How We Invented Freedom…

How We Invented Freedom and Why It Matters

Daniel Hannan

Head of Zeus, London

Time has proved Francis Fukiyama wrong, the triumph of democracy is not inevitable, nor should it be taken for granted. As Blair, Bush and their allies found, western freedom cannot be exported at the point of a gun.

Neither can we be certain that democracy will survive the onslaughts levelled against it. In 1940 it had almost vanished from Europe and held out only in a small damp island on the Atlantic fringe. It is only due to the interventions of the Anglo-sphere Commonwealth and the USA that democracy exists anywhere on the European continent.

Daniel Hannan, Conservative  MEP for South East England, argues that what we understand as ‘Western’ freedom is actually an invention emerging from that small damp Atlantic island; it was born and nurtured within an Anglo-sphere consisting of those countries shaped by and continuing to hold the political concepts which arose in Great Britain, principally England.

This is no claim to ethnic superiority, but it is about superior values. Hannan sees Anglo-sphere values as developing in a multi-ethnic context and are, ‘transmitted through intellectual exchange rather than gene flow’. Whilst continental Europe is firmly outwith the Anglo-sphere he points out that the largest Anglo-sphere democracy is India, and that large sections of the Commonwealth are part of the Anglo-sphere

‘What raised the English-speaking peoples to greatness was not a magical property in their DNA, nor a special richness in their earth, nor yet an advantage in military technology, but their political and legal institutions.  The happiness of the human race depends, more than anyone likes to admit, on the survival and success of those institutions.’

These institutions Hanna sees as central to Western civilisation and arising from the Anglo-sphere are:

  1. The rule of law; common law which has emerged from within the state and is interpreted by independent magistrates, especially the principle that the government is as bound by the law as the governed.
  2. Representative government; the right of the people to choose their own leaders, who are then held accountable by the people.
  3. Individual liberty; the individual is free to associate freely, buy and sell freely, speak, believe and think freely.

These institutions led to the revolutionary concept that the state is the servant of the populace, not the master.

Hannan’s argument is that elected Parliaments, habeas corpus, free contract, equality before the law, a free press and the other aspects of freedom we value did not just happen but are the product of a particular political ideology which gradually developed over centuries amongst English speakers. Things that we have come to take for granted, such as the jury system, innocence until proven guilty, the rule of law and representative government, are highly unusual. ‘The fact that those ideas, and that language, have become so widespread can make us lose sight of how exceptional they were in origin.’

Hannan sweeps through a thousand years of history tracing the development of these institutions. From the pre-Norman ability to choose and remove a king, through Magna Carta, to the three Anglospehre civil wars wars, the English Civil War, the American Revolution and the American Civil War. These Hannan sees as wars fought to resist overweening states which would coerce their subjects and limit the freedoms of the individual.

Hannan rightly acknowledges that Protestantism played a part in shaping the political structures of the Anglo-sphere However, quite understandably, he fails to grasp the centrality of Reformed thinking to shaping our understanding of freedom. In discussing the importance of the state being subject to the law he fails to mention the significance of Rutherford’s Lex Rex. As well as Reformed ecclesiology, doctrines such as that of election,had a significant impact on a hierarchical society. Not for nothing did George III describe the American Revolution as his ‘Presbyterian war’.

For a more in depth study of the importance of Reformed theology for political freedom The Emergence of Liberty in the Modern World by Douglas F Kelly is an introduction at a popular level; whilst The Revolution of the Saints by Michael Walzer is a more academic examination of the role of Puritanism as a revolutionary ideology in a time of social disintegration when a traditional order was crumbling but had not yet been replaced.

What concerns Hannan is that today ‘The English-speaking peoples are tiptoeing away from their own creation… In every English-speaking country, a multiculturalist establishment hangs back from teaching children that they are heirs to a unique political heritage.’

In a day when in the West free expression is being increasingly limited and the state is drawing ever greater powers to itself this book is a timely reminder not only of the origins, but also the importance of the basic freedoms we enjoy.

