Publication Details

This is a pre-print of an article that will be published as: Silean, P & Smark CJ, The “Culture System” in Dutch Indonesia 1830–1870: How Rawls’s Original Position Ethics were Violated, The Business Review, Cambridge, 6(1), December 2006.


The “Culture System” was enforced in Java and other parts of Indonesia by the Dutch colonial government between 1830 and 1870. Under this system, Indonesian farmers were forced to put aside part of their land and labour for growing cash crops such as sugar, coffee, indigo, tobacco and pepper, so that they could pay their land tax to the Dutch.

This paper examines the ramifications of two aspects of the Culture System and the policies that allowed its administration. The first of these is the segregation of education and access to higher-level employment on the grounds of race. The second is the monopoly of transportation and trade held by the NHM (Nederlandsche Handel-Maatschappij) during this period. This paper measures these two aspects of the Culture System against the moral standards required by John Rawls’ “original position” argument, and finds them to be lacking.