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The New Road To Serfdom by Daniel Hannan

Daniel Hannan

Reviewed by:
On November 15, 2010
Last modified:October 13, 2012


Daniel Hannan's new book, The New Road to Serfdom, hearkens back to Hayek's masterpiece, but its subtitle, A Letter of Warning to America really says it all. As a long time member of the European Parliament, he has seen what lies farther down the road we are traveling and is urging us to turn back now.

The New Road To SerfdomThe subtitle of Daniel Hannan’s book is “A Letter of Warning to America.” As a British conservative and an outspoken member of the European Parliament for 11 years, he is qualified to issue such a warning.

Hannan has written a passionate and arresting book, and one that should be read by all who value liberty and reject the siren song of security. He begins with a strong defense of American exceptionalism that, although he is much too circumspect to say so, may also be read as a rebuke of President Barack Obama’s now infamous rejection of the concept.

He explains that America is exceptional because, unlike other nations, it is not defined by territory, religion, or ethnicity, but by allegiance to a set of ideals. “The essence of America is freedom,” he writes. But, like Matthew Spalding, writing in We Still Hold These Truths, Hannon is careful to define what is meant by freedom:

Neither the earliest Americans nor their heirs saw liberty simply as an absence of rules…Liberty for them, meant the virtuous application of informed judgment. Rather than an external discipline imposed by prelates and princes, their society would be governed by an internal discipline generated by personal morality.

Distant from their king, the colonists were self-governing. The principles enshrined in the U.S. Constitution formalized the principles of decentralization and representative government that were the practical experiences of most Americans.

Hannan has seasoned his book with memorable citations from the Founders, free market economists and, of course, F. A. Hayek among others.  He seems particularly partial to Thomas Jefferson, despite Jefferson’s brief flirtation with Liberté, Egalité and Fraternité.

The author believes most Americans do not know how fortunate they are and have become careless about preserving their inheritance.  President Obama entered office vowing to fundamentally change the nation.  It has now become evident, Hannan says, that the change he intends is to make America more like Europe.

Hannon warns:

Changing America into a different country will mean forsaking the most successful constitutional model in the world. It will mean abandoning the vision of your founders – a vision that has served to make your country rich and strong and free. It will mean abandoning your ancestors and disinheriting your posterity.

He chronicles the shift in power that occurred in Europe as a result of the European Union; a shift “from elected representatives to permanent functionaries, from local counsels to central bureaucracies, from legislatures to executives, from national parliaments to Eurocrats, from the citizen to the state.”

Great Britain, he reports, is now largely administered by quangos: Quasi-Autonomous Non-Governmental Organizations, tax funded bureaucracies operating more or less independently of legislatures and insulated from public accountability.

He warns that although Americans don’t yet have a name for such bodies, at the rate they are multiplying, a name will soon be needed.

A quick check at this writing reveals that President Obama has appointed 25 new federal czars and counting, and created several thousand new federal positions to staff new and expanded federal agencies. And that’s before the multitude of new bureaucracies required to administer Obama’s health care law go on line.

Our country is too large to have all its affairs directed by a single government. Public servants, at such a distance, and from under the eye of their constituents, must, from the circumstance of distance, be unable to administer and overlook all the details necessary for the good government of its citizens; and the same circumstances, by rendering detection impossible to their constituents, will invite the public agents to corruption, plunder, and waste. Thomas Jefferson, 1812 private letter.

The author enumerates the institutions erected by the founders against overreaching government. To illustrate his point he compares the US Constitution of 7,200 words to that of the EU’s 76,000.

The US Constitution begins “We, the people… The EU Constitution begins, “His majesty the King of the Belgians.” One empowers the people and controls the state, the other does the reverse.

Specially convened assemblies ratified the US Constitution in eleven of the member states, (followed by the two remaining states shortly afterward). When the EU constitution was put to a vote by two of the founding states it was rejected. When it became evident that the citizens of the member nations would not approve, it was renamed the Lisbon Treaty and the governments of the member states withdrew the promise of referendum and simply imposed it on their unwilling citizens. (The exception was Ireland where it was initially rejected and then, pressured to put it to a second vote, was approved.)

The author reports that the EU system has systematically drained power from the once sovereign nations of its membership and invested it in Brussels where an appointed European Commission holds a monopoly of power affecting the everyday lives of member nations’ citizens.

