My son was gaming online with a number of what I call his “virtual friends” shortly after it was announced that Britons had voted to leave the European Union (EU). Unbeknowst to my son, many of the players in his RP were British. Upon learning of the outcome of the election, the gamers began to quiz their mates regarding how they each had voted. To Brexit or not to Brexit, that was the question. Most of them quickly voiced their support for Britain’s exit from the EU, but one player’s response was priceless. When asked whether he voted for or against Brexit, he said, “Dude, I live in America. We voted in favor of Brexit in 1776.”
It has often been said that history repeats itself. In many ways, the events leading up to the Brexit vote have been just such a rerun, the only difference being Great Britain is now cast in the role made famous by the American Colonies in 1776. But the script remains familiar. In comments by proponents of Britain’s withdrawal from the EU, echoes of Thomas Jefferson’s words in the Declaration of Independence can be heard.
Judge for yourself. Below, I offer Exhibit No. 1: a video of remarks made during a debate concerning the Brexit question by a man who is fast becoming my favorite British politician, Daniel Hannan. And to refresh your recollection — and my own — of our founders’ own words upon declaring independence from Britain in 1776, I include, below that, a video of the Declaration of Independence read by Max McLean. Listen and compare. My own analysis follows below.
After watching and listening to these two videos several times, several commonalities jump out at me, the most general being the organization of the respective arguments favoring departure. Both Hannan’s remarks and the Declaration begin with an acknowledgment of the ties that bind two peoples together.
Hannan describes these ties as the “heart” considerations he lists in his opening salvo, describing the emotional appeal of a united Europe: “I speak French. I speak Spanish. I’ve lived and worked all over the continent. Seventeen years I’ve been in Brussels. I have some very dear friends there among the Eurocrats. Of course, being Eurocrats, they all want Europe to be a single country and a federal system, all the rest of it, but that doesn’t stop them being decent people, kind neighbors, and loyal friends.”
An equally heartfelt connection between the founders and Great Britain is evidenced in the text of the Declaration. The document itself is necessitated by the gravity of their decision to “dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another,” stating that “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. . . . Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the form to which they are accustomed.” At another point in the document, they recount how they have urged their “British brethren . . . conjur[ing] them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence.”
What follows in both presentations is a list of grievances, many of the itemized complaints being similar in nature, if not identical. These include:
- A centralized/tyrannical government that is not responsive to the interests of the people, but rather to the monarchy, in the case of the colonies, and to corporatism (i.e., megabanks and multi-national corporations) in the case Britain within the EU;
- A refusal on the part of the centralized authority to allow free and independent trade;
- An absence of adherence to the principle that government derives its powers from the consent of the governed;
- In particular, government by and through unelected bureaucrats, many appointed against the will of the people, in Hannan’s words, not just undemocratic, but anti-democratic;
- Imposing taxes upon the populace without their consent and in amounts which “eat out their substance;”
- Disastrous immigration policies — severe limitation upon in-migration and westward settlement imposed by the British monarchy in colonial times and limitless, no- borders immigration (i.e., Schengen) in the case of the EU; and
- Declining economic prosperity as a direct result of the central authority’s actions and inactions.
All of this is remarkable support for the propositions that “we reap what we sow” or “what goes around (eventually) comes around.” But I feel more saddened than vindicated by Britain’s plight. I felt like cheering upon hearing Hannan’s rousing closing, rallying voters to the cause of independence, self-determination, freedom, and sovereignty.
America and Britain have much in common. On this Fourth of July, the 240th anniversary of our Declaration of Independence, you, like many of your fellow Americans, may fear that our country’s best years are behind us. For those of you with that mindset, Hannan’s closing quotation from the poet Tennyson may prove comforting:
Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are…