Book review of The New Road to Serfdom by Daniel Hannan, National Review
December 20, 2010
by John Fonte
After observing a Fourth of July celebration in Yellowstone National Park in 1889, a young (and benignly amused) Rudyard Kipling wrote that he was “amazed” at how proud Americans were of “their country and their ‘institootions’” (sic). One hundred twenty-one years later, another young, conservative British visitor, Daniel Hannan, argues that “the character of the United States, more than any other country on earth, is bound up with its institutions.” Those institutions and the way of life that is historically connected to them, Hannan notes, have made America’s democracy and economy phenomenally successful and decidedly distinct from those of Europe and the rest of the world.
Daniel Hannan, a member of the European Parliament, a rising political star of the Anglosphere, a trenchant journalist, an articulate speaker, and — many hope — a future occupant of Number 10 Downing Street, is well known to readers of National Review. Hannan serves as a modern-day British-intellectual Paul Revere, warning Americans that European ideas are coming, and that these ideas are anathema to our Whiggish democratic republic.
American institutions are significantly different from the ways of Europe, Hannan explains. These institutions include federalism, the separation of powers, and the direct election of innumerable officeholders, including sheriffs, school-board members, district attorneys, and even (to the horror of European elites) judges. They foster decentralization and the devolution of power.
Hannan is particularly impressed with the American system of primary elections. He points out that in Britain and Europe, candidates for parliament are chosen by the political parties. This leads to the perpetuation of a closed political class and the exclusion of issue positions favored by the public but frowned upon by elites. In the U.S., by contrast, an outsider can defeat the party leaders’ choice in a primary; this fosters a more democratic process, and brings into the open issues that elites prefer not to discuss.
Hannan is sharply critical of the expansion of state power that began in early-20th-century America, accelerated during the New Deal, and is today exemplified in President Obama’s programs, which “amount to a sustained project of Europeanization.” We should “not copy Europe” on health care, welfare, immigration assimilation, and family life. Hannan is not simply an economic conservative: He also sees America’s birth rates, church attendance, and national pride, all higher than Europe’s, as beneficial to the perpetuation of liberty.
American conservatives should take Hannan’s warnings seriously. On the domestic front we appear to have anticipated him. The narrative that Obama’s policies on health care, taxes, cap-and-trade, stimulus, etc., represent a European social-democratic agenda that threatens America’s limited-government and private-enterprise traditions has clearly been internalized by the mainstream center-right.
Serious as that threat is, for this reviewer Hannan’s most trenchant advice appears in the chapter entitled “America in the World.” Hannan, who has spent eleven years in the European Union (EU) capitals of Brussels and Strasbourg, minces no words in analyzing the EU, the International Criminal Court (ICC), the distortions of the new international law, and the challenge that the global-governance project and supra-nationalism present to democratic self-government everywhere.
Eschewing foreign-policy-speak, Hannan tells us that “the structures of the EU are intrinsically anti-democratic” and that “faced with a choice between democracy and supra-nationalism, the EU will always choose supra-nationalism.” The ICC “entrenches autocrats and weakens democrats”: “Never mind representative democracy, never mind natural justice. All that matters to the transnational elites [who run the ICC] is power.” Hannan rightly decries the transformation of international law that began in the 1990s: It is morphing into transnational law, and moving, slowly but steadily, from a being a system based on relations between nation-states to being a vehicle for global judicial activism that promotes an “anti-conservative,” politicized version of “human rights.”
Hannan notes that the Euro-integrationists have a very different worldview than the majority of Americans, who believe in democratic self-government. The Euro elites believe in global governance and supra-nationalism, and seek to promote their political model worldwide. Like the Israeli political philosopher Yoram Hazony, Hannan recognizes that this view (and not simply crude anti-Semitism) is one of the major reasons for the EU’s consistent hostility to Israel’s attempts to defend itself. Israel’s acting as an independent, democratic state — deciding for itself when to use force in the defense of its democracy, rather than subordinating its decision-making to supra-national “rules” — is an affront to the core political principles of the EU.
