Skip to main content Accessibility help

Towards the Centre: Early Neoliberals in the Netherlands and the Rise of the Welfare State, 1945–1958

  • Bram Mellink (a1)

Although scholars have recently taken an increased interest in the history of neoliberalism, the ‘breakthrough’ of neoliberalism under Thatcher and Reagan still captures most of their attention. Consequently, the neoliberal project is primarily taken as Anglo-American, while its early history is mostly studied to explain the political shift of the 1980s. This article focuses on the early neoliberal movement in the Netherlands (1945–58) to highlight the continental European roots of neoliberal thought, trace the remarkably wide dissemination of neoliberal ideas in Dutch socio-economic debates and highlight the key role of these ideas in the conceptualisation of the Western European welfare state.

Corresponding author
Hide All

I would like to thank Peter van Dam, Ido de Haan, Kees-Jan van Klaveren, Mart Rutjes, Markha Valenta, Naomi Woltring, the participants in the workshop ‘The Values of Neoliberalism’ (November 2017) and the editors and reviewers for their constructive criticism and helpful comments. This work was supported by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) under grant 317-52-010.

Hide All

1 Hennipman, Pieter, De theoretische economie en de wederopbouw (inaugural address; University of Amsterdam 1945), 13 .

2 Hennipman, De theoretische economie, 22.

3 Mannheim, Karl, Man and Society in an Age of Reconstruction: Studies in Modern Social Structure (London: Routledge, 1940), 364 .

4 Nicholls, Anthony. J, Freedom with Responsibility: The Social Market Economy in Germany 1918–1963 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), 17; Mellink, Bram, ‘Politici zonder partij. Sociale zekerheid en de geboorte van het neoliberalisme in Nederland (1945–1958), The Low Countries Historical Review (2017) 2552 .

5 This tendency is particularly strong in Dutch historiography. See Duco Hellema, Nederland en de jaren zeventig (Amsterdam: Boom, 2012), 261; Piet de Rooy, Ons stipje op de waereldkaart. De politieke cultuur van modern Nederland (Amsterdam: Wereldbibliotheek, 2014), 268; James Kennedy, Een beknopte geschiedenis van Nederland (Amsterdam: Bert Bakker 2017), 365–9.

6 Martin Conway, ‘The Age of Christian Democracy: The Frontiers of Success and Failure’, in Tom Kselman and Joseph Buttigieg, eds., Christian Democracy: Historical Legacies and Comparative Perspectives (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2003), 43–67.

7 Commissie-Van Rhijn, Sociale zekerheid. Rapport van de commissie, ingesteld bij beschikking van den minister van sociale zaken van 26 maart 1943, met de opdracht algemeene richtlijnen vast te stellen voor de toekomstige ontwikkeling der sociale verzekering in Nederland deel 1 (The Hague: Algemeene Landsdrukkerij, 1945).

8 Mellink, ‘Politici zonder partij’, 37–8.

9 Vos, Hein, De weg naar vrijheid: een socialistisch perspectief. Rapport van de plancommissie van de Partij van de Arbeid (Amsterdam: Arbeiderspers, 1951), 54 .

10 International Institute for Social History (IISH), Archive of the Comité ter Bestudering van Ordeningsvraagstukken (CBO), 1.2, Beginselverklaring (Inaugural Manifesto), 1; IISH, Archive Comité Ordeningsvraagstukken, 1.3, Minutes, 6 Feb. 1939, 1.

11 IISH, Archive Comité Ordeningsvraagstukken, 1.2, Beginselverklaring, 1–2.

12 Langeveld, Herman, Schipper naast God. Hendrikus Colijn 1869–1944 (Amsterdam: Balans, 2004), 216217 .

13 IISH, Archive Comité Ordeningsvraagstukken, 1.3, Letter with a summary of the book ‘L’experience historique de l’économie dirigée’ by Laurent Dechesne.

14 Burgin, Angus, The Great Persuasion: Reinventing Free Markets Since the Depression (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2012), 55 .

15 Burgin, The Great Persuasion, 67.

16 Commissie-Van Rhijn, Sociale zekerheid deel 1, 14.

17 Historical Center of Overijssel (HCO), Archive of the Hengelosche Electrische en Mechanische Apparaten Fabriek (HEEMAF), 296, Letter from Frits Willink to H.I. Keus, no date [Dec. 1945], 1.

