Groen van Prinsterer’s Conservative Political Theory

“Storm off the Coast of Belle-Ile ” by: Jean Antoine Theodore Gudin, date unknown

Guillaume Groen van Prinsterer (1801-1876) was a Dutch Calvinist and Anti-Revolutionary historian, statesman and political theorist. He was the most prominent and influential opponent of Enlightenment liberalism in the Netherlands during the nineteenth century. A casual visitor to the Netherlands might easily encounter his name by means of the more than ten Christian schools and at least twenty-three streets in various cities and towns throughout the country that have been named after him. Among Dutch Reformed scholars, extensive study and appreciation of Groen[1] as ideological forebear has continued for well over a century, even if this historical figure might be little-known in the Anglosphere.

Groen adhered to an Augustinian philosophy of history, namely as the battlefield of faith and unbelief, i.e. the kingdom of God versus the kingdom of darkness. He saw history as the manifestation of the struggle between ideas reflecting the interest of either of these two kingdoms, with the purpose of history, however, being the victory of the seed of the woman (Christ) over the seed of the serpent (Satan) prophesied in Genesis 3:15.[2] This principle provided the narrative meta-structure of his historiography.

As was common for nineteenth-century historicist thinkers, Groen’s political theory (and action) was sanctioned and shaped through his historiographical perspective. He identified “revolutionary” modernism or the Enlightenment as an enemy of the kingdom of God, lamentably separating Western civilization from its historic Christian roots, and eventually effectuating socio-cultural spoliation.[3] For Groen, the Revolution entailed not only political upheavals such as the French Revolution, but he saw political revolutions as the historical manifestations of a much more significant epistemic revolution in the hearts and minds of the people. The most important theories Groen associated with this revolution were the sovereignty of humanity, equality and the social contract.[4] Groen saw the French Revolution and subsequent European revolutions as manifestations of a rationalist religion idolizing mankind and opposing God, describing it in biblical terms as the fruit of unbelief.[5] His Anti-Revolutionar