Local Particularism Challenged (1795-1813)

THE POLITICAL ECONOMY OF THE DUTCH REPUBLIC, O. Gelderblom. ed., pp. 291-320, Aldershot: Ashgate, 2009

16 Pages Posted: 30 Sep 2012

See all articles by Thomas Poell

Thomas Poell

University of Amsterdam (UvA)

Date Written: 2009


As the late eighteenth century Dutch revolutionaries found out, it proved to be very difficult to eliminate the early modern local corporate state structure. Rapid advances in centralization and democratization, in the first years after the revolution of 1795, were followed by a partial restoration of local particularism. And, even though the centralization process could eventually be revived in the years after 1805, it met with strong local resistance. To explain the setbacks in the state transformation process, this investigation has focused on the process of revolutionary struggle, instead of on the socio-economic, financial, or cultural background of the revolution, as the various current approaches have done. The examination has led to three observations, which can also help us to explain the sudden advances and reversals in centralization and democratization in the Netherlands, and in other parts of Europe during the late eighteenth century revolutionary period.

First, the relationship between the processes of centralization and democratization was far more complicated than has previously been assumed. On the one hand, the struggle for democracy clearly strengthened the centralization process, as the ideal of unitary democracy could be used to create a broad coalition for the centralization and democratization of the state. On the other hand, the democratic institutions which were created obstructed the reform of the state, as they were time consuming and they allowed the various political groups to resist political change. These contradictions ultimately let to a sharp reversal in the transformation process in 1801.

Second, the construction of a financial coalition between the central state politicians from Holland and the French regime eventually made it possible to revive the centralization process from 1805 onwards. So far, there is no evidence that such financial coalitions were also constructed in other decentralized European states around the turn of the eighteenth century. This suggests that finances were the main reason why the Republic centralized relatively quickly in comparison to the other decentralized European states. Although the financial coalition made it possible to revive the centralization process, it was certainly not unopposed. In fact, without the ideal of unitary democracy, it turned out to be very difficult to obtain the cooperation of local political groups. Consequently, in the years after 1805, the state transformation process very much became a struggle between central and local governments.

Finally, the analysis calls for a reevaluation of the role of the French in the revolutionary transformation of the Dutch state. So far, theorists have wavered between giving the French all the credit or no credit at all. By focusing on the revolutionary process, it has been possible to qualify the role of the French. They were above all an essential coalition partner, but they certainly did not dictate the revolutionary changes. The Dutch state became more centralized because unitary democratic and financial coalitions were created. The advances in the state transformation process only occurred because Dutch politicians were willing to cooperate with the French. The latter could not simply impose political reforms, as became blatantly clear in the years after 1810. This observation is also supported by the failed attempts to establish centralized state structures in Switzerland, and Northern Italy, where the political elite and the population was much less willing to cooperate.

Keywords: Dutch Republic, financial union, French occupation, French Revolution, democratization, centralization, Dutch Kingdom, Napoleon, local particularism, Amsterdam

Suggested Citation

Poell, Thomas, Local Particularism Challenged (1795-1813) (2009). THE POLITICAL ECONOMY OF THE DUTCH REPUBLIC, O. Gelderblom. ed., pp. 291-320, Aldershot: Ashgate, 2009. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2154391

Thomas Poell (Contact Author)

University of Amsterdam (UvA) ( email )

Spui 21
Amsterdam, 1018 WB

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