This article has been published two times: in Acta Politica (Jg.XXVIII, No.2, 1993, pp.151-71) and in Between Sociology and Sociological Practice: Liber Amicorum dedicated to Mark van de Vall (Nijmegen: Institute for Applied Social Sciences, 1993, pp.207-23). The PdF of the article in Acta Politica is here: Planning in Dutch cultural policy. Below the clean text.


1 Introduction

The belief that social planning is possible and the con­viction that the social sciences can contribute to this process, have been subject to considerable wear in recent years. Some authors, however, are still optimistic about this matter. They attach especi­ally great value to the so-called mixed-scan­ning planning model developed by Etzioni, which forms a middle ground between the (megalo­maniac) synoptic and the (modest) incremental model. In this essay these three models will first be analysed. This will be done primarily within the framework of their relation to a pluralist political system. To substantiate the above, I shall then discuss at length a policy field which is seldom or never included in reviews of policy: the cultu­ral sector. The present attempts by the Dutch central govern­ment at (mixed-scanning) planning in cultural policy will be investi­ga­ted: how does the policy take shape, what are the advantages and disad­vantages of the applied planning method, and how could it be improved? Special attention will be paid to the ques­tion whether or not a requisite for mixed scanning has been met: a public or political debate about the values and goals that underlie the policy concerned.

2 Incrementalism and Polyarchy

For many years, Anglo-American political scientists in particular have conten­ded that the incremental policy model is most approp­riate to, and usually is employed in, democratic political systems. Authors such as Dahl, Lindblom and Wild­avsky therefore conside­red this policy model, inspired by political philos­ophers such as Schumpe­ter, Berlin and Popper, as worthwhile to purs­ue (Dahl, 1956; Lindblom, 1959, 1965; Dahl & Lindblom, 1953; Wildavsky, 1964; Schum­peter, 1943; Berlin, 1950, 1953; Popper, 1945, 1957).

Incremental policy is characterized by an incessant flow of margi­nal policy measures or adjustments, supported by various social actors or ‘partners’. It is not so much an effort to realize a well-defined long-term objective, as an attempt to contribute practically to the alleviation or solution of an urgent short-term problem. The policy comes about bit by bit, incrementally, in a continuous process of negotiati­on between social, political and bureaucratic interest groups. In this model decision making is seen as the product of continuous conflict about the instru­ments, values and aims of the policy to be pursued. This explains why processes like exchange, negotiati­on, ad­justment and com­promise hold a central position. On the other hand the synoptic model is characteri­sed by a fundamental consen­sus among the various actors about the instruments, values and aims, and therefore by concord and harmony (cf. Van de Vall, 1980, p.97-9).

When one tries to explain the connection between incrementalism and democracy, it is usually pointed out that the exis­tence of many influential organizations, indepen­dent of the State and of each other, is characteristic of open, democra­tic socie­ties. In our Western political systems, it is not primarily the individual citizen who determines government policy through a direct form of democracy. This happens indirect­ly through the so-called social centre­field, composed of the whole of more or less auto­nomous organizations which act as intermediary and buffer between citizen and State. Dahl thus does not speak of a democra­cy, but of a polyarchy. As a result of the often antipodal interests and influen­ces of these organizati­ons, decisions are not made by one rational actor, from one central point, but in disjointed fashion. The final result is a more or less ‘organic’ growth of policy mea­sures: an inevitably unstable compromise without basic reasoning, without a coherent and consistent plan for the realization of a compre­hensive, well-defined goal.

To justify incrementalism, it is usually stressed that citizens and politicians show, almost inevitably, a lack of consensus on the values and aims of govern­ment policies, that society is too complex and that policy makers have insuffi­cient knowledge to make consequential and comprehensive decisions in respon­sible fashion. It is therefore preferable to carry out marginal modificati­ons based on the status quo and to ‘muddle through’ gradual­ly. Minor adjust­ments leave less room for error and pos­sible blunders are corrected more easily. Moreover, mar­ginal changes are usually accepted more readily than radical ones. The social support which, certainly in a democracy, is indispensa­ble to the success of government policies is thus more simply attained.

2.1 Doubts about pluralism

During the last few years, a perceptible about-turn has taken place in the evalua­tion of the incremental policy model and of the polyarchic system it is partly based upon. It is surprising that especially Lindblom and Dahl, who are rated among the founders of the ‘pluralism’ theory, are primarily the ones to be increasingly overco­me by doubt. The role of interest groups in particular, central in the theory of pluralism, is appraised more critically. Thus Dahl points out that these organizations may in fact help to continue social inequali­ty, undermine civic consciousness and an awareness of the common good, distort the public agenda, and alienate the individual citizen from controlling this agenda (Dahl, 1982; cf. Lindblom & Dahl, 1976; Dahl, 1983, 1985, 1989, 1991; Lindblom, 1977, 1982, 1986). Has pluralism not been redu­ced to an interest-group liberalism (Lowi, 1969) in which oligarchically organized interest groups together with government agencies in opaque negotiation processes make those decisions which in a true democracy would be reserved for the political domain?

