June 15, 2006

Forward the Anglosphere?

A report on Jim Bennettís talk to the Bruges Group in London

A combination of day-jobbing and difficulties with internet connection at home has meant a very weak presence on the blog. This has given me a feeling of not quite understanding what is going on. (Yes, yes, there are numerous people around who would say I suffer from that all the time, particularly if they donít agree with me.)

However, some good things come out of everything. Yesterday I spent the afternoon talking to the guru of the Anglosphere, Jim Bennett, and in the evening, to round things off, I was privileged to chair the meeting organized by the Bruges Group at which he spoke to an appreciative audience.

Well, it was largely appreciative. There was a Conservative candidate for the European Parliament who announced in ringing tones that matters European were all going our way and Anglospheric ideas will win in Europe as they have always done. There must be an underground establishment where these people are bred.

Jim Bennett is a friend as well as a man with whom I have had many discussions on many subjects (he knows about so many things that I find it hard to keep up and often donít bother) though until a few weeks ago these had all been conducted on the internet. This is entirely appropriate, because Jim believes, as do most Anglospherists, that the existence of the new technology makes it possible for the Anglospheric networks to grow in parallel to official ones.

The problem we are all facing in Britain is to try to define some future role for the country in the world. Involvement in the European Union has not been a success and neither has the EU itself.

The alternative that is sneeringly produced by Europhiles is to be a slavish follower of the United States. That is not satisfactory and the much-vaunted special relationship would not stand up to any close examination. It is a relatively new idea in history and has always depended on individual leaders. Thus, it all worked reasonably well with Reagan and Thatcher not just because the two had similar outlooks but also because the lady was not backward about coming forward when Britainís interests were at stake.

Despite appearances, it has worked considerably less well with Bush and Blair, because the latter has not managed to use his undoubted influence in Washington wisely. The reason there is Blairís obsession with the need to strengthen transnational governance and with American support for European integration. The latter, he believed in a rather confused fashion would bolster up his own position among the colleagues.

In 2003 Britainís cachet in the United States was great. Blair could really have had almost anything he wanted. In fact, a Bill was introduced in the Senate that would have created a free-trade agreement between the two countries. Alas, Blair had to decline this, shamefacedly (Iíd like to think) having to point out that this country had no right to negotiate international trade agreements.

What he did try to achieve was support for the European Constitution (a half-hearted one was given by the President and a considerably stronger one by State); that famous appeal to the UN before the Iraqi war, when Blair was quite clearly diddled by Chirac; and several pleas for America to sign up to Kyoto and the International Criminal Court. None of these were in either Britainís or Americaís interests.

In any case, the Blair Ė Bush era is coming to an end. (Despite the prevalence of the Bush Derangement Syndrome, it has to be said that he will be President for only two and a half more years.) What will happen then? Because so much depends on the individuals, that is completely unpredictable, especially as the situation is seriously complicated by the difficulties over defence matters.

Furthermore, a relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom is always going to be severely unequal. Not quite as unequal as it appeared recently because of Blairís blunderings but there is no denying the fact that the US is the largest and strongest power in the world at the moment. We have to be grateful for the fact that this giant is a democracy and one that is friendly towards us, ready to help its friends.

The third possibility is the revival of the Commonwealth, discussed at length by a number of people, mostly in Britain. There are exceptions but, on the whole, the Commonwealth does not play a big part in many countriesí thinking.

There are problems with that. The Commonwealth belonged to a particular period in history just as the Common Market and the idea of European integration did. It is, as some Anglospherists put it, a creature of the machine age.

In fact, it was never really a huge success politically, though there were economic, particularly trading aspects to it, that were useful to many. All that is in the past. The big developed and developing countries of the Commonwealth have grown used to their separation from Britain in any meaningful sense of the word. Some like Australia and, to some extent, India have become major powers in their own region. They have formed their own direct links with the United States and with each other.

The idea of them going back to some arrangement whereby this links will be translated through Britain is moonshine. But it gives people pleasant dreams of grandeur. For the insistence on the Commonwealth despite all the inconsistencies and difficulties with many of its members, is another attempt to turn away from the United States and to create yet another rival, one that will restore the pre-eminent British position. Dream on.

It is fair to say that the Commonwealth links would be very useful within the Anglosphere in that they could provide a balance within these arrangements to the largest member, the United States.

Jim Bennettís research and analysis has led him to conclude that there are various links that depend on a common language and a commonality of economic, political and legal developments. The similarities outnumber the dissimilarities to a surprising degree.

