October 31, 2005

A Few Words on India and the Anglosphere

The comments to post contained some vexation about whether or not India is part of the "core" of the Anglosphere. The implication seemed to be that one is either part of the Anglosphere or not, and that it was wrong therefore to suggest that India is not.

I think this is to misstate the issue. It is not "either/or" or "in/out" of the Anglosphere. It is a matter of degrees of participation. The USA, UK, Anglo-Canada, Australia, NZ are "core" areas because of very high degrees of commonality in language, law, business practices, cultural norms, etc. Jim Bennett talks about all this in his book, which you must all go and buy and read if you have not yet done so.

India is uniquely and closely related and deeply tied to this core community, but has its own distinct identity. Majorities in India do not speak English, the rule of law is not so well established and institutions which are well-rooted in the core Anglosphere are often less so in India. There is a higher degree of intra-religious animosity, leading on occasion to rather spectacular riots. There is a higher degree of family control over marriage decisions. One could go on.

India was not a country of settlement like the core Anglosphere countries. It was an ancient civilization which had a violent and costly, but in many ways fruitful, encounter with Britain. The millions of anglophone Indians whom Verity mentions in the comments are much like the Indian neighbors and colleagues I have known here in Chicago. Yes, they are part of the Anglosphere. And the Indians who have gone back to India to start businesses are also part of the Anglosphere. But India itself, as distinct from particular people or communities, is a civilization unto itself which has a special relationship with the Anglosphere, and which participates in the Anglosphere, and which has individuals and communities which are part of the Anglosphere, and which has made immense contributions ot the Anglosphere -- but it is still a meaningful distinction to say that India is not a core Anglosphere country.

Australia, for example is simply a daughter polity of mother England, and other influences have been distinctly secondary. India however was a vast and ancient and influential civilization unto itself, which has become enmeshed with the Anglosphere, but it is not a daughter polity. Australia's identity is Anglospheric, but India' s encounter with the Anglosphere is an episode in its millenium-spanning history -- a critical one, to be sure -- but it is not a defining episode in the way that the English settlement of North America was for the USA or Anglo-Canada. India's identity is Indian, with Anglospheric influences.

None of this in any way denigrates India. The Indians I know are well aware (1) that being conquered by England had some positive effects, but (2) that India is it's own country with its own life and that it was right and proper that it end colonialism and be independent and assert its own identity. One of the most heartening developments I am seeing is that the Indians have the cultural confidence to be forthright about maintaining things they inherited or adopting things they have learned from the British or the Americans, and applying them to their own country without having any inferiority complexes about it. These influences, far from being "cultural imperialism", are means for India to best achieve its potential. And, of course, the Indian cultural influence on the Anglosphere is large and growing. The future will, I suspect, and hope, see a more Indian-influenced Anglosphere, and vice-versa.

Posted by Lexington Green at 09:36 PM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Mullahs vs. Anglosphere

Rand Simberg sums it up nicely: They know what they're up against, but they don't understand its implications. This is definitely a case of being proud of who our enemies are.

Posted by James C. Bennett at 02:04 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

October 30, 2005

Spherical Comparisons

There are several important cultural spheres in the world. The Anglosphere is one, but it can be argued that the French-speaking nations (La Francophonie) and the Spanish-speaking nations (the Hispanosphere?) are two others. Additional spheres might include the Sinosphere (regions dominated by Chinese cultural influence) and the Russosphere, although in some ways these are less clear-cut (more on that some other time). A bit of research at Wikipedia yields the following suggestive information about the Anglosphere, Francosphere, and Hispanosphere:

Sphere Core Areas Population (million) GDP (trillion)
Anglosphere Australia, Canada, New Zealand, UK, USA 410 $16,500
Francosphere France, Belgium, Switzerland, Quebec 75 $2,500
Hispanosphere Spain and the Spanish-speaking nations of the Western hemisphere 390 $3,200

Naturally these are narrow information slices (other interesting statistics might include numbers of patents, published books, universities, private companies, charity organizations, and so on), the "core areas" could be disputed (BTW, Belgium and Switzerland include only the French-speaking areas, but I had to guess on their percentage of GDP), we might look at both core and extended spheres, and so on. But even this small data sample is of interest, I think.

Posted by Peter Saint-Andre at 09:10 PM | Comments (23) | TrackBack

Anglospheric Vexillology

The British roots of American society have been explored at length by historians such as David Hackett Fischer. But we can see them also in symbols such as the American flag. Herewith a brief excursion into Anglospheric vexillology...

St. George's Cross -- this has been the national flag of England since 1277, though it seems to have been in use less officially as early as 1190
St. Andrew's Cross -- this is the national flag of Scotland, in use as early as 832 (also known as "the Saltire")
First Union Flag -- with the union of England and Scotland, their national flags were combined to form the Union Flag or Union Jack (the red St. George's Cross with its white background and the Saltire with its blue background); this is the original version before the addition of St. Patrick's cross as a result of the union with Ireland in 1801
Red Ensign -- this flag was flown by the Royal Navy from the early 1600s until 1864 (since then still by British merchantmen); it has the Union Flag in the first quarter while the remainder is a red field (there also existed white ensigns and blue ensigns, the latter leading to the modern flags of Australia and New Zealand, while the Canadian flag until adoption of the Maple Leaf was a modified Red Ensign)
Grand Union Flag -- the unofficial American flag until June 14, 1777, this flag modifies the Red Ensign by breaking up the red field into 13 stripes signifying the original 13 American colonies
Stars and Stripes -- the "Stars and Stripes" was adopted as the American flag by the Marine Committee of the Second Continental Congress at Philadelphia on June 14, 1777; however, the arrangement of the stars was not originally specified, and early versions of the Stars and Stripes showed the stars in a circle (the "Betsy Ross" flag) or in alternating rows of 2 and 3 or 4 and 5 stars
Star Spangled Banner -- the 15-star flag used from 1794 to 1818, where the fifteen stars signified the 13 colonies plus Vermont and Kentucky; from 1818 until 1960 the number of stars expanded from 20 to 50 with the accession of new states to the American Union

(Thanks to Jim Bennett and James McCormick for the suggestion.)

Posted by Peter Saint-Andre at 03:23 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

October 28, 2005

Ferdinand Mount may have the answer

Ferdinand Mount’s op-ed piece in today’s Daily Telegraph, not a newspaper one quotes much these days, deals with the teaching of history in British schools. Or, to be quite precise, with the non-teaching of history.

He starts with quoting the sonorous Bishop of London, whose sermon on the two-hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar seems to have been well up to par.

“"There has never been a generation better informed about 'now' with so little sense of how we came to be here," he thundered at the Trafalgar bicentenary service last Sunday. "Every child in this country ought to have the opportunity of meeting Lord Nelson and considering his legacy."”

(Incidentally, the Bishop of London is, indeed, sonorous. I once had the misfortune of having to speak just after him at a panel discussion of the European Constitution. I doubt if the audience heard much of what I had to say, so mesmerized they were by his voice still. Luckily, he, too, opposed that wretched document.)

The trouble is, as Mount points out, that the Bishop has no power even over the Church of England schools in London. Nobody, apart from officials who are often ex-teachers, who did not make the grade, and union officials have the power.

The much-trumpeted Government White Paper on Education has turned out to be a damp squib. Real power will still be left in the hands of the official, local and central and as the Office for Standards in Education gloomily acknowledged last week, the teaching of history has become something of a joke in primary and secondary school. And, they added, it is going to get worse. History is to be sidelined completely.