Another problem was whether the mutual pervasi­on or intertwine­ment of State and society, inherent in incrementalism, does not lead to compartmen­taliza­tion and incomprehensiveness, inflexibility, immobility and uncon­trollabili­ty, and eventually to an undermining of the legitimacy of State and politics. An ensuing problem can be that the model incorrectly suggests that every policy comes about by small steps, that the consequences of such small steps are always limited and that the decision makers retain their flexibility. A final problem is whether the model leaves adequate room for value judgment or substan­tial rationality and whether its application does not lead to technocratic instrumen­talism, lack of direction and conservatism (Habermas, 1975; Offe, 1983; Schmitter, 1984; Geelhoed, 1983; Van Doorn, 1984, 1988; Dror, 1964; Etzioni, 1968, 1991; Dahl, 1982; Manley, 1983; Goodin, 1982, 1988; Dryzek, 1990).

The most fundamental problem seems to be that the legiti­macy of the welfare state is under pressure. Lehning argues that the theoreticians of each of the five most important present political streams (neo-conservatism, neo-libera­lism, neo-mar­xism, neo-corporatism and neo-pluralism) have concluded that there is no (longer) concurrence on which is the right political order, what ought to be the role of the State in society and what are legitimate demands on the State. The result is that organized “sub-sets of interests are pursued unlimitedly, thus endangering the ‘common good'”. (Lehning, 1986, p. 6) There is no longer a consensus about a normative criterion on the basis of which (sub-)interests can be differentiated or rejected, resulting among other things in a permanent excessi­ve demand on and overburdening of the central govern­ment.

2.2 Mixed scanning and citizenship as an alternative

An important, both descriptive and prescriptive, alterna­tive to incrementalism is the mixed-scanning policy model developed by the American sociologist Amitai Etzioni. This model is a synthesis of the model described in § 2.1 and the synoptic or rational-comprehensive model. Among the basic assump­tions of this last model are: the possibility of organi­zing or changing society to a certain degree, a high measure of consensus on the objectives and instruments of policy, and the availability of sufficient informati­on. Synoptic policy comes about by an exhausti­ve, ratio­nal examination of the alternative instruments (and their consequences) in order to realize a rationally planned, long-term goal. The use of the term ‘synoptic’ (compre­hensive) does not only indicate that the policy is ratio­nal, but also that this rationality covers the whole policy cycle (Van de Vall, 1980, ch.4). Although this policy mode plays an important part in theory, it can seldom or never be executed in practice (Lindblom, 1959, 1975, 1979; Wildavsky, 1964; Etzioni, 1968).

Etzioni has pointed out that the two models do (should) not exclude one another but, on the contrary, (should) complement each other. In his mixed-scanning model the synoptic paradigm is connected to the fundamental decisi­on-making process about aims and means, and the incremen­tal model to the daily ad hoc decisions about the imple­mentation of these elementary decisions (Etzioni, 1967, 1968, 1986, 1991). An active society is necessary, according to Etzioni, for the mixed-scanning model to function. This society is characterised by an ongoing public debate about the values and goals which (should) form the foundation of society and government policies, and, thanks to this debate, by a strong sense of both citizenship and the common good. By means of this public normative debate policy can be given the legitimacy, direction and cohesion which incrementa­lism often misses. Moreover, if the debate leads to practical conclusions, the countless and often conflicting claims of the inte­rest groups can be weighed against one another and against the goals of society. The permanent overload of the central government as well as the compartmen­tali­zation, immobility and uncontrollability of its policies can thus be countered. Because policies are the object of public discussion, it is possible, finally, that the exercise of power by the interest groups takes place less covertly. This would be to the advantage of democratic control.

It is remarkable, for that matter, that many of Etzioni’s ideas concerning policy-making and the importance of public political discourse and of citizens­hip are closely connected to the recommendations now made by numerous Dutch and foreign authors to counter the problems in and of the welfare state.

