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.