Sunday, October 5, 2014

Inventing Freedom by Daniel Hannan

After hearing him interviewed by Dennis Prager on his radio show, I decided to add Daniel Hannan’s book, Inventing Freedom: How the English-Speaking Peoples made the Modern World. How glad I am that I did. This is a great, non-apologetic book that pulls no punches and unabashedly promotes Western, English values.

Hannan is British and a Member of Parliament in the UK. He’s also very aware of the culture and details of the EU. In addition, he’s a lover of America. This background gives him an insight into Western culture not unlike his predecessor, Alexis de’ Tocqueville, whom many claim singularly understood America and its values. 

He begins by contrasting his background growing up in both the English-speaking UK and his family’s experiences in Peru. Although he loves Peru, he readily admits that the English-speaking world has better and more successful values and systems in place. In a world where it's politically incorrect to make judgments like that, his take is refreshing. 

First a definition. Western civilization is defined as having 3 things: Rule of Law, Personal Liberty, and Representative Government. Few nations can rightfully be said to have all three. From these evolve institutions such as elected legislators, habeas corpus, free contract, equality before the law, open markets, a free press, religious freedom and jury trials. These are not coincidences, but the natural products of Western civilization. These are the things found in the Anglosphere. These are what the patriots in America fought for. They are the things we must continue to fight for against those intent on bringing our system more in line with autocratic foreign models.

But why the Anglosphere? Why do these values coincide with the English language? Winston Churchill sums it up with this, we share “the same language, the same hymns and, more or less the same ideals.” Our heritage travels with the language. English, unlike other languages, is such a free and open language “free to assimilate anything it found useful.” English is creative and expresses ideas in words not found in other languages. Free language leads to free minds.

Largely, the Anglosphere is Protestant. We sing the same hymns. This is important to the development of Western civilization because Protestantism, more than other religions rejected hierarchy and embraced equality. Protestantism began with questioning authority and that DNA has never been eradicated. There was no way this mentality was not going to infuse into the larger culture. 

The patriots who fought for American independence used such a word like "patriot" because they sought to harken back to an inheritance of ideals firmly grounded in English history. They claimed Common Law, the Magna Carta, and the English Bill of Rights as their own. Language, religion, and ideals thread throughout and unify the Anglosphere and create better and more prosperous societies. 

These values stand out as unique in a world described by Hobbes as, “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” The Anglosphere stood athwart History and yelled, “Stop.”

Many of these institutions had their genesis in the earliest of the English-speaking people, the Anglo-Saxons. These primitive people brought with them to England “three interrelated concepts that were to transform humankind.” First, personal autonomy which included private property and contract rights. Second, representative governance. Third, the rule of law above the whims of a king. Today, we benefit from their unique worldview. 

Eventually the Anglo-Saxons ruled England according to their principles, but were dealt a severe setback with the conquest by William of Normandy in 1066. Although the Anglo-Saxon legislative body, the Witan, eventually gave way to the Norman barons, the common people continued their Angle-Saxon practices. The people held fast to their values, but it took six centuries to undo the damage wrought by the French overlords. 

In 1215, the authoritarian Norman structure began to be reigned in with the signing of the Magna Carta, the foundational charter of the Anglosphere. This document ensured that the people would have a form of representative government, that the King was not a law unto himself. Without these institutions, rights become on paper only with no means of redress. In fact, this ability to have a voice in the government so infused England, that England largely avoided the history of many other nations of peasants revolting against their overlords. The reason? England didn’t have peasants. It  didn’t even have the word. Apparently new scholarship has shown, that even at the most local levels, commoners lived free lives and largely governed themselves. They were no one’s “peasants.” 

When the English-speaking people crossed the sea to the New World, they not only did not leave their ideas behind, but “brought with them a stronger dose of exceptionalism than those who stayed behind and, in their new home, distilled it to yet greater potency.” They enshrined private property to a greater degree than ever before and with that created Capitalism, the most moral of all economic systems. Private property rights that continued after death allowed for inheritance rights and foundations for charities and improvements on property that might take generations to manifest themselves. In fact, “four centuries ago, it was taken for granted that liberty, property, and private virtue were interconnected. The unique emphasis on ownership in England and North Americas was regarded as a bulwark against tyranny and an invitation to private benevolence.”

The American colonists had The Glorious Revolution to thank for their Anglosphere inheritance. “James II was deposed by the solemn decision of a full and legitimate Parliament.” It became understood that the British people now had the right to hire and fire their kings. A bloodless overthrow of a monarch was itself somewhat miraculous, but the resulting principles and capitalist-democratic society directly inspired the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. But even the English did not believe they were breaking new ground in the Glorious Revolution. They simply harkened back to their history, the Common Law, representative government of the Anglo-Saxons, the repeated complaints and petitions against the king, the Magna Carta and solidified all they had reaped from their ancestors. Then passed it on to us. In fact, de’ Tocqueville describes an American as “the Englishman left to himself.” What a compliment.

After the Glorious Revolution, the second great Anglosphere Civil War occurred with the American Revolution. It was here that Englishmen once again asserted their rights against a tyrannical king. Again, they were not breaking new ground, but claiming their English birthright to live as free men. Even the revered English orator Edmund Burke recognized that the Americans were more British than his fellow countrymen, holding fast to the essential and peculiar idea of liberty that distinguished the English-speaking peoples. 

In the creation of the British Empire, England spread her values far and wide through the world. Many other nations that do not share an ethnic heritage with Britain now share a cultural one. We can see the benefits in ways like longevity, height, and equal opportunity. Today we see an Anglosphere spreading from America and Britain to Canada, the Netherlands, India, Australia, Singapore, and Hong Kong, as well as other nations where the English-speaking people have had an influence. Sadly, this group does not include much of Europe. 

Yet this success has paradoxically produced it’s own enemies. Those who would instinctively root for an underdog will never see the Anglosphere as an underdog. It is not. Its successful values, ideas, and institutions have allowed it to usually come out on top. It’s why our enemies, foreign and domestic, try to tear us down and make no secret of their hatred for us. Our strength makes others look weak.

Today, that success in in peril as the institutions and values that created it come under attack. Hannan states, “Once you reject the notion of exceptionalism as intrinsically chauvinistic, you quickly reject the institutions on which that exceptionalism rested: absolute property rights, free speech, devolved government, personal autonomy. Bit by bit, your country starts to look like everyone else’s.”

What a shame if we were to squander so great a birthright.

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