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February 14th 2017 print

Peter Murphy

The Anglosphere’s Quiet Revolution

Brexit represents a remarkable historical moment for the possibilities it opens up. Many of these will not be realised, but the ones that are realised will work because enough people will say 'No' to depressive political economies and 'Yes' to the spirit of endeavour, adventure and resolution

brex jigsawThe British vote to leave the European Union was surprising. But in a good way. The EU is a long-term slow-motion train wreck and the reasons to leave it are compelling. Ruled by an unaccountable bureaucracy, the EU is a facade democracy, conceived during the Second World War by the Italian Communist Altiero Spinelli. Its elected parliament can neither propose nor repeal laws, only amend them;[1] EU legislation is crafted by the unelected European Commission. The European Parliament is designed not to limit government but to rubber-stamp its expansion. The Commission is lawmaker and executive in one. EU insignia, citizenship, referenda and elections in different degrees are all phoney. The European Union is contemptuous of opponents and disdainful of public opinion. It conducts itself by political stealth and subterfuge. Its ministers are anonymous appointees. It ignores referendum outcomes, overturns governments and violates its own laws if it doesn’t like them.[2] Its temperament is omniscient and authoritarian.

It is a self-appointed supranational power that operates by means of the capillary action of a million microscopic rules. Its officials enjoy Soviet-era nomenklatura-style private shopping malls, national-tax exemption and low-tax privileges. From its inception in 1951 the EU was a political project. It was designed to create a technocratic-bureaucratic superstate that eventually would replace Europe’s nation-states. It has already evolved from a customs union into a regulatory leviathan. The final step envisaged by its advocates is a mega-state with taxing and fiscal powers. The EU meets its every failure with one response: we need more power. The EU’s founding notion was that nationalism, not militarism or totalitarianism, led to two world wars. From day one the EU’s purpose has been to white-ant the sovereignty of its member states. The activist European Court of Justice expedites this. Its rulings repeatedly invalidate national laws in favour of EU directives.

The EU sees itself as a superstate based on the free movement of labour, services, capital and goods. In reality the “eurocracy” oversees an ugly parody of these principles. Rather than the free movement of skilled labour, EU rules encourage benefit-seeking, kin-driven immigration. The mass flow of people, legal and illegal, from kin-based low-growth societies places a drag on dynamic economies. High-growth societies replace kin with couples. EU migration reverses this. It replaces efficient self-reliant skill-based nuclear families with dependency-prone extended family groups.

Sixty years on, the EU still has in place innumerable regulatory barriers to free trade in financial services. This has been a source of perpetual British frustration. On exiting, this frustration may get worse. The UK could lose its existing right to sell financial services across the EU from one location, London. The doomsday scenario is that business will flee to Frankfurt. But that’s unlikely given the efficiency of UK financial services. Nevertheless British-based finance companies may be forced to open needless branch offices in Continental cities. Campaigners against Brexit cite this as a reason to stay. Equally it is a reason to leave. The “office-in-every-country” penalty for exiting reveals a basic flaw of the EU. It reflects the widespread discomfort in the EU with the distance delivery of services.

The internet and increasingly “fintech” facilitate long-distance trade, trade without offices, trade between machines, and trade between distant strangers. Continental Europe has an historic unease with this. In contrast Britain and its offshoots including Australia and America are good at doing things at a distance. The most cogent reason why Britain never fitted very well into the EU was coined not by an Englishman but by the French President Charles de Gaulle. In 1963 and 1967 France vetoed the UK’s entry into the European Economic Community. De Gaulle explained that Britain was a “maritime” nation and was accordingly “linked though her interactions, her markets, and her supply lines to the most diverse and often the most distant countries”. Britain was instinctively at ease acting at a great distance. This “very original habit” put Britain irredeemably at odds with its Continental peers.

De Gaulle was right. The UK should have stayed where it was in the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). Instead it joined a statist dirigiste protectionist customs union. In contrast Switzerland and Norway, the two richest states in Europe, remained EFTA members.[3] The irony is that the EU today takes 80 per cent of Norwegian exports and 55 per cent of Swiss exports but only 44 per cent of UK exports. The EU eliminated tariffs for member states but raised a common external tariff against non-members. Europe today has 12,000 tariffs, Norway 1000 and Singapore almost none.[4] As the EU progressed towards becoming a superstate its customs union morphed into a regulatory union. External tariffs on staple manufactured goods (whitegoods, cars, shoes, clothes) and food staples were kept high, pushing up consumer prices. Tariffs on non-staple manufactures were lowered, only to be replaced by regulatory barriers to trade. The EU has 225 regulations for glasses, 210 for spoons, 172 for mirrors, 109 for pillows, fifty-two for toasters, forty-seven for toothpaste, and thirty-one for toothbrushes.[5] Compliance with rules has the same dampening effect on commerce that customs duties have. Tariffs tax earnings. Regulations tax time. In addition rules let bureaucracies mandate punitively-priced goods like green energy.

The zenith of EU measures to foster the free movement of capital was the introduction of a common currency, the euro, in 1995. This seriously distorted economic relations between Europe’s low-productivity south and high-productivity north. It stripped weak economies of their power to manage economic downturns by temporary currency devaluations. It allowed state debt in strong and weak member economies to be identically priced, hiding sovereign risk. This being the EU, every failure of the common currency is cited as a reason to expand the power of the EU. Europe’s rulers dream of gaining debt-pooling, taxing and fiscal powers. The grand design of the EU is not economic. It is political. Its ambition is to demolish democratic national sovereignty and replace it with bureaucratic continental technocracy.

The simplest option on exiting is for the UK to resume its old membership of EFTA and do what the Swiss do, negotiate bilateral trade agreements with the EU. The Swiss in 2014 even resolved to trade with the EU but ignore its migration policy.[6] The UK has a lot of leverage. It is the fifth-largest economy in the world. The EU sells much more to the UK than the UK does to the EU. Europe’s political elite though is eager to punish the UK. Its vanity has been hurt and it wants to discourage other nations from leaving. The most effective reply to this is for the UK to slash business taxation and follow the path of Britain’s major non-EU trading partners that are all moderate-to-low-tax states.[7] Ireland has done this and has become a major thorn in the paw of Europe’s high-taxing allocation-fixated political class.

The UK has enjoyed two advantages from being in the EU. First, intra-European duty-free trade in goods; second, British-based finance companies have not had to open redundant subsidiary offices on the Continent to do business there. In exchange for two advantages Britain had to surrender its sovereignty. Today two-thirds of UK laws, including regulations and directives, originate in Brussels.[8] Relinquishing effective sovereignty has meant forgoing the power to independently negotiate trade agreements and be directly represented in bodies like the World Trade Organisation. This in turn has meant relying on a reluctant EU to secure trade agreements with China and India.[9]

The EU’s pretentious post-industrial bureaucracies want intellectual property guarantees that the Chinese won’t give and environmental rules the Indians won’t agree to. The EU does not understand that the US built its publishing industry in the nineteenth century on pirated editions of English books. New York publishers would hang around wharves for ships to arrive with the latest works to counterfeit. The Cobden-Chevalier Anglo-French free-trade agreement in 1860 ran to six pages.[10] Similar documents today run to thousands of pages as trade bureaucrats seek surreptitiously to offset tariff reductions with a complicated maze of post-industrial intellectual property and environmental rules.

The UK has its own sanctimonious bureaucracies and they are powerful. Yet it also has a countervailing mercantile view of the world, which has deep historical roots and is conditioned by Britain’s geography. As Winston Churchill endlessly repeated, Britain is an island nation. World economic activity and wealth are concentrated on the maritime rim of the great intercontinental land mass that stretches from Harare to Beijing via Berlin and Tehran. As de Gaulle observed, Britain’s instinctive outlook is maritime. This maritime bias remains even after fifty years in the EU.

It is reflected in Britain’s innate propensity to trade far afield. Of the top fifteen UK export destinations in 2015, seven were outside the EU, accounting for 35 per cent of UK exports. The remaining eight EU destinations represented 38 per cent of British exports.[11] During the Brexit campaign Daniel Hannan noted two things.[12] First, 21 per cent of Britain’s GDP derives from overseas trade. Half of that is with the EU; the other half is with the rest of the world. Second, in 1980 the current twenty-eight states of the EU made up 30 per cent of the world economy but in 2015 only 17 per cent. As Europe’s share shrank, East and South Asia’s grew. UK trade accordingly shifted. In 2006 54 per cent of UK exports went to the EU; in 2015, 44 per cent.

As well as trade volume there is the matter of trade balance. Not one of the top ten countries that the UK enjoys a trade surplus with is in the EU. Meanwhile eight of the top ten countries Britain runs a trade deficit with are in the EU. As Hannan observes, the UK ran a trade surplus with member countries before it joined the EU; ever since it has run a trade deficit.[13] Its only trade surplus with the EU is in services. Even then, in 2015 the major EU importers (France, the Netherlands and Germany) bought £11.5 billion worth of UK financial services while the US, Japan, Switzerland, Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Singapore, South Africa, and Saudi Arabia bought £30.4 billion worth.[14]

With whom does the UK trade outside the EU? Principally the United States, Switzerland, China, the United Arab Emirates, Hong Kong, South Korea and Saudi Arabia.[15] What do these states have in common? In each case taxation and government spending as a percentage of GDP is moderate or low. Second, like the UK, the core of these economies is water-edged. Three zones dominate the world’s wealth creation: the maritime rims of East Asia, north-west Europe and North America. Each has a similar structure. Each has an economically-powerful coastal periphery that is echoed, like a geometric fractal, by interior riparian portals dotted along river and lake systems. In Europe’s case, wealth clusters in the North Sea–Baltic Sea littoral zone, in Switzerland (a lake-dotted nexus of three river systems linked to the seas on Europe’s rim),[16] and in a handful of key cities on the Thames, Elbe, Rhine, Seine, and Danube rivers and tributaries.[17]

The same pattern is repeated in the United States and East Asia. Coastal cities from San Jose to Houston dominate the top seven wealthiest US metro regions. Inland port cities dominate the rest of the top twenty.[18] Globally, three of top twenty states measured by GDP per capita are in maritime East Asia.[19] Two, Singapore and Hong Kong, are city-states. Taiwan is an island-state. The archipelago of Japan ranks close behind them at number twenty-two in the world. Understandably a huge amount is made of the growth of China’s economy in the past thirty years. Yet in 2013 China’s GDP per capita was US$6800, while Hong Kong’s was US$38,100.

As de Gaulle understood, the swimmable twenty-one-mile-wide gap of the English Channel belies a deep fault-line that separates Britain from its Continental neighbours. This fault-line is traceable back to 400 AD. Picture the following: the Roman Empire in the West was collapsing. The southward migration of German tribes was over-running an ageing, ailing imperium. From the early Frankish kingdoms would grow the Carolingian empire. By 800 Charlemagne’s domain, central to the foundation myth of the EU, stretched from the Elbe River to the south of France and the south of Italy. The Holy Roman Empire, as the EU architects saw it, was the first European Union.[20] It had a territorial radius comparable with that of the modern EU. The spirit of this empire was landed and parochial. The Islamic conquest of Spain and Sicily in the 700s and 800s shuttered the Mediterranean, the bustling inland-sea heart of the old Roman world. Europe’s long-distance maritime trade that once had stretched to India came to a virtual standstill.

As one door closes another opens. Amidst the chaos of Rome’s fall, the 400s saw the birth of two unprepossessing social formations. One was on the north-west rim of the disintegrating western half of the Roman empire. The other was on the south-east rim. Their existence barely registered at the time. Yet in the long run the Venetians and the North Sea Anglo-Saxons each offered a powerful alternative to the landed power and close-quartered terrene mentality of the Continental states that followed in the footsteps of Charlemagne. The less prepossessing of the two rim societies was the Anglo-Saxons. In the long run, though, they proved to be the more influential. Such is the irony of history. Escapees from the Gothic invasions founded Venice on a sliver of Roman-Byzantine territory along an isolated lagoon-dominated stretch of coast. Venice would emerge as the last of the great sea powers before the onset of the modern oceanic age. Around the same time in the 400s the Angles, Saxons, Jutes and Frisians invaded, migrated to, and settled in post-Roman Britain. By 600 they had split Celtic Britain in half. They occupied the part that at its distant westward points stretches from present-day Edinburgh through Birmingham and Bristol to Plymouth.

These settlers came from a small arc-like strip of coastland that runs from the tip of the Jutland peninsula, facing both the North Sea and the Baltic Sea, south to the tidal-prone lower reaches of the Elbe River and then westward along the Friesian coast. This narrow semi-circular span today can be traversed by travelling from Danish Alborg to Dutch Rotterdam through German Lübeck and Hamburg. The geographic mid-point of this bowing journey is the North Sea mouth of the Elbe. Here on the coastal rim of north-west Europe was the seed-bed of an eccentric series of influential societies. Among them were the Hanseatic League (whose founder-city was Lübeck), the Netherlands and England.[21]

The diaspora of this littoral region carried with them, right up until today, a taste for long-distance activity. The Danes first appear in recorded history in the mid-500s straddling between Skane (southern Sweden) and the Jutland peninsula. From 800 to 1100 the Danish-Norwegian “Vikings” made extraordinary long-distance maritime trading, raiding and colonising voyages across oceans and seas and along rivers to Iceland, Newfoundland, the Black Sea, the Caspian Sea, Constantinople and the Caliphate of Cordoba in Spain. They conquered much of the “Danelaw” of England in the 800s and Normandy in the 900s. The Norman descendants of those Norsemen then re-conquered Britain in 1066. With them came Frankish and Romano-Gallic ways they had assimilated. Norman castles and manors subjugated the English. But to a surprising degree old North Sea Germanic and Danish property, family and venturing norms persisted beneath the surface of the vanquished society.

What the North Sea-landers and later the Danes brought with them to the island home of the Britons were the rudiments of gesellschaft. That’s what the nineteenth-century North Frisian German sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies called it. He was a socialist and disliked gesellschaft. Yet he understood its significance. A gesellschaft is a society dominated by impersonal, contractual and indirect relationships. Every society has a social glue that holds it together. Across most of human history that glue has been various kinds of personal hierarchy. The oldest are kin-based hierarchies. Later on, client-style patrimonial societies developed. The bonds of master and servant, lord and vassal, patron and client are among the many ways that cultures manage to bolt individuals together in ladder-like structures.

Even today most states, whatever their superficial modernity, are neo-patrimonial in nature. The need for guanxi or connections to navigate contemporary China’s communist state is a classic yet commonplace example. Patrimony was the Continental European norm from the days of Charlemagne until the mid-nineteenth century when impersonal procedural bureaucracies began to appear. They replaced fealty with rules, loyalty with qualifications, patrons with supervisors, and connections with contacts. Socialists like Tönnies sentimentalised patrimony as a kind of gemeinschaft or community. Yet they were also instrumental in replacing the personalised status stepladders of European patrimonial societies with the impersonal system of “rule by rules”. Outward communitarianism was matched by inward officiousness.

The Anglo-Saxons pursued a different pathway. By historical standards they had an unusual social structure. It was not based on elaborate kinship networks but rather on what anthropologists call the absolute nuclear family.[22] In the late 1970s the Cambridge historian Alan Macfarlane began to write about its importance.[23] This society emphasised immediate close family rather than the larger kinship group of aunts, uncles and cousins. Macfarlane suggested that by the 700s this unusual individualistic settler-family structure held sway over much of England.[24] Keep in mind that the original Anglo-Saxon settlers numbered somewhere between 20,000 and 100,000, compared with an estimated Celtic population of several million.

The nuclear family model is economically and socially adept.[25] It assumes monogamy, one married partner at a time. It focuses on couples rather than kin as the key social unit. It separates a couple from the households of relatives. These factors together encourage flexibility and mobility. They are the oil of mercantile and dynamic settler societies. In contrast with kinship, coupling turns households into units of economic growth. In this model children exit the parental household once they grow up. Offspring are brought up to be independent. There is no customary or legal expectation that children will inherit parental property or in what proportion or manner. Families can keep property intact if they want, or break it up or give it away. This allows tremendous adaptability in property matters. Owners do not have to check with anyone before selling their property.

Daniel Hannan argues that this flexible property system is central to the liberty and prosperity of Anglosphere societies.[26] James Bennett and Michael Lotus emphasise the historically atypical close-family model.[27] Both are right. The way English family-inheritance norms developed contrasts sharply with Continental Europe. There the practice of multiple generations living in the family house is common. So is the compulsory division of family property equally among children. The French anthropologist Emmanuel Todd found that even today in Europe the absolute nuclear family model is the norm only in the eastern part of the British Isles, Brittany (where British Celts migrated from the 450s to the 600s), the Netherlands, Denmark, and in southern parts of Sweden and Norway. This pattern is virtually the same as in 500 AD. [28]

Macfarlane notes that one of the few countries that developed a family structure similar to the Dutch and English was Japan.[29] We normally think of economic growth as a consequence of industrial technology. Yet even before industrialism, England and its East Asian littoral alter-ego Japan both observed Malthus-busting late marriage and low fertility practices.[30] In kin-based societies this is tantamount to cultural suicide. In couple-based societies though, the social dynamics are very different. So why did the English head down what, in the sweep of human history, is an atypical path? Violence had a lot to do with it.

Kin-based societies are prone to aggression, feuding and bloodshed.[31] They breed pugnacity, cruelty and brutality. The Anglo-Saxons, and the waves of Viking raiders and Danish conquerors that followed them, were similarly violent. A visitor to York today is struck by the vivid historical memory of the ferocious Viking conquests. Yet the Danes and Norwegians who pillaged and rampaged are also the stock from whom the Quakers descended.[32] How did the English manage to get from violent cruelty to Quaker pacifism?

Two steps were involved. The first, ironically, was due to chronic war. In A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Winston Churchill points out the cascading effects of this.[33] First the perpetual battles of the Anglo-Saxons elevated war chiefs above clan chiefs. Next the crews of the Viking long boats were allowed to keep their war booty as private property. Traditional communal claims by kin over property of the deceased in Scandinavian law were set aside for the maritime raiders.[34] The warrior-farmer Danes who conquered and settled England (in an apex that stretched from today’s Whitby to Liverpool to London) did the same. In short absolute private property emerged from the conditions of protracted English warring.

