Abraham Kuyper

1837-1920. Dutch Calvinist theologian and political leader, a major figure in recent Dutch history. Born in Maassluis, his father a minister in the Reformed Church, Kuyper was brought up in a perhaps naïve version of orthodoxy. As a student at Leyden, he rebelled against it and turned to the prevalent “modern” theology. A brilliant student, he went on in theology, studying under the “modernist” Scholten and others. This proved not to satisfy him emotionally. As a young preacher at Beesd, he was attracted by the deep-seated Calvinistic pietism of the villagers; this along with other influences led him to embrace orthodox Calvinism. At thirty a rising preacher, he moved to Utrecht, and soon to Amsterdam. Attracted by the “anti-revolutionary” political views of the Calvinist theorist Groen Van Prinsterer, whom he finally met in 1869, Kuyper's thoughts turned to politics. The aging Groen's protégé, as an “Anti-Revolutionary Party” made its first appearance, he ran for parliament.

Groen's death (1867) left Kuyper as the Anti-Revolutionary leader. With ferocious activity he moved toward making the orthodox Calvinists a political force. A daily newspaper was started, Kuyper elected to parliament (1874), party chapters organized, and a specific political program drafted. Codified in Kuyper's Ons Program (1878), it called for state aid to religious schools, extension of the suffrage, recognition of the rights of labor, reforms in colonial policy, and a revitalization of national life. Its theoretical basis was the idea of the autonomy of the various social spheres, each of which had its own God-given rights. The school issue gave Kuyper the opportunity to organize a massive petition campaign (1878), which provided a mass base for the party, and paved the way for the “Monstrous Coalition” with the Catholics, who also wished state aid for their schools.

By 1880 Kuyper started an orthodox Calvinist “Free University” (free from church and state control), and taught in its seminary. By 1886 he led an exodus of over 100,000 orthodox from the Reformed Church (the Doleantie: joining with an earlier separatist group, they formed the Gereformeerde Kerk, the second largest Protestant group in the Netherlands). By 1888, after the extension of suffrage to many of the middle class, the Coalition won brief control of the government, to the dismay of the Liberals, who saw Kuyper as a potential Cromwell. By 1892, as left-wing liberal proposals for major suffrage extension split all major parties, the conservative wing of the Anti-Revolutionary left (to form the Christian Historical Party). Kuyper, calling for “Christian democracy,” drove on, a whirlwind of activity. Further suffrage extension brought a notable Coalition victory in 1900, and Kuyper was made prime minister (1901). This was in many ways the high point of his career. As prime minister he encountered difficulties (notably the railroad strike of 1902) and was ousted after the heated campaign of 1905. He was now sixty-eight. He lived on for a decade and a half, the “grand old man” of the Anti- Revolutionary Party and still a political force to reckon with. He lived to see the granting of full financial equality to religious schools, and the extension of suffrage to all (1917). Though the Coalition broke up (1925), Kuyper's Anti- Revolutionaries have remained a major party. Kuyper's achievement was to give the long-submerged “common people,” the lower-middle- class orthodox Calvinistic group, a religious and political voice. He contributed to the development of the Netherlands' present “plural society” (ideological groupings each having their own political parties, trade unions, etc.). As a theologian he revived a systematic, orthodox Calvinism, marked by an emphasis on “common grace.”

See P. Kasteel, Abraham Kuyper (1938), and F. Vandenberg, Abraham Kuyper (1960).