AN IDEA ABROAD IN THE WORLD
By Jim Hodge
SHARE THE INHERITANCE is a small book, but when you pick it up, it is unexpectedly heavy. On closer examination, it has a sturdy cover - full of text and color, and inside, the pages are glossy and heavy. It is reminiscent of American coins of the 1950s: heavier because made of nobler stuff.
Inside, the pages shimmer with color pictures illustrating the text, which rolls down the page like a highway. The margin is taken up by a bicycle path of pictures, notes and thoughts that bear on the text of that page, but do not fit easily into the flow of the narrative.
It is the size of a child's first reading book, and bears some similarities - it is bright-eyed, unabashed, sentimental and proud. It is not the story of a nation or an empire; nations and empires can as easily make great mistakes or accomplish wonderful things. It is the history of an idea which sprouted and grew in this tiny plot of land to send its shoots out into the world.
It may seem presumptuous to claim an idea which has lived in other forms and in other places, like Iceland and Greece. But the democracy claimed in this book is the one that lives in the world today. And this is attested as recently as November 23, 2010 by no less a person than the CEO of the mammoth publishing enterprise, Springer Verlag.
In an editorial examining the condition of democracy in Germany, he writes these two sentences, loosely translated from the German: "The individualistic ideal, in which the person takes his own fate in his hands through free will is the model first and foremost of Anglo-Saxon democracies. It is abroad today most of all in America, Canada, Great Britain - basically, however, in the whole Western World."
The story told in SHARE THE INHERITANCE begins beyond our view of the past, and traces the inklings of the idea through invasion, resistance, rebellion, assimilation, until the end result includes the genes of Welsh, Scot and Anglo-Saxon, of Danish Vikings and the French progeny of Vikings, and the distillation is a people who refuse to be conquered even when conquered.
Radiating from every page is not so much the triumphal joy of a Disney tale, but the pain and sacrifice of those who accepted the risk of standing for human rights in a sense far deeper than the tawdry use that is made of that phrase today:
The executioner who would not execute Alban, so the Romans executed both of them.
Boudicaa, the fearsome Celtic queen who made the Romans and their allies pay dearly for the rape of her daughters.
Alfred, the only king ever called the Great, because he held the idea of a nation together even in the fever-haunted swamps and insisted that a citizen should have access to great thoughts of Boethius, Augustine and others, as well as access to the Common Law.
William Marshal, the "CEO with a sword," who would not bend to threats against his family and property, and Stephen Langton, the re-discoverer of the Charter of Liberties, who would not bend even to the Pope.
The bachelor knights, who were willing to become The Dispossessed.
John Lilburne, who withstood prison for his beliefs and answered boldly in the Star Chamber. (What and where are the "star chambers" of today, and who are the judges?)
George Washington whose tribulations with his men are the stuff of legend.
Ernest Shackleton, whose epic return with his men exemplified the sacrifice required by the driving curiosity to know and discover.
Florence Nightingale and Edith Cavell, who faced danger, discomfort and death in service to others.
Again and again, rulers are held accountable for their actions, and the governed affirm the right to "alter or abolish" the government.
Men and women of thought and science are also honoured: "Ockham's Razor has remained sharp all these years." The thought of Francis Bacon accompanies us to the present day. He understood the traps that lie in wait for pseudo-scientific minds - the three cascades: the cascade of availability, the cascade of information, the cascade of reputation. How neatly this explains the rise of Global Warming, and the difficult but necessary task of pushing hard fact through a cloud of assumption.
This book is a meticulous labor of love - a paean of praise to the idea of true liberty. Like a dwarf star, it exerts a gravity far beyond its size.
Thank you, Jim. Thank you on behalf of the idea and all those who love it.