Chapter 10 of the Bourgeois Revaluation:
And the Dutch Bourgeoisie Was Virtuous

Yes, but was it just a show? Surely the Dutch of the Golden Age didn’t actually carry out their painted and poemed project of the virtues? Surely the bourgeoisie then as now were mere hypocrites, the comically middle class figures in a Molière play; or, worse, of a late-Dickens novel; or, still worse, of an e. e. cummings poem, n’est ce pas?

No, it appears not. Ce n’est pas vrai. Nor in some other places. The historian Thomas Haskell wrote an amazing essay noting the new prominence of “responsibility” in a commercial America in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The OED gives the earliest quotation of “responsibility” as 1787, Hamilton in Federalist, and shortly afterwards Edmund Burke, but Haskell notes that it is used much earlier in law in the sense of being required to respond to a legal action. “Responsible” meaning “liable to be called to account” (sense 3a) occurs as early as 1643, but the OED‘s earliest quotation for the favorable ethical meaning, “morally accountable for one’s actions; capable of rational conduct” (sense 3b), is only 1836, which is Haskell’s point. The linking of “responsibility” with the marketlike word “accountability” occurs in the very first instance of “accountability” recorded, in 1794 in Samuel Williams’ Natural and Civil History of Vermont, “No mutual checks and balances, accountability and responsibility” (the older noun is “accountableness,” dating from 1668; the adjective “accountable,” 1583; and simple “account” or “accompt” medieval). Use McKean? Chapter

Haskell asserts that “my assumption is not that the market elevates morality.” But then he takes it back: “the form of life fostered by the market may entail the heightened sense of agency.” 186 Just so. Surely commerce, with seventeenth-century science, heightened the sense of agency. Earlier in the essay Haskell had attributed to markets the “escalating” sense of agency, “responsibility” in the word, as he notes, coined in the late eighteenth century. So the market does elevate morality.

I have claimed, what is historically correct, that the market always existed. Yet if so, why was there not always the sense of responsibility? Evidently, then, the sense of responsibility came from more than the pervasiveness of markets. It was a new sense that it was all right to be a market person, an acceptance of market outcomes as just. Some societies, and certainly big parts of many societies, were dominated by mercantile values: one thinks of the Phoenicians or their offshoot Carthage; the overseas Chinese, or indeed the overseas Japanese before they were forbidden to return; or Jews such as Jesus of Nazareth, with his parables of merchants and makers. The river and sea port of Sakai in Osaka Prefecture was once independent like Genoa or Lübeck, but was subordinated to the central power by Oda Nobunaga in 1569. Nagasaki was similar.

Yet there’s something new in Holland c. 1600 and especially in England c. 1700 and Scotland and British North America c. 1750 and Belgium c. 1800.

The market at least did not corrupt the charity of market-saturated Holland. “Charity,” for example, “seems to be very national among them,” as Temple wrote at the time. 187 Only the Quakers in England cared for their poor the way the ordinary Dutch city did. The historian Charles Wilson claimed in DATE that “it is doubtful if England or any other country [at least until the late eighteenth century] could rival the scores of almshouses for old men and women, the orphanages, hospitals and schools maintained by private endowments from the pockets of the Dutch regents class.” 188 The fact is indisputable. But its interpretation has made recent historians uneasy.

Their problem is that like everyone else in the Age of Prudence the historians are not comfortable with a rhetoric of virtues. An act of love or justice or temperance is every time to be reinterpreted as, somehow, prudence. “I’m not helping you because I love you; I’m helping you so you will later help me.” A dear and highly ethical friend of mine commented on a news story of someone rushing into a burning building to save a stranger thus: “Yes: if I do it for him, he will do it for me.” The parable of the Good Samaritan is reduced to self-interest.

