The geopolitical differences of the Netherlands and Germany
National opposition grew. The developments due to the Reformation were welcomed by the resistance. By taking on the Calvinist belief it gave the opposition the opportunity to demarcate from Catholic Spain. The opposition was led by William of Orange, a German count of Nassau who possessed prosperous lands in the Low Countries. His attempts to free the Netherlands from Spanish rule failed, however he continued to remain the inspirational leader of the Low Countries’ independence movement. A first union was successfully formed in 1579 by the Northern provinces in Utrecht.
They decided to act jointly in foreign policy matters while maintaining their individual sovereignty. The treaty of Westphalia of 1648 eventually created true independence for the Low Countries from Spain. When the independence of the Republic of Seven United Provinces was achieved, the state flourished economical and prospered in full terms13. During the seventeenth century, the country achieved great colonial gains. The country continued to work according to the norms set in Utrecht 1579: Besides sovereignty of the provinces, they would cooperate as a single body in foreign matters.
This tactic made the Seven Provinces externally strong and in inner affairs created stability and order. Their colonial successes had its impact until the nineteenth century. During this period, the Netherlands enjoyed wealth, and world power. Despite its small territory on the Continent, its dimension overseas was very large. These overseas successes were mirrored back in the Dutch society which proudly regarded itself as part of an important colonial power and felt superior to other societies which did not have the same global experience4.
The independence of the provinces and the fact that oligarchic structures were prominent led to the fact that a small elite of traders and the bourgeois of the seven provinces ruled jointly that guaranteed their individual independence while successfully steering the country in foreign matters jointly. This way of governance triggered a system of consensus and debate where decision making was a joint action by the influential elite of the single provinces14. 2. 3 Political Development in Germany The global influence of the Dutch was lived, and also perceived by other countries, such as Germany.
As mentioned above, Germany had not had the chance to take advantage of the era of imperialism due to its different political situation. Unlike the Netherlands, which appeared united and was globally triumphant in this formation, ‘Germany’ still consisted of small and middle sized states. In no way they could represent a strong and expanding nation to the outward world. The states struggled with difficulties at their borders and were not in the situation to focus on expansion overseas. The situation constantly changed in geographic and also political terms and its regions were “exposed to constant economic and power related changes”15.
The German economy was mainly based on craft and trade on the domestic market. Constant struggle for territory was at place, only a strong head of state or region could provide security and stability. Thus, the only political system to assure security and stability was the traditional feudal organization, with a strict hierarchy of ruler and servant. In contrast to the Netherlands, Germany did not develop an overall government and it was no more than a ‘Kulturnation’ that only identified with a common culture but showed no joint political unit.
Politically and geographically it was split up and absolute sovereigns were in power16. After the death of Charles V, the Habsburg Emperors focussed more on their domestic aspirations and not so much on imperial affairs, over which they quickly lost control. A German civil war broke out in many places. However, no power was strong enough to reach the desired results of unity. Separate agreements were made to avoid further destruction and the Empire was no longer acting as a unit in foreign affairs. A general settlement of the conflicts within Europe was finally found in Westphalia in 1648.
This peace accord represented a compromise between Protestants, Catholics, the Emperor and the territorial powers that was to give hold to the devastating struggles. It aimed at achieving a balance of power among the European states. Germany’s affairs were mostly settled through a consolidation of the existing situation. Territorial rulers could increase their powers and could conduct individual foreign policy, independent form the Empire. They did not get full sovereignty but so called supreme power of their territory.
The Thirty Years War confirmed the territorial fragmentation of Germany. It was more an area of middle sized principalities instead of a strong nation17. 2. 4 Comparing Geopolitical Backgrounds All in all one could describe the two countries with the settlement at the Treaty of Westphalia as opposites in all areas. Whereas the Netherlands reached stability, static and quiet, Germany still continued to be filled with dynamism and unrest. One can say that the red thread of Germany’s history was the question of its borders and its actual territory.
Borders were mostly seen as imperfect, identification with something bigger was the general notion, culturally and politically. The state and a hierarchic structure were regarded as a guarantee for unity and order, needing a strong person at its top in order to maintain security and stability. The Netherlands on the other hand, were oriented towards the sea and westward. There position and the achievement of independence led to stability and a rather peaceful state of being within the country.
