November 15, 2007


Hail to the chiefs: An entertaining book on why the much-loathed Anglo-Saxons have kept on winning—and messing up : a review of God and Gold: Britain, America and the Making of the Modern World By Walter Russell Mead (The Economist, Nov 1st 2007

Mr Mead, a polymath scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, has never been shy of big-picture subjects. This time it is “the biggest geopolitical story of modern times: the birth, rise, triumph, defence and continuing growth of Anglo-American power despite continuing and always renewed opposition and conflict.” Ever since the Glorious Revolution in 1688, Britain and America have been on the winning side, from the war of the Spanish succession to the cold war.

The anglosphere's long streak of luck has preoccupied the losers more than the winners. Winston Churchill excepted, most Britons don't like being tied to modern America; Americans can't see what ancient Britain has to do with them. Yet for outsiders the link between the English-speaking peoples was horribly clear from the start: only a few years after the American revolution the French were sending back horrified reports that New England really was new England in spirit.

Outsiders also have plenty of explanations for the anglosphere's success. Some of them are unworthy (with anti-Semitism a constant theme) but most centre on the idea that the winners relied on perfidy and violence abroad and cruelty and inequality at home. In the old East Germany, officials had a list of terms to describe Britons: “paralytic sycophants, effete betrayers of humanity, carrion-eating servile imitators, arch-cowards and collaborators.” A Muslim journalist observes: “We worship God by loathing America.”

Mr Mead's own explanation focuses on God and gold. Britain was lucky: economically, it came good at just the right time. It had a Goldilocks location (close enough to Europe to imbibe its heat, distant enough to avoid many of its wars) and a Goldilocks state (strong enough to work, weak enough to keep out of the way). But its tolerance and brashness were also part of its economic strength: Donald Trump would have fitted into London.

More controversially, Mr Mead also claims that God was part of the anglosphere's competitive advantage. Both Britain and America kept a balance between reason, faith and tradition that their rivals did not. Religion helped to keep the state in check and supplied some of the verve to keep on trying to change the world.

How can the self-evident be controversial?

MORE (via Mike Daley):
God and Gold: Britain, America, and the Making of the Modern World (Walter Russell Mead, Joanne J. Myers, October 31, 2007, Carnegie Council)

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 15, 2007 8:21 AM

"We worship God by loathing America."

He does sound like a zealous East German, doesn't he? We know that such a position is neither reasonable nor faithful. But if they want it to be a tradition....

Posted by: ratbert at November 15, 2007 11:14 PM