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The best can­didate for the 2020 com­mencement speaker is from across the pond, Daniel Hannan. | Courtesy Flickr

A speaker for Hillsdale College’s grad­u­ation cer­emony should be able to deliver on several counts: They should be someone who can inspire. They should be incisive, with prac­tical and aspi­ra­tional advice to offer stu­dents about to become alumni. Most impor­tantly, they should under­stand the purpose of the College, and offer stu­dents wisdom on how they can carry Hillsdale’s mission forward.

This year, the best speaker for Hillsdale’s com­mencement cer­emony resides across the pond.

Daniel Hannan has rep­re­sented South East England as a member of the European Par­liament since 1999 and is a graduate of Oriel College, Uni­versity of Oxford where he studied modern history. While also fluent in Spanish and French, Hannan dis­plays his pen­e­trating command of the English lan­guage as a con­tributor to The Sunday Tele­graph, the Wash­ington Examiner, the Daily Mail, The Guardian, The Daily Tele­graph, The Spec­tator, and the Wall Street Journal.

Hannan offers what many prospective speakers cannot — a mea­sured but unques­tionable love for America and its founding prin­ciples from the vantage point of an out­sider.

Hannan is the rare non-American who isn’t pining for America to transform itself into a typical European nation. On the con­trary, he’s spent his entire political career advo­cating for the expansion of liberty in the United Kingdom, urging his home country to adopt more American-style policies.

Hannan’s book “The New Road to Serfdom” fea­tures a telling quote from Thomas Paine: “The cause of America is in great measure the cause of all mankind.”

Hannan admits his affinity for the remark comes from what he holds in common with Paine. During an interview with the Hoover Institute in 2010, Hannan said, “Like him, I am a British subject inter­ested and involved in the sur­vival and success of American freedom.”

Hannan rec­og­nizes what, sadly, many Amer­icans have for­gotten: America remains the last, best hope for man on earth. If she fails, there’s nowhere left to escape to. This is it.

A review of the last 4,000 years of history reveals a free and open society is not the default setting for nations. Far from it. Tyranny, poverty, and oppression are, regret­tably, the typical arrange­ments. Yet many have only known the political and social climate of the post-Cold War world. Far removed from the Great Depression, World Wars, and the cog­nizant threat of nuclear anni­hi­lation, most young Amer­icans take our modern freedoms for granted.

Amer­icans have come into their inher­i­tance at a young age. They’ve been born into a nation so excep­tional, so blessed, so affluent, that many have lost sight of the virtues and policies that enabled that pros­perity and goodness in the first place.

In “The New Road to Serfdom,” Hannan artic­u­lates how America became the world’s freest, most indis­pensable nation. “The genius of the West,” Hannan said, “was plu­ralism, variety, the dis­persal of power, per­sonal enter­prise, and freedom. And that reached its highest incar­nation in the old cour­t­house in Philadelphia.”

Better than most American politi­cians, Hannan under­stands the role the U.S. Con­sti­tution, free-market cap­i­talism, local com­mu­nities, and indi­vidual liberty played in building our nation into a global super­power — one that could spearhead the lib­er­ation of Europe in World War II and lead the West in its stand against com­munism.

No stranger to Hillsdale College nor its audi­ences, Hannan has spoken in the past — to great acclaim — at the Free Market Forum, the College’s National Lead­ership Seminar, and at the Allan P. Kirby Jr. Center for Con­sti­tu­tional Studies and States­manship.

Through his speeches at numerous Hillsdale events, Hannan proved to be enter­taining, insightful, and an effective mes­senger for the College’s ideals. Typ­i­cally, his addresses are given mostly from memory, with only a quick glance at a few notes.

Above all, Hannan would make an excep­tional grad­u­ation speaker because he under­stands Hillsdale’s mission. As he puts it, the fact that Hillsdale doesn’t take any money from the federal gov­ernment is “part of a wider concept: inde­pen­dence as an ideal of self-reliance.” 

“It’s some­thing we try and transmit to people,” Hannan said at the Hillsdale National Lead­ership Seminar in 2017, “ulti­mately, we are answerable for our own actions and that we shouldn’t as a first resort turn to the state for solu­tions.”

While Aus­trian econ­omist F.A. Hayek famously addressed the original “Road to Serfdom” to socialists every­where, Hannan ends his own book with a sincere note of thanks to all Amer­icans. Hannan con­cludes, “With heartfelt imprecation…honor the genius of your founders. Pre­serve the freedom of your nation.”

For an insti­tution that prides itself on the pursuit of truth and the defense of liberty, there are few men and women who can espouse why those endeavors are needed today better than Hannan.

Joshua Lawson is a can­didate for a Master’s degree in pol­itics from the Van Andel Graduate School of States­manship at Hillsdale College.