Some Thoughts on Freedom

Daniel Hannan, Member European Parliament for South East England, has a few.  His book, Inventing Freedom: How the English-Speaking Peoples Made the Modern World, was excerpted by The Wall Street Journal a couple weekends ago.  Here are some of Hannan’s thoughts from that excerpt.

Asked, early in his presidency, whether he believed in American exceptionalism, Barack Obama gave a telling reply.  “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.”

The first part of that answer is fascinating (we’ll come back to the Greeks in a bit).  Most Brits do indeed believe in British exceptionalism.  But here’s the thing: they define it in almost exactly the same way that Americans do.  British exceptionalism, like its American cousin, has traditionally been held to reside in a series of values and institutions: personal liberty, free contract, jury trials, uncensored newspapers, regular elections, habeas corpus, open competition, secure property, religious pluralism.

What made the Anglosphere different?  Foreign visitors through the centuries remarked on a number of peculiar characteristics: the profusion of nonstate organizations, clubs, charities and foundations; the cheerful materialism of the population; the strong county institutions, including locally chosen law officers and judges; the easy coexistence of different denominations (religious toleration wasn’t unique to the Anglosphere, but religious equality—that is, freedom for every sect to proselytize—was almost unknown in the rest of the world).  They were struck by the weakness, in both law and custom, of the extended family, and by the converse emphasis on individualism.  They wondered at the stubborn elevation of private property over raison d’état, of personal freedom over collective need.

And a warning:

There is, of course, a flip-side.  If the US abandons its political structures, it will lose its identity more thoroughly than states that define nationality by blood or territory.  Power is shifting from the 50 states to Washington, DC, from elected representatives to federal bureaucrats, from citizens to the government.  As the US moves toward European-style health care, day care, college education, carbon taxes, foreign policy and spending levels, so it becomes less prosperous, less confident and less free.

Which brings us back to Mr. Obama’s curiously qualified defense of American exceptionalism.  Outside the Anglosphere, people have traditionally expected—indeed, demanded—far more state intervention.  They look to the government to solve their problems, and when the government fails, they become petulant.

What he said.

Hannan’s book, from which this excerpt of an excerpt comes, can be found here and here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *