The Anglosphere and its fifth column

At one point during the long and grubby campaign mounted by the Rudd–Gillard–Rudd government to stay in power, the concept of the Anglosphere became a bone of contention. On June 26 Foreign Minister Bob Carr raised the issue in his National Press Club address in an attempt to portray the Opposition Leader as a dangerous radical. “Tony Abbott has spoken many times about the Anglosphere, the importance of the Anglosphere to him,” Carr said. “He did it in his book, where he is not constrained by the obligation to prove he’s not a fire-breathing right-winger.” Carr then launched into this tirade:

For a conservative minister of Australia who had once been in tutelage of John Howard, talk of Anglosphere is very dangerous. It sends a very wrong message about where Australia is, the character of our country, the content of our foreign policy. And I would enter a very strong warning about that. A lot of it, a lot of the interpretation placed on that, were it to happen, might be wrong or unfair, but source considered, comments about an Anglosphere could be widely, wildly misinterpreted and do Australia great harm.

Anyone who has read the book in question, Battlelines, will find it hard to recall anything said by its author that could honestly be described as dangerous. Abbott mentions the Anglosphere a few times in one chapter where he talks about Australia’s foreign relations but confines his remarks to the virtues shared by the peoples of the English-speaking countries, thanks to their inheritance of the British traditions of representative democracy, the rule of law and civic pluralism. An Australian politician praising such virtues is hardly sending “a very wrong message” about the character of his country and the content of its foreign policy. In their last days of office, the sleazy leaders of this Labor government stooped very low.

In fact, Abbott’s discussion of the Anglosphere, though brief, is both well thought out and in the vanguard of current discussion of the topic. He recognises that the concept describes neither an ethnic collective, a common market, nor a defence alliance. “It’s a solidarity based on ideas in common and even mutually shared differences of opinion rather than on race, religion or economic self-interest.”

Apart from its political and legal traditions, he identifies two other attributes that characterise the relationship. The English-speaking countries today are less tribalist and more open to the peoples of the world than any others. Their patterns of thinking, shaped by Shakespeare, the King James Bible, and the books and movies of modern consumer culture, mean they are increasingly cosmopolitan and internationalist. “Overwhelmingly,” Abbott observes, “the modern world is one that’s been made in English.”

His second point concerns the role that virtue plays in politics, especially in foreign policy and decisions to go to war. He quotes Alexis de Tocqueville’s contention that Americans’ sense of their country’s greatness depends upon its goodness. Abbott observes that the United States is often accused in its dealings with the wider world of having a short attention span, flawed judgment, and actions that are frequently counter-productive, but adds: “What can’t seriously be questioned, in my view, is Americans’ collective desire to be a force for good.” He says the same sentiment is the heritage of all the Anglosphere:

The notion that “I am my brother’s keeper” has taken particular root in America, as it has in all the English-speaking countries. It’s an aspect of the West’s ethical heritage that seems to be strengthening its hold over the civic culture of the Anglosphere which is fastidious about the need for fairness, especially to outsiders.

This is a view shared by the great American political scientist, the late Samuel Huntington, one of the authors whose work makes it into the bibliography of Battlelines. As it happens, in early October I gave a paper on Huntington’s most recent book, Who Are We? to a conference in New York on the “special relationship” between Britain and the United States. I pointed out that Huntington especially emphasises the religious basis of American culture, a fact which, he observes, often surprises people from other nominally Christian countries. He writes:

Religiosity distinguishes America from most other Western societies. Americans are overwhelmingly Christian, which distinguishes them from most non-Western peoples. Their religiosity leads Americans to see the world in terms of good and evil to a much greater extent than others do. The leaders of other societies often find this religiosity not only extraordinary but also exasperating for the deep moralism it engenders in the consideration of political, economic, and social issues.

The deep moralism of evangelical Anglo-Protestantism, Huntington argues, still underpins almost every aspect of politics, from national identity and foreign policy, to the American work ethic and social welfare policy. My paper’s main criticism was of his belief that these values were exclusively American and hence justified the notion of American exceptionalism. I argued he was describing the culture that underpins Britain itself and most of the societies formed by the English-speaking peoples around the world, in particular the settler societies of North America and the Pacific.

In Australia, religious observance today is among the lowest of all Western countries, yet the moralism of evangelical Protestantism lives on, especially among those leftists who imagine themselves emancipated from religion. In Australian politics, to make any major reform, you have to advance the moral case for it first. When he ratified the Kyoto Protocol, former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd called climate change “the great moral challenge of our generation”. To go to war, Australian politicians cannot simply appeal to national interests or alliances, they have to show the action is morally justified, that we are on the side of good and against evil, just as they must do in the United States.

In recent months, discussion about the Anglo­sphere has publicly quickened. In September, Claudio Véliz brought out for his Melbourne Conversazione the former National Review editor and Margaret Thatcher adviser John O’Sullivan, to join former Howard government Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, in a discussion about Britain’s place in the European Union. O’Sullivan’s compelling paper was premised on the belief that Britain should withdraw from the EU now, to take better advantage of its compatibility with the English-speaking countries of Asia (India, Singapore, Hong Kong), the Americas and the Pacific. The conference in New York I attended, organised by the journals New Criterion and Standpoint, although ostensibly focused on the US–UK special relationship, became another platform for the Anglosphere, thanks to two outstanding presentations by James Bennett and Daniel Hannan.

Bennett was the author in 2004 of the first major work to define the concept, The Anglosphere Challenge: Why the English-Speaking Nations Will Lead the Way in the Twenty-First Century. His book deploys a great body of literature to establish the centrality of English-speaking culture to the economic, technological and political prospects of the modern world. The ancient traditions of the English—individual rights, rule of law, personal responsibility, minimal government, and communities of mutual trust, that is, classic civil society in its strongest form—constitute the most reliable formula for a future that works.

Daniel Hannan, the conservative, Euro-sceptic member of the European Parliament who toured Australia last year for the Institute of Public Affairs, has his own book coming out on the subject later this month: Inventing Freedom: How the English-Speaking Peoples Made the Modern World. He sees more obstacles ahead than Bennett. His book is not only about the origins of Anglosphere freedom, but also the difficulties facing the concept in the future:

Britain’s intellectual elites see Anglosphere values as an impediment to assimilation into a European polity. Their equivalents in Australia see them as a distraction from their country’s supposed Asian destiny. In the United States, especially under the present administration, Anglosphere identity is seen as a colonial hangover, the patrimony of dead white European males. In every English-speaking country, a multiculturalist establishment hangs back from teaching children that they are heirs to a unique political heritage.

Consequently, in most Anglosphere states, he says, its principles are being slowly eroded. Laws are now regularly made without parliamentary approval in the form of executive decrees. Power is shifting from elected representatives to standing bureaucracies. State spending has grown to a level which earlier Anglosphere populations would have regarded as cause for revolt. “If we want to understand why the Anglosphere hegemony is failing,” Hannan argues, “we need look no further.” He continues:

As the sun sets on the Anglosphere imperium, we understand with sudden clarity what it is that we stand to lose. What raised the English-speaking peoples to greatness was not a magical property in their DNA, nor a special richness in their soil, nor yet an advantage in military technology, but their political and legal institutions. The happiness of the human race depends, more than anyone likes to admit, on the survival and success of those institutions. As a devolved network of allied nations, the Anglosphere might yet exert its benign pull on the rest of this century. Without that pull, the future looks altogether greyer and colder.

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