What, Dutch nationalism?
Still fresh in Dutch minds is the day when Geert Wilders had a heated exchange with Prime Minister Mark Rutte in the House of Representatives. In their repartee, they cast at each other the standard Dutch expression used by those exasperated by someone’s conduct. ‘Just be normaal, man!’ cried Wilders; ‘Be normaal yourself, man!’, rejoindered Rutte. This article considers what the Dutch mean when they call upon each other to be normaal, and the repercussions for what characterises Dutch nationalism. First, we shall look at what nationalism entails, contrasting it with bogus nationalism and with globalism. After that, we shall home in on the situation prevailing in the Netherlands.
Part of the word ‘nationalism’ is the word ‘nation’. Ultimately, the Latin noun natio is derived from the verb nasci, meaning ‘to be born’. Thus, nationalism has to do with birth, origin, the tribe, the family.
The smallest national unit is the family. Indeed, a nation is a great many families joined together by common traits: not just their genetic relationship but also their shared history, language and culture.
A family lives somewhere; it has its own place, its house. Likewise, a nation has a home. For us, that home is the territory of the Netherlands, including all that our forefathers built up there and bequeathed to us. Take our dikes, for instance: the ancestors of today’s Dutchmen constructed them not for themselves alone but for us, for our children, our grandchildren and successive generations.
A family plus their house forms a home, a home base. ‘Home’ is a key concept in nationalism; one that in the final analysis is all about the sense of being home in a particular place. In early June 2018, the Dutch Government published a report stating that the residents of multicultural neighbourhoods felt ‘less safe’. This constitutes a grudging admission that people don’t feel at home there. After all, how can somewhere be ‘home’ if there is no security or familiarity there?
When our territory — our neighbourhood — is flooded by members of other nations, our sense of home dissipates. We start feeling like strangers in our own home, aliens in our own land, even when the foreigners are ever so nice to us. It is as though one had been on holiday rather too long and was itching to get back to Holland. This alienation gives rise to something else: we lose any sense of responsibility for looking after our home.
Nationalism, then, is about the sense of home. Feeling at home in a given place also means being known there, recognised by the rest of your family. At home, you are a name, not a number, and you have a you-shaped role. If you fail to show up for Christmas dinner or for Gran’s birthday, you will be missed. As in microcosm, in the family, so also in macrocosm, in the nation. If the stalwart fishermen of Urk, renowned for their full-throated singing, were to vanish off the Dutch map, we would miss them. The Netherlands would be missing a limb. The same applies to our heart of commerce, Rotterdam, and — to stretch a point — it might even apply to ‘world city’ Amsterdam!
Nationalism also has to do with tolerance, however counter-intuitive that might sound. Just think of your own family again. The boozing brother, the niece who gets starry-eyed about Mandela, your lesbian feminist aunt — they might drive you round the bend, but when all’s said and done, blood is thicker than water. So also with the nation, writ large. They are still our family, even the junkies, even the radical leftists among them. While you don’t condone their conduct, you tolerate them. You don’t disinvite them from your birthday party. You might rub each other up the wrong way as a family but you share your home base. The same applies to the nation: in all our ideological and social diversity, we still share so very much in terms of our origins and culture that we form a unity nevertheless. And that’s why we tolerate each other’s differences.
No family is an island. Having one aunt from Indonesia who married in won’t change the very character of a Dutch family, nor will some immigration into a nation. Historically, the Netherlands has absorbed various groups from foreign nations, and this has slightly altered the national character. This change, however, was not so great as to make the country’s original inhabitants feel like strangers in their own land. The new groups were small in size, their members typically closely related to the native Dutch and well-disposed towards them, and the influx was usually very gradual. The original population still easily managed to shape the course of the nation.
Nationalism should not be conflated with imperialism. Imperialism is the notion that a given nation bears the right to rule over other nations. Often, this involves a given nation invading and claiming the territory of another nation. Britain and France, for instance, had a great many colonies, and even we had ‘our Indies’ — the Dutch East Indies, now Indonesia. In an empire, the interests of other peoples are subordinated to those of the dominant nation. Nationalism is the fundamental opposite of imperialism. Nationalism positively holds that all nations have the right to self-determination and to their own home. Nationalism actually implies the defence of the nation against domination and occupation. Occupation can take many forms: a land being conquered by a hostile army; by mass immigration; but, equally, by its government being turned into the inferior appendage of a supranational organisation such as the EU.
