Keating: Expanding a Commonwealth?

June 6, 2018

“Inventing Freedom: How the English-Speaking Peoples Made the Modern World.” By Daniel Hannan (HarperCollins Publishers, Epub Edition, December, 2013, 6574 Locations)

by Maryann O. Keating, Ph.D.

The public’s fascination with the wedding this Spring of Britain’s Prince Harry to the American Meaghan Markel would not surprise Daniel Hannan. Rather, he would see it as support for the central theme of his book, “Inventing Freedom.”

As nations around the world devolve into ethno-nationalism, Daniel Hannan hypothesizes that English-speaking countries have a role in acting together as a geo-political unit. He maintains that the Anglosphere alone has consistently applied the ideals of Western Civilization: the rule of law and personal liberty to assemble, to dispose of one’s assets and to decide what to purchase, where to work, and whom to employ. Furthermore, in English-speaking countries, taxes are levied and laws made by elected representatives answerable to all residents.

Readers of “Investing Freedom” may believe that ethnic memory is nothing more than a mental construction rather than an accurate reflection of present and past reality. Nevertheless, many arguments presented in “Inventing Freedom” are compelling and worth considering.

The Anglosphere, according to the author, includes five core countries: Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States. However, long before the Declaration of Independence, Britons on both sides of the Atlantic had taken pride in the idea that theirs was a creedal rather than an ethnic identity. As such, Mr. Hannon presents the case of extending the Anglosphere core to include other English-speaking nations: certainly Ireland and perhaps Singapore, Hong Kong, Bermuda, the Falklands, and South Africa. If India were included, the Anglosphere would constitute two-thirds of the world’s population (Loc. 235).

The author, educated and presently residing in England, has been a member of the European Parliament representing South East England for the Conservative Party since 1999. This experience along with having been born and raised in Peru of British parents undoubtedly contributes to Mr. Hannan’s vision of how English-speaking nations differ from the rest of the world. For example, the Continental legal model, in Europe, Latin America, and elsewhere, is deductive, written down from first principles, and then applied to a particular case. Common law as practiced in the Anglosphere, on the other hand, does the reverse. It builds up, case by case, with each decision serving as the starting point for the next dispute. Common law is empirical rather than conceptual (Loc. 1193).

On June 15,1215, in a field near Windsor, an event of truly planetary significance took place. It was not a royal wedding but rather a contractual formulation of the idea that rulers are subject to the law. The king put his seal on a document that, from that day to this, has been seen as the foundational charter of Anglosphere liberty: Magna Carta (Loc. 1680). Three of its thirty-seven articles remain in force: the freedom of church, the ancient liberties of towns and boroughs, and the basis of due process. The third is most important because it refers to the “law of the land” indicating that the supreme power in the land did not reside in king or state, but rather in a set of fixed principles having prior standing over government.

The jury system in common law, while flawed, is a pillar of Anglosphere liberty. It emphasizes private ownership and free contract. It is based on the notion that anything not expressly prohibited is legal. Because common law arises from a people rather than kings or rulers, it requires a popular tribunal to determine it. Parliament began then as, and in some sense remains, a supreme court. The Anglo-Saxon kingdoms developed and consolidated from the meetings of “wise men” (witan) that later evolved into parliamentary assemblies.

“Inventing Freedom” traces an historical path from Anglo-Saxon kingdoms through the Norman Conquest, the Magna Carta, the Stuarts and the Glorious Revolution in order to show that the American Revolution was essentially a “Cousins’ War.” Mr. Hannan’s documents the writings of contemporaries of the “Cousins’ War” who understood the war between Americans and Britons as a settlement by force of what was essentially a domestic Tory-Whig dispute (Loc. 3143).

America, at the time of the Revolution, was not characterized by a national identity differing from that of England. According to Mr. Hannan, three internal colonial cultural differences dominated: New England Congregationalists, radical tidewater planters, and the inland Ulster-Protestant settlers. American Tories emphasized their loyalty to British institutions, above all the Crown-in-Parliament; American Whigs, by contrast were loyal to British values upon which the legitimacy of those institutions rested and which they believed the King George III was violating (Loc. 3185).

“Patriot” was a name that Whigs, on both sides of the Atlantic, used to identify themselves as having a unique political inheritance: common law, the Magna Carta, and the English Bill of Rights. Mr. Hannan stresses the importance of Whig history with roots in pre-Norman constitutional liberty. Whig historians discern two enduring factions within all English-speaking peoples: those committed to the values underpinning their common law tradition and those hankering after the more statist models favored in the rest of the world. Hannan uses the shorthand “Whig” for conservative patriots of the Anglosphere model and “Tory” for those who want to bring their political system into line with more autocratic foreign models (Loc. 290).

