High Modernism in the Twentieth Century Multicultural Policies

By Regis Hijnekamp

In Seeing Like a State, James C. Scott argues against the “high modernist episodes of the twentieth century.” [1] Scott argues that the bureaucratic practice of the twentieth century consisted of visionary intellectuals and planners who arrogantly thought that one bureaucrat or advisor was capable of “designing” or “planning” the best, utopic society. [2] The ideas behind them were no “cynical grabs for power and wealth” but a “genuine desire to improve the human condition.” [3] Bureaucrats claimed that historical laws and specific variables could standardize the subjects of development. However, in all the planned urban centers, collectivized farms, and large development plans from the World Bank, the reality ‘on the ground’ and the future changes in the societal and natural environment were ignored. [4] The consequences of “high modernism,” Scott argues, were collective, societal dramas. [5]

The twentieth century multicultural immigration policies of the Netherlands are an example of high modernist planning with detrimental outcomes. After WWII, labor migrants were ‘invited’ to the Netherlands to partake in low-educated labor. [6] The migrants were considered to be “guest workers:” temporal immigrants who would return to their country of origin. Policies were designed to facilitate the guest workers’ time in the Dutch society and to create a perfect multicultural society. [7] [8]

Governmental policies ‘applied’ pillarization to the guest workers. [9] Top-down state-interference demanded immigrants to construct a public identity and “pressed individuals to organize into groups on the basis of perceived cultural similarity.” [10] The Dutch government influenced the number of organizations, their nature, goals, and continuity. [11] Subsidies and exemptions from general rules encouraged immigrants to “retain tot their ‘original culture.” [12] Organizations received subsidies if their plans were based on stereotypical ideas. [13]

Consequently, the government’s aspiration to create the best multicultural society – in which every cultural expression can be exercised – stimulated the ‘Othering’ of migrants and reproduced stereotypes. [15] [16] When it appeared that the guest workers settled permanently in the Netherlands, the pillarization had led to reinforcement of essentialist ideas about migrants and their descendants and stereotypical mindsets. [17] The multicultural plan failed as it stimulated intolerance, racism, and a segregation of cultures. [18] As Scott argues, the ideas designed on a map are always “misrepresentative and indeed nonsustainable” in reality. [19]