Saturday, May 24, 2014

Dutch tolerance

     "Dutch tolerance was never 'nice'.  It was, as Shorto remarks, built not on admiration or even celebrating difference, but precisly on indifference, on letting others live their lives regardless of what one might think of their practices and beliefs, as long as they did not interfere with the business of society and of business itself.  It was a shoulder-shrugging tolerance.  During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Amsterdam's liberalism exercised a decisive influence on European debates through its print shops, from where a constant stream of writing by such heretics and dissidents as Spinoza, Descartes, Le Mettrie, Holbach, and Diderot flowed across the borders.  But inviting persecuted thinkers, as well as Huguenots and Jews, into the city was a result not of humanitarian sentiments but of a shrewd appreciation of the fact that encouraging diversity, attracting expertise and trading networks, establishing strong civic institutions and lowering ideological thresholds would all yield sound economic results."

     Philipp Blom, "Gedogen streets," a review of Amsterdam:  a history of the world's most liberal city, by Russell Shorto, Times literary supplement no. 5796 (May 2, 2014):  5, italics mine.

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