Dutch cultural policy

To substantiate the arguments concerning the defects of the polyarchic political system and the incremental policy model closely linked to it, and espe­cially the detrimental role of the interest groups, exam­ples from the fields of economics, agriculture, medicine or educati­on are normally used. Yet the arts and cultural policy is no less interes­ting, at least in the Nether­lands. I shall initially indicate in which fields the Dutch Ministry of Culture intervenes, how this interfe­rence has come about, and how this policy, within the framework of the above discus­sion on polyar­chy and incrementalism, can be evaluated. Next, I shall examine the presently applied planning method, which was ex­pressly introdu­ced to counter a number of shortcomings of the earlier, strongly incremental policy (WVC, 1992a; Van IJsselmuiden, 1992; Akkermans et al, 1992). This planning model, which can be characterised as an attempt at mixed scanning, was first applied in its entirety in 1991 and 1992 (after an experimental phase). In conclusion I shall address myself to the questions to what extent this at­tempt has succeeded and how the existing policy could be improved upon.

3.1 Incremental cultural policy

The incremental character of government policy in the cultural field has been repeatedly pointed out. The policy regarding museums, monuments, archives, libra­ries, literature, fine arts, media, design and architec­ture, theatre and mime, music and dance, amateur artis­try, and art education has come about bit by bit in a negotiation process between interested par­ties from the world of the arts, the government bureaucracy, advisory bodies and politicians. The initiative to subsidize cert­ain facilities has been and still is as a rule taken by influential lobbies. Allocation primarily occurred on an ad hoc basis: the pros and cons between the various sectors (for instance: symphony versus chamber orchestras, and music versus film) and between establis­hed instituti­ons and new initiatives have seldomly been taken into consideration. Public discussion about this subject, Zijderveld argued in 1983, furthermore suffers from a lack of substan­tial or value rationality, with the result that “cultural policy is not part of a clear politico-cultural framework and throws itself rather unsystematically into all sorts of cultural problems” (Zijderveld, 1983, p.165-9; cf. Blokland, 1991, ch.7). In 1992, this cultural policy of the central government involved a total of 2.1 billion Dutch guilders, i.e. 1% of the total government budget. If the public broadcas­ting network is left out, a sum of 862 million Dutch guilders remains for the arts, literature, libraries and cultural heritage (mu­seums, archives, monuments) (WVC, 1992). Local government spends about 1.1 billion Dutch guilders in these fields.

Among the reasons for cultural policy to be especially susceptible to the failings of pluralism are the follo­wing: the policy primarily consists of the provision of grants, a process in which independent advisory bodies like the Arts Council are called in; the criteria on the basis of which policy is made (‘quali­ty’, ‘pluri­formity’) are difficult to be verified and su­pervised for outsiders, and the policy makers involved, much like medi­cal specialists and other professio­nals, are for this reason eager to refer to their unique expertise; the policy is highly decen­tralised and deconcentrated; much of the decision-making process takes place in the (grey) fringe area of State bureaucracy and interest-group orga­nizations; the interest groups involved are highly orga­nized and, due to their easy access to the media and their professional ability to manipulate the public, have a great power potential at their disposal. As a result of all these factors, the risk of immobility, compartmenta­lization, uncontrollability and disorientati­on, short-sighted protection of particularistic interests and limi­ted instrumental rationality has proved real.

3.2 An attempt at mixed scanning

For, among others, the reasons summed up above, the Minister of Culture has complied with the request of the Lower House to present a quadrennial Government Docu­ment on Culture since 1988. This Docu­ment sets out what general cultural and political considerations and objec­tives underlie the included and also quadrennial Arts Plan, which indicates what institutions, societies and artists receive what grant. In the Explanatory Memo­randum of the applicable Act on cultural policy, the minister is explicitly invited to extend the cultural and political views explicated in the Government Docu­ment on Culture beyond the policy areas covered by his depart­ment. It is the wish of the Lower House to use the Cultu­re Memorandum to stimulate a public debate about the cultural developments in Dutch society.

A relevant consideration in this context, which is fairly popular in the world of art, is the following. The arts can be considered as an intense reflection on and imaginati­on of culture in sociological sense (WVC, 1992). They consti­tute an area in which society analyses itself and in which new ideas are developed and tried out. So, especially the participants in the politico-cultural debate might have disposal of the vocabulary and the habitus to discuss the fundamen­tal values of our society.

As was indicated in § 2.2, such a debate is desirable in order to come to a public vision of the common good, a social consensus about the instruments and objectives of the policy, and a sense of citizenship. Such a debate is also a requisite for a mixed-scanning policy. Hence the Government Document on Culture could be classified as an attempt at mixed scanning: within the frame­work formed by the outcome of the (synoptic) cultural and political debate, which is triggered by the general cultural and political considerations in the Document on Culture, the daily (incremental) policy is given shape. In particu­lar this last policy has resulted in the Arts Plan.

