Dutch Treats

I have never had the pleasure of visiting Holland. I haven't been to The Netherlands either. This is always strange to me because these are actually two names for the same place. To add to the confusion, the language and people of this place are both called "Dutch." Why are they not Hollanders? Anyway, in the last week three stories about Dutch things caught my eyes, and I thought I would share them with you.

In recent years Holland acquired a reputation as a sort of morality-free zone due to their penchant for legalizing activities that are forbidden most elsewhere. Prostitution, pornography, marijuana, you name it - it's all available on every corner, if we are to believe the stories.

For example, news emerged recently that a Dutch gym in Amsterdam plans to introduce a "Naked Sunday" policy so that people can sweat off the pounds while nude. Lycra is bad enough but this would be even worse. Thankfully, the gym will require nude patrons to place a towel on the machines and disinfect them afterwards.

Prior to the nude gym news, the Wall Street Journal last week sent one of its reporters to Amsterdam's red light district to evaluate the moral scene. Strangely enough, he found that almost all the patrons of the various establishments were non-Dutch. Holland seems, at least according to this report, to be a place where libertarian morality actually has the opposite effect:

So, what accounts for the strange existence of rather mainstream moral codes amid centers of lust and psychoactive substances? Paradoxically, while Dutch policies might be liberal or libertarian in effect, they derive from a fairly paternalistic, conservative instinct, mixed with a good dose of pragmatism. That pragmatism goes back at least to the 17th century, Holland's Golden Era as a great seafaring power. In those days, the country was a Puritan stronghold. But even the pious Dutch, who offered the Mayflower Pilgrims a temporary home, acquiesced to Amsterdam's emerging Red Light district. Early on, this nation of world traders concluded that it couldn't stop the world's oldest commerce. Yet then, as now, many of the prostitutes' clients were foreigners; mostly sailors in the old days, mainly tourists today.

The modern Dutch consensus is that making outlaws of prostitutes and soft-drug users only pushes them underground and into the hands of real criminals. Better to control and regulate such behaviors by legalizing--or in the case of cannabis, tolerating--the otherwise objectionable. The Dutch word for this is gedogen, which has no equivalent in English yet roughly means permitting what is officially illegal.

The Dutch hope that this approach will let authorities focus on fighting serious crimes, such as the forced prostitution of human trafficking, and allow soft-drug users to hang out in places where they aren't so likely to bump into dealers of more dangerous narcotics, like heroin. The added bonus--this is still a nation of traders after all--is that once brothels and marijuana cafes are legal, you can tax their profits. MORE

So, the Dutch believe the best way to control immorality is to keep it legal and out in the open. Sounds strange but it seems to be working in Holland, which is apparently an orderly place in most other respects.

That having been said, is it ethical to run a den of iniquity even when all your customers are foreigners? I think not. Ethical is not the same as political, however. It is possible to be ethically opposed to certain behavior while recognizing that it is not something the civil authorities should regulate. Government should pay attention to the big things: life, liberty and property rights.

This brings us to the third article from the Weekly Standard, reporting on an apparent revival of Christian belief among the Dutch:

God is back in Europe's most notoriously liberal country. Or rather: The Dutch are moving back to God. It seems an implausible hypothesis. After all, Europe was supposed to have entered the realm of post-Christianity, to use C.S. Lewis's term--a state of eternal unbelief from which there is no return. And yet, Bakas and Buwalda claim, the Dutch are turning back. Take the almost unnoticed reintroduction of crucifixes and other religious artifacts into the classrooms of Catholic schools throughout the country. Years of gradual but seemingly unstoppable secularization have given way to a reaffirmation of old religious identities. The change is also starting to affect the attitudes of pupils at these schools. In a recent newspaper interview, a head teacher at a Catholic secondary school in Rotterdam observed, "For years, pupils were embarrassed about attending Mass. Now, they volunteer to read poems or prayers, and the auditorium is packed." MORE

This is excellent news. We need Europe to rediscover its Christian roots, and if it can happen in Holland there is hope for the rest of the Continent. They need to ramp up the birth rate quickly or it will soon be known as Netherlandistan.

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