Italian writer Luigi Barzini tried to identify the secret that made Brits such a success. He describes them as "brave, stubborn, ruthless, industrious, pragmatic, and inventive" and "impeccably dressed". He admires their virtues: "Earnestness, parsimony, prudence, diligence, discipline, perseverance, honesty as the best policy, correct accounting, punctuality, selfless patriotism, courage, the acceptance of death in battle, tenacity, self-control, fair play".
With perhaps less enthusiasm Barzini notes the British propensity for "survival of the fittest, loyalty, the pursuit of profit, the practice of vigorous and competitive physical exercises." Aware of their flaws, Barzini nevertheless concludes that all Brits, "the dull and the acute, somehow knew how to act bravely, splendidly, and usually successfully in critical or difficult circumstances" because "they all had a few ideas firmly embedded in their heads."
Barzini believes that these powerful ideas gave Brits their "unruffled steadfastness" and their empire. He argues that these ideas are no longer embedded in British heads because the ideas have become "outdated, unfit (except for rare occasions) for the complex and corrupt times we live in". Appalled by this dark admission, Barzini goes on to say that the ideas may not be outdated after all, but "premature".
We beg to disagree. The analysis of those wiser than we are suggests that these ideas are neither outdated nor premature but eternal, and exactly fitted for a modern world that is both complex and deadly and glistening with opportunity.
We have not defined success because we are sure you know what success means. We guess that your definition, like ours, is greater than mere wealth.
We believe you realise that the perils we face around the globe will not be won by arms alone, though arms may be necessary, but by ideas and values. So we ask, what are the ideas that once propelled Brits to success, that are key to our personal success today, and absolutely crucial to the survival of civilisation tomorrow?
We think the ideas flow out of Seven Ancient Powers or Virtues. The first four powers are called cardinal, meaning they are considered pivotal. (The Latin word cardinal means the hinge of a door.) These powers are the gifts of Ancient Greeks, Romans, and Celts. The 5th, 6th, and 7th powers are called 'theological'. They are considered the gifts of Christianity, though one of the three was specifically described by Socrates at his trial several hundred years before Christ as the one thing he would die for.
We list the 7 powers below. They are the source of the powerful ideas that Brits carried in their heads – 21 powerful ideas by our count.
THE 7 POWERS
Brits saw the strong and enduring oak tree as a symbol of truth and fidelity.
Celtic, Christian, and Classical influences extol love for God's creation and help to inspire the Brits' passion for freedom, science, the arts, sports, and governing themselves. Christianity inspires Brits in part because Christianity loves the body. This may surprise you, since, as British writer CS Lewis writes, ". . . muddle-headed Christians have talked as if Christianity thought that sex, or the body, or pleasure, were bad in themselves. But they were wrong. Christianity thoroughly approves of the body, believing "that matter is good, that God Himself once took on a human body, that some kind of body is going to be given us even in Heaven and is going to be an essential part of our happiness, our beauty, and our energy."
According to Lewis, Christianity also "glorified marriage. . .nearly all the greatest love poetry in the world has been produced by Christians." Brits have written beautiful poems about love and funny and happy comedies about romance and marriage. These are not unique in the history of the world, but they are rare. They depend on respect for women. The Brits are not impeccable in their treatment of women, but their respect for women begins as early as the 1st century BC, and takes visible shape in the number of their remarkable Queens, women writers, and brave and resourceful female characters. This is fortunate since societies where women are repressed are never able to release and enjoy more than half their energy.
Before they were ever Christian, early British, Celtic, and Anglo-Saxon communities passionately defend their freedom. The Celts' stubborn refusal to accept servitude is supported by their love of family and in their historic memories of their heroic resistance to the Roman Empire. Their loathing of slavery combines with Judeo-Christian concepts of a covenant with God, freedom as a gift of God, and the Christian call to live in community and work together as one body – as a team for a cause that is bigger than any one of us. The gorgeous results are unprecedented ideas about liberty, the creation of representative government, just laws, and the development of science.
Some people may say that faith is irrational and consequently cannot possibly stimulate rational, scientific enquiries. The reality is that Classical thinkers such as Socrates and innovative Christian thinkers such as Roger Bacon, Robert Grosseteste, William Ockham, and Duns Scotus persuade Brits that God has given them reason to understand the world. As a result, deeply devoted Christian Brits dedicate their lives to science, and make extraordinary breakthroughs. They are supported by generous British Christians who help to establish grammar schools, universities, research hospitals, research labs, libraries, and scholarships.
The Celts believe in the immortality of their souls, and are described as fearless when facing oppression. As he affirms at his trial, Socrates believes in God's love and is consequently unafraid of what any government or man can do to him. God, says Socrates, cares about justice. It is better to endure injustice than be unjust. (Plato's Apology and Georgias)
Likewise, the best Brits believe in God's love and the essential call to live justly and fearlessly. Hope, fortitude, and faith keep them from becoming disillusioned and giving up, or from becoming 'realistic' and accepting things as they are. They are passionate about themselves and how they live because they believe God is passionate about them. They believe that what they do in this world will matter eternally.
As the Church translates Classical thinkers, and makes their ideas widely available, Brits recognise and identify with the Greek passion for freedom and with their curiosity about the natural and metaphysical world. The Greeks stress both their individuality and their common life in the city-state, the polis. They are willing to die for their city. The best Brits celebrate individuality, but they are also inspired by the concept of team and sacrifice. They work together brilliantly. The Charter of Liberties, Magna Carta, the Provisions of Oxford and Westminster, Parliament, the Declaration of Rights, the Declaration of Independence, the defeat of the Nazis in World War II, the plays of their greatest writer, who wrote for community theatre, and their contributions to the history of sport are but a few examples of their community endeavours.
Concepts of fairness, truth, and justice are dear to pre-Christian Brits and to followers of the Judeo-Christian faith, which embodies an ethical standard tough to fulfill, but excellent for society and the well-being of families even when imperfectly achieved, since justice, peace and happiness in our communities depend as much on our shared commitment to certain ideas as on our police and laws. A faith that asks us to love, to give to those in need, to speak truly, to honour our mother and father, to refrain from stealing and murder, to be loyal to our spouse, to treat others as we would wish to be treated, and to love God rather than false idols such as money or power will have a powerful effect on society if enough of us live its teachings.
Some say that it is difficult to put these teachings into action without the helping grace of God. We have personally met men and women who put many of these ideas into action without believing in God. But we may wonder, as we reflect on the best Brits during those centuries when so many did believe, what we might achieve and what we might become even now were we to ask God for help.
Below are the 21 powerful ideas we see flowing out of the 7 powers. They are synergistic. The best Brits embody them.
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