February 13, 2018


The Anglosphere: A Viable Global Actor or Simply a Culture? (SAMUEL GREGG, 2/02/15, Library of Law & Liberty)

With some significant qualifications, I would submit that a core Anglosphere group of nations continues to exist as a discernible global political player. Whether this is reinforced or weakens over time, however, is going to depend upon the choices made by the leaders of core Anglosphere countries.

Let's start by identifying some of the qualifications. In the first place, we should not exaggerate the prominence of particular elements often associated with Anglosphere countries. Much is made, for instance, of the strong influence of common law in these nations. Historically speaking, the English legal system does possess a strong common law element that has profoundly shaped most English-speaking peoples' legal systems and is not often found outside the English-speaking world.

We should recall, however, that the absolute sovereignty of Parliament had long placed considerable checks upon the influence of precedent and case law in the English, Scottish, Australian, and New Zealand legal systems. Over time, the common law element in English law has also been shaped and modified by constitutional law, chancery law, and even canon law. In more recent decades, England's and Scotland's legal systems have been very influenced by laws and regulations proceeding from Britain's membership of the European Union. Court decisions in the United States and Canada have likewise constrained (and, in some cases, terminated) the influence of precedents embodied and developed through case law.

Second, Anglosphere nations are generally viewed as being more committed to the market economy and economic liberty than to the neo-corporatist and social democratic policies and institutions that prevail on the Continent. There is much truth to this. Even today, the Wall Street Journal/Heritage Foundation's 2014 Index of Economic Freedom lists five former British colonies--Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada--and one former part of Great Britain (Ireland) in the world's top 10 freest economies. The same index, however, also underscores that, economically speaking, Denmark and Chile are freer than the two biggest Anglosphere nations: the United States and Britain. In November 2014, a report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) illustrated that the United States is now the world's second biggest social spender in terms of percentage of annual GDP, exceeded only by France.

While the core Anglosphere nations seem to share a stronger and more persistent belief in markets than Continental Western Europeans, they have differed as to how to apply market-orientated approaches to international economic policies. Even before Barack Obama's election as President, Australia and New Zealand had shown a far more consistent commitment to promoting global free trade and reducing subsidies than the United States, resulting in at times significant bilateral tensions. In the late 1980s, for example, the Australian government was so frustrated by the damage that U.S. agricultural subsidies inflicted upon Australian farmers that it contemplated raising with its U.S. counterparts the possibility of discontinuing the joint intelligence facilities located in Northern Australia--facilities that remain crucial to Washington's capacity to engage in global intelligence surveillance.

In terms of foreign and defense policy, the English-speaking nations were, as Andrew Roberts has written, the main bulwark of opposition to Imperial Germany, Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, and Soviet Communism over the course of World War I, World War II, and the Cold War. In the case of the last-mentioned, this was underscored by numerous intelligence-sharing arrangements, security treaties such as ANZUS, not to mention the oft-cited Special Relationship between Britain and America. These constructs remain largely in place today.

They have not, however, always translated into the type of concrete commitments desired by some participating members. Though there was considerable pressure from the United States, British and Canadian troops did not fight in Vietnam. Nor did the alliances always hold up under the force of domestic political pressures. In the 1980s, for instance, a very serious rift developed between New Zealand on the one hand, and America and Australia on the other, over New Zealand's adoption of nuclear-free policies--so much so that the "NZ" in "ANZUS" effectively became inoperative for a significant time. Canada did not formally participate in the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 on the grounds that it believed such a war required an explicit United Nations authorization, a view rejected by the United States, Britain, and Australia at the time. (Some Canadian personnel did assist in training Iraqi forces after the invasion, and Ottawa contributed financially to postwar reconstruction efforts.)

All these qualifications remind us that today's core Anglosphere is not an entity similar to that of the Roman Empire or the British Empire. Nor is it a type of American dominion, even though the United States easily outweighs all other core Anglosphere nations put together in terms of economic and military strength. The same qualifications illustrate that the national interests of, for instance, Britain are not identical to those of America, which in turn are not precisely the same as those of Canada, New Zealand, or Australia.

At the same time, a considerable degree of what might be called commonality of purpose has persisted across the core Anglosphere nations. In the realm of economics, for instance, a certain commitment to market-based policies has tended to prevail among core Anglosphere nations, and in ways that often transcend internal ideological divisions. As the historian William Hay has argued, Britain's and America's turn to the market economy under conservative leaders in the 1980s was decisive in diminishing the influence of Keynesian and corporatist policies and structures throughout much of the world. To this one could add that such views were quickly embraced--and, in some respects, more radically--by New Zealand and Australia, notably under the auspices of Labor governments. Even today, interest groups that push for corporatist or protectionist policies arguably find it harder to gain political traction in core Anglosphere countries than their counterparts in Western European nations. One even hears figures as rooted in the American Left as President Obama praising entrepreneurship and publicly affirming free trade less grudgingly than, for instance, France's President Fran├žois Hollande.

Concerning foreign and defense policy, the core Anglosphere nations--especially the United States, Britain, and Australia (including when the center-left has been in power)--have generally been more willing to not only deploy military force but to do so in concert with each other than most Continental countries. Generally the latter seem more inclined to put their trust in international organizations and international treaties, perhaps because many of them were left physically devastated by two world wars in the space of less than 30 years in ways that core Anglosphere nations were not.

Posted by at February 13, 2018 5:15 PM