September 15, 2006

Andrew Roberts on the Anglosphere

This is cool. Andrew Roberts, one of the best English historians of this generation, is about to have his History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900 published. I have not gotten my hands on it yet, but here are two quotes, one from the extract on his website, and the other extracted from a review.

This from the extract: Just as we do not today differentiate between the Roman Republic and the imperial period of the Julio-Claudians when we think of the Roman Empire, so in the future no-one will bother to make a distinction between the British Crown-led and the American Republic-led periods of English-speaking dominance between the late-eighteenth and the twenty-first centuries. It will be recognised that in the majestic sweep of history they had so much in common - and enough that separated them from everyone else – that they ought to be regarded as a single historical entity, which only scholars and pedants will try to describe separately. A Martian landing on our planet might find linguistic or geographical more useful than ethnic factors when it came to analyzing the differences between different groups of earthlings; the countries whose history this book covers are those where the majority of people speak English as their first language.

Yes -- this lays out one of the most basic points very succinctly. Most of the people of the Anglosphere are so close to the matter that all we see is the visible differences, which are often just a matter of "ethnographic dazzle" -- colorful but fundamentally trivial differences. The more perspective the observer gains, either through cultural distance, passage of time, or geographical distance, the more the similarities and continuities of the Anglosphere stand out. Once you have gained this perspective, proper study of the Anglosphere can begin.

And here is a quote presented in Michael Burleigh's review: A Maori spokesmen expressed this very well in 1918 as he outlined why his people had fought so courageously for the British Crown:

‘We know of the Samoans, our kin: we know of the Eastern and Western natives of German Africa, and we know of the extermination of the Hereros, and that is enough for us. For seventy-eight years we have been, not under the rule of the British, but taking part in the ruling of ourselves, and we know by experience that the foundations of British sovereignty are based upon the eternal principles of liberty, equity and justice’.

An interesting footnote, and chilling foreshadowing that the Maori quoted could not have imagined when he spoke those words in 1918, is that the extermination of the Herero in South-West Africa in 1905 took place under the governorship of Paul Goering -- father of Reichsmarshall Hermann Goering.

I'm sure I will have much more to say when I have read the book. And I look forward to what Lex, James, Helen and our other illustrious co-bloggers have to say as well.

Posted by James C. Bennett at September 15, 2006 11:29 PM
Comments

Irish-American John Dolan offers a less upbeat take on British colonialism here:

http://www.exile.ru/2006-September-08/another_british_genocide.html

Posted by: Steve Sailer at September 16, 2006 12:56 AM

Mr. Sailer's cite is off point.

The issue is not whether the British were nice to the Irish. They weren't.

The issue is, of all the various imperial enterprises, which one had the largest positive impact? The British in Ireland, Jamaica, India and Kenya, to pick four, demonstrated various behaviors over many years for a variety of reasons. It is pointless to lump them all together, as I am sure Roberts, in his book, does not. Ireland is a unique case for a lot of reasons.

The Dolan piece is a joke. The Mau Mau are a pretty funny organization to treat as a noble liberation force. They were a vicious group of tribalists trying to get as much power as possible before the British pullout from Kenya. The British only succeeded in suppressing them because so many Africans cooperated with the British because the Mau Mau, with good reason, scared the Hell out of them. Of course, massacring white people when they could get their hands on them made the Mau Mau heroes to leftists and liberals of all varieties. The British Army was given the impossible job of putting down a guerilla resistance so they could hand the country off in some peaceable condition. Like most counter-insurency campaigns, it turned out to be tedious, bloody, difficult and unpopular. The British were will rid of the place. Like most decolonization efforts, the mere notice that the Europeans were going to pull out led to a bloody civil war among the potential successors. Kenya was a mixed bag; not as horrible as India, not as smooth as Jamaica.

The idea that what the British did in Kenya or in Ireland, for that matter, was "genocide" just shows how cheapened that word has become.

Posted by: Lex at September 16, 2006 08:55 AM

As with the Mau-Mau in the fifties so with Mugabe's behaviour in Matabeleland in the eighties. As long as you were anti-British or could say you were, the Left would forgive the fact that you massacred people from other tribes.

