Have you heard of Daniel Hannan? Really? You should. He is a British Member of the European Parliament (MEP; Tory), and his very-public smackdown of Prime Minister Gordon Brown in Brussels became viral earlier this summer:
Today, he had a great blog post about the American 'idea'. I always like it when foreign folks understand why Americans are proud in a way that I believe is very different from other nations. The president said a few months ago that he believes in American exceptionalism just as that Britons believe in British exceptionalism and Greeks in Greek exceptionalism. If he spoke rhetorically to not insult our neighbors and allies, I might be able to hear an argument for it. If he spoke what he believes, then he is, quite simply, a fool. America is an idea, and a good one at that. It is an imperfectly executed idea, certainly. We have had slavery and limited suffrage; we have propped up tin-pot dictators while waxing on about freedom; we have sometimes bullied our friends and overthrown democratically-elected leaders. I have no illusions about the sins of my nation. However, what makes America a great idea is the fact that we believe, as we have always believed, that the ultimate ordering of human society should be based on freedom. By that I mean the liberty to believe what you will, speak what you want, associate with those whom you choose, use your talents as you may, and reap the rewards--or suffer the consequences--of your own actions. We are not a nation because we have a culture that has been forged over many thousands of years, the way that Britain and Greece do. We aren't 'Americans' because we were born in 'America.' We are a nation because we share the ideal--and seek to spread it to the rest of the world--that men are equal in worth and cannot be ruled by anything other than that to which they consent. Mr. Hannan understands that. I wish more Americans, including our own president, would as well.
But, off of my soapbox: Hannan's post is interesting. It shows that he is a learned but engaged man. He has always viewed Thomas Jefferson as a luminary. Someone pointed out to him, however, that Mr. Jefferson may not be the best hero. Choose John Adams instead, the person pushes. I certainly fall into the camp that thinks Jefferson is overrated. He wrote beautiful prose and left us with many excellent precedents, but he was also patrician, theoretical, and hypocritical. Adams was aware of his own weaknesses (thanks largely to his blunt wife), though he couldn't control them to the extent that he desired. He was still a man of principle, though. And, like his predecessor George Washington, he wanted a system of belief that was rightly organized, with no snags. Washington realized that freedom of man meant something for the slaves he owned. Adams recognized that early on. Jefferson gave lip service to the point but never seriously entertained it. Mr. Hannan seems genuinely interested to know whether he is right or wrong. The more I learn about this man, the more I feel myself wondering if the Tories in Britain have chosen the right man to lead their party in David Cameron. He will certainly be Prime Minister soon, barring any major developments. However, he has conceded far too much to Labour in the past in an effort to appear more reasonable. Barry Goldwater said it best: extremism is worthwhile when in defense of that about which we should be extreme (in his case, liberty). Hannan seems worthy to be an extremist for the rights of Englishmen. Are there any others left?