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Amsterdam: The Invention of Today

156I’m getting ready to go there and I invite you to ride along.

I have been a realist painter for some time and it was in that spirit that I studied Rembrandt and Vermeer. Rembrandt was really not so much of a realist as a complete savant – a wizard like Steve Jobs who comes along to humanity once every so once in a while. Vermeer, well, stay tuned, we’ll talk about him another time.

All this led me to have Amsterdam on my personal bucket list. You recently found that Dutch sensibility became front and center in our family with the arrival of Dennis! Now Elaine was going on a bike/ barge tour, so I have the natural opportunity to go. I leave May 25 so I will no doubt bombard you with more.
Why is Amsterdam so enlivining?

Maybe we don’t recognize what a forerunner it was to the society we live in now. It was the source of much that our contemporary context takes for granted.

You see, Amsterdam and Holland were the precursors of what we regard as the modern state and the modern ideal.

While I’m Ipadding you from a Korean BBQ restaurant, I overhear the dialogue of contemporary freedom. ” I could go and apply there, but I don’t know if they would allow me to do what I want to do….” “My boss is so difficult, I don’t like him, maybe I’m gonna have to go…”

Between bites of bulkoki, I integrate this with the world of Amsterdam, to which I have had a deep introduction courtesy of Russell Shorto, author of Amsterdam: A history of the world’s most liberal city.

Amsterdam in the 1600’s was the source of 1/2 of world’s published books. Amsterdam was the birthplace of the modern city. Liberal idealism is the form we all espouse. It first found its voice in Amsterdam.

You see, Amsterdam was a unique cauldron. It had no nobility: therefor no strangling force that drove conformance to the requirements of its time. A new class of potent merchants, who didn’t owe anything to the class requirements of its neighbours – France, the UK, Germany – ran the show.

Here’s a short list of the innovations that poured out of that fermenting city and into our lives:

As the City grew, it became a world center, it developed a number of institutions and ways of seeing and doing things we loosely group now under the heading of “liberalism”: an ideology centered on equality and individual freedom that we now think of as the bedrock of Western culture. The first stock market, a society focused on the concerns and comforts of the individual, run by groups of citizens working together rather than outside forces or an all-powerful nobility, the family as the core social unit and family homes as special places that sheltered them. The concept of tolerance whether religious, ethnic, racial. Art that is bound up in the experience of the individual and just what that person might be. These were all concocted by pragmatic Dutch in the fermenting 1600’s – creating the foundation for what we now practice as Western society.

A new order of government – a republic, based on a very new idea in the 1600’s – freedom and tolerance. No privileged class, equal opportunities for all, no pre-conditions to success, no barriers – we’ve all drunk the koolaid. We just don’t know where it came from. We owe it all to the innovators, the citizens of Amsterdam, who invented it all on the fly.

Churchill said it: Those who would not study history are condemned to repeat it.

Where did we come from? Amsterdam, that’s where….

Doug Bouey
Catalyst Strategic Consultants Ltd.

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Bringing out the best in you, your company and your people.

Doug Bouey, President
Catalyst Strategic Consultants Ltd.

Calgary, AB // Phone: 403.777.1144


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