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From corporatism to lawyocracy? On liberalization and juridification


Frans van Waarden, University College, Utrecht University, PO Box 80145, 3508 TC Utrecht, The Netherlands. Email:


In 1997 Robert Kagan questioned whether European countries had to fear the coming of American style adversarial legalism. He answered this question with a qualified “no.” Today we are no longer so sure the answer is “no,” even in a country that Kagan considered the antipole of US adversarial legalism, the Netherlands, traditionally characterized by informal and consensual conflict resolution. In the present article we chart a trend of increasing juridification and legalism, that is, more formal and legal conflict resolution, in the Netherlands between 1970 and 2008. The trend is related to major changes in economic governance institutions, which generated a shift from corporatism toward lawyocracy; from power of the associations of civil society toward power of courts, lawyers, and judges. Yet the newly dominant system of governance is modified and merged with elements of the old system, producing a specific Dutch version, which one could call “corporatist lawyocracy.” We identify two types of liberalization as major driving forces: social liberalization in the 1970s and 1980s, followed by economic liberalization in the subsequent decades. If one considers economic liberalization a product of neoliberal “Reaganomics,” the legal changes are in a way an “American export product,” although a different one than the lawyering styles of large international American law firms mentioned by Kelemen and Sibbitt in 2004.