March 19, 2006

Mark Steyn and the Anglosphere Style

Verity has opened the floor to the question of who is most widely read throughout the Anglosphere, which is perhaps not so easily answered as might be assumed on initial thought; after all, is an author who is widely read in the two most populous Anglosphere countries "more widely read" than one who has a smaller readership overall, but whose readership is spread more evenly throughout the English-speaking nations? Presumably Verity would favor the latter over the former, in which case Steyn is almost certainly the prizewinner.

Although I enjoy Steyn in general, I appreciate one particular aspect of his writing. That is the fact that he has more or less spontaneously managed to write in what I would call an Anglosphere voice and style. He is a Canadian who resides in New Hampshire, and who writes quite regularly for the American, Canadian, British (despite his temporary hiatus), and Australian press. Without particularly hiding either his Canadian nationality or his American residence, he manages to write on the politics of all four countries easily and familiarly. He does this without either adopting the sort of patronizing "I know your country" interjection of local detail (usually superficial), of the sort that a certain species of reporter will drop after two weeks (or two days) in the country, or the equally grating "Message from Abroad" tone. That is to say, when Mark is writing about, for example, Australia, he neither pretends that he is Crocodile Dundee's first cousin, nor tries to come across as the Quasi-Official Bearer of the Canadian Viewpoint to the Australians. What he does bring is a fairly good idea of how Howard's performance compares to Blair's, Harper's, or Bush's, and an ability to discuss it comfortably.

In a way, he is a harbinger of the disintermediation I expect to be more and more characteristic in coming years. There is a small group of academics and journalists who dine out on being the Explainer of Canada (or Britain, or Australia) to Americans, or vice versa. These people have a vested interest in maximizing the differences among us -- obviously, the more different, the more need for explanation. Although of course there are differences, and they are interesting and worthy of discussion, so are the similarities, which tend to get buried. The more the Web and other means of lowering the transaction costs of interacting proliferate, the less need we will have of this sort of interlocutor. Instead, I think we will see more writers with the sort of easy and unforced Anglospheric voice of Steyn. I just hope they have half his sense of humor.

Posted by James C. Bennett at March 19, 2006 11:53 PM

I can't resist it: I am going to be Devil's Advocate in a sense. As it happens I am a Mark Steyn fan and am sorry that he is not going to be published in either of the Telegrpahs or the Spectator. (But then, I was sorry when they dropped Kevin Myers and effectively disposed of Noel Malcolm.)

I accept that Steyn mostly writes in an Anglospheric way and usually shows a good understanding of the different countries he writes about. Usually. I am one of those who quotes him regularly on the EUReferendum blog. Can we now stop elevating him to a genius level? He is a brilliant journalists and his knowledge is wide. He also, not infrequently, gets things wrong. Like all hard-working journalists he finds himself writing about subjects he actually doesn't understand and while he gets British politics usually right, when it comes to Europe it is much more hit and miss. On the few occasions he wrote about Russia I found myself grinding my teeth and beating my head against the nearest wall. Don't do it Mark, I kept saying. Leave Russia alone. Go and write about Hollywood luvvies or Canadian politicians. (Or British or Australian ones, for that matter.)

Having said that, I shall go on reading his articles and columns, agree with most and get infuriated by the wrongness of some. He is a journalist, for goodness sake, not the greatest philosopher what ever lived (as Morecambe and Wise would have put it).

Posted by: Helen at March 20, 2006 04:50 AM

I'm disappointed that there aren't more like Steyn, not necessarily those with a similar viewpoint, but those who are Anglospherist in outlook. Most of the greats are much too provincial for a thorough liking (like Gerald Warner in Scotland, Peter Hitchens in Britain, Andrew Coyne in Canada, Tim Blair Down Under and the plethora of American ones), but as they say - all politics is local. It is hard for the best of them to break out of their paid audience to give the broader, more comparable view.

Posted by: The Monarchist at March 20, 2006 09:16 AM

I don't think anyone has tried to elevate Steyn to genius level, Helen. I think we have all said he's a bloody good read and has a very wide sphere of understanding the world of the Anglosphere. (He really shouldn't essay Russia; I don't know what possessed him.)

Jim, I'm not sure that even St Mark of Steyn is the "most widely read" (I asked for the most widely read journalist with a column). I think for most widely read, it would have to be PJ. Mind you, that's just a guess.

Posted by: Verity at March 20, 2006 10:42 AM

Helen, any idea why The Telgraph dropped Kevin Myers?

Posted by: Verity at March 20, 2006 10:43 AM

I assume Kevin Myers was too right-wing and too outspoken but I have no further information.

Posted by: Helen at March 20, 2006 11:20 AM

Even on Anglospheric matters I have my differences of opinion with Mark, although not that many. And I agree that when he deals with actual foreigners his knowedge base gets a bit thin. But my comments were diected to his style rather than his particular opinions.

Posted by: Jim Bennett at March 20, 2006 01:54 PM

Without inflating Steyn's reputation unduly--he's not omniscient, and Hitchens is at least as good a prose stylist--he deserves credit for his phenomenal work ethic. Steyn is the only journalist I can think of who isn't syndicated throughout the Anglosphere, but writes specific columns for media outlets in all four major countries. Add to that his reviews and other writings on pop culture, and it's not surprising that he's more widely read in Verity's sense than any other columnist I can think of.

It would be interesting to hear from some readers in other parts of the anglosphere. Who's writing in India, Canada, Australia, etc. who ought to be more widely read by other Anglospheroids?

Posted by: utron at March 20, 2006 05:15 PM

The problem with the Anglospheric Project at present is the same as Steyn's current problem: their reputations are both too linked to the Iraq War. It's nice to see America, Britain, and Australia do something together. Too bad it was so stupid.

Posted by: Steve Sailer at March 21, 2006 12:08 AM

Post-tsunami operation, Steve? America, Australia, India and Japan. Any problems with that?

Posted by: Helen at March 21, 2006 05:21 AM

I agree with everything everyone, save Steve Sailer, has written. I'd like to add one more thing, raised by something Jim wrote: "... he has more or less spontaneously managed to write in what I would call an Anglosphere voice and style."

This is interesting - all the more so because I think anyone reading that sentence would instinctively encompass everything that that statement means.

Most importantly, there is, indeed, an Anglospere voice and style, and they are unique. Part of it is lightheartedness - a quality one does not find in French, German, SE Asian or (I'm kind of winging it here) Latin American newspaper columns) - unless they are specifically humour columns.

He, a Canadian, is confident that his readers on Australian issues, and British issues, and New Zealand issues, will understand his points of reference and will get the funny bits.

The Anglosphere really is all one place, isn't it? Confident, cocky, irrerevent ...

Posted by: Verity at March 21, 2006 06:58 AM

Are any of the National Review writers picking up steam in Canada and Australia? The dead tree version, though an American publication, always had a strong British flavor, and they have both Derbyshire and Stuttaford writing now.

Posted by: Assistant Village Idiot at March 22, 2006 10:09 PM


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