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Rooms C, T and U: VCR
|Ideas, ideals and practice in social politics: the example of the first Dutch minister for Social Affairs|
|Three years after Pope Leo XIII’s social encyclical Rerum novarum (1891) had been issued, Piet Aalberse (1871-1948), a young catholic law student at Leiden University, began to work on a translation of Cardinal Henry Manning’s commentary on the papal document. For Aalberse, this marked the beginning of a period of intense involvement with social studies and social politics, lasting for over three decades and culminating in the seven years (1918-1925) he served as a Cabinet minister for Social Affairs.
Aalberse has left a substantial and well kept archive including a diary (of which the Institute of Netherlands History hopes to publish an edition in 2006). He edited newspapers and periodicals, and published many books, pamphlets, articles and essays, both of a theoretical/doctrinal and of a political/practical nature. Moreover, the Netherlands being a country of mixed religion (Catholics made up a minority of about 1/3 of the population) made it permanently necessary to highlight the catholic point of view of these matters in public debate. Aalberse seems, therefore, to represent a useful case to study the reception and development of catholic social thought and doctrine in the Netherlands and, at the same time, to answer the question if and how they worked out in practice.
In the first part of our common paper, after a short introduction of Aalberse, we would like to examine how his socio-economic opinions and attitudes took shape on the ideological level and from what sources he received them. This happened, after all, in a period of permanent fighting between catholic conservatives and christian-democrats about how to answer the challenges of liberalism and socialism. How did he interpret the social teachings of the Church? What did his ideal society looked like? To what extent were his concepts of social justice, equality and the most desirable social order, inspired by foreign (especially German) examples, or influenced by contemporary Dutch liberal, socialist and protestant thought? Can the final result be called typically Dutch and, if so, in what ways did it diverge from the official catholic doctrine of organic corporativism and its elaboration elswhere (Belgium, Germany)?
The second part of the paper deals with the way in which Aalberse tried to translate catholic social doctrine in general, and his own ideas in particular, into practical solutions, and with the implementation of these solutions by political means. He was convinced that solidarism was the only key for the problems farmers, labourers, the middle classes and women were confronted with. Ín 1902, he founded the ‘Catholic Social Weekly’, a journal he used to propagate his views on a social policy that in his opinion was better than what Dutch liberal and social-democrat politicians were standing for. After founding the Dutch ‘Catholic Social Action’ in 1903 and having been elected a member of Parliament in the same year, he defended the social laws proposed by the protestant minister of Agriculture, Commerce and Industry A.S. Talma (1908-1913). In 1915, he succeeded in getting a bill through parliament that should restrict unfair competition in economic life.
In the elections of 1918, after the introduction of a new voting system the year before, the confessional political parties gained a landslide victory. Aalberse was appointed as the first Dutch minister for Social Affairs. What laws did he propose in parliament, what arguments did he use in defending them and in what way did they reflect the ideas he adhered to? How did these laws work out in practice? Which bills did not pass in Parliament and why?
Research into this subject can be based on a wide spectrum of sources, of which the diary (1891-1948) is a primary one. Letters and personal notes can be compared to public documents like parliamentary proceedings, bills and newspapers to see how far Aalberse dared to go and how his opponents at the left and the right of the political spectrum resisted or challenged him.