September 30, 2005

Resilience and Disaster

Lex has an intereresting post on Wildavsky's comment on the general resilience of constitutional market societies. One way that market societies tend to have resilience is through the fact that the market process often leads to financing of several different approaches to meeting a particular social need, since different entrepreneurs and investors come to different conclusions about what solution might work best. This is often characterized as "wastefulness" by central-planning advocates, but in fact it is often the only way of determining what solution actually works, not to mention what works best. It is also the case that one solution may seem best under normal conditions, while another turns out to work best in the event of an emergency.

It is also the case that the existence of "surplus" capacity of any sort ususally turns out to be useful in emergency conditions. The British railway sytem was "overbuilt" during the 19th century railway investment mania, but most of the capacity was kept in operation once built, since operational costs could be covered by revenues (more or less) even if the capital costs were never recovered. During the German air attacks in World War Two, it turned out that the redundant capability made it harder for the Luftwaffe to stop rail traffic, since there seemed to always be a line open that they had not managed to incapacitate.

However, it is also the case that the extreme complexity of current technologies has made our infastructure less survivable in emergency in some ways. A hundred years ago, the task of evacuation of large cities would have been done primarily by steam-powered trains. Because railroads had a large amount of passenger equipment, it was fairly easy to create a surge capacity, and because passenger capacity scaled up more quickly than crew requirements, it was realtively easier to deal with surges. Steam locomotives could operate in more deeply flooded areas than modern diesel-electrics, or automobilies, because they had no critical electrical gear at wheel level. Even if signal systems were disrupted, railroads could still fall back on more primitive labor-intensive procedures for traffic control. And of course if fuel supply chains failed, steam locomotives could in a pinch run on anything that would burn. Our transportation systems are a hell of a lot more efficient these days, but they have lost a certain amount of robustness.

There's nothing very Anglospheric in these comments, except for the general fact that one of the underlying reasons for the Anglosphere nation's apparent advantages in operating advanced industrial systems seems to be its ability to generate them in a decentralized fashion utilizing a variety of actors and approaches. Several of the Seedling bloggers have been having an interesting discussion offline about the wisdom of crowds and the applicability of its lessons to Anglosphere success. Perhaps they might like to bring some of that discussion onto the blog.

Posted by Jim Bennett at 05:50 PM | Comments (4)

September 29, 2005

Anglopessimism

Several useful points have arisen in the last several posts. One is the one Peter Saint-Andre has made, that Anglosphere exceptionalism does not imply homogeneity, and the other is Helen's point, that the positive aspects of Anglosphere exceptionalism should not lure people into a false sense of security or triumphalism. I don't believe in determinism, and I don't believe in inevitability. When I wrote The Anglosphere Challenge I said that the "Challenge" was as much to us as it was to the rest of the world.

Since we got whatever characteristics as may have given us advantages in a fast-paced era of technological change as a result of a series of historical accidents, it stands to reason that the next set of historical developments could strip us of those advantages, or plunge us into an era in which the same characteristics no longer confer advantage. It's up to us to guard and when needed adapt our cultural characteristics. Britain may be serving as our mine canary in this manner. It may be serving as a demonstration of how much cultural vandalism at the hands of its political and intellectual classes a strong civil society can take without losing its key virtues. I hope not, but there is no guarantee such outcome will not happen. Melanie Phillips's piece quoted below by Helen is certainly the equivalent of a croak from the canary.

Posted by Jim Bennett at 06:52 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Anglospheric Differences

Similarity does not imply homogeneity. One of the reasons why a network commonwealth makes sense as a formal expression of Anglosphere identity is that there are real and important differences between (and even within) the core nations of the Anglosphere. That point was brought home recently in two articles by technology commentator Stowe Boyd: Hypomania: The Key Difference Between US and British Entrepreneurialism? and Social Capital: De Tocqueville, Putnam, and the Future of New Orleans. Call me an optimist, but I see those differences mainly as an opportunity to cross-pollinate various parts of the Anglosphere rather than as a challenge to the identity of the Anglosphere itself. For example, perhaps exchange programs are in order between higher-entrepreneurship and lower-entreneurship (or higher-trust and lower-trust) areas of the Anglosphere, both within and across national boundaries. Seeking voluntary, bottom-up approaches to strengthening civil society is the Anglosphere way, after all!

Posted by Peter Saint-Andre at 03:05 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Anglosphere exceptionalism

Peter Saint-Andre's post is yet another pointer to the ongoing evidence for Anglosphere exceptionalism -- that is, the tendency of the English-speaking, Common Law nations to stand out in any number of dimensions, including social, economic, and political. Another very interesting pointer is the "LLSV" work -- the findings of Rafael La Porta of Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business, Florencio Lopez-de Silanes of the Yale School of Management, Andrei Shleifer of Harvard's economics department, and Robert Vishny of the University of Chicago's business school. These researchers, themselves from what were once known as the "emerging economies" of Eastern Europe and Latin America, have found that even in the Third World an English-speaking, Common Law background is an indicator of development success.

In my book, which was written before I had seen the LLSV work, I had, based on a broad variety of evidence, tried to integrate the present-day evidence of Anglosphere exceptionalism with the newer historical work on English exceptionalism in history, and the continuity of culture between pre-colonial British Isles societies and the broader Anglosphere, including America, to try to answer the perrenial question, "what's going on here, anyway?" The LLSV work is useful because it helps drive the final nail in the coffin of Anglosphere essentialism -- the idea that there is something inerent in the historically British-descended English-speaking peoples, racial or genetic or whatever, that has caused this socio-politico-cultural exceptionalism. Almost every race and nationality in the world has some branch in the Anglosphere, either as former colony or immigrant subgroup, and almost every one of them does better than their counterparts outside of it.

