Amsterdam: A History of the World’s Most Liberal City

A Book Written by Russell Shorto

In an age of self-righteous certainty, this book about the evolution of one of the world’s great cities is a reminder that it is high time for some moderate, open-minded liberalism. Amsterdam is a shining example of what happens when you mix tolerance and curiosity. The tolerance part kicked in when Erasmus challenged the strict orthodoxy of the Dutch Catholic Church by introducing the concept of “individual human reason.” 

It was not long before Amsterdam became a magnet for and supporter of tolerance of other ideas and concepts. In fact, the Dutch writer Geert Mak argues, “the 26th of May in the year 1578 is the exact moment when the real Amsterdam was born.” Shortly after that, the city experienced staggering growth, created a stock market, and its harbor saw masts sailing to all points across the globe. The lesson is clear: openness to other ideas is the bedrock of human progress. 

Even the Dutch portraits that one finds in Amsterdam’s Rijkmuseum are a reminder of the emergence of the individual: a self-consciousness to express one’s own identity in any way possible. In short, the creative mind flourishes when the individual is free to express themselves. 

These concepts of tolerance and liberal thinking allowed Dutch entrepreneurs to build some of the world’s most successful brands, from the 17th-century global conglomerates such as Dutch East India Company to names we recognize today such as Royal Dutch Shell, Unilever, or KLM. Once again, the conclusion is profound yet simple: a truly liberal economic system can be the engine for economic prosperity.

The city built around a dam on the Amstel river is also home to the Anne Frank museum: a vivid reminder of why we must never remain silent in the face of evil. 

It was after reading this book that I decided to visit Amsterdam. On a lighter note, I strongly recommend the restaurant, Winkel, for those of you with a sweet tooth and room for some added calories. 
Oh, I almost forgot to mention: Sparo is now officially part of the Dutch accelerator program. We are thrilled to grow Sparo’s Purchase with a Purpose mission from the Netherlands!

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