III.The Antithesis

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Politics between 1888 and 1918 were the story of the fight between the liberals and the protestants, exactly as Kuyper’s Antithesis said politics should be. The most important formal problem was the school struggle, with protestants and catholics fighting for religious but state-paid education, with the liberals opposed.

During the period of the Antithesis the liberals and protestants alternated in government. Although both denominations tried to do something for their voters, they were mostly at war with each other and little was changed.

There’s one exception to this rule. The 1894 elections were all about minister Tak’s proposals for suffrage, and it split both the liberal and the protestant denomination in pro-Takkians and anti-Takkians. Before continuing their struggle, liberals and protestants first had to set their own houses in order.

The protestant denomination

Abraham Kuyper founded the first political party, determined the face of Dutch politics, and conquered power for his christian alliance. His ARP was a success; the party existed for 101 years and was in government during most of that time.

It also was the largest protestant party during its entire existence (except for 1894-1897, directly after Tak). Moreover, because until 1918 the catholics didn’t take a very active approach to politics the ARP was the leader of the christian block and remained so until 1939.

Still, because the Dutch protestant tradition is in large part built on the sacred right to disagree, parties started to split off from the main anti-revolutionary trunk pretty soon. Although all these parties saw themselves and each other as standing in the tradition of Calvin, Groen van Prinsterer and Kuyper, they often disagreed on details — many of which were too abstruse to be understood by people outside the protestant denomination.

The extent of the denomination

Unlike the catholic one, the protestant denomination did not unite all Dutch protestants. Far from it; in fact it consisted only of a minority of those who officially considered themselves protestant.

The Gereformeerden are easiest to explain. The ARP was the political vehicle of the Gereformeerde Kerk, and the members of that church were the die-hard Kuyper followers, who overwhelmingly voted ARP and supported the party.

However, the Gereformeerden formed only about 15% of the total number of protestants, although they were doubtless the most active and vocal 15%. Still, the overwhelming majority of protestants still called the Hervormde Kerk home.

Now some of these Hervormden were church members only in name, but even among the more seriously devout there were many who did not feel required to vote for a protestant party. In fact, almost all liberals were nominally Hervormd, as, later on, were many socialists.

Combined, the protestant parties retained about 25 to 30% of the vote, which meant that about half of the (nominal) protestants voted protestant. The other half did not. (Compare this to the catholics: about 85% of them voted catholic.)

So the Gereformeerde Kerk was the core of the protestant denomination, around which various shades of orthodox and moderate Hervormden grouped themselves.

Despite being spread out over three to five parties, the protestant denomination as a whole held about one quarter to one fifth of the seats in parliament, and thus remained a power to be reckoned with, especially when they combined with the catholics.

The only area of the country where the protestants had no power were the two southern provinces which were massively catholic. Other than that they were well-represented, although all protestant parties had their own strongholds.


Portrait of Theo Heemskerk

Theo Heemskerk (1852-1932), ARP MP 1888-1908 and 1925-1932, interior and prime minister 1908-1913, justice minister 1922-1925. He was the son of former prime minister Heemskerk, and is the only second-generation prime minister in Dutch history.

In 1883 Heemskerk, a coming man and son of the sitting conservative prime minister, crossed to the Gereformeerde Kerk and the ARP, and this caused quite a stir. In 1888 he entered parliament with the victorious christian majority, and his father resigned from active politics.

In 1901 Kuyper asked him for interior minister in his government, but Heemskerk refused, something Kuyper never forgave him. Instead Heemskerk became parliamentary leader of the anti-revolutionaries.

When the liberal government fell in 1908 Kuyper was abroad, and Heemskerk was asked to form a christian government. He did so without Kuyper, and when the 1909 elections returned a safe christian majority, Kuyper had become entangled in a decorations affair and Heemskerk stayed on. Relations with Kuyper remained chilly for the rest of their lives.

After the 1913 liberal victory Heemskerk temporarily left politics, but he came back in the 1918 christian government and stayed on until 1925, when, well advanced in years, he returned to parliament where he remained until his death.

Heemskerk’s post-prime-ministerial career is decidedly unusual, but back then the prime ministership didn’t yet quite have the status it does today.