Rather, the LLSV research tends to support the conclusions of the new historians, which suggest that these characteristics emerged as a result of a long series of happenstances and accidents in English history, in which geographical, climatological, and anthropological factors all played a role, but none crudely determined the outcome. (For instance, David Howarth and N.A.M. Rodger both make the point that Britain's being an island certainly had something to do with its escape from Continental militarism and bureaucratization -- but that you just can't say that "being an island saved it from invasion". Being an island certainly never helped Ireland in this regard.)

Once your eye is attuned to Anglosphere exceptionalism, it's hard to stop noticing it. It's hard to think of another aspect of the current world that it so pervasive (and so consequential) yet so little remarked upon.

Posted by Jim Bennett at 01:17 AM | Comments (7)

September 28, 2005

Resilient Economies

I note without comment that in a September 19 article on the success of economies and their central bankers in various countries since 1986, the Wall Street Journal observed:


The four English-speaking countries [Australia, Canada, US, UK] have done particularly well. That's because their financial and labor markets are less regulated, so they are more "resilient and spontaneously self-correcting," says Jean-Philippe Cotis, chief economist at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. If a worker loses his job in one industry, he is more likely to take one at a lower wage in another. Firms are more likely to cut prices and shrink capacity in the face of falling demand. This, Mr. Cotis says, makes it easier for a central bank to cut interest rates, and for those cuts to flow through to home buyers and businesses.

Posted by Peter Saint-Andre at 07:23 PM | Comments (2)

Death of politics

A really interesting piece by Melanie Phillips, published first in the Daily Mail and then on her blog.

She starts with the question why the political party conferences have become so unbearably dull. Having gone through the three main parties and their inability to say anything of interest or importance, she draws a few general conclusions:

"But while they [the main parties and their leaders] were all dancing on the heads of these various pins, a host of really divisive issues emerged which the three parties had no interest in addressing because they did not reflect the vested interests around which these parties had been formed. Worse still, they deeply divided the population. So for politicians looking for votes, these were issues which spelt political disaster and were therefore best avoided altogether.

But they happened to be the most important issues of all because they were deeply connected with enormous changes in British society which would change it beyond all recognition. These were not to do with economics or class. They were cultural and moral issues -- family breakdown, drug abuse, social disorder, the erosion of discipline and punishment, immigration, multiculturalism."

The whole piece is very well worth reading, though people who have seen my rather gloomy e-mails, postings and comments will not be surprised.

Posted by Helen Szamuely at 06:54 PM | Comments (2)

How Can You Tell?

Helen Szamuely's response in comments to my previous post on "Who might be Britain's Lincoln?" raises a quite interesting general question. How often is it that a great political leader shows an unbroken record of dedication to principle prior to his (or her) great moment in history? I'm sure some can be found (George Washington might come close) but many of them -- Lincoln and Churchill come immediately to mind -- took many twists and turns on their road to greatness, and in the year immediately before their crises and triumphs had been looked upon as worn-out hacks. In retrospect, we look back on the careers of the great, emphasize the high points, and ignore the low points. (We look back upon Churchill's consistent rejection of appeasement, but tend to ignore his wrong and harmful stand against evolution of India's self-determination, for example.)

Britain's relations with Europe may very well come to a genuine crisis point in the next five to ten years. The person who will have to bear responsibility for dealing with this crisis is probably sitting in Parliament right now. If that person does successfully rise to deal with the crisis, we might look back upon his or her record and point out the premonitions of the qualities that enabled him to rise to the occasion. But is there a way to tell at this moment who might be such a person? It is quite likely that if a time-traveller were to tell us the name right now, we would all be surprised.

Posted by Jim Bennett at 04:27 PM | Comments (2)

September 27, 2005

Who Will Be The Eurosceptic Lincoln?

The abolitionist Frederick Douglass, in pronouncing his verdict over Abraham Lincoln, said "Viewed from the genuine abolition ground, Mr. Lincoln seemed tardy, cold, dull and indifferent," Douglass said. Then he added, "But measuring him by the sentiment of his country, a sentiment he was bound as a statesman to consult, he was swift, zealous, radical and determined." He said all needed "a comprehensive view of Abraham Lincoln, and to make reasonable allowance for the circumstances of his position."

So in their own way British Eurosceptics need to make reasonable allowances for the circumstances of the positions of the candidates for the leadership of the Conservative Party. In this case, it is not so much the sentiment of the country, which is more Eurosceptic than any major-party leader, but of the generators of received opinon -- the academics, the BBC, and the other "great and good", who still have the ability to tar as "xenophobic" any major-party figure who makes a realistic assessment of the value of European Union membership for the United Kingdom. Mark Steyn, in is inimitable manner, has effectively skewered the least satisfactory of these candidiates. However, friends of Britain must then wonder who of the plausible candidiates (for example, David Davis or Liam Fox) might just turn out to be Britian's Lincoln in regard to Europe -- "tardy, cold, dull, and indifferent" by the standards of Eurosceptics, but "swift, zealous, radical, and determined" by the standards of contemporary British politics. We will undoubtedly hear more on this from fellow-bogger Helen Szamuely, and others, but it might be worth looking at the following transcript of a conversation between myself and Liam Fox, part of which appeared in an article of mine in National Review Online last month.

