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Liberty and The Rule of Law  |  The soul of Britannia

The soul of Britannia

- as published in the 'Letters Page' of Auroville Today, September 1997. The article is written by Judith, a longtime British Aurovilian.

I was really impressed by your edition of June '97 on Human Unity and the quality of the articles on the nation souls of five great nations. It would be interesting to see this series continued.

As a Briton, the reflections of my fellow countrymen were deeply thought provoking. My first reaction was to be rather shocked that they saw themselves as English rather than British and England as the nation. I do not think that would strike our Welsh and Scottish brethren as modest charm but as typical Sassenach gall.

As I read in the concluding paragraph of Alan's article, "The Bulldog and the Gentleman: What makes the English English?" (AVT #101), "I don't think England is one of the great nation souls. Just as Britain itself is a land of modest scale, modest charm, so our strength is more in the middle region of pragmatism and ethics than idealism and spiritual discovery," I had an overwhelming feeling that we were not seeing the wood for the trees and our soul searching had not quite grasped a profound significance.

When I look at the modern world so totally transformed in the last 300 to 400 years from anything that preceded it within known history, I cannot think of any major secular idea-force which did not fist arise, if only in seed-form, within those island shores, or any people whose culture and society has not been turned upside down by them, even if many have rooted and flourished more fully elsewhere.

Britain first united as a nation centuries before the rest of Europe woke up to the ideal of nationalism and it was there that the germ of the ideal of democracy first emerged, her revolution preceding the French one by more than 150 years. Nor should we forget that it was the direct ideological descendants of the Roundheads who a hundred years later dumped the tea in Boston harbour and authored that extraordinary Declaration of Independence, to teach another uppity English king the limits of his power.

Britain was the first nation to throw off the yoke of feudalism and replace it with scientific agriculture and industrialisation. As a consequence she pioneered urbanisation, banking, capitalism, socialism and can even lay half a claim to birthing communism. It was Britain that evolved bureaucratic organisation and first developed a civil service, a police force, a post office. It was Britain that championed the abolition of slavery, who first banned child labour and introduced compulsory elementary education for both boys and girls. The genius of Isaac Newton, Adam Smith and Charles Darwin revolutionised the basic paradigm of western culture and society.

Using world-wide trade as her arm of conquest, Britain spread her ideas, her language, her inventions and her religion, for she always was firmly convinced she had God on her side, to the four corners of the globe. And as her influence spread like lava from a gigantic volcano, she touched the souls of the nations and forced them to awake. She aroused Great Mother India from her profound slumbers and brow-beat her into taking up again the burden of her transforming spiritual destiny. It could not be haphazard chance that Sri Aurobindo spent his youth in Britain and there took his first tentative steps on his path to the Supermind.

While searching within for an image of the British nation soul, I was incredulous to find myself face to face with Britannia, seated on her throne, armed with her shield of faith, her spear of aspiration and her helmet of indomitable courage, looking out with clear brow and far-seeing eye, across the seas the surround her. A female soul, a warrior soul, more akin to Durga than to Lakshmi. Not a comfortable soul to live with. Materialistic, pragmatic, ethical, definitely; small and of modest charm, most definitely not. And perhaps that is why she is so hard for us to look at. For now that the great outpourings of her puissance are exhausted, it is we that have to confront to the earth shaking consequences of our nation having, so arrogantly but so wholeheartedly, followed her Dharma.

As modern Britain, still leader of her world-wide Commonwealth, carries her newly multi-racial people into a united Europe, struggling to find her rightful place in the global society to which she gave birth, the British in Auroville can offer to the quest for an actual living human unity the very important discovery that pragmatism is mankind's most powerful and effective tool for transformation. But someone else will have to bring the gentler gift of modest charm.


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