Research done by historians like Alan McFarlane and Hackett Fischer have shown that many of these ďexceptionalistĒ ideas, such as the importance of individual ownership of property and the existence of the nuclear family go back into the early Middle Ages in England and maybe even further.

On the other hand, many of the ďdistinctly AmericanĒ aspects that are so disliked by many people in this country, are actually British. My own feeling is that America and Americans today are very similar to what Britain and the British were in the nineteenth century, displaying the same baffling combination of religiosity and emphasis on material well-being and development.

The arrogance of the British in that period was excoriated as widely as the American version of it is today.

So where do we go from here? To some extent, links are being forged already through the internet and, in particular, the blogosphere. It is entirely legitimate to talk about Anglospheric blogs both on the right and the left. It is also fair to note as several people did on our forum that the British blogs with a few exceptions fight shy of linking into that network. There is a deal too much navel-gazing in British politics.

This trend will continue and the links will become stronger. There are no more gatekeepers as Jim Bennett explained yesterday evening. Americans, Canadians, Australians, British, Indians and anyone else can read each otherís newspapers, websites and blogs without some editor deciding what was and what was not suitable. Technology is not likely to go back on that.

His proposal is the creation of networks of institutions that would not consider the submerging of individual countries and their differences. There are some Anglospherists who talk of a union and constitution but there is little need for that.

Free trade between the countries is merely a starting point. In any case, this is not to be limited in the mind of a free-trader to the Anglospheric countries. (Or the Commonwealth ones for that matter, though there the logic is less clear.)

Beyond that, Bennett proposes arrangements whereby citizens of the Anglosphere could travel, work and stay for various lengths of time in other Anglospheric countries without the present bureaucratic mess. (This may well cause problems as far as Britain is concerned, there being rather a large number of British citizens, who consider themselves to be jihadists.)

We come to the important issue of defence. As things stand, it is clear that there is a commonality of interest between the several Anglospheric countries and an ability to work together swiftly and efficiently. The post-tsunami effort by America, Australia, India and Japan (an honorary member) showed that clearly. And Britainís absence showed the difficulties as far as we are concerned.

Above all, the Anglosphere is a project in development and depends largely on ideas. I am delighted to say that the Anglosphere Institute is beginning to grow and others will be established in the countries that are receptive to those ideas.

It is not unreasonable to assume that the Anglospherist ideas of democracy, individuality, small government, free economy, the common law and openness to the world will slowly become successful. As ever, the question is where will the originator of those ideas, Britain, place herself.

Cross-posted (mostly) from EUReferendum

Posted by Helen Szamuely at June 15, 2006 10:29 AM
Comments

Helen, excellent post as always. Please provide examples of Anglosphere blogs that are on the left. I don't think I've seen any yet.

Posted by: The Monarchist at June 15, 2006 02:19 PM

Ooops. Serves me right for making throw-away comments to lynx-eyed readers. The only one I know that might fit in would be Harry's Place

http://hurryupharry.bloghouse.net/

Posted by: Helen at June 16, 2006 06:57 AM

There are certainly pan-Anglospheric Left publications, if not blogs -- the Guardian is certainly read by people all over the Anglosphere.

Posted by: Lex at June 16, 2006 02:25 PM

Thanks, Helen.

Posted by: The Monarchist at June 16, 2006 06:50 PM

Helen,

Thank you for the report and for your own comments. Could Jim Bennett post a copy of his talk here? I think many who did not attend would be interested to read the text if it is available.

In your own comments, you note the problems of Britain being a junior partner to the United States. This is also a concern of Americans who value relations with Britain. Not only is the relationship unequal but its continuation depends as you note on the vagaries of leadership in both countries and on the congruency of perceptions of vital interests on each side. It is hard to see any divergence of real interests but it is not hard to see serious differences over strategy to best serve these interests.

We may be in a moment in which London could exert more influence by articulating a vision distinctly its own. I don't see greater isolation as a viable strategy but I do think the Commonwealth could help the UK balance its relations with Europe and the United States and offer a distinctive vision to the world.

Any attempt to reassert British influence in the Commonwealth would indeed be a non-starter. But a greater emphasis on the Commonwealth in British foreign policy need not require or even imply this. Instead, Britain could deal with the United States through an informal group of Commonwealth countries who act as a group. This could be useful in two contexts.

