The question of what makes nations great, why some nations are rich and some are poor, is a question that cannot but bother the heart of every avid student of history.
Even though we live in an unfair world, where some men and nations acquire their wealth in ways that are not always as straightforward as we would like it to be, yet in the midst of it all, it is not impossible to discover principles and secrets for the greatness of nations.
Ladies and gentlemen, even though this article is called: MEN AND NATIONS ARE NOT GREAT BY THE VIRTUE OF THEIR WEALTH, BUT BY THE WEALTH OF THEIR VIRTUE. Yet, I am going to focus my attention on nations. That means, the focus of this article is not only going to be why men are great. I will be talking more, about a basic and fundamental reason that causes nations to rise and in the absence of which nations fail.
If the question were to be asked to experts in political science and anthropology, for reasons why nations are great. Their answers would be an endless enumeration of factors. Factors like population, geographical locations, human development, education, labor force, natural resources, etc.
However, I in this article will not be talking about what I call the obvious factors of nations’ development and growth. I will be examining this subject from the aspect of what few men would readily admit to. Experts and historians might not mention this factor we are talking about today, simply because they are not aware of it.
It is natural when we are looking for explanations and reasons for a cause and effect to quickly enlist the glaring physical evidences. What is much more difficult to discover however is the hidden, subtle, inconspicuous, factors that are not evident to the naked eye.
That factor for the greatness of nations we are going to be examining today, is evident in our title: MEN AND NATIONS ARE NOT GREAT BY THE VIRTUE OF THEIR WEALTH, BUT BY THE WEALTH OF THEIR VIRTUE.
From the above theme, we see the disparity between the factor of material wealth and the wealth of virtue, as factors responsible for greatness of nations. It is also evident in my affirmative tone of this title, that I am on the side of wealth of virtue as against virtue of wealth.
Unfortunately, we do not often see the advantages in the power of values and virtues. We are easily taken away by physical wealth, material possessions and the power of money. Life and history though, have repeatedly taught us that values and virtues are far much stronger than the physical wealth we often see. For material wealth emanates from values and virtues.
As an African, I don’t have to look far and wide to discover that material wealth alone is not enough to build a great nation. There are many countries in the world, especially in developing countries of Africa, Asia and South America that are enormously wealthy in natural resources and yet have a poor population.
African countries are blessed with an abundance of material wealth: gold, iron, diamond, oil, natural gas, coal, and other precious metals. Still, these countries are largely regarded as the poorest in the world. Why the disparity? Where is the discrepancy coming from? Where do we get the imbalance from? How come the incongruity? How can we explain this dis-proportionality? What is the explanation to the contrast between our potential and our reality today?
On the other hand however, there are countries that have long discovered the true secret of wealth and greatness of nations. Yes, these countries admittedly don’t have much natural and material wealth, but what they did not have in the physical, they made up for it in values and virtues.
When value systems are embraced by a nation, when the citizens of a country are truly rich in virtues, then material wealth is a matter of time. Moreover, these material wealth don’t just come and go, they come to stay as long as the virtues remain in the fabric of the nation.
A good example of such countries would be Singapore that cannot pride herself in an abundance of natural resources. But yet this country has been able to perform a modern day miracle, by becoming one of the few countries that has succeeded in going from the third world to the first world, in one generation. Today Singapore’s per capital GDP is higher than that of the United States of America.
The secret is the uncompromising stand of its leader Lee Kwan Yew, to establish truth and honesty as a rule of building the nation.
Switzerland, is another country that was made famous and great by the values that were implanted in the society, through the teaching of the famous Protestant pioneer, John Calvin. Switzerland, does not possess a vast amount of natural resources, but they are abundantly wealthy in values, virtues and godly principles. Hence, as a result Switzerland has always been in the top countries with the highest standard of living in the world.
Countries like Japan, Sweden, and Austria are not overly known to be endowed with an abundance of natural wealth. However, because they have developed their wealth of virtues, they live better today than most countries who brag themselves in their virtues of natural wealth.
