Inventing Freedom. How the English-Speaking Peoples Made the Modern World

by Bruce Thornton // FrontPage Magazine

9780062231734_p0_v5_s260x420-231x350The fundamental incoherence of multiculturalism comes from its cultural relativism that posits no one way of life is better than another, but then singles out the West as a uniquely oppressive global villain. Even more contradictory, at the same time that multiculturalists slander the West for its alleged crimes, they praise and promote political and social ideals––democracy, freedom, equality, and law-based justice–– that flourish only in the West. This cognitive dissonance is made possible by massive historical ignorance of just where such ideas originated and developed. The great value of Daniel Hannan’s Inventing Freedom lies in its recovery of that history, and the role that the “Anglosphere,” the English-speaking countries, played in recognizing and nurturing those ideals for over 1500 years.

Hannan is a writer, blogger, and currently the Conservative representative of Southeast England in the European Parliament, where he vigorously monitors and battles the dirigiste excesses and autocratic impulses of the European Union functionaries. He is also a stalwart friend of the U.S., a throwback to the days when the “special relationship” between Britain and the U.S. was instrumental in turning back the fascist, Nazi, and communist assault on everything that comprises the liberal democratic ideals universally admired and imitated, even by those illiberal regimes who must pay lip-service to democracy and freedom even as they work to subvert them. Readers will find in Inventing Freedom an immensely readable, clearly argued survey of those ideals, the history in which they struggled to survive, and the great heroes whose sacrifice and commitment to them ensured that we enjoy them today.

First Hannan defines the core political ideals and virtues that create the bonds between England and America, the Anglosphere’s most spectacular success story. “Elected parliaments, habeas corpus, free contract, equality before the law, open markets, an unrestricted press, the right to proselytize for any religion, jury trials” all find their modern origins in England, from where they have spread not just to America, but to the whole world, along with the English language and its rich vocabulary that makes for precise, concrete expression. Protestantism is another inheritance from England that shaped the political order and mores of the United States. The notion that individuals can read scripture unmediated by a hierarchical, centralized authority reinforced the bond between religious and civic freedom, both of which are predicated on individual freedom and equality. “Free speech, free conscience, and free parliaments”––Protestantism, Hannan argues, was the guarantor of all of them. Finally, the principles of the American Revolution codified in the Declaration of Independence were seen by the Colonists as theirs by right as Englishmen, for they were grounded in the common law, Magna Carta, and the English Bill of Rights created by the Glorious Revolution of 1689. Hannan reminds us that the Colonists did not understand “revolution” as the destruction of the old and the creation of the new, as would happen in France and later Russia, but rather as a “turn of the wheel” to restore traditional political rights and institutions that had been violated by a tyrant.

Hannan traces the history of these political ideals and beliefs from their origins in the tribal assemblies of the Germanic tribes that settled in England, to their most dominant expression in the United States. Critical in this development is the notion of “common law,” the idea that laws come not from the needs or caprices of rulers, but exist “as a folkright of inherited freedoms that bound the King just as surely as it bound his meanest subject.” Such laws evolve organically through time and become traditions that reflect generations of human experience and collective wisdom. Trial by a jury of peers, the presumption of innocence, property rights, and free contract also are buttressed by common law, and protect individuals and communities from the depredations of the more powerful.

Next, common law holds that “anything not expressly prohibited is legal,” and so citizens do not have to solicit the permission of government agents or authorities for their actions. These and other developments all reinforce the notions of individual self-reliance, responsibility, and agency over one’s own life that have contributed to the incredible success of the Anglosphere in creating free-market economies and unprecedented prosperity. These ideals also lead to the notion that even a king rules only by the consent of the people, who retain the right to petition or question the king about his behavior, a development codified in 1215 in the Magna Carta. “For the first time,” Hannan writes, “the idea that governments were subject to the law took written, contractual form,” and the Magna Carta became “the foundational charter of Anglosphere liberty.”