Ferdinand Mount does not mention this, but there is a little hope to be gleaned from the Conservatives, who shy away like horses who hear artillery fire from the idea of handing power over to parents in the shape of vouchers.
Still, he does have one interesting and very practical idea:

“Meanwhile, I have a modest suggestion. Suppose that, each week, every local authority fires one educational bureaucrat and hires instead one qualified history teacher. After a year or two of this, every GCSE candidate ought to be able to run up from memory the 32 flags spelling out "England Expects That Every Man Will Do His Duty".”

Read the full article here.

Posted by Helen Szamuely at 03:34 PM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

The Trident Passes -- Peacefully

World War I was caused in large part by the desire of Germany to assert its "place in the sun" and replace Great Britain as the major world power. The unintended consequence of the war was to allow the United States to replace Britain, peacefully -- in fact, silently, even secretly, after 1918.

It was in the field of Anglo-American relations that the peace-making years were most momentous. The war had altered the balance between Britain and America for good; in the economic sphere by turning Britain into a permanent debtor and making it impossible for London alone to continue as the principle financial centre of the world, and also in the military and naval sphere. The Americans were quite prepared to outbuild Britain at sea unless they could get arrangements on naval and other items that suited them; and the British had to decide whether to take up the challenge or not. Because they decided not to, a permanent shift in world power was consummated without a shot being fired. The fact that the shift was disguised, mainly on the British side, as an acceptance of partnership was necessary for political and psychological reasons, but it did not disguise the brutal truth. (Marxist publicists went on predicting an inevitable Anglo-American war, oblivious of the fact that the war had already been fought -- though bloodlessly.)
Max Beloff, Imperial Sunset: Britain's Liberal Empire, 1897-1921.

The "Marxist publicists" had a vulgar, economistic vision of the world, and therein, it seems, lay their error. In fact, international relations theory would predict such a war, and its absence is an inexplicable or at least troubling fact in a very limited set of global wars. It is a big outlier. Perhaps the biggest.

Britain had "taken up the challenge" presented by Spain, France and Germany over four centuries, and despite many dark hours, always prevailed. Why did it not do so again? The USA had a much larger economy and warmaking potential than did Britain and its Empire 1918, but so had previous challengers in their eras. In those cases Britain had sought out allies and built an alliance system to contain and ultimately defeat the challenger. Yet Britain pursued no such course against the United States. Was this sheer exhaustion after the Great War? Or was it because Britain knew that the relative costs of challenging the USA were greater than the costs of living in US-led global order? In other words, was there something uniquely “tolerable” about acquiescing to American hegemony which was not true with regard to France of Germany? Was Bismarck right that the decisive factor in world politics was "the fact that the North Americans speak English"?

Of course, the Americans wanted to dislodge Britain, and the City of London, from economic and financial primacy, and profit by the change. But they did not want to assume the burdens of maintaining international order which alone made a global economy possible. In fact, the American leadership did not understood what was at stake or what needed to be done. Hence, we had the anarchy of the interwar period. Only after 1945, with the relative power of the USA and the tottering British Empire, even more starkly obvious, and with the immediate threat of the Soviet Union right before their eyes, did the Americans attempt to build a genuine successor to the British-led world order. These "transition costs" could not have been known in 1918, of course. But even if they had, Britain and America would probably still have changed places, but handled the transition better.

The shift from British to American predominance, without a hegemonic war between the two powers, was the decisive event of the last two centuries. The British-led world order segued into a continuous Anglo-American world order founded on similar principles. Had the two Anglophone oceanic powers gone to war, the destruction would have been immense. The way would have been cleared for a continental challenger to assert control of an unassailable land-base in Eurasia, take to the sea, and then establish a global hegemony on totally different principles -- Nazi or Communist principles, most likely.

The most important "war" in history is the one that was never fought.

Update: Despite all the good comments, I think there is still an element of mystery in this particular dog not barking -- i.e. the transition of naval power, and global hegemony, from the British Empire to the USA, without a war. The other challengers to Britain were very, very daunting -- Napoleonic France had twice Britain's GNP and the whole of Europe under its boot, for example, to say nothing of Germany in the Summer of 1940. Still, the British fought with absolute ruthlessness and at great cost and over many years of conflict to defeat each and every one of them. Then, the USA comes along, and the Lion steps aside. I think the only explanation is the intra-Anglospheric ties of language and institutions and elite contacts as well as trade and investment. Nonetheless, other outcomes, including conflict, were not impossible or inconceivable.

One obvious example: We can only guess what a more pragmatic German leadership might have accomplished circa 1890-1910. The volume of trade between Britain and Germany was very high, and they had common enemies in France and Russia, and Germany had the best science and technology in the world, while Britain had the biggest empire. There were lots of reasons the two countries could have grown closer together. An Anglo-German alliance could have arisen which would have made the world an utterly different place. While one can overdo it with counterfactuals, I find history is more interesting and more illuminating if you ask "What if?" and "Why not?" This helps you to make sense of what actually did happen.

(Cross-posted on ChicagoBoyz.)

Posted by Lexington Green at 02:04 PM | Comments (17) | TrackBack

Stuck on Stupid

The latest institutions to join the grotesque competition to turn self-abasement into an art form are two of Britain’s largest banks – the Halifax and the NatWest, with neither of which I have an account, so am spared the trouble of closing it – which have just banned images of piggy banks on their posters and collateral materials so as not to offend you-know-who.

Always quick to consolidate a perceived victory, a “community leader” called Salim Mulla, secretary of the self-styled Lancashire Council of Mosques, endorsed this lunacy saying “This is a sensitive issue and I think the banks are simply being courteous to their customers.”


Quite apart from the question of whether the host society should twist itself into a pretzel to accommodate its 2.5% population of Muslim immigrant prejudices when the indigenous Brits/Europeans still comprise 95% of the population, the vapid thought processes of both parties, the banks and Salim Mulla, don’t take into account the fact that Muslims aren’t really customers of traditional banks. They may hold their current accounts in local branches of big banks. But they get their house and car loans from Islamic banking institutions.

The banks may have demonstrated their exquisite religious sensibility by ditching piggy banks, but, as charging interest is yet one more offence against Islam, the Muslims would ban the entire British banking system. Du-uh.

Posted by Verity at 10:16 AM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

October 27, 2005

Quote of the Day

"Because of Quebec, modern Canada has never had a Reagan, a Thatcher or a Menzies. And now we don't have a Bush, a Blair or a Howard. I have come to realize that we are paying too high a price to keep them part of the family. I have much more in common with my American, British and Australian cousins than I do with them."

By Michael J. Smith, in comments to this post below.

Posted by James C. Bennett at 04:25 PM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

Hampton Court and the 2005 UN Human Development Index

Just reading up on the one-day informal meeting of EU leaders at Hampton Court on the EU's response to globalisation (EU demographic collapse and Chinese/Indian economic accleration).

EU Report in PDF here

In the course of reading a Guardian commentary piece, I noticed the claim that the EU-25 all fit within the Top 50 places in the 2005 UN Human Development Index.

Just on spec, and for malicious fun, I decided to check out the data at Wikipedia ... which showed the following:


Setting aside the issue of whether the index is fudged in favour of soft criteria, the Anglosphere Big 5 (plus Ireland) are all in the top twenty. And if one calculates the Anglosphere population percentage in the top ten (not having time to total up the top 20), then the "European social model" needn't be the only route to UN HDI glory, as the Grauniad would imply. Roughly 92% of the people in the top ten developed nations in the world are Anglosphereans (inner/outer core). The rest live in northern Europe, or in the Alps! A bit of blue-sky estimation on the immigration rates to the Anglosphere strongly suggest it will continue to dominate the top end of the UN HDI from a population perspective for some time in the future. I don't expect to read about in the Guardian, however.

Posted by jmccormick at 02:15 PM | Comments (4)

Medieval Constitutionalism, Part Two

Verity's post spurred some thoughts (which I had left as a comment) similar to those in Lex's post below, which for convenience I have moved up here. The whole story of medieval constitutionalism as the root source of modern constitutional democracy is not well known; for example, Jonah Goldberg in his column in NRO today misses that whole story. Even less well-known is the even more important story of the ancient roots of that constitutionalism and the role England played in their survival and further evolution into modern society, as discussed by authors such as Macfarlane and Veliz.

FWIW, my comments were as follows:

I knew that comment would get someone going. Yes, this gets us back to our old buddies, Tacitus and the forest Germans, via Montesquieu. The Danes share this tradition of tribal assemblies with the English-speaking peoples. The Icelandic assembly at Thingvellir was one example of this; the Manx parliament, the Tynwald -- a cognate word, really -- is another, that has managed to stay alive into modern times. Scandinavia managed to carry much of this tradition forward into the period of medieval constitutionalism, as did England. Downing discusses the relatively robust survival of medieval constitutionalism in Sweden into the period of bureaucratic authoritarianism on the Continent. I haven't seen a discussion of the Danish case, but clearly Denmark preserved a stronger civil society than much of the Continent despite the unfortunate imposition of Roman law.

"Democracy" is a difficult word to use meaningfully in political discussion, since it is understood so differently by different people. I always try to use "constitutional democracy", or better still, "constitutional representative government". But that gets long-winded. At any rate, the independence of mind of the Danes is no sudden phenomenon; I don't think the the Dansih prime minister's admirable response is a coincidence. It is rooted in the historical strength of Danish civil society.

Posted by James C. Bennett at 11:57 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Danish "Democracy" and Anglosphere Liberty

Verity stated in the preceding post that "Denmark has survived as a democracy for over a thousand years". Helen Szamuely challenged this statement, and Verity responded that she did not mean this term in a formal sense, but noted that "the Scandinavians have governed by concensus for at least a thousand years".

This terminological jousting actually points us to an important Anglospheric point.

A little googling around shows me that the Danes managed to retain a lot of medieval constitutionalism until fairly late in the day, but that they went through a period of royal absolutism. Nonetheless, fairly early, they managed to reassert constitutional, law-bound government, which they have retained to this day.

The problem we have is the use of "democracy" as a short-hand for constitutional government, the rule of law, etc. Democracy does not really capture what was going on prior to the 18th century at the earliest. The better term to describe the kind of phenomena that existed in earlier periods of history which led to orderly, lawful, relatively free governments is "medieval constitutionalism".

As Lord Acton tersely and accurately put it "Liberty is medieval, despotism -- modern". Most people don't realize this fact. Getting their heads around it is a challenge. To most educated people the thousand years from the fall of Rome to the Renaissance and Reformation are one long dark age. But that is seriously mistaken and leads to all kinds of problems in understanding what really happened and how it happened.

OK, ten syllables, maybe even eleven, but a small price to pay for superior exactitude in our terms, yes?

Denmark, a Germanic country, like England, and it inherited the ancient Germanic notions and practices of liberty and representation. Denmark also benefitted from being located away from the center of European political competition. Therefore, it retained its inherited free institutions later than some of its neighbors. And Denmark restored a successor regime of free institutions earlier than some of its neighbors. A culture which was historically suited for this kind of regime was apparently not entirely crushed o-t during the absolutist period.

I do not profess to be an expert on Danish history, or even knowledgeable. But we can see that early England and early Denmark had similar cultures and institutions, and the Danes of course ruled a sizable chunk of England for a long time. But, Denmark, with a landward frontier, was unable to resist the encroachments of its neighbors, and was unable to retain its medieval constitutionalism, as England did.

Denmark, like Holland, is a case of what might-have-been if England had not been an island with a navy.

Posted by Lexington Green at 11:08 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Danish, Not Dhimmi

In contrast to Tony Blair, whose first action after the murderous London Transport bombings in July was to conjure up a panel of Islamic “advisors” – including Yusef Islam (Cat Stevens) – to tell him where we’re going wrong, Denmark’s prime minister has just given Islamic haters of free speech a hint of why Denmark has survived as a democracy for over a thousand years.

A group of ambassadors assigned to Copenhagen from 11 Islamic countries requested a meeting with Prime Minister Fogh Rasmussen to protest their offence at depictions of Mohammad appearing in a Danish newspaper. But even the ever-trusty emotive phrase “smear campaign in the media” failed to move the cool Mr Rasmussen and he declined to grant them a meeting.

Think about it. He wasn’t turning down self-promoters on the level of Blair’s British-born Islamic “advisors”; he was refusing a meeting with 11 accredited ambassadors.

Islam proscribes pictures of Mohammad and there is an apparent desire to extend this ban to the Danish press. Prime Minister Rasmussen just said no. In refusing to give the ambassadors an appointment, Mr Rasmussen said: “This is a matter of principle. I won't meet with them because it is so crystal clear what principles Danish democracy is built upon that there is no reason to do so.

“As prime minister, I have no power whatsoever to limit the press – nor do I want such a power. It is a basic principle of our democracy that a prime minister cannot control the press.”

As Rudyard Kipling wrote in another context, “once you start paying the Danegeld, you never get rid of the Dane.” Or in this case, Muslim demands for concessions.

Hat tip: Dhimmiwatch.org.

Posted by Verity at 07:55 AM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

October 26, 2005

The Name's Blond - James Blond

The Name’s Blond – James Blond

An actor by the name of Daniel Craig has been chosen to be the next James Bond and debut in a re-makeof Casino Royale. Craig, being promoted as the first blond 007, promises to also be the first judgmental, lefty, politically correct James Bond. Trailing clouds of Za-NuLabour and Blairesque prudishness, this cold, ruthless, licensed-to-kill special agent doesn’t approve of … uh, guns. He hates, them, he told the British celebrity organ of record, OK Magazine.

“Handguns are used to shoot people,” he said, demonstrating a grasp of technology rare in the acting profession. “And as long as they are around, people will shoot each other. It’s a simple fact.”

Apparently no one asked him why shooting in self-defense is wrong. One has a mean-minded suspicion that should the lofty Mr Craig encounter an intruder in his home in the middle of the night, he is confident that he could charm him into going away nicely.

Sean Connery and Roger Moore, the two most successful Bonds, always had the nous and good humour to go along with the gag in public and preserve the glossy image. Daniel Craig, though, is bigger than his role. Couldn’t he at least pretend to like martinis “stirred, not shaken”? But no. "I love a martini straight up. I don't think anybody makes a martini stirred any more," he added pettishly, hinting that not only may Agent 007 no longer be on the cutting edge stylewise, but might also be a bit of an old martini pedant. With a star like this, who needs Goldfinger?

It is baffling that outing himself as a ban-handguns-nut didn’t immediately prompt the producers to rethink casting him. A James Bond who shoots himself in the foot sounds more Night at The Opera than Casino Royale.

Posted by Verity at 12:42 PM | Comments (17) | TrackBack

October 25, 2005

Security Free-Riding Among Anglosphere Countries

Moments before seeing James' post and photo, I read a short review in the May 27, 2005 TLS of a new book entitled The Great Dominion: Winston Churchill and Canada, 1900-1945, by David Dilks. The reviewer notes that:

The Canada Churchill knew is almost unrecognizable, especially to those who have followed the country's reduction in its military capacity. The Canadian Army that rushed to England in 1939 was the only army that could defend Britain in the months after Dunkirk. Dilks underscores the importance of Canada's role in the Second World War by noting that in 1942 Canada gave Britain $1 billion, just months after converting $700 million in sterling balances to an interest-free loan. Canada's gifts, both outright and through purchases, totaled one quarter of those under the more famous Lend-Lease Agreements – and Canada's population was one-twelfth that of the United States. In 1944 the RCAF had forty-four squadrons serving in Britain, 100 of the Royal Navy's ships had been built in Canada, as had 1,223 of the 5.000 tanks the Allies shipped to Russia. Eight years later, Churchill asked Canada's Minister of Defence to keep Canada's three squadrons in England because "they were the only fighters in England that can stand up to the MiGs."

These descriptions, while impressive, are a little misleading. While Canada did once make a more serious commitment to military power than it does now, particularly during the two World Wars, it has had a long history of defense free-riding, and failing to prepare for war during peacetime. James described this history in this earlier post. A related point was made in this recent post on ChicagBoyz, which noted that both the Phillipines and New Zealand are no longer operating combat aircraft, and that Canada no longer operates any main battle tanks. It went on to note that "NZ and Canada are going to be protected because they are very close to the nations providing for their defense, both culturally and geographically" and to conclude "[o]f the two, I would have to say that the cultural ties are most important."

The fact that cultural ties have been stronger than strategic considerations in the military cooperation between Anglophone countries has been strongly demonstrated by Thomas-Durrell Young in his essay "Cooperative Diffusion Through Cultural Similarity: The Postwar Anglo-Saxon Experience", from this volume. (I hope to write about this remarkable essay at great length another time.) Young proves that no mere strategic calculus can explain the depth of cooperation and interaction between the Anglosphere militaries in the post-1945 period. He is compelled to conclude this extraordinary level of cooperation rests on something like shared values and cultural affinity.

I commented in response to the ChicagoBoyz post:

Canada has actually spent most of its history as a defense free-rider. It has tended to ramp-up in a hurry for major wars, and with the exception of World War I, to perform poorly. Hart's Clash of Arms describes this well. The Canadian soldiers were committed to battle with inadequate equipment and training in World War II. The period between the world wars was one of severe budget droughts for defense, much worse even than in the USA. This is actually rational. Canada could not be attacked without any enemy getting past both Britain and the USA. New Zealand has long had a martial tradition. But an air arm these days is monumentally expensive. Even if NZ was being serious about military power, which it is not these days, an air arm might not make sense. The USA and Australia would have to both be out of the way before NZ was threatened. In that kind of apocalyptic scenario, having a few of your own aircraft wouldn't matter. Similarly, the Philippines have serious defense concerns and they are very poor. Modern fighter aircraft are a relative waste of money for them.

Bringing military power to the table is something a state really needs to do if it wants to be taken seriously. Now, that does not necessarily mean that even a small state like New Zealand needs the full suite of capabilities. It is an economic impossibility, anyway. But a serious commitment can take other forms, and NZ and Canada seem not be serious about defense at all, just cutting spending.

The Australians are a counter-example. They have a medium-sized country that has made a serious commitment to its own defense. Singapore is literally a city-state, but it has a superb military. Of course, both of them face a looming and permanent threat from Indonesia, either that Indonesia will make a move against them, or more likely and worse, that Indonesia will disintegrate and present them with a snakepit full of security threats of many different kinds.

…defense free-riding looks good up front, but options are denied to you when you have no guns to bring to the gunfight. … One problem the USA has is that it is possibly too trusted. The New Zealanders know we are not going to invade them and loot and pillage and subjugate them. So, they get to sit things out, relying on the US Navy to keep their arteries of commerce secure. All in all, it is better to be trusted in this way, even if it is expensive. Best of all would be allies who saw that they have a stake in an orderly world, and created and funded capabilities that helped to preserve it. Also, they'd get listened to more often if they did.

The bottom line seems to be that the very high level of trust among the Anglosphere countries has allowed an extraordinary level of military cooperation, as demonstrated by Young. The downside is that this high level of trust has allowed the smaller countries to free-ride, knowing that their larger neighbors will bear the defense burden and not turn on them. Canada knows that the USA, and formerly Britain, would create the needed defense capabilities, out of self-interest, which are necessary to its own defense. Similarly, New Zealand knows that Australia and the USA will continue to maintain a shield far beyond what it could do, and that it does not need to contribute much, if anything, to that shield. This pattern will become more and more pronounced as conventional equipment continues to increase in cost and complexity, especially since nuclear weapons seem to have virtually eliminated the possibility of conventional inter-state conflict. See, e.g. Martin van Creveld Nuclear Proliferation and the Future of Conflict.

Nonetheless, New Zealand does have an SAS, which served in Afghanistan. NZ may be able to make further, less hardware-intensive contributions to its security partners in the future. Similarly, Canada had its highly-regarded snipers in Afghanistan. The role for the smaller Anglosphere powers in the future is likely to be providers of niche capabilities such as these, as well as what Thomas Barnett calls the SysAdmin function, of low-intensity conflict, peace-keeping and nation-building, in addition to special operations forces.

Still, even these smaller-scale military capabilities are neither free nor cheap, if they are to be done well. Building relevant capabilities, even without tanks or fighter planes or warships, would require a serious commitment of human and financial resources, not just a lick and promise from budget-cutting politicians.

Update: One commenter takes issue with my statement that the Canadian Army "performed poorly" in World War II. I referred to Russell A. Hart's book on the armies which participated in the Normandy campaign as the basis for this assessment. Hart's book is highly regarded, e.g. receiving a very strong review in the US Army War College publication, Parameters, here (scroll down for the review). I revisited the book and found statements like the following summarizing Hart's two densely researched chapters on the Canadian Army up to 1944 and its performance in Normandy. Some quotes show the basis for my two word summary:

The Canadian Army's early war experience raised serious concerns about its ability to fight effectively in Northwest Europe. While Canadian troops generally exhibited good morale and enthusiasm, such spirit and esprit de corps were not matched by adequate higher leadership, doctrinal and tactical soundness, extensive battle experience, effective organization, quality training, or an adequate grasp of operational art. ... The Canadian Army's preparation for OVERLORD demonstrates that it could not easily or quickly remedy its prewar neglect of the basic elements of the military profession. ... Canada had gone to war in 1939 without a modern army; by 1944 it had acquired one. Its achievements were considerable, but the gap between Canada's and the enemy's capabilities was immense. Consequently, the Canadians were not able to compete tactically or operationally with the Germans in Normandy in 1944 and could not replicate Canada's triumphs of the Great War. ... Canada's neglect of its military between the wars had denied it the expertise necessary to operate during World War II as a truly independent military force, and such inexperience led the Canadian Army to uncritically adopt a Commonwealth style of warfare. Yet Canadian military preparation in Britain in 1943-1944 in no way demonstrated that the Canadians had mastered the Commonwealth style of warfare as well as their tutors. The CAO had nto overcome serious manpower procurement and training problems, and, although it had come a long way from its state 1940, equipment and doctrine problems ensured that it was still far from being proficient, especially in combined-arms operations. ... In conclusion, Canadian forces did not excel in the 1944 Normandy campaign -- indeed, as early as 12 June the Germans had concluded that battleworthiness of the Canadians was poor. Inexperience, inadequate and misguided training, poor coordination, sluggish attack doctrine, poor understanding of enemy fighting methods, and inadequate preparation for the air-ground battle resulted in setbacks and repeated partial success. Nevertheless, Canadian troops adapted relatively quickly to combat conditions in Normandy, and demonstrated improved proficiency during the later stages of the campaign. However, Canadian forces had yet to master fully combined-arms coordination, offensive warfare, or the air-ground battle by the end of the Normandy campaign.
The foregoing are from the conclusion portions of the two chapters. The details are compelling. I stand by the phrase "performed poorly", as a summary of these historical facts.

Update II: I should also refer our readers to my colleague James McCormick's entry Was Canada Ever Serious? Militia and Military Since Confederation.

