Felix Meritis then
Felix Meritis is de name of a building that housed a society that had as its purpose the advancement of art, culture and science. The building stood at the Keizersgracht and was home to the society from 1777 until 1888.
Felix Meritis now
Felix Meritis is now a foundation and, since 1988, back at its old address on the Keizersgracht. Its objectives are still the same; they haven’t changed. Diversity of cultures will increase prosperity, well being, harmony and social cohesion. (Now, the first new agers, keep on dreaming).
Gaining insight and understanding in the various mindsets of Dutch citizens should lead to becoming one, a melting together of cultures (yeah, right). Felix Meritis motto is “connecting cultures in Europa”.
The seventeenth century was an era in which new political and philosophical movements started to change the then-current perceptions of politics, philosophy, science, and religion. Doctrines and religious views held for centuries were to be examined and, if need be corrected. Criticism was no longer forbidden, and if things needed to change, they should be changed.
Science and faith should again go hand in hand, leading to a higher level of justice, more say and tolerance.
scholars like Descartes and Spinoza laboured hard to teach people to form their own judgements. (And 300 years later, that is still not happening. For one thing, people are far too busy to sit down in a chair and really think something through. We have newspapers and tv; they’ll teach us what to say and think. Opinion makers, we call them)
This era (not my critique) we call the renaissance, the enlightenment. Stepping out of the ages of pupillage and think for yourself, come to your own conclusions.
All this sounds great but what usually happens is that if one leader decides he no longer wants to follow the ideas, he starts a movement and gains following by criticizing the former leader. He starts calling his ideas in question, and once he’s created doubt, he’ll start indoctrinating his followers with his own viewpoints. And people are still not thinking for themselves.
But back to Felix.
Several societies were set up that were at first little other than discussion groups. Like-minded people met with reassuring themselves of the validity of their arguments.
One of these societies was Felix Meritus. It was founded in 1777 by a fellow called Willem Writs, a draftsman. He used five departments (music, literature, physics, trade and drawing) to draw art and science closer together and popularize them among a larger group of people.
Now it was not so that almost anyone could join this society; you needed to have proven yourself in one of these fields I just mentioned. Nevertheless, the society was well-reputed and certainly not without influence.
The subjects they discussed were tolerance, democracy and corruption. The separation of church and state, among other things, was the result of lobbying by groups like Felix Meritus. There were also societies for the less affluent and prestigious, they were, of course, less influential, but they too were to contribute to cultural and social fusion.
Jews were not welcome.
While on the one hand, these groups preached tolerance and acceptance of those who are or think differently, they did not accept any Jews in their midst. It wasn’t until 1862 that they were finally excepted as equals, but by that time, the influence of Felix Meritus was waning.
It had become a cultural club where one attended concerts and such like, instead of discussing social and political subjects. It was now a place where the upper class of Amsterdam went to meet, see, and most of all “be” seen.
Jews gained official equality in 1796; from then on, to be treated like everyone else, but not every organization was that quick to implement this new development, including Felix Meritis.
An (André).J. M. HANOU, born on the thirteenth of April 1941, a Dutch literary historian wrote in “Jews and the Dutch societies” 1750-1850:
It is unfortunately almost impossible to gain any real insight into the acceptance of Jews into the societies of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It would take a lifetime and possibly longer than that to investigate all the archives and membership lists for as far as they still exist. There were thousands of societies, varying from countryside rhetoricians to scientific associations with unrivalled pretensions.
The treatise of Mr Hanou does excellent reading and places the society of Felix Meritis in a more accurate light.
Felix Meritis Today The society is still actively involved in the areas of culture and learning. The building is often rented out to those who produce documentaries or hold lectures on politics, literature, culture and scientific events with a public character.
Debates can take place there, besides meetings and lectures, festivals are held there, and workshops, tv shows can be recorded. There’s room to eat, and presentations can be held for large groups as well.
The concept that Felix Meritis holds to free thought and in-depth discovery of new patterns of thinking is too much of the organization, it once held that concept for the elite, but the commoner was never involved.
And sad to say, that’s no different today. On the other hand, it is impossible to deny that the association had enormous influence in shaping Dutch society into it in 2010.
Felix Meritis is window number 23 on the Canon of Amsterdam.