Dutch Politics, Religion and Politics

Lemma on the Pacification (1917)


Here you can read a second lemma that I wrote for the Canon of Dutch Christian Democracy (see blogpost of December 23, 2012):

‘Our nation’s history tells us, that discord exists where heterogeneous elements are squeezed into one and the same straitjacket; but when everyone, within the limits of order, of course, is given freedom and allowed to do as they please, then we can all live together in tolerance’, according to Minister Baron Æ. Mackay in 1889 in the Upper House.

When the Mackay Act was passed in 1889, an important problem was removed from the school funding issue. The Act accepted the principle that private education could be subsidized by the government. It would still take until 1917, however, during the so-called Pacification, before there would be total equality between public and private education.

The direct background to the Pacification goes back to 1913, when during the election of that year 55 non-confessional (left-wing) members were elected and the right wing came no further than 45 seats. A cabinet under the leadership of the Liberal Prime Minister, P.W.A. Cort van der Linden came into office. To achieve a permanent solution to the issue of school funding, an education committee was established on which all groups represented in parliament had a seat, with De Savornin Lohman as vice-chairman. The committee succeeded in 1916 in almost unanimously arriving at the recommendation in its report that private schools should henceforth be put on the same footing as public schools. Honouring this traditional right-wing wish cleared the way to introduce the left-wing desire for universal suffrage for men and passive suffrage for women. In addition, the constitutional obstruction to women’s suffrage would be removed.

The combined proposals were considered to be so important that the parties agreed among themselves that at the next election the composition of the Lower House would, as far as possible, remain unchanged. And this made it possible, after certain sections had been amended during the first reading, for the bill to be passed with no problems in the autumn of 1917 at the second reading.

Partly influenced by the principle of pluralism that had been established for education by the constitutional revision of 1917, in the following years the Netherlands went on to acquire the characteristics of what could be called a pluriform democracy in other areas. The state developed respect for the various religious and secular ideologies in society and their affiliated organisations in a steadily increasing number of areas, such as broadcasting, while at the same time maintaining a distance.

In this way, either consciously or unconsciously, the lesson had been learned from the nation’s history that Mackay had pointed out in 1889. Until then, the problem had been that the state did not offer the four minorities that had come to the fore in the course of the nineteenth century – Protestants, Catholics, Liberals and Socialists – an equal right to shape their identity, also in the public domain. After the Pacification in 1917, Protestants and Catholics, and others, were given ample opportunity to do so, thereby marking a pivotal moment in the political history of the Netherlands. Meanwhile, the constitutional revision in 1917 had also changed the electoral system making it easier for smaller factions to successfully take part in elections. The ‘first past the post’ system with districts was replaced by a system of proportional representation in which the entire country was a constituency. One of the consequences of this was the founding of the Staatkundig-Gereformeerde Partij (Political Reformed Party) (SGP). After the general election of 1918, partly due to the stronger representation of Catholics, the coalition controlled exactly half the seats in the Lower House.