The reinterpretation has been usual since self-interest first became respectable, in the eighteenth century in bourgeois Europe. It was reinforced in the writing of history during the long period 1890-1980 in which materialist explanations were trumps. And any historian who listens much to modern economists takes on some of the prudential logic of the dismal science. Anne McCants, for example, begins her fine book on Civic Charity in a Golden Age: Orphan Care in Early Modern Amsterdam (1997) with a discussion of how hard it is to believe in altruistic motives from such tough bourgeois and bourgeoises. A compassionate motivation for transfers from the wealthy to the poor is said to be “unlikely” and “can be neither modeled nor rationally explained.” By “rational” she seems to mean “single-mindedly following prudence only.” By “modeled” she seems to mean “put into a Max U framework that a conventional Samuelsonian economist would be comfortable with.” Compassionate explanations, contrary to Max U, are “not to be lightly dismissed as implausible,” McCants writes. But then she lightly dismisses the compassionate explanations, with a scientific method misapprehended — altruism, she says, holds “little predictive power.” She has adopted the ugly little orphan Max U, fathered by the economist the late Paul Samuelson over in another building at MIT.

“After a long tradition of seeing European charity largely as a manifestation of Christian values,” McCants is relieved to report, “scholars have begun to assert the importance of self-interest.” 189 Her own interpretation of the Amsterdam Municipal Orphanage is that it was “charity for the middling,” a species of insurance against the risks of capitalism.” 190 The bourgeois said to themselves, as it were, “There but for the grace of God go our own orphaned bourgeois children; let us therefore create an institution against that eventuality. We do this not because it is just, but out of prudence.” As Hobbes put it in reducing all motives to self-interest, “Pity is imagination of fiction of future calamity to ourselves, proceeding from the sense of another man’s calamity.” {search and cite: is it in an essay, “On Human Nature”?] McCants makes as good a case as can be made for such a strictly Hobbesian view of the human virtues. But the case is feeble, similar to the notion that some men articulate without actually believing that love or justice is insurance against disasters: you save a child from a burning building so that people will save you when your time comes repeats?. Anyway as a matter of method the virtue of prudence does not have to crowd out temperance, justice, love, courage, faith, and hope, not 100 percent.

The unease of modern historians in the presence of virtues shows in the six pages the leading historian of the Dutch Republic writing in English, the admirable Jonathan Israel, devotes in one of his massive and scholarly books, The Dutch Republic: Its Rise and Fall (1995), to the Golden-Age poor law. It was he admits at the outset an “elaborate system of civic poor relief and charitable institutions . . . exceptional in European terms.” 191 The assignment of the poor to each confession, including the Jews (and even eventually in the eighteenth century the Catholics), foreshadows the so-called “pillarization” (verzuiling) of Dutch politics, revived by the theologian and prime minister Abraham Kuyper in the late nineteenth century. 192 Each pillar has sovereignty in its own domain, and therefore a responsibility for compassion towards its own poor. (Kuyper’s notions, unhappily, were taken up by Afrikaner sociologists and theologians studying in Holland as justification for their own theory of apartheid.)

“But,” Israel claims, “charity and compassion. . . were not the sole motives.” 193 And then he lists all the prudential, self-interested reasons for taking care of the poor. His first item seems the least plausible — that “the work potential of orphans” was worth marshalling. Oakum picking could scarcely pay for even the first bowl of porridge, even in Dickens. He turns to civic pride among towns and social prestige inside a town to be got from running a “caring, responsible, and well-ordered” set of institutions. Certainly the innumerable commissioned paintings of this or that charitable board argue that the pride and prestige was deemed worth getting in the Golden Age Netherlands. But it is hard to see how such rewards to vanity can be distinguished from the virtue of charity itself, at any rate if we are to confine our historical science in positivistic style to “predictive power.” If caring is not highly valued by the society then doing it in well-ordered institutions will not earn social prestige. “High value of caring” is called . . . “charity.”

“At bottom,” though, Israel continues — and now we approach the prudential bottom line — the alleged acts of charity were “rather effective instruments of social control, ” to support the deserving poor (that is, our very own Dutch Reformed poor in Rotterdam, say). Or as Georg Simmel put it in 1908, we give charity “so that the poor will not become active and dangerous enemies of society.” 193 The policy amounted, say Israel and Simmel, to paying off the poor to behave. 195 The historian Paul Langford makes a similar assertion about the later flowering of charity in England. The hospitals and foundling homes of the eighteenth century were “built on a foundation of bourgeois sentiment mixed with solid self-interest. 196 Merely prudent. The Dutch and English bourgeoisie were not really charitable at all, you see. They were simply canny. The rascals.

