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Democracy in The Netherlands in the 19th and 20th century


Reading list added on August 18th.

Admission requirements

Ability to read and study texts in Dutch


Democracy is a hooray word. Who could ever be against democracy? At least since World War II democracy has been the central political value of the world. But what does it mean? In this course we will pursue the history of democracy in the Netherlands from the 19th century onwards. By looking at it closely, we will realize that democracy is not something clear and stable in itself, but ambiguous, and that it is rather difficult to combine the different aspects such as majority rule and rule of law. It will also become apparent that until 1870 hardly anybody wanted to be called a ‘democrat’, because this reminded them of the violence and mob rule of the French Revolution. Until the 20th century democracy was understood as direct democracy, not necessarily parliamentary or liberal democracy. We will study the debate about democracy in different phases: the first democratic era of around 1800, the liberal period of the 19th century, the end of the 19th century with the advent of mass politics and mass parties, the 1930s, the 1960s, and the current popularity of populism. We will study parliamentary debates and newspapers, but possibly also societies, public meetings and pressure groups. We will examine the arrogance of the powerful and also the populism of the outsiders in order to better understand the nature and the tensions of democracy. It will be part of the course to compare the Netherlands to other countries, and as part of the course we will try to cooperate with either the university of Antwerp or Münster, and possibly visit not only the Dutch but also the Belgian parliament.


See course-schedule

Mode of instruction

Research seminar

Assessment method

Small assignments, presentation of a first draft of the paper in class, and final version of the paper at the end of the course



Reading list

  • Rudy Andeweg en Jacques Thomassen, Van afspiegelen naar afrekenen? De toekomst van de Nederlandse democratie (Leiden 2011)

  • Jan van de Giessen, De opkomst van het woord democratie als leuze in Nederland (Den Haag 1948)

  • Bernard Manin, The principles of representative government (Cambridge 1997) hoofdstuk 6 (‘Metamorphoses of representative government’)

  • Henk te Velde, ‘Populisme’, in: idem, Van regentenmentaliteit tot populisme. Politieke tradities in Nederland (Amsterdam 2010)

  • Henk te Velde, ‘Tegen aristocratie of tegen dictatuur? Het democratiebegrip in Nederland, 1870-1945’, beschikbaar in het college.


See enrolment-procedure

Contact information

E-mail: Prof.dr. H. te Velde