History of the Low Countries

By J. C. H. Blom; E. Lamberts et al. | Go to book overview

8 The Netherlands since 1630

J. C.H. Blom

After Belgian independence, the Netherlands -- once among the most powerful states in the world as the Republic of the United Netherlands -- resigned itself to the status of a small European power. The country did manage to retain an extensive colonial empire for more than a century. The country remained quiet during the revolutions of 1848, but the threat of revolution caused the king to proclaim a relatively modern, liberal constitution. This laid the legal and political basis for the modernization of the country, which was slow at first but which accelerated in the 1870s. Economically, socially, and culturally, the country changed much around the turn of the century. Through all of these changes, the Netherlands became a modern constitutional nation-state with a democratic parliamentary system. The country possessed a varied and relatively prosperous economy, a lively national culture defined by a broad "bourgeois" moral consensus, and a striking social segmentation along religious and ideological lines (pillarization).

The Netherlands suffered under some of the greatest upheavals of the twentieth century: the Depression of the 1930s, German occupation during World War II, decolonization, and the Cold War. These intrusions did not prevent the growth and expansion of the country's pillarized institutions, which enjoyed their heyday between 1920 and 1960. A welfare state emerged from a growing body of social legislation, from the consensus economy, and from increasing state intervention. Major social and cultural shifts accounted for a "cultural revolution" which took the country by storm during the 1960s. Pillarization largely disappeared, and new demands for openness and participation, for personal growth and secularization led to a much more "liberal" set of values. But in many respects Dutch society continued to develop along long- established lines.

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