After having successfully achieved unity and order, their main goal was prosperity with the help of freedom and cooperation. Its plurality led to tolerance, and the rejection of absolutism created a society with its elite at the top aiming at compromise and consensus to reach best possible outcomes. Thus, developments of the two countries show crucial differences that left its imprints on society. The trading nation, small in homeland but extensive in size abroad, was successful in establishing a stable and pluralistic society, westward oriented.
The vast territories of Germany struggled for unity and suffered political upsurges. In the Netherlands, stability and pluralism led to a consensus culture, the urge for unity led to absolutistic structures in the German lands. 3. Religious Disparities In order to properly analyze in how far the different religious influences have shaped the traditions in both the Netherlands and Germany, it will first be necessary to look at the main elements of the two different movements, Lutheranism and Calvinism. Knowing the ideas behind it makes clear why they gained ground in the respective countries.
Further, one will understand how the religions influenced the traditions that have today become the nations’ typical cultures functioning on their own. Eventually, having in mind the different cultures that developed, the research might shed light on why the relation between the Dutch and the Germans is not as easy as first guesses might suspect. 3. 1 Lutheranism When Martin Luther triggered the split from the Catholic Church in 1517, he initiated the so called Reformation18. He pledged that people do not need a mediator (priest) to find access to God.
Through the ideas of Luther “[the] world was no longer considered a place without religious value… instead the ordinary world was the place in which everyone must work out his or her own salvation”19. According to Luther, believing was individual and not a collective responsibility. Everyone was responsible for his own actions before God. God was seen as having personal relations to the single individual, somehow being part of the family. Purity and affirmation by God could not be achieved through good behaviour or good actions, but through belief only20.
As mentioned above Luther believed that salvation was freely offered by God to everybody; all that was needed for that was faith. Believing was regarded as a direct interaction between God and the individual, out of this, everybody was his own priest. Because conviction was strongly personal, privacy was valued high. By personalizing religion it became a more moral way to belief. There was no way to buy you into salvation; one had to be constantly adhering to Christianity in order to please God. Between open or secret actions was no difference seen, God was with you, seeing everything you do, wherever you go21.
Although people were hard working they should not do so only to please God. When man has faith, so Luther, he automatically does good works. Also if Luther introduced the idea of working being a calling, he was not of the opinion that a more successful job brought one closer to God. In his eyes, working hard was good; it did not matter what kind of work was carried out. Working was valued highly but could not be seen as a way to justify salvation. It alone did not guarantee life after death. In the eyes of Luther, God was always with the individuals, and thus able to see if true faith existed.
Out of this developed the view that all people with faith are equal with God. Therefore, Luther promoted the view of spiritual equality22. Luther’s view in secular terms was very conservative. He had a deep respect for authority and he was of the opinion that in secular affairs the rulers received their duties directly from God. Therefore, the rulers must be obeyed by his people in all matters. Thus in German territories a worldly equality feeling did not emerge among the common people. Rather, a strong hierarchic structure remained23. 3. 2 Calvinism
The idea that a mediator was no longer necessary to reach God created a certain social motivation that made people feel responsible for their own actions. The religious openness that rejected the Catholic hierarchy fostered the development of Calvinism, making everyone equal before God who, in contrast to Lutheranism, stands above the people. The most important difference was that people’s lives were already predestined by God: “The major point of Calvin’s doctrine was predestination… Calvin declared we are all sinners, and hence all deserved to go to hell. Only the divine grace of God left a narrow escape route.
God had preordained that some few, the so-called elect, had been chosen to be saved. … One could not buy one’s way to heaven. “24 (Collins, 1986, p. 50) The uncertainty created anxiety and a motivation for the believer to try to make his or her life perfect in every way. The question of who belongs to the saved could only be answered by finding out oneself if one belongs to the elect or not. Thus, conducting well during lifetime was a matter of knowing whether one was destined for heaven or hell. This triggered a strong motivation to discipline and made hard work become an ideal.