18 HCO, HEEMAF, 370, Letter from Keus to Röpke, 19 Jan. 1944, 1.

19 Wilhelm Röpke, Civitas Humana (Amsterdam: Elsevier, 1947), 16–7; 31–2.

20 HCO, HEEMAF, 370, Letter from Keus to Röpke, 19 Jan. 1944, 2. Keus borrowed this citation from Immanuel Kant.

21 HCO, HEEMAF, 295, H.I. Keus, untitled Belgian lecture, 26 Nov. 1945, 1.

22 HCO, HEEMAF, 142, Letter from Zeegers to Keus, 31 October 1947, 1.

23 HCO, HEEMAF, 142, [Minutes of the inaugural meetung of Burgerrecht, 14 Nov, 1947], 1.

24 Ibid.

25 Ibid.

26 Blyth, Mark, Great Transformations: Economic Ideas and Institutional Change in the Twentieth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 9 .

27 Hayek, F. A., The Road to Serfdom (London: Routledge, 1944), 1 .

28 Dieter Plehwe, ‘Introduction’, in Philip Mirowski and Dieter Plehwe, eds., The Road from Mont Pèlerin: The Making of a Neoliberal Thought Collective (Cambridge, Mass. and London, 2009), 1–42; Burgin, The Great Persuasion; Serge Audier, Neoliberalisme(s). Une archeologie intellectuelle (Paris: Bernard Grasset, 2013); Bernhard Walpen, Der Plan, das Planen zu beenden, PhD dissertation, University of Amsterdam 2004.

29 Mazower, Mark, Dark Continent: Europe’s Twentieth Century (London: Penguin, 1998), 207 .

30 Jamie Peck, Constructions of Neoliberal Reason (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 47; Harriet Jones, ‘A Bloodless Counter-Revolution: The Conservative Party and the Defence of Inequality, 1945–51’, in Harriet Jones and Michael Kandiah, eds., The Myth of Consensus. New Views on British History, 1945–64 (London: MacMillan Press, 1996), 1–16, here 5–6; Richard Toye, ‘Winston Churchill’s “Crazy Broadcast”: Party, Nation, and the 1945 Gestapo Speech’, Journal of British Studies 49 (2010) 655–80, here 655. Despite his popularity among the Tories, Hayek did not consider himself a conservative, as he explained in Friedrich Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960)

31 Jamie Peck, ‘Remaking Laissez-Faire’, Progress in Human Geography 32, 3 (2008) 3–43, here 11.

32 Burgin, The Great Persuasion, 197.

33 This database includes sixteen national and regional newspapers for the period 1945 to 1958. By keying in the names of forty-eight authors, which I extracted from the publication list provided by the Committee for Economic Orders I selected 3,200 newspaper articles, which I read manually.

34 In comparison: the name of Willem Drees, prime minister of the Netherlands from 1948 to 1958, generated 40,000 hits.

35 Peter A. Hall, ‘Policy Paradigms, Social Learning and the State: The Case of Economic Policymaking in Britain’, Comparative Politics 25, 3 (1993) 275–96, here 284–5; Colin Hay, ‘The Normalizing Role of Rationalist Assumptions in the Institutional Embedding of Neoliberalism’, Economy and Society 33, 4 (2004) 500–27, here 505.

36 ‘Massamens en totalitaire staat’, De Heerenveensche Koerier, 21 Mar. 1947, 6.

37 ‘De staat vijand nummer één’, Leeuwarder Courant, 30 Sept. 1949, 2.

38 P., ‘Gezag en vrijheid’, Leeuwarder Courant, 7 Apr. 1951, 1.

39 W. van Gent, ‘Schemering van het socialisme?’, De Tijd, 31 Oct. 1949, 1–2.

40 Hayek, The Road to Serfdom, 2–3.

41 Röpke, Civitas Humana, 15.

42 Toye, ‘Winston Churchill’s “Crazy Broadcast”’, 655.

43 Spicka, Mark E., Selling the Economic Miracle: Economic Reconstruction and Politics in West Germany, 1949–1957 (New York: Berghahn Books 2007), 49, 59 .