Liam Fox has held the position of shadow foreign minister for the Conservative opposition in the UK and is a candidate for the leadership of the Conservatives in the race that will be decided this autumn.


Washington, DC June 23rd, 2005

JB. American conservatives are beginning to view the British Tories like the Chicago Cubs or the Boston Red Sox - -we love you guys, but when are you going to win one?

LF. In the last election, in advertising terms, we had a product, but not a brand. People didn’t have a clear sense of who the party was or what it would do for them. When we can market ourselves in such a way that it is clear we can meet people’s aspirations, we will win.

The idea of what kind of party we have is something we have not resolved. In a time of prosperity, although gradually eroding prosperity, it is hard to convey the idea of the party.

JB You have one of the best economies in the world right now, don't you?

LF. Well, it's because of the supply-side reforms we brought in in the eighties, which laid the basis for the prosperity we enjoyed in the nineties and in this decade.

What people are failing to notice in the UK in the last 2 to 3 years is that the biggest part of the growth of jobs had been in the public sector, rather than the private.

The real achievement of the Labor government is that the Labor have been rather slower to screw up the economy that the average socialist government.

JB. Why would a Tory government be a good thing for the US?

LF. I think that you find we have a huge commonality of interest on economic policy. We would like to see Europe reform itself to create a more favorable international trading environment.

It has to be good for the US if we can lift Europe out of the doldrums. This won’t happen without reform. The Conservatives are beginning to develop a positive view of a Europe that is not based on the "ever closer union" language of the Maastricht treaty, a more decentralized, more flexible European Union that is run for its citizens and not its institutions

JB. What specific structural changes would you seek to make in the EU to achieve this more flexible Europe?

LF. As I said in the House of Commons, I may no longer be practicing medicine but I can still recognize a corpse when I see one. Now that we've put the proposed European Constitution behind us we can start to think of a more flexible dynamic for Europe. But to understand what this would be we have to go back for a moment to the negatives:

The constitution introduced a common foreign policy for Europe. That is a non-starter. Member states must be free to decide their own foreign policy based on their own interests, although obviously there can be comment elements of our foreign policies when there are common interests.

The “charter of rights” is another thing that is not needed and can only take decision-making away from the national governments that are actually responsible to the people.

All these things we believe would lead to interference by the European courts or
other European institutions in our British institutions, which would be a negation of democracy.

The model we would like to see is more flexibility. This means powers moving back from Brussels to individual states, like control of fisheries, or foreign aid. Reform of the Common Agricultural Policy which is extraordinarily wasteful, in parts corrupt, and an obstacle to countries trying to get economic development.
Other areas

Massive bureaucracies: Why we need to keep a second European parliament in Strasbourg just to keep the French happy is beyond me.

So there are a number of big changes we would like to see going into European reform.

JB. One of the observations I've had is that Tony Blair created an enormous amount of good will with the US not just toward his government but also to the UK. In general we were willing to give many things to the UK that many countries would have given a limb to have.

In 2003 the Senate proposed extending a free trade agreement to the UK which because of the European customs union provisions you weren't able to accept.

Would you try to get an EU that was flexible enough to take advantage of separate trade agreements?

LF It would be nice to think that that may be possible.

JB. That'd be the big one.

LF It's a very very big one. Europe's nowhere near that yet.

I think that we ought to se that debate as part of the wider debate about the future of trading blocs to the environment created by GATT and the WTO. For instance when we went into what was then the Common Market the world trading environment was much more hostile. There's been a good deal of liberalization since then. I suppose it depends on your view of the trading blocs. I'd like to see the trading blocs as a step toward greater liberalization. What you will find though is that the public will see the trading blocs as a means of insulating themselves from the winds of international competitiveness.

So I think that there is a real debate among conservatives

One of the things I'd like to see is that we move this debate forward.

Because I'm a great believer in international trade because the interdependence
it brings is a contributor to stability globally and that really ought to be the goal for politicians on the right.

If we can achieve a liberal international trading environment going beyond blocs, in such an environment the case you mentioned becomes academic.

JB. Your fellow Scotsman Gordon Brown has endorsed, as have many in the past, the idea of a transatlantic free trade area, which would essentially create a free trading are between the NAFTA counties and the EEA countries. What's your view?

LF. Again it goes back to my view of using the blocs as stepping stones.

If we can do it without too much regulation that's fine.

My note of caution is about the way the single market developed in Europe. Instead of a market of mutual recognition it became a market of harmonization . Harmonization can only work with a substantial body of law and regulation. And you've got NAFTA which is much more the mutual recognition model while the EU has taken an incompatible approach. As they say, a bird may love a fish but they can't go home together.

JB Many people miss this point. I was talking with a Europhile member of parliament and he said "well, you American achieved a single market through harmonization" but in actual fact we didn't. States have the right to set up separate standards, it's just that generally they don't find it in their economic interest to do so. We have a single market through the fifty states and the thirteen Canadian provinces, and this was done without any supernational authority.

LF It's a matter of regulating at the lowest possible level. The concept of the single market they have been working with is one of top-down authority, and it has been applied with a ratchet effect. Instead we must work toward a Europe that works by a mutual recognition model, much like NAFTA. But that's going to take a lot of time and great political will. We have a lot of people in the EU
bureaucracy whose job it is to create regulation, and we need to strip out some of this authority.

JB. Would this looser Europe and more enlarged Europe include free
movement of people within the community?

LF. I think that movement would have to be qualified. The entry of a country with as large a population as Turkey, with immediate, unrestricted free movement of people, would not be acceptable to electorates in much of Europe. So there would have to be some way of qualifying that. The UK is not a member of the Schengen agreement (which provides for free movement of member citizens across borders) so it is not as much of an issue for us, but France and Germany and others are, and for them it would not be acceptable.

JB Would you favor a change to EU rules that would allow Britain to agree to free movement of peoples between, say, Canada, Australia, and maybe the US? This would be an agreement that would be of actual benefit to the ordinary people of the UK.

LF If this would be beneficial to the British people, it is by all means something that should be pursued. If there are artificial rules which today stand in the way of something like that, then they should be re-examined. After all, the purpose of government is to benefit its citizens, and if it's actions get in the way of that they should be fixed.

JB Oh, you're so Anglo-Saxon! I don't think Villepin would agree with that.

LF And therein lies the rub.

JB. Looking at some specific issues of transatlantic trade integration, specifically in the defense area. As you know, the UK enjoys particularly privileged access to US defense technology, matched perhaps only by Australia. It's a level of access the Pentagon does not feel comfortable with extending to all of Europe. If European defense industry continues along the lines it has taken in the past few years, it is more likely that rather than Europe as a whole gaining better access to American defense technology, it is more likely that Britain, as it gets more tied in to European structures, might find its access cut off. On the other hand, there's been talk of a US-UK defense industry approach that would, in turn for some coordination on issues such as third-country destination control, would give the UK even more privileged access to the US defense industry, including better access to financial participation in the US defense industry, or easier mergers between US and UK defense contracting firms. Such an approach might currently be contrary to EU regulation. Assuming this approach would be seen as advantageous to the UK, which I think is likely the case, would you be in favor of exploring it?

LF. I certainly think that such a thing should be explored, although it might come up against practical difficulties such as the large investment Britain has made in the European Single Fighter project. Much of the benefit to the UK would come in the form of after-sale maintenance and support, and to reap that benefit the UK would have to stay involved. Therefore any future directions for the UK would have to take into account the need to stay plugged in to certain existing European commitments.

However, there are strategic considerations for the US and the UK alike. Ultimately, the US has a clear strategic interest in Europe's continuation of the China arms embargo, and the US must and will act in its strategic interest there. China has a horrible human rights record. There are a number of such strategic issues where the US will see its strategic interests differently from the Europeans. Britain needs to be very firm with its European partners, because Britain has much more to lose if the US decides to stop sharing technology.

JB From an American viewpoint, Britain had unparalleled access in the development process of the Joint Strike Fighter. Britain continues to be a partner in that project at a level at which no other foreign partner is permitted. The question is, you have your sunk cost in the EuroFighter, and very sunk cost it is, while you have much to gain by further cooperation with the US on the model of the Joint Strike Fighter, so I guess this is something you will have to trade off. To what extent have you discussed these issues on this trip?

LF I have been discussing the wider context of the US-UK defense relationship, and particularly the effect of the China arms embargo issue. To me, the stance on China should be a no-brainer for the current British government. I suppose they hare now seeing sense on that issue, but I wish they could be more robust.

JB This gets us to a very specific subset of defense issues, particularly the European Galileo project for GPS-like navigation satellites. These is a particular concern on the part of some in the defense community over the potential for Galileo to be used to support precision-guided munitions that might be sold to nations hostile to the US, and which the US could not disable if they were to be used against US or allied forces. This is in addition to more immediate concerns over radio frequency interference between Galileo and GPS. Some also feel that the commercial justification for Galileo is suspiciously thin – sort of like proposing to build a second lighthouse next to an existing one, and charging for the light beams. What will the Tory opposition's position on Galileo be?

LF I think it's the right of any sovereign nation to seek to assure that it has independence in terms of its control over its own defenses. But what we have to be careful of is a trend in Europe to see itself apart from and in competition with the US rather than a partner.

JB To return to the Asia-Pacific area: you made an interesting remark in your recent speech here, where you noted that Europeans work from a map in which Europe is in the center and China is in the periphery while Americans work from maps in which America is the center. But in fact the map of the 20th century was Atlantic-centric, which the 21st's is Pacific-centric. Going around the Pacific rim, you of course see many prominent Chinese-speaking cities, and a number of Japanese-speaking ones, but the other big presence around the Pacific is the English-speaking cities. The Pacific century is not going to be solely a Chinese century, but one shared between China, Japan, India, and the Anglosphere. Britain, unlike the other European nations, has special and strong ties with this Pacific Anglosphere, and thus a window on an important part of the future. How can the UK take advantage of this special position?

LF First of all, that's a very good example of why the idea of a Common European Foreign Policy including Britain, given Britain's unique trading position, and different historical perspective in the region, is a non-starter. You can have elements of commonality in foreign policy, but you can't have a common policy.

JB The lowest common denominator is too low and too common…

LF Exactly. Britain's friendship, and specific relationship to India and the Indian subcontinent, has never fully exploited the potential created by the fact that Britian still has a great deal of human knowledge and ties, and goodwill with that region. I am afraid that we have been too hung up on the attitudes of several generations of people who have been so tied up in guilt trips about the past that they cannot see the opportunities that present themselves. India and its neighbors have got to be a major area in which Britain has got to be concentrating its negotiations for joint initiatives, such as in the insurance industry.

