The State-formation and Nation-building of the


Firas A. 2007

1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. Introduction ...................................................................................................................... 3 Feudalism in the Netherlands ........................................................................................ 4 The State-Formation Process .......................................................................................... 5 The Nation-Building Process .......................................................................................... 8 Nation-State, Nationalism and Mass Democracy ..................................................... 11 Conclusion ........................................................................................................................ 13 References ......................................................................................................................... 14


Firas A. 2007

1. Introduction
Concepts such as feudalism, the state of the estates and the numerous religious wars played a significant role in the process of state-formation and nation-building in Europe in general – and the Netherlands in particular. Therefore, the main aim of this paper is to examine the ways in which the Netherlands participated in the great European events and how internal/external factors contributed to the state-formation and nation-building process of the Netherlands. In order to ensure a detailed examination of key factors contributing to the stateformation and nation-building, the time-frame of this paper shall be limited to the early medieval era until the outbreak of the First World War.

The rough road to the state-formation and nation-building of the Netherlands took numerous unique turns in history. The Dutch version of the state of estates, the Staten-Generaal, and the formation of the Dutch Republic are just a few examples of such unique turns. It is interesting to notice that state and nation are often taken for granted, however they are in fact historical entities. This means that they came into existence as a result of the interaction of specific historical events. Therefore it is not impossible for a state or nation to disappear (Rulof, 2007). At this point two questions central to this paper arise: which circumstances contribute to the formation of sovereign states and which circumstances contribute to the building of nations?

This paper shall start off by examining the state-formation and nation-building process of the Netherlands by considering the effects of feudalism on the Netherlands. Here the claim is made that feudalism and the conflicts between Protestants and Catholics played a vital role in the state-formation and nation-building process of the Netherlands. Dutch Nationalism on the other hand emerged in the course of events such as the Dutch Revolt (1568-1648).

In order to ensure a valid discussion on the state-formation and nation-building process of the Netherlands, important key words need to be defined first. Here the definition of the modern state put forward by Roberts seems appropriate. According to him what constitutes a modern state is “the presence of a supreme authority, ruling over a defined territory, which is 3

Firas A. 2007 recognized as having power to make decisions in matters of government and is able to enforce such decisions and generally maintain order within the state” (Caljé, 2007). The term nation on the other hand always refers to people. It is worth mentioning that the definition of this term is controversial. However, for the purpose of this paper the definition of nation put forward by Davies (2005) seems appropriate. According to him the term nation can only be effectively defined as “a social group whose individual members, being convinced rightly or wrongly of their common descent and destiny, share that common sense of identity” (Davies, God's Playground: A history of Poland in Two Volumes, 2005, p. 8).

Please note that whenever referring to the Netherlands, Dutch history or Dutch culture it is the intention to refer to developments relevant to that region at that time. Thus referring to a region by calling it the Netherlands does not mean that this region already did represent a political, linguistic or cultural unity. Calling a specific region the Netherlands therefore indicates that the region of the present-day Netherlands is being dealt with.

Having established the definition of these key words, the discussion shall now go on to examine the state-formation and nation-building process of the Netherlands. This examination shall start by considering which effects feudalism had upon the Dutch state-formation and nation-building process.

2. Feudalism in the Netherlands
By the 10th century, feudalism had spread to most territories of the former Roman Empire. Historians often claim that feudalism laid the basis for the emergence of the political culture of liberalism in Europe. According to Opello and Rosow feudalism was responsible for the establishment of “political, economic, and social conditions from which the modern territorial state emerged” (Opello & Rosow, 2004, p. 42). This was due to the organizational nature of feudalism with respect to social and political structures. Indeed, the political structures employed today greatly differ from those employed in feudal times. However, to a certain extent the present political structures do share common basic principles with the feudal system.

The present-day Netherlands represented one of the provinces of the Roman Empire till the 5th century (J. C. H. Blom, 2006, p. 245). After the fall of the Roman Empire, the area 4

Firas A. 2007 became part of the Holy Roman Empire in form of various duchies, dioceses and countships. The Holy Roman Empire employed a quite sophisticated form of feudalism. This in turn influenced the course of developments in the territories subject to the rule of the Holy Roman Empire (e.g. the area of the present-day Netherlands).

The system of feudalism consists of three main elements: lords, vassals and fiefs. The interaction of these elements represents the system of feudalism. Over time individual vassals began to proceed increasingly independent of the overall empire. This development set the very basis for the emergence of primitive counties and independent principalities. Around 1100 AD Holland emerged as one of such counties, regulated by a count (van de Groep, 2004).

With the advent of the French Revolution the formal feudal rights were finally entirely abolished. The French occupation followed, resulting in Napoleon Bonaparte setting up the Kingdom of Holland (1806-1810). Due to the fact that significant developments took place between 1100 and 1648 the following section of this paper shall be dedicated to a detailed discussion of that time period.

3. The State-Formation Process
The area of the present-day Netherlands came under the control of powerful dynasties such as the Bavarian, Burgundian and Habsburg. The dukes of Burgundy for example gradually unified the Netherlands, an accumulation of Dutch- and French-speaking provinces on the western edge of the German Empire (Brabant, Holland, Flanders etc.). This gradual unification was part of the Burgundian state-building efforts – which were continued by the Habsburgs, who inherited the area by marriage (Glete, 2002, p. 20).

Under the Habsburgs, numerous policies encouraging centralization were implemented. Philip II of Spain had the intention to centralize justice, taxes and the government. Furthermore, different feudal entities within the region had been united into one state. As the region was increasingly exposed to centralization, a certain resistance against centralization developed. This resistance reached a climax under the rule of the Habsburgs, leading to the revolt, which shall be examined later.


Firas A. 2007 Charles V’s son, Philip II of Spain, employed mainly absolutist ways of ruling. As a consequence a number of religious restrictions were imposed. This in turn was another factor contributing to the emergence of the revolt, which lasted from 1568-1648 (discussed later). In this context the spread of the Reformation to Western Europe was of great significance. A large number of suppressed individuals within the Netherlands converted to Protestantism, which immediately made them dissenters from the viewpoint of the Roman Catholic Habsburgs. King Philip II, who was well known for the fact that he was a committed Catholic, was literally horrified by the success of the Reformation. Therefore the reaction of the Habsburgs was highly undesirable for the Protestants: the religious suppress was further increased by King Philip II (Üzüm, 2007, p. 51).

Not only, but especially at the southern part of the present-day Netherlands quite considerable Catholic settlements existed. The inhabitants of these Catholic settlements were free from abuse and religious suppress by the Catholic Habsburgs. On the other hand, the Protestants underwent active persecution by Philip II of Spain who was, as mentioned before, a committed Catholic. Therefore, the rule of the Habsburgs was mainly opposed by Protestants, increasingly Calvinist, while Catholics were less active in that sense.

This transformed a purely religious clash between the Catholics and the increasingly Calvinist population of Zeeland, Holland, and Utrecht into a political-religious clash. The tension between the Catholic Walloons of Hainault, Namur, and Liege and the Dutch-speaking, Calvinists rose continuously. However, these were not the only clashing communities. The wealthy burghers and fishermen of the coastal towns contrasted sharply with the feudal aristocracy of the countryside (Davies, Europe: A History, 1997, p. 536).

What finally led to the revolt was a combination of factors. As mentioned above, the attempts of Philip II of Spain to enforce religious persecution of the Protestants played a major role in triggering the revolt. His intentions to centralize justice, taxes and the government further worsened the situation, leaving him highly unpopular amongst the Dutch population. At this point the revolt seemed inevitable (Davies, Europe: A History, 1997).

While up until the 1560s the policies employed by the Habsburgs seemed very successful, the government suddenly found itself in a highly problematic situation. In 1548 the practical


Firas A. 2007 separation of the Habsburg Netherlands from the rest of the Empire was conducted by Charles V. In doing so, he and his son Philip II behaved like typical state-building rulers of this age. This becomes obvious considering their main intentions to gradually gain greater control over this economically very important area (Glete, 2002, p. 20).

In 1568 the failure of the centralizing policy of the Habsburgs was clearly evident in form of the rise of the Dutch Revolt. Thus, what initially started out as a religious conflict and part of the European struggle between Catholics and Protestants, quickly developed into an open revolt. Philip II rapidly found himself in a situation unable to handle his Dutch problems with political expertise. The situation was worsened as even those who regarded themselves as moderate Catholics and loyal to the ruler went against Philip II of Spain. The main reason for this can be found, again, considering Philip’s attempts to proceed with state-formation and centralization (Glete, 2002, p. 152)

By 1574-75, it was clear that Philip had failed to establish a centralized, monarchic fiscalmilitary state. His own army was in revolt due to his inability to pay. Further attempts to restore his power in the time period between 1580 and 1600 failed. This was due to internal politics, which from 1585 made England an ally of the young republic. The revolt, which had started in 1568 under Prince William of Orange, ended in 1648 with the conclusion of the Peace of Westphalia, granting the Netherlands the recognition by Spain as an independent state under the name of the Republic of the United Provinces. With this 80 years of warfare finally came to an end (J. C. H. Blom, 2006, p. 55).

