*Inventing Freedom*

by on March 13, 2014 at 2:37 am in Books, History, Philosophy, Political Science, Uncategorized | Permalink

That is the new book by Daniel Hannan and the subtitle is How the English-Speaking Peoples Made the Modern World.

Oh how one can mock those subtitles about the making of the modern world, heh heh!  Yet this subtitle has a plausible claim to be…true.  Even more shockingly, the subtitle accurately describes the book.

Every time my plane lands in England I shed at least a tear, maybe more, out of realization that I am visiting a birthplace (the birthplace?) of liberty.  This is not a joke and during my trips there I never quite snap out of that feeling, though I am also well aware of all the problems those people have foisted upon the world as well.

I found many parts of this book to be superficial, or perhaps well-known.  Yet often they were superficial and…true.  Here is one excerpt:

To put it another way, the distinction was not between Catholic and Protestant individuals, but between Catholic and Protestant states.

Here is from an Amazon review:

Author Daniel Hannan is a person of English ancestry who was born and raised in Peru then relocated to the United Kingdom as an adult and made a career in politics, including becoming one of the U.K.’s representatives to the European Parliament. His global experience has shown him how unique is our “Anglosphere” heritage of representative democracy, protection of property rights, the sanctity of law, and the inalienable rights of the individual.

This is in some ways an important book, though I do not think it is a book which will satisfy everybody.

For the pointer I thank Daniel Klein.

Fazal Majid March 13, 2014 at 3:13 am

Smug ethnocentric pabulum. The Scandinavians have a much better claim to the title, specially Icelanders. So do the Swiss. Or the Dutch. Or the French. Or ancient Greeks. Get in line…

shrikanthk March 13, 2014 at 3:40 am

Ancient Greeks didn’t have habeas corpus. Or “freedom of the press”. Or constitutionally limited government. All ideas that developed in England over a period of time.

England is a special country in world history. Cannot be denied.

Roy March 13, 2014 at 4:56 am

Is constitutionally limited government unique to England?

Every Greek city state had a Constitution, and changing them was always a traumatic experience. We date the beginning of Rome’s fall from its breaking of its own constitution at the time of the Gracchi. France, Poland, medical Spain, etc… All had constitutions in the English sense, all were constraining on power. After all Louis XVI broke his kingdom by obeying France’s.

The US is the first modern society with a written constitution, England still lacks one.

As to habeus corpus, it is not that old in England, an equivalent law existed in Rome. Poland had it as part of its own constitution.

There is a huge myopia to Anglo-Saxon self congratulation. If you want to feel an emotional sob on landing at an airport, Philadelphia has far more claim than London. But It is hard to get sentimental about a city that throws rocks at Santa Claus.

rox March 13, 2014 at 7:50 am

Dallas fan?

Roy March 13, 2014 at 8:33 am

No, and it has little to do with football since my sports dreams have never been thwarted by the place. I admit I have a few irrational and arbitrary hatreds, birds for instance, but my dislike of Philadelphia is purely rational.

But it is still far more important to the history of Liberty than London.

Philadelphian March 13, 2014 at 10:56 am

BOOOOOO!!

Roy March 13, 2014 at 5:20 pm

I’m from Houston, you are free to retaliate anytime.

Steve Sailer March 13, 2014 at 3:59 am

I suspect the Baltic / North Sea continuum is underrated as a general source for the modern world. The most extreme form of the nuclear family was found largely around those waters:

http://isteve.blogspot.com/2012/02/was-beowulf-and-empty-nester.html

Pierre March 13, 2014 at 4:56 am

Lol.
What is so special about England? (I mean, expect that this is an American blog, hence biased towards English-speaking countries?)
Most ideas about modern freedom were developped by Enlightenment philosophers who were mainly German and French.
The French revolution is the event that started the spread of democracy through Europe. (Ever wondered why so many European countries have three vertical stripes? Because it was copied on the French flag, symbol of modern liberty.)
First consitution of a modern Republic? Corsica, 34 years before the American constitution. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corsican_Constitution),
I wouldn’t dare saying that France or the French-speaking world is the birth place of freedom. That would be ridiculous. Things are way more complicated and intermingled.
But it is somewhat very funny and highly indicative to witness how ethnocentric some people still are, especially in the US and in China.
Economical supremacy somehow impairs intellectual clarity.

