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pillarization This term is a translation of the Dutch word Verzuiling, first used by the political scientist J. P. Kruyt to describe the peculiar nature of the social structure and political institutions in the Netherlands, although it has since been applied elsewhere (for example with reference to Belgium). For much of the twentieth century, Dutch society was divided by cross-cutting class-based and religious cleavages into four dominant interest groups or blocs–Catholics, Protestants, Socialists, and Liberals–around which formed ‘virtually all politically and socially relevant organizations and group affiliations’ ( A. Lipjhart , The Politics of Accommodation, 1968

Both religious blocs incorporated sections of the working and middle classes, whereas the secular forces divided along class lines (working-class Socialists; middle/upper-class Liberals). Separate political parties represented each bloc (two for the Protestants) and politics was characterized by bargaining and accommodation between them. Many other social institutions were similarly constituted: for example, trade unions, media, voluntary associations, social welfare, and education. Patterns of elite formation, friendship, marriage, job recruitment, and other social relations were also affected.

Political scientists have been interested in how mutual accommodation, cross-cutting ideologies (such as nationalism), and the diverse class composition of some of the blocs have allowed democratic institutions to survive in this divided society. However, from the 1960s the cleavages began to erode–with, for example, mergers between the religious parties. A growing secularization of society and the rise of new social and political concerns has led some to conclude that pillarization is of little contemporary relevance.

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