Posted by: Helen at September 16, 2006 11:43 AM

Steve, I see you and Dolan are still carrying water for the Kaiser's secret service, after all these years.

Posted by: Jim Bennett at September 16, 2006 01:43 PM

I don't agree with the contention that British and American dominance represent the same kind of continuity as the Roman Republic and the Empire. The Republic and the Empire were not two separate and distinct nations, much less bitter enemies for 100 years, as the US and Britain were from the War of Independence to the late 19th century. Britain and the US are both Western countries, but it seems to me that the real cultural similarities beyond that are pretty much limited to the language and the legal system. There are huge and important cultural differences too, notably in attitudes about self-reliance, guns, religion, immigration, and the role (or lack of it) of race and ancestry in national identity. Even the humor is quite different. I know of the view that the whole character of the US can be explained by things like which groups of English colonists settled where, as if the subsequent gigantic waves of immigration from all over the world had no major effect, but I don't agree. This only works if one is rather selective about what cultural traits are to be considered important. As Robert Anton Wilson said, you can argue that camels and peanuts are very similar if you compare only the contours of their backs and ignore everything else.

I can well believe that the British Empire was more humane than its rivals in places like Namibia or the Belgian Congo, but it was similar in basic structure to those other empires -- a small European country ruling large areas inhabited by other peoples, with the assumption being that this rule would last indefinitely. The US has never had much interest in such an empire. The expanse of North America was conquered, not to rule over the natives, but to settle our own people on it; and our European-style overseas colonies were pretty much limited to the Philippines and Puerto Rico, both of which were always felt to be anomalies. The former has been given up, the people of the latter made American citizens.

Anglosphere exceptionalism is a real phenomenon, but American exceptionalism is more significant.

Posted by: Infidel at September 16, 2006 05:20 PM

"...bitter enemies for 100 years, as the US and Britain were from the War of Independence to the late 19th century."

Not exactly right. Britain was the biggest investor in the USA from the beginning and still is.
The pre-Civil War South wsa practically an economic colony of Britain. Britain and the USA resolved most of their differences, with the odd flare-up, at the Washington Conference during US Grant's term (1871). It was British capital that built the USA during the 19th C. The relationship was always very close, despite surface tensions.

"...pretty much limited to the language and the legal system..." No. The key similarity is the depth and strength of civil society in both countries, in both countries this is sustained by the legal and political framework, which are also very similar. This is a common feature of the USA and the other Anglosphere countries which has survived waves of immigration and which is a more important source of ccmmonality which outweigh things like the variation in humor. Even in that, I recently read a good article about how the structure of the English language makes certain kinds of jokes possible which are not possible in German. So, I bet the humor is more similar intra-Anglosphere than as compared to other countries.

Posted by: Lex at September 16, 2006 06:05 PM

What Lex said. Actually, Kevin Phillips had a good treatment of Anglo-American rapproachment in The Cousins' Wars. His conclusion was that the rapproachment was pretty much solidified when the US-Caandian border disputes in maine were resolved by negotiation, the Great Lakes were disarmed, and Britain stopped making any substantial investment in serious defense of Canada against a US invasion. Most of the rest of the century the antaganism was primarily rhetorical posturing for domestic politcal purposes, mostly catering to the Irish vote. But it never had much influence on actual US-UK relations.

The Julio-Claudian Empire was probably at least as ethnically distinct from the Roman Republic as the mid-twentieth century USA was from the mid-twentieth-century UK, considering the ethnic diversity of the later Empire. Yet we see they are formed on the same template and are from our vantage point two versions of the same thing. Roberts' point merely sees us objectively and sees that the Anglosphgere nations are also formed on the same template, and republican versus constitutional monarchist superstructures do not rise to the level of fundamental differences.

Posted by: Jim Bennett at September 16, 2006 06:39 PM

"Steve, I see you and Dolan are still carrying water for the Kaiser's secret service, after all these years."

Ooh, good one! I don't even know what that means, but I can just tell it's the best comeback I've heard since the third grade.