Z March 13, 2014 at 8:21 am

Only a Frenchman would believe such nonsense. The *good* ideas about liberty were developed by English speaking people. Unable to master these ideas, French and German philosophers came up with alternatives like Fascism and Marxism. The biggest error in the history of English speaking people was the liberation of France from the Germans. You two deserved each other.

Pierre March 13, 2014 at 8:40 am

The problem with many marginalrevolution readers is that it is very often impossible for me to tell if they are joking or just a ridiculous caricature.

Z March 13, 2014 at 9:08 am

We have the same problem with France.

Pierre March 13, 2014 at 9:44 am

Wow, gratuitous antifrench racism. Congrats you won the thread.

ricardo March 13, 2014 at 10:46 am

Well, you started with the gratuitous antimarginalrevolutionary racism.

Pierre March 13, 2014 at 11:22 am

In case you haven’t noticed, i am among marginalrevolution readers. And i said many, not all. Which is usually understood as a criticism, not an racist insult or a childish come back.

john personna March 13, 2014 at 11:24 am

MR’s problem is that its comments show no bell curve. The population is strongly biased to the biased.

john personna March 13, 2014 at 11:30 am

1315: Louis X, king of France, publishes a decree proclaiming that “France signifies freedom” and that any slave setting foot on the French ground should be freed

Pierre March 13, 2014 at 11:41 am

Just read your post on your blog, Z. So full of hate. Pity it is impossible to have a civilized conversation.

josh March 13, 2014 at 2:01 pm

Bah. The French Revolution was a Wig black-op spun out of control.

josh March 13, 2014 at 2:02 pm

Whig.

Polytechnique March 13, 2014 at 7:07 pm

Only an ignorant American patriotard would believe neocon propaganda about French and Germans being responsible for fascism and marxism.

Of course it was the British who first used concentration camps and engaged in extermination campaigns and who developed facistic racialist ideology.

Urso March 13, 2014 at 11:02 am

Pretty much nonsense; the French revolution’s great gift to Europe was not democracy but meritocracy; Nap’s marauding hordes swept aside sclerotic aristocracies from portugal to Poland. This had the tremendously beneficial effect of (usually) transferring power to people who were competent, as opposed to people who had the right blood lines. But they surely didn’t leave a legacy of democracy, or at least not democracy as we’d understand it.

Z March 13, 2014 at 12:03 pm

The Black Plague probably did more to level the playing field in Europe than anything the French did. It certainly caused less harm.

JKB March 13, 2014 at 11:27 am

“…the short-lived Corsican Republic independent from Genoa beginning in 1755 and remained in force until the annexation of Corsica by France in 1769…”

Hoover March 13, 2014 at 5:19 pm

Pierre, you have got yourself trapped in a game of what Prof Cowen would call relative status.

The only way out is to solve for the equilibrium.

Fraternal greetings from across the Channel.

Pierre March 13, 2014 at 6:45 pm

Thank you :)

Roy March 13, 2014 at 4:43 am

I really think you misunderstand Scandinavian culture. This does not compute with Denmark, Oslofjord, or Central Sweden for most of their history. The other areas, like Iceland, were frontiers which always have more liberty, even Siberia or Taiwan. That does not make them culturally more inclined to Freedom. This is more a practical matter as in “Montani Semper Liberi”

Even in the UK the most Scandinavian parts of the country are far from the birthplace of Freedom. Northumbria and Scotland are not what we think of when we think of English liberty.

The Netherlands, maybe, due to mercantile culture and the need for religious toleration because of weakness vs great powers. But I don’t think that is it either. I think Revolutionary France is really underrated here, a lot of liberty is egalitarian culture. Polish nobles were very free but we do not consider Early Modern Poland a birthplace of Freedom, because of Serfdom. Actually many of England’s freedoms only extended to certain classes. Was an englishman without title or enough property really freer than his equivalent in 4th century Athens?

I think we are just luckily that 18th century rhetoric happened to meet a frontier society that was large enough and well established enough to include slave holders, who like Polish nobles, are very concious of liberty because they live by depriving others, and the descendents of radical religious egalitarians who had been allowed to create their city of god and then forgotten why they did in the first place. The contingency of the whole business is astonishing. But so was Athens, and so was every Republic in history.

Millian March 13, 2014 at 10:19 am

Of course you don’t think of Scotland when you think of English liberty, for the same reasons one doesn’t think of Italy as the birthpace of French cooking, or of Lebanon as the Jewish homeland.

