'No moral decline in the Netherlands'
By Inge Sieben and Loek Halman, Sociology Department Tilburg University
The Netherlands is not becoming an antisocial and egocentric society, increasingly dominated by loutish, indifferent behavior. These are the findings of a large-scale European study of values. The Dutch show solidarity and are socially committed. But these qualities do not make them unique in Europe.
Last year, the ‘Mauro’ case received a great deal of media coverage. Mauro Manuel, the 18-year-old asylum seeker who was ordered to return to Angola by Minister Leers despite having spent the last eight years living in the Netherlands with a foster family, appears to have been rescued thanks to a political solution: he may apply for a study visa, which will at least grant him some extra time in the Netherlands.
But as soon as this case drew to an end, the next ‘Mauros’ appeared: the 21-year-old Patricio who has also been in the Netherlands for the last ten years and (again like Mauro) speaks with a southern Dutch accent, plays football and celebrates Carnaval. And Jossef from Alkmaar, the 9-year-old boy who eats traditional pink cakes and is facing deportation to Eritrea along with his mother. These cases prompt public outcry; why are these children, who have integrated well and adjusted to the Dutch standards and values, being deported from the Netherlands? But what are these standards and values exactly? And to what extent are they typically Dutch?
In the book 'Respect man!', we join colleagues from Tilburg University in exploring the meaning of modern-day Dutch standards and values relating to family, work, religion, politics and society. We used data from the European values study, which was carried out in all 45 countries of Europe (from Iceland to Azerbaijan) [i].
Freedom ideology not unique to the Netherlands
So let us see whether the values so often referred to as ‘Dutch’ (such as freedom, individual autonomy and tolerance) really are so typically Dutch. 60 percent of Dutch people think it important that people are allowed to live in freedom, with no restraints on their development. The majority of the Dutch also think that freedom of expression is for the greater good. Freedom is considered to be more important than equality (everyone is the same and class differences are minimal). But these opinions are not unique to the Netherlands. Many more Europeans in Georgia, the Ukraine, Bulgaria and Macedonia also consider freedom to be more important than equality and freedom is ranked more highly than equality in twelve other European countries.
The idea that the Dutch are ardent autonomists should also be put into perspective. Yes, many Dutch people think autonomy an important value to pass on to their children, but this is equally true (if not more so) of many other Europeans. These include the citizens of the Scandinavian countries, as well as Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Switzerland and Austria. However, this emphasis on autonomy does not make values such as obedience and good manners any less important. In fact, these values even seem to be gaining in popularity in the Netherlands. This could be explained by the current view that we are taking individualism too far, and that children should brought up more strictly with more attention for social values like obedience, common decency and good manners.
The Netherlands no more tolerant than other countries
Throughout the world, the Netherlands has a reputation for its policy of tolerance. Our acceptance of others and the way they behave is thought to have its roots in the traditional Dutch history of trading and doing business. When it comes to accepting homosexuality, the Dutch and the Scandinavian people are certainly more tolerant than people in other countries. And on matters relating to abortion and euthanasia, the Netherlands is one of the most progressive countries. However, the Swedes, Danes, Fins, Norwegians, Icelanders, French, Slovakians and Czechs are even more tolerant about accepting abortion than we are. The pattern is much the same for euthanasia.
So although it is true that we Dutch are tolerant people, this trait is far from unique in Europe. Furthermore, the Dutch do not accept everything. They take a dim view of practices that may harm other people or society, such as joy-riding, tax evasion and fare-dodging. There is almost unanimous condemnation of behavior like this, and not just in the Netherlands. Most other European countries agree.
No increase in ‘loutish behavior’
The account of these ‘Dutch’ values shows that although the people of the Netherlands share a set of common values, they cannot be termed typically Dutch. The fear expressed by countless cultural pessimists that the Netherlands is declining into an antisocial, egocentric society characterized by ‘loutish’ and indifferent behavior would also seem to be unfounded. If we compare information from various European values surveys (in 1981, 1990, 1999 and 2008), we see no evidence of a dramatic change in the range of values among the Dutch people.
The increase in individualization is reflected in the growing tolerance shown towards alternative forms of society and acceptance of conduct (particularly sexual and ethical behavior) that would previously have been condemned. But there is no evidence to support moral decline and a ‘live and let live’ mentality. The Dutch are still a united, socially committed people. The number of people that join organizations and do voluntary work, for example, has not dropped over the past decades. In fact, numbers have increased, particularly as the younger generations become more socially engaged. So individualization does not seem to rule out deep-seated social orientation; in fact it would appear to be a magic combination. A lesson that the Mauros of this country and their close social networks learned long ago.
Loek Halman, Inge Sieben and Marga van Zundert: Atlas of European Values, Trends and Traditions at the Turn of the Century, Brill Academic Publishers 2011, ISBN 978-90-04-20702-9 (¤ 139).