But we don’t get to the Quakers unless that chronic violence is then abated. The turning point was the Protestant Reformation. Medieval society continued to be riddled with violence. Among primates the rate of intra-species killing is 2 per cent.[35] In the medieval period humans killed other humans an appalling rate of 12 per cent. By the twentieth century the rate worldwide had fallen to 1.33 per cent. The key to the change was provided by Calvinism. John Carroll in Guilt describes how the English Calvinists found ways in the 1600s to channel human aggression into vocational work and companionate marriage.[36] These were built on the Anglo-Saxon development of absolute private property and the nuclear family. The Calvinists had a dim view of domestic violence and reduced it markedly. They failed though to produce a workable model of authority. Their idea of authority tended to lurch from the severe and bizarre to the gloomy and despotic. Yet that belies their remarkable historical contribution.

The modern world exists because the Calvinists found ways of sublimating aggression in work, companionate marriage and self-education. The latter had its roots in sola scriptura. This was the idea that believers had to read scripture for themselves. Calvinist strongholds in Britain in the 1600s mirror almost exactly where the Anglo-Saxons settled in the 500s. The Puritans were concentrated in a geographic arc that runs from King’s Lynn in Norfolk south through Tunbridge Wells and west to Portsmouth. Winston Churchill had a deep knowledge of his island nation. In 1922 he moved his home to Chartwell in Kent, almost at the centre-point of this historic arc. Unlike central England, south-east England managed to side-step much of the Norman manorial labour-service land-tenure system.[37] Macfarlane estimates that, in spite of the French conquest, by the 1200s freehold tenure covered a third of England. A large land market existed and cash played a significant role in local economies. [38]

Calvinist authority didn’t last. But their sublimations did. They influenced everyone from mainstream Anglicans to dissenting Quakers alike. John and Henry Walker were two such Quakers. In 1746 they apprenticed a young farm boy by the name of James Cook in their coastal merchant shipping business based on Yorkshire’s coast on the North Sea. Cook learnt his trade including navigational mathematics and geometry as he plied back-and-forth between Whitby and London. Three years after his apprenticeship was completed he was commissioned as a captain in the Walkers’ Baltic fleet but soon after resigned to join the British Navy. What followed was an extraordinary life of exploration and discovery. He mapped the coastlines of Newfoundland, New Zealand, eastern Australia and north-west America. The names of ships he commanded—Endeavour, Resolution, Adventure—sum up the worldview of the handful of great productive modern societies. Cook’s personality, modest and bashful, was the other side of this coin: head down, hard at work, grappling with the larger forces that determine human fate.

We see a glimmer of this worldview in Britain’s new Prime Minister, Theresa May. She is a reserved person. Not a networker or a gossip, she doesn’t do small talk. She keeps her own counsel and doesn’t spend time with coteries.[39] She is a quiet individual in an age in which politics is dominated by loud-mouthed, publicity-hungry personalities who constantly want to be in front of the cameras. When they are not, they are behind the scenes scratching each other’s backs. May’s instinct is to avoid this chumocratic political culture. Neo-patrimonial politics is rife with patrons and clients of all kinds. Legal-rational states in principle replaced patronage with procedures. Yet crony politics found ways of over-determining this with webs of chums, mates, buddies, associates and assistants.[40]

May is a serious and forceful politician. She is likely to dominate UK politics for some time. That means she will be decisive in shaping post-Brexit Britain. Her greatest contribution to this may turn out to be her disdain for chum politics and her view that coteries should be replaced by hard work. Her worldview is: I have a job to do; let’s get on and do it. The entire political class in the Anglosphere could learn a useful lesson from this attitude of quiet resolution. May is steely, sharp and quick in political debate. That’s indispensable for a prime minister. But she is also pointedly not showy. The significance of this restraint runs deep. Her reserve is not just a personal or even political trait. It is also a symbol of an important but rare social quality. The genuinely successful bits of the modern world, and they are few in number, are built on quiet reserve.

All societies provide an answer to the question: If I need something to whom do I turn? Historically and even today the most common answer to this is kin or patrons. Yet there are two other ways of answering the same question. Modern bureaucratic societies say the state. You turn to mentors, managers and grant committees. The English model said spouses and strangers. Instead of employing kinfolk to do farm work the English hired strangers for cash. By the 1300s a third or more of English households had non-family servants.[41] In East Anglia the figure was at least 50 and possibly as high as 70 per cent. The Angles had settled there in the 500s. The same region in the 1600s had large numbers of Puritan dissenters and supporters of Parliament in the English Civil War. The consequence of this commercialised household economy was that adult children had to make their own way in the world. They went off to work for strangers. The economy was interwoven with mobility. Grants, favours or monopolies between persons familiar to each other mattered less. Contracts, exchanges and interactions between strangers mattered more. What emerged from this was a civil society.

In civil societies, horizontal associations of peers ranging from platoons to colleges form readily and easily. Along with companionate marriage they function as primary reference points for individuals. Couples and peers rather than superiors and kin lie at the core of how people in civil societies think about relationships. They embrace close intimacy and distant strangers. Aid is mutual. Life is orientated to independence. Work, income, contributions and savings are paramount. Property is non-communal. In contrast, in uncivil societies hierarchies matter the most. The ladder can be personal or organisational or a mix of both. From communal property flows benefits, grants and allocations. Dependence is elicited in many often subtle forms, including intellectual. People see themselves as clients, beneficiaries or recipients. Contemporary neo-tribal and neo-patrimonial societies are riddled with patron and client relationships. They operate on the basis of “who you know” and pay-offs to officials. Skills appear far down the list of what is important. Competency and independence are much less significant than kin, chiefs, hierarchs, brotherhoods, lineages, cliques, cronies and coteries.

In England: An Elegy Roger Scruton observed that so many key English institutions involved finding ways of including strangers in common enterprises.[42] These ranged from the councils of the Anglo-Saxons to the great wave of modern finance-market institutions created in the coffee houses of the Augustan age. From maritime insurance underwriters to the stock exchange, these institutions were neither familial nor patrimonial but rather collegial. They were clubs of strangers. Their members were inner-directed towards work and accumulation rather than outer-directed towards status and networks. Their glue was a mix of shy reserve and rock-like quiet industriousness. They encouraged persons who were well-spoken not boisterous, well-mannered not demonstrative, and who communicated a sense of stoic calm in the midst of storms. Institutions resulted built on honest transparency rather than insider connections.