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At one time only Soviet dictators demanded the constant rewriting of history to suit their political ends. History was constantly ‘brought up to date’, photographs airbrushed to remove offending images and statues removed from places of prominence. Unfortunately these practices have all resurfaced as today’s progressives demand history be reshaped to protect their feelings.

It’s not just in the USA that students demand the renaming of buildings and the removal of statues, we have it in the UK also. Some Oxford students are demanding that ‘Rhodes Must Fall’, any acknowledgement of Cecil Rhodes must be removed from the university.

Cecil Rhodes who began with few advantages left Britain seeking to make a living in the diamond mines of southern Africa. He succeeded, big time, and instead of buying vast estates, he established the Rhodes Scholarship at Oriel College, Oxford, in order for others, as poor as he was when he went down to the mines, to get a helping hand in life.

Rhodes left Oriel College, Oxford University more than £50 million in today’s money to establish scholarships with the stipulation: “No student should be qualified or disqualified for election to a scholarship on account of his race or religious opinion.”

Amongst those helped by Rhodes is one Ntokozo Qwabe, a Rhodes Scholar, and now a leading protester demanding the removal of any acknowledgement of Rhodes from university premises. In fairness he doesn’t want a complete ban, he wants the scholarship fund to continue. The money is all right, just not the donor.

The ‘Rhodes Must Go’ students have partially succeeded as the supine college authorities have already removed a plaque acknowledging Rhodes and have agreed to enter into consultations with the protesters about removing a statue of Rhodes.

As today’s video demonstrates tantrums arising from appropriation of historical grievance are commonplace and don’t bode well for the future.

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My last video provoked this response on Facebook. My reply is too long for Facebook so is posted here.

First the original criticism:

“‘For 2000 years the church has rejected those who want Christianity to the social establishment.’ That is an astonishing statement. I should be interested to see how it could be defended against the church’s historical record. He quotes Wilberforce as an example of the church standing against the social establishment, and at the same time points out that Wilberforce was standing against the ecclesiastical establishment too. You can’t have it both ways. I doubt anyone with a high regard for scripture would allow the simple equation of ‘the ecclesiastical establishment’ with ‘the church’ but there is surely a problem of circular argument here. Disagreeing with fellow believers’ interpretation of Scripture, even with the interpretations of believers and thinkers of the stature of Pannenberg, is not the same as rejecting the authority of scripture. Refusing to see the stark divide between the Christian and the Secular which contemporary conservatives constantly hark on about is not rejecting the authority of scripture. Many progressives take the stance they do because they believe that on particular issues their position is more biblical, not less biblical, than the traditional conservative view. Let’s at least try to be clear on the different polarities involved here: one of those polarities is between ‘traditional’ and ‘progressive’. Neither side makes its case well by wholesale identification of the other with the worst of those who take or can be given the other’s label.”

My response is:

The good news is that I still have the ability to do something ‘astonishing’, Although what I said was that for 2000 years the church had rejected those who want Christianity to accommodate to the social establishment. It’s also good to know that I’m not the only one afflicted by the dreaded typo. Continue reading

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It is not only in politics and the media that progressives have become the establishment. It is true also of the mainstream church.

What do you do with a minister who confidently proclaims at Christmas that the Incarnation is a ‘fairy tale’ and it is embarrassing to preach on it every year? If you are in the Church of Scotland you do the same as you do with minsters who deny the Virgin Birth, the Atonement, the bodily Resurrection of Christ and His return – you do nothing. And so the revisionists grow ever bolder.

Effectively the Church of Scotland, like many other mainstream Christian denominations, is devoid of doctrinal standards. They may exist on paper, but certainly not in practice.

The YouTube video below touches on the successful attempts by progressive Christians to turn once theologically confident denominations into pale reflections of society, with an added veneer of Christian language and symbols.

It seems likely that the Church of Scotland at its General Assembly in May 2016 will vote to allow the ordination of ministers in same-sex-marriages. Which raises the question: How much of Christianity, both in theology and in practice, can a church jettison and still remain a church?

