthy businessmen and therefore influential business-partners. In due course it became apparent that respecting each other’s culture and religion minimized conflicts. It brought internal peace and peace of course secured a climate beneficial to trade. Business, moneymaking and trade gave birth to tolerance as a practice, and ensured in turn that multiculturalism became a part of Dutch political culture, because it brought prosperity with it.
These values of diversity and the right to have your own individual cultural identity remained an important part of Dutch culture in subsequent centuries. Different beliefs and identities were further institutionalized in the so-called ‘ Pillarized society’ of the twentieth century. Each religious and political group had its own institutions whereby the elites of each ‘pillar’ co-operated, negotiated and sought consensus exactly as the ‘Gewesten’ had done in the seventeenth century. Diversity and the right to conserve one’s specific cultural or religious identity went hand in hand with mutual respect and peace. Religious-cultural or political conflicts were resolved through consensus politics between the tops of the ‘pillars’. This climate of peace made it possible to focus fully on trade and economic growth.
Moreover, this culture of respecting and recognizing different cultural and religious identities had a positive impact on the emancipation of various cultural groups. They became more self-conscious and therefore members were able to express themselves confidently, providing a good basis for their social mobility. Their participation in society had a further beneficial effect on social cohesion. This political culture is still visible nowadays in the so-called ‘Polder Model’, an institutional network of all sorts of societal actors that strive to reach consensus in social, economical and political matters. There has been little polarization to speak of. Until today, that is.
Unifying the nation
Nowadays, the right-wing government of the Netherlands stands for unifying the nation. People with unique cultural backgrounds have to be assimilated to our Leitkultur. However, there is no such thing as ‘typical’ Dutch culture, since our culture has essentially always been multicultural. This populist fashion to call for assimilation only leads to ‘Us-Them’ thinking. Minority cultures, especially Muslim culture, is seen as different from Dutch culture and thus as deviant. This sort of thinking soon undermines social cohesion and cultural reconciliation and removed the basis for consensus.
The fact remains, that diversity has always led to economic prosperity on the macro-level. Will Kymlicka rightly points out that multicultural nations belong to the most prosperous in the world. On a micro-level, in companies for instance, diversity ensures creative thinking and this complements the virtues of competition. All these positive aspects of multiculturalism are in danger of being destroyed, as long as right-wing populism remains in power in the Netherlands.
- Originally published by openDemocracy.net
- Global Health: Meaty Concerns
- Global Health: A Seminal Moment?
- Human Trafficking: The Wound That Shames Our Present
- How New Atrocity-Prevention Steps Can Work
- 9/11 Anniversary: Rethink Needed
- 9/11 Anniversary: From Empire to Decline
- 9/11 Anniversary: Scanning Bodies, Stripping Rights?
- Assassination as Foreign Policy
- Eurozone Manufacturing Slowing
- European Union Spending Cuts and Tax Hikes Hurt GDP Growth
- Who's Worse Off: Europe or the United States?
- Germany: German Tiger or European Growth Engine?
- Greece Forecasts Economic Contraction to be Worse than Expected
- Collateral Deals will Have Negative Impact on Greece
- Spain Announces Temporary Tax Cut to Stimulate New House Sales
- Eastern Mediterranean Olive Oil Producers Seek Markets in Far East
- High North: The New Frontier
- The Politics of the London Riots
- Young Westerners -- Deprived or Decadent?
- Explanations and Excuses for English Riots
- Many British Households See Steeper Rise in Debt
- Young Turks Returning Home to Chase Economic Dreams
- The Pain in Spain
- Multiculturalism and Dutch Political Culture
- Macedonia Eyes Its Future in Antiquity
- The Saudi Counterrevolution
- Libya Threatens to Become Terrorist Arms Depot
- Libya: Protection Challenge For The Opposition
- Libya After Gadhafi: Transitioning from Rebellion to Rule
- Why Are Some Progressives Gloating over Libya?
- Egypt's Reluctant Rulers
- Fear and Blogging in the Arab world
- Middle East: The Future of Women
- Middle East: Bread and Dignity
- Middle East: Palestine Towards Statehood
- Israeli - Arab Crisis Approaching
- The Upcoming Palestinian Uprising
- Israeli Settlements Keep Middle East Unsettled
- Syrian Opposition Tries to Unite
- Assad Rejects International Calls to Resign
- Obama Calls for Syrian President Assad to Step Down
- Cranking up Pressure on Syria
- Violence in Iraq Raises Questions About American Withdrawal
- Egypt's Brotherhood Declares War on the Bikini
- Labor Pains in Saudi Arabia as Hiring Deadline Nears
- Gulf Markets Worry About Oil Outlook
- Jordanian King Promises Reform to Skeptical Public
- China and the United States' Debt
- China's New Aircraft Carrier Bolsters Its Regional Reach
- China Outpaces United States in PC Market
- Moody's Downgrades Japan Credit Rating Over Deficit Concerns
- Kim Jong-Il Pushes China for New Nuclear Talks
- North Korea's Rare Pledge to Abandon Nuclear Activities
- Indonesia: Pluralism vs Vigilantism
- South Sudan: Labor Pains
- Somalia: Pro-government Rally Held in Mogadishu
- Kenya: 'Perfect Storm' Brewing Among Urban Poor
- Latin America's Security Dilemma
- A President-for-Life in Argentina? Not Likely
- There's Hope for Mexico and Central America
- Chile: The Fight to Make Education a Guaranteed Right
- Death of Layton Poses Challenge for NDP Interim Leader
- Global Economic Downturn: A Crisis of Political Economy
- Crisis of Confidence: Debt Debate Erodes US Global Standing
- United States Debt Downgrade Won't Have Much Short-Term Effect on Foreign Policy
- The Empathy Deficit
- Stiglitz Upbeat About China and Latin America
- China Trade Surplus Rises
- China Sees Inflation Rate Hit 6.5%
- Latin America Not Immune to U.S. Debt Deal
- Is Japan Now a Good Bet?
- Is Germany the New Safe Haven?
- Islam and Arab Political Change
- Iran Reshaping Persian Gulf Politics
- Diplomatic Pressure on Al-Assad Gaining Momentum
- Arab Nations Join Call For Al Assad To Stop Civilian Attacks
- Bahrain and Kuwait recall Syria envoys
- Clinton Says Syrian Government has Lost Legitimacy
- September Looms Large in Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
- Israel's Growing Wealth Gap Fuels Economic Anger
- Israel and Cyprus Forging Ahead on Gas Bonanza
- Major Israeli Defense Merger Dropped
- Israel Approves 1,600 Settler Homes in East Jerusalem
- Mini UAV Chopper For Urban Warfare Revealed
- Roman-era Sword Uncovered in Ancient Ditch in Jerusalem
- Hamas: Palestinian Authority is Clamping Down On Our Preachers
- Warnings of 'Somalization' And All Out Civil War in Yemen
- Missing Out on Vital Medicines Because of Economic Crisis
- Jordanians Lash Out Against Planned Nuclear Reactor
- Jordanian Mosque Named After Jesus
- Troop Withdrawal Rests on Decision From Iraq
- Somali Forces and African Union Peacekeepers Gradually Expand Control In Mogadishu
- Somali President: Combat Operations Against Al-Shabaab Will Continue
- Al-Shabab Pullout: The Beginning Of The End in Somalia?
- Africa: Tough Choices As Food Prices Continue To Rise
- Nigeria: Jail Threat for Polio Vaccination Refuseniks
- Congo: Implement Anti-Discrimination Law, Urge Indigenous Peoples
- Congo: High-Tech Measures To Curb Illegal Fishing In Congo
- Raw Sewage Kills in Madagascar
- Tanzania: Violence Against Children Rampant
- Maternal Deaths Quadruple In South Africa
- United States and Pakistan Navigate New Tensions in Fraught Relationship
- Pakistan's Forgotten 2005 Quake Victims Still Need Help
- China Announces Sea Trial Of Its First Aircraft Carrier
- Indonesia's Global Significance
- Seoul Blasts Pyongyang For Fabricating Shelling Incident
- North Korea Planned Assassination of South Korean Defense Minister
- Calls For End To Torture and Extrajudicial Killings By Bangladeshi Police
- Muslim Rebels Seek Substate In Philippines
- DOJ Places Former Philippine President On Immigration Watchlist
- Britain Sticks With Austerity Plan
- Cameron Announces Crackdown On Facemasks
- Norway: The Sky Is Weeping
- Norway Attacks a Tragic Result of Failed Immigration Policies
- Norway: Blaming the Muslims
- Norway: Breivik's Real Enemy: Himself
- Brazil Joins Race for Globalized Students
- OAS Is a Basket Case - but a Needed One
Available at Amazon.com:
Copyright 2011, iHaveNet.com - All Rights Reserved