A growing influence of elites brings with it an erosion of local initiative as the blandishments of security are dispensed in exchange for a tithe on freedom. Tocqueville noted the perennial tension between the demand for freedom and the demand for equality in democratic regimes. And his great disciple F. A. von Hayek described the process by which “extensive government control” produced “a psychological change, an alteration of the character of the people.” “The important point,” Hayek wrote,
“is that the political ideals of a people and its attitude toward authority are as much the effect as the cause of the political institutions under which it lives. This means, among other things, that even a strong tradition of political liberty is no safeguard if the danger is precisely that new institutions and policies will gradually undermine and destroy that spirit.”
Evidence for the collapse of the spirit is not far to seek. Mark Steyn cites the deliciously awful spectacle of former Prime Minister Gordon Brown endeavoring to come up with a patriotic British equivalent of Independence Day for Americans. What did his government turn up? July 5, the anniversary of the inauguration of National Health Service, a fitting symbol of British surrender of personal freedom for the sake of a spurious security. “They can call it,” Steyn writes, “Dependence Day.”
The anatomy of servitude, which most bulks large in any anatomy of human affairs, tells a depressing story. But it is not all of the story. Even the “apocalyptic” Mark Steyn points to the way out. He is quite right that “you cannot wage a sustained ideological assault on your own civilization without profound consequence.” We’ve had the assault and we are living with the consequences. He is also right that “without serious course correction, we will see the end of the Anglo-American era, and the eclipse of the powers that built the modern world.” The hopeful part of that prediction comes in the apodosis: the course may still be corrected.
As Hayek noted about his own dire diagnosis: “The consequences can of course be averted if that spirit reasserts itself in time.” There are, I believe, two main sources of hope. One lies in the past, in the depth and strength of the Anglosphere’s traditional commitment to individual freedom and local initiative against the meddlesome intrusion of any central authority. “The future is unknowable,” said Churchill, “but the past should give us hope.” The Anglosphere, James Bennett writes, “is not a fragile hothouse flower that can be easily uprooted and disappear forever.”
The second main ground for hope lies in the present and immediate future. In the United States, anyway, I suspect we are beginning to witness a new “revolt of the masses,” different from, in fact more or less the opposite of, the socialistic eruption Ortega y Gasset limned in his famous essay on the subject. A specter is haunting America, the specter of resurgent freedom rising up in responses to the many depredations of the statist juggernaut that everywhere besieges us. Just after the 2010 mid-term election in which the American people delivered a much-deserved “shellacking” to Barack Obama’s top-down, “fundamentally transform” imperatives, I spoke on a cruise sponsored by National Review. One of the other speakers was the pollster Scott Rasmussen. One thing that that the election demonstrated, he said, was that Americans do not want to be governed by Democrats. Nor do the wish to be governed by Republicans. They want to govern themselves. Do they? If he is right—there’s that little word “if” again—the Anglosphere has a lot more mileage in it. Are things bad? Is it late? Yes, and yes again. But as Lord D’Abernon memorably put it, “An Englishman’s mind works best when it is almost too late.”