Calvinists tried to show their ‘goodness’ by saving money and live modestly. Calvinism created the view of secular equality of people that were commonly responsible for the community’s destiny. Moral spying was common to guarantee actions and behaviour of the community being exercised according to Christian norms of modesty and discipline. Again, in Calvinism, hard working and living according to strict Christian moral and modest conduct was seen as calling, ensuring the grace of God: “Du sollst nicht geniei?? en, Genuss ist Wollust, Wollust ist Si?? nde, Abgi?? tterei”25. 3. 3 Seedbed for Religious Developments
One can only make assumptions why in the Netherlands especially Calvinism and respectively in Germany Lutheranism gained so much ground. However, some reasons seem to be obvious. As noted above, the territories of Germany were exposed to constant struggles, the feudal patterns continued even after the Treaty of Westphalia and the hierarchic structures remained favourable. In the constellation consolidated by the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, the common people saw the political organization headed by one ruler as a well known, and thus, logical way to secure stability and security.
The rulers themselves welcomed Luther’s theory of having been elected by God to rule and thus having the freedom to decide independently on their realm. Overall, the order proposed by Luther comforted both, the common people and the rulers. The peasants were accustomed to feudal patterns and to a hierarchy that secured order. The rulers were pleased because they aimed at power, influence and independence from the Emperor and the Papacy. The Treaty of Westphalia consolidated the territorial split and distanced the area of today’s Germany from the aspirations of an overall unity.
The people of the Netherlands on the other hand welcomed the Calvinist belief which made all people on Earth equal and working was seen as a calling. Looking at the political and thus also the economic situation, one can clearly see the Netherlands, as a trading nation, fitting fairly well to the ideas of Calvinism. 1541, the Netherlands were already regarded as “arbeytselig” and thus the bourgeoisie of the cities seemed somehow predestined for Calvinism. This view went hand in hand with their successful fight for independence: After having jointly freed from Catholic Spanish rule, the nation could prosper.
During the era of colonisation their unity secured power and wealth, not only for the Provinces as a whole but also for each individual province. In order to settle foreign affairs it was worked together; this made them globally and eventually economic strong. Thus, by adhering to Calvinism they could successfully split from Spanish rule and the contents of Calvinism fit well to the situation in the Netherlands: several independent provinces, all equal, worked for the common best which was independence.
This method was successful also in the economic sense; jointly they reached a status of world power. In such an environment, were the bourgeoisie gained a high rank, power of the oligarchy was to be restricted. In the eyes of Calvinism the people had not been created for obedience but the leader served his people: “Der Hirte fi?? r die Herde und nicht die Herde fi?? r den Hirten”. This element of Calvinism is strongly reflected in the Dutch consensus culture, where decisions and compromises are made by common agreement to satisfy every province or part of society. 3.
4 The Theory of Max Weber According to Max Weber religious traditions are the main factor that shape culture. Also if religion in the earlier sense is not anymore applied as such, its basic ideas and customs consolidate and form traditions. Weber argued that religious roots shape tradition and culture of societies, as they are providing a framework for daily life. And true, especially today, it seems as the traditions that formerly had been created through belief are still prominent, however, they seem to have lost their religious meaning and change to plain cultural traditions26.
By adhering to the rules of Calvinism, especially to the modest and hard working attitude, people accumulated wealth. Thus, the motivation to enrich was fostered by religious anxiety, not by gain as such. Calvinists did not consume their profits as it had been common beforehand. Increasing one’s profit was a way to demonstrate and ensure being one of the elect. Calvinists invested their capital to grow wealthier, in order to have evidence of their predetermined destiny. As a by effect, those people grew richer and with their increasing wealth their role in society changed.
Successful in business, they developed a good reputation that made them gain influence in their community. With the time being, the religious meaning behind the accumulation of wealth could fade away; it had created an economic framework of modern society that functioned on its own. In the eyes of Weber, the Calvinist modesty and hard working attitude that favoured investment and reinvestment of accumulated wealth instead of spending it on luxuries, let to the formation of modern capitalist spirit as we know it today27.
In this analysis the focus however, is not so much the question whether Calvinism has fostered capitalism. It rather takes the overall statement of the theory Max Weber’s for granted, saying that religious norms create new forms of behaviour, intentions or conduct that become elements of traditions. With the time being the religious values lose their meanings and foster new independent social constructions. Eventually, a new framework establishes that does no longer need its justification from belief28. 3. 5 The Religions in the Countries
Religious ideologies have an impact on how people interact and behave. For example their relation to God, seeing him as equal or as superior modifies the relation that people have with each other. Thus, Germany and the Netherlands differ in when to use formal and informal forms for conversation. For the Germans informal language is used among friends expressing trust and a certain intimacy. Due to the fact that in Protestantism God is regarded as part of the private life, God is addressed informally, just like a close friend or a member of the family.
