10 questions with British politician and ‘New Road to Serfdom’ author Daniel Hannan

Jamie Weinstein Senior Writer
Font Size:

Daniel Hannan is the author of the new book,”The New Road to Serfdom: A Letter of Warning to America.” The pro-American British politician is currently a Member of the European Parliament.

Hannan recently agreed to answer 10 questions about his new book and other issues of interest from The Daily Caller:

1.  Why did you write the book?

I wrote it as a friend of America and of American democracy. When you see a friend about to repeat your mistakes, you try to warn him. As a Member of the European Parliament, I’m living and working in your future – or at least the future towards which your present rulers seem intent on taking you: welfarism, state-run healthcare, carbon levies, government regulation, higher taxes, the centralization of power. Believe me, my friends, you’re not going to like it.

2.  Let me ask you, a British politician, a question President Obama flubbed: Do you believe in American exceptionalism? If so, what makes America so exceptional?

America is exceptional for the most obvious reason: its people, or at least their relatively recent ancestors, chose to become Americans. Other countries are defined by language and culture, territory and religion; but the U.S. is defined by its Constitution and the majestic vision that infuses that Constitution. Anyone who shares that vision can become an American, no matter where he was born. And plenty of non-Americans, too, believe in the values that inspired the heroes of Philadelphia, which is why the world has a stake in your success.

The promise held out by your Constitution didn’t simply serve to keep you prosperous and free. It drove your fathers to bring liberty to other continents. As a British patriot, who loves his own country, I value what yours stands for.

3.  Do you believe the things that make America great are under threat? And, if so, what is that threat?

America isn’t set apart by some special quality in its sky or its soil, but by its political structures – structures that go right back to the foundation. The Framers of the Constitution understood what the concentration of power meant: they had spent years fighting its consequences. Their genius was to disperse jurisdiction, to make office-holders directly accountable, to ensure that decisions were taken as closely as possible to the people they affected. You can see their imprint today in a series of procedures that make American democracy unique: open primaries, referendum and initiative mechanisms, balanced budget requirements, recall votes, the direct election of public officials from the sheriff to the school board. It’s human nature to take familiar things for granted, I suppose; very few of my American friends seem to have much sense of how unusual and fortunate they are to have these lingering Jeffersonian safeguards against overweening state power.

What’s the threat? The threat is that you are abandoning that model, Europeanizing your political system. Power is shifting from elected representatives to federal czars, from the 50 states to Washington, from the legislature to the executive, from the citizen to the government. The federal government is 30 per cent bigger today than it was in 2008.
4.  When did you first read Hayek’s Road to Serfdom and how influential was it on you?

I read it as a student, and what struck me most was its prescience. Even today, some of Hayek’s arguments seem radical; but during the Second World War, when all manner of private assets and institutions were being annexed by governments, what he was saying must have sounded extraordinary, however measured and professorial his tone. One of his arguments cannot be repeated too often: that fascism and socialism are brothers, offspring of the same perverted ideology that exalts the state over the individual.

5.  What is the most important thing you want readers to take away from your book?

Honor the vision of your Founders; respect the most sublime constitution devised by human intelligence; preserve for your children the same liberties you were lucky enough to inherit from your parents.

6.  Have you read Tony Blair’s memoir? If so, any thoughts?

He obviously wrote it unaided: the prose is almost unbearably fulsome and jejune. There are, I think, just two sections where the language is more conventional, and where you can detect the hand of an assistant. Still, it’s revealing, both about the man’s character and about his breezy approach to public office. He carries you along, with a kind of scatty breathlessness. It’s also, in a strange way, a shop window: an advertisement for a new role which Tony Blair has invented for himself, that of freelance international statesman (hence lengthy passages about Northern Ireland and the Middle East). I’ll give him this, though: it was an extraordinarily generous act to give his profits to the Royal British Legion, and some of the criticism he received – both from conservatives and from leftists who won’t forgive him for Iraq – was very churlish.

7.  How’s David Cameron doing?  What do you think of the new Labor leader ‘Red’ Ed Miliband?

David Cameron has begun superbly: cutting ministers’ pay and privileges; reducing the number of MPs; putting parents in charge of schools; razing the unaccountable executive agencies that have proliferated in Britain (we call them quangos: Quasi-Autonomous Non-Governmental Organizations); shifting people from welfare into work; and, most important, reducing the deficit. My only real disagreement with him is over the EU: he has carried on, like every recent prime minister, signing away our democracy to Brussels. The case for a referendum on our continued membership is stronger than ever.

As for Ed Miliband, he is a here-today-gone-tomorrow party leader. He may be a very nice chap, but he won’t get to be prime minister. There are only so many hours in the day, and bothering to learn all about Ed Miliband is not the most productive way to fill them.

8.  You are a member of the EU parliament. Shouldn’t you be opposed to the very existence of the EU parliament?

Yup: I am. I promise to vote myself out of a job as soon as I get the chance.

9.  What are the three most important books that shaped your worldview – other than the original Road to Serfdom?

If I were being completely honest, I’d give you three of Shakespeare’s plays: no mind produced by our species begins to approximate his. But three Shakespeare plays would make for a dull answer, so let’s just take one – Richard II, say, as an outstanding political as well as lyrical work – and add Macaulay’s History of England and, for the most brilliant analysis of the base motives that actuate many politicians, Robert Caro’s trilogy on Lyndon B Johnson. Like many of Caro’s fans, I’m waiting with growing anxiety for the next – and, we’re promised, final – installment. He’s been at work for 40 years, and has produced three gigantic tomes, and we’re still in the Senate. We haven’t even reached the vice-presidential campaign, let alone Civil Rights or Vietnam.

10.  Any plans to write another book?

Yes. Until now, I’ve been writing political tracts, but I’d like to try some serious history.