No Grounds for Freedom

Emanuel van der Hoeven’s “Holland’s Ancient Freedom”, published in 1706, serves as a central text in my analysis. The book offers a detailed history of Dutch freedom – the Netherlands has been a land of freedom since time immemorial. Freedom is an inherited, inborn quality, passed down from generation to generation, that hark back, as he forcefully argues, to the Batavians. The book details the entanglement of genealogy and geography as foundational to Dutch identity, and firmly places Dutch freedom within “the slaving logic of capture and predation”, as well as “the colonial logic of occupation and extraction”. Van der Hoeven dedicated his book to the director of the Dutch West India Company, Willem de la Palma, whom he praises as “a glorious instrument of her well-deserved glory.” In his dedication, he writes that De la Palma “now holds high command over such peoples, who, unlike us, are the perfect embodiment of slavery”. He continues, “on the eighth day after their birth, [they] begin to show the sign of the curse of servitude uttered against Ham; that black paint spills over from the torso of their bodies. And they bear in their face the low and slavish mark of unworthiness that bars them from this freedom which is, through the clearness of our eyes and abundance of beautiful figures painted in alluring white, so recognizable in us—a fact to which strangers, yes even enemies can attest.” Why does Van der Hoeven make any reference, at all, to black Africans and slavery in a book entitled “Holland’s Ancient Freedom”? Why does blackness matter in sketching out the contours of Dutch freedom?

Egbert Alejandro Martina in No Grounds for Freedom (Geographies of Freedom)