Could American culture and society undergo “verzuiling” (pillarization, ‘silo-fication’)?

The Star Wars franchise, after progressively more dreary wokedreck, finally had hit gold again with The Mandalorian (a.k.a. “The Baby Yoda Show”).

Now its star Gina Carano has been ‘canceled’ for stating that dehumanizing one’s political opponent, and getting people to inform on their ‘wrong-thinking’ neighbors, is the beginning of the same process that led to the Shoah. Supposedly this is trivializing the Shoah or something.

I would personally have used the Great Purges and the Gulags in the USSR, or the Cultural Revolution, as more direct parallels, but speaking as a committed Jew and a student of history, I am in broad agreement with her on the dehumanization aspect. In fact, my fictional protagonist, Major Felix Winter, makes the following observation in Episode II of “Operation Flash”:

… they were telling themselves that Jews, and whoever else they killed here, were not really human. [Just] beasts in human form. That they were just putting down cattle, so to speak. Or eradicating vermin.

I then understood. The moment you decide fellow humans are not truly human — whether by birth, by class, or anything else — something like Treblinka is the endgame.

Arbel, Nitay. Operation Flash, Episode 2: Hinges Of Fate . One Music As Before Press. Kindle Edition.

Of course, the ‘Canceling’ of Gina Carano is a classic example of the Dutch proverb “when they want to beat a dog, they’ll readily find a stick” (als men een hond wil slaan vindt men licht een stok).

Now I was delighted to find out that Gina has already been offered her own  movie project with the fledgling entertainmen arm of Ben Shapiro’s Daily Wire. Shapiro points to his own mentor Andrew Breitbart, always fond of saying ‘politics is downstream from culture’.

There are of course already niche cultural genres for conservatives. Country music and Christian praise music would have a mostly conservative audience, and so do certain metal subgenres. But Shapiro is trying to make inroads into mainstream culture.

If this trend expands, will it change the mainstream discourse, or will it ultimately contribution to the formation of two parallel social ‘silos’ or ‘pillars’ (Dutch: zuilen)? Allow me to explain.

That people as outspoken and argumentative as the Dutch would have had their share of religious, political, and philosophical internal conflicts should not surprise anyone. So did the less argumentative Belgians — but there with an overlay of bitter language disputes (“Flemish” Dutch vs. “Walloon” French).

In both countries, the same peculiar response developed, known in Dutch as “verzuiling” (zuil=pillar, i.e.) — you could translate it as “pillarization”, or less literally, ‘silo-fication’, though I’ve seen the term “vertical pluralism” in some English-language sources.

What form did this take? This is probably easiest to illustrate by description. In Belgium, there were (and are) three major trade unions affiliated with the three major political parties: the “Christian” (read, in the Belgian context:[*] Roman Catholic) ACV/CSC, the socialist ABVV/FGTB, and the liberal [read: pro-free market] ACLVB (which consisted almost entirely of its civil service local, VSOA=free syndicate for public office).

But it didn’t stop there. Each party maintained its own mutualités/ziekenfondsen/nonprofit HMOs: the Christian Mutuality, the Socialist Mutuality, and the Liberal Mutuality, plus three niche players: the Flemish Nationalist Mutuality, the Neutral Mutuality and, for self-employed professionals such as doctors, lawyers, and architects, … the Liberal Professions Mutuality. Even Chambers of Commerce were divided along sectarian lines.

Cultural life and media were likewise balkanized. If you were a Catholic, you would read either highbrow De Standaard or the more folksy Gazet Van Antwerpen or Het Nieuwsblad; if you were a Socialist, De Morgen or its predecessors; if a liberal, Het Laatste Nieuws, etc.  Friends who wanted to know what really went on used to read 2-3 papers and compare their coverage: each routinely suppressed or played down news that was embarrassing to their ‘camp’, and play up what suited its agenda. (Childish as this could get, it had the benefit of full disclosure, since newspapers openly advertised their bias on their masthead. Once irritating, this now seems positively benign compared to a ridiculously biased US media making laughable claims of objectivity.)