Look, I love watching "Gunga Din" as much as anybody, and British Empire nostalgia warms my heart as much as it warms Jan Morris's or Niall Ferguson's, but, much as it pains me to admit it, the notion that the British Empire has turned out to be some great force for civilization seems pretty doubtful when you make up a list of some old British colonies and think about how they are doing today:

Sudan
Burma
Nigeria
Pakistan
Zimbabwe
Uganda
Iraq
Sri Lanka
Egypt
New Guinea

I'm not saying anybody else's colonies turned out better or even as well. Maybe Japan's colonies turned out the best of any colonialist's (except for the Norks, of course!), but I doubt if that had much to do with the tender mercies of Japanese rule...

The British Empire worked out well in countries massively settled by the British people. Most other places, it didn't make too much difference in the long run, one way or another. It just sped things up. Maybe it helped in India, but India is so complicated that I'm hesitant to draw broad conclusions from this one example.

Dolan's lonely Irish-American biases are blatantly obvious, but he provides a useful balance to the Anglophilia rampant in American intellectual circles.


Posted by: Steve Sailer at September 17, 2006 01:39 AM

By the way, it's a little odd for that Maori to cite the Herrero in far-off Africa when a closer example of interest would be the fate of the Tasmanians.

Posted by: Steve Sailer at September 17, 2006 01:44 AM

Is there any other ex-colony in the world which is doing as well economically as Hong Kong (before the Beijing oligarchy got their paws on it) and Singapore?

Comparing African and Middle Eastern ex-colonies with East Asian ones just suggests that by far the biggest factor in success is the underlying indigenous culture, not which country colonized the place (though bad enough economic policies can negate any innate advantage).

Posted by: Infidel at September 17, 2006 06:41 AM

In an attempt to compare like with like, I looked at per capita GDP (PPP) for sub-Saharan Africa. The median value for 14 ex-British colonies is $2000, versus $1400 for the other 29. Maybe that's an indicator of something.

Posted by: Intellectual Pariah at September 17, 2006 11:48 AM

"Most other places, it didn't make too much difference in the long run, one way or another."

Wrong again.

Posted by: Lex at September 17, 2006 01:42 PM

Steve:

You've got it backwards It's not about nostalgia for the Empire -- that was a particular episode in the development of the Anglosphere, which had both its good and bad points. As does the American republic. The exaggerated bad points have become an embedded urban legend in the modern world, thanks primarily to a century-plus disinformation campaign started by the Kaiser's and the Tsar's secret services, picked up and carried forward by Communist and Nazi propaganda services, and today carried on by Islamofascists and their sympathizers. Same tropes, same legends most of the time.

The whole point is the empirically demonstrated performance of English-language, Common Law-based "wisdom-of-crowds"-based institutions, which are consistently better adapted to life in the world of the ongoing scientific-technological revolution.

Most frequent readers of this blog have become familiar with the "LLSV" work (which Lex linked to in his last comments.) Intellectual Pariah has done a simple calculation that shows roughly what the LLSV authors have documented exhaustively. It wasn't just the amount of British Isles settlers that made the difference in the long run as the degree to which the British implanted their legal/political system in the governed area. Many of the basket cases you listed were not colonies -- Iraq was a League of Nations "mandate" where they had only limited ability to influence laws and institutions, Egypt was never more than a protectorate where Britain stationed troops. Many of the others were places where Britain practiced only indirect rule and didn't try to change local institutions --especially in Islamic areas. If we can fault the British Empire, it is mostly for losing ist self-confidence too early and not doing its job more thoroughly.

As for the Tasmanians, read Keih Windschuttle's work.

And as for the American intelligentsia, the know far too little about the real roots of both Anglosphere and specifically American culture and institutions. If they were really Anglophilic, they might bother to do so.

Posted by: Jim Bennett at September 17, 2006 03:46 PM

"Is there any other ex-colony in the world which is doing as well economically as Hong Kong (before the Beijing oligarchy got their paws on it) and Singapore?"

Japan's ex-colonies in Taiwan and South Korea are doing pretty decently too.

