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The Republican Alternative

The Republican Alternative: The Netherlands and Switzerland Compared

André Holenstein
Thomas Maissen
Maarten Prak
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 360
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  • Book Info
    The Republican Alternative
    Book Description:

    The Netherlands and Switzerland are among the world's most economically successful societies. Their inhabitants enjoy high standards of living and express great satisfaction with their lives according to surveys. This despite serious natural handicaps, such as a lack of raw materials and an abundance of water and rock respectively. The foundation for their prosperity was laid in the early modern period, between roughly 1500 and 1800, when, as federal republics, the two countries were already something of an anomaly in Europe. Their inhabitants experienced serious anxieties and tried to justify their exceptionality, to which they were, at the same time, greatly attached. The Republican Alternative attempts to clarify, through a sustained comparison, the special character of the two countries, which were similar perhaps at first sight, but nonetheless developed their own solutions to the challenges they faced. The book includes in-depth discussions of citizenship arrangements, Swiss and Dutch dealings with religious pluriformity, political discourses justifying the republican form of government, the advantages and disadvantages of an agrarian over a commercial society. This title is available in the OAPEN Library -

    eISBN: 978-90-485-0849-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-4)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 5-8)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. 9-10)
  4. Introduction: The Dutch and Swiss Republics Compared
    (pp. 11-26)
    André Holenstein, Thomas Maissen and Maarten Prak

    History textbooks tell us that the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were the Age of Royal Absolutism. France under Louis xiv became the model for monarchies across Europe. Nations initially adopted this form of absolutism in a rather autocratic way, but later in a more enlightened sense, as in Frederick ii’s Prussia or Joseph ii’s Austria. Absolutism was, for example, sometimes even installed by official royal edict, as was the case with the Danishkongelov. Although recent scholarship has suggested that absolutism in general had more trouble unifying the political realm than has often been assumed, it was, nonetheless, a major...


    • 1 ‘The League of the Discordant Members’ or How the Old Swiss Confederation Operated and How it Managed to Survive for so Long
      (pp. 29-50)
      Andreas Würgler

      In circa 1500, probably nobody would have dared to bet on the longevity of the Swiss Confederation, considering its location in the centre of Europe; its small size; its small population, which was estimated at circa 600,000 in 1500 and some 1.6 million in 1800, and its particularly weak political structure, which lacked any kind of strong dynastic centre. And yet it somehow ended up being one of the most durable confederations in the history of the world. This raises the question of how it survived for so long. This question can certainly serve as the subject for much discussion....

    • 2 Challenges for the Republic: Coordination and Loyalty in the Dutch Republic
      (pp. 51-72)
      Maarten Prak

      A long, long time ago, Sweden was cursed with a great famine.¹ It got so bad, that one in every ten households had to emigrate. Six thousand men and their families had to leave the country, under the leadership of oneSchwitzerus. On their way, they were joined by 1,200 Frisians, who also trekked south. In the northern Alps, the marchers came to a halt. Here the Swedes settled in an area that was named after their leader and came to be known as Schwyz. The Frisians moved on to the Haslital, in the Berne area, where they created an...


    • 3 Bridging the Gap: Confessionalisation in Switzerland
      (pp. 75-98)
      Francisca Loetz

      According to Ernst Walter Zeeden’s classic definition, confessionalisation is the development of separate churches distinguished by dogma, organisation and the believers’ way of life.² For a long time, this definition was the formative one in historical research. Although Zeeden referred to the ‘religious and moral way of life’ of believers as an element of confessionalisation, secular and church history were long dominated by works which focussed on the articles of faith and on the institutional and political consequences of the Reformation. Recent research has criticised Zeeden’s understanding of confessionalisation – or that of his successors – as too narrow. Andreas...

    • 4 Was the Dutch Republic a Calvinist Community? The State, the Confessions, and Culture in the Early Modern Netherlands
      (pp. 99-122)
      Willem Frijhoff

      One of the most common characteristics the Dutch use to describe themselves is the Calvinist nature of their society and culture.¹ In the most recent survey of religious affiliations in Europe, however, the Netherlands figure as a Catholic country. Since the largest denomination determines the result, Catholicism with 31 per cent of the total population is by far the largest church community.² Even the total of all of the varieties of Protestantism (21 per cent) is still a minority in the land of Gomarus, Teellinck and Voetius. The seventeenth-century Calvinist ministers who defined their country as God’s own chosen nation...


    • 5 Inventing the Sovereign Republic: Imperial Structures, French Challenges, Dutch Models and the Early Modern Swiss Confederation
      (pp. 125-150)
      Thomas Maissen

      Sallustius’ ‘concordia res parvae crescunt’ inspired the device of the Dutch Republic, but the motto was also well-known in Early Modern Switzerland.² Around 1500, it appeared on a fresco in Geneva’s town hall, and Zwingli quoted the phrase in his first Zurich disputation.³ Concord was always a major concern for the Confederate cantons. The lack of unity belonged to the structure of their league without a common sovereign. When Jean Bodin analysed Switzerland, he consequently spoke not of one state, but of thirteen sovereign petty states.⁴ There was of course the Diet; but compelled to decide unanimously and lacking the...

    • 6 Turning Swiss? Discord in Dutch Debates
      (pp. 151-170)
      Martin van Gelderen

      Jean Baptiste Stouppe had an adventurous and troublesome life. Born in the Swiss Grisons, he studied theology at the university of Leiden and at Geneva’s Calvinist academy. On 26 February 1652, Stouppe – also known as Giovanni Battista Stoppa – was elected pastor of the Threadneedle Street congregation, the gathering place in London of protestant refugees from Savoy. He was enlisted by the governing circles of the new English Republic to try and stir up Protestant revolts in France. The Restoration of the monarchy led to Stouppe’s dismissal, as ‘a notorious meddler in matters not of his calling’.¹ Stouppe changed...

