The consociational credentials of Dutch politics cannot be disputed, even though there is considerable room for debate about the timing, causes, and consequences of both pillarization and the politics of accommodation in the Netherlands. In the standard version of the theory, as put forward primarily by Arend Lijphart (e.g. 1968b, 1968c, 1975), emancipatory movements of Catholics, (orthodox) Protestants and (secular) Labour mobilized their respective constituencies in their struggle against the hitherto dominant Liberals during the decades around the turn of the century. The subcultural mobilization and inter-pillar rivalry, however, resulted in such a strong segmentation of Dutch society that its political stability was put at risk. Through the prudence of the subcultural leaders, who realized the danger in time, stability was safeguarded by cooperation at the elite level. This cooperation was first exhibited in 1917, in a famous package deal to end both the school struggle and the conflict over universal suffrage. Known as the ‘Pacification of 1917’, this episode marked the beginning of half a century of consociational democracy. The metaphor of pillarization is apposite: separate pillars, only joined at the top, together supported and were sheltered by the roof of the Dutch state. From 1967 onwards, depillarization rapidly crumbled the hitherto solid subcultures, but with effects on consociationalism that are less clear now than they seemed at the time.
Ours is a simplified account of Lijphart’s argument, narrowly escaping turning it into a straw man, but it is the ‘ideal-type’ of Dutch consociational theory to which other scholars have reacted. The two most important bones of contention are the nature of pillarization, and the causes of consociational practices.
With regard to pillarization, it has been argued that it was not, or at least not only, a means of emancipation of the masses, but rather an instrument to enable the political elites to exercise social control. Marxist authors, in particular, have suggested that Dutch pillarization has mobilized the masses primarily along the religious/secular cleavage, thus reducing the class struggle to an innocuous second-order cleavage (Kieve 1981). In this variation on the ‘false consciousness’ theme, social class and other potentially relevant dividing lines, such as gender,