Monday, January 19, 2009

The Obama Inauguration and the English Legacy

This Tuesday, when the new President takes the oath of office, I will be with my wife – a great girl from Colorado – at the US embassy confirming the dual nationality of our 12 week-old son. I will wish America’s next President well on his inauguration day.

The eve of a US Presidential inauguration is a good day to reflect how the USA represents a far better superpower than the others on offer over the last fifty years, or in the next fifty.

National Socialist Germany, the Soviet Union and a totalitarian Communist China are all ghastly alternatives to a country that takes its founding spirit from traditions of English liberty.

Americans refer to the spirit of 1776 and the Declaration of Independence a part of a ‘Revolution’. But in many ways it was the most conservative of revolutions. It was the government in Westminster that provoked a War of Independence by trying to overturn more than a century of self-government with a New Labour-like bout of centralisation combined with a grasping urge to pay off the national debt with unprecedented new taxes. The ends never justified the means: America rebelled.

Unlike French, Soviet or other Left wing revolutionaries, the founding fathers of the USA did not have a ‘year zero’. Interestingly, the new states accepted laws passed by former colonial assemblies and continued to embrace the principles of English Common Law.

The American Constitution froze in place an idealised 18th century mixed constitution. The powers and pomp of the presidency contain many of the things that a constitutional monarch of the age was supposed to maintain. It says a lot of the Americans’ conservatism that they have managed to keep this system going – and helps explain why the United States is perhaps the oldest ‘young’ country in existence.

Like the Liberty Bell, which was cast in London and rung in Philadelphia, American freedom was made in England… even if it had to endure a few cracks on the way.

Richard Normington

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