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Daniel Hannan on the American Past and Future

Posted on 10 April 2011 by Editor

Originally posted 2009-08-13 20:55:56. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Brian Brown
August 11, 2009
Humane Pursuits

Last week Daniel Hannan, the member of the European Parliament best-known for his scathing dressing-down of Prime Minister Gordon Brown, delivered a lecture at The Heritage Foundation. It’s a good 40 minutes or so, but well worth watching–Hannan articulates American political principles better than most Americans, and warns against chasing a technocratic solution to health care or any other problem.  Though he underestimates how far America has already walked down the path of rationalism, he is an entertaining speaker who has a penchant for quietly working great political thought into his words (see if you can find the subtle not-quite-quotations of Edmund Burke).  Watch it here.

One of Hannan’s more insightful points responds to the question of why, if Britain’s statist government is so bad, British voters have not long since gotten rid of it (Britain has had government-run health care since 1948).  Hannan blames it on the temperamental conservatism of the British people–its resistance to change, its fear of (relevant to Bryan’s point) an abstract alternative that does not yet exist.  Though Hannan faults such conservatism in this case, his criticism is gentle, almost as if he were reproving a particularly close friend for a well-intentioned mistake.

Appropriate enough, since Hannan’s speech ultimately defends such conservatism against the kind of revolutionary liberalism that brought about government health care in the first place.  At the heart of such liberalism is the belief that life as we currently know it is intolerable and must be radically changed.  At the heart of conservatism is the belief (conscious or not) that life as we currently know it is worth living.

The significance of this distinction is that the revolutionary liberal wishes to reshape the world in the here and now, while the conservative wishes to preserve it and pass it on, preferably somewhat improved, to the next generation.  To borrow Anna’s analogy, conservatism holds less potential for a brand-new building, but also less potential for the destruction of generations-old foundations.  Hannan urges his listeners not to forget how good their foundation is–not to forget that life, as they know it, is worth living.

In its respect for its foundations, Hannan argues, it is the American way–not the utopian dreams of radical reformers–that is truly oriented toward the future.  The genius of the American people, as Hannah Arendt once observed, “consisted in the extraordinary capacity to look upon yesterday with the eyes of centuries to come.”

Hannan channels Arendt’s observation in his remarks, arguing that America’s ability to bind itself back to a beginning, to build on the foundation chosen by generations past, is what enables it to keep its constitutional promise to pass on the building to future generations.  In one of his most poignant lines, Hannan warns that in chasing European-style statism, “You are breaking faith with your founders, and also with your posterity.”

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Brian Brown writes for Humane Pursuits

Article has been published with the author’s permission

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