At the Convention on Modern Liberty, held yesterday in the UK, the keynote speech was given by Philip Pullman, author of the fantastic His Dark Materials trilogy. There is much to like in his speech, which ends: “We are a better people than our government believes we are; we are a better nation.” But the part I liked best was about intellectual curiosity, or “wakefulness of mind”:
Another virtue that a nation needs is intellectual curiousity. Wakefulness of mind, one might put it. A nation with that quality would be aware of itself, conscious of itself and its history, and every separate thread that makes up the tapestry of its culture. It would believe that the highest knowledge of itself had been expressed by its artists, its writers and poets, and it would teach its children how to know and how to understand and love. We have to be taught how to love, how to love their work, believing that this activity would give them, the children, an important part to play in the self-knowledge and the memory of the nation.
A nation where this virtue was strong, would be active and enquiring of mind, quick to perceive and compare and consider. Such a nation would know at once when a government tried to interfere with its freedoms. It would remember how all those freedoms had been gained, because each one would have a story attached to it, and an attack on any of them would feel like a personal affront. That is the value of wakefulness.