The story Hannan tells with wit and verve may look in hindsight as if it was preordained to succeed, as it has so spectacularly. But over the centuries these ideals had to battle alternatives borne by alien invaders like the Normans, or arising internally from the sectarian conflicts that followed the wars of religion or the “cousins’ war” between the Colonies and England sparked by George III’s tyranny. Yet through all this disorder and conflict the core ideals, carried in the hearts and minds of the people and transmitted through their common tongue and traditions, survived. And they created the “shared values” of today’s Anglosphere: “parliamentary supremacy, the rule of law, property rights, free trade, religious toleration, open inquiry, meritocratic appointments, representative government, control of the executive by the legislature, individual liberty.”

Moreover, Hannan stresses that all these boons are not tied to race or ethnicity, but can be embraced by any people. His discussion of India and its evolution into the world’s largest democracy illustrates his point that “Anglosphere values had been developed in a multiethnic context, that they had been transmitted through intellectual exchange rather than gene flow.” Here Hannan challenges one of the great lies of multiculturalism, which traffics in the bankrupt Marxist-Leninist smear-terms “colonialism” and “imperialism” in order to tarnish the Anglospheric legacy as a racist, exploitative imposition of alien values on innocent, dark-skinned “others.” On the contrary, the freest and most prosperous places outside the West are those like India, Singapore, and Hong Kong that have been shaped by the ideals of the Anglosphere.

This legacy of freedom and autonomy, however, has been eroding over the last decades, and the forces of destruction have come mostly from within. As Hannan note, “History has become a hierarchy of victimhood.” National and cultural pride in the achievements of the Anglosphere is considered bad form mainly because of its global dominance and success.  Such pride risks “the appearance of complacency or jingoism,” or evokes “supposed cultural imperialism or colonial arrogance.” Also, virtues like tolerance or seeing other peoples’ point of view have degenerated into “if not exactly self-hatred, certainly a form of cultural relativism in which the unique achievements of Anglosphere civilization are devalued.” Trickling down from the intelligentsia into the curricula of schools, such ideas cultivate guilt rather than pride, and a refusal to judge the dysfunctions of other cultures even as we obsess over the alleged crimes of our own. “As we lose sight of what the Anglosphere has achieved,” Hannan warns, “we risk losing the institutions that have served to make it what it is.”

Indeed, this process is well underway. England’s participation in the European Union has subjected it to the heavily regulated, top-down intrusive management of politics, culture, and the economy precisely the opposite of the ideals of individual autonomy and local government that have shaped the Anglosphere. And here in the U.S., the Obama administration and the progressive Democrats have tried to duplicate the E.U. model in everything from the slow-motion debacle of Obamacare, to the foreign policy of guilt, apology, and retreat masked by the magical thinking of “multilateralism” and “diplomatic engagement.” A federal Leviathan managed by a technocratic elite is a repudiation of everything that defines the Anglosphere and has made it the freest, most prosperous, and greatest force for good in history.

Hannan ends with a quote from a young Bostonian doctor named Joseph Warren as in 1775 he rallied his countrymen to defend the freedoms trampled by George III: “You are to decide the question on which rest the happiness and liberty of millions of unborn. Act worthy of yourselves.” We need to heed this advice, and Daniel Hannan’s rich history of our freedom is a good place to discover the unique worthiness of our civilization.

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5 thoughts on “Inventing Freedom. How the English-Speaking Peoples Made the Modern World”

  1. Dr. Thornton,
    I enjoyed your analysis. I will enjoy reading this work. My favorites have always been Sahara’s Rise to Rebellion and Samuel Elliot Morrison’s English Speaking Peoples. This work reminded me of inventing America by Garry Wills which I have read over three times. I enjoyed your insightful blog. Multicultural adaption ism a term I have created in my writings is nothing new. Has it Killed Homer once again and brought foley among the western sphere of the English Speaking Peoples? I am still looking for a work that also provides an answer. Best to you and Dr. Hanson.
    JW Carter C.F.P. I LLC

  2. And the Greek monsieur Thornton? Remenber them ? Plato, Socrate and Company?

    I must have been dreaming, but wasn´t the Greek who started all that stuff : The rule of law, the idea of freedom, civilian audit of the military, the separation of state and the religion…….