In general, as the world's strongest power in the 19th Century and the initiator of the late 19th Century scrable for new colonies, Britain grabbed the colonies with the best potential. The French, in contrast, got stuck with geographically hopeless places like Chad.

I suspect that being colonized by Britain was, on average, ever so slightly better for you in the long run than being colonized by somebody else -- compare Hong Kong to Macao -- but mostly the effects were marginal.

Being trained to speak English, the leading commercial language is certainly useful -- look how the Nigerians have used their knowledge of English to dominate global email spam scams!

Being _settled_ by the British was a different kettle of fish -- all depending on who you define "you" as -- the natives or the settlers -- great for the settlers, not so hot for the natives.

As a proud native of the Anglosphere, I'm quite happy to believe my culture is the world's best, but, as a realist, I'll admit that it's hardly the most important factor in explaining how the world works today.

Posted by: Steve Sailer at September 17, 2006 04:02 PM

Steve, read the literature. The effects are way more than "slightly" -- Hong Kong vs. Macau being a pretty strong example, actually. But Indonesia vs. Malaysia is a really good test case -- the UK and the Netherlands were both Northern European Protestant commercial nations, and Indonesia both in pre-oil cops and oil wealth was rich, rich, rich. Not that it did the indonesians much good over historical time.

Posted by: Jim Bennett at September 17, 2006 06:10 PM

Or to put it another way (looking at just East Asia, to compare like with like), the British got barren lumps of rock like Hong Kong and Singapore, while the French got the ancient and civilized kingdom of Vietnam and the rich Mekong River rice bowl (now Cambodia/southern Vietnam).

If you ignore tiny Persian Gulf oil states whose wealth is based purely on an accident of distribution of a natural resource, there are just five non-Western societies which have achieved a First World standard of living. These are Hong Kong and Singapore (East Asian culture, British colonial history), Taiwan and South Korea (East Asian culture, Japanese colonial history), and Japan (East Asian culture, no colonial history). What's the common factor? East Asian culture.

Vietnam, China, and North Korea are what I had in mind when I said that a sufficiently bad economic policy can negate even the greatest innate advantage.

Posted by: Infidel753 at September 17, 2006 06:49 PM

A couple of points.

There is no generic "East Asian culture" that includes Japan, China, Korea, and Vietnam. Japanese culture is quite distinct in terms of radus of trust, family identity, and many other key factors. Read Alan Macfarlane's Savage Wars of PeaceTrust for a discussion of Sino-Japanese differences in trust radius.

To the extent that there is an East Asian culture (excluding Japan) it is clearly not enough for success, as the franco-confucian (Indochina) and Luso-confucian (Macao) examples suggest.

Every successful East Asian culture had either Anglosphere influence, or Japanese, or both (Taiwan and S. Korea.) What the Anglosphere and Japan have in common is high radius of trust and a peculiar exceptionalism (see Macfarlane op. cit.). And of course, Japan had strong Anglosphere influence during four key periods, the black ship era, the Meiji revolution, the Taisho democracy period, and the MacArthur shogunate.

Admiral Yamamoto was commanding the Tokyo Bay squadron during the 1924 attempted Army coup. He had his 14-inchers trained on the building where the Army coup plotters had taken the civilian government hostage. The coup was defused before he had to act. Maybe it would have been better if he had just open fire then and there. That was the problem -- the Japanese Navy was trained by the Royal Navy; the army by the Germans and the French. They both thought they were the Senior Service. Tis was not a recipie for harmonious civil society.

Posted by: Jim Bennett at September 17, 2006 08:34 PM

"But Indonesia vs. Malaysia is a really good test case"

Yes, I know the notoriously corrupt Andrei Shleifer and this three buddies emphasize that, but, c'mon, Jim, you know as well as I do why Malaysia is more prosperous than Indonesia.

