Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The New Road to Serfdom by Daniel Hannan

After having read the original The Road to Serfdom, I was interested to read Daniel Hannan’s The New Road to Serfdom. Written from the position of an outsider, who cares deeply about America’s future, Daniel Hannan offers a stark warning to our nation.  We are in danger of losing all that it means to be America. We are about to betray the vision of our founders and forsake the “most successful constitutional model in the world.”

Thomas Jefferson knew our nation possessed an awesome opportunity to build the greatest country in the history of humankind. We had everything we needed to make us a happy and prosperous people, yet one more thing was required: a wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another a, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. 

Hannan praises how well democracy works in America by contrasting it with democracy in Europe. Unlike Europe, voter participation actually climbs from election to election. He marvels at the amount of issues and offices put before the voter in America. We vote on everything! This level of citizen participation necessarily forces the government to pay attention to public opinion. Although we on this side of the Atlantic might lament our powerlessness and the “you can’t fight city hall” mentality, Hannan optimistically points to America as a place not jaded into non-participation and effectively locked out of the process like our European counterparts. 

To discover the genius that is America, Hannan goes back to our founding documents, the Constitution and The Declaration of Independence, and compares them to the EU Constitution. The major difference concerns the former’s focus on individual liberty and the latter’s focus on the power of the state. Concerning itself with the regulation of every aspect of life imaginable, the EU Constitution runs 10 times as many words as our own revered document. While our founding fathers worked diligently to separate power between the three branches of government as well as the state, the EU is run by a Commission that serves in both the executive and legislative arenas and is impervious to the ballot box. Unlike America, where power rests ultimately in the hands of the people, the intellectuals of Europe feared the masses and so wrested the power from them. Ironically, America only put into practice what it had learned from Europe. Separation, diversity, and freedom led Europe into competition and eventually dominance in the world. They have since turned inward while America continues to practice federalism, constantly experimenting to find what works best. As we become more nationalized, we lose the advantages of the efficient, more responsive to public attitudes, state competition. 

We are in fact, becoming more European as we hand more and more power and control over to the federal government. While federalism encourages experimentation and economic growth, the real benefit of state power lies in the its ability to prevent the growth of an ever-increasing central state. However, beginning under President Woodrow Wilson the federal government began to expropriate more power to itself. Fashionable thinking held that central planning and nationalization of regulation and standards more efficiently grew the economy. After multiple Constitutional amendments, including one guaranteed to set Thomas Jefferson on edge, the 16th giving Congress the right to tax income, FDR further expanded federal authority. His disciple, Lyndon B. Johnson used his presidency to push the limits of Washington DC well past the boundaries set by the Constitution. The expansion continues today as cries of “DO SOMETHING!” resonate. Unfortunately, once enlarged, the government never shrinks.

Liberals are forever trying to change our society to be more  Europe. They look at the success the welfare state has achieved and assume we can follow the same path. Unfortunately, like Margaret Thatcher said, “Pretty soon you run out of other people’s money.” It has become obvious, that given the conditions after WWII, prosperity was almost unavoidable. But now reality has set in. Europe simply has stopped growing and is in danger of bankruptcy. With Obamacare, America has attempted to follow the European path on healthcare. Yet while many in Europe recognize the massive failure of socialized medicine, it has become entrenched to the point of paralysis. No reforms are allowed for fear of offending the employees of the system. We are moving toward a European model in our welfare. Little noticed was the fact that the Obama stimulus effectively undid the exceptionally successful welfare reform passed under Bill Clinton. Yet the state has created generations of the underclass and destroyed the fabric of society in its attempts to alleviate poverty. Hannan states, “The first generation raised with cradle to grave welfare, to be excused from the traditional responsibilities of adulthood, was also the first to give up on parenthood... church attendance...[and] the social values that traditional morality had encouraged.” We are headed towards Europe in the way we treat immigrants. America was built by and for immigrants and as Reagan said, “Each immigrant makes America more American.” We give newcomers something to believe in. Europe distrusts patriotism and creates schizophrenia in its newcomers as they have nothing to be loyal to in their new land. Hannan urges Americans not to abandon federalism and parrot Europe, for our own good as well as the rest of the world.

Hannan admires America’s position when it comes to our superpower status. He admonishes us to continue to stand apart from the rest of the world and not be a slave to world opinion. America, more than other nations, acts practically and pragmatically, not basing our behavior or fleeting emotions or what sounds and looks good.  As such, we have resisted the siren call of the supra-nationalism that has consumed Europe. We have not signed onto treaties and bodies such as the International Criminal Court which  overturns the precedent set throughout human history of national criminal courts. However, Obama flirted with the idea of giving legitimacy to the ICC when his administration supported the ICC in the pursuit of Sudan’s head, al-Bashir. Since Sudan is not a signatory of the ICC, the implications are staggering. Obama has publicly stated that supra-national bodies have the right to criminally prosecute the heads of any nation in the world! Hannan implores us to retain our sovereignty and eschew the call of international supremacy.

Finally, Daniel Hannan praises Americans for recognizing the danger which face our great nation and rising up in the form of the Tea Party. He commends the conservative think tanks that furnished the conservative movement with a cohesive ideology. Together, these united a substantial number of Americans to act as foot soldiers, bringing the message to their neighborhoods and, most importantly, voting. He follows the history of conservatism from its “blue-blood” past through the rise of modern conservatism cultivating with the Contract With America. When conservatism lost its way under George W. Bush, and was declared dead with the election of Obama, the Tea Party rose and reasserted core conservative values.

Hannan encourages America to revel in our values. Align ourselves with like-minded nations in what he calls the Anglo-sphere. We don’t need to sacrifice our sovereignty, but rather inspire by example, offering our hand to those nations that hold our values. He closes with a “heartfelt imprecation” from a friend, “Honor the genius of your founders. Respect the most sublime constitution devised by human intelligence. Keep faith with the design that has made you independent. Preserve the freedom of the nation which, by good fortune and God’s grace, your are privileged to belong.”

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