One man whose life history was dedicated to prove this truth was Benjamin Franklin. Benjamin Franklin, was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America. He is only one of the two historic personalities on an American dollar bill who has never been President. Yet, he occupies the most conspicuous of places in the hundred dollar bill. Despite not been an American president he is widely regarded and often more respected than most American presidents. He is seen as one of the greatest Americans to have ever lived. He was truly a renaissance man.
Benjamin Franklin is regarded as one of the greatest men and thinkers the world has ever known. He was an author. He was a painter. He was an inventor. He was a politician. He was an ambassador. He built libraries, hospitals, businesses, insurance companies and even a fire department. He helped write the declaration of independence and the constitution of the United States of America.
Benjamin Franklin became one of the most productive and self-actualized people in all of history. Yet, all these his achievements, he credited to the list of virtues he developed in his early life. As a matter of fact Benjamin Franklin thinks working on his thirteen list of virtues were the greatest discoveries he ever made.
These virtues include:
MEN AND NATIONS ARE NOT GREAT BY THE VIRTUE OF THEIR WEALTH, BUT BY THE WEALTH OF THEIR VIRTUE. Benjamin Franklin was a great man by all standards, but more than that, he is one of the few men in history that succeeded in helping to build a great nation. So, we can comfortably learn from him.
An in-depth study of the true reason for greatness of nations will always lead a thorough researcher to the factor of values and virtues. In the words of Benjamin Franklin, “There never was a truly great man who was not at the same time virtuous.” The same could be said of nations, there never was a truly great nation that was not at the same time virtuous.
These words of Benjamin Franklin are in unison with the title of this article. MEN AND NATIONS ARE NOT GREAT BY THE VIRTUE OF THEIR WEALTH, BUT BY THE WEALTH OF THEIR VIRTUE. It is simply not possible. A truly great man is first great in his virtues or values before he becomes great in the area of history.
For a nation to be truly great, she must first identify her national values, enumerate her virtues and formulate her value system. But the most tasking of all these is to develop a culture in her people, that will best represent the proclaimed value systems of the nation.
The citizens of the land, the peoples of the nation must be made strong in their convictions of these values. These values and virtues must become the wealth of the people, they must become their pride. They must be reflected in their lifestyle, in their film and movie industries. This value system must be ingrained in their educational system. They must be proclaimed in their pulpits. Homes and families must be built on the wealth of these virtues.
That is what is meant by a nation’s wealth of virtues. For a nation to be truly wealthy, it must possess a wealth of virtues. This wealth of virtue is reflected in how individual citizens are committed to living out the virtues. The percentage of the citizenry that embrace and identify with the nation’s virtues, with the nation’s value system, determine the true wealth of that nation. If a vast majority of the population identify and embrace the nation’s value system, then that nation is automatically great. Because they will live out these values in their daily life.
For example, the citizens will live out the value of diligence in their enterprises. They will live out the value of prudence in their finances. They will live out the value of industry in the economy. They will live out the value of love in their neighborhood. They will live out the value of dignity of labor in the market place, etc. All these will go a long way into propelling both the economy and political life of a nation to the greatest height possible.
Another very telling quotation from Benjamin Franklin will help you dear readers to better understand the importance of virtues in building great men and great nations.
“We stand at the crossroads, each minute, each hour, each day, making choices. We choose the thoughts we allow ourselves to think, the passions we allow ourselves to feel, and the actions we allow ourselves to perform. Each choice is made in the context of whatever value system we have selected to govern our lives. In selecting that value system, we are, in a very real way, making the most important choice we will ever make.
Those who believe there is one God who made all things and who governs the world by this providence will make many choices different from those who do not. Those who hold in reverence that being who gave them life and worship Him through adoration, prayer, and thanksgiving will make choices different from those who do not. Those who believe that mankind are all of a family and that the most acceptable service of God is doing good to man will make many choices different from those who do not.
Those who believe in a future state in which all that is wrong here will be made right will make many choices different from those who do not. Those who subscribe to the morals of Jesus will make many choices different from those who do not. Since the foundation of all happiness is thinking rightly, and since correct action is dependent on correct opinion, we cannot be too careful in choosing the value system we allow to govern our thoughts and actions. And to know that God governs in the affairs of men, that He hears and answers prayers, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him, is, indeed, a powerful regulator of human conduct.” ― Benjamin Franklin
People in every nation behave and respond according to the values and virtues upon which they were raised. We all are a product of our environment. The ambiance of every environment in a country is the value system of the given nation. It is that culture that influences how citizens of a nation react, respond and behave among themselves in regards to politics, commerce, family and social life.