According to Gorski, Dutch nationalism emerged in the course of the Dutch Revolt against Spain. The nationalism was “directed against the Habsburgs’ policy of administrative penetration and was reinforced by the confessional conflict between Dutch Calvinism and Catholicism”. Gorski also mentions the fact that during the conflict Dutch historians, songwriters, pamphleteer and ministers drew on “on symbols and stories of the Old Testament” to justify their resistance to Habsburg rule (Zimmer, 1996, pp. 16-17).

Thus, it can be said that religion was a primary factor in the state-formation process of the Netherlands. After all, it was the revolt of Protestant subjects against the Roman Catholic


Firas A. 2007 Habsburg that triggered the greater (open) Dutch Revolt, leading to the formation of the Republic of the United Provinces.

4. The Nation-Building Process
The newly emerged Republic of the United Provinces consisted of seven sovereign provinces: Groningen, Zeeland, Gelderland, Holland, Utrecht, Overijssel and Friesland. The political elites of the Dutch Republic were predominantly Calvinist. This resulted in the partial discrimination against Lutherans, Roman Catholics, Jews and Protestant dissenters. Thus while freedom of conscience existed, equality with regards to public rights was lacking (Davies, Europe: A History, 1997, p. 596).

The numerous Catholic provinces were governed by a Calvinist Staten-Generaal. The StatenGeneraal was a body of delegates representing the United Provinces, and therefore a keyinstitution of the Republic on a central level. It was the meeting point of representatives of the seven provinces. The representatives made decisions on the basis of what was previously discussed with the States of their province. As mentioned above, the Staten-Generaal was overwhelmingly Calvinist. This was reason enough for Protestant dissenters or non-Calvinists in general, to believe that the Dutch Republic was not legitimate enough. Hence, nonCalvinists (Catholics, Protestant dissenters etc.) only identified weakly with the new Dutch Republic. As a consequence Dutch identity and consciousness was severely weakened during that time period (Knippenberg, Dutch Nation-Building: A Struggle Against the Water?, 1997, pp. 28-31).

The Republic had a clearly decentralized structure, where localities and cities were nearly autonomous. The Dutch Reformed Church ruled in matters of marriage, poverty relief and education. In contrast to this, members of other religious groups were discriminated against – prohibiting them to become employed in the governmental sector. The state became increasingly associated with Calvinism. This explains the further detachment of the southern population (mainly Roman Catholic) from the state. Hence, it follows that particularly nonCalvinist communities in the Netherlands did not feel very Dutch, nor did they much national consciousness. A different outcome would have been difficult to imagine, considering that non-Calvinists were seen as second-class citizens (J. C. H. Blom, 2006, pp. 57-226). 8

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The approach to the concept of the nation in the Netherlands changed in the course of the late 18th and early19th century. The reason for this was the modernization process which had started with the advent of the Napoleonic invasions. More accurately, the process started in 1795, when the Netherlands was occupied by French revolutionary forces. In this process the Batavian Republic (1795-1804) was founded, replacing the Dutch Republic and making the Netherlands a vassal state of France. In the same year the Netherlands became a French-style centralist nation-state (Üzüm, 2007, p. 58).

In 1806 however, Napoleon Bonaparte transformed the Batavian Republic into the Kingdom of Holland. The short-lived Kingdom of Holland lasted only from 1804 until 1810, with Louis Bonaparte, Napoleon’s brother, as king. In 1810 the Kingdom of Holland was annexed by France, as the interests of the Dutch – which Louis followed – collided with the interests of the French (Heslinga, 2007, p. 2205). After the withdrawal of the French from the Netherlands in 1813, the basis of a modern, centralized nation-state was left behind (Postma, 2007, p. 1).

In 1815 the United Kingdom of the Netherlands was created during the Congress of Vienna. The remarkable detail about the United Kingdom of the Netherlands was the fact that it was established on the basis of the equal citizenship principle. Thus the legal discrimination due to religious/ethnical reasons (discussed earlier in this paper) came to an end. Based on the idea of the sovereignty of people, all citizens were granted equal rights. Furthermore, the former communal citizenship was replaced by state citizenship and a national legislation was developed (Postma, 2007, p. 2). This point in history can be said to have marked the introduction of civic nationalism into the Netherlands (Knippenberg, Dutch Nation-Building: A Struggle Against the Water?, 1997, p. 30).

The Dutch nation turned into a voluntary association after the emergence of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands. This refers to the fact that citizens were given equal rights and that any individual, regardless of ethnic or religious background, was able to join the Dutch nation. Only precondition was the individuals’ allegiance to the state. Thus the nationmembership was not tied to religion or ethnicity anymore, but rather rested on the common principles of individuals.


