Tenacity is the most neglected of all the traits that make for success. People try tenacity for a while, but then go on to other characteristics that don’t impose such boredom. But tenacity is crucial.

And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God (Luke 9:62).

I was reminded of this when I wrote recently about the abominable 1988 movie, “The Last Temptation of Christ.” The movie began with Jesus as a carpenter in the cross-making trade. He is criticized for adopting this occupation by his friend, Judas Iscariot.

This is the equivalent of a movie in which David ben Gurion is working as a station master who allocates trains to Auschwitz, with his friend Adolph Eichman telling him that this is a really bad occupation. Think of the movie reviews that such a movie would have generated. Of course, the movie would never have been produced.

The reviewers took a different approach for “The Last Temptation of Christ.” It was praised for its “enormous power” (New York Times), its “visual rapture” (Los Angeles Times), and its character as “deeply felt and ultimately faith-affirming” (Good Morning America), and “genuinely reverent” (Premier). Christian leaders hated it before it was released — they had read at least excerpts from the novel — so the reviewers held their noses and tried to find something positive to say about it. Nobody wrote, “this is an entertaining film for the whole family” or “it’s so good it makes you want to see it twice.” In short, it stunk, and they knew it stunk. It also lost about $10 million, estimates the film industry monitor, Michael Medved. It grossed a mere $7 million.

It deserved a boycott, and it got one. In Tyler, Texas, a few ministers told local theater managers that they would recommend from the pulpit that members boycott any theater for one year if it showed the film. One local theater with two screens — the smallest theater in town — decided to call their bluff. The movie came. Patrons didn’t. About two years later, the theater closed its doors. The building was leased by a women’s fashion shop and a butcher shop.

That was all quite positive. The problem is, this boycott constituted the only sign of activism that a handful of the city’s churches were able to muster in the two decades that I lived there.


I remember the day that a local minister, or maybe an assistant minister, showed up at the picket line in front of the local abortionist’s clinic. It was a special gathering, so the picket line was longer than normal. Most of the people in the line that day were charismatics from a parachurch ministry located 15 miles up the road. The locals could rarely rally that many troops.

We had never seen this man before. He got in line, carried a sign, but left before long. He made sure he told us all about the movie boycott. He never showed up again.

He had been entrepreneurial enough to identify local activists who might join the boycott. At the same time, it was obvious from the beginning that his interest in fighting abortion was relative only to that boycott. A movie boycott was his (probably) once-per-career act of social activism.

It was a safe boycott. What fundamentalist pastor could get in trouble with his congregation for opposing a sacrilegious movie? In contrast, all of them risk trouble for coming out against abortion. “That’s political! Besides, my niece got one two years ago, and she’s the sweetest girl you can imagine.” Actually, she’s a murderer.

The charismatics went back up the road after their morning on the line for the year. That left two Protestants to picket once a week for two hours. I was one of them. There were two Roman Catholic laymen who picketed in the morning, although I never learned how many times a week. We kept up the picketing until the abortionist died on the ski slopes of Colorado. His son, who inherited the practice, decided to stop offering abortions.

Our half decade of efforts had had no visible effect on the abortionist or his clinic, but they had considerable effect on his son. He was not prepared to face a handful of picketers for the remainder of his career.

There was no way for us to have guessed that the target of our efforts would die before retirement. There was no way for us to know what effect we were having on his son. But the causes did produce effects. The abortions ceased.


Throughout history, we find causes that produce effects in an unanticipated way. Lincoln’s attainment of power in 1861 as a result of his loss of the Senate race in 1858; Lenin’s capture of power in Russia in 1917, having returned from exile as the result of World War I and the Germans high command’s decision to send him in a sealed train through Germany to Finland; Hitler’s attainment of power in 1933, ten years after he was put in prison for treason, where he wrote Mein Kampf, as a result of the great depression; Franklin Roosevelt’s attainment of power, 13 years after he had failed to win as a Vice Presidential candidate and 12 years after he contracted polio (or possibly Guillain-Barre syndrome), as a result of the great depression: all are examples of men who stuck with it.

