How freedom was made

17616246The success and dominance of the Anglosphere—notably the United Kingdom, Ireland, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and, increasingly, India—finds its roots in the rights of first-century free-born Germanic tribesmen, says Daniel Hannan. That heritage—which has evolved over two millennia into the parliamentary democracy of self-government, free trade, free speech, freedom of religion, property rights, and the rule of common law—distinguishes us from most of the rest of the world posits Hannan in “Inventing Freedom: How the English-Speaking Peoples Made the Modern World.” Those rights have unleashed on the globe the economic, political and social free-for-all—despised by totalitarians of all stripes—that has produced so much wellbeing and happiness for so many people, he argues. It is, I think, a convincing argument.

Hannan, an Oxford-educated journalist and member of the European Parliament representing South East England, has produced in “Inventing Freedom” a fortifying and eye-opening historical page-turner that should be read by everyone who embraces the humanitarian values largely founded in that Anglosphere.

In state-run economies, he says, corruption is “systematic and semi-legal” while capitalism, conversely, harnesses homo sapiens’ inherent competitive greed to socially productive ends: “The way to become rich in a free economy is to give others what they want, not to suck up to those in power.” Alas, we are falling more into that latter category, he suggests, particularly in Britain, which has allowed self-government and elected representatives to be subjugated by European Union bureaucrats and appointed judges.

Throughout the book Hannan harkens back to our free-born heritage, showing the political progress of English speakers from their earliest days through the Magna Carta, the Reformation, the American Constitution and ongoing threats, both external and internal. “Anglosphere culture,” he says, “is based on self-government, localism, and the elevation of the individual over the state.” And on free contracts and free markets as opposed to centralized control and planned economies.

He cites foundering EU states such as Greece as examples of hamstrung socialized societies where people remain unproductive and unfulfilled: “Just as an individual can be infantilized by external subsidy so can an entire electorate.” Conversely, the free Anglosphere continues to lead the world in most endeavors and continues to attract people globally to its sanctuary states. However, he sees its freedoms under attack via speech codes, international tribunals that supersede local institutions, religious intolerance, and other encroachments on personal freedom and individualism.

“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. Its taxes rise; its legislature loses ground to the executive and to an activist judiciary; it accepts foreign law codes and charters as supreme; it drops the notion of free contract; it prescribes whom you many employ and on what terms; it expands its bureaucracy; it forgets its history.”

Hannan’s book, however, is a good, necessary reminder of that history.