There were separate state and [state-subsidized ]” free school” networks: the latter, except for 2-3 Jewish schools, basically referred to Catholic schools, and people who belonged to that ‘pillar’ would send their children there, to the Catholic youth movements, would buy their house with a mortgage from the Kredietbank (which was historically Catholic), …

If anything, things in the Netherlands used to be even more comprehensively ‘silo-ed’: airtime on the national radio and TV broadcasters was divvied up between the Socialist VARA (Union of Workingman Radio Amateurs), the Liberal AVRO (General liberal radio broadcasters), the Catholic KRO (Catholic radio broadcasters), the moderate Dutch-Reformed[**] NCRV (Dutch Christian radio association), the fundamentalist EO (evangelical broadcasters), and the maverick VPRO (freethinking protestant radio organization). There were Catholic and Protestant banks,… the whole works. I remember talking to somebody who used to live in a Dutch fishing village “so evangelical they kept the rooster away from the chickens on Sundays” [presumably colorful hyperbole on the part of my interlocutor]. Supposedly, a woman who opened a new general store was frozen out “because she was Catholic”.

In the 1960s, a process of “ontzuiling” (de-pillarization) started taking place in the Netherlands; Belgium followed suit rather later. More than just vestiges of this situation still exist, however.

There are  obvious downsides to this phenomenon: the balkanization of society, the ideological echo chambers. But I must admit it did have one important plus: the more or less peaceful coexistence between the groups.

Are we going to see something similar in the US now? If the alternative is either a shooting war in the streets or a one-party totalitarian soft-dictatorship crushing all dissent, “verzuiling”, with all its downsides, seems a positively benign outcome in comparison….

[*] There is so little awareness of Protestantism or Eastern Orthodoxy in Belgium that ‘Christian’ is commonly used as a kind-of reverse synecdoche for Roman Catholicism

[**] Dutch protestants are historically divided between a mainline Nederlands Hervormde (Dutch reformed) church, which is comparable to Presbyterianism in the US, and the more stringently calvinist Gereformeerde Kerken. (What Americans call Dutch Reformed comes close.) There is also a smallish ‘vrijzinnig protestantse’ (freethinking protestant) movement that includes a variety of congregations, some approaching US Unitarian-Universalism.

5 thoughts on “Could American culture and society undergo “verzuiling” (pillarization, ‘silo-fication’)?

  1. Well, so-called republicans are supposed to be for Federalism, which is a form of silo. Under Federalism California could have sanctuary cities and Kansas could have no abortion.
    I think Federalism and nullification could be the perfect antidote to what are problems are now.
    Unfortunately, republicans are totally without any imagination and are control freaks so they reject Federalism out of hand.
    Oh well.

    • Control Freaks?
      Dems tax everything that moves, exists. Every year add ten thousand pages of laws, rules, edicts, regulations about what, when, where, how and why. All on top of a 100,000 more pages. Any line from any page making you a criminal. Then employ legions of spies, inspectors, regulators, administative judges from the same gestap as the inspectors in admin courts.

      Dems sniff into your 5 year olds sex. Control the government schools. 96% of Washington Versailles and the wealthiest surrounding counties.

      BTW, Californian has the highest poverty rate in the US. Can’t imagine why.

  2. @archie: Some–many–Republicans are bad Federalists, it is true.

    Some simply have given up since it is clear the Democrats are now relentless centralizers.

    Some are concerned that neo-Federalism would undermine what one might call “the national idea.” Robert E. Lee notoriously declined command of the Union armies on the basis of his higher loyalty to the Commonwealth of Virginia.

    Some believe that it would be too tempting to our foreign adversaries to try and detach parts of the United States from the whole…it doesn’t take much imagination to wonder if the West Coast states wouldn’t prefer to be under the PRC’s aegis rather than that of the United States.

    I am a Federalist myself but I certainly share all these concerns.

    As to nullification…that is a very dangerous path to walk, as I am sure some 600,000 dead Federal and Confederate soldiers would be more than willing to explain.

    In any event the concept has no traction as it is considered to have been settled during the 1832 Nullification Crisis. You might as well talk about reinstating the election of Senators by state legislatures, or eliminating the income tax, or for that matter a Federal government of limited and enumerated powers.

  3. Sadly, comforting lies will always be more popular than even the most important truth, so I don’t see any conservative mainstream media emerging in any event.

    But then again, maybe it shouldn’t be. Terrestrial life forms larger than insects keep their bones on the inside for an important structural reason, and given the size of the entertainment industry, it would probably be better for conservative media to be the backbones that support the rest of the media, instead of trying to be the entire media that has been reduced to a skeleton.

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