The main reason Malaysia is better off than Indonesia is because about a quarter of Malaysia's population are Chinese, who, according to Malaysia's former President Mahathir Mohamad, are smarter and harder working than the indigenous "bumiputras." Mahathir set up a clever system of affirmative action for the majority that keeps them from rioting against the Chinese while not burdening the more productive group so much that they all leave Malaysia. In contrast, as Amy Chua pointed out in World on Fire, Indonesia is only 3% Chinese, and the ruling Suharto family climbed in bed with the Chinese businessmen, so that when the Suhartos were overthrown in 1998, the Chinese were attacked in populist pogroms, many fled to Chinese-run Singapore, and the new "democratic" government nationalized $58 billion worth of Chinese-owned businesses, with the usual disastrous results for the economy.

Posted by: Steve Sailer at September 17, 2006 09:12 PM

Malaysia is more prosperous than Indonesia for the same reason Singapore is more prosperous than Malaysia: more Chinese.

Posted by: Steve Sailer at September 17, 2006 10:33 PM

I'm very aware that Japan is quite different from mainland East Asia; however, since we are talking about the effect of influences from one culture on another, the grouping of China, Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, and even Japan is a relevant one. The influence of China on the other members of the group (including but not limited to Buddhism and Confucianism) goes back to the dawn of recorded history in those places and certainly runs deeper than the influence of Britain on, say, India or Kenya. If the British influence is deemed important enough to create a relevant grouping despite the very different cultural roots of Britain and its former possessions, then so should the Chinese influence be.

As for Vietnam, mainland China, and North Korea, any country on Earth could be reduced to abject poverty by economic policies as stupid as that, regardless of culture. Doctrinaire socialism also kept India dirt-poor for decades in spite of democracy and other enlightened institutions.

As for Japan, it was never a colony, unless the post-1945 occupation counts. Britain and the US have held so much power over the last two centuries that it's hard to think of many countries where one would NOT find some degree of Anglosphere influence to point to.

The world is an enormously complicated place, and so many factors influence a country's success or failure that each country almost has to be treated as a unique case, though there are a few general rules that seem to work (western European countries and countries settled by western Europeans are almost all prosperous, Communist states are almost all failures). I don't deny that Anglosphere influence explains a lot. I just don't agree that it swamps other influences to the extent that the theory's advocates seem to believe.

As I think a couple of earlier postings here have mentioned, over the last decade the United States has pulled further and further ahead of the rest of the First World in economic prosperity, moving into a class by itself, and the same is true in the field of technological innovation, which is the root of economic growth and military power. Time will tell.

Posted by: Infidel753 at September 18, 2006 05:35 AM

Jim, thank you for pointing the way to this most promising book. I agree that the differences between the British Crown half and the American Republic half of the Anglosphere are not fundamental in the least. When it comes right down to the beauty of these two great structural systems, it is simply a matter of taste and identity, there being no rational reason for either half to dispense with their traditional self.

Posted by: The Monarchist at September 18, 2006 08:38 AM

Malaysia is beter off than Indonesia for at least two reasons, and neither of them have to do with having more Chinese. Malaysia is much less diverse than Indonesia - it has a very dominant Malay majority where Indinesia has Javanese, Malays and many others jockeying for position. The unending fighting in Aceh is theatre in this struggle. Second, Indonesia has oil and Malaysia does not, and there is almost nothing as effective as oil in funding repressive, authoritarian regimes and making any kind of enterprise irrelevant.

Posted by: Jim at September 19, 2006 01:48 PM

The long time prime ministers of Malaysia and Singapore would certainly scoff at the claim that the proportion of Chinese in the population has nothing to do with the relative prosperity levels of Singapore (76.8% Chinese, $28,100 per capita GDP), Malaysia (23.7%, $12,100), and Indonesia (approximately 3%, $3,600).

Posted by: Steve Sailer at September 20, 2006 03:58 AM

There are Chinese minorities throughout China's Near Abroad. Some of these places are prosperous, most are dumps. Presence or absence of Chinese is not the primary explanatory factor.

And why don't you try to address the facts and arguments in the LLSV work rather than engaging in ad-hominems against one of the authors? This is just blog-roachery.