I experienced a delightful compliment recently in Sri Lanka when someone described to me a local government that was conspicuously non-corrupt as being run on the “English model". It takes us back to your point that's there's a great deal to exploit in all that common experience.

The problem with Britain is that since the end of the 1960s we've tended to act as if the bottom of the map was at the southern border of Greece. We've got to look beyond at the enormous opportunities. The difference is in a very very tightly competitive global economy the differences will be at the margins. And if you've got a historical advantage, if you've got a cultural advantage, if you've got a linguistic advantage these are things that can make a difference.

JB I was reading some papers by linguists noting that there's been a sea-change in the nature of the use of the English language in India, that in the past 10 years English has gone from a sort of prestige display among the upper middle classes, to, because of call centers and software development, something that is sought after ardently by lower-income Indians as a means of self-advancement.. However, this is beginning to have more than a purely economic impact, as interaction with American and British people, and more familiarity with attitudes, has begun to change their own attitudes, for example reportedly making women less amenable to arranged marriages. This is creating a new world, neither colonial, nor reactively post-colonial, but something altogether new and different. How can the US and UK take advantage of these sorts of phenomena to make new connections?

LF English is becoming a tool of cultural empowerment, and it's becoming difficult to separate the language from the culture, one from another. It's bound to have an effect. Some of these more subtle effects, such as you're describing, have gone almost unnoticed. But it is providing liberations, as you've rightly stated, to many people. How can we best take advantage of this, to give our businesses head starts in other markets?

I was always very keen, when I was in government, on expanding the role of the British Council, top provide a great outreach linguistically and culturally. It's also a very good manager of projects on the ground. I would greatly expand its scope; if we are providing English-language lessons, why not expand them to explain more of our economic and cultural ideas?

JB Do you think more use could be made of the Commonwealth organization?

LF Sometimes I think we don't deserve the Commonwealth. Most of our European partners would give their right arms to be a t the center of such an organization, with such an economic and political potential of the nations in it. And Britain has given far too little attention to it, especially under the current government.

JB Because of its obsession with Europe?

LF Yes. It's been neglected as a common tool, which might have been quite useful for common goals. But for some on the left, the Commonwealth is just an embarrassment as a reminder of Empire, which they have a lot of residual guilt about.

JB. Finally, what can you say about the Tory leadership race?

LF. We must decide who is the best candidate to sell the particular agenda of the party. Therefore, we must first decide what the agenda of the party is, before jumping into the personalities. If we just jump into the personalities, with little debate about who we are and what we want, then I think the danger is the electorate won’t listen to the message of the party. When Margaret Thatcher came into the leadership there had been this process of agenda debate; she came in with a clear message to sell.

JB. But Thatcher came in late in the leadership selection process (in 1979) and only because certain other candidates were blocked.

LF. This is one of the great traditions of the Conservative Party – you can become leader just because you are not someone else. Ultimately, because in our (first-past-the-post electoral) system we do not build external coalitions, therefore to win you must build an internal coalition. People forget this is what Margaret Thatcher did, she was the strongest when she took pains to be as inclusive as possible in the party.

JB. In America we call it the Big Tent.

LF. That is a requirement, because if you have a small tent you can’t win elections.

JB. It’s amazing how many people seem not to notice that.

There’s been some comment that in the recent British national election the Tories lost a number of seats – the number put about is around 25 – because Euroskeptic voters unhappy with the Tory stance gave votes to the two pro-withdrawal parties, the UK Independence Party, and Veritas. It’s hard to say whether a stronger stance would have delivered all 25 seats to the Tories, but certainly there was some minor-party effect here.

LF. I think the number of seats that actually might have been changed was more like 10, but that still would have reduced the Labor government’s majority from 66 to 46.

JB Yes, it is significant in any case. How do you think the Tories should deal with this question the next time around, assuming Europe is still an issue, which I think it will be?

LF. We must start by making our own agenda clear. Last week in the House of Commons I stated that we no longer agreed with the goal set forth in the European treaties, of “ever closer union” within the EU. I think that this direction will help avoid some of the bitterness we have been seeing, because the Tories have had a great deal of resentment at the way we’ve been dragged into increasing centralization and loss of sovereignty by the ratchet-like process of the working of European bureaucracy.

JB. It’s amazing that such a statement had never been made under the leadership of William Hague or Iain Duncan Smith, both of whom were strong Euroskeptics.

LF. It seems like a fairly obvious step to take. I think it’s part of an approach of presenting an agenda for the next election that focuses on positive things people want to see, so that objections, for example, to European bureaucracy are not seen as negative, but as consequences of an alternative positive policy.

I think we need to present a picture of optimism. I think there are things we can learn from President Bush about how to take elements of the policies of the Right and explain how conservative social and economic policy is not about helping the wealthy escape from public provision but about how to improve the quality of public provision for all. That’s a positive skill.