2. Bogus Nationalism
We can elucidate the meaning of nationalism by considering it in distinction to three other stances: patriotism, civic nationalism, and globalism. The term ‘patriotism’ is derived from Latin patria, ‘native land, fatherland’. ‘Civic’ (alias ‘civil’) comes from Latin civis, ‘citizen’. It is hard in practice to put a touchpaper between the concepts of patriotism and civic nationalism: both of them make citizenship their be-all and end-all. There are held to be two aspects to citizenship in these systems: the formal and the ideological. ‘Formal citizenship’ refers to the body of legislation by which the state determines who forms part of a given nation (as opposed to citizenship-by-blood); ‘ideological citizenship’ is a corollary concept held forth to assert that ‘good’ (i.e. politically correct) citizens honour the state ideology (‘British Values’, ‘Canadian Values’, etc.). In the Netherlands, this kind of ‘nationalism’ is espoused by Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party (PVV) and indeed by Thierry Baudet’s Forum for Democracy (FvD); further afield, it is also the ‘nationalism’ of President Trump.
As civic nationalists would have it, a nation is not based on a certain group of people who have their own, unique identity. In their view, it is sheer chance that I am a Dutchman; I might just as well have been born a Japanese, and had I been, they contend, I should have been precisely the same man as I actually am. True nationalists, on the other hand, think that the nation you are born into is an inextricable part of who you are.
For civic nationalists, a nation is all
about specific values, such as freedom of expression, equality before
the law, or separation of church and state. In other words, they treat
the nation as a kind of shared outlook on life. Just who the people are
who reside in a given nation is immaterial; they are mere numbers. The
philosophy makes the nation, they argue.
Although we often do see civic nationalists making proposals that would be conducive to the preservation of the nation, for which we certainly must appreciate them, it remains the case that they refuse to acknowledge that their values did not drop out of the sky but rather arose from a well-defined, unique group. Their notion of nationalism has nothing whatsoever to do with family or blood relation. Hence, it is no nationalism at all; it is bogus nationalism.
This bogus nationalism, then, revolves around a philosophy imposed by the state. In the United States in particular, this has outright been called a ‘civil religion’. It is, in effect, a state creed, and, make no bones about it, it is this state religion that is dragging our nation into the abyss.
For what are the values of our state religion? The liberté and égalité that the Bonapartists imposed? Those are two mutually contradictory notions. Free men will never become equal; men forced to be equal cannot be allowed their freedom. One need only look at the Communist bloc for horrendous examples of that. Our state religion, then, is feeble and shot through with contradictions. Worse yet, the push for equality has now degenerated into a loathing of whites. Our state religion openly embraces ideologies such as ‘white privilege’, ‘institutional racism’, ‘diversity’, ‘multiculturalism’ and a whole lot more. Are we really to base the future of our nation on this state religion?
Moreover, what happens if you fail to do obeisance to the state religion? Send in the thought police. This crime strips you of your place in the nation: you are a witch or an heretic, off to the stake with you. ‘Civil religion’ is utterly intolerant of any other opinion, holding as it does that it is the contents of your mind that determine who may or may not be a member of the nation. True nationalism, in contrast, is positively tolerant of dissidence, for however odd the thoughts that members of the family entertain, they are still family.
What it boils down to for Dutch politics is that Geert Wilders, who holds that the world and his wife are welcome to become Dutch as long as they are not Muslims, offers no guarantee of any sort for the continued existence of our nation. Equally, it means that Thierry Baudet, whose credo is that anyone who believes in democracy, liberty and equality will do, is frankly not a great deal better.
The term ‘globalism’ derives from the Latin globus, meaning a sphere. We have to do, then, with an ideology that is determined to encompass the entire globe. Globalism demands a world with no ethnic or cultural boundaries. By the same token, though, it works for a world in which governments no longer bear any duties of responsibility towards their own people. A globalist world is also a world in which nothing remains standing in the way of the international élite’s capital flows. The EU and the IMF are two prime examples of globalist institutions.