    All that years Reading the Classic for nothing….when i could have read Tom Clancy or Stephen King

  3. Very informative concepts. However for the Anglosphere to survive it demands a degree of morality (Judeo Christian value system) which is a vital component of the Anglosphere Philosophy. A factor which we are slowly moving away from today, and will in the end cause its dissolution.

  4. After reading Hannan over the last two days, I now take issue with his writings. Braddock’s defeat in 1755, saw Washington’s brilliance also at Fort Duquesne. Burning the stamped paper in in 1775-1776. Paul’s Revere’s ride, the Battle of Lexington, Concord, Bunker Hill and Washington taking command, and the capturing of Fort Ticonderoga in the name of Jehovah out shadow’s Warren’s rally. The historical men in History that really rallied the English speaking Peoples that made the Modern World were: Washington, Patrick Henry, Adams and Jefferson. Actions towards Rise and and Rebellion along with the American Revolution are a better center piece for History. Wouldn’t you agree? Hannan’s revision though interesting and intellectual fails to credit those figures… Nonethless, an interesting read… Best to you and Victor,
    Jared William Carter

    PS: I would enjoy reading a book by you or Victor on General Washington. I would consider him the Savior General of How the English Speaking Peoples Made the Modern World!!!!!!


  5. It is remarkable that Americans seem to think only the English-speaking people made the modern world. Perhaps more Americans should travel to Europe, or at the very least, read some basic history, to learn where the ideas such as democracy (Greece) the Renaissance (Italy) medicine and sciences (Hungary, Czech, France, Germany and the UK) originated and were further developed.

    I would argue that England was never the leader in providing freedom or protection under the law to anyone in the world, as the Scottish, Irish and working English poor can attest. In fact most of its history up until the early 1900’s was steeped in oppression of the poor and the lower classes with an army and navy created to ensure freedom and protection of trade and commerce, not the common citizen.

    English law was written and enforced for and by wealthy land owners in order to protect their domestic holdings as well as their colonial Companies as its Empire stretched around the world. While France, Germany and Russia attempted to increase their holdings through protracted land wars, the English were a bit smarter and realized putting down native American Indians, Africans and other indigenous peoples was much easier than facing the cannons of their continental neighbors. And if they could do it by off-loading the wretched poor who were taking up space in filthy and overcrowded areas such as London, Dublin and Northumberland, so much the better.

    Remind me again of the freedom of the expelled British citizens, who found themselves in either Australia or the American colonies for such petty crimes as stealing a loaf of bread. And not just able bodied men, children under the age of 12 along with the elderly were sent away. Where was the law for them? Remind me again how America allowed corporations to gain the same legal status as a citizen in the late 1800s, and have repeatedly bought politicians and encouraged laws that favored companies over the rights of private individuals just as the early West India Company did in the 1600’s.

    The primary purpose of the EU is to promote common rules and regulations, allow for the free movement of people and trade. While the UK has complained about the EU stepping on its toes, no European member has to submit to the authority of the EU. Each member country enjoys its own sovereignty and is not subject to abide by the decisions of the EU unless it chooses to do so. Just look at Switzerland, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Denmark. And for your readers who don’t know, these countries, like the UK, have their own currency, not the Euro.

    Despite the claim of Americans who have probably never lived or worked here, Europeans are the best example of how multiculturalism actually works. While you somehow confuse German social-democracy with fascism or communism, European society actually works quite well and we enjoy one of the highest standards of living in the industrialized world.

    German children are some of the best educated in the world and speak two or more languages. We have a healthcare system that is available as social health or if you wish, you can also obtain private health insurance, and both forms have been available to all citizens for over 100-years. Volkswagen and Siemens, two of largest and most successful corporations in the world, should be the best example of corporate responsibility to its workers that corporations can be successful and profitable, while still providing a living wage, health benefits, retirement programs and 30-days of paid annual vacation to all employees. I challenge your country to match these claims.

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