BOOK REVIEW

Great Britain and the United States: The Ties that Bind

If America has Ron Paul, then Great Britain has Daniel Hannan. Both are pro-liberty warriors, bred out of their respective Anglophone environments and inevitably wind up at the same end point: the theme of Anglo-Saxon civilization is liberty.

Plenty of books come out of the United States’ liberty inteligencia discussing the grand history and exceptionalism of American constitutionalism, but nobody has so perfectly drawn the full picture as has Daniel Hannan in his bestselling book Inventing Freedom: How the English Speaking Peoples Made the Modern World.

A Member of the European Parliament for the Conservative Party, Hannan is in a constant battle with many continental Europeans, over “Anglo-Saxon values,” given their failure to grasp democratic governance. For Hannan, this is more than just a discussion and battle over a simple tax policy, economic strategy or social issues. His venture is dedicated to the preservation of an entire way of life and culture that was uniquely developed in the British Isles. Inventing Freedom is the chronicle of this cultural phenomenon.

Coming from a traditional Whig, or rather Reagan-Thatcher mindset, Hannan takes otherwise complex and perhaps even lethargic topics and develops them into an exciting and common-sense application for all Angolophones, or English speakers. Through his conveyance, Hannan gives hope to the prospect that the democratic nation-state can survive the era of international-statist socialism.

Through Inventing Freedom, Hannan calls us back as Americans to remember our unique roots as an Anglosphere nation, that the United States is not a standalone country, but is rather an intricate part of a greater, transnational union comprising Western Civilization. America has come to embody and empower the great virtues of the Anglo-Saxon English speaking world having created a world order with Great Britain which has led Western Civilization to the highest level of advancement and freedom never before seen on earth.

To truly understand Hannan’s description of exceptionalism, in Chapter 3 called “Rediscovering England,” he establishes that from the beginning Anglo-Saxon culture and environment were initially conducive to incubating existing Germanic legal and cultural practices of representative government and social individualism. This tradition spawned the Magna Carta as the first constitutional moment having solidified the common law tradition against continental Norman elitism that attempted to suffocate the traditional Germanic values.

It was this Norman occupation of England that lead to what Hannan describes as the “First Anglosphere Civil War” between the parliamentarians and the Royalist Cavaliers over whether the ideas of absolute monarchy should govern England in the fashion of Royalist France or Spain, or whether the more democratic tradition of pre-Norman England should be revived in parliamentary representation.

Skillfully, Hannan ties into this struggle of England’s early development the modern day constitutional crisis facing Britain.  His sub-thesis is that the statist Norman principles are re-invading the British Isles in the form of European integration, where Great Britain is being subjugated by an alien legal and political system that is more akin to the practices of the Roman Empire or Napoleon, rather than the Anglo-Saxon settlers. Hannan quotes Lord Denning, who in 1990 commented on this growing subjugation, saying, “Our courts must no longer enforce our national laws. They must enforce Community law.”

Christianity and Common Law

In analyzing the essence of what makes this culture of liberty possible, Hannan argues, with no allegiance to political correctness, that it is the common law tradition and more importantly, Christianity from whence our culture of freedom blossomed.

In regards to common law, Hannan cites Alexis de Tocqueville in his observations on America, commenting how he “saw common law as the chief guarantor of Anglo-American freedom.” Hannan declares it is from this tradition of a “folkright of freedoms” that helped establish a form of civility leading to cultural mores of “settling quarrels peacefully, by laying them before a court.” This, Hannan says, is extremely unique in the European tradition, where on the Continent around the same time in the early Anglo-Saxon years they were much more prone to violence through the power of the state to resolve problems.

However, this tradition of common law could not have been sustained or advanced without the direct influence of Protestant Christianity. Hannan points to the “morning star” of the Reformation, Englishman John Wycliffe, who advocated over 100 years before Luther, that the “Bible is for the government of the people, for the people and by the people” in his pre-Reformation crusade against ecclesiastical decadence and aggrandizement. From this seemingly radical declaration, Hannan notes how “Protestantism was to become critical to the identity of the Anglosphere peoples.”