When Margaret Thatcher’s government reformed UK financial markets in 1986, it forced the City to replace face-to-face dealing with electronic trading. That became central to its present-day power. Friedrich Hayek argued that transactions between strangers are the heart of self-organising markets.[43] The interaction of strangers, though, shapes more than just markets.[44] It underwrites the shift from orality to literacy and country to city. Puritan literate self-education created the invisible congregation of readers. Adam Smith stressed the importance of strangers massing in cities, particularly in port and riverine cities.[45] High literacy and littoral city-life correlate strongly with economic well-being. So does technology. Tinkering functions a lot like publics, markets and cities. Each involves a mix of pattern thinking, stranger interaction, do-it-yourself initiative, and alternatives to personal and managerial hierarchies. People participate in these worlds either anonymously (as buyers and sellers, voters or visitors) or else as members of clubs, associations and parties. Either way, strangers are drawn together by spontaneous shared loves, whether it be of the beautiful city, the picturesque countryside, ingenious machinery, skilled work, or stories, real or imagined, of romance, adventure, drama and mystery.

The society of strangers is glued together not by personal connections but by impersonal patterns. In Albion, his book on the origins of the English imagination, Peter Ackroyd points to the importance of pattern in English culture. [46] From the earliest times the English world is evoked more by sparse, subtle etched geometries than by courtly ritual or magic. In English art, abstraction dominates over figure. This corporeal absence mirrors the national tendency to understatement. The English language lends itself to epigrams. It compounds contrasts. Night is bound tightly to daytime as tragedy is to comedy. This compression marries the parochial and the providential. The English genius is to be rooted and yet rove at the same time. The culture is rich in densely-packed enigmas, riddles, puzzles and paradoxes. This gives it an impersonal feel with an undertone of fate or destiny that extends from Beowulf to Tolkien via Augustinian Christianity and Puritan predestination. The providential sacrifices of citizenship and nationality help make sense of the fact (as Roger Scruton puts it) that we have obligations to people who we do not know and will never meet.[47]

The German sociologist Max Weber observed something else atypical about the English. They often did away with paid administrators. From the 1100s English gentry took on the role of justices of the peace and refused payment for service. The normally understated Weber almost shouts his astonishment that in England “administration by justices of the peace reduced all local administration bodies outside the cities almost to insignificance”. Royal patrimonial bureaucracy and manorial administration were sidelined in “one of the most radical types of an administration solely by notables ever carried through in a big country”.[48]

We hear an echo of this in Theresa May’s recent paean to “public servants”.[49] It was widely assumed she meant servants of the bureaucratic kind. In fact she was alluding to the British tradition of self-administration, to what she calls the spirit of citizenship that exists among people who give back to society with their time, effort and sacrifice. It is a characteristic of the English-style society of strangers that at decisive moments the skilled amateur replaces the paid professional. The amateur in science and sport played a crucial role before the bureaucratisation of the universities and the managerial takeover of sports in the second half of the twentieth century. The aim of managerialism is to replace the isomorphic associations of civil society with legal-rational bureaucracies.

The EU epitomises legal-rationalism. “Legal” means rules. “Rationalism” means organisational interlocutors. The EU talks incessantly to big government, big companies, big science and big global bodies. These organisations share a common stilted language. They are organised in similar ways. Legal-rationalism ends in bureaucratic cronyism. It’s a system where large organisations pressure official rule-makers. It is a world of hushed behind-the-scenes polished-chrome meetings, networks and chums. Its participants barter complex rules. Size matters: the big are favoured, and small companies can’t afford lobbyists or in-house regulatory experts. Six per cent only of small businesses in the UK export to the EU. Yet all of them have to follow EU regulations.[50] Lobbies exist to get regulators to make amenable rules. But influence also runs in the opposite direction. The EU uses the lobbies that lobby it to lobby for it. This is the quid pro quo of crony politics.

During the EU referendum British vice-chancellors wilfully ignored the UK Charities Commission guidelines on political neutrality. They did so in order to pressure UK voters to remain in the EU.[51] Universities used to be successful collegial associations of strangers. Today they are inveterate rent-seekers. To them the EU is an irresistible pool of grant money. The quid pro quo is that they lobby on behalf of their funder. EU grant money ultimately is collected from long-suffering taxpayers in rundown places like Sunderland. It is recycled through many handsomely-paid hands until it is returned in minuscule dribbles to fund meaningless signature projects in down-at-heel places.

Britain sends £18 billion a year to the EU. It gets only £9 billion back in grants. The half that the EU retains annually would have financed George Osborne’s historic deficit reductions of around £8.5 billion a year over seven years.

When voters in working-class Sunderland opted in the 2016 referendum to leave the EU, they were voting in big numbers (61 per cent to 39 per cent) against the EU’s grant system. That system had given them the Sunderland Aquatic Centre, the Sunderland Software City business centre for software entrepreneurs, and Sunderland University. How could they not love these? Well the principal beneficiaries of such grants are the professional and administrative classes who run universities and centres. Their opposite numbers in various Brussels bureaucracies dole out the grant money. In this North Sea-side former ship-building city, it is the Japanese Nissan car factory, not the EU, that provides blue-collar jobs. A couple of months after the Brexit vote Nissan committed to expand its Sunderland operations. Only markets and technologies, not state allocations, can off-set economic decline.

Blue-collar jobs have shrunk across Britain’s north for decades as manufacturing’s share of employment worldwide has declined. The problem though has not just been deindustrialisation. The UK’s Atlantic trade contracted after Ted Heath, an admirer of Mao Tse-tung, led Britain into the EU. The ports of Glasgow and Liverpool once bustled.[52] Stories of the Beatles and their peers listening avidly to country and blues records brought into Liverpool by American sailors are still within living memory. Shifting the focus of trade policy from the Atlantic to the Continent had a stifling effect.[53] Scottish nationalists today would like to exit from the UK and live off EU subsidies. Yet Brexit happened because disenchanted Labour voters in England’s north have started to realise that subsidies ruin economies. Rather than exist on grants extracted by unctuous political lobbying, the Scots would be much better off if they gave up their mendicant model and adopted a mutual-benefit model like the “Northern Union” concept.