The Canadian military has always had an uphill struggle, against its own government first of all, and only then against the enemy. It is a long story of determination by professionals to keep their services alive, and who got no credit for their efforts, in peacetime, then the effort to make up the inevitable deficiencies in wartime. It is no criticism of the Canadian soldier to point out these facts.

Posted by Lexington Green at 07:50 PM | Comments (35) | TrackBack

Trafalgar Anniversary in Halifax

This past weekend, I was in Halifax for a family gathering and took advantage of a sunny Saturday to visit the massive fortifications at the star-shaped Halifax Citadel (completed 1856 after 28 years of construction). Various celebrations and displays have been held in Halifax associated with Trafalgar ... hero worship of Lord Nelson was big business in a place like Halifax, the primary British naval base for the northwest Atlantic from 1749 onward, and which is still the main Canadian naval base on the east coast. The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic on the nearby waterfront is particularly worth a visit for its fine collection of Royal Navy and Canadian Navy equipment and memorabilia.

As part of the Parks Canada maintenance of the Halifax Citadel, a group of students perform sentry and tour duty during public hours in the kit of the 78th Highland Regiment (which went on to become the 2nd battalion of the Seaforth Highlanders). Only an aerial view of the Citadel can give a real sense of the scale and impregnability of the fortifications but the photo below of the sentry in front of the main entrance over the defensive ditch confirms they built it to last. Normally the long grass over the gun emplacements would be close cropped and vivid green however at this late point in the Nova Scotia season, they are letting it grow out.


Posted by jmccormick at 11:29 AM | Comments (1)

October 24, 2005

U-Turn Proposed for Quebec?

In the last 40 years, the province of Quebec in Canada has made substantial strides in standard of living, education levels, and sustaining a Francophone culture. It's done so with an approach that could readily be described as European ... a role for the State (province) that goes well beyond that seen in other Canadian provinces. Quebec now has general parity with neighbour Ontario on many indices of economic and social wellbeing, despite greater problems with unemployment and its economy.

It was therefore with some shock that English Canadians opened their newspapers last week to discover that a dozen or so leading personalities in Quebec had released a revolutionary white paper in both French and English entitled "A Clear-Eyed Vision of Quebec." Most prominent among the authors was former Premier Lucien Bouchard, a member of the separatist Parti Quebecois.


The white paper outlines two challenges for Quebec in coming decades ... a demographic collapse exceeded in scale in the industrial world only by Japan (Quebec is predicted to only have 300,000 more people in 2050!) ... and the challenge of the globalized industry (especially China, India and the little "tigers") which has closed 40% of the Quebec textile industry in the last two years alone. By midcentury, Quebec will be an island of 7.8 million Francophones in a continent of 1.2 billion English and Spanish speakers. The status quo cannot be maintained.

The paper urges Quebecois to wake up to the profound challenges facing the province (despite its success in the last few decades). Solutions offered include a major initiative to reduce the provincial debt (which stands far higher per capita than other jurisdictions in North America) and a significantly greater reinvestment in the educational system (currently starved under tuition freezes). Quebec must boost its productivity and engagement with the world around it, or face a vicious cycle of increased debt, increased debt service costs, and a slowing or shrinking economic base (with or without the equalization payments it receives from Alberta & Ontario, or the income from its provincially-owned hydroelectric power generation).

The authors point out that Quebecois work less, retire earlier, and benefit more from social programs than other North Americans. But this prosperity and leisure cannot be sustained with a shrinking/ageing population, growing debt, and the inflexible allocation of resources locked in place by special interest groups. Warning of a return to the "closed society and excessive attachment to tradition" of Quebec society of the past, the white paper outlines the need for a change in attitude in the province ... toward business values, toward the urgency of provincial economic growth, toward reducing the subsidized electricity rates of Hydro-Quebec within the province, toward learning English and a third language (as the basis for educational and business opportunities). It calls for major tax reform that would encourage work and capital formation without dismantling the social programs that provide a sense of Quebec community.

More than an effective set of priorities, however, "A Clear-Eyed Vision" is about starting a discussion about the non-negotiable realities facing Quebec and its culture. Both demographic collapse and globalization will affect Quebec -- whether independence is gained or participation in Canada continues. The Anglosphere won't have anything directly to do with it. English Canada will play little part in how readily Quebec responds to its two existential challenges. This will be debate for and among Quebecois. And it will be very interesting to see how this very North American part of the Francophonie responds.

Posted by jmccormick at 05:42 PM | Comments (2)

October 21, 2005


A critical day indeed in the history of the Anglosphere, and of the whole world. Trafalgar ended a century of see-saw struggle between Britain and France for naval supremacy. Britain had always had the upper hand at sea, but the French had presented a very serious threat and occasionally won important victories, notably the Battle of the Capes, which secured American independence. After Trafalgar, France was finished as a serious naval challenger. It was not obvious at the time, but it was the nail in the coffin. No power has come close to challenging British, then American, command of the Oceans for two centuries.

Tirpitz dreamed of challenging England, but fell far short. Despite the wilder dreams of some of their colleagues, Raeder and Yamamoto knew that they could never do more than win temporary, tactical victories against Anglo-American sea power. Gorshkov dreamed of a blue water challenge, sweeping the Americans from the seas, but his country disintegrated well before he got anywhere close to his goal.

Not incidentally, these have been two centuries of immense expansion in world trade and the peaceful use of the oceans for commerce, the destruction of the oceanic slave trade, the defeat of Imperial Germany, Imperial Japan and the Nazi and Soviet tyrannies, and other blessings to mankind.

American naval supremacy is secure for the time being, and the next best navies in the world belong to our allies: Britain, Japan, Australia -- and, increasingly, India, the daughter service of the Royal Navy in the East. For now, I like the cards we are holding.

I hope that Nelson, from whatever Valhalla he looks down upon the seas and the ships upon and under them, is not too distressed that the Trident has passed from Brittania to America. We are all his heirs and we have all benefitted from his victory, and I trust that we have made good use of the supremacy he and his sailors and his "band of brothers" fought and died for and have handed on to us.

(This post on the subject is good.)

Posted by Lexington Green at 03:07 PM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

October 19, 2005

Book Review: Glass: A World History

Glass: A World History, Alan Macfarlane/Gerry Martin U o C Press 2002
(available in the UK as The Glass Bathyscaphe: How Glass Changed the World)

Readers of this blog will already have seen many references to the work of British social anthropologist, Alan Macfarlane. While Macfarlane's writing on the origins of modernity offer a great deal to Anglosphere discussions, he is also an author with much wider interests. With co-author and historian Gerry Martin, he's written a fascinating book on glass. More specifically, the history of its adoption by cultures across Eurasia, its particular uses in each region and time period, and the ultimate impact which it had on thought and society.

Glass is such a omnipresent part of our modern lives, supplemented now by various kinds of transparent plastics, that most of us would struggle to imagine life without it. Light bulbs, windshields, beer bottles, test tubes, computer screens. It turns out, however, that Western culture is unique in its use of glass in the last 2,000 years ... in ways which were to have a profound implications for images of the individual self, the response to authority, and the development of technology. Glass is a book which reads well, reads quickly (250 small pages), is inexpensive (under $20US on the used market) and is unusually thought-provoking. By skipping the details that would only fascinate the physicist or art historian, Macfarlane and Martin provide insights into cultures that will fascinate the rest of us and lead us into a greater understanding of the substance and its impact. The authors provide an introductory chapter or two on the nature and early history of glass before looking at the deeper cultural issues and contrasts in the use of glass between East and West.

