Dutch McCarthyism? The asymmetrical opposition of ‘democracy’ and ‘communism’ in holland between 1920 and 1990

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In the interwar period, Dutch society had a hard time fostering national community. The feeling was widespread that the segmentation of society had a bad influence on the chances of building a national community. A mass democracy had been created, but the sense of community was felt lacking. Elites which tried to foster national community were distrusted by religious minorities; socialists only gradually started to perceive themselves as a part of the national community.
The discourse of national community was then a crucial part of movements for renewal. In this discourse, communism functioned as a constituent outside, which fostered a shared definition of democracy in the Netherlands. When approached in this way, anticommunism is no longer seen as a simple and straightforward reactionary consensus. Thomas Mergel has pointed out that this emphasis on the lunatic fringe of McCarthyists has stood in the way of a non-normative look at the broad diversity of anticommunisms, even progressive ones. Rather, we should look at ‘anticommunism (…) understood as a political attitude that identifies real Communism as the antipode of one’s own society.’
Communism was described as both profoundly unnational and undemocratic. It served, through the interwar period as well as afterwards, as a projection screen for Dutch national community and democracy. The paper analyzes public debate in parliament, press and political parties, tracing the way in which anticommunism provided a sharper definition of democracy, and its role in visions of democracy emphasizing discipline and diversity during the 1920s up to the 1960s. The paper will analyze this discourse in an international context: What were the peculiarities of the Dutch case as compared to the functioning of anticommunism within countries such as Germany or the United Kingdom? Did anticommunism indeed foster an imagined community, or did it fail to succeed in superseding national discord?
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationBeyond ‘Hellenes’ and ‘Barbarians’.
Subtitle of host publicationAsymmetrical Concepts in European Discourse
EditorsKirill Postoutenko
Place of PublicationNew York
PublisherBerghahn Books
Number of pages27
ISBN (Electronic) 978-1-80073-680-1
ISBN (Print)978-1-80073-679-5
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2022

Publication series

SeriesEuropean Conceptual History


  • anticommunism; democracy


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