Since Kuyper’s days the ARP based its support on the protestant middle and lower classes; mostly Gereformeerden, but also some Hervormden. It lost its right wing in 1894, which made it more of a centre party in economic terms. Gereformeerde employers and employees should both vote ARP, and that made the creation of party programmes something of a balancing act.

The ARP was especially strong in the three northernmost provinces, almost non-existent in the south, and moderately represented in the centre of the country.

Having invented the Antithesis and the catholic/protestant alliance, the ARP was part and parcel of the ruling power from 1918 until the merger into the CDA in 1977. In fact, until World War II it was the dominant party in the christian block, and thus in Dutch politics, even though the catholics always held more seats.

This was caused by the personal qualities of ARP leaders Kuyper and Colijn, by the fact that the catholics had to incorporate so many different ideas and points of view that it was very hard for them to take the lead in anything, and by the fact that protestantism was seen as the “natural” religion of the Netherlands even by the liberals.

Where Kuyper was aware of the needs of party left wing, Colijn steered the party in a hard-right direction. Initially that gained him quite some voters from outside the protestant denomination, but he disastrously overplayed his hand and in 1939 the ARP was kept out of government.

The ARP’s fall was deep. Although the anti-revolutionaries distinguished themselves in the resistance against the nazi occupiers, they retained their hard-right aura and were fundamentally opposed to Indonesia’s independence. Because of that it was only in 1952 that they returned to the centre of power, but as a loyal wing lieutenant of the almighty catholic KVP.

Other protestant parties

Still, any protestant is allowed to interpret the Bible, and its commands in the political realm, on his own. Therefore the protestant denomination is by far the most divided one, with commonly three, and occasionally even four or five protestant parties represented in parliament.

All these small protestant parties are part and parcel of Dutch politics, and we will treat them all.


Portrait of Alexander de Savornin Lohman

Jhr. Alexander de Savornin Lohman (1837-1924), ARP parliamentary leader 1879-1894, interior minister 1890-1891, VARP party leader 1894-1908, CHU founder (1908) and party leader 1908-1921.

Lohman was the first ARP party man to be elected into parliament in 1879, and, with Kuyper mainly staying out, he became the parliamentary leader of the anti-revolutionaries. One of his problems was keeping Kuyper at a distance, who insisted on trying to lead the parliamentary fraction from the outside.

Lohman disagreed with Kuyper on many issues, most notably on the extension of voting rights. Besides, he didn’t like Kuyper’s insistence on a top-down-organised party, and believed that party programmes were only necessary for those who believed they themselves instead of God ruled the world.

Personal animosity made this gap more severe, until finally he split off from the ARP during the Tak controversy, a move that eventually led to the creation of the CHU. Kuyper was so angry that he more or less forced Lohman to resign from his professorial tenure at the Free University.

Although the CHU never entered government before 1918, Lohman faithfully supported the christian coalition and the 1901 and 1908 christian governments, although he remained firmly opposed to government intervention in the form of social laws. Still, he started to doubt the militant Antithesis. When prime minister Cort van der Linden made serious steps towards solving the school struggle, Lohman helped him convince Kuyper and the catholics.

After Kuyper’s fall from grace Lohman became the grand old man of protestant politics, and the younger ARP generation listened more to him than to Kuyper.

As a traditional nobleman he defended the rights of the Crown, and he was a favourite advisor of the young Queen Wilhelmina.

During the Tak controversy of 1894 the anti-Takkian anti-revolutionaries split off, and after a series of mergers they formed the CHU (Christelijk-Historische Unie; Christian Historical Union) in 1908.

Uniquely among the protestant parties, the CHU was not very theologically driven. The split-off ARP members quickly invited unaligned Hervormde MPs to participate, and as a result it became the only protestant party that was Hervormd in majority.

The CHU has always been dominated by the traditional protestant aristocracy. Many of its leaders, including founder De Savornin Lohman, came from the nobility.

It was strong in roughly the same areas as the ARP, but generally somewhat smaller. Only in Overijssel and Gelderland was the CHU more popular than the ARP; precisely those provinces where the protestant nobility still held its ancient position of power. (The first non-noble Queen’s Commisioner in Gelderland was appointed only in 1956.)

