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Sunday, September 22, 2019

INVENTING FREEDOM: HOW the ENGLISH-SPEAKING PEOPLES MADE the MODERN WORLD by Daniel Hannan



Published by Broadside Books (a division of HarperCollins) in 2013.

The author, Daniel Hannan.
Photo by Gage Skidmore
Daniel Hannan is a prominent Conservative Party author and politician in the UK. His book Inventing Freedom is a celebration of the political ideas that are the foundation of what he calls the "Anglosphere".

Hannan's thesis is that the idea of government based on an evolving body of law (he probably would hate the fact that I used the word evolving, but that is what the English Common Law is) that values the rights of the individual before the rights of the state and its leaders is an English invention that has spread and amplified throughout the "Anglosphere". This type of government encourages capitalism due to its influence on the individual.

The Anglosphere consists of The United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and, to a lesser extent, other former British colonies that comprise the Commonwealth. These include Kenya, South Africa, India and dozens of more countries.

The United States is included in the Anglosphere and holds a unique position in Hannan's book. He considers the U.S. Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution to the be the epitome of Anglosphere political theory. He also notes that the United Kingdom learned many lessons from the loss of the American colonies at the end of the American Revolution. The Anglosphere's most influential country is the United States, despite not being a member of the Commonwealth.

The book starts out strong as it emphasizes the common traits of the Anglosphere and their origins in English history. I would give the first third of the book 5 stars. It hums along and offers a fascinating take on the historical development of democracy and capitalism. It includes a very strong look at the development of the English parliamentary system.

The middle of the book gets bogged down in the minutiae of struggles over the English throne (Bonnie Prince Charlie, Oliver Cromwell, various Irish uprisings). The history is slow-paced, often repetitive and, I think, surprisingly dismissive of Irish complaints over the centuries.

If the author is dismissive of the Irish, he is enamored with the United States - to a point. It is clear that he loves my country from afar. He loves the theory of America more than actual American history. He quotes historical facts that didn't really happen, such as his claim that the American word "hillbilly" comes as a reference to the Battle of Boyne and a victory by King William III in 1690. He claims that residents of Appalachia would gather and march in remembrance of the victory every July 12. I simply cannot imagine that this would ever happen. No one in Appalachia cares a wit about a dead English king enough to march around to celebrate his victory, certainly not after the American Revolution. Or maybe they were supposed to be mourning his victory. I don't know, I lost track of what king was fighting what pretender to the throne.  Besides, the first time this supposedly old word ever appeared in print was in 1898 - more than 200 years after the battle.

When it comes to the Boston Tea Party, he misses the point completely. He notes that the taxes on tea were actually lowered before the Boston Tea Party but perhaps he doesn't realize that the same legislative flurry that lowered taxes on tea also made it legal to only purchase from a single vendor that set an artificially high price. The government giveth and the government taketh away.

He studies the larger conflicts within the Anglosphere (the English Civil War, the American Revolution) but is surprisingly silent on the American Civil War - the bloodiest conflict in American history (equal to all of our other wars COMBINED).  This war has often been labeled as THE most important event in the history of the United States and the author labeled the United States as THE must important member of the Anglosphere at this time. I expected more than a few random comments.

In one of those comments he claims the Confederacy tried to save itself by asking Queen Victoria to extend her protectorate over the the rebellious states. I have been studying the American Civil War for 30 years and I have never heard this before. It doesn't make any sense. One of the cornerstones of the Confederacy was slavery and by the 1860's, the English navy had been actively seizing slave ships for 50 years in an active attempt to stop the Atlantic slave trade. Slavery was the main reason the English didn't recognize the Confederacy - the English public wouldn't let them, especially after the Emancipation Proclamation.

I strongly agree with the author on his enthusiasm for bringing India more closely into the Anglosphere. India is a stable democracy, has a commitment to multiculturalism and is becoming more capitalistic. Bringing 1 billion more people who share many of your values into closer political and economic cooperation can only be a plus. Sadly, the last two Presidents (Trump and Obama) have mostly ignored India.

So, the short version - the book starts out strong, gets bogged down in English dynastic struggles, gets repetitive and ignores most of American history after the Revolutionary War era. I agree with the thesis of the book, but it needed editing and a bit of fact-checking. All of that makes it tough to rate, but I am going to give the edge to the strong thesis and rate it 3 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: INVENTING FREEDOM: HOW the ENGLISH-SPEAKING PEOPLES MADE the MODERN WORLD.

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