Once upon a time, the English sang an anthem about freedom. In the chorus they vowed "Britons never, never, never will be slaves." But in 1973 they were tempted to surrender the dignity of self-government to unknown bureaucrats in Belgium who called themselves the European Union, and surrender they did. Today they willingly pay a tribute of more than 18 billion pounds a year for the privilege of being demeaned internationally. Once the leader of the free world, Britain is now the follower of a feeble gaggle of politicians in Belgium.
Historians will mark 1973 as the beginning of Britain’s humiliation as the servile financier of the EU, which every year treats the English as though they were prodigal slaves or naughty children.1 In the last fifteen years Britain has been hauled into European courts 23 times over trifling violations of EU “legislation,” which now runs over 500,000 pages. More pages are being added with or without Britain’s approval.2 The latest indignity is a threatened fine of some 93 million pounds. Britain’s infraction? Trying to help British working-class truck drivers maintain their trade and their roads.
This coming June England could vote to get out the EU for good. They have an opportunity to easily free themselves from these conditions,3 but the nation stands divided and confused about what to do.
Last week, the American president Barack Obama arrived to flatter, threaten, and conjure the English to keep their chains. From the moment Mr. Obama landed at the Mayor’s airport, the President began a two-faced performance, simultaneously rock star and bully, haranguing the English in the newspapers, lunching with the Queen, dining with Kate, and schooling the Prime Minister in the finer points of voter manipulation (economic threats and bribery.)4 Treating the English like fractious school children, he threatened to make them go to the back of the line for trade agreements with America5 if they dared to vote against his imperialistic will. He wants Great Britain to continue as a helpless welfare addict to a socialist superstate.
The entire pageant was insulting to both the British and the Americans. It was England who taught America to value freedom and self government. That’s why America objected when the British parliament started exploiting, cheating, and bullying America in the 18th century: because it went against their proud British freedom-loving roots. After appeals and negations, America withdrew from an Empire that would not be reasonable or consistent with her own principles of self-government under law. That is how and when America began as a free and independent constitutional republic.
Mr. Obama made it clear last week that he believes Britain incapable of self-government. But fifteen centuries of British history indicate otherwise. Brits have made plenty of moral errors, including abusing their own citizens and others’. But they have corrected course on numerous occasions, and they kept a written record on how and why they did that.
England’s ideas about liberty and justice, derived and developed from Scripture, were the greatest gifts she bequeathed to the world -- greater far even than her literary or scientific contributions. These ideas about freedom laid the foundation for American peace and prosperity, even for America’s identify as “the land of the free and the home of the brave." As a self-governing people, we grew in our understanding of stewardship, private property, work ethic, and the rule of law. The knowledge we still had of Britain’s fight for freedom and justice (summed up by John Adams, for instance, in this dissertation in 1765) taught us independence, self-reliance, individual initiative, local responsibility, a rational reverence for God’s jurisprudence, and a healthy suspicion of man-centered power. We may have become even more British than Britain in our appreciation of great champions of law like King Alfred, William Marshall, and William Blackstone.
So why would an American president tell Britain to do the opposite of what America once did? Could it be that this American president prefers a weak and dependent Britain enslaved to an abusive foreign parliament? On such an important occasion as the upcoming vote on European Union membership, President Obama would have been a better friend to England by doing what our first presidents did for their mother country. When Britain was on the verge of forgetting the self-evident truths that she herself had taught them, they sent her a reminder:
Every nation should be encouraged to maintain guards for their future security. The greatest of these is responsible, moral self-government under the rule of law. This is the cultural “killer app” for liberty and justice-for-all, and it’s not something that can be learned from surrendering moral responsibility to faceless Europeans, or sitting in the gutters of welfare-addiction.
Securing freedom peacefully is a rather British invention – something Britain has been trying to perfect since the fifth century. After suffering four centuries under the painful military and judicial occupation of Rome’s European union, Britain peacefully left. She got out. She petitioned the Emperor Honorius to be released from the jurisdictional authority of that European union. Rome’s arbitrary law the Lex Julia De Vi Publica had never been in Britain’s interest.Britain’s request was respectfully granted, and the Emperor himself offered some friendly advice on Britain’s future security: He told them to “to be on their guard,” and to make every preparation for self defense and self government. 6
Breaking free from tyranny is in England’s blood. British-American John Adams reminded America of this in a paper he wrote on English common law in 1765. America was dealing with British bullies in parliament, but Adams reminded Americans that not everyone in the King’s government were “luxurious, effeminate, and unreasonable.”
He urged Americans to remember that the great body of the English people were not corrupt, but rather “the spirit of liberty is as ardent as ever among the body of the nation.”
He reminded Americans of the deep-rooted love of freedom that inspired Brits to fight off the Romans, to reprove King John with Magna Carta, and to remove the tyrants Charles I and James II. Adams then urged Americans to presume that this fervor for freedom and self government was “still alive and active and warm in England.”
Is that still true a quarter millennium later? Is Britain still “on guard?” Or have EU “benefits” chilled England’s love of freedom? Could it be that England is now tired of responsibility and self-governance? Could it be that the English have completely forgotten their legacy, as well as their vow never to be slaves? The world is watching, and will know the answer to this on June 23.