I join Dan Hannan in defence of the Enlightenment

There are too few genuine role models in politics. Tonight, I got the chance to meet one of mine.

Years ago I discovered the writings of, and then the many videos of Dan Hannan, one of the United Kingdom’s elected representatives to the European Parliament. I was hooked.

 I aspire to speak and to persuade clearly, robustly and intelligently. I have become therefore a life-long student of those who communicate well. If I model myself on anyone in this aspiration, I model myself on Dan Hannan, and on my other hero, Christopher Hitchens. These two are polar opposites on some questions, but as Hannan reminded me tonight when he quoted John Stuart MillHe who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that.

Hannan is, in my mind, one of the most brilliant orators in conservative politics. When I discovered he was attending a Sydney function at the invitation of the Centre for Independent Studies, how could I resist?

His topic was “How identity politics is undoing the Enlightenment”. He made the point that western society is turning its back on the very basis of modernity when we judge the validity of an argument by some phenotypic characteristic of the speaker (such as race) or ethnicity, rather than the argument’s intrinsic merit. 

He skewered the doublethink professed by many competitive virtue-signallers when he pointed out that many of the great rights-crusades in history were predicated on the desire to treat people equally (such as for suffrage, or racial equality), but that social reformers today have lost their way, seeking to see certain viewpoints privileged precisely on the basis of the perceived minority status of their exponents.

His discourse, which also roved over the UK political landscape and the issue of Brexit, proved to be a great night. Dan was very generous to me when I buttonholed him and gushed like a schoolgirl.

I leave you with one of Hannan’s virtuoso performances at the Oxford Union, and this audacious claim: We should prefer, in our public representatives, either the ability to speak like this, or at least those with the aspiration to do so. Too many whom we accept into our parliaments simply cannot, and neither stir the heart nor persuade the intellect. And that is why the broader public become cynical about politics.

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