JB. Sociologically, there’s been the observation that the Tory voter has been getting older, and among the younger voters, the Tories are now doing better among the less-educated sectors than among the highly-educated. Certainly there’s been a lot of social change in the UK over the last twenty-five, and especially the last ten years. You’re seeing the same kind of exurban, high-tech, entrepreneurial, multi-ethnic, freeway-oriented conurbation development that we’re seeing here on our urban fringes. This is not the old country Tory Britain, nor the old mine-and-mill Labor Britain; this is a third and new Britain that is politically up for grabs. Obviously Tony Blair was hoping New Labor would be their natural party; the Liberal Democrats want to be their natural party, and of the Tories who seem to be thinking about how to reach these people, I mentioned you in my book as one. My question is, what is you message for this third Britain that seems to be emerging?

LF. We have to understand that the greatest characteristic of this group is aspiration. We have got to get a party that they are comfortable with as sharing their aspirations for security and prosperity for themselves and their families. That they will take part ion the riches offered by a free market economy that is growing well and that is not burdened by government regulation at the same time, that when it comes to education and the provision of public services, and that the government will assure that they get access to the services that the government does not provide itself.

JB. Two final questions. One is the inevitable one, which is where does Liam Fox stand in regard to the leadership race? Might you be a candidate in this round?

LF. I might. I’ll make my decision over the summer. (Note: Liam Fox has now, of course, declared his candidacy. JB) None of us have had a proper break since before the election. When I was practicing medicine I advised people not to make major life decisions when under a great deal of stress. I might actually apply my advice to myself.

JB. But you’ve decided to get married in that time.

LF. Well, I think one major life decision in that time is enough.

JB. The last question is about a remark you made recently in regard to the much-discussed religion gap between the US and Britain. You observed something that is in accordance with my own observations, that the amount of religiosity in the US is probably overstated, while the depth of religious sentiment in Britain is probably understated. Could you say something to our readers about that?

LF. The very clear and overt link between religion and politics that exists in the US is something that most British people would not be comfortable with in UK political life. The British have much more of a sense of religion as something that is personal and private. And that may result in there being less of a gap in reality than is indicated by the polls or by the way it is discussed in politics. One of the problems may be in the way the established churches think they are obliged to reflect life as it is lived today rather than setting out a direction of life as they want to see it.

JB. Do you think that the whole issue of the establishment of the churches should be revisited?

LF. At a time when we have so many other social problems, so many other issues, so many foreign policy challenges, we don’t need to spend our time dealing with how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

Posted by Jim Bennett at 04:25 PM | Comments (3)

September 26, 2005

Is the Anglosphere crumbling in the face of New Barbarism?

The question of values and the Anglosphere is an interesting one. Having been raised in a conservative but worldly household (military), I spent most of my 20s and 30s in a state of disbelief at the values that I bumped into ... morality dictated by what you could get away with. Completely foreign to me. And I couldn't see how things could get any worse, nor how society could continue much longer in that vein. And yet, and yet the years unrolled in a very different way ... the Berlin Wall fell, the economy grew, the Internet offered the information to refine one's own values and form new more effective communities. People and kids I knew who seemed irredeemable in the 70s and 80s muddled along into a semblance of ordinary middle-class life and actually turned out not too bad. In North America, at least, there's cause for optimism, because civic society continues as it was. Only now we're seeing professional associations of body piercers, rather than buggy whip manufacturers, using Robert's Rules of Order and established as 501(c)3s complete with accountants. Pretty middle-class in the end. All those bizarre fringes don't alter the fundamental reality (a la Macfarlane) that the consolations of kinship and contract must be supplemented by islands of sociability that come from personal appetite. And the Anglosphere shows little sign of abandoning that cultural pattern for the emotional "holism" of either statism or tribalism. The US and Australia particularly. Yes, there are niches longing for Noble Savagery and Noble Lies but they stay niches.

A key argument in favour of the survival of the Anglosphere, to my mind, is the broad range of values generated in a civic context. It allows the development of an "average" set of values that's most suitable for the technological/political situation of the times. What diversity is possible is dictated by the realities of economy, medicine, science, religion, etc. It's no surprise then to find that Elizabethan culture had narrower constraints (though probably no qualitative difference in highs and lows) than our own. In an era of DNA, neuroscience and the posited Technological Singularity, it's entirely predictable that the individual social expressions of the current culture will splinter and appear deeply chaotic or dissolute. And some will appear insane and/or inhuman. The lynchpin however is the capacity to form civic associations between individuals that are not mediated by your state or your parents. And that capacity appears very healthy. Chaotic and mystifying perhaps to older adults but vibrant nonetheless.

One could hardly imagine values more dissolute than those triggered by the plague in Europe, or those established in the English/British royal court at times. One could hardly see poverty more grinding than the 18th century Scottish highlands. Urban life in London for most of its existence must have always been pretty bestial at the lowest levels. We have no first person records for the thousands who died in squalor in London tenements from the Romans onward. Surely the Sudan has nothing to teach England about the seamier sides of human life. Yet somehow we end up where we are ... with the Anglosphere still standing athwart the historical trends toward bureaucratic despotism (China, and aspirationally the EU) and theocratic tribalism (the Muslim world), and still making headway.

Change works in the Anglosphere's favour, says Jim. If we actually take Jim's hypothesis on the Technological Singularity seriously, we must assume that the cultural patterns coming up will be even more strange, even more quickly developed, and even more challenging to the political system (e.g. the apocalyptically-empowered Angry Man). We'll get both depravity and discipline. Chaos and calm. Crime and Discovery. High-tech marvels and despicable predation. Dependency and generosity. The human costs will be what they've always been ... tragic. And the post facto glorifications of individual sacrifice will no doubt be thin consolation to the families involved. But I think we have no reason to be pessimistic about the capacity of people in the Anglosphere (as a whole) to sort out what's best for them if given choices. And, in a sense, the Anglosphere Challenge is an argument that is just one more choice on offer. Its explanatory power could be quickly converted into strategic power, given the chance by politicians and citizens.

