As the Thames winds its way through rural England on it’s way to London and the sea, it passes by a quiet secluded field of grass, bordered on one side by the river and by a wooded stretch of hills on the other. This charming, unassuming place would be but a quiet picnic spot were it not for its name: Runnymede.
Here, in the Year of Our Lord 1215, one of the seminal events in the history of constitutional liberty took place: when the English barons met with King John and compelled him to sign the Magna Carta, which limited the power of the British monarchy and enshrined the basic rights that, nearly 600 years later, our Founding Fathers would wage the War of Independence to defend.
If you walk up the trail into the woods, you will find a stone monument that declares the surrounding acre to be sovereign US territory — a gift of the British people to their American cousins, a gift of a portion of one of the sacred pieces of land in the history of our historic movement towards liberty.
When the Hon. Daniel Hannan — Member of the European Parliament and the Secretary General of the Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists — spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference, he did not mention this tiny piece of American Runnymede in his remarks, but the moving way in which he described what he termed “that deeper consanguinity of values, that deeper affinity of culture upon which the union of English-speaking peoples” rests could not help but remind this writer of it.
Mr. Hannan spoke first of how the liberties that we here in America hold so dear are not a mere accident of history or a default human condition, but rather spring from a long period of historical and human development rooted in the heritage of law and government that comes to us from England. These values, which are now, as he pointed out, considered Western or even universal in nature, would never have assumed such a dominant role in our modern world had it not been for the cultural and military might of the English-speaking peoples.
“The easiest temptation to give into, my friends,” Mr. Hannan warned, “is to take things for granted, to become blasé about the unique privileges we’ve been born with. We can so easily fall into the error of assuming that freedom and free contracts, that regular elections and uncensored newspapers, that jury trials and habeus corpus and equality between men and women, that these things are somehow the natural condition of an advanced society.”
As recently as the Second World War, the entire continent of Eurasia was locked in the clutches of a very different, exponentially more sinister, system of values — and it was not without effort that authoritarianism was given the bum’s rush. And in today’s world, it appears to many the days of Anglo-American-style liberty and freedom are drawing to a close.
How are we to reverse this trend of decreased American hegemony (that for all its imperfections, as Mr. Hannan points out, denies greater power to a host of far more callous authoritarian ideologies and state actors) in the world today?
The first and most essential step — which Mr. Hannan hammered repeatedly — is simple: the American people must take responsibility for the greatest national security threat facing our nation and, by way of consequence, the world: our $17 trillion national debt.
The nigh-incomprehensible enormity of our debt is what is impeding America to act at will around the world, while at the same time is helping to fund the militaries of the very authoritarian regimes eager to assume our place as the preeminent global superpower. “When you have a national debt of $17 trillion, you have to pick your fights pretty carefully.”
The national debt of the United States may be a global problem in that so many nations look to America for moral and philosophical leadership, but it is one that will only be solved by a domestic solution. The American voting public needs to start taking greater responsibility for the patrimony of liberty that now rests in our care. If we do not, we will have only ourselves to blame when we find ourselves less free at home and subjected to greater menace from abroad.
And why should an Englishman care? Because, Mr. Hannan emphatically appealed, we are more than mere allies of convenience or neighbors bordering the same ocean. “No English speaker can be indifferent to the fortunes of this republic. We’ve been through too much together. You may be a separate country but you are not, to us, a foreign country. We’re family, joint heirs to a common inheritance of freedom.”
This common inheritance stretches beyond 1776, beyond even Magna Carta back to the origins of Anglo-Saxon common law — a truly wonderful legal system that sprang organically from The People to protect their rights to their lives and properties, as opposed to the multitude of other legal systems around the world that were crafted by the elites of society to codify the powers and privileges of The State. This legal code, this fundamental idea of how to order civil society — along with the traditions of constitutional liberty and self-governance to which it gave birth — has been the gift of the English-speaking peoples to the world. And now it falls to us to conserve it.
“My friends, you are citizens of the greatest republic on this planet, and that carries responsibilities as well as privileges. It is for you to keep fast the freedoms you inherited from your parents and to pass them on intact to your children. Act worthy of yourselves!”