Sunday, September 30, 2012

Contrast in Societies

The differences between Amsterdam and Paris were striking. The one reflected a history of regal and absolute governance with the results of power and wealth in the hands of the few aristocracy, with their opulent palaces and homes designed to impress and overwhelme the visitor. They filled their city with grand monuments to celebrate national glories and accomplishments. With wealth held by the overly wealthy few, it was done at the expense of the common citizen.  From generation to generation the poverty and missery of the common citizen increased until the masses cried out and revolution occured. During the Napoleonic age national wealth while held more broadly, the trickle down to impact the average citizen was limited and the middle class while larger was a small part of the overall national population. While national wealth under Napoleon shifted from building grand palaces to building national infastructure, the added grandeur of the decor and statuaries of the projects reflected the design to impress attitude of the monarcal area. In Paris one has a clear sense of a world view build around national pride and view of France being one of the world's intellectual and financial leaders, not needing to draw lessons from others.

Amsterdam on the other hand reflects different mindset and view of themselves. They are a historically independently minded people with governance grounded in compromise (much like the American Declaration of Independance and the Constitution), with the common citizen having a voice in civil affairs and far more of the national wealth in the hands of a large middle class. As a result the wealthiest 5% had far less of the national wealth than found in France. With civil leadership more diverse their buildings are more functional in nature and design, grand opulence unsought. The city reflects immense wealth of the past but expressed in more subtle ways, including in building of trade and commerce with the world, and in functional public infastructure.  The city also demonstrates that wealth was diversified across the populous, and with an attitude of maintaining of pragmatic collective assets. Their strong albeit quiet national pride is coupled with a world view that is global, collective and pragmatic.

The challenge of any society is to find balance, particularly in regard to wealth and lack thereof. Pre-revolution Paris is an example of a disregard of the middle class and the average citizenry and the accommulation of immense wealth and power in the hands of a few. Amsterdam of the same era reflects a different structure. Today, numersous countries are in the process of defining if they will be more like Paris or more like Amsterdam.


1 comment:

parsoncarson said...

How true, Dave! We are in the process of choosing what kind of society we will have!