Posted by: Jim Bennett at September 20, 2006 10:03 AM

Sonnets: America.

i

Men say, Columbia, we shall hear thy guns.
But in what tongue shall be thy battle-cry?
Not that our sires did love in years gone by,
When all the Pilgrim Fathers were little sons
In merry homes of England? Back, and see
Thy satchell'd ancestor! Behold, he runs
To mine, and, clasp'd, they tread the equal lea
To the same village-school, where side by side
They spell "Our Father". Hard by, the twin-pride
Of that grey hall whose ancient oriel gleams
Thro' yon baronial pines, with looks of light
Our sister-mothers sit beneath one tree.
Meanwhile our Shakespeare wanders past and dreams
His Helena and Hermia. Shall we fight?

ii

Nor force nor fraud shall sunder us! O ye
Who north or south, on east or western land,
Native to noble sounds, say truth for truth,
Freedom for freedom, love for love, and God
For God; Oh ye who in eternal youth
Speak with a living and creative flood
This universal English, and do stand
Its breathing book; live worthy of that grand
Heroic utterance—parted, yet a whole,
Far yet unsever'd,—children brave and free
Of the great Mother-tongue, and ye shall be
Lords of an Empire wide as Shakespeare's soul,
Sublime as Milton's immemorial theme,
And rich as Chaucer's speech, and fair as Spenser's dream.

Sydney Dobell (1824-1874)

The Oxford Book of Victorian Verse (1913), ed. Arthur Quiller-Couch, # 304.

Posted by: ELC at September 20, 2006 10:23 AM

Besides doing some name-calling, Jim asserts (without evidence): "There are Chinese minorities throughout China's Near Abroad. Some of these places are prosperous, most are dumps. Presence or absence of Chinese is not the primary explanatory factor."

As Jim well knows, the pockets of Chinese throughout Southeast Asia are generally the most economically dynamic elements of the populations, such as the 1-2% of the Philippines who are Chinese, who are said to control over half of the business enterprise (see "World on Fire" by Amy Chua, a child of the Overseas Chinese community for details). Typically, small Chinese minorities like this lead to corrupt deals between indigenous ruling families and ethnic Chinese interests, with dire consequences for the overall health of society, as in Indonesia or the Philippines, which, by the way, enjoyed 48 years of Anglosphere nurturing without all that much to show for it.

In Malaysia, where a sizable 24% of the population is Chinese, however, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad worked out an affirmative action system for the indigenous people that taxed the productive Chinese without killing the geese that lay the golden eggs. To his frustration, as he announced a few years ago, the bumiputras haven't gotten smarter or harder-working after a generation of his program. But, at least, Malaysia remains a reasonably okay place.

In Singapore, where 77% of the population is Chinese, you find a modern, well-ordered city-state run by smart, honest regime.

Malaysia and Singapore used to be part of same British colony, so their differences make a nice test case of the impact of deeper forces than colonial heritage.

Shleifer's Malaysia vs. Indonesia example can more parsimoniously be explained in large measure by applying the same logic as Singapore vs. Malaysia.

As Infidel753 points out above, the world is very complicated. It would behoove Anglospherists to show some modesty, to admit that they have merely a useful tool for explaining some of the differences in the world. Merely having a useful perspective is something to be proud of, so it's hardly necessary to resort to angry, jealous, factually-deficient denunciations of complementary explanations.

As I've pointed out, for example, Hong Kong vs. Macao supports the Anglospherist perspective, while Singapore vs. Malaysia does not. I'm perfectly happy to accept the Anglospherist analysis where the facts support. Why do you need to get so angry at the realist perspective where the facts support it? The more analytical tools you are emotionally willing to use, the better you will understand the world.

Posted by: Steve Sailer at September 20, 2006 07:07 PM

"The long time prime ministers of Malaysia and Singapore would certainly scoff at the claim that the proportion of Chinese in the population has nothing to do with the relative prosperity levels of Singapore "

"nothing to do with" is a long way from being a determining factor, which is contention. I am quite sure the Prime Minister of Singapore would advance ethnic supremacist arguments, but how would that be surprising? Or convincing?

"In Singapore, where 77% of the population is Chinese, you find a modern, well-ordered city-state run by smart, honest regime."

