The soul of Britannia
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.