Dutch Culture Wars: On the politics of gutting the arts

M. Oudenampsen

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterProfessional


    “No one is safe.” With these words Halbe Zijlstra, the State Secretary of Education, Culture and Science, announced the slashing of the cultural budget on the Dutch national news in December 2010. Whereas cutbacks are generally accompanied by at least the pretension of reluctance or regret, Zijlstra delivered the message with a sardonic smile. It’s a rather uncommon spectacle: a State Secretary of Culture who publicly flaunts his disdain for culture. Zijlstra described artists as being on a “subsidy drip” and took care to present himself as an avowed fan of Dan Brown, Tom Clancy, McDonalds and Metallica. Known amongst artists as “Halbe the Wrecker,” he has become the embodiment of the anti-artistic and anti-intellectual sentiment in the Netherlands. Zijlstra became the figure of the philistine that the cultured classes love to hate. And he welcomes that hatred.

    The slashing of the cultural budget is a symbolical centrepiece of the Dutch culture wars, initiated during the recent rightward turn in Dutch politics. It is a conflict framed along similar coordinates as its American counterpart, where the conservative Right channels popular discontent in the direction of cultural elites, instead of the economic establishment. What distinguishes the Dutch culture wars from those on the other side of the Atlantic, is that conservative Christian values are largely absent from the debate. The American focus on religious values is replaced with a secular “Judeo-Christian” anti-Islamism and opposition to multiculturalism. These differences notwithstanding, the overall effect is similar: the egalitarian critique of culture, described by its right-wing populist detractors as a “left-wing hobby” or an “elitist plaything,” allows the Right to push an economic agenda that is decidedly less egalitarian. In this sense, the Dutch culture cuts illustrate the powerful appeal of what Wendy Brown has described as the contradictory convergence of neoliberalism and neo-conservatism.[1] Where the neoconservative attack on “liberal elites” allows for a popular appeal that neoliberalism would otherwise lack.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationArt and Ideology Critique after 1989
    EditorsJens Kastner, Eva Birkenstock, Max Jorge Hinderer Cruz
    Place of PublicationKöln
    PublisherVerlag der Buchhandlung Walther König
    Number of pages13
    ISBN (Print)3863351452, 9783863351458
    Publication statusPublished - Feb 2014


    • cultural policy, Netherlands, political theory


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