Yes, well in Shanghai 100% of the population is Chinese. And the state if which it is a part is run by Chinese. And it is modern and well-ordered only in places, and historically a by-word for political corruption and intrigue, whether before or after the Revolution.

Ethnic essentialist arguments need more support than what you are adducing. If you counter that the Anglosphere ethnically based, you are going to have a lot of Americans correcting you.

Posted by: Jim at September 21, 2006 02:23 PM

Here is a picture of the skyline of Shanghai, although it's probably out of date already:

http://www.friendlyplanet.com/images/shanghai-china-skyline-big.jpg

And here is a picture of Lagos, Nigeria, a part of the Anglosphere that doesn't get mentioned much here:

http://mishilo.image.pbase.com/u39/bmcmorrow/upload/25610611.accra187.JPG

Now, I realize that sophisticated intellectuals of the 21st Century agree with Richard Pryor that you should never believe your lying eyes, but there is a price to be paid for being oblivious to the obvious.

Posted by: Steve Sailer at September 21, 2006 04:37 PM

"...bitter enemies for 100 years, as the US and Britain were from the War of Independence to the late 19th century."

I must disagree as well. The Monroe Doctrine was largely enforced by the British navy... hardly a service one would provide to a bitter enemy.

Posted by: Ætheling at September 24, 2006 01:30 PM

I have just started this book, and I have to say that I'm not unduly impressed. Apart from the fact that the man writes English like an ambitious Sixth Former, he has managed to write an extremely long book which seems not to have space for full analysis of the events which he discusses.

In the first chapter, for example, he talks about the Australians and New Zealanders leaping to the defence of Britain in 1914 regardless of the complete absence of strategic threat from Germany. In fact, the expansion of the German Navy in the Pacific and their ambitions in New Guinea, Samoa and elsewhere were extremely important factors in Antipodean support for Britain and loyalty to the Empire - just as the presence of French power in North America until 1759 had bound the American colonies to the Crown, but the removal of that threat undermined that loyalty. Indeed, the rhetoric of the Imperial Federationists in the southern Dominions in the early C20th makes explicit mention of Great Power rivalry in the Pacific as an incentive for the political integration of the English-speaking parts of the Empire.

What irks me about this sort of omission is that it is so unnecessary. Clearly, Roberts' intention is to continue Churchill's work in setting out the English-speaking world as a distinct Civilisation in and of itself. How is this objective undermined by delineating the common threats, past and present, which have bound us together? People who share the same mindset tend to have the same enemies, and the fact that New Zealanders would also suffer from a victorious Kaiserreich can be acknowledged without undermining the superstructure of an Empire of Sentiment.

Indeed, this is even more important in the modern era than it was in Ferguson's "First Age of Globalisation": in today's Global Village, every problem is local. Those coalitions which come together to face down a threat will necessarily be composed of culturally proximate nation-states, since only those countries which are culturally predisposed to identify it as a threat will even make the attempt to combat it. Whatever we think of the nonsense in Iraq, the three principal member-states of the Coalition is more than a little indicative of this process. Alas, it is also part of the problem, since the Coalition's linguistic, cultural and - gulp - even ethnic homogeneity makes it a lot easier to present it as a latter-day Crusade. Someone should point out to the Americans that assembling a coalition of Britain, Australia and Canada does not give the impression of broad, international consensus, and hence legitimacy, to the rest of the world! But I digress...

I suppose I'm saying that Roberts' is making the equivalent mistake of suggesting that Britain and Australia have committed troops to these theatres out of some kind of touching loyalty to the United States. While it is true that many Brits would feel oddly ashamed if American forces were fighting and British ones were not (which is part of the reason why Vietnam was such a big debate here), the salient point is that only in Britain and Australia was there sufficient support - or should I say insufficient public opposition? - to the present occupation for their respective governments to go to war, and this is not a coincidence. To be sure, New Zealanders in 1914 were keen on Crown and Empire and so on, but they were British precisely because they were the sort of people who hated Prussian Militarism, not the other way around.

Anyway, I hope the book improves, because it's a bit undergraduate-ish so far. The jury is out at the moment.

Posted by: Ed at October 4, 2006 06:03 AM
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