Originating in the Middle East sometime before 2000 BC, glass was initially used as a glazing element for pottery. It was always coloured in some way and not transparent. Small bottles appeared by 1500 BC moulded during manufacture around small clay cores. Egypt was particularly engaged in glass manufacture and trade between elite rulers focused on its distinctive red glass. By 500 BC, the practical understanding on how to make glass seems to have reached most of "civilized" Eurasia. And by 100 BC, glass-blowing had been developed in the eastern Mediterranean, permitting vastly more sophisticated glass containers. In its earliest settings, glass was often seen as a cheap substitute for precious gems and as a novelty in itself.

For most of its history, and across most of the glass-making regions, glass remained a novelty in the second-tier of craft arts. In several places and times, glass-making actually regressed or disappeared. Jewellery, counters, religious items, and small toys were the kind of items created by cultures which didn't place much emphasis on the substance.

In fact, Macfarlane and Martin, for purposes of clarity and explanation prefer to adopt a series of French terms for glass which better distinguish its uses. In the process, the authors distinguish five major categories of glass usage.

verroterie - glass beads, toys, counters, jewellery
verrerie - glass vessels, vases, bottles
vitrail/vitrage - window glass

It was to be the Romans who adopted glass as a favoured substance. They raised the glass-making art to a degree unsurpassed until the 19th century. For them, glass was a high-end replacement for ceramics and they were the first to emphasize the transparency of glass in many applications. Thus glass and glass makers were given great prestige in Roman culture. The Romans took glass-making in the first three categories (trinkets, vessels, windows) very far, and dabbled with mirrors and primitive lenses (hollow glass balls filled with water). Several things contributed to this emphasis on glass in Roman culture. The Romans were lovers of wine, a cool drink showed off to best effect in glass containers and drinking vessels. The Romans were rather fastidious by ancient standards and glass offered a medium that could both be cleaned, and be seen to be clean. Roman funerary traditions of cremation also made use of glass vessels for the ashes. The Roman empire's expansion north of the Alps also encouraged the use of window glass (cast rather than blown) rather than horn or shell.

Macfarlane and Martin make the case that the collapse of the Roman Empire reduced the glassmaker's art in Europe but certainly didn't eradicate it nor, recent historical evidence suggests, reduce the appetite for it. Glassmaking continued throughout northern Europe and Syria, and Egypt. The Byzantine Empire continued high levels of craftsmanship. In fact, it was to be Venice which was to introduce or re-introduce glass virtuosity to the rest of Europe half a millennium after the fall of the western Roman Empire. By 1000 AD, the use of painted and stained glass in Church windows was driving an increased demand for high-quality glass and technological excellence. The prominence for this use of glass re-established the status of glass as an elite product, which was nonetheless far more affordable than the rock crystal objects created for richest nobility.

By the late 1200s, Venice was influencing all of Europe with its glass technology. Spectacles (designed to correct for presbyopia or far-sightedness) appeared at this time in northern Italy and had the dramatic effect of increasing the productive lives of craftsmen, scholars, and administrators by several decades. Part and parcel of such discoveries was the use of lens and prisms to explore the properties of light itself. In this endeavour, artists and natural philosophers were getting their first tastes of Greek writing on the subject from Islamic sources, who also were active in research on optics.

Prosperity was increasing across Europe. The silver mines of Bohemia led to a demand for more and more high-quality glass products in southern Germany between 1100 and 1400. In 1400, the destruction of the great glassmaking centre of Damascus by the Mongols sent a wave of craftsmen to Venice and Europe. Soon after, we see the first hints of the Venetian glass innovation called "cristallo" ... glass of unparalleled clarity, thinness and consistency. The capture of Constantinople by the Turks in 1453 sent another wave, this time of Byzantine craftsmen, west.

By the mid-point of the 16th century, crystal glass and glass mirrors (glass with silvered backing) were being made in Antwerp adapting Italian technology. The religious conflicts of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation triggered emigration of Protestant glassmakers to the northern periphery of Europe. England in particular saw an increase in its glassmaking competence from these immigrants. The adoption of coal in the furnaces of the glassmakers was to give Britain an advantage which culminated in the development of "lead glass" in the last quarter of the 17th century. This glass was tough, clear, and possessed optical qualities (in tandem with cristallo glass) which were to revolutionize both microscopy and astronomy (areas in which the British were to play a notable role).

The discovery of lead glass by George Ravenscroft was an ideal historical moment in the book to pause and consider two questions. Firstly, what was the subtler impact of glass on European culture from the medieval period onward, and secondly, what became of glass in the Middle East, India, Japan, and China?

In answering the first question, Martin and Macfarlane spend considerable time tracing the impact of glass on pre-Renaissance revolutions in architecture and art. In this, to the reader's great surprise, it turns out that glass was to have a major impact on the development of artistic perspective ... the three-dimensional, photo-realistic artwork that we've come to associate with Leonardo da Vinci and Rembrandt. Lens and prisms were the instruments by which both craftsmen and philosophers sought to refine their understanding of how light works, and its properties. And silvered glass mirrors, of far greater clarity than the polished metal mirrors of Roman times, were to dramatically change the methods by which artists reproduced objects from the world around them. Artists were explicitly told to train their eyes and their hands by noting how the image of the real 3-D item was portrayed on the 2-D silvered surface of the mirror. In a sense then, much of our Western artistic tradition in the last 800 years is literally a "reflection."

It is in these chapters on glass and the origins of science and the Renaissance that the profound role of the substance starts to hit the reader. At every step, this book offers gee-whiz moments without burying the reader in distractions. From the profound impact of accurate drawing and drafting, to the development of telescopes, spectacles, and microscopes, the authors make the case that glass extended the one human sense most powerfully able to disrupt social authority -- vision. The ancient authors of Greece and Rome, the books of received Biblical wisdom, were perfectly mute on the new world being opened up with the glass implements of the day. Whether the flask of the alchemist, or the spectacle of the clerk, there was a new world available to ordinary people, unmediated by the elites who controlled the written word.

At this point, the authors introduce the term "reliable knowledge" as a stock phrase to represent how glass was to play a role both in the development of the scientific/experimental method (glass being transparent to observation, resistance to heat and pressure, chemically neutral, and capable of both polish and cleanliness) and in the extension of the human visual sense beyond common everyday experience.

The role of glass in later European science (say 1600 onward) is unimpeachable. Martin and Macfarlane demonstrate that a vast array of technological achievements were based on initial experimentation and discussion triggered by glass-mediated experiments. Apart from the revolution in natural philosophy triggered by prisms and lens, there was the role of the glass vacuum chamber in identifying the constituents of air and developing the gas laws which founded steam engine development. Glass faces on clocks and compasses were critical to effective timekeeping and navigation. Without the "reliable knowledge" generated indirectly by glass, industrial development would have been halting and mired in theoretical confusion.

At this point in Glass: A World History, one might say that the story is amazing, fascinating but still pretty predictable, even Whiggish. It is in the final half of the book (addressing the second question about the fate of glass in the East) that the authors engage in comparative history and inject some healthy speculation into their writing.

The story of glass east of Venice is counter-intuitive. As in the West, one might expect the great cultures of the Middle East and Asia regrouped after dynastic disruptions and elaborated their use of glass. Perhaps not identically to the West, but at least in a similar or progressive way. The Islamic conquering of the Sassanian Empire (224 - 651AD) did not seem to destroy the traditions of elaborate glasswork and vessels in what is the modern Middle East. While not as interested in flat glass as Europe (glassed windows being less critical in the climate), the Islamic world was a font of technical expertise. Yet in the space of several hundred years, glassmaking virtually disappeared under two waves of Mongol invasion (first by the Khans, then by Tamer the Lame). Just as Europe was starting to push hard into new and revolutionary uses for glass, the Middle Eastern glass tradition was collapsing.

