A Nation is No Greater Than the Character of Its People

Called Unto Liberty, Albert E. Bowen, 20th Century Sermons

In stabilized character, established by a consistent course of conduct, directed by adherence to right principles, lies the only safety of the state. It is that which gives to the individual citizen the power to govern himself from within. If we cannot build up a race of individuals capable of governing themselves from within, we shall not have people who can be governed by authority exterior to themselves . . . .

Mr. Charles H. Turtle, United States District Attorney for the southern district of New York, has written:

A nation’s destiny is not in its learning, or in its scientific attainments. It is in character. The heart of culture is the culture of the heart. Our nation cannot survive materially unless it is preserved spiritually. Mere intellectual growth will never sustain our form of government unless it is accompanied by a moral growth; and there is no source of moral power comparable to that spiritual interpretation of life which is religion in its essence—religion pure and undefiled.

Life cannot be measured in terms of the abundance of the things possessed or produced. Those supposedly solid, realistic foundations upon which nations have sought to build are proving not to be solid at all. Paradoxically enough, the supposedly intangible, nebulous, idealistic, and spiritual bases, we are beginning to learn, afford the only safe foundations upon which to build. They are the only rock against which the rains might descend and the floods come and the winds beat without knocking down the house. A nation is but the aggregate of the citizens who compose it, and national character is but the sum total of the individual characters. It is apparent, therefore, that the life of the people cannot rise higher than the lives of the individual persons who constitute the whole.

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Source: Albert E. Bowen, 1936, The Improvement Era Magazine, 39: 346.  Albert E. Bowen (1875–1953) was a mem­ber of the Quo­rum of the Twelve Apos­tles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Prior to his call to full time church ser­vice Albert Ernest Bowen taught at Brigham Young Col­lege, then grad­u­ated with hon­ors from Uni­ver­sity of Chicago law school, prac­ticed law in Logan, Utah, and later Salt Lake City, where he also became involved in many impor­tant busi­ness ven­tures such as the Utah Con­struc­tion Com­pany, the Amer­i­can Sav­ings and Loan Asso­ci­a­tion, and the Utah Fuel Company.