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Why does the world speak English? Why does every country at least pretend to aspire to representative government, personal freedom, and an independent judiciary?
In The New Road to Serfdom, British politician Daniel Hannan exhorted Americans not to abandon the principles that have made our country great. Inventing Freedom is a much more ambitious account of the historical origin and spread of those principles, and their role in creating a sphere of economic and political liberty that is as crucial as it is imperiled.
According to Hannan, the ideas and institutions we consider essential to maintaining and preserving our freedoms--individual rights, private property, the rule of law, and the institutions of representative government--are not broadly "Western" in the usual sense of the term. Rather they are the legacy of a very specific tradition, one that was born in England and that we Americans, along with other former British colonies, inherited.
The first English kingdoms, as they emerged from the Dark Ages, already had unique characteristics that would develop into what we now call constitutional government. By the tenth century, a thousand years before most modern countries, England was a nation-state whose people were already starting to define themselves with reference to inherited common-law rights.
The story of liberty is the story of how that model triumphed. How, repressed after the Norman Conquest, it reasserted itself; how it developed during the civil wars of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries into the modern liberal-democratic tradition; how it was enshrined in a series of landmark victories--the Magna Carta, the English Civil War, the Glorious Revolution, the U.S. Constitution--and how it came to defeat every international rival.
Yet there was nothing inevitable about it. Anglosphere values could easily have been snuffed out in the 1940s. And they would not be ascendant today if the Cold War had ended differently.
Today we see those ideas abandoned and scorned in the places where they once went unchallenged. The current U.S. president, in particular, seems determined to deride and traduce the Anglosphere values that the Founders took for granted. Inventing Freedom explains why the extraordinary idea that the state was the servant, not the ruler, of the individual evolved uniquely in the English-speaking world. It is a chronicle of the success of Anglosphere exceptionalism. And it is offered at a time that may turn out to be the end of the age of political freedom.
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