Hannan, The New Road to Serfdom: A Letter
or Warning to America.
HarperCollins, 2010. 200 pages, with index, $24.99. Reviewed by Douglas
Should Christians study and be
involved in politics? Some claim that politics is dirty; Christians should be
pure; therefore, Christians should not seek to understand or contribute to the
world of elections, legislation, and public policy. However, this is deeply
unbiblical. Christ is the Lord of the whole of life and has summed his
born-again and Spirit-filled people to “disciple the nations” (Matthew
28:18-20). We live in a fallen world. Christian involvement in that world—at
every level—means associating with sinners, sinful ideas, and sinful
institutions. But God’s mission as God is to draw people into his covenant,
make them eternal citizens of his Kingdom, and empower them to reestablish the
knowledge of God to the nations such that fallen mortals admit their state
before God, appropriate his promises, and put them into action as they rely on
the Spirit of Truth moment-by-moment. This cannot exclude the laws of
Since God is Lord, and not the state,
every political order is under the judgment of a higher Sovereign. For example,
the Psalms says to God and us:
Can a corrupt throne be allied with
a throne that brings on misery by its decrees? (Psalm 94:20)
The Book of Acts reports God’s
impeachment of arrogant Herod.
appointed day Herod, wearing his royal robes, sat on his throne and delivered a
public address to the people.22 They shouted, “This is
the voice of a god, not of a man.”23 Immediately,
because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died.
word of God continued to spread and flourish (Acts 12:21-22).
as salt and light in society, should be deeply concerned about the moral and
political direction of their nation (Matthew 5:13-16). Civil law substantially
shapes the character and culture of a nation. Although no tyranny can
ultimately stop the advancement of God’s Kingdom, it can displease God and
abuse people made in God’s image and likeness. Isaiah knew this: “Woe to those who make unjust laws, to
those who issue oppressive decrees” (Isaiah 10:1). Jesus himself was not coved
by political pressure, nor did he endorse unjust authority:
time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go
somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.”
He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on
driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day
I will reach my goal.’ In any
case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet
can die outside Jerusalem!
As Jeremiah said, God’s people should seek the
welfare of the city to which they are exiled (Jeremiah 29:7; see also 1 Peter 1).
Although we are “exiles” on earth before God restores all things (Revelation
21-22), we are still called to cultivate and develop the creation (Genesis 1:26)
in these terms:
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God
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. That is, being a wise agent of God means not only knowing the Word,
but knowing God’s world. This requires some knowledge of extra-biblical
history, political philosophy, and economics. Christians ought not use the
Bible as a shortcut to avoid these matters. In this endeavor, an Englishman, Daniel
Hannan can help us immensely.
While on the floor of the European Parliament in
2009, Hannan eloquently denounced British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s policies.
A video of his performance went viral on the Internet, thus acquainting
millions of Americans to a principled, articulate, and courageous politically
conservative voice from England.
Although Hannan does not wax very theological in this short, crisp, clever, and
insightful book, his warning to America is deeply rooted in the Judeo Christian
tradition. Perhaps the most telling theological comments Hannan makes sums up
the genius of this tradition: “it needs to be remembered that Man is fallen”
(10). Knowledge of this truth protects civil governments from utopian
aspirations and the superstition that human nature can be regenerated by
Hannan’s thesis is that America has moved radically
toward European political ideals and, therefore, away from its founding
heritage of limited civil government. He does not want America to become a nation
of serfs. Hence his title, which calls to mind Friedrich Hayek’s classic work, The Road to Serfdom. Hannan warns that “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). As such, 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).
Hannan, though a loyal citizen of the nation
opposed in the War of Independence, affirms American exceptionalism. This claim
has taken many forms—some more merely nationalistic, others more nuanced and
historically-informed. Basically stated, American exceptionalism does not deem America a new chosen nation, nor does it except America from
transcendent moral standards. As Jesus
From everyone who has been given much, much will be
demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be
asked (Luke 12:28)
Rather, it argues that the principles of America’s
founding (articulated in The Federalist Papers, The Declaration of
Independence, and the Constitution and the Bill of Rights) are exceptional in
world history. America
was deliberately founded by well-educated, deep-thinking and far-thinking,
intellectuals who held a Judeo-Christian view of human nature as neither
angelic nor demonic, but constrained by finitude and sin. Therefore, the power
of the state should be limited and the federal government should be separated
into three powers, each with its own jurisdiction: the executive, the
legislative, and the judicial. To many, this arrangement merely a social
construction with no intrinsic and abiding value, as claims progressivism. On
the contrary, it captures many essentials truths of the human condition and
what it means to live under ordered liberty
Like many British writers, Hannan possesses an
urbane wit and an astute sense for history. He convincingly argues that America’s founding ideals were largely borrowed England, the very nation America
revolted against in 1776. Many Englishmen did not support the war against the
colonies, and it was not fought with great determination. Further, England generally embraced America after
the war. The United States
have been strong military allies through many years, especially in World War II.
For these reasons, Hannan feels a keen kinship with America, and desires that it stay
true to its founding principles. He believes that America at its best is, in many
ways and despite is foibles, a light to world. He does not want to see that
light flicker and eventually go out. The darkness would extend beyond our
shores and throughout God’s world. 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).
Hannan has in-depth experience with both
British politics and that of the European Union, a multi-national bureaucracy
that has little respect for the popular will of the citizens of its
constitutive states. It favors a socialist welfare state over personal liberty,
prosperity, and opportunity; it mandates “global governance” and
supra-nationalism over the sovereignty of individual nations (see Genesis 11
for the original source of this error.) In a particularly profound chapter
called, “Don’t Copy Europe,” Hannan cautions that we should not copy Europe’s
model of a centralized, command (top-down) economy, given its excessive and
debilitating regulations, inability to motivate workers and generate new jobs.
Nor should we ape Europeanize health care. As an example, Hannan explains the
abysmal record of England’s
inefficient and bureaucratically sclerotic socialized system.
We should avoid the European model of welfare as
well, since it makes no distinction between the deserving and undeserving poor,
undercuts individual responsibility, and engenders resentment between people.
Our sense of society should not be inspired by Europe,
because “as the state has expanded, society has dwindled” (100). Or, as talk
radio host and author Dennis Prager says, “The larger the state, the smaller
the citizen.” Social functions traditionally given to families—such as health,
education, day care, and the provision for the elderly—are taken over by the
state. “So, it is perhaps no surprise that the family itself, in Europe, in is decline” (101). Hannan argues that Europe’s recent record on
immigration and its abandonment of federalism is equally undeserving of our imitation.
Americans should aspire to something far better
than serfdom. Daniel Hannan can help teach us how. I hope that Christians
listen, learn, and act accordingly, under the Lordship of Jesus Christ and in
the power and wisdom of the Holy Spirit of Truth.