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Successful revolutionaries are few and far between. Any idiot can start a revolution, and many do. A few even succeed in gaining power. Very few have a long lasting impact which reshapes a country for generations, leading into centuries.

KNOX Poster Web 2 Landscape

Lenin didn’t, his revolution lasted a mere 70 years. Mao’s revolution, which gained power in 1949, is vanishing before our eyes. The revolution in Scotland led by John Knox shaped a nation for centuries, right up until the recent past.

Today Knox, probably the most important Scot who ever lived, is either ignored or scorned in his native country. Seen as a caricature Knox is known, if at all, only as the author of A First Trumpet Blast Against The Monstrous Regiment of Women and the beardy guy who was nasty to that nice Mary Queen of Scots. In 1978 Edinburgh Council was forced by public opinion to change the proposed name of a set of steps leading from the Mound to Princes Street in the heart of the city from John Knox Steps to Playfair Steps. Knox, who was instrumental in planting the seeds of democratic freedom in Scotland, was too controversial a figure for modern tastes.

When Knox was born Scotland was the equivalent of a Third World country, only without the aid from conscious stricken developed countries. One Spanish nobleman who antagonised the king was given the utterly humiliating punishment of being sent as ambassador to Scotland. Yet less than two centuries after the death of Knox Scotland was the intellectual capital of Europe. Seventeenth century Scotland had five universities, compared to the much larger and wealthier England’s two.

An ardent Protestant totally committed to the spread of the gospel of grace Knox was a Reformer and revolutionary rather than a theologian. His sole contribution to theological advance was his argument for the right to overthrow tyrants. This argument is so potent that in 1953, as a young lawyer on trial for armed attack on the Moncada barracks in Santiago in Cuba, Fidel Castro cited Knox in his defence.

Trinity Digital, an independent film company based in Scotland, have made Knox a feature length documentary fronted by Scottish actor Phillip Todd which explores the journey of this revolutionary Reformer from Catholic priest to passionate Protestant. As well as the deep commitment to the gospel which shaped Knox’s life we gain an insight into the humanity of the man who shaped a nation. From galley slave to face-to-face confrontation with an absolutist monarch, Knox experienced life.

An important independent film Knox can be found at

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Why do our leaders treat us as though we were children, unable to face the truth? Because we let them.

There is almost a ritualistic quality to it. There is an Islamic atrocity committed in some Western city, followed immediately by a sense of shock. Next there is an outpouring of sympathy manifesting itself in the laying of flowers, ‘Je suis Charlie…’ etc. Then we have the political and religious leaders assuring us that ‘Islam is a religion of peace, this has nothing to do with Islam’. Finally some civic leader, politician, police chief, or the like will tell us that their greatest fear is a rise in Islamaphobia.

And so it continues until the next atrocity, and the ritual is undergone again.

Even well respected people like Justin Welby, archbishop of Canterbury, are drawn into the dance. Welby is not just a thoroughly decent man, he is to be admired for his ability and commitment, if anyone is capable of holding the Anglican communion together it is Welby. And yet he too joins the dance of denial.

Social cohesion is a laudable goal, but wilful blindness can lead to exacerbating social divisions. When the genuine concerns of ordinary people are dismissed by those in positions of leadership we will find a growing disillusionment with the political process and a rise of populist solutions to complex problems.

By denying there is a problem in the name of social cohesion our elites are furthering the conditions for social disruption.

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Generation Y (those born after 1981) are sometimes known as ‘generation fear’. Lily Allen’s songs often express what others of her generation are feeling. One of her most popular songs is called ‘The Fear’. She sings:

I don’t know what’s right and what’s real anymore …
I’m being taken over by the fear.’

Once it was different. As long ago as 1968 students were prepared to confront the world. Then we were committed, idealistic and yes, misguided. But we were confident enough to take on all-comers. Students in France confronted the tear gas, water cannon and batons of the riot police, the CRS, and nearly brought down the government of de Gaulle.

