December 13, 2005

WW0@1897 - AV Dicey: A Common Citizenship for the English Race

Download 89K MS-Word version of Dicey’s 1897 essay here

In several earlier posts of e-book material, we’ve seen a transect or cross-section of ideas about unity of the English-speaking peoples at the turn of the 20th century. In 1892, relations between Great Britain and the US were cordial but still distant … and George Parkin is offering Imperial Federation as a means by which Great Britain, alone, and its largest colonies could resolve economic, political, and military vulnerability.

Ten years later, by 1903, the United States and Great Britain had undergone a vast change in their relationship as a result of the Venezuela boundary controversy, the Spanish-American War, the Boer War, the impending American construction of the Panama Canal, and America’s staggeringly large increase in its naval power. John Dos Passos is arguing at book length for harmonization and rationalization of relations between the two great powers out of the roots of sentiment, self-interest, and Christian duty.

Finally, by 1914, Sinclair Kennedy’s book on the “Pan-Angles” is sounding a far more urgent call for unity in the face of serious Great Power challenges in Europe and Asia. Kennedy quotes chapter and verse to establish the common set of values on both sides of the Atlantic, and that alliances should naturally follow such shared values. Within months of that book’s publication, the world was cast into a global realignment and the 20th century’s social and political upheavals were underway.

Turning back for a moment to the period before US-GB rapprochement, however, we can spot the first serious but very delicate propositions about unity amongst the English-speaking peoples. A.V. Dicey (British journalist and legal historian of the first rank) may well have claim to being the “James Bennett of the late 19th century” with his publication of an essay on “isopolity” or common citizenship for the former colonies and then-current dominions of Great Britain.

To quote him: “The idea of a common citizenship for the whole English people is novel. My proposal, therefore, must of necessity sound startling. My purpose is to establish, first, that my plan is practicable; secondly, that the immediate effects of common citizenship would be extremely small, but, as far as they went, wholly good; thirdly, that the indirect and moral, and, ultimately, the political results of common citizenship might be great and extremely beneficial; and, lastly, that the time is opportune for aiming at, or at any rate contemplating, the extension of common civil and political rights throughout the whole of the English-speaking people.”

Dicey, writing at a time when WW0 was still in its early phases quite explicitly stated that his proposal was suited to equal parties … to the proper respect of the dignity of both peoples. America was asserting itself petulantly and rather boorishly in the Caribbean but its trajectory of dominance was yet unexpressed (though internal papers of the Royal Navy suggest that they already had calculated the “prevailing breezes.”). So Dicey's writing reflects neither the disdain of Parkin, nor the American strategic enthusiasm of Dos Passos and Kennedy. Could any value be more important, for example, in current proposals for unity in the English-speaking world, than finding the right balance of engagement and restraint? Unifying enough but not too much. Dicey offers one model.

Dicey’s short essay outlines, in retrospect, a modest proposal that might nonetheless have had real positive, lasting effects as the two nations were swept later into World War I. Without such a common citizenship, the English-speaking peoples at the individual and national levels were to go on informally to establish “special relationships” that changed the nature of the 20th century. The practical nature of the ties between these nations is still to be fully acknowledged or formally established. Hidden "isopolity" -- diplomatic, commercial, military, and cultural, has had to suffice.

Running less that twenty pages, Dicey’s essay from the 19th century is thought-provoking in substance and interesting to observe from a rhetorical standpoint. He sought to soothe but also to motivate. Well worth a read for Anglosphere enthusiasts after 108 years.

Posted by jmccormick at December 13, 2005 12:40 PM

I reformatted the attachment so it's a bit more readable, if someone wants to email me. Can't seem to find contact info for the blog, if it's listed.

Posted by: Brock at December 13, 2005 07:11 PM
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