Steve Sailer March 13, 2014 at 3:55 am

I’ve always been struck by this paragraph from Tory cabinet minister David Willetts’ book “The Pinch:”

“Instead, think of England as being like this for at least 750 years. We live in small families. We buy and sell houses. … Our parents expect us to leave home for paid work …You try to save up some money from your wages so that you can afford to get married. … You can choose your spouse … It takes a long time to build up some savings from your work and find the right person with whom to settle down, so marriage comes quite lately, possibly in your late twenties.”

http://www.vdare.com/articles/david-willetts-the-pinch-uk-cabinet-ministers-discreet-but-devastating-dissent-on-immigrati

david March 13, 2014 at 5:06 am

interestingly, imperial China also had nuclear families under the Qin and Han. Taxation enforcement concerns motivated later dynasties to compel families to stay together, invoking Confucian ideals, with varying degrees of success. Likewise, the lineage/clan would then provide social insurance and elderly welfare. The lineage system weakened most under the Song, when imperial examination systems obliged the landed-scholar nobility to make long-distance marriages to build contacts, since individual noble families had no guarantee of maintaining official influence; the majority of families flouted the law. Thereafter it returned with a vengeance, lasting all the way to the Cultural Revolution

in England, the unit for such state services was the parish. It is not strictly speaking accurate to say that people could ‘leave home’, since the Poor Law prohibited the idle from leaving their parish. I think the question is why the parish unit resisted capture by landed nobility over the centuries.

Felix Phong Woo March 14, 2014 at 3:06 am

Chinese were polygamous, married very young, and bred like rabbits.

londenio March 13, 2014 at 4:01 am

Some years ago you wrote a post about the emotion of arriving at London or Amsterdam airports, as those were places were freedom was born. That statement always intrigued me. Not because I don’t agree with the contribution of these states to our current world, but because of the emphasis on these two places, as if they were the only contributors to the creation of our modern idea of freedom. Would you (or other commenters) mind sharing what are, in your view, the one or two developments or innovations in England (or the Netherlands) that make them merit this status? Is it property rights? Is it parliamentary democracy? Is it something more abstract? What would Berlin say? Thanks in advance.

(clearly I have not read the book referred to in this post).

prior_approval March 13, 2014 at 4:29 am

‘out of realization that I am visiting a birthplace (the birthplace?) of liberty’

Then you must weep when visiting the Althing – no kings or state church involved in that version of liberty for almost three centuries. Most of that time predating the Magna Carta.

And for the atypical reader of this web site who may not be aware of the Iceland of the sagas, here is a bit of information about an institution that predates the Norman invasion of England – ‘The Alþingi (anglicised as Althing or Althingi) is the national parliament (literally: “[the] all-thing”, or general assembly) of Iceland. It is one of the oldest extant parliamentary institutions in the world. The Althing was founded in 930 at Þingvellir, the “assembly fields” or “Parliament Plains”, situated approximately 45 km east of what later became the country’s capital, Reykjavík. This event marked the beginning of the Icelandic Commonwealth. Even after Iceland’s union with Norway in 1262, the Althing still held its sessions at Þingvellir until 1799, when it was discontinued for 45 years. It was restored in 1844 and moved to Reykjavík, where it has resided ever since. The present parliament building, the Alþingishús, was built in 1881, of hewn Icelandic stone.’ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Althing

Admitting, Iceland never subjected the world to its imperial rule, which shows just how far the invention of liberty goes in creating our modern world. Ask an Irishman about it. Or for that matter, an Australian. Maybe a Malaysian. Or a Kenyan. Actually, it just might be that the sun never sets on a place that was gifted with the British conception of liberty, monarch and state church included. Few are likely to shed a tear (well, who knows about the Australian – probably depends if their ancestors were Irish transportees), since they are more than just a bit aware of what those problems were.

And one wonders what Americans in the 13 colonies thought about British liberty – why, I do believe there is a document one can read about their opinion of it, actually. It starts out ‘When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation….’

Why any American feels any teary connection concerning liberty when their nation fought a war to break free it of escapes me.

prior_approval March 13, 2014 at 4:33 am

‘to break free it of’ – ‘to break free of England’

Brian Donohue March 13, 2014 at 11:01 am

You should read some Edmund Burke.