What does the trajectory by which the Government Document on Culture comes about, look like in actual fact? One and a half years before the plan comes into force, the organizati­ons and institutions that wish to be eligible for a government grant have to submit to the ministry a policy plan in which they indicate what aims they wish to realize in the next four years with what means. The ministry then turns to the Arts Council for advice. The Council is reque­sted to take into account a number of general cultural and political principles and goals as formulated by the mi­nister. Prior to this the Council, on its own initiative, presents a ‘preliminary advisory’ report in which its own views on these subjects are expressed. The minister can react to this in his request for advice, which is actual­ly what happened in 1992. (For an analysis of the diffe­rences of opinion between the Council and the minister, see: Blokland, 1992a)

The Council then passes on the applications for grants of the different art produ­cers to its specialized committees, manned by experts from the sectors invol­ved. In their advice, these experts base themselves, in the first place, on the policy plans of the various institutions and on the inte­rim reports made by the Council in the previous years on their artistic achievements. For the advice regarding the total Arts Plan, in which the various sectors (music versus film, etc) are weighed against one another, the Council bases itself on the policy framework indicated by the minister in his request for advice, and on its own perceptions, as rendered in its preliminary advisory report.

With the advice of the Council as a starting-point, the minister submits a more or less revised plan to parlia­ment. Here, or at least this is the idea, the plan is established in its final form within the framework of a broad politico-cultu­ral discussion based on the general Government Document on Culture. In practi­ce, space for manoeuvre in the decision-making process is minimal: there is hardly any deviation from the proposals of the Council. The motto of the nineteenth-century Dutch liberal statesman Thorbecke that “the government is no judge of the arts and sciences” is still kept in mind.

In theory, the advantages of this planning methodology are manifold. One of the gains for the institutions is that they are now given financial security for a four-year or even a longer period. This creates the oppor­tunity for develo­ping a long-term policy in which more artistic risks can be taken. Secondly, the plan has made it possi­ble to decide between the extant, long-standing supply and new material. The proverbial conservatism of esta­blished, institutionalized interests can thus be fought and historically grown imbalances adjusted. A third ad­vantage is that one can now consider, and introduce shifts, between the various discipli­nes far better than before. Thanks to these last two advantages, immobility and compartmentalization, so often characteristic of incremental policy (cf. § 2.1), can now be opposed. Also, the decision-making process has in principle become more fundamental, perspicuous and public, and hence easier to control and influence politically. Government and parliament have more opportunities for concentrating on the main issues, the underlying concept. The requisite for the formation of a broad public discussion and consensus regar­ding the instruments and objectives of the policy can thus be more adequately met. The policy can be given more direction, context and legitimacy. Finally, the permanent excessive demand on and overburdening of the govern­ment can be countered as, thanks to the public debate on the goals of the policy, a weighing of interests can now take place (cf. § 2.1).

An attendant imperfection of the Arts Plan systematics is that the term of validity of the plans is not synchro­nous to the duration of the successive cabinets. In the Netherlands cabinets can fall prematurely. But a plan cannot be unilaterally revised by a new minister halfway through: it is a contract between the govern­ment and the institutions concerned. Conse­quently, a minister is often forced to execute the policy adopted by his prede­cessor. This does not particularly enhance the clarity of political responsibilities.

3.3 The ‘Government Document on Cultural Policy 1993-1996’ in practice

To what extent can the present cultural policy be typi­fied as a successful attempt at mixed scanning? We shall limit ourselves to several main points concerning the coming about of and the public and parliamentary discus­sion on the Government Document on Cultural Policy 1993-1996 in the spring of 1992 (see further: Blokland, 1992a and c).

In the Government Document on Culture the minister, as we have seen, sets out his cultural and political views on the basis of which the Arts Plan has been drawn up. In the Document in question, general observations have been devoted to, among other things, several fundamental cul­tural developments (globalization and hence uniformity of culture, rediscovery of cultural traditions as counter-movement, rising of audiovisual media, effects of this on reading and the performing arts, trends in active and receptive cultural participation); a review of the policy conducted; the essential concepts of the policy (quality and diversity); and the most important themes in or aims of the policy (the advan­cement of cultural participation and of a prime-quality, pluriform supply). In this Docu­ment there is little or no mention of possible linkages to other policy fields as original­ly asked for by the Lower House – in particular education and housing (archi­tectural quality) – or of cultural-political views on the fundamen­tal values and goals of our society. The minister seems to prefer to limit himself to the familiar policy fields within the compass of his department’s direct responsibilities. The theoretical quality of the included observations will not be considered here, but we shall attempt to answer the question as to what extent these observations have played a role in the debate and in the determi­nation of the policy.

