Dutch Politics, Religion and Politics

Lemma on the Kuyper cabinet (1901-1905)

Here you can read this lemma, which I wrote for the Canon of Dutch Christian Democracy (see previous blogpost):

‘The case is clear to us: shut out the Roman Catholics from present-day Christianity, then Protestant Christianity will be bound hand and foot, and forever at the mercy of the unbelieving majority, and all resistance to the revolutionary principle will be purposeless’, Kuyper said in his address to delegates on 17 April 1901.

After the fall of the Mackay cabinet in 1891, it would be another ten years before a new coalition cabinet, the Kuyper cabinet, was formed. The reason was partly the divisions in anti-revolutionary and Catholic circles. The cabinet was formed after the election in which the confessional parties (right wing) had won no less than 58 of the total of 100 seats. Kuyper, who had gradually cast aside his initial reservations with regard to working with the Catholics, defended the new coalition by referring to the notion ‘Antithesis’. He believed that when entering into a political union, the leading question ought to be whether a certain group wished to acknowledge the sovereignty of God as the leading principle in the constitution. Considered in this light, Protestants and Catholics, though acting as separate organisations, were politically more dependent on each other than one might initially expect on the grounds of their religious beliefs and history.

The Kuyper cabinet, that took office on 1 August 1901, developed important legislation in the field of education. Its Higher Education Act, giving graduates from the VU University Amsterdam, founded by Kuyper in 1880, the same rights as students who graduated from a state university, was initially rejected as a bill by the Upper House of the Dutch parliament. But when the Upper House was dissolved by Kuyper, the Liberals lost their majority. However when the cabinet submitted the rejected bill once more, it was adopted by both Houses.

In contrast, there was significantly less progress in the field of social legislation, possibly because during the cabinet formation the Department of Employment was placed under Kuyper`s Ministry of Home Affairs which also included Education. It is also likely that the tension between Kuyper`s vision of an organic society on the one hand, and the social reality on the other, was an aggravating factor. The vision of an organic society required a restrained approach by government. Civil society had also not fully matured and was to some extent even intractable.

The manner in which the cabinet reacted to the rail strikes in 1903 also did little to contribute to its social standing. The cabinet did not submit bills to the Lower House to forbid civil servants and rail workers from striking in writing, as was customary, but in person on behalf of the Queen. After a failed new rail strike these ‘coercive acts’ were adopted in quick succession.

As a result the disparity between the confessionals and the socialists grew. In more general terms too, the cabinet went on to become one of the most controversial cabinets in the political history of the Netherlands. The election contest in 1905 was completely dominated by support for Kuyper or not. When the left wing joined forces during the re-count, the right wing came no further than 48 seats. On 3 July 1905 the Kuyper cabinet handed in its resignation.

Following a short intermezzo, the Heemskerk cabinet (1908-1913) became the third and last coalition cabinet before World War One broke out. As with the previous Kuyper cabinet, in addition to support from the anti-revolutionaries and Catholics, this cabinet enjoyed the loyal support of the Christian Historical members of parliament.