JKB March 13, 2014 at 11:44 am

So are you saying that the idea of liberty for all was put in men’s hearts by Iceland? And you seem to equate a national parliament with evidence of liberty and freedom? The concept that the latter apply to all men (and yes, there was a progression of application) is the invention. The former is just an institution that may or may not represent, enhance and support the concept.

Democracy, parliaments, nor tripartite government are not liberty and freedom. They are institutions formed to, hopefully, support liberty and freedom, but, they can sadly be instruments to usurpation of liberty and freedom if not held in check.

were areth thou March 16, 2014 at 7:07 pm

I agree with most of what you have said. In the US ” WE THE PEOPLE” truly don’t have freedom. As I write this every American is violating at least three federal laws, one way or another. Americans are still using legal processes that the English made from the 1600’s. We still run town, city meetings using ROBERTS RULES. Americans just can’t get away from English rule in one form or another. In this country there is still a witch hunt going on. Wait a couple of decades and there will be a new subject to jump on. Today it’s sex offenders. What will it be next? The media in America is the almighty power to control our elections, how Americans are thinking and acting. Media owners are buying there ideals and using them to their profit. America really needs to look at and change a lot of what is going on.

Alan March 13, 2014 at 4:47 am

And, of course, the greatest _individual_ contributors to liberty and human progress were English-speaking economists.

I suspect Tyler sometimes makes fun of his acolytes, but it is hard to recognise when he is doing it. And see that letter “s” there? I grew up speaking English and Lallans*, not American. If I ever meet Tyler in person, I expect he will be a little misty-eyed.

*The language of the southern part of Scotland, particularly Adam Smith. This makes me superior to most Sassenachs (John Stuart Mill possible exception) because logic.

Roy March 13, 2014 at 5:25 pm

Of course it does, that accent, and obnoxious use of Gaelic words like “sassenach”, works wonders with North American women.

yo March 13, 2014 at 4:52 am

Tyrone? Is that you?

anon March 13, 2014 at 11:36 am

No. Tyrone doesn’t shed any tears.

Further or Alternatively March 13, 2014 at 5:40 am

The point is that England is the birthplace of that kind of liberty which is seen as such – and valued as such – across the English-speaking world, in particular in the United States. Ancient Greece – obviously a great source of old ideas about liberty. Scandinavia – obviously a great source of more recent ones. But the institutions which enshrine and guarantee liberty in the English-speaking world aren’t modelled on or directly descended from the Athenian agora or the Althing – or from Swiss cantons, Polish nobility, etc, etc. It’s like the difference between one’s mother and a nice old woman – I’m not saying my mother’s better, but she’s mine and I love her. Surely Tyler Cowen is entitled to feel some emotional bond to, if not the mother, then at least the great-grandmother country of his liberty?

Pierre March 13, 2014 at 7:01 am

“How the English-Speaking Peoples Made the Modern World.”
Sounds a little bit cocky and exagerated.
It is far different from what you are saying:
“How England set the democracy standard for the English-speaking World.”
Or if we want a more accurate and universal title:
“How the English-Speaking Peoples had a non trivial role in the making of the modern World. (Along with many other European civilisations, that were all the heirs of much older traditions.)”

The Anti-Gnostic March 13, 2014 at 7:20 am

The differences in outlook between the Anglophone common law and Continental civil law are pretty substantial. The proposition that we declare as the defining characteristics of the American nation-state–lex rex, limited government, property rights, free markets–are really kind of scarce elsewhere. Much of the world doesn’t bother with such foggy notions; the law is what the state says it is, and government is as legitimate an avenue as any for rent-seeking to the benefit of your extended family.

It’s actually reassuring to see Tyler have some awareness of the fact that only a certain people among all the world’s peoples dreamed up the proposition and defended it. (For example, it didn’t turn out nearly so well when they tried this experiment in France.) Hopefully he’s thinking through the implications of that.

Pierre March 13, 2014 at 7:29 am

Of course there is an Anglo-saxon type of democracy. Does it mean that there are no Demoncracy under Continetl civil law?
One could also say that a pillar of modern democracy is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and that declaration is merely an adaptation of the 1789 French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.
I am just saying that even if Anglo-saxon culture played an important role in the modern definition of democracy, it is very ethnocentric to think it was the only one, and the only mode.
(I don’t understand your French reference.)

The Anti-Gnostic March 13, 2014 at 9:13 am

You’re conflating democracy with rights. Again, that is a peculiarly Continental perspective. Anglophones historically restricted the franchise and favored republican governance.