From this unique blending of Anglo-Saxon traditions with Calvinist doctrines of predestination and divine blessings, the Anglo-Saxon people “after the Reformation…saw the ascendancy of their civilization as providential. Theirs was the new Israel, a chosen nation, appointed by God to carry freedom across the world.” It was from this ideological and spiritual supremacy that origins of Anglo (or American) exceptionalism arise, guaranteeing our global preeminence, through our uniquely free institutions in a world of centralized, oppressive tyranny.

Through Protestantism, which Hannan bids is “the greatest common denominator of life in both Britain and America,” came the “idea that everyone should read the Scriptures” giving rise to “egalitarian and democratic implications.” He delineates further saying, “those who strove to, as they saw it, perfect the Reformation by abolishing bishops and allowing congregations to elect their leaders, were consciously campaigning for representative rather than hierarchical government.”

Because Protestantism cut out the “middle man” in the form of a priest, the dual notions of individualism along with contracts and covenants became a solid foundation of the Anglo-Saxon system. Hannan refers to this arrangement in citing John Winthrop, who declared that “we [the original Puritan settlers] are entered into covenant with Him [God] for this work.” This notion of an agreed set of terms, duties and obligations meshed well with the traditional Anglo-Saxon framework of an individual being accountable for his actions. This very Anglo-Protestant notion is what facilitates Anglo-Saxon productivity, justice, honesty and transparency that allows for a flourishing of liberty and prosperity.

Perspectives on America

Although a proud Briton, Hannan makes no qualms about his support of the American experiment and derides his own nation for having less enthusiasm for liberty than “British North America” i.e. United States and Canada. For example, when writing about the Magna Carta in Chapter 3, Hannan describes the United States as emerging “from the purest distillation of Anglosphere political principles,” in regards to its much more fervent adherence to the Magna Carta.

Later on in Chapter 4, Hannan compliments the American spirit again by saying “the English-speakers who had crossed the Atlantic had brought with them a stronger dose of exceptionalism than those who stayed behind and, in their new home, distilled it to yet greater potency.”

Though his endorsement of the American experiment is strong, Hannan almost chastises Americans for their lack of understanding of their constitutional origins. Hannan points to how the American Founding Fathers, were not forward thinking revolutionaries such as the French Jacobins, but rather almost reactionary Englishmen, who, in the spirit of the Roundheads before them, were defending their traditional Whig values as enshrined in the Magna Carta. He cites Thomas Jefferson, who “saw Americans as true Anglo-Saxons, who had carried their freedoms into the New World and preserved them there in a purer form than in the old country.”

Hannan points out that the Continental Congress which met under the banner of the Grand Union Flag is the perfect symbol showing the Founders understood themselves as “Americans” but nonetheless were the inheritors of a great and sublime tradition of Anglo-Saxon liberties they felt they were protecting.

The notion that the Americans created their nation out of a vacuum is a farce. Hannan mentions there was no American consciousness until after the Revolution and, in fact, these symbols and ideas having “been almost excised from America’s collective memory tells us a great deal about how the story of the revolution was afterward edited.”

That being said, when one takes Hannan’s message as a whole, the American reader is left with both a sense of pride and a sense of debt. For as Hannan presents the universal picture of Anglo liberties, the American reader comes to understand his Constitution did not emerge in a vacuum out of oblivion, but rather is the culmination of over 1000 years of Anglo-Saxon kulturkampf deriving primarily from the Magna Carta and by which the American Founders fully believed they were protected.

Conclusion

On a more inspiring level, Hannan’s book calls upon us as members of the Anglosphere to look beyond our borders and limited perspective as Americans. We can come to better appreciate and embrace the rich worldwide power and culture of the Anglosphere and its ancient liberties that we as Americans share in. Never does he deny American exceptionalism, rather he outright endorses it. Only that he calls us to understand American exceptionalism in the greater context of Anglo-Saxon exceptionalism. That our liberties and culture of freedom we have come to enjoy did not erupt out of a vacuum, but rather, our Founding Fathers clearly understood what it meant to live out the spirit of Anglosaxondom, which is why the American Rebellion needed to be fought in the first place.

