Flat Dutch Review of Vossestein, Jacob. 2003.

Ch 3, 28-50, ‘Hierarchy and the Dutch problem with it’, in Dealing with the Dutch: A Guide For Visitors, New Residents And Better Business Relationships. 13th edition. Amsterdam: KIT Publishers. Nederland. Flat country, flat social structure, though hardly flat broke (p6). At least for scions of the “hot” (neoliberal, T.U.L.I.P.1?) economy (p44), Pim Fortuyn supporters perhaps. Of course the gay scientist “Professor Pim” is dead, murdered by a Vegan.2 Such, one may carp, is Dutch politics. On thinks of those enduring English slurs from the Anglo-Dutch Wars of 17th century: the Dutch defence (a retreat), Dutch courage (booze, itself from a Dutch word), the Dutch nightingale (a frog), etc. Then Holland and England vied for colonial supremacy; now they both bask in the fading glory of ‘red (state) giant’ America. The Holland Vossestein lauds may itself be dying under the impact of today’s ‘globalising’, Anglocentric (soon Sinocentric?) capitalism. But he bypasses that prognosis, with helpful ideological asides from unnamed peripatetic managers etc — and a nod in the direction of ‘the followers of Islam’. A significant though short part of his article is preoccupied with the influence of religion (and even ‘socialism’, p48) on the Dutch “character” and language (p47, n.8) — what he terms ‘Calvinistic socio-religious equality’ — as well as the flatness of the landscape. He also considers the peculiarly Dutch kind of water politics (too much, not too little), stratified cities (p42), and wealth distribution, all skated over in a chatty manner. Tax evasion, for instance, is not ‘rampant’ in Holland, partly due to the ‘well-organised Dutch bureaucracy’ (p45). The Netherlands surely has no “faux” egalitarianism, a quiet life for the 200+ ‘old’ (rich) families3 (p33) who meekly or sneakily rent from the Dutch masses the social insurance of ‘socialism’, viz., social welfare (see p46). He doesn’t ponder either how long welfare will last, when it has been withering in the Well-Oiled West since about 1971. True, even the Dutch ruling class are formal heirs of the educative labours of the Brethren of the Common Life, started by Geert Groote (1340-1384), and the pacifist humanism and ‘Ghandian’ ahimsa ‘toward all living souls, including animals’ (p47-48) of its star pupil Desidirius Erasmus (1436-1536).

Mnemonic for remembering the so-called Five Points of Calvinism against the ‘Arminian Remonstrance’, which had nothing to do with Armenia. These canons of the Synod of Dort comprise: Total depravity (inability), Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, and Perseverance/preservation of the saints. They weren’t in favour of all these things. 2 I.e., one who supposedly avoids that diet of sub-prime hamburgers known as the American Dream (and its various derivatives). 3 Brought to public attention by ‘a union leader called Mertens’ in 1968.

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Robert Verdon

2 Except many nouveau riche, who sound more Nietzschean, even Futuristic — in the sense of that early 20th century Duce of self-publicisation F.T. Marinetti (on him, see Ireland, 2000; Wendt, 1999).
A Turkish manager commented, “Karl Marx would be quite happy here.”

(p46). (Marx — his mother Henrietta Pressburg was from Nijmegen in Holland — actually hated the ‘circle from which one cannot escape’4 of bureaucracy — that inverted hierarchy of the nine circles of Hell — quite as much as, say, Dickens, and perhaps Dantë! But he did feel that socialism might come to Holland peacefully.5) Maybe it has, just shorn of archaic jargon. But as Schwarzmann (2006) suggests, Holland is transvaluing its values:
Old religious, ideological and family structures are breaking up and the younger generation has a different, at times extremely contrasting, perception of life and the world.