Pierre March 13, 2014 at 9:58 am

The tripartite system is a French invention. And there is a huge amount of papers about how the American founding fathers were influenced by French ideas. There is no self-generated culture.

PD Shaw March 13, 2014 at 12:22 pm

I assume these papers on French influence on the Founders are written in French for a French audience? That’s not the history taught in America. It’s John Locke, Adam Smith, and William Blackstone. More generally, they will describe how the Founders were influenced by a radical Whig Interpretation of the Glorious Revolution.

john personna March 13, 2014 at 12:39 pm

There is a phenomenon that we should acknowledge, PD. Every people invent a serial timeline of history for themselves. The British thought that they inherited from Rome, who inherited from Greeks, who inherited from Egypt. (Maybe throw some Phoenicians in there.) We just tacked ourselves in front. USA > Britain > Rome > Greece > Egypt.

Such narratives are useful, instilling an idea of progress and (dare we say) exceptionalism in the student, but they are obviously reductions.

History is really much more interesting than that.

Pithlord March 13, 2014 at 1:04 pm

“I assume the papers on French influence on the Founders were written in French for a French audience?”

I would assume that even with their degraded educational system, some Americans would be aware of Montesquieu. The Federalists and the anti-Federalists sure liked invoking his authority.

PD Shaw March 13, 2014 at 2:45 pm

sure, Montesquieu was important to them, though I would argue not as important as the others I mentioned, and his significance was in identifying the importance of separation of powers in the English system of government.

Pierre March 13, 2014 at 6:54 pm

Actually the French audience probably doesn’t really care about the American founding fathers. I would say most of them don’t even know who they were.
“By far the most important French sources to the American Enlightenment, however, were Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws and Emer de Vattel’s Law of Nations. Both informed early American ideas of government and were major influences on the Constitution. Voltaire was read but seldom cited. Rousseau had almost no influence, except on Noah Webster, who used his educational ideas in writing his famous Speller.”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Enlightenment
“Among the most famous American Francophiles is Thomas Jefferson. Even during the excesses of the Reign of Terror, Jefferson refused to disavow the revolution because he was “convinced that the fates of the two republics were indissolubly linked. To back away from France would be to undermine the cause of republicanism in America.” Commenting on the continuing revolutions in the Netherlands and France, the retired Secretary of State predicted: “this ball of liberty, I believe most piously, is now so well in motion that it will roll round the globe, at least the enlightened part of it, for light & liberty go together. it is our glory that we first put it into motion.” Jefferson would often sign his letters “Affectionately adieu”, and commented late in life “France, freed from that monster, Bonaparte, must again become the most agreeable country on earth.””
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francophile
“In the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783), France fought alongside the United States, against Britain, from 1778. French money, munitions, soldiers and naval forces proved essential to America’s victory over the Crown, but France gained little except large debts.”

Petr Akuleyev March 13, 2014 at 6:11 am

Every time my plane lands in England I shed at least a tear, maybe more, out of realization that I am visiting a birthplace (the birthplace?) of liberty.

Yet you support the continued immigration of millions of individuals who have no love or feeling for English traditions or institutional guarantees of liberty, and who will probably, out of stupidity and ignorance more than malice, cause an end to those traditions within my lifetime. Or is that why you’re crying?

The Anti-Gnostic March 13, 2014 at 7:21 am

Bingo.

Slocum March 13, 2014 at 2:11 pm

The most common ethnic background in the U.S. is German. English just makes the top five ahead of Italian:

http://www.adweek.com/sa-article/largest-us-ethnic-group-it-s-germans-138988

German-speaking populations (with German-language newspapers and church services) were common into the 20th century and likely would have lasted considerably longer had it not been for the world wars. In the 19th century there was also considerable nativist angst about the odd customs and lack integration of various immigrant groups (German, Italian, Irish, Chinese).

Harold Lloyd March 13, 2014 at 5:10 pm

German revolutionaries escaping in 1848 also influenced the war of northern aggression and comprised a large part of the union army. Scots-Irish southerners surely didn’t appreciate their immigration in the 1860s.

msgkings March 14, 2014 at 2:21 pm

War of northern aggression…LOL ..that takes me back to my days in Texas…

Pierre March 13, 2014 at 7:22 am

It is interesting. More generally I have noticed how the US is really England-centric when it comes to its relationship to Europe as a culture.
Through European history, England has always been only one among many other equally powerful countries. Even during its XIXth zenith England was still culturally on par, or even slightly below, the French culture (for example).
Nevertheless if I was only reading American blogs, I would had the impression that England would have represented 75% of what Europe was.

