February 17, 2006

Review of Robert Conquest's Most Recent Book

A good review By Christopher Hitchens of Robert Conquest's most recent book contains this passage:

What Conquest appears to be offering, in place of ideological enthusiasm, is the kind of “English liberty” that was admired by Voltaire and others before 1789 began to spoil things. Indeed, he closes the book with a detailed blueprint for an “Anglosphere” alliance, that would formalize relations between the USA, the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, and the associated Caribbean and Pacific islands.

The sort of people who would be quickest to sneer at this are exactly the sort of people who see nothing incongruous in the maintenance by the Elysée of “La Francophonie”, but it is useful to note that Conquest himself – an Anglo-American of partly French provenance – is not immune from the desire to put a slightly Utopian scheme before a wondering world.

This last passage refers to Conquests proposal for a sort of grand union of the English speaking peoples. As we have seen on this blog, thanks to James McCormick's posts, there were a lot of proposals for such a political union in the decades around 1900. I think Jim Bennett's proposal for a more loose-jointed Network Commonwealth is much more practical and requires less radical change in existing political arrangements, and hence is far more likely to happen. The Network Commonwealth will be based not on ideological enthusiasm, but on English (Anglospheric) liberty and good old American (Anglospheric) common sense and practicality.

Posted by Lexington Green at February 17, 2006 11:49 AM

It still wouldn't be a bad thing to formalize it a little. Right now the USA, UK, ANZ, and C&tC borrow ideas from each other and share legal and scientific advances (it's all very Common Law), but a little codification now & then isn't a bad thing.

Posted by: Brock at February 17, 2006 01:01 PM

A little codification is fine. But the idea of actual political union is too much. The point is to build on existing relationships, strengthening civil society ties and facilitating business, not creating another layer of government. Let the EU create a blood-sucking and unnecessary superstate. They can compel top-down solutions, we can facilitate bottom-up solutions. Guess who will be better off.

Posted by: Lex at February 17, 2006 01:15 PM

Each of the Anglosphere nations has a national narrative that is (or in Canada's case, was, back when it was acknowledged) quite servicable and satisfactory to its nationals. Any kind of Anglosphere union would require the emergence of a wider narrative that could incorporate the national narratives without destroying them. This usually only happens in times of crisis. Such a crisis is imaginable, and in fact we may be seeing it on the horizon, but it is not here yet and it is not felt yet. An Anglosphere union that had to be forced from the top down, as the European Union is, is by definition a Utopian project and bound for failure. If the need for such a union is felt at some point in the future, it will happen, and in fact wouldn't be all that hard to accomplish. I think the difference between Hitchen's take on the matter is that he is looking at the matter from the current viewpoint, while Conquest is taking the longer view, a thing he is good at. In that sense both are right, from their own viewpoint, and given Conquest's clear vision throughout his life, I wouldn't dissmiss the idea out of hand.

In the meantime, the construct I call the Network Commonwealth is attainable in the short run, and never need grow into a closer arrangement. However, if the need for a closer Union arose, the Network Commonwealth's existence existence would make the task simpler and easier.

Posted by: Jim Bennett at February 17, 2006 02:03 PM

Like Winston Churchill, my mother was the daughter of an English father and an American mother.

Unlike Winston's parents, he came here. (Recent research points to my great-grandmother apparently abandoning her children after her husband died at age 40. She was dead by age 35.)

So, I've always followed with interest the concepts of "Imperial Federation" or "Union Now with Britain."

That said, I'm not "just" English. A small part of my ethnic heritage does come, in the 18th century, from German-speakers who came to that part of North American Britain (think about it) called Pennsylvania from territories now in the German Bundesrepublik and the Czech Republic.

So, Kaisers and Iron Chancellors and Fuehrers aside, I've also had an interest in the culture that produced Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms. (And, yes, Johann Strauss. Both of them.)

That said, any enthusiasm for some kind of permanent partnership, close or loose, between the world's English-speaking communities ought to remember the fate of Germany.

Until 1866, Germany included territory now part of modern Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Italy, and Croatia.

Indeed, one of the hold-ups to German unification was: once unification takes place what happens to the Habsburgs' non-German dominions?

Prussia's Otto von Bismarck had one solution: kick the Habsburgs out. (Do you suppose he turned over in his grave in March, 1933?)

Expelled from Germany, Austria's German-speaking population hankered for some kind of reunification, or "Anschluss." And so did Germans within Bismarck's Reich.

With the fall of the Habsburgs, the newly constituted Republic of German Austria (basically modern Austria plus the Sudetenland) voted for Anschluss. The Allies vetoed it.

Political thinkers on both sides of the frontier then began thinking of a new Reich. The First Reich, seen as "Austrian," had failed. The Second Reich, seen as "Prussian," had also failed.

What was wanted was a new, Third, Reich, that would combine the best qualities of both Austria and Prussia: Austrian grace and Prussian efficiency. (And it was hoped Austria's way with minorities would help integrate this new Reich with the rest of "Mitteleuropa.")

But by then, "Prussia" had become synonymous with "Germany." (Bavaria and the rest of south Germany weren't enough to provide a balance.)

So, after the Anschluss finally did take place, an Austrian was asked how the reunification was going. "With German grace and Austrian efficiency," he replied.

And, while a majority of Austrians had enthusiastically voted for reunification in 1938, I don't recall reading of any complaints, Austrian or German, when that union was dissolved by the Allies in 1945.

The point, of course, is that Britain has been separated from her eldest colonies for well over 200 years now.

