January 05, 2006

A Frustrating Citation

It's always a bit annoying for an author to be cited in such a way as to imply that he has said exactly the opposite of what he actually did. Lawrence Mead has written an article on "Anglo" supremacy (defining "Anglo" as a nation with a core of English-derived settlers, which is quite different from my non-genetic definition of "Anglosphere" nations) that although generally is on the right track, misses a number of points. Since the only specific point he cites me on entirely misrepresents my position, a clarification is, at minimum, in order.

Mead's cite of my book reads "Still less do I assume that there is or ought to be any explicit condominium among the Anglos. No "Anglosphere", where English-speaking nations collaborate to run the world, is likely to emerge. 1 " (1 citing The Anglosphere Challenge). How wrong is this? It could hardly be a more inaccurate statement of the book's argument or position.

To begin with, "the Anglosphere" is a descriptive, not a prescriptive, term. It describes something that is coming into being, and partly already exists -- the worldwide English-speaking community, enabled by instantaneous, flat-rate electronic communication and low-cost intercontinental travel, and connected by a dense network of commercial, human, media-academic, and intergovernmental ties. These axes of cooperation are important now and are becoming rapidly more important.

Secondly, the Anglosphere is not a "condominium of powers" nor am I advocating such. The second major thesis of my book is the discussion of a phenomenon I call the "network commonwealth" (which Mead could have read about in the very journal in which he writes), which describes the emergence of a whole class of international cooperative institutions, including security alliances, free trade regimes, and project-specific collaborative institutions. This trend has two possible outcomes, one of which is a move toward becoming organs of transnational government, and the other, the potetial for a meaningful extension of civil society across national borders where there is sufficient shared culture and institutions to permit meaningful citizen overview and control through national institutions. The first example includes the United Nations and the European Union; the second does not exist today, but could be an Anglosphere Network Commonwealth. My book contains a fairly detailed discussion as to why such a phenomenon would be unlikely to rise to the level of a formal political union or a "condominium".

As for "running the world", perhaps Mead has confined his research to the more fervid paranoia-swamps of the left-blogosphere, surely an unlikely primary resource for a contributor to The National Interest. Had he bothered to read my own writings (or, say, James Kurth's review of my book in The National Interest, or Keith Windschuttle's review in National Review) he would see that for the past five years I have been pointing out the same "path-dependency" issues regarding creation of good government that I bring up. I would like to see the Anglosphere nations run themselves properly, and perhaps assist peripheral Anglosphere nations to ride up the ladder of increasing transparency and expansion of radius-of-trust, as the increasing convergence of the Anglosphere impacts these societies more and more. As I pointed out during the last minimalistic American intervention in Liberia, a case might be made for some form of political linkage with that nation, in the interests of stability and development, but that Americans don't have even the minimal taste for empire that such would entail. An Anglospherist politics must judge foreign interventions (particularly those entirely out of the Anglosphere) on an entirely case-by-case matter. This is about as far as can be gotten from a "condominium...for running the world" as one can get short of the doctrinaire absolute anti-interventionism of the rothbardo-chomskyites.

Mead would have done better to cite Robert Conquest, who actually has advocated at least a political union of the core Anglosphere nations (although not for purposes of "running the world") and he might have cited that work, rather than mine, to footnote that particular point.

My own view is that such a union might not be a bad thing, but I don't see a crisis sufficiently acute to drive the creation of such a union in the near term, while network-commonwealth type institutions could serve many of the same functions, and could be created in the short term. Certainly if the populations of the core Anglosphere nations were to perceive that such a union were urgent, and in their collective interest, a reasonable confederal treaty could probably be thrown together quite quickly. But that sentiment does not exist today, and we would be better occupied to concentrate on near-term goals, except as an occasional thought-experiment.

