Dutch Pillarization and Local Sovereignty

Last week, one of the last few men being of a genuinely Paleolibertarian persuasion, Llewellyn Rockwell, posted an article titled “Break Up the USA. In that particular article, he proposes to open one’s mind to the idea of secession, or at least of opening one’s mind to the possibility of considering it, rather than instantly rejecting it on basis of it being too alien of an idea. For a libertarian whose fondness for the current state of market-based globalization does not prevent him from considering such viewpoints, the idea of secession has likely been deliberated upon as an attractive proposition, although unlikely to be ever more than a fancy intellectual fantasy.

It is the goal of this article to add on the idea of libertarian secession a historical narrative in the spirit of Old Right conservative politics, as coined by Murray Rothbard. Also considering my Dutch heritage, I will provide a connection between the old Dutch social system and philosophy of Verzuiling, or “Pillarization”, and the possibility of wrestling control away from centralized bureaucracies in favor of more local forms of governance. Providing this connection becomes of importance once one realizes that the comparative power of centralized states—such as the Federal government of the USA—have historically accumulated their power not merely on basis of military buildup, but on basis of creating a convincing narrative that centralized coercive power has a just place in society.[1] A relatively effective way of providing a convincing counter-narrative will simply be to provide information about alternatives; traditional systems and ways of life that do not presuppose the necessity of an ever-expanding bureaucracy.

The old system of pillarization in the 20th century was based on the teachings of Dutch Neo-Calvinist Abraham Kuyper, which are based on the concept of “Sovereignty of own circle”. Rather than modern conceptions of national or even supranational concepts of sovereignty, this concept indicates that communities based on religion and political convictions should not be politically influenced by other communities. While the implementation of pillarization was clearly imperfect even from its own perspective, considering that The Netherlands were ruled by a national parliament in the 20th century, its philosophical foundation nonetheless served as a bulwark against individualism; secularization, and political centralization.

The 20th century was a time where the events of the mutual slaughter of Catholics and Protestants were still relatively recent. Worse yet, the threat of violent socialist revolution was considered to be ever-present.[2] During this period, the Dutch peoples separated themselves into four “pillars”, namely the Catholic; Protestant; Socialist, and the Liberal pillar. Each of these pillars—partially on basis of mutual aid—created their own specific institutions such as schools; hospitals; unions; newspapers, and radio stations.

Out of the four pillars, only the Classically Liberal pillar formally refused to consider itself one. This rejection of pillarization was due to the liberals’ individualistic objection to the very system of pillarization itself. Contrary to the current libertarian perception of classical liberalism, their conflation between liberty and democratic parliamentarianism is an ironic happenstance of history; and one that gradually eroded a great many liberties by using the liberal concept of “the people’s will” as a justification for continuously expanding the state’s reach beyond its previous boundaries. It is, therefore, no coincidence that the classical liberalism of the late 19th century gave way to the more modern forms of social-liberalism and social-democracy.

The narrative one could gain from this era of Dutch history is this; if the ever-expanding erosion of civil liberties under the state is to be halted, it is essential that people start forming communities again. Instead of advocating the abstract concept of rationalistic individualism, one should advance the virtue of communal and family values; local traditions and sovereignty, and the use of civil society—rather than the exclusive use of governmentally-influenced markets—to create public goods and institutions. This does not necessarily mean that local isolationism is the key, but the establishment of the aforementioned values could generate a level of social cohesion to such an extent that most narratives favoring centralization naturally become either laughable or outrageous. For example, during the early 20th century, many people in the southern provinces of the Netherlands found the idea of subsidizing projects or people in other provinces to be outrageous. Nowadays, however, after many decades of the media and state emphasizing the “national” above the “local”, almost everyone considers the idea to be natural.

Finally, if the ideas of secession or increased local sovereignty ever could become popular, they could not be built on current state-based institutions. Almost every industry in Western nations is either directly nationalized; subsidized, or regulated to the benefit of an established set of firms. Family values appear to be ever under attack; the divorce rate has increased at an incredible rate since the sexual revolution of the ‘60s, and we are now entering an era where more and more people will likely abstain from marrying in the first place. In a “community” where single parenthood will become increasingly normalized, and most income will be generated either by welfare or state-influenced firms, one cannot possibly hope that local sovereignty or partial secession will ever be considered as a serious policy proposal. If there is to be any future of bottom-up liberty, it will have to originate from traditional communities with their own institutions and a clear sense of identity, not from any philosophy relying on materialistic and globalist individualism.


[1] “Herman, Edward S.; Chomsky, Noam. Manufacturing Consent. New York: Pantheon Books” provides one of the dominant “propaganda models of communication” that does not necessarily presuppose the existence of state-owned media for its success. Since mass communications in the U.S. are largely controlled by corporate interest groups closely tied to the state, the internalized assumptions of the U.S. populace are influenced in such ways by carefully constructed narratives that one could indeed speak of “manufactured consent”.

[2] Incidentally, this threat of socialist revolution in addition to the large influx of war refugees during the First World War is considered the main reason why firearms were prohibited in the Netherlands in 1919.  Despite the threat of Bolshevik revolution being a relic of a time long past, the prohibition on free ownership of firearms has nonetheless never been repealed in the Netherlands.

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