He does not just leave it up to the individual readers to simply reinterpret their own history according to an abstract vision, instead he presents us with a call to action.

Hannan writes on the liberties of the Anglosphere where “English privileges have made it all that it is; English privileges alone will make it all it can be.” Meaning, if our values and identity are to sail beyond the memory of yesteryear, it is time for the nations of the Anglosphere to draw very near to one another.

In a very passionate way, Hannan cites the vision of Winston Churchill, who knew that the “fraternal relationship” between the United Kingdom and the United States “would go beyond any alliance” and that the fraternity should extend “further than those two core states.” Churchill wrote, “Eventually there may come – I feel eventually there will come – the principle of common citizenship, but that we may be content to leave to destiny, whose outstretched arm many of us can already clearly see.” In other words, we must learn to expand the “special relationship” between the United States and the United Kingdom to include all Anglosphere kin, including Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand and even nations such as India, Singapore, the Anglophone Caribbean and even Hong Kong.

Hannan implicitly talks about the need for greater inter-Anglosphere solidarity, using the premises of Churchill himself. The historical precedent for greater unity is already there and he sees the infrastructure already coming into existence. He cites how “the United States and Canada currently form a single market, as in most regards, do Australia and New Zealand” along with a closely developed relationship between Australia and the United States. “The main problem…” Hannan writes, “lies with the United Kingdom and Ireland, which, as members of the EU, cannot sign independent commercial agreements, but are instead held back by Brussels protectionism.”

Though always the visionary, Hannan sees a very different more prosperous world “if these two states were outside the EU, an Anglosphere free trade area could be based on the unhindered movement of goods, services and capital; and on an easing, if not a complete lifting, of restrictions on the free movement of labor.”

In the creation of a new Anglosphere arrangement, Hannan is generally optimistic, giving the ascension of Prime Minister Harper in Canada, Prime Minister Tony Abbot in Australia and the rising Euroscepticism in the UK and Ireland. However, a key problem to the advancement of the Anglosphere, Hannan argues, is the Administration of Barrack Hussein Obama, who is leading America on the path to Euro-socialiam.

Hannan advocates, that by Obama denying 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.”

Hence by denying the values of exceptionalism, the Anglosphere’s largest member becomes nothing more than a Western European welfare state with massive restrictions on freedom of speech, all the while losing its distinctive characteristics and “bit by bit, your country starts to look like everyone else’s.”

By “everyone else’s”, Hannan cites the historical nature of the “Ming-Mogul-Ottoman road to uniformity, centralization, high taxation and state control” that will result in the Anglosphere losing its “preeminence.” He cites modern examples of this in the form of Obamacare, the Wall Street and big bank bailouts, expansion of entitlements and the growing restrictions on freedom of speech.

Though writing positively about the nature of Anglosphere culture, Hannan does see the writing on the wall that the twilight of the Anglosphere is at hand. However, he writes, “as the sun sets on the Anglosphere imperium, we understand with sudden clarity what it is that we stand to lose.” Only by grabbing the reins of our institutions, and reorienting back to a truly Anglo-Saxon orthodoxy, can we again have a world that enjoys the blessings which the Founding Fathers, the Levelers and the Puritans all envisioned. For, as Hannan correctly notes, “the happiness of the human race depends, more than anyone likes to admit, on the survival and success of those institutions.”

NOTE: Daniel Hannan blogs regularly for the UK’s Daily Telegraph at: www.hannan.co.uk.


Taylor Rose is a graduate of Liberty University with a B.A. in International Relations from the Helms School of Government. Fluent in English and German he has worked and studied throughout Europe specializing in American and European politics. He is a prolific writer and author of the book Return of the Right, an analysis on the revival of Conservatism in the United States and Europe. He is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.

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