By Adrian Hilton, Conservative Home
[...] The providential extension of materialism, capitalism and pluralism was not hindered by the maintenance of standing armies in peacetime or state repression of the people. In order to govern, our overlords had to persuade and obtain common consent: law came up from the people, not down from regime. The advancement of this social contract was a righteous mission, founded upon a Protestant understanding of the Divine Order and man’s inherent equality with man. “The idea that everyone should read the scriptures had egalitarian and democratic implications”, Hannan writes. “Protestantism also bound the peoples of Great Britain to their kindred across the oceans.” The contract of liberty became a covenant with God. And in a priceless nugget of historical insight, we learn that “Government of the people, by the people, for the people” appeared in the prologue to Wycliffe’s Bible five centuries before the phrase was appropriated by Lincoln. It was an Englishman who inspired the foundation of the City upon a Hill. If the resulting religious, political and economic freedoms were the cornerstone of the Anglosphere, Protestantism was its nascent soul.
The book chronicles the milestones which incrementally defined our liberties – Magna Carta, the Reformation, Elizabethan Settlement, Civil War, Glorious Revolution, Bill of Rights/Claim of Right, and the exemplary child of them all, the Constitution of the United States – the greatest guarantor of freedom the world has ever known. It wasn’t all picnics and plain-sailing, of course: some people’s liberties meant coercion and incarceration for others, and the spread of freedom occasionally lapsed into restraint and injustice. But this murky history is skilfully woven into Albion’s rays of sunshine and top-of-the-world optimism.
Hannan’s notion of Englishness is based not so much on the DNA of parochial consanguinity or narrow assertions of ethnicity, but on a shared inheritance that defines nationality and the common ideology that shapes Anglosphere attitudes and ethics. We talk about ‘Western’ values just to be polite to the Germans, French and Spanish. The Anglosphere is a fraternal union of the English-speaking peoples all over the world – whatever their skin colour or ocular slant. And their (or our) vocation is the extension of freedom – in the realms of politics, economics and religion: an enhanced alliance based on prosperity and common liberties. If ever there were a positive and substantive vision for the British people after European Union, this is surely it.
Like Hannan himself, this book dispels gloom and exudes positivity. And yet it has a fin de siècle feeling about it. The United Kingdom presently stands at the crossroads of destiny: we can turn left, to the incremental diminution of our ancient rights under ever-encroaching laws against ‘hate speech’, public preaching, peaceful protest and the independence of the press; or we can go right, toward freedom of speech and expression, freedom of assembly and association, freedom of religion and worship, freedom of contract and employment, and freedom from oppressive, arbitrary and punitive taxation. All of the main political parties and their leaderships have turned left: it is as though we need another glorious revolution to reassert the supremacy of the elected representative over the government official, and proclaim the primacy of the citizen over the state.