‘Non Vi Sed Arte’ – What does it mean to me?

Beaty Coat of Arms
The Beaty Coat of Arms

“Non vi Sed Arte” is Latin for “Not by Strength, by Guile”. It is the motto on the “coat of arms” of Admiral of the Fleet David Richard Beatty, the first Earl Beatty (1884-1927). It was also used by a couple of different military units. For example it was the unofficial motto of the Long Range Desert Group, a reconnaissance and raiding unit of the British Army during WWII.

I always liked the saying. But my take on the slogan has changed as I have gotten older. When I was younger, not being the strongest of guys and having perhaps an excessive opinion of my intellect, I liked the idea of success due to mind over body. But as I grew older this “take” on the slogan not only grew to lose its appeal, but I began to feel a negative reaction to the slogan. Why be proud of a lack of strength or determination? And most dictionaries define guile as a treacherous cunning or skillful deceit. Did I really want to use that as some kind of guide or brag about my character?

The Bethune Tartan, one of the Tartans permitted to members of the Beattie Clan
The Bethune Tartan, one of the Tartans permitted to members of the Beattie Clan

While these thoughts about my surname’s supposed slogan were developing in my mind, I was doing some research on the Beaty Clan’s Tartans I discovered this Scottish Tartan site which digs deeper into the history of the Beaty name and comes to some interesting conclusions about the “original” Clan Beattie and its variations, one of which is Beaty. These conclusions it backs up with details, details of which can also be found on this genealogical website.

The Beattie clan arose in the Scottish lowlands of Dumfriesshire along the Anglo-Scottish border. They were primarily “reivers”, small bands of warriors who would raid across the border to steal and plunder from the English. Who lived, in short, a life summed up by “Not by Strength, by Guile”. My negative take on the slogan began to grow.

Through my occasional hunting for uses and variations of the slogan, I found that some people translated “Non vi sed arte” as “Not with force, but with skill.” It was often used in this context describing not a physical fight but a debate or reasoned argument.

Non Vi Virtute Vice coin
Non Vi Virtute Vici coin

In this vein I came across “Non Vi Virtute Vici” or “Not by Force, by Virtue have I conquered”. This was a slogan found on coppers and notes minted shortly after the Revolutionary War as seen in this archive of an American Numismatic Society magazine article. These inscriptions seem to suggest that the American Revolution was brought to a successful conclusion not so much because of American military prowess but rather because the nobility of the ideals for which it was fought caused Divine Providence to shine on the revolutionaries. Surely a case of the victors writing history, but a noble thought none the less.

The “Non Vi Virtute Vici” motto is probably a reduced version of a saying which appears in the “Sacrorum Emblematum Centuria Una” of Andrew Willet (1562-1621). Andrew Willet was Anglican divine who believed that reasoned argument was a tool superior to persecution in attempting to convert Catholics to the Church of England. He encapsulated this sentiment in the Latin motto, “Non vi sed virtute, non armis sed arte paritur victoria” or “Not by force but by virtue, not by arms but by the Art, is victory won”.

That saying about reason and virtue prevailing against force or violence also reminds me of another quote of a famous Englishman. In 1644, John Milton wrote in the Areopagatica a speech to the Parliament of England in favor of free speech in the press. One of the many wonderful quotes from that speech says: “Let [Truth] and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter?”

So to my mind, all these seem to be saying similar things: That living a life of skill, virtue and truth leads to victory and success.

I’ve written before that while I used to really cling to the “Truth will always win out” idea, I had come to believe that there wasn’t any real Truth-with-a-capital-‘T’ in our world − that there are so many half-truths; that so much of the world is Grey instead of pure White or Black; that ultimately “Falsehood” wins.

If it is “true” that “falsehood” is bound to win out… (Now there’s an ironic and logically flawed beginning to a sentence…) Anyway if it is “true” that “falsehood” is bound to win out, it stands to reason that living a virtuous life despite all the falsehood and obstacles the world throws at you, is also bound for failure.

I can NOT live believing that.

Even if it were true, which I refuse to believe, I would rather go down fighting for a world where Truth (with a capital T) ultimately wins.

So I will fight. Not with arms or force, or even by guile, as it is usually defined. No, I will go down fighting with Art or Skill. An Art for Persevering! My motto therefore is to stay intelligent, diligent, virtuous and true, despite all the world can throw at me. If I can accomplish that, regardless of anything else, then I will truly be the Victor.

So: “Non Vi Sed Arte” it is! “Not with force, but with ART“.

UPDATE: I have further revised my personal “slogan” if you will, to:

“Non Vi, Sed Arte Et Cor” or “Not by Force, but with Art and Heart!”

I have been really striving recently to find something of value, some common denominator, and show some small act of understanding or kindness to everyone I meet. (No matter how much I might want to strangle them… 😉 ) Yes, I believe there are still people in the world who are genuinely lacking of any redeeming values. But by training myself to recognize that at heart most people, however different, are the same, and trying to “feel” that common-bond and project kindness first instead of defaulting to judging or trying to rationalize others actions, I have been much happier and my interactions with others have been more positive, as if they too feel that energy.

Yes, I know this sound very “touchy feely”. Yes I can’t entirely change my nature from the over-analyzing introvert I am. But this “exercise” of trying to get my “first” reaction to people, even just walking around and considering passing strangers, as a positive reaction from the heart instead of the mind has really started to make a change for the better in the way I feel and see the world.

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