The Northern Union is the term used by the contrarian Bremen sociologist Gunnar Heinsohn. He argues for a commercial and military alliance of post-Brexit Britain with Ireland, the Netherlands, Flanders, Denmark, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Estonia and the German states of Schleswig-Holstein and Hamburg.[54] This sea-girt region has a population of 120 million, most of whom, Heinsohn notes, speak English as a first or second language. Britain today doesn’t do much trade with its northern neighbours. Yet it did in the past.[55]

From time to time faint echoes of the old Hanseatic League are still audible. That’s what the Beatles unconsciously emulated when they exported themselves and their music to Hamburg in 1960. Theirs was a regime of get-up-and-go endeavour, hard work (“eight days a week”), self-education, peers, adventure, and the resolution to stick at it in Hamburg’s gruelling clubland.

The Beatles model is as good as any for the future of cities like Sunderland. Waiting around for the subsidies to arrive, whether from Brussels or London, is a recipe for economic and psychological depression. Brexit is a remarkable historical moment because it opens up possibilities. Many of these will not be realised. But the ones that are realised will work because enough people in the end will say no to depressive political economies and yes to the spirit of endeavour, adventure and resolution.

Peter Murphy is Adjunct Professor in Humanities and Social Sciences at La Trobe University and the author of Auto-Industrialism: DIY Capitalism and the Rise of the Auto-Industrial Society (Sage, forthcoming 2017).



[1]               The principal building of the EU Parliament is named after him.

[2]               The EU side-stepped inconvenient popular votes that rejected the Maastricht, Nice and Lisbon treaties and the EU Constitution. They ignored voters or made them vote again till the right choice was made. Jean-Claude Junker stated the matter succinctly: “If it is a yes we will say ‘on we go’, if it’s a no we will say ‘we continue’.” Under the EU Treaty, the post-2008 EU bail-outs for state debts were illegal. The law was ignored. Greek and Italian Prime Ministers, Papandreou and Berlusconi, criticised EU policies. They were promptly replaced by pliant technocrats in parliamentary coups. The attitude of the EU’s autocratic technocracy was spelled out again by Jean-Claude Junker: “There can be no democratic choice against the European Treaties”.

[3]               Today along with Lichtenstein and Iceland.

[4]               Economic Policy Centre, The Essential Guide to EU Import Tariffs 2016, London.

[5]               Nicos Mind, Excessive EU Regulations, youtube.

[6]               In 2014 the Swiss voted yes to a referendum initiative “against mass immigration”. This was directly at odds with EU policy, which conflates the free movement of people and the free movement of skilled labour.

[7]               The tax-slash option is one of many options being considered by Theresa May’s Conservative government.

[8]               Conor James McKinney, “Is two thirds of UK law made by the EU?”, Full Fact, March 19, 2015.

[9]               http://ec.europa.eu/trade/policy/countries-and-regions/countries/china/  http://ec.europa.eu/trade/policy/countries-and-regions/countries/india/

[10]             L. Hertslet (ed.) A Complete Collection of Treaties and Conventions (London: Butterworths, 1864) volume XI, 165-171.

[11]             Daniel Workman, “United Kingdom’s Top Import Partners”, Worlds Top Exports, October 17, 2016.

[12]             Daniel Hannan, Why Vote Leave (London: Head of Zeus, 2016); Hannan, “Free Britain to trade with the world”, Financial Times, June 21, 2016.

[13]             Hannan, Why Vote Leave.

[14]             Saif Ullah, “How important is UK financial services trade with the EU?” City of London Economic Research, August 30, 2016.

[15]             In trade between 2011 and 2015 it was British exports to China, South Korea, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates that grew most rapidly.

[16]             The Rhine-to-the-North-Sea, the Po-to-the-Adriatic-Sea, and the Rhone-to-the-Mediterranean-Sea

[17]             Using OECD statistical definitions the richest EU cities in descending order are:  Inner London (Thames), Hauts-de-Seine, Zug (its Zugersee and Ägerisee lake waters flow to the Rhine), Paris (Seine), Basel (Rhine), Luxembourg (the mini-state’s rivers empty into the North Sea), Oslo (North Sea), Geneva (Lake Geneva waters flow to the Rhone), Dublin (Irish Sea), Milan (Po River Valley), Zurich (Lake Zurich waters flow to the Rhine), Warsaw (Vistula river waters flow to the Baltic Sea at Gdańsk), Bratislava (Danube), Copenhagen suburbs (Baltic Sea), Berkshire (Thames), Copenhagen city (Baltic Sea), Schaffhausen (Rhine), Stockholm (Baltic Sea), Edinburgh (North Sea) and Inner London East (Thames). Using EU statistical definitions, Hamburg (Elbe), Groningen (North Sea), Vienna (Danube), Upper Bavaria (Danube) and Darmstadt (Rhine plain) also figure in Europe’s top ten richest city-regions as does the “capital” of the EU, Brussels (Scheldt Maritime Canal). OECD and EU statistical services data, 2016.

[18]             In descending order of Gross Metro Production (GMP) per capita are: San Jose, San Francisco, Seattle, Boston, Washington, New York, Houston, Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Denver, Dallas-Fort Worth, Philadelphia, Salt Lake City, Indianapolis, San Diego, Portland, Milwaukee, Baltimore, Charlotte, and Cleveland. All are located on coasts, rivers or lakes excepting Charlotte and Dallas-Fort Worth which have developed as air and road portals. US Bureau of Economic Analysis, Current-Dollar Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by Metropolitan Area 2015 data.

[19]             WSJ Index of Economic Freedom data, 2015.

[20]             “I would say wherever the name of Charlemagne carries weight, that is where Europe is” remarked Jean-Claude Trichet, President of the European Central Bank in 2011. Lotharingia, the medieval successor to the Carolingian Empire, was another model invoked by EU founders.