Democracy, as defined by some, is not a fundamental principle of Anglosphere exceptionalism. Democracy in Anglosphere practice differs in its approach to the rule of law, property rights and personal freedom. Continental democracy, for example, elevates majority rule over individual liberty. This approach to democracy is consistent with the collectivist philosophy of Hegel, Herder and Rousseau. Collectivists believe in a “general will” of the people rather than the private rights of citizens. In the Continental model, rights are handed down by government rather than inherited. This leaves enforcement of these rights in the hands of a few. In the Anglosphere, the defense of freedom and civil rights are everyone’s business and, consequently, dictatorships and revolutions are few (Loc. 4958).

Puritan Whigs emphasized a distinction between the public and private spheres, between state and church, between Caesar’s realm and God’s. In relating prosperity in the Anglosphere with the Protestant stress on the virtues of industry and thrift, Mr. Hannan extends Anglosphere exceptionalism beyond its roots in pre-Norman times. However, he does note that free enterprise underlying English speakers’ prosperity was not exclusively an Anglo- Protestant invention. It could be found as well in the city-states of norther Italy, in the Netherlands, and was actually formulated into a libertarian school of thought at the University of Salamanca in Spain.

Protestantism, however, in the Anglosphere was seen as a guarantor of free speech, free conscience, and free parliaments. These were not the prejudices of a Whig elite, but deep and popular convictions, regularly refreshed by news of persecutions in Europe, nourished by fear of the Spanish Inquisition, and invigorated by the stories of French Huguenots, Flemish Protestants and other refugees who settled throughout the Anglosphere (Loc. 558). The essential difference lay in the freedom of the individual to make limited, case-by-case bargains with his fellows, rather than having to accept relationships defined by blood, ritual, or precedent (Loc. 4663).

Mr. Hannan argues that over time in Great Britain, Northern Ireland, North America, and later, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand, Protestantism began to be understood primarily in political rather than theological terms. The distinction was not between Catholic and Protestant individuals, but between Catholic and Protestant states.

The chapter, “From Empire to Anglosphere,” details the abuses of British colonialism, but points out that everyone on the planet is descended from the exploiters and the exploited. The self-dissolving quality of the British Empire is seen here as a process whereby the political rights and values disseminated by the Empire actually promoted local autonomy and self-reliance (Loc. 3196). According to Mr. Hannan, because slavery violated the principles of English-speaking peoples, the Anglosphere was unique in its dedication to its elimination (Loc. 4293).

The core Anglosphere states are all now multiracial, and, with the exception of South Africa, major ethnic tensions remain relatively undisturbed. Ireland, Mr. Hannan maintains, no longer has anything to prove in terms of being a modern independent republic and has rejoined the Anglosphere (Loc. 3959). Immigrants to Australia and Canada have adopted the values of the Anglosphere. The most important geopolitical question currently is whether India is primarily an Anglosphere democracy or an Asian superpower (Loc. 4326).

Academics, policy makers and history buffs can appreciate the interesting handle the author applies to a millennium of British and world history. Supporting documents are well cited. Daniel Hannan displays a rare ability to combine historical breadth with a depth of comparative political analysis. The reader, however, is left with several reservations.

Hannan acknowledges that the roots of common law are in theology- the notion that every individual must answer for himself in the doctrine of personal responsibility. However, he makes no attempt to relate common law with the concept of “natural law.” Natural law suggests that right reason informs individuals as to what is right. Natural law, hardwired into individuals, is beyond the state and beyond revealed religion. As such, natural law is open to all nations, not merely to those in the Anglosphere.

The strongest case that Mr. Hannan makes for an “Anglosphere” is in his narration of global conflicts in the past century. English-speaking countries have demonstrated a willingness and ability to cooperate and defend at great cost the elevation of the individual over state. A continued willingness to bear these cost requires a relationship between military advisers, an understanding of common threats, and the interchange of officers and cadets at technical colleges. However, Mr. Hannan makes no attempt to analyze the present ability of the English-speaking countries to mobilize support for his position. The last chapter, “Anglosphere Twilight?” is an admission that he too is uncertain about the future of English-speaking nations.

The primary goal of “Inventing Freedom” is to challenge the U.S. and other countries to carefully consider what alliances are in their best national interest. Aside from this, the most significant contribution of this book is to increase understanding of a government derived from the people rather than one imposed from above. As tax levels have reached saturation point in federal nations, power has shifted steadily from the peripheral authorities to central regulators (Loc. 543). The deep state and international jurisdiction breaks the link between representative legislators and law (Loc. 5376).

“Inventing Freedom” was written prior to Brexit and therefore does not explore the geo-political ramifications of Britain’s exit from the European Union. It is, however, a powerful reminder of what is lost when individual liberties, local control, and common law are forfeited in favor of a global centralized bureaucratic elite.

Maryann O. Keating, Ph.D., a resident of South Bend and an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation, is co-author of “Microeconomics for Public Managers,” Wiley/Blackwell. 



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