In India, glass was known for several thousand years before Christ but only as decoration. Trade exchange with the Mediterranean transferred both products and technology ... we know the Indians were aware of glass-blowing and glass traditions there seemed to have reached a peak by 450 AD. There was no reason to assume that they would not continue to develop. Yet a thousand years later, when the Europeans were first able to reach India directly by ship, the continent barely had a glass tradition to speak of. "Bangles and bowls" to summarize. One must ask why. Explanations range from a lack of natural constituents for glass to the low caste associations for glass-makers. Another explanation is that substitutes for glass in ceramic or metal were available and in a tropical climate, uses such as window glass weren't pressing.

Turning to China, again we find advanced glass manufacture for glass jewellery and ritual objects by 600 BC, glass casting by the Han period and glass blowing by 500 AD. Examples of Roman, Islamic, and European glass trade goods have been found which suggest a general interest in glass but overall, no real evolution or national tradition/style of glass manufacture appeared. Like India, it has been suggested that the Chinese substitutes for glass, particularly porcelain, effectively halted development or elite interest. The emphasis on hot tea (rather than wine) placed no premium on the transparency of glass. Oiled paper served through much of China as an adequate inexpensive window. As a result, glass craftsmanship and the glassmakers themselves were held in low regard by the elites, and had no incentive to develop or elaborate their craft. Thus China was familiar with all the major innovations of glassmaking by 800AD but apart from a small burst of interest in glass triggered by the Jesuits in Beijing in the 1600 and 1700s, little was done with the medium until the 19th century.

In Japan, glass was known several thousand years ago, and a bead and religious relic-making tradition continued for many centuries yet by the time the European appeared in late 1500s, even knowledge of the origins and nature of glass were lost. European interaction led to a modest resurgence in ornamental glass manufacture but by 1850, window glass and mirrors were still not being manufactured. The reasons for the lack of interest seem likely to be shared with China. High-quality ceramics were superior to glass vessels by and large. With no aesthetic tradition of transparent glass and the consumption of cold wine, glass offered no practical benefits. And window glass, in a temperate and earthquake-prone land, was an expensive and dangerous idea.

The contrast between West and East in glass use is dramatic and extends back as far as the Roman period. The Romans found uses, high-status uses, for transparent glass containers and window glass that were not shared by elites in Asia or the Middle East. Similarly, the abundant natural ingredients necessary to create porcelain in Asia meant that glass could not fill a role as drinking or storage vessel, had few unique uses, and fewer elite sponsors. As the authors say, "Rome, and through her medieval Europe, opted for pottery and glass, China and Japan for ceramics and paper."

The contrast between West and East in the use of glass is highlighted by a "Clash of Civilizations" chapter in this book. What happens when a glass-filled culture meets a ceramic-dominated culture in the 1500s? As mentioned earlier, the Chinese showed a modest and temporary interest in glass during the period that the Jesuits were influential at the Imperial court. The impact of this glass manufacturing activity did not reach Japan however. What is clear is that when the Europeans (especially the Dutch and English in the 1700s and 1800s) began to trade or demonstrate telescopes, spectacles, and microscopes, the technical skills to work with glass (e.g. lens grinding) were by and large already in place in Asia.

The authors make the case that glass in the West emphasized vision of the natural world over memory of the written word or cultural dictate. The practical result of this was a virtuous circle of innovation and development that was both built on glass and elaborated glass technology. Those elaborated uses were entirely comprehensible to the cultures of the Middle East, India, China, and Japan. As the situation allowed, they in turn began to manufacture glass implements without adopting the cultural values which underlay Western glass development.

Macfarlane and Martin do offer us one rather speculative chapter on the nature of Asian art and science which revolves around the prevalence of myopia in Asian cultures. Inherent or acquired, or a bit of both. Scholars still argue about that. Until the development of specialized lens to correct the problem (a later event in Western spectacle history), vast numbers of the elite literati in Asia were constrained in their ability to see distant objects. The authors suggest that this had both an impact on artistic temperament (a rejection of realism and perspective in art and calligraphy) and elite sensibilities (a diminishment of the professional craftsmanship that might have led to more effective artillery or perspective drawing). Through skilful use of illustration, they make their case well. Something as simple as eyeglasses, when mixed with elite prejudices, may have shaped the attitude of entire civilizations toward the natural world.

Glass: A World History can be read on its own as a wonderful slice or transect of world history from the perspective of a single, profoundly influential, material. In that, it offers a great complement to Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel from several years ago. From an Anglosphere perspective, however, Macfarlane and Martin offer something far more useful. In the story of glass, we can see a grand sweep of history where many cultures seemed to have the same basic information at the same time. How they responded to that information differed dramatically. In light of how post-1500 world history turned out, with the domination of the planet by European technology, Glass offers us a practical constrained experiment in identifying proximate and ultimate causes, sufficient and necessary causes for why Hong Kong was settled by the British rather than the Isle of Wight settled by the Chinese.

Apart from its many other virtues, Glass: A World History leaves one with a real appetite to learn more about this substance: its chemistry, manufacture, and artistic history. The role of glass in world history is so profound that reading Macfarlane and Martin leaves a touch of historical vertigo that takes some time to pass. And this book is perfect preparation for those toying with reading Macfarlane's meatier works on how modernity appeared on planet Earth.

Posted by jmccormick at 02:43 PM | Comments (2)

October 18, 2005

VodkaPundit Reviews Bennett’s “The Anglosphere Challenge”

Stephen “VodkaPundit” Green has a post with several short reviews, including this interesting take:

Jim Bennett's The Anglosphere Challenge is the most thought-provoking book since The Sovereign Individual was published six years ago. In fact, the two books share a similar view of the future of the nation-state as we know it. Somewhere, Bennett, TSI authors James Dale Davidson and William Rees-Mogg, Ralph Peters, and Robert D Kaplan, all meet – and in that place lies a very dark future for some people, and an almost unimaginably bright one for others.
I’m not familiar with Davidson, and I only really know Rees-Mogg’s name, but I do know the work of Peters and Kaplan well. Green’s is an interesting juxtaposition. Bennett is does not offer all that much speculation along the dystopian axis which is very pronounced in Kaplan and less so in Peters. I would like to see further thoughts from Mr. Green about the book, but I suppose this is all we are likely to see from him.

(Cross-posted on ChicagoBoyz.)

Posted by Lexington Green at 08:08 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Columbus & the Exit, Continued

My previous post on Columbus, the Exit, and the Forge of Modernity generated a substantial number of thougtful and intelligent comments, along with the usual idiotarians. Several of the former class of comments deserve a longer discussion that my relatively brief reply in the comment section, and deserve a more prominent display. As a start, you wwill find below the comments of Tom Billings, and some further thoughts from me.

Tom Billings said:

I too, found the article interesting, especially for its willingness to attribute multiple causes to the starting of the continuing industrial revolution. I would like to suggest that the (relatively) non-coerced labor situation developed by Northern European states also went hand in hand with other incrementally developed elements, that are equally important. As in labor, they involved relative lacks of coercion in regards human actions to build and maintain the highly productive networks of continuing industrial revolution. Rather than using the term "Exit", however, I would use the term 'phase transition', since I believe that incremental change reached a non-linear takeoff point for societies and for the world.

In particular, there was greater freedom of action developing in spiritual activities, intellectual activities, market activities, political activities, and finally physical activities. Each of these have crucial roles to play in building the worldwide networks that have multiplied productivity in industrial societies.