KO March 13, 2014 at 7:39 am

This is a nice line: “inalienable rights of the individual”. I’m sure when the English speakers had enslaved half the world they thought deeply about this, over the cups of teas their subjects brought them.

I do not doubt that in many ways the English spekers remade the world, but individual rights is something they reserved for themselves until they could no more.

Chip March 13, 2014 at 8:15 am

Slavery was as normal as eating dinner across the world and throughout history.

It was the English who developed a revulsion for it and sent their navy after the slavers.

When you criticize the English (or the Anglo Saxon west in general) for slavery, you are using their value system to do so.

john personna March 13, 2014 at 11:28 am

I think that works as a rough proxy for freedom, I give you the abolition of slavery timeline.

john personna March 13, 2014 at 11:32 am

1537: Pope Paul III forbids slavery of the indigenous peoples of the Americas as well as of any other new population that would be discovered, indicating their right to freedom and property. However, only Catholic countries apply it, and state that they cannot possibly enforce what happens in the distant colonies.

The Anti-Gnostic March 13, 2014 at 8:22 am

They were more regarded as the “rights of Englishmen.” Tyler is being kind of circumspect about that.

Which I’m beginning to wonder may be a better way to think about rights. Just as “monarchy” is a collection of powers and privileges seized by a strong, charismatic leader and bequeathed to his progeny, “rights” are the same thing when a people do it. Over time, Americans have thought less of their rights as sort of a national treasure or property of the nation to be bequeathed to their posterity, and more of their rights in this universalist, gnostic sense. So they erode from private abuse and collective neglect. Just a thought.

The “enslaved half the world” trope is getting kind of tired. That half the world is now free of the Anglophone heel, and reverting back to where they were before the British Empire, so now that half of the world is trying to emigrate back under the Anglophone heel.

JKB March 13, 2014 at 11:58 am

“rights of Englishmen”, but then I suppose more and more of the world’s peoples have become Englishmen.

We can think of the “rights of Englishmen” as a patent. For a time, the Englishman enjoyed the rights, refined the rights, and profited from the rights. But even before the patent ran out, the rights were being copied by others. And eventually all Englishmen claims were cast aside and the invention was open to all comers for use, improvement and advancement. One wonders, would those rights have been permitted out of the laboratory of thought if their ultimate transformative effect on the lowest in the social/economic order was known? The inventors had selfish interests and hoped for personal profit from the invention of rights. It is doubtful they ever considered the broader market for the invention or the new ways they would be employed to create the modern world.

Rich Berger March 13, 2014 at 7:47 am

This one really brought out the sourpusses.

Harold March 13, 2014 at 11:19 pm

Indeed. I doubt either of the following would have recieved quite as much boohooing.
“The Jewish Century”, “This masterwork of interpretative history begins with a bold declaration: The Modern Age is the Jewish Age”
“How the Scotts Invented the Modern World”
Regarding these would we have heard as much akin to “Smug ethnocentric pabulum”, “cocky and exaggerated”, etc.

ivvenalis March 13, 2014 at 8:03 am

Wait, someone said something good about the English? MAN THE BARRICADES! Everyone knows that they haven’t been victimized enough to be relevant.

Benny Lava March 13, 2014 at 8:07 am
Chip March 13, 2014 at 9:12 am

The history of man is the history of war. Perpetual war, from clans to tribes and countries.

The English were just more successful than others. And their slow accretion of rule of law, democratic principles and wealth creation laid the foundation for the world today, which sees the fewest wars in human history.

Benny Lava March 13, 2014 at 10:08 am

Ah yes, Così fan tutte! Time to morally equivocate one’s priors.

Brandon March 13, 2014 at 2:49 pm

War. War never changes.

Pensans March 13, 2014 at 8:12 am

Not English-speaking people, English people.
Flood the country with foreigners and the liberty has gone.
Save us your tears and stop promoting the ethnic destruction of the nations, Cowen.