Such arguments would not persuade, I think, unless one were determined to find a profane rather than a sacred cause for every act of charity. One hundred percent. When the materialist/functionalist argument is made in historical works it is it usually unsupported by reasoning and evidence — this in a field of the intellect which properly prides itself on providing reasoning and evidence. McCants does offer a little reasoning and evidence for her cynical view, but that is what makes her book unusual. Most other historians when making such a point, such as Israel and Langford, don’t. The lack of argument from even such excellent scholars indicates that the cynicism is being brought into the history from the outside. No one, even such gifted and energetic and intelligent historians as Israel and Langford and McCants, explains exactly how “social control” or “self-interest” was supposed to result from giving large sums of money to the poor. Sometimes it has: we prevent Haitians from fleeing to Florida by invading Haiti and forcing money on its elites. We Americans have done it repeatedly all over our southern borders. But it often hasn’t had the prudent result promised by “realists” in foreign policy. And in any event no historian of Holland or Britain tells how it might have such a result, or offers evidence that it in fact was efficacious in the Dutch case. A hermeneutics of suspicion is made to suffice. The burden of proof is supposed to fall on people who take the Dutch at their word. But why?

It doesn’t compute. The question arises, for example, why other nations did not have the same generous system of charity — that is, if it was such an obviously effective instrument of social control, requiring no proof of its efficacy from the historian, since it was so utterly self-interested that any fool could see its utility. If its utility is so obvious to historians four centuries after the event, presumably contemporaries in France and England could see it, too. London was as rich as Amsterdam, but gave little such charity in 1600. Scotland had no way except beatings to deal with tinkers and the unemployed, yet did not think to develop elaborate provisions for them to survive the winters.

In the Netherlands, by contrast, the acts of love, justice, and, yes, prudence were astonishingly widespread. True, similar levels of love and justice are recorded in England here and there, and were regularized by the Elizabethan Poor Law. Yet Israel ends his discussion by implying that in 1616 fully twenty percent of the population of Amsterdam was “in receipt of charity,” either from the town itself or from religion- or guild-based foundations. 197 The figure does not mean that the poor got all their income from charity, of course, merely that one fifth of the people in the city received something, perhaps a supplement in the cold and workless times of year. (By the way, Israel’s figures as stated are self-contradictory: he says that twice that 10,000 ??? check: I’ve mixed this up somehow people were helped in one way or another, which amounts to 20 percent of the population of about 100,000, not the “well over 10 percent” he settles on, unless “well over” is to mean “two times.”) Jan de Vries and Ad van der Woude, who are more skilled with statistics than Israel, put the figure lower, but still high: “In Amsterdam as many as 10 to 12 percent of all households received at least temporary support during the winter months.” The figure is high, though duplicated in some other parts of Europe (if nowhere on such a wide scale as in the United Netherlands), and is only low by the standard of a modern and northern European welfare state. De Vries and van der Woude note that “it is the steadiness of charitable expenditure . . . that distinguishes Dutch practice from other countries, where most financing . . . was triggered by emergency conditions.” 198

Charity was by the Golden Age was an old habit in the little cities of the Low Countries. Geoffrey Parker notes that by the 1540s in Flanders one seventh of the population of Ghent was in receipt of poor relief, one fifth at Ypres, one quarter at Bruges. 199 Cynically prudential explanations of such loving justice seem tough-minded only if one thinks of prudence as tough, always, and love as soft, always, and for some reason you want to be seen as tough, always. But the charity was evidently no small matter. It was unusual in the European context. It is hard to see the charity as prudence only. All right: it is not Mother-Theresa spiritual love. But neither is it greed in drag.

The first large bourgeois society in Northern Europe was charitable.

Nor was the exceptional Dutch virtue of tolerance, dating from the late sixteenth century and full-blown in the theories of Grotius, Uyttenbogaert, Fijne, and especially Episcopius in the 1610s and 1620s a matter entirely of prudence. Use the book I get from Penn State Press. The Dutch stopped in the 1590s actually burning heretics and witches. This was early by European standards. The last burning of a Dutch witch was 1595, in Utrecht, an amusement which much of the rest of Europe — and Massachusetts, too, where Quakers were hanged on Boston Common — would not abandon for another century. In the fevered 1620s hundreds of German witches were burnt every year [GET SOURCE FOR THIS]. So late as January 8, 1697 in Scotland one Thomas Aikenhead, an Edinburgh student, was tried and hanged for blasphemy, aged 19, for denying the divinity of Christ — alleged by one witness, and part of a youthful pattern of bold talk. The event was the last hurrah of what Arthur Herman calls the ayatollahs of the Scottish Kirk. 200 After that the ayatollahs were on the defensive, though able to block university appointments, say, and thereby keep skeptics like David Hume quiet.