On the surface, this might attract those who detest hierarchy, where ‘the dead seize the living’. Yet very precious babies may be thrown out with the dike water, especially if the, ahem, ‘young Turks’ of the ruling class command the ruling logos via the ‘old media’, and covet the sole mass-medium6 of free speech, the Internet. The (classical liberal, religious) ‘concept of moral equality’ (p48) is both a cause and effect of the ‘rather flat pyramid of Dutch society’7 (p46), argues Vossestein regardless, ducking the resolution of that paradox. By comparison with much of the world these days, the Netherlands is a paradise (though as recently as 1945 it was not).8

The bureaucracy is a circle from which one cannot escape. Its hierarchy is a hierarchy of knowledge. The top entrusts the understanding of detail to the lower levels, whilst the lower levels credit the top with understanding of the general, and so all are mutually deceived. — Karl Marx, Critique of Hegel’s “Philosophy of Right”, 1843.
One day the workers will have to seize political supremacy to establish the new organisation of labour; he [sic] will have to overthrow the old policy which supports old institutions if he wants to escape the fate of the early christians who, neglecting and despising politics, never saw their kingdom on earth. But we by no means claimed that the means for achieving this goal were identical everywhere. We know that the institutions, customs and traditions in the different countries must be taken into account; and we do not deny the existence of countries like America, England, and if I knew your institutions better I might add Holland, where the workers may achieve their aims by peaceful means. — cited in Jack Conrad, ‘Formulation nine and the possibility of peaceful revolution’,
5

4

Weekly Worker [Communist Party of Great Britain], 448 Thursday September 19 2002. See http://www.cpgb.org.uk/worker/448/peaceful.html, accessed 16.5.2007. The quote is from Marx’s speech at a public meeting in Amsterdam on September 8 1872 celebrating the Hague Convention of the First International. Itself from K Marx, F Engels CW Vol 22, Moscow 1986, p618). (Note that I do not belong to or support the CPGB or its affiliates.) 6 As against ‘narrowcasting’, e.g. of public or ‘community’ radio. 7 Even an [unstable] ‘upside-down pyramid’, p30. 8 Those under thirty (but over thirteen) may think of the 1998 song ‘Holland, 1945’ by former American band Neutral Milk Hotel.

3 This bedazzles Vossestein; he ignores the discourse between those neglected ‘cultural’, historical entities, classes. That is, on a global scale. Egalitarianism is a Dutch ‘core-value’ — or is it merely lip-service? A central component of democratic equality and informed consent9 is free ‘speech’, generally writing. One cannot communicate fully with one’s overlords except through ideological warfare. Holland’s masters and servants seem to know viscerally the value of ceaseless struggle, but prefer ‘jaw-jaw to war-war’. Though he equates, in a Nietschean manner, equality with mediocrity (p32), dull as the geographical flatness of the bulk of his country (all cheap land and canals full of bicycles!), Vossestein understands that liberty of debate is a great leveller when it lets a hundred tall poppies10 (p3) bloom. Talk is cheap as water, ‘a very democratic element indeed’ (p47). The past lack of it [talk] in the Netherlands has been disastrous: the Hunger Winter of 1944-45, starvation at the stroke of a pen; the Diary of Anne Frank. Let us take a brief trip into hell.
The psychologist Linda M. Woolf states, … over 75% of Holland's Jews perished at the hands of the Nazis. This represents the largest percentage of Jews to die from a particular country with the exception of Poland.

Partly, geography, and Holland’s social openness, had a hand in facilitating this. But only partly. Woolf adds,
In 1938, Germany annexed Austria and overnight German law went into effect including all restrictive anti-Jewish legislation. The invasion of Poland and Czechoslovakia resulted in immediate martial Nazi law and leadership. However, the invasion of the Netherlands resulted in neither. While the royal family including Queen Wilhelmina fled into exile in Britain, civilian leaders were not replaced. Rather, the Dutch civilian administration was subsumed by a civil German administration. Additionally, Dutch law remained in effect.

‘The same mind that creates the Corporation in society creates the bureaucracy in the state.’ said Marx in 1843. The aphasic language of hierarchy is ultimately the text of totalitarianism. Nietzsche’s bête-noire, equality of expression, poisons such a self-validating ‘will to power’. The Dutch fought an ‘asymmetrical’ war against the Spanish throne (for those who remember the Spanish Inquisition); sixty-four years ago, many did stand up to the Nazi occupation, including through a General Strike11 organised by the illegal Dutch Communist Party. At such times, the Dutch parole (their ‘strange enough’ (p30) nasal grunting, a sort of crusty dinder-daander-donder, nearly as incomprehensible as their cousins’ across the Channel) can convey a lot of exceptional sense. Through the linguistic labours of ruling elites, they may have ‘internalised’
Not ‘manufactured’, Walter Lippman, Public Opinion, 1922, as cit. by Noam Chomsky, e.g. in Maher & Groves, 2004, p141. 10 Tulips? 11 Woolf: ‘the only such general anti-pogrom strike to have occurred in Nazi-occupied Europe.’
9

4 capitalism, indeed they were one if its proving grounds. But the ‘levelisation’ of humanity, with its self-obfuscations and misapplied Aristotelian logic, or at the periphery Nietzschean passionate irrationalism, they wisely distrust. Is that true, though, of the nomenklatura of this ‘socialism’? Moral equality, hardly slave morality, may cause (then in time, be caused by) a Galbraithian countervailing economic power, but will it allow that equality to grow more ‘relative’ all the time? What is the social price of preserving the concomitant inequality? A mess of nationalist pottage?
Anyone moving around Europe over the last decade will know that immigration is something that troubles citizens from Finland to Sicily. Europeans have an atavistic belief that their particular national way of life constitutes a treasure. It’s a mindset that … casts immigrants in the role of despoilers of a precious heritage … The unease won’t go away no matter how often reasonable men repeat that Europe with its falling birth rate needs foreign labor to maintain its prosperity and welfare system. — Byrne, 2007, para. 3

Cheap labour and moral equality do not mix. Woolf reminds us that when Hitler invaded,
Culturally, Dutch society was stratified largely on the basis of religion. Thus, close friendships between Jews and Christians were uncommon in war-time Holland. This made it difficult for Jews to find a place of hiding within the homes of Gentile neighbors — individuals that they did not know.


As a result of the Dutch religious stratification, the Dutch people could be certified as almost 100 percent Aryan.

Class domination prefers its most visible scapegoats to be other than a ‘class’ (cf West, n.d.). A ‘lumpen’ minority is useful; an affluent minority can more plausibly stand in as an Aunt Sally for the gilded and (here) guildered ‘heroes’. The Jews, like the Muslims today, were and are both. West asserts (in language I eschew) that
Cultural practices are the medium through which selves are produced. We are who and what we are owing primarily to cultural practices. The complex process of people shaping and being shaped by cultural practices involves the use of language, psychological factors, sexual identities, and aesthetic conceptions that cannot be adequately grasped by a social theory primarily focused on modes of production at the macrostructural level.

— West, #2. The ‘economic factor’ (which is often political) often intrudes at any point, perhaps through hunger or physical sequestration.

5 If Vossestein is right, any degradation of ‘financial’ parity will undermine the moral sense, and vice-versa, in a downward spiral. Instead of striving for a Better World, Hollanders may pine for the xenophobic Golden Age, should the west become a white dwarf. Opening up the files of bureaucratic ‘knowledge’ (Marx, 1843) relating to income and wealth distribution, in contrast to censorious, egalitarianism-faking “privacy” (p44), might help to maintain the moral low ground he praises. Vossestein could also be less phlegmatic and avoid the anecdote (e.g., p32). The opinions of his anonymous claque may not always be representative. His premise that equality means being alike in mediocrity, while excellence spells ‘master-morality’ (masters are incomprehensible without slaves) and the resulting pots of money for a few “heropreneurs” is contradicted on p46 by his outline of nouveau riche conformism and puerility. A Plato’s Republic of the Low Countries? Neen dank. We all want excellence, but some of us want it at the ‘level’ of all humanity. It was Hitler (in Mein Kampf, ‘Nation and Race’, I.xi) who saw people as ‘dust particle[s]’, not Marx. Calvinism makes us all siblings in sin, but socialism (as its genuine exponents have intended it12) gives us more than the keys to the citadel: it unlocks the future, at least ‘morally’. All words, all interpretation, all currency, so many promissory notes, so many accounts and permissions and borrowings of $IOU.00, and all the gifts of the gab. Barren without referents. Like language, like historiography, it’s the goal it stands for that counts. At times Vossestein sounds like Harold Macmillan in 1957 — the Dutch working class majority (who must ‘restrain’ themselves financially in prosperity) are ‘not really in bad shape’, a 2003 revision of ‘never had it so good’ (p42). Some relate the alleged Dutch hatred of hierarchy to the endless battle against the Flood (1800 drowned in the 1953 hurricane), though the poorer citizens tend to live in ‘low wet areas, former grasslands’ (p42), if not exactly polders or a Secret Annex at the back of the economy. It isn’t the Ganges delta. But it’s not tilting at (Dutch) windmills to suggest that this discrimination might be eradicated too. (Issue each of the inhabitants with a submarine?) Holland can hardly be understood without its hinterland, which is half the planet. Rotterdam is the ‘ “world’s largest port” ’ (p37). From this perspective a national viewpoint such as Vossestein’s begins to look like a quaint relic, a mere 359 years after the Treaty of Westphalia gave the Calvinists and their opposing Christian soldiers formal equal rights. ‘The Dutch are of course renowned for being internationally oriented’, says Schwarzmann (2006). I believe that for our survival for more than the next historical eyeblink, the concept of the nation state needs to yield to a ‘planetary’ focus: one earth and justice. Even to Nietzsche, ‘Justice (fairness) originates between parties of approximately equal power’ (Human, All to Human, 57). If wealth is power its
12