Michael G. Heller March 13, 2014 at 8:44 am

Thank you for the opportunity. *Heller Economic History Entertainments* (hehe! for the English, heh heh! for the North Americans) is a new blog rapidly acquiring a reputation for expertise in all matters pertaining to English society’s unique institutional inventiveness. We’re glad to see that though the man Hannan has the good manners not to be making claims to originality on this well-rehearsed topic he is perfectly correct in the outline. He must have listened well to his fine Oxford modern history tutors. Personally I never desire to read books written by politicians. I made an exception for Mario Vargas Llosa who ran for President in Peru in 1990. That was unusual however. He was a novelist first, a well-read classical liberal second, a really atrocious political candidate third, and brilliant failed-politician-autobiographer only a distant fourth. The victor in Peru’s 1990 elections was Alberto Fujimori, a basically decent hard-working man of Japanese descent with true English grit. Therefore he suffered a double-dose of racism — twice — from Peru’s Iberian elite and then from a peculiarly Ibero-American brand of international human rights law. Luckily the indigenous population mistook ‘el Chino’ for one of their own, giving him two consecutive landslide wins. Unluckily Fujimori was so sincere he returned from exile. His barbaric 25 year prison sentence is one of the major unrecognised un-redressed injustices of our times.

Dan S. March 13, 2014 at 9:25 am

Walter Russell Mead’s *God and Gold* is a very good book on this point, I would say, particularly in his discussions of ideology. http://www.amazon.com/God-Gold-Britain-America-Vintage-ebook/dp/B001FA0KFO/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1394717050&sr=8-1&keywords=god+and+gold

Dan S (a different one) March 13, 2014 at 9:35 am

I used to post as Dan S. How dare you! Two Dan Ss in the world; unthinkable! I guess I’ll just have to come up with a snarky nickname…

Enrique -- Prior Probability March 13, 2014 at 9:34 am

Hey, Tyler, this review would make a great piece for The Onion. Why don’t we increase our sample size to ask the people from Australia, Kenya, Jamaica, India (or any other British Commonwealth nation) about the British commitment to liberty and rule of law?

Pithlord March 13, 2014 at 1:13 pm

Why not? You would get more complex answers than you think. It’s impossible not to resent the English, but the fact that there is a Commonwealth itself tells you something.

The British Empire can be simultaenously a story of the slave trade and genocide AND of liberty and the rule of law. Certainly not for everyone in every way from the outset. Liberty and the rule of law just arise out of history red in tooth and claw.

I assumeTyler is aware the British Empire was not all tea and crumpets. Isn’t Cowen an Irish name?

Enrique March 13, 2014 at 9:36 am

Hey, Tyler, this review would make a great piece for The Onion. Why don’t we increase our sample size to ask the people from Australia, Kenya, Jamaica, India (or any other British Commonwealth nation) about the British commitment to liberty and rule of law?

Urso March 13, 2014 at 11:03 am

But this is why England was the birthplace of freedom. Because they were expansionary. Iceland was not, because it was never anything more than a tiny polity on the edge of the known universe. What’s the use of having the longest-standing parliament in history if you keep it to yourself?

prior_approval March 13, 2014 at 1:20 pm

And yet, other Nordic, though non-English speaking countries, were fully aware of what form of government Iceland had. Again, using the sagas as a historical source, which I’m sure any but the most atypical commenter at this website have read. Njal’s sage is recommended in this regard, for those more interested in how the Althing worked, a good half century before the Normans invaded England.

Though roughly around the time that pillaging England was still a Nordic sport, shared by all the Scandinavian polities. Seems like the Nordics were just less efficient in fitting liberty into their longboats than the British were in their merchantmen and slave ships, 6 centuries later.

And Iceland is still a country the monarchy of the UK has a tough time dealing with – it seems as if the Icelanders are unimpressed when a kingdom attempts to ignore Iceland’s rights. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cod_Wars

The Anti-Gnostic March 14, 2014 at 10:34 am

Or, you can ask how people are voting with their feet now that places like Kenya, Jamaica and India are free from British rule. Then you can ask yourself what is different about Australia from its Commonwealth sisters Kenya, Jamaica and India. That will probably be the point where your crimethink alarms start going off and you stop asking questions.

msgkings March 14, 2014 at 2:20 pm

What’s crimethink about noticing Australia’s vast natural resources and temperate climate (on most of the coast)?