By contrast the thirteenth article of the Treaty of Utrecht had stipulated 120 years before Aikenhead’s execution that “Everyone must remain free in his religion,” though of course observing suitable privacy, since religion was still a matter of state. “No one should be molested or questioned on the subject of divine worship.” 201 They were not to be even “molested or questioned” — much less hanged or burned. In 1579 that was a shocking assertion. It could not be expected to be literally followed, and was not. But by the admittedly low Christian standards of the age, the Dutch were then and later astonishingly tolerant. Dutch case was not until the seventeenth century properly described as complete “toleration”: but at least the Dutch stopped in the 1590s burning witches and heretics, something the rest of Europe (and Massachusetts) couldn’t overcome until a century later (1595 in Utrecht).

The obvious test case was Judaism — though Catholicism, as the religion of the Spanish or of the sometimes-enemy French, was usually treated in Holland with even more hostility. That same Grotius, who was no 21st-century liberal, advised against liberal treatment of the Jews across the Dutch Republic. But the States General in 1619 decided, against his advice, that each Dutch town individually should decide for itself how to treat them, though forbidding any town to insist that Jews wear special clothing. True, it was not until 1657 that the Dutch Jews became actual, full-rights subjects of the Republic. But by comparison with their liabilities down to the nineteenth century in Germany or England, not to speak of Spain and Portugal, the Dutch Jews were exceptionally free. They suffered no locking up in ghettos at night, for example, as in Venice or Frankfurt; no appropriations and expulsions as in 1290 in an England supposedly growing in free institutions. Jews were not entirely emancipated in England until the nineteenth century. In 1616 Rabbi Uziel (late of Fez in Morocco) remarked with gratitude that the Jews “live peaceably in Amsterdam,” and “each may follow his own belief, but may not openly show that he is of a different faith from the inhabitants of the city.” 202 It is the melting-pot formula of not being permitted to wear special clothing, of the sort that in 2003 secular France affirmed in respect of shawls for Moslem school girls.

And so nowadays. Since the 1960s, and after a long period of conformity to the Dutch Reformed Church, tolerance is witnessing a second golden age in the Netherlands. Outside the train station in Hilversum, the center for Dutch radio and TV, stands a block of stone representing praying hands, with the word carved on its sides in Dutch, Russian, Spanish, and English: tolerance, verdraagzaamheid (from dragen, “to bear,” in the way that “toleration” is from the Latin for “to bear,” tollere). Verdraagzaamheid is the central word in the civic religion of modern Holland, in the way that “equality”(jämlikhet) is in the civic religion of Sweden or “liberty” in the civic religion of the United States. That is, it does not always happen, to put it mildly, but is much admired and much talked of.

Dutch people down to the present react uncomfortably to praise for their tolerance, especially for the new sort of tolerance growing among Catholics after Vatican II and among Protestants after the startling decline in the Netherlands of the Dutch Reformed Church. A society heavily influenced by Dutch-Reform dominies, as not long ago the Netherlands was, would not be particularly tolerant of gays or marihuana, for example. Thus the anti-homosexual hysteria in the Netherlands in 1740-42 (after which the Dutch, unlike everyone else indulging in homophobia down to very recent times, were ashamed). But Michael Zeeman notes that in the 1960s the anti-bourgeois, anti-clerical movement was more successful in the Netherlands than anywhere else. 203 The transformation from a church-going, respectable society, divided into “pillars” by religious group and stratified by class, into the present-day free-wheeling Holland has been astonishing. The Dutch reply nowadays with an uncomfortable, “You don’t know how intolerant we really are.” Progressive Dutch people nowadays move directly to embarrassments — for riches, for slavery, for imperialism, for the handing over of the Dutch Jews, for capitalism, for Srebenica, for their less educated countrymen’s embarrassing reaction to immigrants in the 1990s and especially in the 2000s. “We’re not really so tolerant,” they repeat.

To which foreigners, now as in the seventeenth century, reply that the Dutch perhaps don’t grasp how really lacking in toleration the competition is. In the seventeenth century most visitors were appalled, not delighted, by religious toleration in the United Provinces. The notion one king/one religion was still lively, and still seemed worth a few dead heretics — one third of the population of Germany, 1618-1648, say. Israel notes that foreigners then as now tended to judge the Dutch character by the metropolises of Amsterdam and Rotterdam rather than by the lesser and less liberal places. 204 But even with that bias the Dutch were exceptionally tolerant by seventeenth-century European standards, as they were exceptionally charitable. Henri IV of France had attempted before his assassination in 1610 to bring a gentle skepticism worthy of his friend Montaigne to undecidable religious questions. Huguenots, in his view (he had been raised as one), could be loyal Frenchmen. 205 But later rulers, especially the cardinal-rulers Richelieu and Mazarin, chipped away at the tolerations of the Edict of Nantes (1598) until in 1685 the Edict was officially revoked, with disastrous results for economic innovation in France.

The Poles had as early as 1573, six year before the Treaty of Utrecht, declared for religious liberty, and were the earliest polity in Europe to do so. The declaration was characteristic of the Erasmian strain in Poland, like the tolerant Dutch. The Seym declared that “Whereas in our Commonwealth there is no small disagreement in the matter of Christian faith, and in order to prevent that any harmful contention should arise from this, as we see clearly taking place in other kingdoms, we swear to each other. . . that. . . we will keep the peace between us.” 206 And they did. Erasmus had written long before to the Archbishop of Canterbury, “Poland is mine.” And it was, until the seventeenth century. “When the tower of Kraków’s Town Hall had been rebuilt in 1556,” Adam Zamoyski notes, “a copy of Erasmus’ New Testament was immured in the brickwork,” as testimony to liberal values in Poland in the sixteenth century. 207 And a later Dutch advocate of moderate toleration, Grotius, remarked that “To wish to legislate on religion is not Polish.”

But, Zampoyski continues, “when the same tower was repaired in 1611 the book was replaced by a Catholic New Testament. . . . One vision of life was replaced by another. “The spirit of inquiry” — thus for example the spirit of inquiry in Miko?aj Kopernik (dates), known to Europe as “Copernicus” was replaced — “by one of piety. . . . If Erasmus was the beacon for all thinking Poles in the 1550s, the Jesuits were the mentors of their grandchildren.” In 1632 the tolerant oath of 1573 was amended. Other faiths were now merely “graciously permitted” to be exercised, but Catholicism was “mistress in her own house,” and henceforth, as in France, the Protestants were to be viewed as foreigners, and hostile to the nation. 208

“Then, only Holland survived as a haven of tolerance,” writes Stephen Toulmin, “to which Unitarians and other unpopular sects could retreat for protection.” 209 Consider for example the Dutch events immediately following August 23 in the same year, 1632, in which the Poles turned away from Erasmian toleration. Frederik Hendrik, Prince of Orange (but no king, mind you, merely the elected “holder” of the Dutch state: he was “prince” of Orange, in southern France, not of the Netherlands), took the southern and Catholic city of Maastricht from the Spaniards. Yet he permitted there for a time the continued free exercise of the Catholic religion. The poet Vondel of Amsterdam, the Dutch Shakespeare, his family expelled when he was a child from Antwerp for being Anabaptists, was by 1632 not yet a Catholic convert. But he was very active in support of Grotius and other even more forward thinkers in favor of toleration. So he wrote a poem for the occasion of Maastricht’s conquest praising the Prince’s triumph and tolerance, in contrast to the dagger of the Italian Duke of Parma in Philip II’s service, who in the same city a half century before had drunk the “tasty burgers’ blood.” 210

One can argue in the easy and cynical and twentieth-century way that some of Frederik Hendrik’s tolerance came from mere prudence in a political game, especially the game so skillfully played by the House of Orange. That’s true. The Dutch stadhouders like Frederick Hendrick were in effect the elected presidents of particular provinces, drawn usually and then exclusively from the House of Orange. Of course, it is a cliché of sixteenth and seventeenth century European history that religion was used by state-builders, sometimes amazingly cynically, as when Cardinal Richelieu arranged on behalf of a Catholic French monarchy for secret and then public subsidies to the Swedish Lutheran armies fighting the Catholic Habsburgs. It makes the head spin. Dutch politics was dominated for a century by the question whether or not the Netherlands should become a Christian city on a hill, as the radical Calvinists wished, and as they believed they had achieved in Geneva, in early Massachusetts, and under kings in Scotland.

Against this devout plan of imposing shariah law the princes of Orange like Frederik Hendrik sometimes joined with the Erasmian upper bourgeoisie, the regents. The ayatollahs railed against tolerating the “libertines [as the orthodox called the liberals], Arminians [followers of the liberal Dutch theologian Arminius], atheBREAK ABOUT HEREists, and concealed Jesuits.” 211 Yet at other times the Orange stadhouders supported the Calvinist orthodox. It depended on political convenience, often. Religion, to repeat, was politics. Soon after the triumph at Maastricht, for example, Frederik Hendrik found it convenient to abandon his liberal friends and take up again with the Calvinists. Prudence. Maastricht was worth a mass. And Amsterdam was worth suppressing one. So much for principled toleration.

But principle in the seventeenth century was not usually tolerant, as the Dutch and Frederick Hendrick sometimes pragmatically were. If you wanted to insist on material, pragmatic, interested causes for everything you could say what is true: that businesspeople need in prudence to be tolerant, at least superficially, if they are to earn their living from dealing with irritatingly foreign foreigners. William of Orange himself had noted in 1578 that it was desirable to go easy on the Calvinists themselves, “because we [Dutch] are necessarily hosts to merchants . . . of neighboring realms who adhere to this religion.” 212 In 1672 Sir William Temple representing an England during an uneasy truce in its own religious wars praised the Netherlands, “every man following his own way, minding his own business, and little enquiring into other men’s; which, I suppose, happened by so great a concourse of people of several nations, different religions and customs, as left nothing strange or new.” 213 The scale — “so great a concourse” — mattered. By the seventeenth century the city of Amsterdam alone had many more ships than Venice did. By 1670 about 40 percentage of the tonnage of European ships was Dutch, “the common carriers of the world, as Temple wrote (the fact persisted: even nowadays a large share of the long-distance trucking in Europe is in Dutch hands). 214 The liberal pamphleteer Pieter de la Court (of the illiberal town of Leiden), Israel recounts, urged in 1669 “the need to tolerate Catholicism and attract more immigrants of diverse religions. . . to nourish trade and industry.” Similar appeals to prudence had been made by the pioneering liberal pamphleteers of the 1620s.

That’s fine. If prudence makes people good in other ways, too, I’ll take it, and so will you. But rationalize in a cynical way as one will, the Dutch liberal regents and the Dutch owners of ships had of course ethical reasons, too, for persisting in their tolerance. Likewise their more strictly Calvinist enemies, the so-called Counter-Remonstrants, had ethical reasons for persisting in their lack of tolerance. Both sides were in part spiritually motivated. That people sometimes lie about their motives, or also have prudent reasons for their acts, or are misled, does not mean that all protestations of the sacred are so much blather and hypocrisy. “Religion is a complex thing,” wrote Trevor-Roper long ago, “in which many human instincts are sublimated and harmonized” [thus the secularism of the age of anthropology], “and political ambition is only one among these.” When the advanced liberal (“libertine”) theorist Simon Episcopius wrote in 1627 that only “free minds and hearts . . . are willing to support the common interest,” perhaps — startling thought — that is what he actually believed, and for which against his prudential interests he was willing to pledge his life, his fortune, and his sacred honor. In other words, perhaps it is not only his pocketbook but his spirit that was motivating him. At least more than zero percent.