The first generation of Eurocrats believed supra-nationalism would guarantee peace and prosperity. Instead, it brought uniformity, socialism and insolvency. In 2009, faced with economic competition abroad and foundering economies at home, the EU president began to speak in terms of “global governance.”

Until now, Hannan writes, Washington opposed such grandiose schemes and held true to the founders’ vision of national sovereignty, democratic accountability and dispersal of power. However, America now has a president who calls himself a citizen of the world and has indicated his willingness to share sovereignty on a variety of issues, including climate control and the International Criminal Court.

This international change in outlook has accompanied change in the domestic arrangements of the United States: a shift toward greater central control and higher federal spending. America in short is becoming more European.

As other commentators have done, Hannon traces the centralization of power from Teddy Roosevelt to Wilson to FDR and Lyndon Johnson. Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, is included in the list for  “expanding the state” in the manner of Big Government Democrats.

Hannan also notes the use of one or another crisis to expand the reach of government.

The delegation of particular technical tasks to separate bodies, while a regular feature, is yet the first step by which a democracy progressively relinquishes its powers. F.A Hayek, The Road to Serfdom

Hannan cites the administration of Franklin Roosevelt as an example of “the extent to which one administration can fundamentally alter the relationship between state and citizen, trampling over the founders’ vision and making permanent and harmful changes to the republic.”

In a chapter entitled “Don’t Copy Europe,” the author declines to directly criticize President Obama, stating his disbelief  “that any US president would deliberately set out to impoverish his country, or to undermine its essential freedoms. If these outcomes should ensue, they are likely to be the unintended consequences of well-intentioned reforms.”

Yet, a scant two pages later the author writes:

The platform on which he (Obama) was elected, and the policies he is now implementing, are not a series of solitary initiatives lashed randomly together. They amount to a sustained effort of Europeanization; state health care, government day care, universal college education, carbon taxes support for supra-nationalism, bigger government, softer foreign policy.

Diplomacy aside, it beggars belief that a man whose intelligence the American press continually extols could be unaware of where that road leads.

It must be mentioned that Hannan was a supporter of candidate Obama, (what was he thinking?) but having seen what President Obama has wrought, has admitted his error.)

Hannan takes readers on a tour of European model health care, British style.

Every day, the newspapers carry horror stories about what happens in hospitals. We read of people traveling abroad for treatment, of thousands of deaths from infections picked up in wards, of potential life saving drugs being withheld on grounds of cost rationing …

Although he does not make the connection, it would be well for Americans to remember that the physician put in charge of Obamacare (without benefit of congressional confirmation) is an ardent fan of the British system.

The author provides a similar tour of Euro style welfare.

The expansion of the state doesn’t just reduce economic growth. More damagingly, it tends to squeeze out personal morality. As taxes rise, charitable donations fall. As social workers become responsible for vulnerable citizens, their neighbors no longer look out for them.

Hannan warns of ‘structural dependency” that begets generations of families on the dole. It turns out that paying people to be poor creates more poor people….

He does not ignore America’s faults or that it has, at times, failed to live up to its ideals. However, he still finds that the United States is, as John Winthrop told his shipmates in 1630, “a city upon a hill,” essential to the world.

He cautions against abandoning federalism, for all of the woes he identifies in the book stem from a single source, the expansion of large and remote government.  He pleads with America not to abandon its founding principles.

The eyes of the world are upon you. And if they see you repudiate your past, abandon that which has brought you to greatness, become just another country, they, too, will have lost something.

As this reviewer was reading The New Road to Serfdom, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling allowing nearly a dozen Latin American countries to submit friend-of-the-court briefs in the Justice Department’s challenge to Arizona SB 1070.

This development is in line with the internationalist view that American judges should consider foreign laws and courts when interpreting the U.S. Constitution, particularly concerning human rights issues.

As do many citizens, I find it incredibly offensive that these foreign governments are using our court system to meddle in a domestic legal dispute and to oppose the rule of law …  What’s even more offensive is that this effort has been supported by the U.S. Department of Justice. American sovereignty begins in the U.S. Constitution and at the border… Jan Brewer, Arizona Governor

The road beckons.


1 Dominique { 11.15.10 at 5:39 pm }

I agree. This book is incredible. Every American should read it, bar none! Excellent job on your review of it. My review was not quite so extensive. 🙂


2 Quinn { 11.17.10 at 7:12 am }

Again, another well-written review. I appreciate the introduction to this book.


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