Economically speaking the CHU was the most right-wing of the large Christian parties, but theologically it could be quite moderate and had little interest in the interminable split-offs of the popular Gefermoreerde church.

A christian-historian was protestant first and foremost, and during the Interbellum there were several religiously motivated clashes between the CHU and the catholics, especially about the papal embassy.

Despite this, the CHU has always been relatively un-ideological for a Dutch protestant party. A true christian-historian considered politics a game for persons and not for parties, was required to vote for the welfare of the country as a whole and not for any ideological reason, and kept a low profile the better to serve the state; all this from an upper-class, protestant point of view, obviously.

Therefore it always remained a loose federation with little party discipline. Uniquely among Dutch governmental parties, individual CHU MPs were not afraid to vote against government if they saw good and sufficient reason.

In the fifties party leader Tilanus encouraged the members of his fraction to vote according to their conscience, and not the party line (which rarely existed, anyway). The other parties, which were in the iron grip of voting discipline by then, watched the spectacle musingly — and made sure the coalition was oversized so it wouldn’t lose its majority if the CHU went off on a tangent in a crucial vote.

Most CHU voters were well-to-do farmers or upper middle class people from the small towns; mostly Hervormd, sometimes Gereformeerd. There was a distinct overlap with liberal VVD, especially in economic affairs, but CHU voters always considered themselves more embedded in traditional society than the indiviualistic, uncaring VVD voters.

Also, from 1918 on the CHU reserved one of its seats for a woman. An unmarried, aristocratic woman, obviously, but still this behaviour compares well to the ARP, which retained a principled opposition to women in politics for years to come.

The CHU was the junior partner in the christian alliance, but that fact didn’t bother the party much. The CHU has known few charismatic leaders, but relied on solid competence to get the job done. Still, the only CHU prime minister was an unmitigated disaster.

The district system

This section would be impossible without the wonderful work the Instituut voor Nederlandse Geschiedenis has done on election results 1848-1917.

The 19th century Dutch district system differs significantly from the current US and UK systems most readers will know.

To be elected, a candidate had to receive more than half of the votes. If no candidate got more than 50%, a run-off election between the top two candidates was scheduled for a few weeks later.

City districts could have more than one seat. In that case every voter had as many votes as there were seats, and candidates had to be supported by more than half of the voters. (In 1897 all city districts were partitioned into one-seat constituencies.)

The formal differences with the current Anglo-Saxon system are clear, but not particularly interesting. The actions of the politicians themselves were.

Politicians often participated in several races at once, and from time to time they were elected in several districts. In that case they had to choose one and allow by-elections in the other districts.

This allowed national leaders to remain in parliament even when their district switched sides. In 1853, just after the anti-catholic riots, Thorbecke, despite being a candidate in five nothern districts, had to rely on his catholic friends in southern Maastricht for his re-election.

Schoterland 1888

Let’s turn to the Schoterland district in Friesland, up north. This district was unusual because, although predominantly rural, it was a left-wing district, and has the honour of being the first to send a socialist to parliament.

The 1888 election gave this result in the first round:

  1. Heldt (LU) 44%
  2. Domela Nieuwenhuis (SDB) 32%
  3. De Vries (ARP) 24%

Since no candidate had 50% + 1 of the votes, the liberal and the socialist headed for a run-off.

The unusual circumstance was that Kuyper had called on all anti-revolutionaries to vote for whichever candidate was not a liberal. Most protestants of Schoterland took him at his word and voted for the socialist candidate, which led to this result for the run-off round:

  1. Domela Nieuwenhuis (SDB) 53%
  2. Heldt (LU) 47%

Domela Nieuwenhuis won, but that, interestingly, is not the whole story. Although he defeated them both, Heldt and De Vries ended up in parliament, too.

The liberal Heldt was a candidate not only in Schoterland, but also in Amsterdam, which filled nine seats in parliament. He was in fact elected there, and didn’t need a Schoterland victory.

The anti-revolutionary De Vries was also a candidate in Franeker and Bergum, but was not elected in either. Six months later, however, a by-election in Bergum sent him to parliament anyway.

As to the victorius Domela Nieuwenhuis, he was a candidate in no less than four additional districts (Amsterdam, Haarlem, Groningen and Veendam). Socialism was not very popular with the bourgeois electorate of the day, and Nieuwenhuis apparently believed in betting on several horses. Probably not even he expected the Schoterland horse to actually come through.