44 Cited in Nele Beyens, Overgangspolitiek. De strijd om de macht in Nederland en Frankrijk na de Tweede Wereldoorlog (Amsterdam: Wereldbibliotheek, 2009), 250; electoral programme of the Anti Revolutionary Party 1948, 8 at (last visited 17 Jan. 2017).

45 See the electoral programme of the liberal Freedom Party (1946), 3 at (last visited 1 May 2017).

46 Spicka, Selling the Economic Miracle, 64.

47 Electoral programme KVP, 1946, 3. (last visited 18 Oct. 2017).

48 HCO, HEEMAF, 142, Letter from L.M. van Breen to H.I. Keus, 24 Jan. 1949, 2.

49 P., ‘Snelle afloop’, Leeuwarder Courant, 19 Oct. 1950, 1; ‘Zelf “Burgerrecht”…’, Het Vrije Volk, 20 Apr. 1956, 2; ‘Comité “Burgerrecht”’, Het Vrije Volk, 27 Mar. 1948, 2.

50 ‘Veroordeling van het collectivisme’, De Tijd, 12 May 1948, 2.

51 Röpke, Civitas Humana, 194–6.

52 Ibid., 198.

53 ‘Veroordeling van het collectivisme’, De Tijd, 12 May 1948, 2.

54 ‘Snelle afloop’, Leeuwarder Courant, 19 Oct. 1950, 1.

55 ‘Een goed woord van Emil Brunner’, Friesch Dagblad, 30 Sep. 1948, 5.

56 Electoral programme PvdV, 1946, 3, at (last visited 17 Jan. 2017).

57 Electoral programme ARP, 1948, 8, at (last visited 17 Jan. 2017).

58 ‘Twee takken uit één stam’, De Leeuwarder Courant, 6 May 1952, 5; Duynstee en Bosmans, Het kabinet Schermerhorn-Drees, 33.

59 ‘Prof. Romme beducht voor “verzinking in socialistische structuur”’, De Heerenveensche Koerier, 23 Oct. 1951, 3.

60 ‘De vier groepen bij de “anti’s”’, Leeuwarder Courant, 6 Nov. 1951, 5.

61 Gent, W. van, ‘Schemering van het socialisme?’, De Tijd, 31 Oct. 1949, 12 .

62 Zeegers, Abraham, Van Kuyper tot Keynes, De A.R.-partij op de dirigistische doolweg (Amsterdam: Johannes Althusius Vereniging, 1958), 5 .

63 Cited in Merijn Oudenampsen, ‘A Dialectic of Freedom: The Dutch Post-War Clash Between Socialism and Neoliberalism’, Socialism and Democracy 30, 1 (2016) 128–48, here 131.

64 Vos, De weg naar vrijheid, 54.

65 ‘Begrip voor elkanders standpunt’, De Telegraaf, 20 Mar. 1953, 3.

66 See Christoffer Green-Pedersen, The Politics of Justification: Party Competition and Welfare State Retrenchment in Denmark and the Netherlands from 1982 to 1998 (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2002), 87–8; Nico A. Siegel, ‘Jenseits der Expansion? Sozialpolitik in westlichen Demokratien, 1975–1995’, in Manfred G. Schmidt eds., Wohlfahrsstaatliche Politik, Institutionen, Prozesse, Leistungsprofil (Opladen: Leske & Budrich, 2001) 54–89; Sjoerd Karsten, ‘Neoliberal Education Reforms in The Netherlands’, Comparative Education 35, 3 (1999) 303–17; Hellema, Nederland en de jaren zeventig, 289.

67 Nicholls, Freedom with Responsibility; Spicka, Selling the Economic Miracle.

I would like to thank Peter van Dam, Ido de Haan, Kees-Jan van Klaveren, Mart Rutjes, Markha Valenta, Naomi Woltring, the participants in the workshop ‘The Values of Neoliberalism’ (November 2017) and the editors and reviewers for their constructive criticism and helpful comments. This work was supported by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) under grant 317-52-010.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Contemporary European History
  • ISSN: 0960-7773
  • EISSN: 1469-2171
  • URL: /core/journals/contemporary-european-history
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed