Anyone planning a trip to Amsterdam who wants the grooviest, most historically rich and compelling tour of the city’s crannies and byways should contact tour guide par excellence Mark Law. He has put together a custom tour based on my book “Amsterdam: A History of the World’s Most Liberal City.” Mark will weave together the seemingly disparate tales of hash dens, the world’s first stock market, and John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Bed-In for Peace. Not to be missed! Click here.
The title of Russell Shorto’s readable, thoughtful, and personally engaged Amsterdam: A History of the World’s Most Liberal City immediately calls to mind two facts every student traveller knows: people aren’t going to Amsterdam coffee houses for the espresso, and those red-lit display windows aren’t advertising underwear.
Shorto, who has lived in Amsterdam for several years, is certainly aware of both the sex trade and the legal status of drugs — results of Amsterdam’s famous “tolerance.” But his title refers to something else, something much more complicated. Liberalism, as he explores, it begins with the “fault line” between modern and medieval, and the break with the idea that all “knowledge and power” stemmed from the Church and the monarchy.
For a variety of reasons, as Shorto’s book explores, the Dutch came early to “liberalism,” and to the concepts of both communalism and individualism. These — along with the cosmopolitanism of the Dutch Golden Age — produced a concept that the Dutch call gedogen. Tolerance. Or, as Shorto explains it, the idea that, yes, this may be questionable behavior but since we know we can’t stop it, we will allow it…