Useful Notes: Pillarisation
A rather literal translation of the Dutch word verzuiling, pillarisation was a curious social phenomenon that occurred in the Netherlands approximately from the late 19th century to The Sixties of the 20th. (It happened in some other places as well, most notably Belgium and Weimar Germany; in yet other places, it is still alive and kicking. However, this article will focus on the Netherlands, as that is where pillarisation was most pronounced).
So what was it?Pillarisation means that society was divided into a number of political and religious groups, called zuilen ("pillars"), and that there was a considerable degree of segregation between these pillars. Each pillar had its own institutions (schools, newspapers, political parties...) and members of different pillars rarely interacted with each other socially. Members of one pillar usually viewed the other pillars as different kinds of Scary Dogmatic Aliens, although the political leaders got along fine behind the scenes. Depending on which historian you ask, there were three to five pillars in the Netherlands:
- Catholics: The largest pillar, but still nowhere near a majority. Viewed by the other pillars as gullible "sheep" without much of an individual free will, who followed their "shepherds" (priests, bishops, and ultimately the Vatican) no matter what.
- Protestants: The dominant group before pillarisation, who still had considerable influence but not as much as in the 17th and 18th centuries. They were divided into two groups, considered separate pillars by some: hervormden and gereformeerden. Both words mean "reformed" and are impossible to tell apart in any language except Dutch. For the purpose of this discussion, "Moderate Protestants" (the hervormden) and "Orthodox Protestants" (the gereformeerden) will do. Both, especially the latter, were viewed by the other pillars as straitlaced Puritans who wanted to impose their idea of morality on the entire country.
- Socialists: Usually lumped together in one pillar, the "Socialists" included everyone from Communists to Social Democrats. Of course, there weren't many upper-class people in this pillar. Viewed by the other pillars as dangerous revolutionaries who wanted to do away with everything people held dear (including Christianity, the monarchy, and private property).
- Liberals: Note for readers lacking political education Not considered a separate pillar by some, due to their small numbers. The Liberals were in many respects the polar opposite of the Socialists: they were more or less aligned with the interests of big business and the upper class, which is why there were hardly any working-class Liberals. Viewed by the other pillars as cynical hedonists who didn't care for morality or religion, but all the more for money.