Outside of sports, few men attain sufficient fame or fortune by age 30 to make themselves eligible for a footnote in a monograph, let alone a chapter section in a history textbook. Alexander the Great did, and this fact rankled Julius Caesar almost three centuries later because of his own failure to make a name for himself on the battlefield. In fact, it so rankled him that he wrote his book on the Gallic wars, which young students of Latin were assigned for hundreds of years.

Consider the career of Walter Rothschild, to whom Arthur Balfour addressed his famous letter, “Dear Lord Rothschild,” the letter that announced what became known as the Balfour Declaration (Nov. 2, 1917).

Dear Lord Rothschild,

I have much pleasure in conveying to you, on behalf of His Majesty’s Government, the following declaration of sympathy with Jewish Zionist aspirations which has been submitted to, and approved by, the Cabinet.

“His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”

I should be grateful if you would bring this declaration to the knowledge of the Zionist Federation.

Yours sincerely, Arthur James Balfour

The result, a little over three decades later, was the establishment of the State of Israel.

This seems to be fame enough for any man, but Walter Rothschild is not famous because of Balfour’s letter. He is famous because of smaller things — millions of them.

At the age of seven, in 1875, he told his parents, “I am going to make a museum.” A year later, he began his butterfly collection. It grew. In 1892, he opened his private museum to the public. That was only the beginning.

New material accumulated at the Museum so rapidly that Lord Rothschild and his curators, Ernst Hartert and Karl Jordan, began to issue the Museum’s own scientific journal, Novitates Zoologicae, in 1894. Over the course of 45 years they published more than 1,700 scientific books and papers, and described more than 5,000 new species of animals. Many of these publications can still be found in the Museum library today. The library is considered to be one of the finest ornithological libraries in the world. Augmented by The Natural History Museum’s ornithological collection, it contains many of Rothschild’s own monographs, along with books by John Gould and Edward Lear.

By the time Lord Rothschild died his collections included some 2,000 mounted mammals and a similar number of mounted birds, along with two million butterflies and moths, 300,000 bird skins, 144 giant tortoises, 200,000 birds’ eggs and 30,000 relevant books. He selected the finest specimens for display and made sure they were prepared by experts. As a result many of the specimens on display today are outstanding examples of nineteenth-century taxidermy at its very best and every attempt has been made to preserve the character and general arrangement of Lord Rothschild’s museum.

At one time, he had 400 collectors in the field, and the entire world was his field. He was always in debt, despite his status as a Rothschild.

He knew what he wanted to do. Then he did it. No private citizen has come close to matching him, although his niece, Miriam, did collect 60,000 fleas, and became one of the world’s experts on the subject, gaining membership to the elite Royal Society as a result.

He put his money to the service of his dream. It was a lot of money. He put his time there, too. He cared not a whit for banking. There is no evidence that he ever put together one financial deal. Butterflies, however. . . .

The single-minded pursuit of anything is a key to success in the field. Brains help. Money helps. Knowing the right sorts of people helps. But without single-minded pursuit, everything else gets sidetracked.

I tell high school students: first, assess your skills. Second, select a goal for which you have a competitive advantage. Third, count the cost of achieving pre-eminence in this field. Fourth, begin to specialize. Fifth, find an expert who will teach you, based on your initial performance. Sixth, select a group whom you will serve with this output. Seventh, select a different group whose assessment of your output will be crucial for success in the field. Eighth, gain the trust of the group you wish to serve by way of your preliminary, low-level service. Ninth, and by far the most important, show up on time every time. No one else will do this unless he is trying to pick off your targeted group for his cause. Outlast him.

Tenacity pays off. It harnesses the power of compound interest. When you think “compound interest,” think “Rothschild.” When you visualize the results, think “butterflies.”

A letter from Arthur Balfour may also come to mind.

December 27, 2003

Gary North [send him mail] is the author of Mises on Money. Visit For a free subscription to Gary North’s newsletter on gold, click here.

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