Their decisions either in matters of private business or political life of the nation, are directly related to the prevailing value system of the nation. So if a country complains that they don’t have good leaders, those leaders are only as a result of the prevailing value system that every citizen of that country has been exposed to.
I often hear people talk about how corrupt their politicians are, it makes me laugh because, the very same people who are complaining are just as corrupt. When they get to those same places of authority, they do exactly the same thing for which they were complaining against the previous politicians. All of them, both the former and the new ones are a product of the same society, where their value system has taught them to view politics as a means of gain and profit.
Whereas, let’s take the example of a different society where the prevailing value system is that you only go into politics and leadership to serve and not to make money. In such a nation, people know that those who go into politics and leadership come out of it poorer than they went in. That too is a culture based on a specific value system that says that, if you go into leadership and politics, you would lose money. Because you would rather spend your money to serve your people. Obviously anybody who wants to go into politics in a nation like that would think twice. These are two distinctly different societies guided by two separate value systems. It is not surprising that the level of corruption in these two countries is totally different.
In the first instance the level of corruption is the highest possible, while in the second instance, corruption is viewed as a kind of leprosy that can never be touched. The difference is in value systems governing each and every society.
For a nation to be corruption free, that culture must first be created through the proclamation and propaganda of a correspondent value system. It is only when such value system is well embraced by the populace that the country begins to produce God fearing leaders that are free from the mentality of eating from the national cake.
“Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations get corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.” ― Benjamin Franklin
There is nothing near as powerful in making a nation great like establishing values and virtues upon a nation. When the citizens of a nation have been made to love and adhere to these values, then they make better choices.
Our choices are always in accordance to the prevailing value systems of our environment. Of course, there could be exemptions in very rare cases, mainly in the case, when an individual isolates himself from the prevalent culture of his environment or in cases when individuals have been exposed to other value systems.
The pulpit of a nation is a major source of the dissemination of a nation’s value system. The values that are mainly propagated from here go a long way to determining who the people of the nation become. God forbid, if the pulpit begins to propagate a faulty or erroneous value system, it ends up captivating the whole country, in no time like a cancer spreading throughout the body.
When Christians begin to advocate a school of thought that says; all you need is a miracle or breakthrough rather than hard work, that is a faulty value system that will go a long way to hurt the nation. People will not see the sense in working hard. On the other hand they will expect to live big, making them to take advantage of anything that does not belong to them. Worse still, they will erroneously think it is God blessing them. Imagine when a good size of the country begins to think and behave this way, the economic collapse of such a nation is only but imminent.
The religion or pulpit of a nation is the most powerful source of value formation in any country. Followed by the family, the educational system and the media. If the churches, mosques and other religious centers could come together to embrace a nation’s value system, and then set out to disciple the nation in these values and virtues, then the greatness of such a nation is inevitable.
Alexis de Tocqueville was a famous French statesman, historian and social philosopher who lived between 1805 and 1859. In the year 1831, he traveled to America to discover the reason for her greatness. What he discovered was not what he expected. As a result of his trip he later wrote his famous book, Democracy in America. The book has been described as “the most comprehensive and penetrative analysis, of the relationship between character and society in America that has ever been written.”
Mr. Alexis de Tocqueville gave a chilling account of how American Christianity, her value based preaching, was the main factor responsible for her greatness as a nation. I think it would be greatly revealing to allow you my readers to go through a short account of his findings in this article:
As already stated above, Alexis de Tocqueville was the famous 19th century French statesman, historian and social philosopher. He traveled to America in the 1830s to discover the reasons for the incredible success of this new nation. He published his observations in his classic two-volume work, Democracy in America. He was especially impressed by America’s religious character. Here are some startling excerpts from Tocqueville’s great work:
“Upon my arrival in the United States the religious aspect of the country was the first thing that struck my attention; and the longer I stayed there, the more I perceived the great political consequences resulting from this new state of things.