Hannan argues that America does not have to “prove its internationalist credentials” by submitting to global authority. Nor does it have to choose between “Europeanization and isolation.” Instead, he suggests, the nations, businesses, common-law legal systems, accounting practices, and defense establishments of the Anglosphere (think India) offer an attractive (and clearly internationalist) alternative for trade, commerce, and alliances. Americans should remain true to their Jeffersonian principles of decentralization and pluralism, Hannan tells us; we should reject the global-governance agenda of political and economic “harmonization” and “integration” through “rules and bureaucracies,” and embrace voluntary arrangements among free peoples.
In my view, Hannan is right on the particulars. So what lessons can we draw for American conservatives? As noted, his concerns on the dangers of the Europeanization of domestic policy are already shared here in America. His arguments for America to stand firm on the “hard” issues of foreign policy such as Iran and other explicitly defense-related matters have also found support here. It is in the “soft area” of foreign affairs — America’s relationships with the U.N., EU, and ICC, and, most important, its stance towards democratic sovereignty, global governance, and supra-national authority — where Hannan’s warnings are now most needed.
The center of gravity within the Republican and center-right foreign-policy establishment on issues of democratic sovereignty is ambiguous. Just before the 2008 election, a leading McCain adviser, Robert Kagan, wrote in Foreign Affairs that the U.S. “should not oppose but welcome a world of pooled and diminished national sovereignty. It has little to fear and much to gain in a world of expanding laws and norms based on liberal ideals.”
But this is exactly what Hannan warns us against. For one thing, we know who writes global “rules.” We have had a taste of the “expanding laws and norms” that are promoted by global elites in places like the EU and the U.N., in unratified treaties such as Kyoto, and in American law schools. These are not the liberal ideals of Jefferson and Locke (i.e., individual liberty and self-government) but the post-liberal ideals of European statists, American international-law professors, and the people I call “transnational progressives,” whose ultimate political goal is the subordination of the American nation-state to what they tout as the “global rule of law.”
Writing in National Review on November 1, Amb. John Bolton argued that conservatives and Republicans need a “robust vetting” of presidential candidates on foreign-policy issues before they select a nominee, after which, vigorous intramural debate will, by custom and necessity, subside. He is right. Conservatives should use the interregnum before 2012 to stress sovereignty issues. In effect, they should work to “Boltonize” the center-right foreign-policy community. For example, if we take Hannan’s critique seriously, we need to rethink the conservative default positions on the EU and the ICC.
Since the mid-20th century, American diplomacy under both parties has promoted increased European political integration. But it is not 1950 anymore. Hannan correctly points out that American interests and principles would be better served by more decentralization and democratic self-government within the EU. This was Margaret Thatcher’s vision of Europe: an alliance of democratic states and a free-trade zone, not a supra-national politico-legal regime. At a minimum, the U.S. could simply stop cheerleading for more political integration and not discourage efforts by European nations to regain democratic decision-making power. In general, the U.S. should not oppose the re-democratization of Europe.
There are elements of the Republican foreign-policy establishment that, in the name of “pragmatism,” seek an accommodation with the ICC. Some would like the U.S. eventually to join the court, if there are guarantees that American soldiers will not be subject to its jurisdiction. But, as Hannan notes, the ICC is an anti-democratic institution in principle. It claims judicial authority over the citizens of democratic states, even if those democratic states (e.g., the U.S., Israel, and India) refuse to accept its authority.
Americans should therefore oppose the ICC not solely on the grounds that its actions could adversely affect our security interests. This special pleading abandons the moral high ground and will not succeed in the long run. Our objections should include the principled grounds that the ICC, by its very existence, violates the core precepts of constitutional democracy.
Daniel Hannan, a British patriot and friend of America, has reminded us of our unique good fortune as citizens of this exceptional republic. He has warned us of the dangers ahead, if we follow the European path. We should listen to him.
John Fonte is a Senior Fellow and Director of Hudson's Center for American Common Culture.
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