    • 7 The Content, Form and Function of Swiss and Dutch Images of History
      (pp. 171-190)
      Olaf Mörke

      It is widely acknowledged nowadays that historical images – or more accurately, a whole range of images – play a central role in the formation of a collective, national identity. An awareness of history is of great importance ‘for the justification and the preservation of societal norms and values, institutional and constitutional order’.² The perception of the peculiarity and uniqueness of a collective, and its socio-political organisation, is shaped by references to the history of its origins, not just single events, but rather an ensemble of narratives which, bound together, explain the genesis of that collective as a community of...


    • 8 Republican Art? Dutch and Swiss Art and Art-Production Compared
      (pp. 193-210)
      Michael North

      Each political system, it is said, has its own works of art.¹ When we investigate the emergence of the modern nation-state, we discover a link between the nation-state and the rise of the national museum and a body of artworks that praise its representatives.² For the monarchies, the collecting and production of art functioned to glorify the ruler or the dynasty and its splendour, or it asserted a prince’s rank in both his homeland and among the other European monarchs. Thus the Spanish kings, Emperor Rudolf ii, Charles I of England, Gustavus Adolphus and Christina of Sweden, Louis xiv, the...

    • 9 The Dassier Workshop in Geneva and the Netherlands: Two Calvinist Republics Expressed in Medallic Form, 1695-1748
      (pp. 211-234)
      William Eisler

      The works of Jean Dassier (1676-1763) and his two sons, Jacques-Antoine (1715-1759) and Antoine (1718-1780), celebrated medallists and coin engravers at the Geneva Mint, are historic and artistic milestones.² Their medals treating Geneva’s historical events and personages produced during the 1730s and 1740s were more than just reflections of a troubled period. They also served as political and diplomatic instruments. In 1738, Jean Dassier was elected, along with others from the bourgeoisie, to serve on the expanded Conseil des Deux-Cents (Council of Two Hundred) which, together with the Petit Conseil (Small Council) and the syndics, basically constituted the government of...


    • 10 Exporting Mercenaries, Money, and Mennonites: A Swiss Diplomatic Mission to The Hague, 1710-1715
      (pp. 237-258)
      Stefan Altorfer-Ong

      The 10thof April 1710 must have been a busy day at the residence of the Grand Pensionary Anthonie Heinsius, the highest-ranking official in the province of Holland. In his antechamber, a crowd of foreign ministers and Mennonite deputies were waiting for their meeting with the Bernese diplomat François Louis de Pesmes de Saint-Saphorin. On the agenda was the fate of several dozen Anabaptists, who had been expelled from the canton of Berne for their refusal to join its militia army. The government of Berne had, in its own words,

      pour se défaire d’un bon nombre d’Anaptistes [sic!] que l’on...

    • 11 Republican Risks: Commerce and Agriculture in the Dutch Republic
      (pp. 259-278)
      Ida Nijenhuis

      In his comparative assessment of European and North American husbandry, first published in 1764, the English cleric Walter Harte explained why agriculture would continue to flourish more readily under free governments and in Protestant countries, be they republics, or monarchies like England. He believed that Protestantism, besides having significantly fewer holy days than the Roman Catholics, also made people sincere and industrious. Agriculture, Harte argued, could be carried on with great success in monarchical governments, but republics were generally better equipped for the advancement of farming because they were usually situated on a neglected, barren soil that required a combination...

    • 12 Republican Futures: The Image of Holland in 18th-Century Swiss Reform Discourse
      (pp. 279-298)
      Béla Kapossy

      In Book Three of theSpirit of the LawsMontesquieu famously argued that ‘the political men of Greece who lived under popular government recognised no other force to sustain it than virtue. Those of today speak to us only of manufacturing, commerce, finance, wealth, and even luxury’.¹ Montesquieu’s sentence was repeated throughout the second half of the century as, for example, by the Abbé de Mably in hisDe l’étude de l’histoirepublished in 1775.² But, whereas Montesquieu much doubted the relevance of ancient politics for modern Europe, Mably, on the contrary, insisted that it was the wisdom of the...


    • 13 Radical Elements and Attempted Revolutions in the Late-18th-Century Republics
      (pp. 301-320)
      Marc H. Lerner

      Too often the assumption has been that revolutionary political innovation came solely from centres such as seventeenth-century London and eighteenth-century Paris, and that republican French troops imposed radical structures based on universal principles elsewhere in Europe during the later revolutionary period. However, the small republics of Europe, places like the Netherlands, the Swiss Confederation, Geneva and Hamburg, were also centres of political innovation. In fact, popular sovereignty was entrenched in these small states before the French Revolution spread its rhetoric of the Rights of Man across Europe. These eighteenth-century republics, often decentralised, were not solely passive recipients of French Revolutionary...

    • 14 Debating the Republic: A Conference Report
      (pp. 321-330)
      Daniel Schläppi

      ‘Republics in Early Modern Europe’ was the title of the international meeting at the University of Bern, 7-9 May 2004, which forms the basis of this volume. Although a comparison between Dutch and Swiss history should have been made long ago, given the similarities in politics, constitution, and religion, it became evident during the meeting that comparisons between the two countries had, thus far, gone largely unstudied, and what did exist had not been systematic. Swiss and Dutch historians have only made limited reference to one another’s research. This volume represents a first step to overcoming this traditional isolation. Therefore,...

  11. Bibliography of Pre-Modern Swiss-Dutch Relations
    (pp. 331-352)
    Simon Hari
  12. About the authors
    (pp. 353-354)
  13. Index
    (pp. 355-360)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 361-361)