As for Britain, the caution of the people will only be overcome when crisis hits ... and in my modest experience, despite the best efforts of the BBC at demonisation of America, most Brits in extremis would rather bet on someone from Kansas than someone from the Ukraine. Or someone from Manhattan rather than someone from Cairo. North America's a plane ride away. And many from the UK have already voted with their feet, if not their hearts. If that means Britain is one day effectively abandoned by the Anglosphere, it will be a deep historical grief, and more tragedy for the people involved, but won't alter the spirit inherited around the world from the isle. It'll take some considerable event to wipe the words Magna Charta or parliaments from the world's memory.

After 230 years, America may once again return to a status of maligned and "unnatural" nation but it will, like the Anglosphere itself, be the entity against which all the world must measure and test itself. All that resentment is based on something real and deeply threatening to the dirigistes and punks of Planet Earth.

Poorly socialized Muslim youths may have already passed their "best by" date as tool for diverting the Anglosphere or slowing the Singularity. Their "shock" value is now gone, even as Anglosphere values and technology press themselves further into the slums of the world. There are, I'm sure, lots of bad decisions yet to come by Anglosphere nations. Lots of crises. But if Jim is correct, the Anglosphere nations make incrementally better decisions than any others, over long stretches of time. The "compound interest" on those decisions is what keeps the Anglosphere in the bow wave of history. There are no guarantees, but the terms of reference will all be written in English for the foreseeable future.

Posted by jmccormick at 06:59 PM | Comments (2)

Creating symbols

This may seem to be slightly off the main theme. However, the image of Queen Elizabeth I in the Ditchley portrait is worth thinking about, as, indeed, all the various portraits of that queen.

England under Elizabeth was a stormy and unsettled place. Across the Channel there loomed a great enemy - Spain as the representative of the Catholic Church - which had many supporters within. Not that different, really, from the present situation, except that the enemy was more powerful. On the other hand, Walsingham's lads could do things to those they caught that the present police can only dream about.

There was a folk memory of many years of a hideous civil war and the reign was punctuated by potentially catastrophic rebellions. The Tudors' claim to the throne was negligible and Henry VIII's marital affairs undermined Elizabeth's own standing. At the same time she and her personality were vital as the unifying and steadying factor.

Above all, there had been the long process of the politial and religious reformation. While Elizabeth herself genuinely preferred to steer a middle course and had little time for the more extreme Protestant sects, she knew that many of her people did join them. She also knew that there were many Catholics around, whose loyalty remained doubtful as the Pope had pronounced what we would now call a fatwa on her.

The symbolism created by Elizabeth and her entourage with herself at the centre (the Virgin Queen) served a dual purpose: the solidification of English national feeling in the face of the enemy and a substitution of a new imagery for the old religious one.

Posted by Helen Szamuely at 05:10 PM | Comments (2)

September 25, 2005

The Real British Disease

Another very interesting take on the issue of assimilation in the UK is John O'Sullivan's piece in the New Criterion.

Democracy, immigration, multiculturalism: pick any two.

Posted by Jim Bennett at 04:41 PM | Comments (0)

Reporting from over the Pond

Although a number of the Anglospherists are British born, at the moment I may be the only one who will be engaging in the debate from Britain, the place where many of the ideas originated, which has, sadly, abandoned most of them in the last few decades. I shall also be cross-posting from our blog: http://www.eureferendum.com

Posted by Helen Szamuely at 08:56 AM | Comments (0)

September 23, 2005

Assimilation in the UK -- Some American Lessons

David Goodhart has an interesting essay in the current Spectator (registration required) on the difficulties leftists have with the whole idea that there is a balance between immigration and social cohesion. Following the 7/7 attacks on London by second-generation immigrants who seemed to be assimilated to British culture, this assumption is getting a re-examination in some (but not all) quarters in the UK. It would be useful for Brits thinking this through to examine more closely the experience that the USA, Canada, and Australia have had with immigration and assimilation.

Many Brits assume, for example, that the distinctive features of American patriotic observance have been around since the Revolution. In some cases, this is true: the folk-observances around the Stars and Stripes began as part of the process of finding new substitutes for the symbolism previously centering around the Crown. Much of the elaborate flag ritual that has grown up was copied from Masonic ritual, which was widely known in the Revolutionary period.

However, many other features, such as the Pledge of Allegiance, many of the patriotic songs and poems, and the emergence of a concept of "Americanism" arose in the period roughly from 1880 to 1920. Much of his was a deliberate response to the stresses of first the Civil War, and secondly the widespread violence of the labor strife that accompanied the Industrial revolution. Much of this labor violence involved first-generation immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe, a fact of great concern to many. The American political nation in 1776 was overwhelmingly white, Protestant, and English-speaking. (There were plenty of non-white Americans, but few of them had access to the political system, of course. The story of their entry into the American political nation is a different tale.) All of the major immigrant groups from independence through the 1880s possessed at least two out of those three qualifications -- Germans had an alien language and political tradition, but most of the early waves were Protestants; the Irish were Catholic, but they came from an English-speaking political system (even the Gaelic-speaking ones) and already knew about juries, sheriffs, bailiffs, and counties, as Daniel Patrick Moynihan had pointed out. Thus the Irish entered American political life more quickly than many of the non-English-speaking Protestant immigrant groups.