3.4 Public Debate

As of the moment in March 1992 that the Arts Council published its 1040-page advice on the 316 grant applica­tions, public discussion in the various media has been completely dominated by those institutions in danger of having their request wholly or partially denied. News coverage of cultural politics or policy in the Nether­lands is almost completely limited to sensational reports about institutions standing to lose their grants.[1] Usually only the threatened parties get to say their piece. The average citizen hears next to nothing of the cultural and political deliberations which may underlie certain decisions.[2] It is, therefo­re, hardly surprising that the media have included no reports, and far less a dis­cussion, on the general cultural and political considera­tions and goals as expressed in the Government Document on Culture (cf. Blokland, 1992c).

What topics did the politicians debate? We shall limit ourselves to the parliamentary discussion on the Government Document on Cultural Policy. This took place on 15 June 1992 in the Standing Committee for Welfare and Culture of the Lower House. This meeting lasted about eight hours, covering the general cultural and political considerations of the Government Document and the included so-called ‘arts-sector document’ (performing arts, fine arts, architec­ture, design, film, amateur arts and artistic formation, with a budget total of 400 milli­on Dutch guilders).

In this meeting, the general cultural and political deve­lopments and goals were barely discussed by either the members of the Lower House or by the minister, the social democrat Mrs. Hedy D’Ancona. In most cases, the Parlia­mentarians complimented the minister on her considerati­ons on the subject, subscribed to her views and dutifully made some remarks on details of her presentation. They subse­quently moved on to the order of the day: the concrete incremental policy measures.

According to some calculations of my own based on the Parliamentary Procee­dings, it appears that the spokesman for the largest government party, the Christian Democrats (CDA), spent about 15% of the time allotted to him during the first session [3] on the general section of the Docu­ment, 20% on the proposed expenditure cuts in the provin­cial regions, 10% on the minister’s attempts to have the institutions rely more on their own earnings and less on government support (see note 2 and 5), 30% on a vast number of other incremental measures, and 25% on the grants that had or had not been pledged to indivi­dual institutions. The percentages for the spokesman of the coalition party, the Social Democrats (PvdA), are about the same. Even more than his colleague, however, he entered into the, according to him, unjust rejection of grant applications by certain institutions and artists.[4]

In reaction, the spokesman of opposition party D’66 said that this advocate gave the impression of having scrutinized each of the 316 grant applications. As this is improbable, it appears, he sugge­sted, as though the institutions which have the easiest access to a certain Parlia­mentarian and are the most skilful lobbyists, stand the best chance of being subsidized (Parlia­mentary Procee­dings, p.7). It is indeed remarkable that some House Members seemed especially to be considerate for those art producers residing in the same province as they themsel­ves.

The spokesmen from the various opposition parties did not waste much time in their first session on in-depth cul­tural and political considerations, either. Most of them limited themselves to a number of policy proposals and the chaotic last phase of the Arts Plan procedu­re. The minister, after having been forced to major addi­tional expenditure by several successful lobbies from the arts world, attempted to balance her budget by means of a rather ill-conside­red policy measure[5]. Moreo­ver, in imitation of the Arts Council and the various interest groups from the arts world, nearly all the oppo­sition parties pleaded for an increase of the art budget, even the market-oriented liberals (VVD) who, when in power, were the ones to advocate drastic cuts in this budget.

The first response of the minister was almost completely devoted to the concrete measures as mentioned in the Arts Plan. Because in this session she gives her reacti­ons to the comments made this is predictable.

During the second session, the debate was even more focu­sed on the indivi­du­al institutions and specific incremen­tal policy measures. Larger themes no longer came up for discussion at all.

One could say that little has come so far of a public or political discussion on general cultural developments in society and on the objectives of the cultural policy, a discussion which is a requisite for a mixed-scanning policy. This is one of the reasons why no worka­ble consensus on far-reaching political instruments and objectives was attained. As a consequence, it was diffi­cult to decide between the claims of the many interested parties and the failings of a traditi­onally strongly incremental policy manifested themselves once again: disorienta­tion, a lack of public legitimacy, overburde­ning of government, compartmentali­zation of the various sectors, immobility, et cetera.

3.5 Possible explanation of and remedy for the shortco­mings

Besides the growing inability of the citizens and politi­cians of Western demo­cra­cies to hold a value-oriented, substantial-rational public discussion, a number of specific causes of the above-mentioned shortcomings can be pointed out.

The one-sided emphasis in the public discussion on the Arts Plan and on the acceptance or rejection of individu­al grant applications may be caused by the fact that it is the artist’s profession to play to the gallery. Certainly when their career opportunities are at stake, all stops are pulled out and unexpected talents are revealed. In making their voices heard, they are moreover generous­ly aided by their often excellent relations with the press. The journalists concerned usually have an artistic background and strongly identify with (the inte­rests of) the arts world. As a rule, they are also inade­quately aware that the evaluation and criticism of an integral art policy requires a different competen­ce and approach than the reviewing of individual artistic pro­ducts, their normal occupation. The result is that the discontent of certain art producers is vastly magnified and starts playing a disproportionate role in the discus­sion. If the outsider were to rely on the employed termi­nology and qualifications [6], he would soon believe the existence of the entire Dutch culture to be at stake if certain policy plans concer­ning individual institutions were carried out. All in all, there is probably no pres­sure group in the Netherlands which so successful­ly gives the impression of being the defenceless victim of all-devouring political stratagems[7], and at the same time can bring such pressure to bear.