Where bogus nationalism and globalism differ is in their concept of citizenship. Bogus nationalism holds that the decisions in a country may only be taken by that country’s citizens. Pinning down just who these citizens are, however, proves to be like nailing jelly to a wall. Anyone from any corner of the globe could be proclaimed a citizen of country X. Those who hold to this paper-citizenship frame of reference are given to comparing their country with a profit-making company, speaking of ‘America, Inc.’, ‘UK plc’ or ‘NV Netherlands’, with the Prime Minister as a glorified chief accountant.
Globalism contends that it is unfair and discriminatory that only the official citizens of a country can decide on national affairs. Globalism opposes boundaries, so it is against any distinction between citizens and the ‘undocumented’. Since ‘no human is illegal’, they argue, everyone should just be allowed to go and live where he wishes. This reduces the Netherlands to nothing more exalted than a car park with no barrier to stop anyone driving on to it.
Ultimately, however, there is no distinction of substance between bogus nationalism and globalism. Both regard man as an abstraction, a fungible asset, a number. For neither camp are biological propensities of any importance. They will not consider the unique characteristic of a given person or a given people.
4. Taking stock
True nationalists regard the strangers who are streaming across our borders willy-nilly not as welcome guests but as squatters in our house, occupiers of our land. Bogus nationalists will say that every last one of them is welcome as long as they just keep to the rules. Globalists are warmly approving of just anyone coming in; don’t bother to knock.
Yet it is nonsense on stilts that someone can become a member of a nation merely by dint of collecting a piece of paper at the town hall. It would be ridiculous to claim that someone could become a member of a given family as long as he asserted that he subscribed to their household values. It is nonsense that someone should be able to join our nation simply by wandering into our territory.
5. Dutch nationalism
5.1. Does it exist?
Now, is there even such a thing as Dutch nationalism? Well, for starters, how many people doubt that there was such a thing during the Second World War, when the number of Dutchmen willing to collaborate with the German occupiers was only a small fraction of the nation? In the present day, we still relish a clash with the Germans or French, especially on the football field. Yet that is a context of doing others down; do we also have a positive sense of our own singular gifts? When Frans Timmermans, the Dutch politician whom we have sent down to Brussels to be the number two at the European Commission, spouts ‘What a fantastic country we are!’, he comes across to us as putting it on and being over the top. And if someone mentions Hollands Glorie, the first thing that springs to a Dutchman’s mind will be a particular brand of margarine, not the seafaring heroes after whom the brand was named.
Political correctness’ assaults on our history and culture aggravate matters even further: the Netherlands, we are now told, stands for nothing but colonialism, exploitation, the persecution of Jews, racism.
so, consider this translation of a classic Sixties song by Conny Stuart,
Wat voor weer zou het zijn in Den Haag (I Wonder What The Weather’s
Like In The Hague):
When I’m finally gone from this land,
When I’m living in Monton or Nice,
In a bungalow right by the strand,
Where the weather’s less dour and more nice,
I’ll be sunning myself by the foam,
Right next to a lavender bed;
I’ll never again hanker for home,
And if Holland pops into my head,
I’ll just think “Grey and damp” —
What’s the weather like right now back there?
Are the trees in Voorhout in leaf yet?
Is there maybe a nip in the air?
Is it misty and gusty and wet?
Is it still overcast?
Is it blowing a blast?
Are they packed like sardines on Tram 9?
Though the answer is seldom unknown,
What’s the weather like right now back home?
In the refrain two verses later, though, we suddenly see the Dutch genius for litotes:
What’s the weather like right now back there?
Is there green on the trees by the fair?
Oh, how much I would welcome right now
Just a moment on Parliament Square;
Saunter down by the dock,
See the theatre clock;
There’s no need, mind, but still — just some jaunts,
Fifteen minutes around my old haunts;
My request is not grand and not vague —
I just long for my own town, The Hague.
wistful song moved a great many people when it came out. I dare to
suggest, then, that the Dutch very much do feel a love for their own
country, but that they only express it by circumlocution and modestly.
