Them’s Fighting Words!! The Great Dutch Rebuttal

Them’s Fighting Words!! The Great Dutch Rebuttal

Posted on March 29 by admin
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There are few things that rouse a Dutchman to anything resembling national pride, but rare as they are I’ve recently discovered one in the form of a blog post by my girlfriend, the hot-tempered, red-haired Irish heavyweight Laura Boyle. You may have noticed from popular history the Dutch like to keep a low profile, we get a lot done without calling attention to ourselves. When I read Laura’s blog post it struck me I would have my work cut out for me if I was to respond. I mean, off the top of my head it’s really hard to think of any popular Dutch figures in world history. My thoughts immediately turned to Mike Myers playing the Dutch villain in the movie ‘Goldmember’, the character always repeating the line “I’m Dutch, isn’t that weird?”

Here is my problem, when you search for famous Dutch names all that comes up is Vincent Van Gogh and Rembrandt Van Rijn. There are amazing unknowns like Anton Van Leeuwenhoek who improved the early microscope and invented microbiology or Christiaan Huygens, one of the first astrologers to use the Dutch developed telescope to map planets, who also invented the pendulum, discovered centrifugal force, discovered light is in waves, and developed modern calculus. Did I mention he was also a composer? We could go on and on like this, but I think we would miss the point.

What the Dutch contributed to this world they did as a whole, as a culture of technologically curious and religiously open-minded people.

How is it that this tiny country in the north of central Europe, a country I’m told you can drive across in 3 hours, came to in the year 1670 have in it’s fleet half of all European cargo in transit at that time? As my Pake (that’s Frisian for grandfather) used to say “The North Sea, what’s it north of? It’s not north of England.” The point he was making was the Dutch owned the sea long before the English or the French, as evidenced by New York being previously named New Amsterdam and (less widely known) Australia being originally named New Holland. The Dutch built windmills that could cut wood that could build ships that could bring back cargo from Asia that could make them rich, revolutionizing cartography and inventing international law (Hugo Grotius) in the process.

In fact after the Spanish empire rose and declined it was the Dutch empire of the 17th century, called the Dutch Golden Age, that provided the template then copied by the competing English and French empires. In this way the Dutch are responsible for creating much of modern society.

Financially insuring the ships that would make the year-long voyages to Asia to bring back the products to sell in the European market had the effect of the Dutch East India Company basically inventing modern economics. Bank of Amsterdam was the first bank, and The Amsterdam Stock Exchange, established in 1602, is considered the oldest in the world. The Dutch East India Company itself was the first multinational corporation, and the first to issue stock.

Of course having invented modern economics they were also the first to get burned by it when they began speculating on tulips and crashed their shiny brand new stock market:

Politically the Dutch were the first to permanently overthrow rule by monarchy and institute stronger parliamentary government when they fought the Eighty Years’ War to free themselves from Spanish rule. After Spanish rule, much like the ancient Greek city states, their many provinces resisted being united under one king and the modern parliament was born. Their Patriot rebellion of 1785 is seen as the forerunner of the French revolution, and they also supported the Americans during their war of independence – becoming the first to officially recognize The Continental Congress, or early American government.  In the late 19th century politician Abraham Kuyper developed the concept of ’sphere-sovereighty’ (society as organized minorities) known today as ‘pluralism’. Even in more modern times the Dutch Christian Reformed Church would be the only European church to publicly denounce the Nazis before the beginning of the war.

In fact this culture of tolerance, itself a by product of first hand experiences in international trade, could also be considered a scientific contribution. While many intellectuals from across Europe like Galileo Galilei and Rene Descartes were being persecuted in their own countries the Dutch not only harboured them but became Europe’s unofficial publishing house by printing their controversial books and having them secretly exported.

In the end what’s truly amazing about the Dutch is they did so much but still succeeded at being forgotten by history.

Except for Vincent Van Gogh…but of course he made every painting unaware he would ever be remembered.