Identity crises: the American and the Dutch
0 comment Thursday, May 15, 2014 |
Just after I blogged about the idea that Americans have no race, I read this rather sad article about the Netherlands, and about the identity crisis of the Dutch:
THE HAGUE, Netherlands - One was a Somali refugee, the other an Argentine investment banker. Both are now high-profile Dutch women challenging this country to rethink its national identity.
Princess Maxima, the Argentine-born wife of Crown Prince Willem Alexander, triggered a round of national soul-searching with a speech last month about what exactly it means to be Dutch in an age of mass migration.
"The Netherlands is too complex to sum up in one cliche," she said. "A typical Dutch person doesn't exist."
Her comments have tapped into an unsettled feeling among many Dutch who fear traditional values have been eroded in a country roiled by a rise in Muslim extremism. It's a view espoused by Somali-born Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who has turned her back on her Islamic roots.''
[emphasis mine]
So the Dutch are having their identity stolen, too, and being told there is no such thing as a typical Dutch person. Anybody and everybody who shows up to claim a piece of the country, no matter where they originate, can now claim Dutch identity, just as our American identity is being taken from us. This is not only sad, it's insane. So I have been thinking about the Dutch culture, and as some of my ancestors were Dutch colonists who settled New Amsterdam, a piece of my heritage is there in the Netherlands.
On Thanksgiving morning I posted a link to a piece about the first Thanksgiving. Then, coincidentally, I happened to come across an article from a turn-of-the-20th-century Harper's Magazine, reprinted in a book I have, which claims that the Thanksgiving holiday is of Dutch origin. In fact the article lists a great many instances in which our early Massachusetts Puritan ancestors were influenced by Dutch customs and practices, so it's an interesting theory.
These days we are accustomed to being told by revisionist historians that anything good or worthwhile in America originated with some other culture, usually one of the favored 'diverse' cultures in our midst. For instance, we've probably all heard the idea that our form of government came to us courtesy of the Iroquois Confederation. But according to the Harper's article, the Dutch made substantial contributions to early American customs and institutions.
I plan to post some of the excerpts from the article soon, but since transcribing from the book will take some time, I'll begin with another online article, on the same subject, also from the early 20th century. It's called The Mother of America , an article by Edward Bok
which appeared in the Ladies Home Journal in October, 1903:
As a matter of fact, the reading world of America has yet to learn the real extent of the Dutch influences which underlie American institutions and have shaped American life...
Douglas Campbell was perhaps among the first of these writers to point out that the men who founded New York were not Englishmen, but largely Hollanders: that the Puritans who settled Plymouth had lived twelve years in Holland: that the Puritans who settled elsewhere in Massachusetts had all their lives been exposed to a Dutch influence: that New Jersey, as well as New York, was settled by the Dutch West India Company: that Connecticut was given life by Thomas Hooker, who came from a long residence in Holland: that Roger Williams, who founded Rhode Island, was a Dutch scholar: and that William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania, came of a Dutch mother.
Take, for instance, what may be truly designated as the four vital institutions upon which America not only rests but which have caused it to be regarded as the most distinctive nation in the world. I mean our public-school system of free education; our freedom of religious worship; our freedom of the press, and our freedom of suffrage represented by the secret ballot. Not one of these came from England, since not one of them existed there when they were established in America: in fact only one of them existed in England earlier than fifty years after they existed in America, and the other three did not exist in England until nearly one hundred years after their establishment in America. Each and all of these four institutions came to America directly from Holland. Take the two documents upon which the whole fabric of the establishment and maintenance of America rests -- the Declaration of Independence and the Federal Constitution of the United States -- and one, the Declaration, is based almost entirely upon the Declaration of Independence of the United Republic of the Netherlands; while all through the Constitution its salient points are based upon, and some literally copied from the Dutch Constitution. So strong is this Netherlands influence upon our American form of government that the Senate of the United States - General, a similar body, and its predecessor by nearly a century of years, while even in the American flag we find the colors and the five-pointed star chosen from the Dutch.
The common modern practice of the State allowing a prisoner the free services of a lawyer for his defense, and the office of a district attorney for each county, are so familiar to us that we regard them as American inventions. Both institutions have been credited to England, whereas, as a matter of fact, it is impossible to find in England even today any official corresponding to our district attorney. Both of these institutions existed in Holland three centuries before they were brought to America. The equal distribution of property among the children of a person dying interstate -- that is, without a will -- was brought to America direct from Holland by the Puritans. It never existed in England. The record of all deeds and mortgages in a public office, a custom which affects every man and woman who owns or buys property, came to America direct from Holland. It never came from England, since it does not exist there even at the present day. The township system ... came from Holland ... in fact, our whole modern American management of free prisons ... was brought from Holland ... in fact, our whole modern American management of free prisons ... was brought from Holland to America by William Penn. Group these astonishing facts together, if you will, and see their tremendous import: The Federal Constitution; the Declaration of Independence; the whole organization of the Senate; our State Constitutions; our freedom of religion; our free schools; our free press; our written ballot; our town, county and State systems of government; the system of recording deeds and mortgages; the giving of every criminal a just chance for his life; a public prosecutor of crime in every county; our free prison workhouse system -- to say nothing of kindred important and vital elements in our national life. When each and all of these can be traced directly to one nation, or to the influence of that nation, and that nation is not England, is it any wonder, asks one enlightened historian, that some modern scholars, who, looking beneath the mere surface resemblance of language, seek an explanation of the manifest difference between the people of England and the people of the United States assumed by them to be of the same blood, and influenced by the same (?) institutions? ''
It's an interesting idea that our system was influenced and shaped so much by Dutch customs. And it makes it doubly sad to me that the Dutch people have in a sense fallen victim to their own altruism and tolerance. Back in the 1600s, many of the Puritans who ultimately came and settled Massachusetts had lived in Holland, having found a haven there from the persecution they suffered at home. Similarly with many of my French Huguenot ancestors, who fled to Holland in the wake of the persecutions they underwent in France. Holland was thus a gracious country which welcomed many of my ancestors when they had true need of a refuge. But now, with the Camp of the Saints invasion of the Netherlands and Europe in general, we see the tragic results of tolerance in excess. From the news article about Dutch identity:
Han van der Horst, author of a popular book on Dutch culture and history, staunchly defends the nation's live-and-let-live traditions. He points to an old Dutch saying that translates as "everybody is entitled to his own views," but hastens to add: "It doesn't mean you respect those views or share" them.'
Tolerating the intolerant, and enabling the aggressive and the purely opportunistic is never wise. The West in general has to learn that lesson, not just the Netherlands, but all of us. You'd think we would learn from the example we see in each other's problems, but so far there is little sign of this happening.
Can a rediscovery of our roots help to strengthen the sense of national identity? It would be heartening if that could happen. A turning of the tide has to start somewhere.

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