Groningen 1888

Let’s take a look at Domela Nieuwenhuis’s struggle in Groningen. This city filled two seats in parliament, so every voter cast two votes and the total voting percentage is 200; with 50% + 1 winning a seat:

  1. Van Houten (LU) 51%
  2. Veegens (LU) 47%
  3. Brummelkamp (ARP) 33%
  4. Schaepman (RK) 31%
  5. Nieuwenhuis (Radical) 19%
  6. Domela Nieuwenhuis (SDB) 15%
  7. Prins (independent protestant) 2%

Liberal lion Van Houten was elected directly, as he had been for twenty years from this district. A run-off election was necessary for the second seat between the second liberal and the anti-revolutionary.

Note the number four: it’s national catholic leader Schaepman. He was elected in Breda, so he did not need a Groningen victory, but placing a few side bets never hurt anyone. Incidentally, only 15% of Groningen was catholic, so about half of Schaepman’s votes came from anti-revolutionaries loyal to the christian alliance.

Liberal Veegens won the Groningen run-off by 67-33. Simultaneously, he lost his Amsterdam run-off against fellow liberal De Beaufort by 88-12. It is likely that his Amsterdam supporters knew about Veegens’s chances in Groningen and gracefully elected De Beaufort, who had been defeated in Steenwijk and Hilversum by anti-revolutionary candidates.

Troelstra 1897

In the 1897 elections, SDAP leader Troelstra was a candidate in five districts. He finished first or second in three of them, and in the run-offs he faced a liberal in Winschoten, a radical in Leeuwarden, and an anti-revolutionary in Tjietjerksteradeel. He won all three elections and had to give up two seats. He decided to retain the Tjietjerksteradeel one. By-elections were called in Winschoten and Leeuwarden, and the seats were filled by a radical and a liberal, respectively, who defeated less well known socialist candidates.

In the Antithesis the socialists were firmly on the side of the seculars, and that played a major part in Troelstra’s calculations. The two districts he gave up were solid secular ones: christian candidates didn’t even make it to the run-offs. The district he retained was a toss-up district; if he’d given that one up the christian block might have won it.


It is obvious from these examples that politicians routinely were candidates in several districts, but also that not all parties are represented in all districts. In fact, that was one consistent point of criticism against the district system.

Catholics had their 20 to 25 mainly southern districts where they were unassailable, but elsewhere in the country they were supposed to support the local protestant candidate. Similarly, not all districts had VDB-style or BVL-style liberal candidates, so that progressive liberals might be forced to vote for a conservative one, or vice versa, in order to defeat the christian coalition.

Sometimes one block made a particularly dedicated attempt to dislodge the other, like the christians did in 1888 and 1901, the liberals in 1913, and the pro- and anti-Takkians in 1894. In that case, the block as a whole tried to make sure that there was only a single block candidate in every district that could count on the votes of all other parties’ supporters.

Still, most districts were pretty safe for the incumbent party. In the five elections between 1897 and 1913, 33 districts elected a liberal every time, 22 a catholic, and 21 a protestant. It was in the other 24 districts that the true battle was fought, with liberals and protestants taking turns in them. However, socialism was on the rise, and it took votes and districts away from the liberals. Besides, 22 of these battleground districts elected a member of the same denomination three out of five times. The margins were razor-thin.

The liberal denomination

Portrait of Samuel van Houten

Samuel van Houten (1833-1930; LU, later BVL), MP 1869-1894, interior minister 1894-1897, LP nominal party leader 1921-1925.

When Van Houten entered parliament in 1869 he was a left-wing liberal representing left-wing liberal Groningen. During the seventies he did important social work, and he remains best known for his Children’s law of 1874, which severely restricted the work children were allowed to do in factories.

Simultaneously he was sympathethic to the anti-revolutionary demand for christian schools, which brought him in frequent conflict with hard-line liberal governments.

In the late 1880s he began to move to the right, and in the Takkian controversy of 1894 he unhesitatingly opposed Tak’s suffrage proposal. On the other hand he was a principled defender of women’s suffrage, provided it was restricted to wealthy women.

In the 1894 anti-Takkian government he became minister of the Interior and was responsible for the more conservative suffrage law. When he resigned after the next election his active political life drew to an end.

Nonetheless he would return to politics briefly in 1921, when LU and BVL decided to merge. He became the nominal leader of a BVL split-off, the LP (Liberale Partij; Liberal Party) and conquered a seat in the 1922 elections. He declined to take it himself, though.

In the 19th and early 20th century, “the liberals” formed a quite broad group, ranging from devout members of the liberal wing of the Hervormde Kerk whose conscience compelled them to a progressive stance on social issues, via middle-turned-upper class provincial worthies eager to serve their country and better their own position, to politically reactionary but religiously indifferent noblemen keeping the family seat warm.

The liberals congratulated themselves with having brought about the constitutional reform of 1848, when parliament became elected directly and the king came under governmental responsibility. They were also pretty pleased with having kept the ship of state on an even course ever since.

They believed in personal liberty; both of the individual believer to disagree with his church and of the individual employer to exploit his workers. Although they had their differences of opinion, they believed that they could arrive at the truth through rational debate and worthy behaviour; and parliament was the social club where they brought these values into practice.

This world was shattered with the 1888 anti-revolutionary victory. The modern party had defeated the old boys.

The LU

Kuyper’s Antithesis forced the liberals to organise or die. If the christian forces were to be withstood, the secular opposition should become more coherent and united. The liberals weren’t as single-minded as the anti-revolutionaries. Although some resisted Kuyper in the school struggle from the highest principles, others primarily regarded him as an upstart that should be put into place. This did not help foster cohesion in the liberal camp.

The LU (Liberale Unie; Liberal Union) was founded in 1885. Willy nilly all liberals became member of this Union. It was grounded in a common dislike of the clergy of both churches. This was the only reason a reform-minded Amsterdam merchant and a reactionary eastern nobleman would grudgingly agree they might be in the same party.

Other than that it remained a loose confederation, and the party leadership did not dare to emulate Kuyper by publishing a programme or recommending candidates. Local election clubs could nominate whomever they wanted, and any attempt at a party programme would only lead to endless argument and the shattering of liberal unity.


The differences between liberals of the left and of the right turned out to be too large to accomodate. In 1891 a few progressives founded the RB (Radicale Bond; Radical League). Even though they weren’t very effective their split-off showed that the LU was too broad-based.

In 1894 the Tak controversy caused the right wing to split off from the LU and form the BVL (Bond van Vrije Liberalen; League of Free Liberals). In 1901 the left wing also left the LU and combined with the RB to found the VDB (Vrijzinnig-Democratische Bond; Liberal Democratic League).

Thus, three liberal parties were born, and they uneasily co-existed for twenty years. The VDB wanted to solve social issues by state intervention; the LU and the BVL didn’t. VDB and LU were pro-Tak; the BVL anti-Tak. The Takkian controversy was soon forgotten, but the BVL remained more hard-right than the LU.

In general the VDB was organised best (but still rather loosely), while the LU and the BVL remained loose conglomerates of like-minded upper-class politicians, as the CHU was on the protestant side of the fence.

Especially within the VDB and BVL, there was a feeling that there was one liberal party too many, and that the differences of opinion within the liberal denomination could be adequately expressed by one left-liberal and one right-liberal party. Despite this feeling the LU continued to exist, and was drawn now to the left, then to the right.

Liberal governments

From 1888 to 1918 the liberals alternated in power with the protestants. When they formed government, LU and BVL usually ruled together, although, again, they functioned not as parties in any modern sense but rather as two parts of the old boys network supporting those few of them who happened to sit in government.

The liberals lost the 1888 elections, and won in 1891. 1894 was a special case due to the Tak controversy, but in 1897 they won, in 1901 they lost, and in 1905 they won again. The pattern is clear.

Still, this last victory was not quite complete. It’s better to say that in 1905 Kuyper lost the elections. The liberals did not regain their majority; the balance was taken by the nascent socialist party.

This change turned out to be permanent. The liberals had lost their majority for good. The secular block lost the 1909 elections and won in 1913, but in order to form a majority government the liberals needed the support of the socialists.

The Interbellum

The liberals committed electoral suicide when they supported the abolition of the district system in favour of proportional representation and the institution of universal suffrage in 1918. They went from 39 to 18 seats, and it went even further downhill from there. It would take them until 1994 to gain a score comparable to the 1917 parliament.

The left-wing VDB held out best, surprisingly, and the centre LU and right-wing BVL merged with quite a few minor parties that had sprung up in the wake of the 1918 elections. Thus was formed the right-wing VB (Vrijheidsbond; Freedom League). This brought the number of liberal parties down to two, which seems to be the natural state of the liberal denomination in Dutch politics.

With the christian parties holding a permanent majority, the liberals were not needed for government any more. It was only when the depression of the 1930s required a broader national government that they were called into power again by the christian parties; and only on sufferance.

Directly after the war the VDB merged with socialist SDAP into the PvdA, and the place of the left-wing liberal party was left vacant for twenty years until D66 was founded.

From the VB’s ashes was born the VVD, which to this day forms the moderate right wing of Dutch politics.

School struggle and voting rights (1894-1918)

When Kuyper defined the Antithesis he called the christian parties the “right” and the secular parties the “left,” even though we would call many liberals right on the economic left/right scale we use nowadays, and a few catholics and anti-revolutionaries left.

Although its customary to use these terms in Kuyper’s sense when writing about Dutch politcal history 1879-1939, I deliberately do not do so because it’d confuse most modern readers, especially foreigners.

Left and right are used in the normal, economic sense, and I use “christian” and “secular” to denote the two camps of the Antithesis.

In the late 19th and early 20th century, three questions were paramount in Dutch politics: the school struggle, which pitted christians against seculars, and suffrage extension and the social question, which pitted the left (socialists, left-wing liberals, and a few catholics and anti-revolutionaries) against the right (everybody else).


The elections of 1894 was fought over Tak’s radical suffrage proposal. Both the liberals and the protestants were crippled by a split, and the split-offs (BVL and VARP, respectively) convincingly won the elections. Since the catholics, reactionary as always, also rejected suffrage reform, this resulted in a clear anti-Takkian majority in new parliament.

For Kuyper, this meant he had to return to parliament. His right-hand man Lohman, after all, who had led the anti-revolutionary fraction, had now become the leader of the right-wing anti-revolutionaries. Except for Kuyper himself there was no one who could lead the decimated ARP.

A government of the anti-Takkian BVL liberals was formed that was supported by the catholics. This is the only cross-block government of that day. It succeeded in getting a less extreme form of suffrage reform accepted by parliament, even though some pro-Takkians protested that it did not go far enough. It also abolished the plural districts where more than one seat could be won. As a result the large districts such as Amsterdam were split up into smaller ones. These new districts remained unchanged until the abolition of the district system.

Liberal solutions to anti-revolutionary problems

In the 1897 elections the antithetical pendulum started swinging again. The liberals won a clear majority, and since the Takkian rift was fast becoming less important, LU and BVL formed a government together.

This government did a lot to alleviate the social questions. Many liberals found themselves honour-bound to do something for the lower classes, and were shocked by the horrendous working conditions in many (though not all) factories.

Indirectly, the liberals helped Kuyper. He still had to balance carefully between the left and the right wing of his ARP. He didn’t want the right-wingers that remained to join Lohman’s free anti-revolutionaries, so he couldn’t go too far in supporting labour laws. On the other hand, many anti-revolutionary voters were poor themselves, and looked to their leader and party to help them get protection against old age, disease, and unemployment.

This was the eternal problem that beset the christian parties. We’ll encounter it again and again as we study Dutch politics.

Now the liberals made sure that the left-wing anti-revolutionaries were satisfied for the moment, and thus they helped Kuyper in keeping the two wings united. Kuyper could now wholly concentrate on the school struggle.

Unfortunately, solving the school problem in the way Kuyper demanded required a change in the constitution, and the christian parties were never able to conquer the two-thirds majority needed for such a project. (And Kuyper had made the school struggle such a vital part of his whole system that it might be unwise for him to allow it to be solved.)

Kuyper prime minister

The 1901 elections were a great victory for the christians, and it was clear that a christian government had to be formed. Nobody but Kuyper himself could lead it, and thus he accepted governmental responsibility for the first and only time in his career.