After that date, however, Americans were faced with a wave of immigrants who came from authoritarian empires with no tradition of self-government, spoke obscure and difficult languages, and who were Catholic or even Eastern Orthodox. Furthermore, these "unpronouncable" names kept showing up in accounts of labor violence, culminating in the assassination of President McKinley by one Leon Czolgocz.

Czolgocz, however, was not fresh off the boat. He was in fact a second-generation Polish-American, who had grown up in reasonable comfort, had been educated in American schools and spoke English as his first, native language. Feeling alienated in his late teens and early twenties, he started hanging around anarchist labor groups, who in turn thought he was wierd and suspected him of being a police agent. In many ways, Czolgocz was the turn-of-the-century equivalent of the Yorkshire jihadists of 7/7.

Americans went through the same sort of shock as a result of these experiences as the British are beginning to do now. As a result, a movement began to actively promote assimilation, both through social work designed to improve the physical conditions of the immigrants, and education and propaganda designed to promote their psychological integration into the body politic. Many of the institutions that British observers have found "over the top" in American life are a result of these largely successful campaigns. From mandatory flag salutes and Pledges of Allegience in schools to the elaborate uniforms of state policemen, these have become part of the look and feel of American life and our national narrative.

(The state police uniforms came about after a commission of inquiry into a bloody bout of labor violence in Pennsylvania at the turn of the century. The commissioners found that many of the strikers were immigrants from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and expected police to have gaudy and impressive uniforms. American lawmen of that period outside of the big cities tended to wear ordinary civilian clothes with perhaps a badge, and this was especially true of the special deputies recruited for labor strike duties. Many of the immigrant strikers had not even been aware that the deputies were official police, and had assumed they were thugs hired by the employers. Of course in those days the difference was often slim. But in any event, a specially-trained constabulary was created in Pennsylvania, which became the State Police, and care was taken to give them an impressive uniform -- the "Smokey-the-Bear" look. This established the tradition for American state police forces ever after.)

If Britain wishes to continue to host immigrants, it will need to look closely at the experiences of the USA, Canada, and Australia, and decide what to copy and what to pass on. I don't know what they will ultimately choose to do, but they should be aware that others have dealt with this issue before, and that the issue did not just resolve itself -- it took a lot of work, and the means by which it was accomplished have become such a part of everyday life that their origins have in many cases been forgotten.

Posted by Jim Bennett at 04:59 PM | Comments (4)

"Elevator Ride" Version of the Anglosphere Message

In a recent discussion I tried to briefly set out "the heart of the Anglosphere 'discovery' that Jim Bennett is bringing to light." I came up with this:

The fact is that there is an English culture which CAN be given a fairly specific definition and distinction from other cultures. The critical modern researcher on this topic is Alan Macfarlane. He has demonstrated the existence of certain unusual attitudes toward individual rather than collective property ownership, trust among non-kin, love and marriage as individual choices, intermediate institutions and voluntary groupings between the individual and the state, a comparatively peaceful and orderly society, a capacity to generate and endure dynamic change. These can be elaborated in more detail. They are real and they are measurable by comparative survey data and by historical comparisons. These things, plus the institutional superstructure of common law rather than roman law, representative institutions (if not always democratic ones) and the continuity of English institutions and others can also be elaborated. The problem is that much of this distinctiveness is either not recognized or is merely "felt". But it can be articulated and specified, and the awareness created of a distinct civilization or sub-civilization among the Anglophone peoples. That is the key thing that needs to be done, the foundational thing.

Of course this distinctness is very far from uniformity, and there is great variety within the Anglosphere family -- David Hackett Fischer and Walter Russell Mead and Kevin Phillips are all very clear on this.. Still, nonetheless, there are overarching unities which make the Anglosphere distinct from our cousins in the Roman law portions of Western Europe, or our Slavic neighbors who have lived under Byzantine civilization, or farther yet from our neighbors who have lived under Islam, or the ancient civilizational inheritance of China.

This is all utterly un-PC. It is also true, and truth has a way of getting heard, or being convincing when it is heard.


Consider this one more iteration of the "elevator ride", short version of the Anglosphere message.

Posted by Lexington Green at 09:31 AM | Comments (3)

September 22, 2005

Lexington Green Coming Aboard

Glad to be here.

Jim and I have been discussing his Anglosphere concept for a few years now, well before the book came out.

I plan to put many of the ideas we have kicked around out here on the blog for public consumption.

I look forward to hearing from the other members of our jolly crew.

Posted by Lexington Green at 12:22 AM | Comments (0)

September 21, 2005

Albion's Seedling Is Going Group

As can be seen from the lengthy gap in postings, I have not, for tedious personal reasons not worth elaborating upon, had time to properly launch Albion's Seedling as a blog. However, I have been carrying on a fairly fun and interesting email discussion with a number of people who have read The Anglosphere Challenge and a fair amount of the underlying source material it references. Several of these people are bloggers themselves, and a number of them have suggested that we take the discussion public. So we have decided to do this by turning Albion's Seedling into a group blog. I will let my fellow bloggers introduce themselves, although many will need no introduction.

Posted by Jim Bennett at 04:26 PM