EUROPEAN CHRONICLES PART 01: Looking at the history, heritage, and challenges facing the mother continent
Great Britain’s Contribution to Civilisation
When think of the words ‘Britain,’ ‘Great Britain,’ ‘England,’ and/or ‘United Kingdom,’ what comes to mind? Red double-decker buses? The Queen waving from the balcony of Buckingham Palace? Fish and chips, wrapped in newspaper and season with salt and vinegar? Furry-hat Beefeaters? Rugby and cricket?
In the gallery of today’s nation-states, Britain, along with a handful of others, clearly stands in a category called ‘unique.’ Great Britain is a leader among nations and this article will show, in part, its oversized contribution to civilisation. It has had 1,000 years to develop some of the finest traditions, institutions and inventions in history.
Before, if not during, the 2016 Brexit-remain referendum on Britain’s EU membership, a constant refrain came out of Europe. Perhaps not worded so starkly, it essentially said that Britain was no better than any other of the 28 members states in the EU. Instead of complaining about its large EU contribution, or the open borders, or the erosion of sovereignty - the European Union leadership hinted it was time for Britain to ‘pay up,’ ‘stop the whinging,’ and cooperate in building the European project.
Is Britain no different or better than any other country in the EU? Could such wording, even if only implicit, have driven the British electorate towards Brexit? What makes Britain stand out from other European countries?
Consider: Britain has the fourth biggest military, along with the sixth biggest economy in the world. London is a prime economic and banking hub, with over 1 million people employed in the sector. Even after Brexit, this arena is expected to continue and flourish.
Parliamentary Democracy: Thanks to the Magna Carta of 1215, which codified the rights and protections of the people, Britain’s democracy evolved to be highly representative of the people. It has been an inspiration throughout the world. ‘Common law' and ‘rule of law’ have also been a massive contribution to civilisation, starting with those nations that were once under Britain’s rule. The writings of John Locke (1632-1704), English philosopher and physician, the ‘Father of Liberalism,’ greatly influenced Voltaire, Rousseau, and the American revolutionaries, reflected in the American Declaration of Independence.
Constitutional Monarchy: Britain, along with Australia, Canada, New Zealand and other nations, are beneficiaries of this system of government which is demonstrably the most stable of all. The reason is that the head of state is above-politics, representing all parties. In republics, often times the head of state is a politician and has to to do much ‘horse-trading’ in order to get things done. Also, the apolitical monarch/governor general denies absolute power to any of the other branches of government: executive, judiciary, legislative, and military. That’s why a coup d’tat is much less likely in a constitutional monarchy.
Technological progress: Britain spawned an agricultural revolution and an industrial revolution. Charles Babbage invented the first programmable computer in the 1820s. A Briton named Alexander Graham Bell patented the telephone in the USA (1876). The first steam locomotive was given to the world by Richard Trevithick (1804). British inventor John Logie Baird developed the first publicly demonstrated television (1925). Railways, automobiles, and gas turbines, are a British invention.
And here is an interesting point: the world-wide web (www) came out of Britain. First of all, do not confuse this with the American-invented system of networked computers, which we call the internet. A British computer scientist named Tim Berners-Lee developed the system of webpages and websites, using interlinked hypertext documents, which are connected via the internet.
The above is only a very partial list of the technological contributions coming out of Britain.