This song worked because it was about a moment, just a quarter of an
hour back home. And, the singer hastens to add, it’s not really a need, but it would be nice nevertheless …
For the Dutchman, love for that which is communal does not always sit easy with his innermost individualism. Godfried Bomans, a well-loved mid-twentieth-century public intellectual, wrote that it was the sea that shaped our national character. One might expect that this had given us a wide vista on life and comparable breadth of mind. Not so; for the sea is not our friend but is out to swallow us up. The way we reclaimed land from the sea was little by little, each time hurrying to build a dike around the new conquest. The Dutchman, accordingly, is lord and master of his own little polder and brooks no contradiction there.
The Dutchman is suspicious of any collective that might threaten his autonomy. Groups have ranks and respective status, and he’s not one for obeying. He takes umbrage even at a policeman telling him to ‘move along, now,’ preferring to pretend that that’s what he’d already reckoned on doing anyway. So he will drag his feet as he complies, writes Bomans, to give the impression that he’s acting of his own accord.
Although the Dutch hate taking orders, we have to rub
along together, so our modus vivendi involves dense thickets of
legislation and regulation. We like to make them as impersonal as
possible and to bang on about how they ‘apply to everybody’, to sweeten
the pill of having to obey.
Yet we ought not lose sight of the fact that the Dutchman’s individualism is itself a communal trait! The paradox is that only together can we construct a society that will allow us to live as individualists. What is more, a society of individualists can only function properly if everyone behaves individualistically; there is an individualist imperative. Otherwise, any group of collectivists that gains a foothold will consistently win out over the rest of us; witness the ‘Islamisation’ of our country, for instance.
Our individualism, then, is a group propensity of ours, and to confirm this one need only look at what happens when the rules are breached by someone. The Dutchman blows a gasket at this; hasn’t he, after all, had to swallow hard and surrender his autonomy to honour the law or rule in question, only to see someone else ride roughshod over it? Nothing could annoy the Dutch more.
5.3. Understatement and Irony
A second key characteristic of the Dutchman is his apprehensiveness about giving ‘excessive’ vent to his emotions. We are almost embarrassed of our feelings. The mainstream TV broadcasters at Hilversum may pump out an unrelenting diet of syrupy feelgood factor and tearjerker reality shows, but this gives a false impression of us Dutch. We feel a measure of shame at exposing our true feelings, so we continually fall into the habit of saying less than we mean. At the café, we ask for a kopje (wee cup) of coffee, never a kop of the stuff, saying which would come across as too full-on. If you did order a kop koffie, you’d most likely be brought a tankard of it. Likewise, a beer is a pilsje or a biertje, not a pils or a bier, which sounds like what you’d get in a mug at a beer hall. Due to this practice, those who really do only want a small cup of coffee will ask for a klein kopje koffie (a small wee cup).
We will often tend to make our point by inverting it, but the tone of voice we employ avoids the risk of being misunderstood. For instance, a Dutchman seeing an old friend after years of separation might come out with, ‘So, you old bugger, are you back to darken my door again?’ — which will bring a tear to the returner’s eye, as he has just heard that he’s a good bloke and has been sorely missed. The Dutch language is riddled with this fundamental dichotomy between what is said and what is meant.
Consequently, the direct expression of major emotions will come across in Dutch as exaggerated and probably put on. This has proven a challenge for generations of musicians seeking to translate the lyrics of foreign love songs. If they are not toned down a good deal, the Dutch listener will be left thinking, ‘Yuck, what slimy sentiments.’ He has the same aversion to those who march in serried ranks to the call of unselfconscious mottos; you won’t catch us singing Holland, Holland Über Alles.
Dutch are known for their generous charitable giving, which is at a
rate head and shoulders above the European average. This could be a
vestige of the system of denominational and political ‘pillars’ into
which the country was divided until a couple of generations ago, with
each church or labour movement caring for its own and funding its
hospitals, schools and care homes from private donations. Nowadays, it
seems that Amnesty International and major charities (the Heart
Foundation, sponsored runs and the like) have taken on that role here.
5.5. To summarise
The workings of nationalism among the Dutch are seen best in the national symbol par excellence, the House of Orange. In one sense, we are a bit tongue in cheek about our Royals, not really able to stomach that they are a class above us. Hence, King Willem-Alexander is all too well aware that he is expected to be normaal in all his doings. However, just before his mother abdicated to retire, the then Crown Prince Willem-Alexander, attending the customary Queen’s Birthday celebrations, was induced to take part in a Tossing the Toilet Pot competition, which he had been assured was some local tradition in the town hosting the Queen’s Birthday that year. Tellingly, the Dutch response was that he had gone too far on this occasion. This ambiguous relationship with royalty is one of the ways in which the Netherlands reveals itself as a republic dressed as a monarchy.