[21]             Common to the region was a North Sea species of German. James Bennett and Michael Lotus (America 3.0, 77) point to the work of Edward Augustus Freeman who, in 1870, concluded, on the basis of linguistic evidence, that the English language was derived from Germanic “low Dutch”. This was the root language of the Danes and those of coastal Holland. The word “low” (neder) is a reference to the Netherlands downriver location on the Rhine-Meuse-Scheldt delta. A more recent classification calls this root language North Sea Germanic.

[22]             Emmanuel Todd, The Explanation of Ideology: Family Structures and Social Systems (Oxford: Blackwell, 1985); L’invention de l’Europe (Paris: Seuil, 1990).

[23]             The evolution of his thinking is captured in the academic essays, papers and talks from 1978 to 2005 collected in Alan Macfarlane, Individualism, Capitalism and the Modern World, macfarlane.com, 2013.

[24]             Macfarlane, 48.

[25]             Macfarlane, 48-59.

[26]             Daniel Hannan, How We Invented Freedom and Why It Matters (London: Head of Zeus, 2016), chapter 4. Hannan draws explicitly on Macfarlane’s history in making his case.

[27]             James C. Bennett and Michael A. Lotus, America 3.0 (New York: Encounter Books, 2013), 26-49, 52, 71-79.

[28]             Todd (1985, 1990) distinguished between various family types: absolute nuclear, egalitarian nuclear (it has inheritance rules), authoritarian, and a number of community family types. Maps of the geographical reach of these family types can be accessed via Google.

[29]             Macfarlane, 48-59, 60-81.

[30]             Macfarlane, 37, 79.

[31]             In the case of the Middle East, see David Pryce-Jones, The Closed Circle: An Interpretation of the Arabs, Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2002 [1989].

[32]             David Hackett Fischer, Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), 446.

[33]             Winston Churchill, A History of the English-Speaking Peoples volume 1 (London: Cassell, 1974 [1956]), 49-50, 69, 76.

[34]             A parallel can be drawn with the Puritans who ventured to New England. As Hannah Arendt noted in On Revolution, the Mayflower compact, the mutual agreement of the ship-borne Calvinist Separatists to bind themselves into a “civil body politick” to frame laws and government, laid the foundation of the American political order. Arendt, On Revolution (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1973 [1963]), 167, 173.

[35]             Erika Engelhaupt, “How Human Violence Stacks Up Against Other Killer Animals”, National Geographic, September 28, 2016. Engelhaupt’s article summarises research reported in José María Gómez, Miguel Verdú, Adela González-Megías         and Marcos Méndez, “The phylogenetic roots of human lethal violence”, Nature 538, 13 October 2016, 233-237.

[36]             John Carroll, Guilt: The Grey Eminence behind Character, History and Culture (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1985), 97-122.

[37]             George C. Homans, Sentiments and activities: essays in social science (London: Routledge, 1962), 147-156, 179-180; Margaret Doody, Jane Austen’s Names: Riddles, Persons, Places (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015), 265-266.

[38]             Macfarlane, 14. Freehold meant that no feudal conditions attached to the tenure rather only conditions related to tax, compulsory purchase, the exercise of police powers, and the like.

[39]             S. Sands and J. Murphy, “Theresa May on the Conservative leadership election and being the next UK Prime Minister”, Evening Standard, July 5, 2016.

[40]             David Cameron’s UK administration was conspicuous with these. The US Clinton political machine is the zenith of chumocracy. A spotlight was put on the chumocratic culture in Australia’s Turnbull administration by the “Budgie Nine” incident in October 2016.

[41]             Macfarlane, 55.

[42]             Roger Scruton, England: An Elegy (London: Continuum, 2006).

[43]             Friedrich Hayek, Law, Legislation and Liberty volume one (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1973), 35-54.

[44]             Roger Scruton, How to be a Conservative (London: Bloomsbury, 2014), 19, 23-24, 42, 54, 58, 67-68, 91.

[45]             Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations ed. A. Skinner (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1970 [1776]), 502

[46]             Peter Ackroyd, Albion: The Origins of the English Imagination (New York: Random House, 2002), 26-31, 59-69, 91-92.

[47]             This was also J.R.R. Tolkien’s point in his well-known 1936 lecture on “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics”. The critics had complained that the epic dealt with battles against monsters rather than the more realistic ins-and-outs of internecine English tribal warfare. Tolkien responded that the subject of the poem was human destiny. It was not a documentary of war. Indeed it was precisely a sense of destiny that helped the English clamber up out of the pit of tribal politics.

[48]             Max Weber, Economy and Society volume 2 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978), 1061. The system began to break at the end of eighteenth-century when there was a failure to translate rural voluntary administration into the new big industrial-age cities.

[49]             Theresa May, “Full text: Theresa May’s conference speech”, Spectator, October 5, 2016.

[50]             Soon after the Brexit referendum, EU officials began to refuse to meet with British business lobbyists. The French, it seems, pushed hard for this, as if to say: “this is what we will deny you, the congenial chummy chat”.

[51]             Harry Yorke, “Britain’s best-known universities have urged their students to vote to stay”, The Telegraph, May 28, 2016.

[52]             Hull, England’s poorest city, once was a prosperous North Sea fishing port. When the UK entered the EU, Britain’s territorial waters fishing rights were reallocated to other EU states under the Common Fisheries Policy, devastating Hull’s economy. See Prosperity to Poverty—and Back? A Portrait of Hull, the UK’s Least Prosperous City, Legatum Institute, 2016.

[53]             In contrast to the Continent, EU ports are smaller in volumes handled but relatively larger in number.  In short they are more decentralised. This means that they also more readily expand or shrink as the country’s trade orientation changes.

[54]             Gunnar Heinsohn, “A Northern Alliance? How the U.K. can liberate post-Brexit Europe from Brussels”, City Journal, July 13, 2016.

[55]             David Abulafia, Lübeck and the Hanseatic League Lecture, Legatum Institute, London, February 10, 2016.

