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25 November 2016

What is Daniel Hannan demonstrably wrong about this week?

Hannan fodder.

By Jonn Elledge

Since Daniel Hannan, a formerly obscure MEP, has emerged as the anointed intellectual of the Brexit elite, The Staggers is charting his ascendancy…

Five centuries before Christ there were Confucius and then Socrates. Five centuries before the present, there were Erasmus and Da Vinci. Today, for public intellectuals, we have Carswell and Hannan. Sometimes I’m not sure the Enlightenment was all it’s cracked up to be.

Daniel Hannan – the Conservative MEP for south-east England, the brains behind the Leave campaign, the sort of man who would own a Magna Carta duvet cover – would be the worst man in Britain, were it not that he’s often not in Britain, choosing instead to spend his time in Brussels, living off European taxpayers even as he insults them, and banging on about sovereignty in the manner of a man to whom somebody once said “Oh, that’s interesting”, at some point in the late 1980s, and who hasn’t stopped talking since.

To his credit, Hannan is unfailingly polite to his political enemies. To his shame, he has not let that stop him supporting some of the most unpleasant and reactionary forces in global politics, and then seeming shocked and hurt whenever anyone has the nerve to call him out on it. He also blocks me on Twitter. It’s a matter of great sadness to me.


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Luckily, though, I have a spare Twitter account from which to monitor his output. So I didn’t have to miss this particular gem, written for the centre-right comment site CapX, whose tweet buttons double as a helpful summary of the article’s content:

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Hannan’s argument is simple and predictable. Thomas Mair, the man who murdered Jo Cox MP, was a lone lunatic whose actions could not have been influenced in any way by wider political forces:

In his Times column this morning, headlined “Dog-whistle politics can be a deadly game”, [Aaronovitch] suggested that Leave campaigners were indirectly responsible for Jo Cox’s death. He has also argued that mainstream Muslims are indirectly responsible for jihadi terrorism.

To see why both contentions are wrong, try extending his logic. All black people are responsible for Micah Johnson. All white people are responsible for Dylann Roof.

There’s a sleight of hand here which gets to the heart of why I find Hannan so infuriatingly objectionable: he has conflated skin colour with ideology. I don’t think collective guilt is helpful either, as it happens; but nonetheless, there’s a huge difference between placing blame on an ethnic group and placing it on those who promote an idea. Ideas can be evil; racial groups cannot. That Hannan cannot spot this distinction is uncomfortable, to say the least.

He goes on to fetishise the individual over the group, like a man who’s been bitten by a radioactive copy of The Fountainhead:

The elevation of the individual over the collective is the basis of Western civilisation. The story of human progress is the story of how we came to be treated as autonomous citizens, rather than having our status defined by birth, caste or tradition.

…which, impressively, manages to be self-serving in at least two different ways. First, it allows Hannan to imagine himself to be successful because he is an exceptional human being – and not, say, because he’s a privileged white man. His success is a matter of talent, not class.

More destructively, this Great Man theory of history means that the movement he is associated with – or any other political campaign, come to that – cannot possibly be held responsible for any effect it has had on the world. Hannan believes that his personal genius is capable of persuading sane people to amend their views on Europe; but that a campaign which warned that 70 million Turks were about to pop over and nick people’s homes can’t possibly have created a climate in which unstable, racist ones decide to take things further than the ballot box.

It’s a very specific sort of myopia. But that’s our Dan: considered, polite, imbued with a sense of manifest destiny, and constitutionally incapable of even glimpsing the possibility that he’s spent 20 years of his life dedicated to sparking a culture war and blowing up the British economy.

Also, I suspect, wearing Magna Carta-themed Y-fronts.