During the Vietnam Era, Dame Daphne du Maurier wrote "Rule Britannia," a dystopia of Anglo-American reunion. The new entity was called the USUK, and it turned out the United States has simply placed the United Kingdom under its military occupation. (Like the Continent, Britain does have a significant anti-American element among its intelligentsia. I take it Dame Daphne was a card-carrying member.)

And, am I mistaken, but has the impetus for this association been more from thinkers resident--or originally resident--in the British Isles than those from the United States?

Just some things to think about.

Daniel MacGregor

Posted by: Daniel MacGregor at February 17, 2006 02:47 PM

Daniel, the problems you point are precisely the ones which will be avoided by further consolidating existing ties into a Network Commonwealth, which will expressly NOT BE an "ever closer (political) union" along the lines of the EU.

As Jim points out, if there were any kind of bottom-up demand for a political union, it could be accomplished. I see any such project as creating a wholly unnecessary additional level of government. The point is to facilitate all kinds of ties on the level of civil society and business, with military cooperation on an as-needed basis. Let the EU build a Fourth Reich, we don't need one.

Posted by: Lex at February 17, 2006 03:31 PM


Not only do we not need one, but we don't want one. An amateur observation I have made about a special, defining characteristic of the Anglosphere nations is their extreme pride in their various independent histories. Americans love the UK but don't want to be a part of it. Canadians would never want to be seen as Americans, and Aussies guard their image as rough, rugged bushman individualists as much as Americans guard their frontier history. With such a fierce reputation for independence being a defining characteristic of the Anglosphere, a unitary United Anglosphere could never happen. Politically, the closest the Anglosphere could ever become would be a loose confederation. At least, that's my opinion.

Posted by: Colin at February 17, 2006 04:12 PM

Colin, I agree absolutely. I'm a Jacksonian. I do not want people in Hobart or Glasgow or Vancouver voting on what law will prevail in Kankakee or Kalamazoo or any other American jurisdiction. A loose confederation would be the best possible outcome.

Posted by: Lex at February 17, 2006 04:34 PM

It all depends, folks. A loose confederation would be an enormous accomplishment, and I'd be happy to see that happen. There's no need for anything more.

On the other hand, if the alternatives were sharia law, or world government, or some other concievable obnoxious alternative, I'd be all for an incorporating union if that's what it took.

Posted by: Jim Bennett at February 17, 2006 05:09 PM

We already have such a network. It is informal and lacks a name, but in time of crisis it invariably comes into play (e.g., in the two world wars and the cold war). What holds us together is the English language and English political and economic traditions, plus a common religious heritage that embodies ideals of political freedom, social justice, and human equality, which we all share. In other words, we are united by culture, which, when the chips are down, is quite sufficient for the purposes required.

Posted by: Luke Lea at February 18, 2006 08:26 AM

"...quite sufficient for the purposes required."

Luke, I don't agree. The challenges ahead will be very serious. Britain is being engulfed by a doomed but hostile entity. The Anglophone world needs a greater degree of openness among its sister polities. Also, a more formalized defense arrangement would probably be to the advantage of all parties. I do not think we can continue to coast as we have been. In particular, I think the British public attitude toward the Iraq war marks a serious blow to the informal relations between the USA and UK. The UK is an important ally the USA has largely taken for granted. There is a lot that needs to be done -- all of it, for now, and probably forever, I hope -- well short of any actual political union.

Posted by: Lex` at February 18, 2006 08:00 PM

I agree with Lex on this point. Look at the Joint Strike Fighter issue, for example. (Winds of Change and EU Referendum have been following this closely.) By not having Anglosphere-specific institutional arrangements, we are about to lose the UK as a welcome and needed first-tier partner on this project. The UK has to pretend that its European defense links are as trustworthy as its US links, when all the world knows they are not. The US has to pretentd that the UK is just another NATO partner when it is more than that. There''s no way the US is going to share key technology with the UK so long as the Uk won't close its back door to france, which wouldn't hesitate to sell leaked technology to the US's rivals.

Posted by: Jim Bennett at February 18, 2006 09:14 PM

The question is what would be the point of such an amalgamation?

If it was for military purposes the US is already unipolar hegemon & all this would do would be to create an "other side" out of the rest of the world.

If economic we already live in a world with a fair amount of free trade & again establishing a barrier with the rest of the world would be counterproductive (literally). I would go so far as to say that I would be happy to see Britain leave the EU join with NAFTA.

The cultural effects of the rest of the world learning English & being able to communicate through the net have yet to be fully determined but it is quite possible that we will shortly see most of the world becoming Alglosphere in the cultural sense in the same way that Singapore already is.

On the other hand I would like to see the anglo nations developing X-Prizes for the colonisation of the solar system (this would have to include Singapore where Space Adventures have just set up). This is a project where the world's most technologicly advanced & having a common language could obviously do best anyway. This need not even be government financed since the relatively small amounts (billions of $ rather than 100s) needed as seedcorn are available from several of the many of the world's richest individuals & trusts.

Posted by: Neil Craig at February 21, 2006 07:56 AM

Neil, you are singing from the same hymnbook as the rest of us. Conquest's proposal is not one which is timely. The need is not for additional layers of government, but precisely the kind of things that facilitate private initiatives, like the UK-in-NAFTA. That would be a great thing. Unfortunately the Brits seem to think that they would have to violate their treaty commitments to the EU to do that.

A space colonization X-prize would be cool. I see no need to limit it to Anglo countries. It would probably be self-limiting.

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