Firas A. 2007

Thus it is safe to assume that the French occupation had a significant impact upon the stateformation and nation-building of the Netherlands. It was the establishment of the Kingdom of Holland by Napoleon Bonaparte that ended the legal discrimination against non-Protestant individuals – resulting in the redefinition of the Dutch nation. One of the original aims of the newly established Kingdom of Holland was to provide Dutch unity. In contrast, preceding the 19th century, a clearly established Dutch consciousness was barely evident (Üzüm, 2007, p. 54)

In the case of the Netherlands, the Dutch state-formation had preceded Dutch nation-building. Only after the Dutch state had been established in the 17th century, did the nation-building process begin. It is true that the Calvinist Church did provide some degree of unity. However this consciousness was far too limited to be considered a broad national feeling. The development of a common culture and the replacement of the Calvinist Church by the Dutch State however can be considered to have been a rather unifying force (Postma, 2007, p. 6)

Contrary to what has been stated in this paper, it is sometimes claimed that the Dutch nation already existed in the 13th century. This however is a popular misconception, which is also easily identified as such, considering any description of Netherland’s early history. The misconception is best described by the claim that “Europe’s later nations must already have existed in embryo in the medieval period” “…yet this was not so. In the case of the low countries familiar terms such as Holland, Dutch, and Netherlands all possessed different connotations from those which they later acquired” (Davies, Europe: A History, 1997, p. 379). Therefore it would be highly problematic to speak of nation states at any stage during the 13th century.


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5. Nation-State, Nationalism and Mass Democracy
After a very turbulent period of rebellion and occupation in 1800 the nation-state of the Netherlands came into being. Only in the course of the 19th and 20th century did the population of the Netherlands start to develop into citizens. The Dutch government employed mainly three ways to bind its citizens to the government: taxation, compulsory education and military service.

Teaching children Christian values and morals was thought to stabilize the newly established state. In association with this, the law of 1807, granting Catholics the right to function as teachers, was of great importance. A system of regional/local inspectors was established encouraging most parents to send their children to public schools. According to Schama, the primary school system employed in the Netherlands to that time was the most modern in Europe. He also states that the Netherlands had one of the highest literacy rates in Europe. However, in some areas regional differences with regards to literacy rates were quite high (Schama, 1970, p. 588).

The Dutch government also introduced the collection of direct taxes from citizens in order to further tie them to the national state. Due to obligations to the state, local authorities also became more dependent on the central government. Thus, the primary goal of the state was to establish law, order and stability. Later the economic well being of the state came into the spotlight. In that sense the liberation of the transportation of people and goods was a significant step forward. Due to first economical and later ethical reasons, in the 1850s the government also started to focus on social problems (Postma, 2007, p. 6).

The political unification of the Netherlands was prompted by the governmental penetration of public life through regulations and laws. However, this behavior incurred tremendous (monetary) costs to the government. This can be illustrated considering the hundred-fold increase of expenditure per person between 1850 and 1960. Also the number of people working for the government increased from 45.000 in 1900 to 200.000 in 1960 (Kraemer, 1966, p. 55).


Firas A. 2007 In 1848 an important step was taken: the country became a parliamentary democracy with a constitutional monarch. The revolutions of 1848 can be said to have persuaded William II to agree to the aforementioned step. Indeed, in this case King William II’s decision was based on foreign rather than internal developments. The final step, turning the Netherlands into a constitutional monarchy, was the conclusion of the by Thorbecke rewritten constitution. After the document was proclaimed valid in November 1848, the government was solely accountable to an elected parliament, limiting the king’s power and protecting civil liberties (Heslinga, 2007, p. 2154).

According to Wels three percent of the population was allowed to vote. To that time the Netherlands was divided in sixty-eight different districts, while each district retained approximately 45.000 inhabitants. The decreasing importance of the regional, in comparison to the national level, can be illustrated considering the fact that in 1917 the district system was replaced by a system of proportional representation. In the same year of 1917 universal male suffrage was introduced. Only five years later, in 1922, the right to vote for women older than twenty-five was granted. This achievement can be associated with the efforts of feminist movement leaders such as Mina Kruseman, Aletta Jacobs, and Wilhelmina Drucker (J. C. H. Blom, 2006, p. 421).

Another considerable achievement of that time period emerged out of the protest against the new School Law. This movement, lead by Abraham Kuiper, united Protestants and Catholics into the first national political party of that country: the Anti-Revolutionary party. Thus the regional stubbornness was finally overcome with the help of the school debate, which was a national issue (concerning a large part of the population). The school debate, which dealt with the emancipation of the Christian education, encouraged people to unite their forces. This was done in form of the creation of the Anti-School Law League (Postma, 2007, p. 8).

