Holland's well-balanced blending of successful agriculture, industry, and trade gives it a standing far above its relative position in size and population. Even a casual visitor is struck by the country's atmosphere of contentment, prosperity, and culture. Although Holland, like other countries, occasionally faces bad times, it does not seem to suffer much. Aside from the general geographical advantages of western Europe, of which climate is the most important, three factors have had special weight in giving Holland its outstanding position among the smaller nations. The first and foremost is the physical background of Holland, and the consequent battle between man and water. The Dutch, like the Swiss, are products of an originally unproductive environment. This they conquered, and thus, as in Switzerland, not only made a living, but converted themselves into a nation of strong individualists, purified through natural selection. We shall come back later to this physical background and study it in greater detail.
The second factor is the call of the sea. The Dutch, by the very nature of their country, are naturally a seafaring nation. Although their period of world supremacy in maritime affairs is over, their ocean trade is still of the utmost importance. Moreover, seafaring was the basic factor in the establishment of Holland's great colonial empire, which once included sections in all parts of the world. Almost every family in Holland has friends and relatives who spend a great part of their life in "tropical Holland."
The third non-climatic factor in giving Holland its outstanding position is the country's location not only at the outlet of the Rhine, Europe's most important river, but especially in the center of Europe's greatest industrial region. The location on the Rhine has made Rotterdam one of Europe's greatest harbors. The traffic on this river, however, consists mostly of goods in transit between Germany or Switzerland and regions across the water, and hence does not affect Holland very much. The location in respect to the great industrial centers, on the contrary, has been largely responsible for the way in which Holland during the nineteenth century developed into a country of intensive agriculture. For scores of miles the region immediately to the south and southeast of Holland in Belgium and Germany is almost like one huge city where fruits, vegetables, and dairy products, which Holland can raise, are used in vast quantities. In recent years strong nationalistic tendencies have hampered the logical exchange of food for manufactured products, and the Dutch farmers may be forced more and more to rely on crops for the subsistence of Holland alone, and not for sale abroad.