Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Will the "Anglosphere" become a more formalized entity?

James C. Bennett has been writing about his conception of an "Anglosphere" for a few years now. (Here's his Anglosphere Primer). What is the Anglosphere? And what "isn't" it?
Nations comprising the Anglosphere share a common historical narrative in which the Magna Carta, the English and American Bills of Rights, and such Common Law principles as trial by jury, presumption of innocence, "a man's home is his castle", and "a man's word is his bond" are taken for granted. Thus persons or communities who happen to communicate or do business in English are not necessarily part of the Anglosphere, unless their cultural values have also been shaped by those values of the historical English-speaking civilization.

The Anglosphere, as a network civilization without a corresponding political form, has necessarily imprecise boundaries. Geographically, the densest nodes of the Anglosphere are found in the United States and the United Kingdom, while Anglophone regions of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, and South Africa are powerful and populous outliers. The educated English-speaking populations of the Caribbean, Oceania, Africa and India constitute the Anglosphere's frontiers. . .

The Anglospherist school of thought asserts that the English-speaking nations have not only formed a distinct branch of Western civilization for most of history, they are now becoming a distinct civilization in their own right. Western in origin but no longer entirely Western in composition and nature, this civilization is marked by a particularly strong civil society, which is the source of its long record of successful constitutional government and economic prosperity. The Anglosphere's continuous leadership of the Scientific-Technological Revolution from the seventeenth century to the twenty-first century stems from these characteristics and is thus likely to continue for the foreseeable future. Finally, beginning in World War I and continuing into the post-Cold War world, Anglosphere nations have developed mutual cooperative institutions. The Anglosphere potential is to expand these close collaborations into deeper ties in trade, defense, free movement of peoples, and scientific cooperation, all bound together by our common language, culture, and values.

Anglosphere theorists promote more and stronger cooperative institutions, not to build some English-speaking superstate on the model of the European Union, or to annex Britain, Canada, or Australia to the United States, but rather to protect the English-speaking nations' common values from external threats and internal fantasies. Thus, Anglospherists call on. . . America to downgrade its hemispherist ambitions, on Britain to rethink its Europeanist illusions, and on Australia to reject its "Asian identity" fallacy. Far from a centralizing federation, the best form of association is what I call a "network commonwealth": a linked series of cooperative institutions, evolved from existing structures like trade agreements, defense alliances, and cooperative programs. Rather than despising the variable geometry principle, it would embrace it, forming coalitions of the willing to respond to emerging situations. Anglosphere institutions would be open and nonexclusive; Britain, America, Canada, Australia, and others would be free to maintain other regional ties as they saw fit.

Anglospherism is assuredly not the racialist Anglo-Saxonism dating from the era around 1900, nor the sentimental attachment of the Anglo-American Special Relationship of the decades before and after World War II. Any consideration of the Anglosphere concept should indeed include examination of previous attempts to create institutional frameworks for the English-speaking world. However, any comparison of the ideas and times of such Anglo-Saxonists as Sir Alfred Milner, George E.G. Catlin, Cecil Rhodes and Theodore Roosevelt to those of contemporary Anglospherists must also take into account the considerable increase in understanding of the world that has come to pass over those years. Contemporary Anglospherist thought bears roughly the same relation to past Anglo-Saxonism as current evolutionary thought bears to the simplistic Darwinism of Milner's contemporaries.
The last is especially important. While Bennett essentially calls upon an ideal of "Anglosphere Exceptionalism", he does not restrict the "club", so to speak: all nations could enter, so long as their culture, etc. was compatible with those within the 'sphere.

Bennett has expanded the topic into a book, The Anglosphere Challenge: Why the English-Speaking Nations Will Lead the Way in the Twenty-First Century, which Keith Windshcuttle has reviewed. In his review, Windschuttle takes issue with portions of Bennett's thesis and makes an important qualification to Bennett's "Anglosphere Exceptionalism."
Bennett is also wrong to suggest that the notion of “the West” is obsolete. The West was not simply an artifice created in 1946 to counter the USSR. Far from being an imagined community, Western civilization is an ancient historical reality that still exerts a profound cultural influence. While Bennett is right to stress Britain’s tradition of political freedom, he downplays what the heirs of Western civilization have in common. The very way Westerners think about the human condition — through the intellectual disciplines of philosophy and history — derives from ancient Greece. All of modern European culture, including that of the Anglos, is utterly dependent on the Greco-Roman cultural inheritance.

This suggests that the prevailing differences between continental Europe and the Anglosphere are unlikely to be so deep as to be immutable. In fact, it is most probable that the bureaucratic centralism to which Europe is now committed will not be permanent. Rather than fulfill the current predictions of their economic and demographic demise, at least some of the nations of Europe are likely to wake up and stage the kind of free-market economic turnaround enjoyed by Britain and the U.S. in the 1980s.
Nonetheless, I think Bennett is on to something. Bennett is correct to assert that recent history (the last 200 years or so) has seen the Anglosphere better realize the traditional ideals of "the West," but Windschuttle is correct in his corollary that allows that those other nations (France, Germany)--who also evolved from Greco-Roman culture but have drifted--to "find their way back."

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