“Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people."
Daniel Hannan is a writer and journalist, and has been Conservative MEP for South East England since 1999. He speaks French and Spanish and loves Europe, but believes that the European Union is making its constituent nations poorer, less democratic and less free.
The shared heritage is political, not just familial
Not that I ever had anything against the fellow, you understand; I just wondered why, with 55 million registered Republicans in the US, the party couldn’t find someone a bit more inspiring.
In the past couple of weeks, though, the former governor has gone up several gears. The president’s revealing verbal slip – ‘If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that,’ – has stung him into a full-throated defence of the free market system. The last time I watched him, that beautifully coiffed head seemed to be wobbling in what I can only assume to be unfeigned anger. (Incidentally, Mark Steyn's evisceration of Obama's remarks in the National Reviewis a joy to read.)
As sometimes happens in politics, Mitt Romney is magnified by the smallness of his opponents’ attacks. For a while, now, I’ve been repelled by online mutterings about his Mormonism. A man’s faith, or lack of it, is no one’s business but his own unless he chooses to make it so – which Romney has not. Any religion can be caricatured by having its tenets stated in a reductionist way. Common courtesy – common humanity, indeed – ought to tell us that, when dealing with other people’s innermost convictions, it is wrong to sneer.
‘Criticism of religion is the prelude to all criticism,’ wrote Marx. Conversely, respect for someone else’s creed (or absence of creed) is the prelude to all respect. As Roger Kimball puts it in his wonderful collation of essays, The Fortunes of Permanence, ‘There is an important sense in which religion as traditionally understood reconciles humanity to imperfection and to failure. Since the socialist sets out to abolish failure, traditional religion is worse than de trop: it is an impediment to perfection.’
The thing that has really irked me, though, is the churlish reaction to Mitt Romney’s recent overseas tour. The trip was extremely well-conceived. There has never been a worse time to be America's friend, and the governor made a point of visiting three allies slighted by the current administration: the UK, Israel and Poland. (He might have added India to the list.)
This is not the time to rehearse the catalogue of Barack Obama’s anti-British initiatives, from banishing Winston Churchill’s bust to siding with various Latin American autocracies over the Falkland Islands (see herefor what seems to be behind it). It is enough to say that Romney, a traditional Republican when it comes to foreign policy, understands that the relationship is not what it should be, and wants to repair it.
He brought that message to Britain, but the BBC was determined not to accept a compliment graciously – at least not from a US Republican. Seizing on a briefing by a Romney staffer about our ‘shared Anglo-Saxon heritage’, Leftist commentators on both sides of the Atlantic affected to understand the reference as racial rather than cultural.
In fact, the Romney aide was stating an obvious truth. The reason that the US and the UK are allies, the reason we fought side by side in the three global conflicts of the last century, as well as in many smaller engagements, is that we tend to look at the world in the same way. Our core beliefs – representative government, free contract, individual liberty, jury trials, open competition, private property, habeas corpus – lead us to react to the same problems in similar ways. Whatever our individual family origins, those precepts are an Anglo-Saxon patrimony.
I’m delighted to find a US presidential candidate who sees this so clearly. In a world where power is slipping away from the West, it is vital that the core Anglosphere democracies understand what they have in common.
Some US conservatives and libertarians, underwhelmed by Romney’s centrism, have convinced themselves that he would be no better than the present incumbent. I made a similar judgment four years ago about John McCain; I was wrong.
Take another look at the Constitution, my American conservative friends. When it comes to the present levels of taxation, spending and borrowing, your quarrel is with Congress, and redress will come through the election of representatives who take their oaths of office seriously. Having a president who can read a balance sheet is a bonus, but it's your legislature that determines the budget.
Where the presidency does matter is on foreign policy. And here, it is becoming clear that Mitt Romney is a decent patriot who understands the importance of standing by your allies. The question is not whether he’ll surpass Reagan; it’s whether he’ll surpass Obama. And that, as they say in the US, is a no-brainer.