February 9, 2017


The Anglosphere: new enthusiasm for an old dream : Having cut Britain adrift of Europe, Brexiters are indulging in an old fantasy about a new national role in the world--as the hub of a far-flung Anglosphere (Duncan Bell, January 19, 2017, Prospect)

Theresa May's government is frantically trying to square all sorts of circles, but it cannot conceal the abject confusion about post-Brexit Britain's place in the world. Can it act alone on a crowded stage? How can it compete against giants like the European Union, the United States, or China? Should it even try?

Many of the leading Brexiteers have proposed a simple answer to these questions: the Anglosphere. Britain, they suggest, should reanimate its long-standing relationship with its "natural" allies--principally Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the US. In championing this far-flung union, the Brexiteers draw--sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously--on a strand of thought that stretches back to the Victorian age. Like so much else about the current moment--from the planned restoration of grammar schools to cries for relaunching the Royal Yacht Britannia--the past serves as inspiration and guide. We are invited to march back to the future.

On a chilly Tuesday in December 1999, Margaret Thatcher rose to deliver a speech in New York. Her hosts were the English-Speaking Union (ESU), founded in 1918 to promote co-operation between the "English-speaking peoples." The English-speaking world, she proclaimed, had a providential task to fulfil. "We take seriously the sanctity of the individual; we share a common tradition of religious toleration; we are committed to democracy and representative government; and we are resolved to uphold and spread the rule of law." Citing John Locke, Edmund Burke, and Thomas Jefferson, she recommended an alliance that would "redefine the political landscape" and transform "backward areas [by] creating the conditions for a genuine world community." A new civilising mission beckoned.

The ex-Prime Minister was not the only one airing such grandiose ideas as the new millennium approached. Indeed she was drawing on a proposal that the historian Robert Conquest had sketched in a speech to the ESU a few months earlier. At a time when the consensus was that Britain's settled future lay in the EU, Conquest boldly charged that existing international bodies had failed. An alternative was required. He suggested an "Anglo-Oceanic" political association "weaker than a federation, but stronger than an alliance." It would help bring peace to a violent planet. A few years later he argued that an "Anglosphere Association" would become "a centre of hope in the world... round which peace, co-operation and democracy can develop."

Following the collapse of the Berlin Wall, elites throughout the west scrambled to develop visions of a post-Cold War world. An expanded, integrated Europe seemed to many the most obvious answer. But, though few in number at first, proponents of the "Anglosphere" began to argue that elements of the British Empire should reconvene to help shape the new order. While some of them, such as the American businessman James Bennett, thought that India and the West Indies might be invited, Britain and its former settler colonies, the US included, were at the heart of the project. Proselytised by think tanks, public intellectuals and politicians from the late 1990s onwards, the idea was given impetus by Thatcher's endorsement. With 9/11 and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, interest spread. George W Bush, Tony Blair, Stephen Harper and John Howard all affirmed--with varying degrees of conviction--its importance as a source of global stability and leadership.

Anchored by a shared language, culture, history and institutions, the Anglosphere's advocates describe it as a more natural union than Europe. They dismiss the European project as inherently flawed due to the political, cultural, religious and linguistic diversity of the continent. Thatcher even claimed a divine warrant for extricating Britain from Europe and (re)uniting the settler empire. "God separated Britain from mainland Europe, and it was for a purpose." Many Anglosphere devotees regard Britain's accession to the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1973 as both a monumental mistake and an act of treachery--a mistake because it ignored the weakness of the European project; treachery, because it spurned our true "kith and kin."

Recent years have witnessed a resurgence of such views: Boris Johnson was mouthing a commonplace when in 2013 he criticised the British "betrayal" of Australia and New Zealand. Since the late 1990s a parade of conservative Eurosceptics have lionised the Anglosphere, including Bill Cash, David Davis, Nigel Farage, Michael Gove, Daniel Hannan, Michael Howard, Boris Johnson, Norman Lamont and John Redwood. Having drifted from the crankish fringe to the very heart of political debate, dreams of Anglosphere consummation haunt the Brexit moment. [...]

Bold claims have always been made about the unity and superiority of the Anglosphere. Roberts presents it as a single people endowed with world-historical purpose. "Just as we do not today differentiate between the Roman Republic and the imperial period of the Julio-Claudians when we think of the Roman Empire," he asserts, "so in the future no one will bother to make a distinction between the British Empire-led and the American Republic-led periods of English-speaking dominance."

...time to put a ring on it.

Posted by at February 9, 2017 5:33 AM