Here in the UK we were, thankfully, less successful, but just as committed. I have vivid memories of an anti-apartheid demo against a Sprinboks tour, resulting in an encounter with the Lothian and Borders Police which was not altogether amicable.

Today’s students, however, instead of taking on all comers in pursuit of their ideals cry out for protection. With great feeling, they describe the anguish of being called by the ‘wrong’ pronoun, or the trauma of a professor using a ‘legal name’ instead of a ‘preferred name.’ They are such tender hothouse plants that they describe being ‘unsafe’ if, despite their sex, they can’t use the bathroom they want to use, or if they get ‘stares’. Oh, the horror of it all.

The height of absurdity was perhaps reached in England last year. Oxford students prevented Brendan O’Neill from taking part in a debate on abortion because they claimed that allowing someone ‘without a uterus’ to discuss abortion would harm their ‘mental safety’. This in what is consistently ranked amongst the top ten universities in the world.

The infantile inhabitants of our universities give every appearance of being terrified that someone will disagree with them or say something which they find upsetting. They even demand ‘safe spaces,’ havens where they will be free from the intrusion of ideas other than their own. South Park brilliantly exposes the pathetic nature of those who demand that the world wraps them in cotton wool.

The latest childish tantrum is the recent petition from students at Cardiff University which demanded that Germaine Greer be banned from speaking.

The veteran feminist had been due to speak at the University on Women & Power: The Lessons of the 20th Century. Rachael Melhuish, women’s officer at Cardiff University students union, like a prudish Victorian gentlewoman, had a fit of the vapours, alleging that Greer has ‘demonstrated misogynistic views towards trans women, including continually misgendering trans women and denying the existence of transphobia altogether’.

Melhuish took the time honoured ‘courageous’ action of starting an internet petition against Greer appearing: ‘Hosting a speaker with such problematic and hateful views towards marginalised and vulnerable groups is dangerous.’ Hundreds of Cardiff students dutifully lined up behind the idea that Greer’s views are ‘dangerous’, ‘discriminatory’, and cause ‘hatred and violence’.

It’s remarkable how supposedly educated students casually use the language of violence to describe and denounce the expression of an idea. Greer wasn’t planning to turn up with a machine gun and force transgender women to wear jock straps and get drunk at the rugby club; she just wanted to be free to present her ideas to an audience of thinking people. Big mistake at today’s universities.

Thankfully Greer has refused to be bullied by the frightened children and maintains her position. Her view of transgender surgery, expressed in somewhat more robust terms on a radio programme, is that: ‘Just because you lop off your penis and then wear a dress doesn’t make you a ******* woman… I’ve asked my doctor to give me long ears and liver spots and I’m going to wear a brown coat but that won’t turn me into a ******* cocker spaniel.’

She hits the most important aspect of the furore when she highlights the difference between words and actions, ‘What they are saying is that because I don’t think surgery will turn a man into a woman I should not be allowed to speak anywhere… I’m not saying that people should not be allowed to go through that [sex change] procedure. What I’m saying is that it doesn’t make them a woman. It happens to be an opinion. It’s not a prohibition.’

Truly the revolution eats its children. Now that the homosexual cause has triumphed the social revolution moves on to the next cause. The new poster children for social chaos are the transgendered and anyone holding an opinion contrary to progressive orthodoxy must be silenced. Greer, once a major force in progressive thought, just doesn’t get with the programme, she obstinately refuses to give up the right to think for herself.

Given the minute number of troubled people who self-identify as ‘trans’, changing the social structure in order to enforce radicalism is far more exclusive than it is inclusive. It privileges the demands of a minute minority of confused people at the expense of the considered views of tens of millions.

But that is the whole point. The transgendered are merely the latest ’cause’ to be employed in undermining society. Once the transgendered have triumphed the circus will move on to the next emotive ’cause’.

It is of course convenient that the likely targets of the inevitable discrimination complaints are those Christians and other cultural conservatives the Progressive loves to hate.

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