Willem-Alexander’s grandmother, Queen Juliana, was a perfect fit for the Dutch baby boomer generation. Being a kind of mother figure, she represented no threat to the Dutchman’s autonomy and she was all about charity. Her way of being normaal was cycling to the Palace, for example. She toyed with her role, not taking it overly seriously. Sometimes, she deliberately walked off to the side of the red carpet.
5.5. How should Dutch nationalist sentiment be aroused?
It will be clear by now that I very much do believe that Dutch national sentiment exists; it is no straightforward matter, however, for us to harness that sentiment. To our shame, we must confess that ‘Accountant Mark’ Rutte often manages to ride it better than those of our convictions do. The reason for this is that nationalists often stick out like a sore thumb from the cultural average of the Dutch, speaking too fulsomely of our love for this land. No surprise, if you ask me, that Rita Verdonk’s new party flopped after she named it ‘Trots op Nederland’ (Proud of the Netherlands). In Dutch, that kind of thing sounds too overdone to be authentic, and so fails to gain traction.
5.6. Possible ways of reaching the Dutch more effectively
The recommendations below apply to communicating nationalism in daily life. In cyberspace, the Dutchman is in splendid isolation with his thoughts, and perhaps more amenable to a direct appeal to his sentiments. At least, the success of nationalist memes among the Dutch would suggest as much. For encounters in the flesh, I would suggest the following:
1: Address people as individuals. Don’t come out all at once with, ‘We Dutch …’.
2: Don’t ram your opinions down people’s throats. There are few types the Dutch can abide less than the smart alec.
3: Dwell upon the need for society-wide rules and on the touchstone of the modern Dutch state, ‘equality’. For example, point out that ‘refugees’ ought to apply for asylum in the first safe country they reach (and not shop around as welfare tourists).
4: Use understatement; say less than you mean. For example, a recent campaign to drum up Dutch organ donors used the slogan, ‘Become a donor. Pretty important.’ Pim Fortuyn is remembered for his observation, ‘I wouldn’t say the Netherlands is full up, but it’s getting a bit crowded.’ The recent US-originated slogan It’s OK to be White did very well here; much better than White Power! did.
5: Make allusions to avoid emotional words such as ‘love this country’ or ‘foreigners’, referring instead to what is threatening the beloved country. As an example: ‘I do find it a bit odd that two-thirds of schoolchildren in our capital city are not native Dutch nowadays.’
6: Use irony, saying the opposite of what you mean, albeit in a tone that makes your actual message as clear as a bell. The Dutch will not object to slightly deprecatory remarks about the Netherlands. They themselves will often talk about ‘this cold little frog-infested land’ or ‘this swampy delta’, and they will permit you to do so too, as long as it is plain to them from your attitude that your words convey a loving concern for the country.
7: Get a mention of charitableness in before your conversation partner does. For instance, come out with, ‘Of course, we do need to help those folk in Syria, but it would be far cheaper to help them over there than to haul them all over here. And that way, we’d be able to help the poorest of the poor, who can’t afford to come here in the first place.’
8: Put your money where your mouth is. What you say has to be congruent with your manner of life. You will be far more convincing if you are seen to be striving continually to be a better version of yourself. Not many will listen long to a fat slob who shows signs of alcoholism, drug dependency or TV addiction, and the Dutch have a keen eye for the shabbily dressed. Strive daily to improve yourself.
Finally, a word of encouragement. Nationalism is good for your health! Bear in mind that all the Dutch around you have the same profound feeling within that something is going terribly wrong with the country. It is only that they are suppressing those feelings out of fear of being labelled politically incorrect — and that saps them of their energy. Some of them may even be turning to drugs or drink to numb their nagging concerns. We, on the other hand, have all our energy conserved and readily available; a highly healthful state to be in. The rest of the nation around us often haven’t the foggiest what they ought to be doing with their lives; what the purpose of their existence is. We do, though. We have an ideal to live for, and that gives us vital health.
Onward with confidence!
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