Comments [9]

  1. gardner.peter.d says:

    An extraordinary long arc of English history. My concern about Mrs May is that in summary she is a manager-administrator rather than a leader. Even allowing for Cameron’s dereliction of duty in not having any kind of a plan for a vote to leave the EU, she has been very slow to make ‘big picture’ decisions, for example leaving the EU’s single market. She has also been slow to realise that the new relationship with the EU, quite distinct from arrangements for withdrawal under Article 50, cannot be achieved sensibly in the two years allowed by Article 50. that should have been obvious a very long time ago. I don’t know if it is because of her tendency to immerse herself in detail, but agreements ay heads of government level do not need much detail and can be reached very quickly. All they need do is define a timescale and endpoint. Neither need agreements await the full package. For example, it would be a relatively short document to agree that trade in goods and services will continue under present trade rules for 5 years by which time a new regime of free trade and arrangements for monitoring compliance or equivalence of regulations, sector by sector will be put in place and that during this period Britain will be agree its own trade relationships with non-EU states and gradually introduce its own new regulations. Mind you, much of even that does not require agreement with the EU: Britain, once independent can just do it and keep the EU informed out of good manners. Separate MoUs could relieve Britain of regulations and directives in the pipeline, some of which are damaging to UK.
    Mrs May might be going in the right direction but a better more incisive leader – why did she make no effort to keep parliament on side as soon as she became PM? – would be going much faster and therefore be less at risk from events and sabotage.

  2. Stuart Huggett says:

    A stimulating and entertaining discourse – thank you. I have to question your choice of title however – where does the Anglosphere come in? Towards the end you indicate that it may be the littoral communities around the North Sea and the Baltic. My impression has always been that the Anglosphere is the English speaking nations – including India – as Daniel Hannen has spoken of. Maybe you could give this piece some other title and then give us the Anglosphere one – I eagerly look forward to it!

    • padraic says:

      I agree Stuart. Most of the Commonwealth is part of the Anglosphere, for example the official language of Zambia is English and this is the case in some others. I think what Peter is alluding to is another European grouping, possibly a trading only group, where English is the form of communication.

  3. Robh says:

    Very interesting article.One theroy has it that the inheritance of the English farm by the oldest male kept them a more viable size than those on the Continent which was disected at each generation. The other males joined the armed forces, church or mercantile class and it was the expansion of the latter than resulted in the Industrial Revolution occuring in Britain first rather than on the Continent.

    • padraic says:

      It was my understanding that primogeniture was introduced into England after the Norman Invasion – in the early 1100s by King Henry the First. Prior to that in Saxon times an estate had normally been divided among the sons. Primogeniture was introduced so that the feudal holding of a vassal of the king was confined to one son so that the other sons would become available to supply the military service to the king.

      • en passant says:

        You are right about the ancient Welsh inheritance issue. This was why Wales was subjugated in the 13th century, long before Ireland and Scotland.

        “But their [Welsh] succession laws meant that on the death of a patriarch his lands were divided equally amongst his sons and did not go to the first-born. The ability to develop unity and power was therefore constantly diluted and no leader was able to claim to be the “King of the Welsh”, at least not until he had defeated his own brothers and every other powerful tribal lord.”
        “Wales was briefly unified in the 9th century under Hywel Dda (the Good), but on his death the old laws of succession once more returned the country to anarchy. It was another hundred years before the fearsome Gruffydd ap Llewelyn defeated his fellow Welsh rivals and became the sole claimant for the Welsh throne. However, times had also changed in neighbouring England as it was already united under one king. Gruffydd sensibly paid homage to the English King and in return was recognized as a king in his own right.
        However, this did not stop his depredations along the “Marches”, or borders between England and Wales. In retaliation, King Harold of England invaded Wales and trapped and killed Gruyffdd in 1062. Anarchy returned to the Welsh kingdom as it was once more divided between his heirs.
        This pattern of a strong war leader arising, fighting relentlessly against his own Welsh rivals and uniting Wales was repeated, but it always ended with the same result. When the leader died, the laws of succession inevitably returned the country to civil war and chaos.”

        • padraic says:

          This was a common problem among the older societies – the history of the Zulus, for instance,shows similar issues relating to the handing on of power when the leader dies. I thought our modern system worked well whereby voters elected a party whose leader was accepted by the losing leadership and life continued with a minimum of disruption, sustained by a non-partisan public service whose motto was like that of the Roman centurions who were paid in salt (salaria) – “Whose salt I eat, whose song I sing”. But in recent times I am starting to “hae ma doots” if that model can survive the events now unfolding in one of our fraternal Anglosphere nations.

  4. ianl says:

    > “The EU is a long-term slow-motion train wreck and the reasons to leave it are compelling. Ruled by an unaccountable bureaucracy, the EU is a facade democracy …”

    Thanks, Peter – a very good mix of observation, analysis and optimism. The truth of the quote above is seen daily with the predictable outbursts of hysterical anger from the Brussels kleptocracy against Brexit. Try as I may to rise above pettiness, these reiterative rants do cause me much sardonic mirth. Oh, the apoplexy, Iago, the apoplexy …

    There is an issue that causes some concern, though. What exactly can Theresa May do if the House of Lords refuses to allow the Govt to implement Article 50 ? As I understand it (likely superficially), members of the HoL are appointed for life (?) so calling a general election poses no threat to them … and, would they stay bought ?

  5. [email protected] says:

    I think a key point was the use of the term big. Having lived in Europe for 15 years, my impression about EU politicians and EU supporters is that they resent the size of the US, Russia, China and possibly Brazil and India.

    If you are top of the heap (PM, President, First Minister, head of the civil service, industrial leader, ministerial advisor etc.) of Belgium, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Poland, Spain and so on, nobody really cares what you think. Even France, Germany and Italy aren’t that important despite imperial pasts.

    So as a European, when you deal with heavy hitters from truly big countries, you hate it and feel a lack of respect, you feel inferior. This purely personal insecurity has driven policy makers to develop the EU so that they could say they represented a massive ‘country’ and got to be a big swinging [rhymes with stick] at global meetings.

    I sense it is personal chips on shoulders driving the EU. The UK has been big so we no longer care about measuring our appendages on the world stage and are confident enough to go our own way.

    Australia has an economy the size of Russia and has always punched about its weight. So none of us in Australia or the UK will ever understand the inferiority complex driving our EU cousins. But as this article demonstrates, that doesn’t make us wrong.

    Great article and well argued hypothesis.