In 1882 the Social Democratic Alliance was formed, whereas just three years before, in 1885, the first national Liberal society of local clubs was formed. In the last quarter of the 19th century the population increasingly started to participate in nation-wide issues such as social problems, the right to vote and schooling. This active participation in nation-wide issues was facilitated by certain improvements in infrastructure.


Firas A. 2007 Due to the decreased price of the postal service, magazines found their way to a greater number of individuals. The key to the success was the spread of news and ideas about political strikes and actions, which in turn activated readers. According to Knippenberg, this resulted in the regional/local orientation being replaced by a national or even international orientation (especially amongst socialists).

This can be proven considering the fact that national favorites of the people were chosen even in communal elections. In the year of 1986 for example, the decision to vote for a candidate did barely depend on his or her local political programme – but rather on the degree of fame of that particular candidate. On the other hand, in the 19th century the representatives in parliaments were mainly elected due to regional interests (Knippenberg, De Eenwording van Nederland: Schaalvergroting, 1988, p. 157). The contrast between the decisive factors in elections in the aforementioned time periods could not have been more significant.

6. Conclusion
Clearly, the numerous religious conflicts (especially between Protestants and Catholics) played a major role in the state-formation and nation-building process of the Netherlands. The Dutch Revolt for example would have been difficult to imagine without the initial religious conflicts. Without the Dutch Revolt, the independence from the Spanish Habsburgs would not have been achieved. This in turn would have meant the absence of the Republic of the United Provinces, hence the absence of a state. Furthermore, the claim made in the introduction that the Dutch Revolt played a major role in the creation of Dutch Nationalism was confirmed. The French Revolution on the other hand also played a very significant role in the Dutch state-formation and nation-building process. After the withdrawal of the French from the Netherlands in 1813, the basis of a modern, centralist nation-state was left behind. This in turn favored the emergence of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, which can be strongly associated with the elimination of legal discrimination based on ethnical and religious reasons. Communal citizenship was replaced by state citizenship in similar fashion, causing the introduction of civic nationalism and the establishment of a national legislation. Thus as evident from discussion above and indicated in the introduction, the Netherlands underwent a truly unique succession of events until it became the nation-state as we know it today.


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7. References
Caljé, P. (2007, October 30). Lecture 2 (The Greek polis and medieval feudalism). Retrieved December 1, 2007, from Universiteit Maastricht Website: BA-B_COURS_E1010/content/_1006897_1/lecture_2_polis_medieval_state.ppt Davies, N. (1997). Europe: A History. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press. Davies, N. (2005). God's Playground: A history of Poland in Two Volumes. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Glete, J. (2002). War and the State in Early Modern Europe. London, New York: Routledge. Heslinga, M. W. (2007). The Netherlands. Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica. J. C. H. Blom, E. L. (2006). History of the Low Countries. Netherlands: Berghahn Books. Knippenberg, H. (1988). De Eenwording van Nederland: Schaalvergroting. Nimwegen: GeoJournal. Knippenberg, H. (1997). Dutch Nation-Building: A Struggle Against the Water? Nimwegen: GeoJournal. Kraemer, P. (1966). The Societal State. New York: Meppel. McIntyre, T. (1999). A Treatise on the Constitutional Limitations. In T. McIntyre, A Treatise on the Constitutional Limitations (p. 1). NYC: The Lawbook Exchange, Ltd. Opello, W., & Rosow, S. (2004). The Nation-State and Global Order. Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc. Postma, R. (2007). The Nation-State and Cultural Diversity in the Netherlands. Tilburg. Rulof, B. (2007, October 30). Lecture 1 (Introducing: Bloody Diversity 1B, ES). Retrieved December 1, 2007, from Universiteit Maastricht Website: BA-B_COURS_E1010/content/_1006863_1/Introducing%20Bloody%20Diversity%2020072008.ppt Schama, S. (1970). Schools and Politics in the Netherlands. Den Haag: The Historical Yournal. Üzüm, G. (2007). Dutch Nationalism and the Question of Foreigners in the Netherlands. Istanbul: Sabancı University. van de Groep, M. (2004, January 21). Netherlands Info. Retrieved November 13, 11, from


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Wels, C. (1992). Stemmen En Kiezen. Netherlands: Tijdschrift voor Geschiedenis. Zimmer, O. (1996). States, Nations and Nationalism. From the Middle Ages to the Present. Cambridge: Blackwell Publishers Ltd.


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