His prime ministership is mainly remembered for his fight with the socialists after a short and succesful railroad strike. He made it illegal for railroad workers to strike. The result was another strike, but by now the workers had lost the support of the general public and the situation became a win for Kuyper.

Still, he had shown himself a man of the hard right, and became overbearing, too, when he disbanded the Senate after it refused to pass one of his proposals. The Senate could not be disbanded, and although Kuyper got his way this time, it was to cost him in the next elections.

The 1905 elections were a referendum on Kuyper, and he lost convincingly. A liberal government was formed, but it proved to be weak, not least because the liberals did not have a majority by themselves, but only in combination with the socialists.

Government fell in 1908 and was replaced by a christian coalition under Heemskerk jr, the son of the former prime minister. He scored a victory in the 1909 elections, and because Kuyper had become entangled in a scandal he remained at the helm.


Portrait of Pieter Cort van der Linden

Pieter Cort van der Linden (1846-1935), justice minister 1897-1901, prime minister 1913-1918.

A lawyer by trade and liberal by conviction, Cort van der Linden was never a member of parliament, or even of a party.

Still he became justice minister in the liberal government of 1897 and helped create many social laws, especially the one on work-related accidents.

Cort announced that his government would introduce universal suffrage and state pensions. He did not mention the school struggle, but instituted a grand committee in which all seven parties were represented to study the matter.

State pensions never materialised, but eventually Cort was able to institute universal suffrage and proportional representation. He wasn’t too keen on either, but saw that the times were changing, and hoped that the new electoral system would help reduce the power of the parties. In exchange, the christians got their educational equality.

In 1914 World War I broke out, and although the Netherlands remained neutral, the focus of government had to shift to keeping the Dutch army in good state, carefully balancing between England and Germany, and protecting the trade fleet from both the Royal Navy and Germany’s submarines. He did an excellent job as war prime minister of a small neutral state.

Meanwhile parliament had hammered out the pacification, which Cort’s government accepted, after which the 1917 revision of the constitution took place.

When in 1913 the secular block conquered parliament again, the Queen ordered former minister Cort van der Linden to create a secular government consisting of liberals and socialists. Without socialist SDAP it was impossible to get a secular majority, and party leader Troelstra was willing to negotiate.

Unfortunately Troelstra was insufficiently supported by his party. His request to enter goverment was rejected, and although he announced he would support Cort van der Linden as much as possible, the socialist/liberal experiment was postponed for another eighty years. Cort formed a liberal-only government.

The pacification of 1917

In order to settle the school struggle once and for all, the constitution had to be revised. In order to settle the suffrage question once and for all, the constitution also had to be revised. The problem was that neither the christian nor the secular block ever held the required two-thirds majority.

It was Cort van der Linden who hit on the obvious solution of a swap. If the christians were to support universal male suffrage, the liberals would support equality for religious education.

Not that this was easy. Kuyper, afraid to lose the whole reason of being of the christian parties, was against, and the catholics were sceptic, too. Fortunately Cort found a staunch ally in CHU leader Lohman, who, despite remaining a loyal part of the christian block when it came to policy, saw that the time had come to end the disastrous split in Dutch society.

Thus, the 1917 revision of the constitution marked the end of the school struggle, and the ARP emerged victorious. “Public” (non-religious) and “special” (religious) education would receive equal amounts of money while the christian schools didn’t have to conform to any but the most basic outline of a curriculum.

Simultaneously, voting rights were granted to all men (women were to follow in 1919), and the district system was replaced by proportional representation.

Even though the solution of 1917 is becoming a bit antiquated nowadays, the end of the school struggle and the equalising of public and special schools is still defended by the current christian parties in parliament, which are all Kuyper’s heirs.


Elections under the district system were held for the last time in 1917. All parties had agreed to leave all current members of parliament unopposed, and the few anti-constitution candidates were all defeated. When the constitutional change had been ratified, the district system was disbanded and proportional representation became the law of the land.

Under the proportional system elections of 1918 the three christian parties won an absolute majority, which they kept until 1967. They had won the Antithesis.

Promptly, the infighting among the victors began. That’s the story of the Coalition of the unwilling.