What maintains a culture of liberty?

While chatting with my co-blogger Jonathan, a question came up on whether the US Constitution was useful in maintaining a culture of liberty. Jonathan said no, while I said yes, with the UK as an example.

After enduring the Civil Wars, Cromwell, and a period of restoration with Charles II, Parliament finally got the upper hand (for good) during the Glorious Revolution and instituted the English Bill of Rights and the concept of limitations on the executive, and liberty for civil society in general. The American Revolution (contrary to most, if not all, revolutions after) was a 'conservative' revolution in order to restore the liberty and political rights the American colonists thought had been curtailed and encroached upon by the English crown (indeed, much of the fuss was the fact that the colonies were not represented in Parliament). The United States' culture of liberty thus sprang directly from the hard-won English liberty of the 17th century.

Looking at the UK today, however, one would be hard pressed to say that there is a culture of liberty there (notwithstanding the efforts of the Samizdatistas). Why is the UK only barely past its 2nd decade of deliverance from state socialism (and with all indications ready to plunge into another dalliance with central planning, this time from Brussels), while the US shook off its brief flirtation with fascist/socialist central planning shortly after 1945? British Parliamentary ascendancy was fine in an era where the civil society valued liberty and freedom, and where social custom and tradition was a mighty check against potential abuses and usurpations of a given Parliament, but what happened when those traditions in civil society waned? There was no institutional check on Parliament to prevent it from nationalizing industry and restricting the rights of Englishmen, so long as there was a majority supporting the Parliament. After WWII, Parliament commandeered "the Commanding Heights" of the economy and didn't let it's dead hand go until the Iron Lady came and chopped it off 34 years later.

However, in the US, when FDR tried to (in all but name and legal deed) nationalize and put the US under full centralized industrial planning (with disturbing similarity to Mussolini's fascist program of industrial planning), the Supreme Court rightfully shot most of the first New Deal down as unconstitutional. After the death of the US' Maximum Leader FDR, most remnants of New Deal planning agencies were dismantled (without the personal charisma and power of The Leader to keep them in place). Even in the height of FDR's popularity, a minority was capable of thwarting his socialism, holding the tide back long enough for a 'restoration' of sorts after his death.

So I pose the question again- why is there still a culture of liberty in the US when it has (all but) died out in the UK? Is it because the US Constitution is written and provides a starting point for counter-statist movements? The only 'check' on the British Parliament seems to be tradition; it is frightening to me that it is considered a paramount principle that no act of a parliament can bind a future parliament- that there is nothing legally, in theory, that can stop any given parliament from doing pretty much whatever it wants. Whereas the US Constitution, abused as it is, remains a powerful tug at the conscience of the government, and in principle is opposite of the British parliamentary rule (the decision of 1787 perpetually binds all future Congresses, absent formal amendment and ratification). Isn't it easier to lay waste to liberty when there are no formal checks against doing so?

Am I off-base? Is there some other historical trend that I should be crediting for the survival of liberty in the US other than codified protections of the liberal tradition in government (although I grant that, in the eyes of Lysander Spooner, one could argue that the US constitution has as much binding legal authority as the British one)? In addition to not being a lawyer, I am also not intimately familiar with British constitutional law or its legal traditions and history. Any factual correction on those and other matters is appreciated...

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