First, the three Commonwealth states that control access to the Indian Ocean (South Africa, India, Australia) might form a grouping to keep other great power rivalries from spreading into the Indian Ocean. Britain need not participate but its support would be implied by the existence of the group. The United States is probably on its way out of the Persian Gulf as a result of its difficulties with Iraq and Iran. Any tensions in the Middle East and in the China-Japan-USA triangle would be localized by a rivalry-free Indian Ocean, and an Indian Ocean security system could become the nucleus of a wider system.

Second, the Commonwealth is unique in the extent to which it brings together first and third world countries independently of the United States. Matters (besides Indian Ocean security) on which the Commonwealth could deal with the United States as a group might give all of its members greater weight than any of them would have in such matters alone. The group would not substitute the Commonwealth for vital bilateral relations (or non-Commonwealth multilateral ties) that these members have with America in other areas.

If future American governments prove less willing to act unilaterally, Britain will have an opportunity to exert more influence in the world. There very much needs to be a debate in the UK over how to exercise this influence.

Posted by: David Billington at June 17, 2006 12:24 PM

I can't speak for Jim.He is out there somewhere, recovering from his trip and, I hope, will produce his own report soon.

Lex,

I am sorry that the Guardian should be counted as an anglospherist publication. It is not precisely supportive of that. I am even more sorry that it is read all over the world (not so much in Britain, where its circulation, never very wide, is falling rapidly) as it gives a very distorted view of British politics and British opinions.

David,

Firstly, I do not agree that the American government acted any more unilaterally than governments have done before. It collected numerous allies (more members of the EU support the Iraqi war than oppose it, for instance) and even agreed to be dragged through the preposterous UN. Clinton, as I recall, did not bother to do that before intervention (which I also supported) in the Balkans. France did nothing of the kind before marching into the Ivory Coast. And so on, and so on. In any case, the UN is not the fount of international legislation.

Secondly, I agree that the Commonwealth might be of use within the Anglosphere.

Thirdly, British foreign and defence policy is linked into the EU and the integration of those two is proceeding apace. On most matters we effectively do not have a foreign policy. That is the sad truth. Therefore, discussing what Britain might or might not do without accepting that it would involve disengagement from the European project is so much hot air.

Posted by: Helen at June 17, 2006 01:30 PM

I did not say it was anglospherIST. It is something that is read throughout the Anglosphere. The Anglospehre as a phenomenon is a world-wide community of anglophones who are linked by modern technology. Those who promote the Anglosphere at a deeper level, who believe it reflects certain identifiable values, etc. I would put in the "-ist" category. There is a pan-anglospheric Right and a pan-anglospheric Left developing, via the Internet. That is what I meant about the Guardian.

Posted by: Lex at June 17, 2006 07:00 PM

Helen,

"Firstly, I do not agree that the American government acted any more unilaterally than governments have done before."

Sorry, I didn't mean to imply that America is more unilateral than others, or that US unilateralism only began with Bush. My point is that for some time after Iraq America will be more reluctant to embark on foreign wars unless a much higher threshhold of US national interest is crossed by some adversary.

"Thirdly, British foreign and defence policy is linked into the EU and the integration of those two is proceeding apace. On most matters we effectively do not have a foreign policy."

British security is linked primarily to NATO, not the EU. I do take note of British participation in European military aircraft procurement and civilian outer space programs with military implications that you have brought to my attention. I would agree that if these ties deepen, they could force Britain at some point in the future to choose sides. But I believe that the United Kingdom still has enough room and enough time to chart its own course in the world.

Posted by: David Billington at June 18, 2006 12:31 AM

The best ways to promote convergence within the Anglosphere are not some grandiose political or economic projects, none of which would sell to even a large minority of the populations in any of those countries, but rather a gradual integration of standards-setting institutions. Take a page out of the EU textbook; convergence by stealth. The first step would be a transparent agreement on recognizing each other's university/college accreditation. Then slowly synchronize other standards-setting bodies such as the FCC and Oftel.

Push for a unified stance in such international bodies as the ITU and the IETF. This already happens naturally as a result of close Anglospheric ties, but it needs more momentum. Britain is being pushed into a continental regulatory framework which will eventually cleave it from the rest of the Anglosphere, but a mid-level initiative to introduce congruence in such things as telecommunications and networking standards would go a long way in synchronizing national economic interests, which in turn would drive political priorities. A free trade agreement may no longer be possible because of the EU straitjacket, but low-level integration can still happen.

Posted by: Mat Krepicz at June 27, 2006 03:25 PM
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