October 18th I attended a presentation of Thierry Baudet, a Dutch intellectual and since recently aspiring a political career. Baudet is in the Netherlands known as one of the initiators of the ‘Ukraine referendum’ from April 2016. Dutch citizens could vote in favor or against a trade association between the Ukraine and the EU. The referendum resulted in a strong ‘against’. Afterwards the Dutch government struggled -and failed so far- to find a clear and decisive response to other EU members concerning the verdict of the Dutch referendum. The referendum was unique: it was the first of its kind based on new legislation that allowed Dutch citizens to organize a referendum for new bills that had passed both chambers of the parliament.
The April referendum sparkled interest from the Dutch public in the affairs of politics, the first time since the rise of Pim Fortuyn’s LPF party in 2001. After Fortuyn’s was brutally murdered in May 2002 the interest of the Dutch in political affairs gradually waned over the years. In his presentation Baudet outlined that the success of the Ukraine referendum called for more permanent referenda: not only for new bills but also the possibility to organize referenda to re-evaluate existing bills. This raised the question from the audience if ‘referenda activists’ could frustrate the democratic process and make any kind of legislation impossible or questionable by provoking referenda.
Through a series of books Baudet’s intellectual baggage and ideas about politics gradually evolved. He concluded that for citizens of a country it is important to have a national identity. Baudet considers this national identity essential for a democratic process within the nation. Yet in his opinion a small, powerful elite in Dutch society acts reversely as they consider a national Dutch identity to be a burden from the past. A past when the Dutch nation gathered much of its wealth as a colonizing nation, slave transporter and introducing ‘racist’ phenomena like Zwarte Piet (the assistant of Sinterklaas). This elite, though small in numbers, has its tentacles in all important Dutch social and political institutions. It controls education facilities (from kindergarten to university), traditional media (radio, television, papers) and has a strong presence in all levels of civil administration and subsidized non-governmental institutions The most conspicuous manner to undermine the national identity and to replace it with a new one is their strive for a new multicultural European identity. The introduction of the Euro as a common currency was a remarkable exponent to aim for such a shared European identity. The allowance of mass immigration is another key policy in undermining the belief in a national identity.
According to Baudet most citizens from an individual perspective have a very good intuition about what is ‘wrong’ or ‘right’ to contain the stability of the nation and to keep their national identity. Yet the Dutch citizens have no platform or means to express their intuition. On contrary, they are often being marginalized or criminalized by the elite for expressing challenging opinions. On a personal level Baudet notes that for him and other intellectuals it became impossible to express their opinion through traditional media outlets. Baudet told he became an outcast in the world of Dutch universities, while universities should be the ultimate place for debate on social and political matters from all points of view.
From intellectuals educated in Dutch universities, again according to Baudet, no miracles could be be expected to oppose the views of the elite. These intellectuals are educated in the universities and think along the lines developed by their teachers in the 60’s and 70’s. They want to invent, plan, regulate and control every aspect of social and economic life. For them the unpredictability of the free market consisting of its small and autonomous parts is a horrendous thought.
Baudet explained his decision to join with his Forum voor Democratie next year’s Dutch parliament elections. In the past he was not interested in becoming involved in the field of politics. The inability of Dutch politicians to renew and reform within made him change his mind. His Forum voor Democratie now wants to join the political world in order to reform and break out from within the political system. Besides expanding the possibilities of referenda other targets included an elected mayor. Mayors for Dutch cities are nowadays chosen from the small political elite. Dutch citizens should directly influence politics through the use of digital technology: a dashboard should indicates the current status and opinions of important political subjects.
Baudet’s ideas are interesting and at the same time they leave one wondering about consistency and practicality of his ideas. His thoughts about the nation state and national identity are applicable to many nations within the Western hemisphere and do not particularly apply to the Dutch situation alone. So this might need to further investigation why they face similar tendencies as in the Netherlands.
Personally my belief is that the nation state as an instrument of identity will become less relevant in a not too distant future. As the world opens up, physically and virtually people will adapt themselves to new identities from completely different perspectives and for example adapt to virtual identities (something we already can witness with the growth of social media groups). As people consider the world a commonplace to work and live in, new identities will arise from those perspectives too. The combination of the continuation of the importance of an identification with the nation state in comparison to a rapidly changing world through digital innovation seems to me a bit weird. I do agree though with Baudet it is silly to keep the processes of democracy embedded in a 19th century world when many of the nation states emerged. The same digital innovations open up completely new ways to improve the democratic process.
A second thought was if Baudet’s ideas will really appeal to an already lukewarm audience or will they die in theoretical and idealistic beauty? Participating in daily political affairs opens an opportunity to realize reforms, but within the crowded Dutch political landscape with its many political parties there is a big risk that ideas will get lost in watery compromises. There is the famous example of D66, a political party started 50 years ago with similar and radical plans to reform politics from within the system. Nothing substantial from their original revolutionary ideas ever materialized. D66 is nowadays considered to be part of the Dutch political elite, having dropped all of its initial principles.
-Den Haag, 19 Oktober 2016-