This is of course obvious. It would be strange indeed to explain by material interest alone the more than century-long madness of religious politics in the Low Countries after the Beggars’ Compromise of the Nobility in 1566. As the sociologist of religion Rodney Stark puts it, “most instances of religious dissent make no sense at all in terms of purely material causes; they become coherent only if we assume that people did care.” 217 But in the early and mid-twentieth century the rhetoric of progressive history writing always wished to remake the sacred into the profane, every time, and to see motives of class and economics behind every professed sentiment. It was a reaction to the nationalist tradition of Romantic history writing. Thus Charles Beard’s An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution (1913) or Georges Lefebvre’s Quatre-vingt neuf (1939: The Coming of the French Revolution) or Christopher Hill’s The English Revolution 1640 (1940). In those times even non-Marxists such as Trevor-Roper wished to slip in at the outset a quantitative estimate of 100 percent for profane prudence. Trevor-Roper added to the concession to the sacred just quoted (“political ambition is only one among” the instincts sublimated in religion) an estimate that “in politics it is naturally by far the most potent.” 218 Well, sometimes. You don’t know on page 3. You need to check it out empirically, allowing at least for the possibility of some theory of human motivation other than prudence-only being by far the most potent. I imagine he had this item in mind when he mentioned in a preface to the substantially unrevised edition of 1962 “certain. . . crude social equations whose periodic emergence will doubtless irritate the perceptive reader” of his first book.

Stark takes on the notion that the doctrine of an active God could not really be why people became Muslims or Protestants or why they burned people at the stake — or went to the stake declaring, “Be of good cheer Mr. Ridley, and play the man. We shall this day light such a candle by God’s grace in England as I trust never shall be put out.” Surely, as materialist history and sociology from 1890 to 1980 would say without evidence, “at bottom the economic argument must have constituted, more than any dogmatic or religious discussions, the principle motive of the preaching of heresy.” 219 Surely, wrote H. Richard Niebuhr in 1929, the quarrels among sects in, say, Holland were phony, a result of “the universal human tendency to find respectable reasons for a practice desired from motives quite independent of the reasons urged.” 220 No, replies Stark, and gives much evidence for his view: “These translations of faith into materialism are counterfactual,” by which he means the bad sense of “contrary to fact, mistaken.” 221

When the wish to see every behavior as prudence-motivated makes little scientific sense, as often in the Dutch case, it should not be indulged. The battle over toleration in the Netherlands went on for a long time. Israel observes that it was not finally thoroughly resolved in favor of tolerance until around 1700, as it was then too in England (with the exception of heavy civil disabilities for people nonconforming to the established Church of England), Scotland (with the exception of anti-Catholic prejudice), France (with the exception of an occasional show trial of a Protestant), and the German states (with the exception of a lush growth of anti-Semitism). The hypothesis that European religious toleration was merely a reaction to the excesses of the seventeenth century was expressed explicitly by Herbert Butterfield, for example in his posthumous book, Toleration in Religion and Politics (1980): toleration “came in the end through exhaustion, spiritual as well as material.” 222 But as Peter Zagorin points out, if it were in fact “unaccompanied by a genuine belief,” then the labor of two centuries by his heroes Erasmus, More, Sebastian Castellio, Dirck Coornhert, Arminius, Grotius, Episcopius, Spinoza, Roger Williams, John Goodwin, Milton, William Walwyn, Locke, and Pierre Bayle, exhaustion would not have mattered. 223 Exhaustion, note, didn’t stop the Catholic Reformation in France as late as 1685 from revoking the Edict of Nantes. The doctrinal enemies of the Huguenots were not governed by prudence only, or else they would not have banished a quarter million of the cream of French craftsmanship and entrepreneurship to Holland, England, Prussia, America, the Cape Colony. Exhaustion didn’t stay the hand of anti-Catholic rioters in London as late as 1780. Some people in Europe, Protestant and Catholic both, were very willing to carry on, and on, and on with their fatwas. The point here is that an increasing number of people, especially in tolerant Holland, as early as the late sixteenth century, or even as early as Erasmus, were equally willing to argue and even die for toleration.

Zagorin’s fourteen-man list of honor is in aid of showing that ideas mattered as much as did prudent reaction to disorder. The fourteen names are the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century men to whom he accords chapter sections in his book, How the Idea of Religious Toleration Came to the West (2003). Six of the 14 were Dutch, and the Frenchman Bayle spent most of his adult life as a professor in Rotterdam. That makes half in the tiny Netherlands. (True, Episcopius was banished to Antwerp and settled in France for a few years, though he returned to the Republic in 1626; Grotius escaped from a Dutch prison in a barrel . .. etc.. I didn’t say that the Netherlands in 1620 was as tolerant as in 1990; I said that it was more tolerant than other places in Europe at the time.)

