March 06, 2006

The Enlightensphere and the Anglosphere

Blogger Cuchulainn, at the Bewilderment, asks whether the idea of the Anglosphere hasn't been made obsolete by the confrontation between the heirs of the Enlighenment and those who reject it. He observes:

Who are we?  We are the inheritors of the enlightenment.  We are proud to number among us, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Anders Fogh Rasmussen.  We regret that do not number Tony Blair or the US State Department.

We are not the Enlightenment.  That was the 18th century, but we are its heirs.  We range across the globe, beyond the limits of the Anglosphere.

We, citizens of the Enlightensphere.

It's not an absurd question. And in fact I've talked about the "civilsphere" as the wider set of strong civil societies in which the Anglosphere operates -- it's more or less synonymous with the membership of the OECD, or the Enlightensphere as Cuchulainn calls it -- pretty much the same thing. But such sociological catgeories, fun as they are to make up, are only worth keeping if they are good predictors. That is to say, if you say the world is divided into group A and group B, then saying thhat somebody is a member of tone of the two groups ought to convey useable information about how that person will probably act.

The Civilsphere, or Enlightensphere, is a pretty good predictor when used in the context of all current societies, but it's also the case that being Anglosphere, or not, continues to be a good predictor of behavior within civilsphere societies.  

What individual politicians like Bush and Blair do or don't do (and remember that Bush and Blair have to act in the context of a world-wide set of interests that currently include staving off the disaster of a nuclear-armed Iran, stabilizing Iraq, and trying to drain the swamp of the Middle East just a bit) is the least reliable result of these civilizational differences. Broad-category predictors work best over time, and with large numbers.  I can admire Rasmussen's stand, and am delighted when the Western Standard republishes the cartoons -- but it's still the case that it's the US that tends to be most proactive on dealing with the threats to the Enlightenment, and the other main Anglosphere powers that tend to be the most helpful to them.

Meanwhile the Speculist had some interesting thoughts on the Enlightenment and the Singularity, making the important distinction between the Anglosphere and Continental Enlightenments. He also grasps that in an era of accelerating change, it is the more flexible Anglosphere version of the Enlightenment that will offer the tools to deal with such change.

An interesting point. Somebody should write a book about it.

Oh, yeah. I did.

Posted by James C. Bennett at March 6, 2006 04:15 PM
Comments

Further comments (with my damn recovering Randian slant) can be found at http://www.saint-andre.com/blog/2006-03.html#2006-03-06T21:13 :-)

Posted by: Peter Saint-Andre at March 6, 2006 10:02 PM

Are we to understand from the original comments that "Enlightensphere" (I do hope they will think of a better word) always and necessarily excludes religion?

Posted by: Helen at March 7, 2006 04:38 AM

Helen's comment anticipates mine: as the Anglosphere has its roots in older places, what about calling it a Judaeo-Christian-sphere?
And further, how can The Enlightenment not be seen as coming from the same source?

Posted by: John Salisbury at March 7, 2006 10:01 AM

I think Gertrude Himmelfarb's distinction between the Scottish Englightment and the Continental one is important here. Adam Smith, Locke, Montesquie (honorary Scottish Enlightment), Newton;our side. Voltaire, Rousseau, Condorcet, Danton etc...their side of the enlightenment. The difference is as clear as that between the American Revolution and the French one. One leads to liberty, freedom and prosperity, the other to death, tyranny and dirigiste economics.

Posted by: John J. Vecchione at March 7, 2006 02:57 PM

If you want to extend the Anglosphere: why emphasize the differences? While both have so many things in common.
I hope it doesn't exclude religion. I thought that that was the idea of Enlightenment 3.0 in the first place! In the original version 'philosophes' railed against religion, because it was associated with dependency and backwardness. We may never be able to do wholly away with that, but stressing, say, moral autonomy, should provide more appeal to those who wish to combine religion with Enlightenment.

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Posted by: dflbmcwa at October 9, 2007 04:16 PM
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