We are still experiencing the after-effects of an astonishing event. The inhabitants of a damp island at the western tip of the Eurasian landmass stumbled upon the idea that the government ought to be subject to the law, not the other way around. The rule of law created security of property and contract which, in turn, led to industrialization and modern capitalism. For the first time in the history of the species, a system grew up which, on the whole, rewarded production better than predation. That system proved to be highly adaptable. It was taken across the oceans by English-speakers, sometimes imposed by colonial administrators, sometimes carried by patriotic settlers. In the old courthouse in Philadelphia, it was distilled into its purest and most sublime form as the U.S. Constitution.
So successful was the model that almost every state in the world now copies at least its trappings. Even the most brutal dictatorships generally have things called congresses, whose nervous delegates, anticipating the wishes of the autocrat, group themselves into blocs called political parties. Even the nastiest despotisms have institutions called supreme courts which, on paper, are something other than an instrument of the regime. But meaningful political freedom—freedom under the rule of law in a representative democracy—remains an unusual phenomenon. We make a mistake when we assume that it will necessarily outlast the hegemony of the English-speaking peoples.
This is an excerpt, available in full at The New Criterion, of Hannan’s upcoming book, Inventing Freedom: How the English-Speaking People Made the Modern World
This is the story of freedom—which is to say, the story of the Anglosphere. I realize that this statement might strike some readers as smug, triumphalist, even racist. But it is none of those things. From the first, the Anglosphere was a civil rather than an ethnic concept: That was a large part of its strength. While a few Victorian writers tried to explain the success of the English-speaking peoples in racial terms, their arguments were controversial even at the time and are untenable today. The reason that a child of Greek parents in Melbourne is wealthier and freer than his cousin in Mytilene has nothing to do with race and everything to do with political structures.
Part of the problem lies with the vagueness of the terminology. “Anglosphere” is a word of recent coinage, first used in a Neal Stephenson’s 1995 science fiction novel, The Diamond Age. It spread rapidly into our political and cultural vocabulary because it described something for which a word was needed, namely the community of free English-speaking nations. The Oxford English Dictionary defines Anglosphere as “the group of countries where English is the main native language,” but the man who popularized the concept, the American writer James C. Bennett, is more exacting in his criteria:
To be part of the Anglosphere requires adherence to the fundamental customs and values that form the core of English-speaking cultures. These include individualism, the rule of law, honoring contracts and covenants, and the elevation of freedom to the first rank of political and cultural values. 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, and “a man’s home is his castle” are taken for granted.
Which nations? All definitions include five core countries: Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Almost all count Ireland (with its special circumstances). Most also take in Singapore, Hong Kong, and what’s left of Britain’s colonial archipelago (Bermuda, the Falkland Islands, and so on). Some also encompass the more democratic Caribbean states, and some embrace South Africa. The elephant—for once the metaphor seems entirely apt—is India which, if included, would constitute two-thirds of the Anglosphere’s population.