Abundance and discomfort


Riches alone make no man happy

A well-known proverb says that the love of money is the root of all evil. But another one says that Money has no smell. And that should be fine as well. Because otherwise the bricks of the VOC-buildings in Amsterdam, Hoorn, Enkhuizen and elsewhere would smell like the perspiration of the mates in the forecastle and like the blood of the victims of the many punitive expeditions in the East Indian archipelago.

The high profits of the VOC were, which is said here foregoing already, made at the cost of their own employees and the local population. For the administrators the hunt for profit was their most important motivation. Elsewhere one wrote already about the relationship between the so-called trade spirit of the Dutch and their Calvinistic way of living, so that moral considerations are not forthcoming and we can limit ourselves to the facts (van Hove however, makes judgments as well, as we will see further on. Also with citing certain writers one makes judgments).

One of those facts is that the second half of the eighty yearlong independence war our independence struggle is financed to a high degree by the VOC, so that it can be said that Holland owes his existence as an independent state to this commercial enterprise. But also its culture. Because if the governor families didn't earn that much money with the VOC, they couldn't have given that much assignments to painters and architects. The Palace on the Dam wouldn't have been built, nor most of the mansions alongside the canals of Amsterdam.

It is described in a satirical way in the Max Havelaar (1860) in a scientific way in amongst others: Wirtschaft und Geselschaft (1922) Max Weber) According to Weber, Calvinism sired virtues like thrift and diligence. Laziness was "the devils cushion of an idle person", squandering and wastefulness were 'not done'. This labor ethos was at the cradle of several mighty trade tycoons

The victory on the totalitarian (which is not a fact, but a judgment, the Spanish describe their history different t) Spanish ruler created on top of that space for a liberal climate. All kind of dissidents could publish their books here. The philosophical thinking developed in the spirit of Erasmus and Coornhert.

In sharp contrast with this is the fact that the local population of the East-Indian archipelago, in no way had any benefit of the activities of the VOC. In materialistic sense they were exploited and of the philosophical ideas which were developed in the Republic, they remained ignorant.

Some of the highest functionaries of the VOC knew about these philosophical developments. It's not unlikely that an erudite man like governor-general Joan Maetsuyker read the in 1662 published work Tractatus de Intellectus Emandatione of Baruch Spinoza. He will have admired the theorem that " material gain was no gain and that the only thing which has value and gives undisturbed joy, is the love to the divine creature " which was posed there. But at the same time Maetsuyker will have had the opinion that you can't do anything in practice with those ideas. He will have had no need to enter these ideas into the Council of the Indies. For the VOC material gain after all was a goal and a reason to exist.

This discord between philosophical theory and commercial practice is typical for the more educated merchants in Holland during the Golden Age. One may read the Embarrassment of Riches of Simon Schama (which is translated and published in Holland as Overvloed en welbehagen in 1988).

To ease their mind some rich Hollanders had a provision in their will, that a part of their fortune had to be destined after their death to the establishment and maintenance for some houses for needy countrymen. That's how in many Hollandse cities the well-known hofjes (almshouses) originate, where single women were allowed to live for free or for a small amount. But no will ever mentions a legacy for the need of the local population of the East Indies. The locals were in the eyes of the Hollanders savages, who had brought down the revenge of God on their heads, that's why they couldn't make claims on Christian charity.

It was not before the 19th century that some of the enlightened spirits in our country started to see the locals as their fellow humans. The result was that the feeling of discomfort, like it is formulated by Schama, henceforth also concerned the population of the East Indian archipelago.

J.P. Heije, the well-known author of patriotic songs, expressed this feeling on a characteristic, but not very poetical way:

Did not your golden beams
Easter light and Easter glow,
Above Spanish recklessness
flaunt Dutch young freedom?
from that eastern balm air
buddeth Dutch youngest prosperity
till Europe's richest fruit?
Ai, what did thy giveth to Java's beaches
For the Freedom, for the Power,
for the blessing brought to you,
AI, what hast thou given Netherlands,
when your ships Netherlands,
Returneth with emptied womb,
Sendeth your grace to Java's beaches,
slavery, dullness poverty, death
Deden niet uw gulden stralen
Oosterlicht en oostergloed,
Boven Spanjes overmoed
Neerlands jonge vrijheid pralen
van die oosterbalsemlucht
Neerlands jonge welvaart knoppen
tot Europa's rijkste vrucht?
AI, wat gaaft ge aan Java's stranden
Voor de Vrijheid, voor de Kracht,
Voor de zegen u gebracht?
AI, wat gaaft GE Nederlanden?
Als Uw schepen, Nederlanden
Keerden met geleegde schoot
Zond uw dank aan Java's stranden
Slaafsheid, stompheid, armoe, dood.

Douwe Dekker formulated it more concise:" Goed, goed, alles goed. Maar.... de Javaan wordt mishandeld." (Okay, okay, everything's well. But.... the Javanese is being maltreated). The meeting between East and West, as it had taken place in the 17th century in the East Indian archipelago, had the big disadvantage that it was a meeting between unequal partners. The Hollanders came as oppressors and extortionists and misused the weak military position of the local population. That it could be done differently is shown in the case of Deshima. On that little island the Hollanders stayed for 200 years. If the Japanese had no advantage of their stay, they would have thrown them out, like they did before with the Portuguese. And if the contacts with the Japanese weren't advantageous for the Hollanders, they wouldn't have stayed that long. It seems to be worth investigating whether a similar relation wouldn't have been possible between the Hollanders and the Koreans.


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