An Englishman Defends American Exceptionalism

Article ID: JAR2342 | By: Douglas Groothuis

New Road to Serfdom

This review first appeared in the Christian Research Journal, volume 34, number 02 (2011). For further information or to subscribe to the Christian Research Journal go to: http://www.equip.org


Christians, as salt and light in society, should be deeply concerned about the moral and political direction of their nation (Matt. 5:13–16). As Jeremiah said, God’s people should seek the welfare of the city to which they are exiled (Jer. 29:7; see also 1 Pet. 1:17). Although we are “exiles” on earth before God restores all things (Rev. 21–22), we are still called to cultivate and develop the creation (Gen. 1:26) as well as to disciple the nations according to Jesus Christ’s matchless teachings (Matt. 28:18–20). Part of the Christian’s duty as both a citizen of heaven and of earth is to gain the best possible insights into the history, meaning, and possibilities for one’s own nation. Daniel Hannan can help us immensely in this.

While on the floor of the European Parliament in 2009, Hannan eloquently denounced British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s liberal policies. A video of his performance went viral on the Internet, thus acquainting millions of Americans to a principled and courageous politically conservative voice from England. Although Hannan does not wax very theological in this short, crisp, and insightful book, his warning to America is deeply rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Perhaps the most telling theological comments Hannan makes sum up the genius of this tradition: “It needs to be remembered that Man is fallen” (p. 10). Knowledge of this truth protects civil governments from utopian aspirations and the statist superstition that human nature can be regenerated by political effort.

Hannan’s thesis is that with the election of Barack Obama as president in 2008, America has moved radically toward European political ideals and therefore away from its founding heritage. Hannan warns, “the United States is Europeanizing its health care system, its tax rates, its day care, its welfare rules, its approach to global warming, its foreign policy, its federal structure, its unemployment rate” (xvi). By so doing, we are risking the integrity of our unique identity in the world. “Europeanization is incompatible with the vision of the founders and the spirit of the republic. Americans are embracing all the things their ancestors were so keen to get away from: high taxes, unelected bureaucrats, pettifogging rules” (118).

Like many British writers, Hannan possesses an urbane wit and an astute sense of history. He convincingly argues that America’s founding ideals were largely borrowed from England, the very nation America revolted against in 1776. Many Englishmen did not support the war, and it was not fought with great determination. Further, England generally embraced America after the war, and the United States and England have been strong military allies through the years. For these reasons, Hannan feels a keen kinship with America, and desires that it stay true to its founding ideals.

The American difference rests in a brilliant and sturdy constitution that requires federalism (a limited federal government that gives freedom to the states and individual citizens), establishes the separation of powers, and ensures both rights and liberties to its citizens. America’s greatness should matter to everyone, argues Hannan, since “the promise of the U.S. Constitution didn’t simply serve to make Americans free. It also drove your fathers to carry liberty to other continents” (118). If America loses its exceptionalism, the whole world suffers.

Hannan has in-depth experience with both British politics and the European Union, a multinational bureaucracy that has little respect for the popular will of the citizens of its constitutive states, which favors the socialist welfare state over liberty, prosperity, and opportunity, and which mandates “global governance” and supra-nationalism over the sovereignty of individual nations. In a particularly profound chapter called, “Don’t Copy Europe,” Hannan warns that we should not adopt Europe’s model of a centralized, command economy, given its excessive regulations and inability to motivate workers and produce new jobs. Nor should we Europeanize health care, given the abysmal record of England’s inefficient and bureaucratically sclerotic socialized system. We should shun the European model of welfare as well, because it makes no distinction between the deserving and undeserving poor, undercuts responsibility, and generates resentment. Our sense of society should not be inspired by Europe either, because “as the state has expanded, society has dwindled” (100). Functions traditionally given to families—such as health, education, day care, and the provision for the elderly—are assumed by the state. “So, it is perhaps no surprise that the family itself, in Europe, is in decline” (101). Europe’s recent record on immigration and its abandonment of federalism is equally undeserving of imitation.

Americans should aspire to something far better than serfdom. Hannan can help teach us how. Let Christians listen, learn, and act accordingly. —Douglas Groothuis

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D., is professor of philosophy at Denver Seminary and the author of many books on apologetics.

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