Russell Shorto

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Amsterdam

My new book is about a place. And it’s about an idea: “liberalism.” Liberalism has many meanings, but in its classical sense it is a philosophy based on individual freedom. History has long taught that our modern sensibility comes from the eighteenth century Enlightenment. In recent decades, historians have seen the Dutch Enlightenment of the seventeenth century as the root of the wider Enlightenment. And at the center of this sits the city of Amsterdam. The city today is infamous for its permissiveness. But the sex-and-drugs sense of liberalism relates back to the wider, grander sense of the word. There is a connection between the city that spawned Spinoza and the city where John and Yoko came to hold their Bed-In for Peace.

Put another way, Amsterdam is the cradle of liberalism. And we modern western people, whatever our political persuasions, are all liberals.