Daniel Hannan, a member of the European Parliament, a rising political star of the Anglosphere, a trenchant journalist, an articulate speaker, and — many hope — a future occupant of Number 10 Downing Street, is well known to readers of National Review. Hannan serves as a modern-day British-intellectual Paul Revere, warning Americans that European ideas are coming, and that these ideas are anathema to our Whiggish democratic republic.
American institutions are significantly different from the ways of Europe, Hannan explains. These institutions include federalism, the separation of powers, and the direct election of innumerable officeholders, including sheriffs, school-board members, district attorneys, and even (to the horror of European elites) judges. They foster decentralization and the devolution of power.
Hannan is particularly impressed with the American system of primary elections. He points out that in Britain and Europe, candidates for parliament are chosen by the political parties. This leads to the perpetuation of a closed political class and the exclusion of issue positions favored by the public but frowned upon by elites. In the U.S., by contrast, an outsider can defeat the party leaders’ choice in a primary; this fosters a more democratic process, and brings into the open issues that elites prefer not to discuss.
Hannan is sharply critical of the expansion of state power that began in early-20th-century America, accelerated during the New Deal, and is today exemplified in President Obama’s programs, which “amount to a sustained project of Europeanization.” We should “not copy Europe” on health care, welfare, immigration assimilation, and family life. Hannan is not simply an economic conservative: He also sees America’s birth rates, church attendance, and national pride, all higher than Europe’s, as beneficial to the perpetuation of liberty.
American conservatives should take Hannan’s warnings seriously. On the domestic front we appear to have anticipated him. The narrative that Obama’s policies on health care, taxes, cap-and-trade, stimulus, etc., represent a European social-democratic agenda that threatens America’s limited-government and private-enterprise traditions has clearly been internalized by the mainstream center-right.
Serious as that threat is, for this reviewer Hannan’s most trenchant advice appears in the chapter entitled “America in the World.” Hannan, who has spent eleven years in the European Union (EU) capitals of Brussels and Strasbourg, minces no words in analyzing the EU, the International Criminal Court (ICC), the distortions of the new international law, and the challenge that the global-governance project and supra-nationalism present to democratic self-government everywhere.
Eschewing foreign-policy-speak, Hannan tells us that “the structures of the EU are intrinsically anti-democratic” and that “faced with a choice between democracy and supra-nationalism, the EU will always choose supra-nationalism.” The ICC “entrenches autocrats and weakens democrats”: “Never mind representative democracy, never mind natural justice. All that matters to the transnational elites [who run the ICC] is power.” Hannan rightly decries the transformation of international law that began in the 1990s: It is morphing into transnational law, and moving, slowly but steadily, from a being a system based on relations between nation-states to being a vehicle for global judicial activism that promotes an “anti-conservative,” politicized version of “human rights.”
Hannan notes that the Euro-integrationists have a very different worldview than the majority of Americans, who believe in democratic self-government. The Euro elites believe in global governance and supra-nationalism, and seek to promote their political model worldwide. Like the Israeli political philosopher Yoram Hazony, Hannan recognizes that this view (and not simply crude anti-Semitism) is one of the major reasons for the EU’s consistent hostility to Israel’s attempts to defend itself. Israel’s acting as an independent, democratic state — deciding for itself when to use force in the defense of its democracy, rather than subordinating its decision-making to supra-national “rules” — is an affront to the core political principles of the EU.
Hannan argues that America does not have to “prove its internationalist credentials” by submitting to global authority. Nor does it have to choose between “Europeanization and isolation.” Instead, he suggests, the nations, businesses, common-law legal systems, accounting practices, and defense establishments of the Anglosphere (think India) offer an attractive (and clearly internationalist) alternative for trade, commerce, and alliances. Americans should remain true to their Jeffersonian principles of decentralization and pluralism, Hannan tells us; we should reject the global-governance agenda of political and economic “harmonization” and “integration” through “rules and bureaucracies,” and embrace voluntary arrangements among free peoples.