The Dutch on the other hand use the informal language on a daily basis to express equality and to exclude any form of hierarchy amongst the society. God however is addressed formally to express dignity and obedience. Christ has died only for the chosen, and God is almighty. The kind of relationship to God in the two Protestant beliefs could be responsible for social distances. Just because all are responsible for the community and are part of the equality system, no secrets are allowed but everything should be clean and modest thoroughly. This way of thinking becomes evident when walking through a Dutch neighbourhood.
Passing by the houses, one can see that the curtains are left open so that people passing by have all insight. The German is irritated about the Dutch’s lack of privacy. This however seems to be an old sign of proving self restraint and the need for mutual control on modesty and strictly Christian life. Nevertheless the visual access to people’s houses, actual thoughts and opinion remain revealed. Showing those is taboo, because they would not conform to the norms. The room is staffed according to the norms and nothing is missing because people want to show that they have nothing to hide.
The Germans on the other hand, are tempted to look into the windows, which are so easy to gain insight into, and are expecting something secret within the room. They do not have the “I got nothing to hide” attitude of the Dutch because privacy is valued high. In the Netherlands on the other hand religion was a community issue and everybody was under constant control to act according to the norm in order not to drive the entire community out of God’s delight29. Looking at the contemporary situation, the Dutch society has a strong sense of community. This, one could claim derives from their view of how the world and God are connected.
Since people are all equal before God, the distance between all members of the worldly society is small and without almost any form of hierarchy. However, this increases the distance between God and the secular. The community is seen as a unity where everyone has to act as responsible as possible for the common good. According to Calvinism, the community is collectively responsible for actions of the individuals. Thus, there is a strong responsibility among all members of the community which generates a feeling of general equality expressed in many ways in Dutch society.
For example it can be connected to Dutch political culture. But not only in politics where compromises are dominant, but also amongst the general community a constant control about actions taken and decisions made exists. Not only in their habits to commit themselves to volunteer work, helping in the neighbourhood, writing greeting cards for Christmas, but also in the fact to accept people from other cultures to live in theirs without leading to much trouble, this notion of community sense becomes clear. It once more underlines the notion of equality and the need to act morally responsible.
Also in this respect one could say that good relations within the community of people were welcomed, intimate relationships however go too far as they are too intimate and loving. Love should only be given to God and therefore intimate relationships are rather seen as idolization. However, in Calvinism no one else should be idol than God! In the Netherlands, modesty is an important value, which might also become evident if comparing sizes of beer glasses or coffee cups. In the Netherlands, the latter are always of modest size, compared to their sizes in Germany. The Dutch regard the size of German beer as a sign of alcoholism and excess.
During coffee time it is normal for the Dutch to offer the guest one cookie out of a box which is closed afterwards. In the German culture it is common to serve a plate filled with cake and cookies to coffee or tea. Whereas the Germans see in the ‘one-cookie-per-person’ habit a sign of greed, the Dutch might regard the cookie plate as an exaggeration and a way to show off which is sinful in a community were everyone is equal30. 4. Conclusion As a conclusion it can be said that the geopolitical differences of the Netherlands and Germany seemed to have formed the origin or established the roots of the countries’ distant relations.
The geopolitical setting enmeshed with the religious changes, mutually fostered the differences between Germany and the Netherlands that in some ways are still prevalent today. When taking Max Weber’s theory for granted one might affirm that due to the political disparities, religious divergences developed and those seemed to have triggered the differences in culture and traditions. In the end those seem to account for the distinctions between the two nations that are still apparent today. The Netherlands gained independence with the help of Calvinism as a motor to demarcate itself from Catholic Spain.
The United Provinces externally represented themselves as a union but internally stayed territorialized. This system functioned well and guaranteed successes in the colonial era. During their time of prosperity, Germany still had to struggle and through the Treaty of Westphalia its particularism had been consolidated. It was split up into small territories and faced constant changes. Authority was seen necessary to real the ‘mystic’ goal of unity. The Netherlands rejected this hierarchic and one-leader system of government from which it had suffered and successfully liberated after Spanish occupatio.