Teachers: prof.dr. Henk te Velde en Eveline van Rijswijk MA
Fall 2014
Leiden University – History

Course description

The Dutch style of doing politics has often been described with the term ‘poldermodel’: allegedly, the structure of the Dutch landscape stimulated a type of politics that wanted to accommodate minorities, was looking for compromises if not consensus, and lacked the fire of real debate. At the beginning of the 21st century modern populism has challenged this type of politics and has called into question the way ‘democracy’ has been conceived in the Netherlands. In this class we will analyze the development of Dutch democracy in the 19th and 20th centuries and compare it to its Belgian counterpart. Belgian parliaments and politics have always been more lively, more popular if not populist, and centred around popular sovereignty, a notion which has not even entered the Dutch constitution today (which also still fails to mention ‘democracy’). Even though the Netherlands and Belgium have a shared past – they were even part of a United Kingdom from 1815 to 1830 – these differences are remarkable. They allow for a – historical and political – discussion about the meaning of democracy in general and in particular in the context of the Low Countries. This makes it possible to assess the advantages and disadvantages of the so-called poldermodel, and the specific type of democracy that has developed in the Netherlands.

In this class we will compare the Netherlands and Belgium on a number of accounts: parliaments, newspapers, political parties, constitutions, political leaders etc. It is also possible to look for local case studies or study historiography and theory in this context.