Lobbying does not only take place through the press. Civil servants, members of parliament, the minister(s) and other policy makers and authorities are also kept informed directly – by personal meetings, telephone, letter, fax, petition, manife­station, demonstration – whether or not in organized form, of the ‘disastrous’ consequences of certain grant refusals. The politicians involved turn out to be highly susceptible to reports in the press and to these lobbying practices and consequent­ly the discussion and the decision-making process are to a large extent determined by the demands and desires of the art producers. That is to say, by incidents: the main issues continually threaten to disappear from view. This tenden­cy is reinforced by the fact that the arts world in the Netherlands is a small one in which everyone soon knows one another person­ally, positions and duties readily change and mutual dependencies are great (cf. Van den Bergh, 1987; Smit­huijsen, 1989; Stokkink, 1989). The interweaving of State and society is excepti­onally strong and as a result the political margin for the implementa­tion of far-reaching policy changes is relatively slight.

This is demonstrated, for instance, by the impracticabi­lity of transferring grants from one arts sector to the other, something the integral considerations in the Arts Plan should have made possible. Thus it is a historical fact that the symphony orchestras in the Nether­lands lay a disproportionate claim on the arts budget. In a near twenty-year effort to reorganize orchestra manage­ment, attempts have been made to curtail expenditure on these orches­tras in favour of ascending art forms such as film, architecture and chamber music. These endeavours are especially applied to the provincial areas, the moti­ve being that in comparison to celebrated companies such as the Royal Concert­gebouw Orchestra and the Rotterdam Philhar­monic, the regional orchestras are of a lesser quality. Furthermore, the view is held that urban areas are more likely to be hotbeds of art forms than villages and out-of-the-way places (“you have nature, we have culture”) (Arts Council, 1992a). These attempts at reorganizati­on and integrated weighing between different artistic disci­plines always fail, however, due to the forceful lobbies generated by regional compa­nies in unison with parliamentarians from the vari­ous provincial areas, local politicians and the press. And so the com­partmentalizati­on of the policy remains intact.

Obviously, there are no ready-made solutions for a non-existing debate on the values and objecti­ves of the policy.[8] One should probably look in the following di­rections. First of all, the debate would be well served by more competent and detached journalists. The media have to become aware that art critics are not necessarily experts in cultural policy. After all, the writer of the gardening column is not the reviewer of the agricultural policy of the European Commu­nity. Moreover, a less ready identification with the arts world is desira­ble. Invol­vement is laudatory, but art and culture are not served when this consists of a one-sided focus on particularis­tic, short-term interests.

Secondly, more skilful politicians would benefit the debate. The process of recruit­ment and the quality of politicians are generally viewed as a problem in the Nether­lands (cf. Tromp, 1991; Becker and Kalma, 1991, p.55-7), but an additional problem in the case of cultural politics is that this domain is often assigned to politicians who yet have to learn their trade, are about to end their careers or are generally not deemed capable of having ‘serious’ subjects like finance, education and foreign policy in their portfolio. While this subject seems eminently suit­able for far-reaching ideological controversy, cultural politics is viewed as comparati­vely safe and unimportant. Perhaps this can be explained by the relatively small amount of money involved. In short, what also holds true for cultural politics is that “it is not the exhaustion of ideologies which makes political controversy impossi­ble in present-day democracies. It is far sooner the lack of quality of parties and politicians, who barely manage to make clear to the public the political character of important issues.” (Tromp, 1990, p.46-7; cf. note 8)

Thirdly, the most important and most readily available modification probably is the improvement of the institu­tional setting of the cultural and political discussi­on. The debate should be conducted in more effective fashion, so that interested parties from the arts sector do not have the opportunity of monopo­lising the discussion with their particularistic claims until after the general themes have passed the agenda. Once a workable consensus on the values and objectives of the policy has been rea­ched, it is easier to weigh all the claims. As barely any attention is paid to the first point, the lobbies are in command. Conducting a debate is a highly important, often neglected, ability of politici­ans. And it is on this point precisely that we must conclude that the top-ran­king civil-servants and politicians of the Ministry of Culture have failed in their handling of the Govern­ment Document on Cultural Policy 1993-1996. This was not only caused by a wrong planning order, but also by an incorrect evaluation of the political attainability of diverse, newly proposed, ill-considered measures in the last phase of the trajectory of the Government Document on Culture (see note 5 and 2). Due to this ’emergency’ decision process, all control of the debate was lost and much of the conscientious labour of the earlier phases of the trajectory came to nothing.