In short, Mead's article covers a number of points, all of which were adumbrated in my book and other writings over the previous five years, and generally more thoroughly researched and referenced (for example, on the medieval and pre-medieval roots of the English market economy and constitutional government). If he had wanted to cite The Anglosphere Challenge, he would have done better to do so on the many points I treated before he did. Instead, he chose to cite on only one point, and that he got entirely wrong.

It is hard to see how Mead could have read my book and taken such conclusions from it. That he did is unfortunate, considering the many points onwhich we are basically saying similar things.

NOTE: This is a revision of my original post based on further information received.

Posted by James C. Bennett at January 5, 2006 11:37 AM
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“Liberal philosophy, which originated in the Enlightenment era, produces ‘ideological thinking,’ the distinguishing quality of which is to regard those who oppose it as either stupid or malicious. For a liberal, if doctrine and reality clash, reality ‘must give way.’ Hence no true dialogue with a liberal is possible: His thinking cannot be refuted either by logic or behavior.”

--Richard Pipes reflecting upon “Suicide of the West,” by James Burnham, in National Review’s 50th anniversary issue.

Posted by: Truth at January 5, 2006 01:41 PM

Some time back, Paul Johnson (the British historian)wrote an editorial piece for Forbes magazine which advocated that, rather than join the EU, the UK should become the 51st through 56th or 57th states of the US. He cited many of the same points that have been discussed here as rationale. He further proposed that Canada and Australia also join in the mix, creating what might be called a United States of the World.

While I believe that such a move on the part of the UK would be superior to jumping "whole hog" into the EU puddle, I am inclined to agree with Jim that economic and cultural bonds are more likely to be achieved and less stressful to implement.

Posted by: John F at January 5, 2006 03:10 PM

Either a confederation of English-speaking nations, as Conquest advocates, or an incorporation of other core Anglosphere states into the American union, would be reasonably feasible, if the will were there. It's kind of interesting to think about it as a thought experiment exercise. (England would have actually more autonomy in some areas as a state of the US than as an EU member.) But the question about big political changes is always why? At this point in time, there's no really good answer.

Posted by: Jim Bennett at January 5, 2006 03:29 PM

Jim,

In your book, the Anglosphere is clearly a set of facts that imply a direction in which at least part of the advanced world is moving. There is nothing prescriptive about that. Certain changes (eg. sojourner agreements, reorganized trade areas, new or old military ties) could mesh with this direction. These changes (as distinct from the deeper trend) would seem to me matters of prescription.

The vital distinction is the one you make between (1) the Anglosphere as a political union vs. the Anglosphere as a system of voluntary cooperation between sovereign states and (2) the relations with the rest of the world implied by one or the other concept. Your book favors a voluntary system on the grounds that this would be more congruent with the direction in which relations are actually moving. But my sense of what you are saying is that while things are moving in a general direction, the trend is not so autonomous that we can't hinder or facilitate it.

Much of the criticism of the Anglosphere idea seems to proceed from inferences about what closer Anglosphere ties would mean to the rest of the world. What may be needed is a sequel to The Anglosphere Challenge that goes in more detail into this dimension.

Posted by: David Billington at January 6, 2006 12:51 PM

David Billington said:

But my sense of what you are saying is that while things are moving in a general direction, the trend is not so autonomous that we can't hinder or facilitate it.

Yes. Unlike the Marxist, I am not an inevitabilist, so I don't have the problem of "if the Revolution is the verdict of history, why should we sacrifice to bring the revolution?" Given where I think things are going, certain programs make sense, e.g., the Network Commonwealth. However it is entirely possible that the English-speaking nations will (to use the old rocket-business phrase) screw the pooch. So we need to push to make things happen.

Much of the criticism of the Anglosphere idea seems to proceed from inferences about what closer Anglosphere ties would mean to the rest of the world. What may be needed is a sequel to The Anglosphere Challenge that goes in more detail into this dimension.

Yes. The Anglosphere Challenge really just served to throw the topic on the table. It's just an outline. All the rest of the work is still there to be done.

Posted by: Jim Bennett at January 6, 2006 02:43 PM
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