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Gedogen — active Dutch tolerance



The Dutch verb gedogen doesn't really translate well because the concept itself is Dutch and the practice is unique to the Netherlands, where it is integral to the culture.

The best approximation of "gedogen" in English is "to tolerate." But tolerance is passive. Gedogen is active, pragmatic tolerance, an explicit and open-eyed concession to reality. Gedoogbeleid is a matter of governmental policy — discussed until consensus.

If there is a social matter that will not allow a concrete solution, the Dutch will "gedoog" it; they will allow a flexibility in enforcement — not by ignoring the behavior, but by accommodating it.

The examples of official tolerance that foreigners will typically recognize are those concerning prostitution* and "soft drugs."

The Dutch acknowledge, officially and with intensive debate, that sometimes eradication of a problem is impractical — and for that reason may be an inappropriate objective.

Indeed, the concept of "problem" is a matter subject to interpretation. Predisposed morality colors the debate about the supposed "problems" of paid sex and socially-benign drugs. Predisposed morality is a factor. There are many others — and the act of "gedogen" acknowledges this.

A social concern that has been gedoogd is, then, not legal — but not illegal.


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* Prostitution is legal in the Netherlands — regulated and often unionized. "Streetwalking," or prostitution outside of a red-light district, is illegal. However, on the perimeter of some large metropolises is often a site called a "tippelzone" where such illegal activities are themselves tolerated.


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