The Netherlands was the European frontier of liberalism. Locke, finally publishing in the late 1680s, was in many respects a culmination of Dutch thinking, and more, of practicing. He spent five years in worried exile in Holland, before returning to England with the Dutch stadhouder William, now also the English King, having absorbed in Amsterdam, Utrecht, and Rotterdam the results of the country’s liberal thought and practice from Erasmus through Episcopius to Bayle. He stayed two years in Rotterdam with the English Quaker merchant, Benjamin Furly and was friendly with the Arminian theologian Philip van Limborch, both of whom typified the liberal side of opinion gathered in a tolerant Holland of the 1680s. 224 Locke’s very first published writings saw light in the Netherlands in the 1680s. And as his publications started to flow in earnest (though many of them were started much earlier), the famous first essay on toleration (1689), was published initially for van Limborch at Gouda. 225 A little later the Earl of Shaftesbury, another Whig theorist and ethicist, found the Netherlands similarly congenial.

Likewise in the United Provinces a wider and older Erasmian humanism was real, and persistent, and virtuous, down to the present day. The broad-church attitudes of Erasmus had became a permanent if not always dominant feature of Dutch intellectual life before Protestantism, and survived its excesses. In uncouth Scotland by contrast, Huizinga notes, Calvinism descended in the mid-sixteenth century in the form of a 150-year night of orthodoxy, before an intellectual dawn in the early eighteenth century. 226 In the Dutch controversies of the seventeenth century “Scottish” was a by-word for unethical and self-destructive intolerance. 227 In its Dutch version Calvinism “was held in check,” wrote Charles Wilson, “by the cautious Erasmian obstinacy of the ruling merchant class. Liberty of thought, in a remarkable degree, was preserved. Europe . . . was to owe an incalculable debt to the Erasmian tradition and to the dominant class in the Dutch Republic by whose efforts it was protected.” 228 What liberty has to do with it: “intellectual innovation could only occur in the kind of tolerant societies in which sometimes outrageous ideas proposed by highly eccentric men would not entail a violent response against ‘heresy’ and ‘apostasy’.” Mokyr, Chp. 2. The Netherlands became such a society early.

All this was surely not crudely self-interested in the way that the historical materialists would wish. Charles Wilson begins his praise of “the Erasmian strain, the belief in reason and rational argument as a means of moral improvement and a way of life” by quoting Huizinga on such qualities as “truly Dutch.” 229 That such opinions are old and liberal does not imply in strict logic that they are mistaken. An amused cynicism about such noble themes in history is not always, not every single time, in order. The cynicism usually comes out of a feeling in academic circles that mentioning transcendents such as God is disreputable and unScientific, regardless of the gigantic amount of evidence that belief about transcendents moves people — such as the transcendent of Scientific History or Politically Engaged History that moves the cynical historian. The regents, stadhouders, poets, and intellectuals acted and wrote for self-interested reasons, sometimes, Lord knows. But they acted and wrote for faith, hope, love, temperance, justice, and courage, too. The Lord knows that, too.

In 1764 the English satirist Charles Churchill, a friend of the inventor of modern English radicalism, John Wilkes, wrote a poem against everything he didn’t like — for example, a long, homophobic blast against “catamites,” and (commonplaces at the time) against French luxury and Spanish dogmatism and Italian “souls without vigor, bodies without force.” T. S. Eliot once called Churchill’s lines “blundering assaults.” But Churchill paused in his assaults to accord rare praise:

To Holland, where Politeness ever reigns,

Where primitive Sincerity remains,

And makes a stand, where Freedom in her course

Hath left her name, though she hath lost her force

Which last is to say that the Holland of the Golden Age had decayed by 1764 into a less aggressive, though still very wealthy, place. Yet:

In that, as other lands, where simple trade
Was never in the garb of fraud arrayed
Where Avarice never dared to show his head,
Where, like a smiling cherub, Mercy, led
By Reason, blesses the sweet-blooded race,
And Cruelty could never find a place,
To Holland for that Charity we roam,
Which happily begins, and ends at home.

Charles Churchill, “The Times,” 1764 ll. 185-196.

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