Dan Hannan at CPAC 2014: The responsibilities, and privileges, of being American

Centuries of super-power dominance by the United States and her British forefathers have made the world rather complacent about the benefits of English philosophy  The procession of enlightened global stewardship from the British Empire to America seems inevitable in retrospect, as though the tides of history carried each nation gently to the shores of world leadership… and it will be no great loss if the tides sweep them back out to sea, perhaps replacing the UK-US partnership with China or Russia, and perhaps a nuclear mullah or two.

British conservative Dan Hannan, member of the European Parliament, came to CPAC 2014 to challenge that complacency.  He spoke of the United States and United Kingdom as “family… joint heirs to a common inheritance of freedom,” facing similar problems that will have far more devastating consequences for the free world when played out across the larger stage of the American culture and economy.

“The easiest temptation, my friends, is to take things for granted – to become blase about the unique privileges we’ve been born with,” he warned.  “We could so easily fall into the error of assuming that freedom and free contract, regular elections, uncensored newspapers, jury trials with habeus corpus, equality between men and women… that these things are somehow the natural condition of an advanced society, that every country will get them, when they become educated enough and wealthy enough.  But history tells a very different story.  Those precepts were overwhelmingly developed in the language to which you’re listening today.”

As Hannan was quick to add, those noble principles had to be defended with a few “overwhelming military victories” against harsh critics who had very different ideas about the relationship between citizens and the all-encompassing State.   “As a result, our species has been elevated to a pinnacle of wealth and freedom and happiness that was previously unimaginable.”

He made an interesting point about the abiding interest of the free world – and those who would dearly love to belong to the free world – in American politics, observing that 40 million people around the globe tuned in to watch the latest American presidential inauguration on television.  (“All right, it would have been nice if it had been another president, but still…” he joked.)  No other nation’s politics generate that level of interest among the average citizens of other nations.  If there are some – including the American president whose second inaugural Hannan lamented – who believe the American century is over, that opinion clearly has not spread among those who aspire to the freedom and prosperity we have come to take for granted.

How best to restore the full measure of American leadership and moral authority?  “To make a rather obvious point,” Hannan ventured, “when you have a national debt of $17 trillion, you have to pick your fights pretty carefully.  You don’t have the luxury of intervening everywhere.  You’re not in a position to offer succor to every stricken nation, or to deploy troops in every war zone.”

Therefore, he concluded to thunderous applause, we can only “restore our authority by restoring order and sanity to the federal budget.”  After a quick review of U.S. debt levels compared to the military budgets of the world’s troublemakers, Hannan added: “My friends, when we’re talking about numbers on that scale, it’s not just your problem any more.  It becomes a problem for the Western world in general.”

Even some stern domestic critics of irresponsible government spending don’t consider how foolish our absurd budgeting policies make us look to the rest of the world.  We’re living in a dilapidated mansion, our Ruling Class lounging upon cobwebbed piles of confiscated treasure, gorging themselves while they tell the rest of the world to clean house and get on a diet.  President Obama’s foreign policy transformed him into a global non-entity, a vain poseur who still seems to think he can hoist a couple of faux Greek columns and rewrite history with a couple of speeches… but his domestic policies are what made him a laughingstock.

Hannan stressed that American citizenship confers both great privileges and enormous responsibilities, including the responsibility to avoid the spiral of debt and dependency that currently consumes us.   What is the key ingredient of irresponsibility, if not a studied ignorance of our position in the world – the abandonment of responsibility as a burden we are no longer inclined to carry?  How many Americans might resist the urge to indulge their base political instincts, and expect more of both themselves and their ruling class, if they would spend a few minutes listening to someone like Dan Hannan remind them of who they are?