Mandeville, LA – Exclusive Transcript – In other words, we’ll vote for benefits that we know we can’t afford. We’re going to borrow money from future generations. Even when we’re told, like the Greeks are being told “You gotta stop,” we won’t do it. We’ll throw hissy fits and demand that the rest of the world bail us out. That is the pathetic state of affairs we find ourselves in today. It doesn’t have to be this way, folks. Check out today’s transcript for the rest…
Begin Mike Church Show Transcript
Mike: Daniel Hannan writes:
We often use the word “Western” as a shorthand for liberal-democratic values, but we’re really being polite. What we mean is countries that have adopted the Anglo-American system of government. The spread of “Western” values was, in truth, a series of military victories by the Anglosphere.
I realize that all this might seem strange to American readers. Am I not diluting the uniqueness of the U.S., the world’s only propositional state, by lumping it in with the rest of the Anglosphere? Wasn’t the republic founded in a violent rejection of the British Empire? Didn’t Paul Revere rouse a nation with his cry of “the British are coming”?
Actually, no. That would have been a remarkably odd thing to yell at a Massachusetts population that had never considered itself anything other than British (what the plucky Boston silversmith actually shouted was “The regulars are coming out!”). The American Founders were arguing not for the rejection but for the assertion of what they took to be their birthright as Englishmen. They were revolutionaries in the 18th-century sense of the word, whereby a revolution was understood to be a complete turn of the wheel: a setting upright of that which had been placed on its head.
Alexis de Tocqueville is widely quoted these days as a witness to American exceptionalism. Quoted, but evidently not so widely read, since at the very beginning of “Democracy in America,” he flags up what is to be his main argument, namely, that the New World allowed the national characteristics of Europe’s nations the freest possible expression. Just as French America exaggerated the autocracy and seigneurialism of Louis XIV’s France, and Spanish America the ramshackle obscurantism of Philip IV’s Spain, so English America (as he called it) exaggerated the localism, the libertarianism and the mercantilism of the mother country: “The American is the Englishman left to himself.”
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.
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Many of them, including Tocqueville and Montesquieu, connected the liberty that English-speakers took for granted to geography. Outside North America, most of the Anglosphere is an extended archipelago . . .
Isolation meant that there was no need for a standing army in peacetime, which in turn meant that the government had no mechanism for internal repression. When rulers wanted something, usually revenue, they had to ask nicely, by summoning people’s representatives in an assembly. It is no coincidence that the world’s oldest parliaments—England, Iceland, the Faroes, the Isle of Man—are on islands.
Above all, liberty was tied up with something that foreign observers could only marvel at: the miracle of the common law. Laws weren’t written down in the abstract and then applied to particular disputes [Mike: I talked about common law last week when the guy called.] they built up, like a coral reef, case by case. They came not from the state but from the people. The common law wasn’t a tool of government but an ally of liberty: It placed itself across the path of the Stuarts and George III; it ruled that the bonds of slavery disappeared the moment a man set foot on English soil.
There was a fashion for florid prose in the 18th century, but the second American president, John Adams, wasn’t exaggerating when he identified the Anglosphere’s beautiful, anomalous legal system—which today covers most English-speaking countries plus Israel, almost an honorary member of the club, alongside the Netherlands and the Nordic countries—as the ultimate guarantor of freedom: “The liberty, the unalienable, indefeasible rights of men, the honor and dignity of human nature… and the universal happiness of individuals, were never so skillfully and successfully consulted as in that most excellent monument of human art, the common law of England.”
Freedom under the law is a portable commodity, passed on through intellectual exchange rather than gene flow. Anyone can benefit from constitutional liberty simply by adopting the right institutions and the cultural assumptions that go with them . . .
At a time when most countries defined citizenship by ancestry, Britain was unusual in developing a civil rather than an ethnic nationality . . .
There is, of course, a flip-side. If the U.S. 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, D.C., from elected representatives to federal bureaucrats, from citizens to the government. As the U.S. 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.
We sometimes talk of the English-speaking nations as having a culture of independence. But culture does not exist, numinously, alongside institutions; it is a product of institutions. People respond to incentives. Make enough people dependent on the state, and it won’t be long before Americans start behaving and voting like…well, like Greeks.
Mike: In other words, we’ll vote for benefits that we know we can’t afford. We’re going to borrow money from future generations. Even when we’re told, like the Greeks are being told “You gotta stop,” we won’t do it. We’ll throw hissy fits and demand that the rest of the world bail us out. That is the pathetic state of affairs we find ourselves in today. It doesn’t have to be this way, folks. Notice that he wrote about localism. He wrote about small, county-based, town-based institutions. That’s why republicanism, spiritual republicanism holds out the best hope for mankind, not the United States writ large, but the sovereign people that make up the United States and our insular institutions.
End Mike Church Show Transcript