The most important imperfection of the timing in the present planning metho­dolo­gy is that the completion and publication of the Arts Plan in fact take place at the same time as the publication of the general Government Document on Culture. This is odd to say the least: if one were actually to apply any form of planning, it is obvi­ous that the House should first have been consulted with about the (long-term) objectives to be realized through the cultural policy. After some sort of agreement had been reached, one could investigate the necessary policy instru­ments and determine the Arts Plan. Because this order is not adhered to, the impression arises that the Govern­ment Document on Culture is no more than a justifi­cation after the fact of a policy that could equally well have been effected without this Document. Another aspect is that all sorts of interest groups, adversely affected by the Arts Plan, now have the opportunity of exerting disproportionate influence on the cultural and political discussion. Particularistic and short-term interests hereby oppress broader and, respectively, long-term inte­rests. It is therefore a step in the right direction that the minister, during the debate with the Lower House, announced that he from now on wished to confer with the House first about the Arts Council’s preliminary advisory report and about the request for advice by the minister (Parliamentary Proceedings, p.42; cf. the proposals in: Blokland, 1992a).

Another shortcoming of the present system is that the institutions cannot appeal to the Arts Council after their achievements and policy plans have been judged by this agency. The result is that the injured companies actually try to appeal to the Lower House, with all consequences mentioned above. The overburdening of the politicians concerned and their tendency to concen­trate on the details of the policy will only prove grea­ter if, as a Parliamentarian suggested (see note 4), the files the Council has kept on the achievements of the subsidized institutions are also taken into considerati­on. Politics should, on the contrary, distance itself as much as possible from decision making about specific instituti­ons and about incremental measures and should concentrate on the establishment of frameworks within which this decision-making process should take place. Only in this fashion can a mixed-scanning policy be rea­lized.

Summary and Conclusion

In this essay we have seen how doubts have arisen the last few years about the incremental policy model and the narrowly linked polyarchic democracy model. For tens of years both models were viewed as being highly deserving of pursuit in the so-called pluralist theory. Among other things, the interweaving of state and society, the great power of interest groups, immobility, compartmentalizati­on and the uncontrollability of government policies are subject to criticism today. An underlying problem of the above is the lack of consensus on the definition of the common good and of the responsibilities of the state. This leads to a permanent excessive demand on and over­burdening of the central government and to the decline of its legitimacy. In order to solve these problems, a pu­blic, value-oriented and fundamental debate about the values and objectives of government policies is usually recommended. What is needed is an ‘active society’ with a deep sense of citizenship and the common good. This ena­bles the application of a mixed-scanning policy, a policy that has the value rationality and legitimacy that incre­mentalism misses.

The second part of this article discussed the cultural policy of the Dutch central administration. The arts are a policy area that is rarely included in reviews on policy and democracy, but which for various reasons constitutes at least as interesting a case. Firstly, because the policy concerned is especially vulnerable to the failings of incrementalism. Secondly, because, in view of the above, efforts are now being made to realize a mode of mixed scanning. Finally, because the policy on art and cultu­re seems exceptionally suitable for a fundamental public discussion on the goals and values of govern­ment policy, a discussion that can be viewed as a requisite for mixed scanning. It has been observed, howe­ver, that hardly any public fundamental debate takes place in practice. This debate could have been conducted, for instance, in response to the general section of the Government Document on Cultural Policy 1993-1996, a Docu­ment that should have formed the basis of the Arts Plan, in which the available funds are distributed over the applicants for susidy. The discussion in press and parliament prima­rily dealt with those institutions threatened by the loss of grants and with incremental policy measures and amend­ments. As a result, the policy, even though it did in fact improve, continued to show signs of the failings of incrementalism: compart­mentalization, immobility, lack of legitimacy, disorientation, et cetera. To improve the existing policy cycle, it was especially advocated that the debate be directed more effectively, that certain parliamen­tary duties be delegated to the Arts Council and that better timing be applied to the publication and discussion of the Government Document on Culture and the Arts Plan. All in all, one can ascertain that the incitement and realization of a fundamental public debate on values requires a protracted learning process. Even in a sector which not seldom professes to be the moral conscien­ce of society.


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[1] The ‘Knipselkrant Special’ (Newspaper Clippings Spe­cial) of the Ministry of Welfare, Health and Cultural Affairs illu­strates this point. It contains about 600 articles which appeared in the press between March and July 1992 on this subject (also see note 6).

