The 1776 Report – produced by President Trump’s Advisory 1776 Commission — is a thing of such beauty, dignity, and scholarship that it makes me wish I were American, not British.
If you haven’t yet read it, you should. (You’ll find it here). It explains to Americans why their country is special, why their republic is so unusual and cherishable, how the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution came about, and why it is so important that they should be honoured. Then it goes on to outline the task of National Renewal that lies ahead, taking in the role of the family, education, and ‘reverence for the laws’.
Here’s the part that makes me ashamed to be British: I find it utterly inconceivable that any administration in the UK would be capable of producing a document of such gravitas or wisdom.
Take this bit from near the end:
To be an American means something noble and good. It means treasuring freedom and embracing the vitality of self-government. We are shaped by the beauty, bounty and wildness of our continent. We are united by the glory of our history. And we are distinguished by the American virtues of openness, honesty, optimism, determination, generosity, confidence, kindness, hard work, courage and hope. Our principles did not create these virtues, but they laid the groundwork for them to grow and spread and forge America into the most just and glorious country in all of history.
There’s a confidence, there, a pride and a clarity of purpose that you simply would not find in anything produced by Boris Johnson’s flaccid regime, nor by any of its recent predecessors (except perhaps Margaret Thatcher’s) nor by any of the parties currently likely to form the next government.
This is no criticism of the British people, by the way. Out where I live in the shires — and I’m sure equally in the towns and cities too — there’s no shortage of patriotism, of enduring belief in the values which made Britain great. We all still know exactly what kind of country we’d like to live in. Our problem is that we don’t live in it any more.
And the fault lies entirely within the system.
When I was a young man it was an indisputable truth that to have been born British was to have won the lottery in life. Sure, our cousins on the other side of the Atlantic felt the same about their country. But we British knew that our way was better just because it was older and richer historically and more sanctioned by tradition and custom and so on.
We had the Magna Carta. We had English Common Law. We had our institutions. We had the Queen. Sure the Americans had their Constitution and their Declaration of Independence — but those were merely their consolation prizes for not having born British. They had to invent all those codes and regulations because they were new. Whereas we, being old, didn’t need a written constitution because we had a system that worked perfectly well without one…
What we didn’t understand at the time — but do now — is that a system of customs and unwritten rules is dependent on the probity of the people within it. Everyone must act with integrity and good faith: judges must cleave to the rule of law rather than engage in political activism; politicians need to act in the interests of their constituents and for the good of their country; businesses need to create value for consumers and shareholders while looking to the long-term (as opposed to, say, foment ‘social justice’); the police need to act as servants of the people (‘policing with consent’) rather than bullying, politicised authoritarians pursuing an agenda alien to the public’s values; and so on.
Sure there was never a golden age: politicians in the 18th-century era of rotten boroughs were at least as corrupt as the ones in parliament now; there has always been the odd bent copper, crony capitalist businessman or corrupt judge. But the rot was the exception; now it’s the rule.
Though it’s true that the events of the last few weeks have shown America’s institutions to have been similarly corrupted, the difference is that the U.S. has an inbuilt reset button which it can press any time.
“What are our values? What makes us great?” it can ask. And instead of producing the nebulous guff that a British parliamentary sub-committee or lefty-think-tank or designated Quango might come up with, the U.S. can go back to the first principles established by the Founding Fathers.
One thing that strikes me as I read the 1776 Report is the confidence with which it talks about ‘freedom’ as an unalienable right of those lucky enough to have been born American. Indeed, ‘freedom’ appears in the very first sentence of the introduction, and crops up again and again, unapologetically, as one of the fundamental rights enshrined in the phrase ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’
Now when did you last hear a British politician talk about ‘freedom’? Or ‘liberty’? Almost never recently — and especially not now, for they’d have to blush for shame given the tyranny they have imposed on their country in the last ten months: the lockdowns, the quarantines, the compulsory masks, the heavy-handed police actions, the threat even of compulsory vaccines. This is not what freedom looks like.
But unlike Americans, Britons do not have recourse to a written document that says: this is what your country should look like, if it’s working properly.
Sure, we might have an instinctive sense of how things ought to be. But no one in government or the administrative classes is going to allow us to regain that lost world because all the institutions have been captured, up to and including our future king.
The Prince of Wales has an increasingly obvious green activist loon streak, and doesn’t even want the traditional title ‘Defender of the Faith’ (i.e. the Church of England) but prefers to be Defender of Faith (everything from witchcraft to the Jedi religion, presumably). He’s a big fan of Klaus Schwab’s Great Reset.
But then, the current Archbishop of Canterbury is no better. Nor is the current Prime Minister. Nor, I fear are any of the people likely to replace him.
Suppose now a commission were to be established along the lines of President Trump’s Advisory 1776 Commission. What do you think it would look like and what would be its conclusions?
Well, I’ll tell you one obvious thing: no one remotely suitable for being on such a commission would be allowed anywhere near it. Historians like David Starkey and Andrew Roberts would be rejected as too right-wing and insufficiently diverse, so instead you’d get a bunch of race-baiting hack pseudo-academics such as you find bloviating in all the newspapers and making unwatchable revisionist documentaries for the BBC.
There’d be no talk of liberty or tradition either. It would all be about nebulous qualities like ‘tolerance’ and ‘sustainability’ and ‘resilience’ and ‘community’.
Britain is lost, I fear. America still has a future. That written constitution has made all the difference.