It is as defensible as Christianity.

6 ever-increasing maldistribution is tyranny, and justice requires a new abolitionism, of classes and the cultural weasel words which excuse them. Is the author too ideologically blinkered to grasp such carping? A proletariat, say, cannot be ‘replaced’ by ‘people from ethnic groups’ (p42); it is defined by lack of control of the means of its labour, not econobabble. (We’d all hear about it — particularly from Washington — if the Dutch reclaimed their nation’s industry and unambitious land and began to own it in common. Their democracy would then become about as popular as Gaza’s.) Similarly, ‘moral equality’ is void without a struggle to realise it. Solidarity does not come out of sermons. But I’m glad … though an equalitarian tarantula (‘The tarantulas’, with the ‘black … triangle’ on their backs, Thus Spake Zarathustra, II.29) … that there are still countries like Nederland where he can publish unhindered, can walk on the all-threatening water of posterity. Freiheit ist immer Freiheit der Andersdenkenden [= “Freedom is always and exclusively freedom for the one who thinks differently”], as the highly individual Red Rosa said (Luxemburg, The Russian Revolution, 1918), before, in the words of Brecht, the Freikorps ‘rubbed her out’. Maybe one Dutch headachey (hung over) day the Hollanders will not intone ‘act normal, that’s strange enough’ (p3), and ask, ‘why be normal when you can be yourself?’ Till that noon, their egalitarianism could be a bit of a Dutch auction.

2613 words.

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Robert Verdon

8 ‘ragsraghu’, ‘Something positive today in Auschwitz.’ Apr 18 2007 11:39PM in Travel comments rss: Sulekha Travel, travel.sulekha.com,

http://travel.sulekha.com/blog/2007/04/somethingpositive-today-in-auschwitz.htm?contributor=ragsraghu.
Accessed 24.5.2007. An anonymous tourist (two can play that game) posted this on an Internet bulletin board recently:
…after the Nazi occupation of Holland, as much [sic] as 75% of the Jews of Holland were deported to Auschwitz. This is the highest percentage in all of Europe for any country. It could not have happened without the active co-operation of the Dutch people. ‘ragsraghu’, 2007. Cf Woolf, above.

Schwarzmann, Maya. Review, ‘Dealing with the Dutch.’ TU Delta, Jaargang 38 Nummer 23, 17.8.2006, at http://www.delta.tudelft.nl/archief/j38/n23/21140, accessed 18.5.2007. Vossestein, Jacob. 2003. Dealing with the Dutch: A Guide For Visitors, New Residents And Better Business Relationships. 13th edition. Amsterdam: KIT Publishers. Ch 3, 28-50, ‘Hierarchy and the Dutch problem with it’. Wendt, Larry. Narrative as Genealogy: Sound Sense in an Era of H y p e r t e x t . ‘Italian Futurism.’ 28 September 1999. At http://cotati.sjsu.edu/spoetry/folder6/ng63.html, a c c e s s e d 17.5.2007. West, Cornel. ‘Toward a Socialist Theory of Racism.’ n.d. At

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Robert Verdon