[2] A striking example is provided by the coverage on the cuts in the perfor­ming arts subsidies. By forcing the institutions to generate more income of their own (a minimum of 15% of their budget), the minister hoped to achieve that artists take more notice of the public’s prefe­rences. The existing gap between the professional arts world and the public could then be somewhat narrowed. One of the reasons for this gap is that the income of artists, as a result of the govern­ment-provided grants, is no longer dependent on the pu­blic’s preferences (WVC, 1992a, p.36-8). Nearly all the media presented this measure as an expenditure-cut opera­tion to which the minister of culture had been forced by the minister of finance. Another example is provided by the coverage on the cuts in the subsidies of the regional philharmonic orchestras and opera companies (see § 3.5).

[3] During their first session all political parties successively present a general reaction to the proposals made by the minister, who in turn reacts to this in his first session. The ensuing sessions or rounds of debate tend to become increa­sin­gly specific.

     [4] In order to improve the Arts Plan procedure, he even suggested “inclu­ding in the dossier” the evaluations by the Arts Council on the products and performan­ces of the subsidised companies, as well as the reactions of those concerned, so that possible erroneous appraisals could be corrected by the Lower House (Parliamentary Proceedings, p.13). This implies that the Mem­bers of the House would once again do the Arts Council’s work and, even more than is the case now, would occupy themselves with what are in fact the details of the policy. Also, the basic assumpti­on that politicians should not be the judges of specific artistic products would be dropped completely. This was actually already the case, vide the arguments in favour of grants for specific institutions.

[5] The most important lobby in this respect was composed of the regional philharmonic orchestras. The minister tried to balance her budget by reducing the maximum subsidy of art producers from 85 till 80%. In this she made no difference between, for instance, chamber music, opera companies and experi­mental theatre, which are in fact incommensurables (also see note 2; Langen­berg, 1992; and Blokland, 1992c).

[6] Headline in the Volkskrant on the proposals in the Arts Plan draft concer­ning the financial management sy­stem of orchestras: “Sloppy, abominable and especially stupid, stupid, stupid” (26.10.91). The NRC-Handelsblad on the same subject: “crude and rigid attitudes on the part of WVC” (5.3.92). On the advisory Arts Plan by the Arts Council: “Springdance thinks time is ripe to whet the knives”, “Shocking advice by Arts Council” (Utrechts Nieuwsblad, 4.3.92), “fierce criticism of advice Arts Plan ‘cultural pillage, outright insult, demolition'” (Parool, 4.3.92). On the Government Document on Culture: “Few things in the world are so contradictory as the highfaluting words and disas­trous measures of this minis­ter of culture” (NRC, 8.5.92), “Postpone decision Arts Plan, otherwise chaos is complete” (Trouw, 28.5.92), “Arts Plan is a chutzpah” (Parool, 30.5.92), “Subsidy cuts cause ‘upheaval'” (Volkskrant, 2.6.92), “Arts Plan causes great damage to entire sector” (Volkskrant, 2.6.92), “Crisis arts world needs 12 million extra” (Het Binnenhof, 2.6.92), “Director is furious” (Algemeen Dag­blad, 16.5.92).

[7] The pressure group Arts ’92, which was founded in reaction to the Arts Plan and with which 140 institutions were affiliated, appealed to the Members of the Lower House in a nationwide advertisement: “the minister has ignored nearly all our plans”, “unacceptable impoverish­ment of the cultural climate” (NRC, Volkskrant, 13.6.92). In the Lower House, the Minister stated that all the problems advanced by the various arts institutions “can be reduced to a total of 13 million guilders and can therefore also be solved by this sum…. There are probably people in other sectors who have thought: if only your problems were mine!” (Parliamenta­ry Proceedings, 1992, p. 36-7) Prior to this, the Arts Council wrote in its Arts Plan advice that “in order to honour all the (submitted subsidy) requests which meet the quality and diversity norms, a raise of about 10% (40 million) of the arts budget would be neces­sary”. (1992a, p.3) Altogether there were 314 grant applications. 164 of the institutions that applied were already being subsidized. Out of these 164 cases the Art Council advised to renew the funding of 133. The Council recommended to honour 50 requests out of 152 new applications (1992a, p.93). In 22 cases minister and parliament did not follow these recommendations: 18 times the grant was given although the advice was negative, 4 times the grant was denied although the advise was positive (WVC, 1992a; Parliamenta­ry Procee­dings, 1992).

[8] That, according to post-modern thinkers like Rorty and Lyotard, it is no longer possible to present a ‘grand theory’ and that the (cultural) political discussion therefore inevitably remains confined to a functional or an instru­mental-rational debate on incremental policy measures (Cf. Fukuyama, 1989; Frissen, 1990) is a point of view we obviously do not subscribe to here (Blok­land, 1991a and b).

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