JKB March 13, 2014 at 10:08 am

I haven’t read Hannan’s book. But this idea of the impact of the English-speaking peoples on the modern world was broached in William Rosen’s ‘The Most Powerful Idea in the World”. But it would be wrong to think it was the ethnically English-speaking rather than the culturally English-speaking. Those who emigrated from other lands to become English-speaking peoples in their new homes contributed much once they arrived in liberties melting pot. The right to profit from your ideas catalyzed by the institutions to secure that right was a decidedly English-speaking world invention.

“Instead, like all the world’s earlier explosions of invention, it, in the words of one of the phenomenon’s most acute observers, “fizzled out.” One unique characteristic of the eighteenth-century miracle was that it was the first that didn’t.

“The other one, the real reason that the threads leading from Rocket [the first steam locomotive] form such a challenging knot, is that the miracle was, overwhelmingly, produced by English-speaking people. Rocket incorporates hundreds of invention, small and large –safety valves, feedback controls, return flues, condensers — to say nothing of the iron foundries and coal mines that supplied its raw materials. If one could magically edit out those steam engines invented in Italy, or Sweden, or –more important — France, or China, Rocket would still run. If the same magic were applied to those invented in England, Scotland, Wales, and America, the platform in the Science Museum would be empty.

“That is a puzzle for which there is no shortage of proposed solutions (see Industrial Revolution, Theories of, above). The one propose by the book you hold in your hands can be boiled down to this: The best explanation for the preeminence of English speakers in lifting humanity out of its ten-thousand-year-long Malthusian trap is that the Anglophone world democratized the nature of invention.

“Even simpler: Before the eighteenth century, inventions were either created by those wealthy enough to do so as a leisure activity (or to patronize artisans to do so on their behalf), or they were kept secret for as long as possible. In England, a unique combination of law and circumstance gave artisans the incentive to invent, and in return obliged them to share the knowledge of their inventions. … Human character (or at least behavior) was changed, and changed forever, by seventeenth-century Britain’s insistence that the ideas were a kind of property. This notion is as consequential as any idea in history. “

Neo Reactionary March 13, 2014 at 10:10 am

Freedom and the modern world can go to hell.

Millian March 13, 2014 at 10:17 am

Perhaps cry because Westminster oversaw a death rate in 1840s Ireland comparable to that of the Khmer Rouge.

prior_approval March 13, 2014 at 1:03 pm

But as many of the dead weren’t actually English speakers, they weren’t part of the liberty being spread with such gusto by her majesty, Queen Victoria.

Ankur March 13, 2014 at 10:30 am

Yes, yes – Britain, the great fountain of liberty…..and colonizer of almost half the world

JKB March 13, 2014 at 11:19 am

And both of those attributes satisfy the subtitle: “How the English-Speaking Peoples Made the Modern World.”

An argument could be made that the latter helped the rapid spread of the former by essentially creating more English-speaking people around the world.

Donald Pretari March 13, 2014 at 12:20 pm

One Thing the English-Speaking Peoples most certainly invented was Boasting.

Matt March 13, 2014 at 12:28 pm

Didn’t Niall Ferguson recently write this exact book?

Didn’t Tyler link approvingly to hysterical reviews talking about pith helmets and calling Ferguson a racist?

Peter March 13, 2014 at 12:32 pm

I thought freedom was invented in the 5th century BCE under a fig tree in Bodh Gaya.

Donald Pretari March 13, 2014 at 1:27 pm

Frankly, these are the kind of arguments you expect to hear in a bar during the World Cup. “The Brazilians might kick our ass in football, but they damned-well better remember that it was us, the British, who invented the modern world in which football is played.”

fwiw March 13, 2014 at 2:47 pm

nailed it. This is a ridiculous post, I feel guilty even giving it traffic.

Ed March 13, 2014 at 3:29 pm

To put it another way, the distinction was not between Catholic and Protestant individuals, but between Catholic and Protestant states.

I don’t think that many of the Catholics in Northern Ireland would agree with that.

Jermaine March 13, 2014 at 7:46 pm

While Britain was enjoying all that liberty in the 19th century, the Germans already had a welfare state and a much higher literacy rate.

Plot Twist March 14, 2014 at 12:21 pm

…followed by their record in the 20th century.

Jermaine March 14, 2014 at 12:37 pm

Have you talked to Godwin yet today?

JKB March 14, 2014 at 3:45 pm

Really, you are equating liberty with the welfare state? That’s a nice meal you got there, just keep your mouth shut and do as you are told.

East Germany had a pretty sweet welfare state there in the mid-20th century as well.

Liberty does come with a good helping of personal responsibility.

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