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It Can Happen Here

American government goes European

Nov 8, 2010, Vol. 16, No. 08 • By ROGER KIMBALL
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In November 2009, the first president of the European Union, the Belgian Herman van Rompuy, declared the “first year of global governance.” On what authority did van
Rompuy issue his declaration? Best not to inquire. Hannan quotes a pertinent observation from Edward Gibbon: The fact that there are many independent states, Gibbon noted in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, has “most
beneficial consequences to the liberty of
mankind” because it limits a tyrant’s reach. The protestant in Louis XIV’s France, for example, had somewhere to flee to because Louis’s jurisdiction was limited. And what now, that the age of “global governance” has begun? And who are these new mandarins who find themselves at the helm of the EU?

Consider Catherine Ashton—that’s Baroness Ashton to you and me since Tony Blair ennobled her with a life peerage. She’s the EU’s first foreign minister. No, that’s not quite right: Only sovereign countries have foreign ministers. Entities like the EU have grander-sounding nabobs. When Baroness

Ashton took office in December 2009 she gloried in the Mikado-like title of “High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.” It’s a bit like Seth with The Tank in
Black Mischief. What had Baroness
Ashton done to merit this awesome responsibility? Well, she’d worked for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Then she sat on the Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work. Then she was with the Health Authority in Hertfordshire and served as vice president of the National Council for One-Parent Families. According to Hannan, she has never faced the voters, but she is the EU’s
Lord High Everything Else.

The EU, Hannan writes, presents “a depressing example of what the United States might turn into: a federation that is prepared to sacrifice prosperity for the sake of uniformity.” Until recently, the United States offered a pretty clear alternative to Europe. We had been used to electing the people who led us—and unelecting them if they didn’t please us. We favored, at least in theory, small government, preferred local initiatives to centralized solutions, and took self-reliance, not the size of the welfare budget, as an index of society’s health. We read and approved James Madison’s observation, in Federalist 45, that the powers delegated by the Constitution to the federal government were “few and defined”—having to do mostly with “external objects” like war, peace, and foreign commerce—while the powers delegated to the individual states were “numerous and indefinite,” extending to “all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State.” Indeed, to a large extent, the United States has until recently governed itself like “a confederation of statelets, allowing substantial autonomy to its constituent parts.”

The New Road to Serfdom sports some memorable epigraphs from such folks as John Winthrop, James Madison, and Hannan’s hero, Thomas Jefferson.
I particularly liked Jefferson’s enumeration, in 1800, of America’s many “blessings”: its secure position between two oceans, its size, its natural resources. What else was necessary to make us “a happy and a prosperous people?”
Jefferson writes:

A wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned.

Jefferson’s commendation put me in mind of an epigraph, from David Hume, that Hayek used at the front of the original Road to Serfdom: “It is seldom that liberty of any kind is lost all at once.” America’s drift towards socialism—towards bigger government, higher taxes, increasing centralization, more intrusive bureaucracy—has been gathering force for many decades. One important marker came in 1913 with the Sixteenth Amendment. Consider the text:
“Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, with apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.” Today, of course, we take the income tax for granted. Death and taxes: Are they not the inevitable evils? Perhaps. But Hannan is right that the Sixteenth Amendment “revolutionized” the relation between federal power and the states. It would, as he says,
have “horrified” Jefferson—indeed, it would have horrified all the Founders, whose care to preserve states’ rights was a critical “auxiliary precaution”
to support freedom.

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