In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Reverse Breakthrough:The Dutch Connection
  • Hent de Vries (bio)


During and immediately after World War II, the Dutch term doorbraak (breakthrough) became a spiritual rallying cry for political renewal in the Netherlands.1 It designated the then decidedly progressive idea that religious faith should no longer exclusively, or even primarily, determine one's political views and affiliations with political parties. Its ambition, first formulated by a group of functionaries who were taken hostage by the German occupation in Sint Michielsgestel, was to convince open-minded Roman Catholic and Protestants to join forces with social and liberal democrats and religious socialists to form one broad political party. Such a broad coalition of forces seemed necessary during the postwar period of wederopbouw (reconstruction); economic recovery and social consensus was imperative but a multitude of national wounds also required healing.

The term doorbraak was used in the concluding lines of a speech by Willem Banning in February 1946, at the founding congress of the Dutch Labor Party (Partij van de Arbeid, PvdA), when it joined the members of several parties that had been dissolved the day before: the Social Democratic Workers' Party (Sociaal-democratische Arbeiderspartij, SDAP), the Liberal-Democratic Union (Vrijzinnig-Democratische Bond, VDB), and the Christian Democratic Union (Christelijk-Democratische Unie, CDU). Individual members from the Christian Historical Union (Christelijke Historische Unie, CHU), which would go on to exist as a separate political entity, signed up with Roman Catholics who had contributed the resistance journal Christofoor voor God en Vaderland during the war.2

Deep down, however, the doorbraak was a painfully belated reaction against the perils of verzuiling (pillarization) that had stifled Dutch society in the interbellum and failed to prevent the rise and political success of National-Socialism. Its roots reached back to the mid-nineteenth century and post-Napoleonic [End Page S-89] age, and it would take time for it to lose its social and cultural grips on the political imagination.3

While the "breakthrough" motif was antithetical to the very opposition between believers and non-believers, which embodied the Protestant Anti-Revolutionary Party (ARP) that former prime minister Abraham Kuyper founded, it also self-corrected a deeply ingrained anti-religious sentiment that dominated much of the early socialist movement. Yet, as already indicated, the tendency towards ontzuiling (depillarization) gained traction only in the 1970s when deconfessionalization finally became a social, cultural, and political factor of some importance. The first breakthrough was an internal matter to the newly founded PvdA, more than anything else. It would take two decades before this phenomenon spread throughout Dutch society and its political culture as a whole.

There are many reasons for this later development that are beyond the scope of this essay. Suffice it to say, the perils of immigration and the post-9/11 obsession with political "radical Islam" had an effect, just as the apparent realization of "a lack of morality and meaningfulness within the narrow parameters of today's pragmatic politics, the one-sided economic paradigm, and the dogma of enlightened self-interest did."4 Job Cohen, the former successful Mayor of Amsterdam and former unsuccessful leader of the Dutch Labor Party (PvdA), from whom these words are borrowed, adds on to this observation while raising a provocative question. There is, he writes, a worrisome overindulgence that leads to "complacency, which in turn reduces our capacity to fight for the principles we stand for.… Is it possible that there is a moral shortfall that is not being made good on on the basis of a renewed assessment of the sources of social democracy—with which only a few people are still familiar?"5

Cohen here seems to echo some of the concerns that informed the debate between Jürgen Habermas and Cardinal Josef Ratzinger on the so-called dialectic of secularization, revolving around the presumed normative deficit of modern, rationalized, and differentiated societies, of markets and bureaucratic states, and of lifeworlds and functional systems. But, as we will see, Cohen offers an original perspective, suggesting that religion, if not necessarily religious parties, may be the very locus or medium in and through which a genuine solidarity and socialcohesiveness—of a"discipline of tolerance,"premised upon"the truth...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. S-89-S-103
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.