In France I had almost always seen the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom marching in opposite directions. But in America I found they were intimately united and that they reigned in common over the same country.
Religion in America…must be regarded as the foremost of the political institutions of that country; for if it does not impart a taste for freedom, it facilitates the use of it. Indeed, it is in this same point of view that the inhabitants of the United States themselves look upon religious belief.
I do not know whether all Americans have a sincere faith in their religion for who can search the human heart? But I am certain that they hold it to be indispensable to the maintenance of republican institutions. This opinion is not peculiar to a class of citizens or a party, but it belongs to the whole nation and to every rank of society.
In the United States, the sovereign authority is religious…there is no country in the world where the Christian religion retains a greater influence over the souls of men than in America, and there can be no greater proof of its utility and of its conformity to human nature than that its influence is powerfully felt over the most enlightened and free nation of the earth.
In the United States, the influence of religion is not confined to the manners, but it extends to the intelligence of the people…
Christianity, therefore, reigns without obstacle, by universal consent…
I sought for the key to the greatness and genius of America in her harbors…; in her fertile fields and boundless forests; in her rich mines and vast world commerce; in her public school system and institutions of learning. I sought for it in her democratic Congress and in her matchless Constitution.
Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness, did I understand the secret of her genius and power.
America is great because America is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.
The safeguard of morality is religion, and morality is the best security of law as well as the surest pledge of freedom.
The Americans combine the notions of Christianity and of liberty so intimately in their minds, that it is impossible to make them conceive the one without the other.
Christianity is the companion of liberty in all its conflicts, the cradle of its infancy, and the divine source of its claims.
Tocqueville gives this account of a court case in New York:
While I was in America, a witness, who happened to be called at the assizes of the county of Chester (state of New York), declared that he did not believe in the existence of God or in the immortality of the soul. The judge refused to admit his evidence, on the ground that the witness had destroyed beforehand all confidence of the court in what he was about to say. The newspapers related the fact without any further comment. The New York Spectator of August 23rd, 1831, relates the fact in the following terms:
“The court of common pleas of Chester County (New York), a few days since rejected a witness who declared his disbelief in the existence of God. The presiding judge remarked, that he had not before been aware that there was a man living who did not believe in the existence of God; that this belief constituted the sanction of all testimony in a court of justice: and that he knew of no case in a Christian country, where a witness had been permitted to testify without such belief.”
Based on this analysis from this famous French researcher, we can only conclude that: MEN AND NATIONS ARE NOT GREAT BY THE VIRTUE OF THEIR WEALTH, BUT BY THE WEALTH OF THEIR VIRTUE.
Dear readers, if we want our nations to be truly great we must lay less emphasis on material wealth, natural resources or even human resources. Wealth in money, mineral resources are not the real wealth. The true wealth of nation is the character of her people. The virtues of character, behavioral patterns determine how great a nation and people are.
Cultural values change with times, unless they are built on an absolute standard of values and virtues. This standard must be afterwards well-guarded and protected. They must be regularly propagated among the populace. They must form the pride and identity of the people. If a nation succeeds in making her people strong in virtues, then the nation is rich already because:
- They would go to their jobs to produce rather than just go to get salaries.
- They would go to their schools to study and learn rather than to simply get a certificate.
- They would treat their fellow men above themselves instead of mistreating them with utter neglect and negligence.
- They would strive to produce quality goods and services, instead of just looking for the money.
- They would strive to give their best rather than just making an impression.
- This kind of people would always seek for the betterment and advancement of their country before they ask what their country would do for them.
- Such a people would be a people of service, not those who want to be served.
- They would be mainly a population of people who want to give and sacrifice rather than exploit or take advantage of others.
It is high time for our modern nations to begin to realize that without moral absolutes everything becomes relative. Nations must begin to realize that values that are not taught are not caught. Countries must begin to impact understanding of why they exist to their citizenry. Countries of our time and age must realize that teaching skills and professions in schools is not enough to build a great nation. Morals, ethics, values and virtues must become the most important part of a national development program.
If any nation truly aspires to be great, it has to start with the realization that: MEN AND NATIONS ARE NOT GREAT BY THE VIRTUE OF THEIR WEALTH, BUT BY THE WEALTH OF THEIR VIRTUE.