The physical freedom, to change the human environment to fit human needs may be an obvious component, but it needs to be stated. Take it away, and most of the wealth of the industrial revolution disappears. The political freedoms needed to shield (however imperfectly) generated wealth from the twin evils of corruption and confiscatory taxation are also a requirement that is again proving essential. After the collapse of the USSR, most people now admit that market freedoms to build market networks of exchange of value are vital to industrial societies. The intellectual freedoms needed to allow networks exchanging new ideas around the world have been crucial to the advance of both science and technology, as well as markets and politics. Finally, without the spiritual freedom to turn the mind's attention to the subtlest things each individual can perceive at any one time, and the freedom to exchange information about that process, the drift to coarser and coarser levels of attention and action could well negate any of the above advances over what the agrarian world achieved.

Each of these categories of freedom of action was developing between 1500 and 1750 in Europe, to different amounts at different levels of action in different places. It was in Britain that the combination of these freedoms of action finally passed a 'phase transition' point, IMHO, about 1750, lossening the more rigid patterns of the old agrarian world almost as dramatically as the melting of ice to liquid water frees up a flow by several orders of magnitude. Yes, ice flows, but slowly. Yes, agrarian society could generate new ideas, wealth, and technology, but very slowly, compared to industrial society.

Lastly, a word about geography and the development of these freedoms in Britain before they appeared elsewhere in a sufficient combination needed for the industrial revolution. While the combination of naval trade and warfare did allow Britain's stability throughout the 18th and 19th centuries to hothouse such freedoms(at least within Britain itself), there is new information that applies to that.

As N.A.M.Rodger noted in "Safeguard of the Seas", for 1000 years before the 18th century, the sea was as much a highway to invasion as any sort of barrier. It took all that time for Britain to get it right! The huge costs of sustaining the infrastructure for naval warfare required a far broader political base than was available in the centralized states like France and Spain. Thus, for their opponents in Europe, naval warfare was a sometime thing, which waxed and waned with the interests of their opponent's monarch. By 1690 in Britain, the Royal Navy was a fulltime concern of the Parliamentary committees that funded it. Thus, attention was continual, and recognized as vital by those who got the money for the RN.

That broad political base was available precisely because Britain had not got the centralized state structure of much of continental Europe. New information about that comes from climatology, and its relation to political states, through the book, "The Long Summer", by Brian Fagan. In his 10th chapter, he shows how, over the 2500 years before the 18th century, the usual boundary between Mediterranean and Atlantic air masses changed several times, bringing the boundary of highly productive wheat tillage farther North or South.

Wheat had become a crucial factor in maintaining first Imperial Armies, and then later armies of the larger nation states. This boundary never moved farther North than the south edge of the Channel, (being there between 300BC and 300AD). Thus, while imperial armies could be supported a ways beyond this boundary, their hold became ever more tenuous when the boundary moved South again. By about 500AD it had swung far, to the south shore of the Mediterranean, and large centralized states in Britain and Ireland became evanescent.

Even though this boundary (Ecotone is the word used by Fagan) moved North to southern France by the 17th Century, Britain had developed a broad representative political base for government, specifically because attempts at centralization failed. A great contributor to that failure in agrarian Britain may have been the inability to easily support the larger State armies that became predominant on the continent.

Thus, we have an Atlantic air mass, with relatively cold wet summers, blocking highly productive wheat crops, which blocked state centralization in an island sitting near the mouth of rivers needed for trade into the continent. This island thus had far more chances to develop representative government. That broad political base then assured Britain's sustained funding of the naval infrastructure vital to worldwide naval warfare and convoys for trade. That combination allowed those physical trade networks which opened new chances for intellectual networks and the other freedoms of action needed for the continuing industrial revolution.

Thus, some choices were available, and some were not, to political actors in Britain for over 1000 years before the continuing industrial revolution. Still, the value of choices by individuals can never be discounted, if for no other reason than the record of 1000 years of attempts at centralizing a British State, before they settled down to a relatively representative government, and the freedoms it then allowed to grow.

Jim Bennett comments:

I would agree with much of what Tom says above. Bear in mind that the original post was not intended to set forth a general theory of the Industrial Revolution. For such, check some of the works referenced in the bibliography of my book. The post was intended as rather some specific comments on the often-heard charges that Columbus, and in a larger sense, "Europeans" came to the New World to bring genocide and slavery. The discussion of free vs. coerced labor in the pre-Exit world came in that context.

I certainly agree that the coming of the various waves of the Scientific-Technological Revolution (which began, I would argue with the revolution in agricultural productivity in Northwest Europe in the 17th and 18th Centuries, went through several waves of Industrial Revolution in the late 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, and seems to be leading to what is being called the Singularity) cannot be reduced to any one cause, but the emergence of societies based primarily on free labor was somewhere prominently in the cycle of cause and effect. To say that the key was creating freer spaces for all activities of life (in other words, the birth of civil society) has got to be broadly true.

The geographical determinist argument is very old. I think you cannot escape the conclusion that Britain's geographical isolation had something to do with the emergence of a different flavor of European society in that island. However, the exact effects of that insularity may be more subtle than generally appreciated. The best and most thoughtful recent examination of the insularity thesis and the survival of medieval constitutionalism in a comparative context is, in my opinion, Downing's , which also looks at two other semi-insulated European polities, Spain and Sweden, and in contrast the textbook case of non-insularity, Poland. Downing makes a reasonable case that the pressures for financing land-warfare mobilization led to the collapse of medieval constitutionalism (the forerunner of constitutonal representative government) in central-western Europe. England's immunity from the need to maintain a large standing army seems to have been a critical factor in its ability to avoid autocratic government.

I was very happy to see you bring up N.A.M. Rodger's work on this point. Rodger effectively punctures a simplistic reading of the insular hypothesis, both in Safeguard, and even better still in Command of the Ocean. Anyone interested in this question should particularly go to the last chapter of Command. Rodger's conclusion seems to be that mastery in either land or naval warfare required an ability to mobilize large resources on an ongoing basis. However, Britain was able to prevail in naval warfare primarily by effective mobilization of financial resources, and consequently was not able to begin to prevail until state finances were finally brought under effective control toward the last part of the Seventeenth Century. He suggests that it was specifically the ability to mobilize and control large manpower resources that gave the Continental autocratic states their supremacy on land. Mobilizing masses of people regardless of their will produces a much different sort of state than one that primarily was able to borrow large amounts of money at low interest. (Britain did have impressment of sailors as a last resort, but that was quite different in nature from general conscription; technically it was a contingent obligation of a licensed profession -- sailors were considered such -- and a practice ship's officers strongly preferred volunteers.)

On nomenclature, I like Gellner's term "the Exit" because it emphasises the cyclic nature of pre-industrial civilizations. Far from being "sustainable", preindustrial civilizations typically tended to destroy the land they used under malthusian pressures, and then collapse. Only the Industrial Revolution put an end to this cycle -- thus its character as an Exit is its most important characteristic.

Posted by James C. Bennett at 04:10 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 17, 2005

Continuities and Divergences in US and English Constitutional History

Constitutional history in the Anglosphere is a unity, and an ancient unity:

... there is an absolute continuity between medieval and modern constitutionalism. When President Nixon got into his helicopter and left the White House lawn and his office, he did so because he was afraid he would be impeached. Impeachment in the American constitution does not bear an accidental or trivial relationship to that which brought down Michael de la Pole, earl of Suffolk, chancellor of England in 1386. It was the same procedure and the descent can be traced without any shadow of doubt.

James Campbell, The Anglo-Saxon State.

F.W. Maitland noted as long ago as 1888 that impeachment in England had effectively died out. He noted that there had been only one impeachment in the 19th Century, and that back in 1805. The English procedure was akin to that provided in the U.S. Constitution. The House of Commons initiated an action against one of the king’s officers, who was then tried by the full House of Lords, sitting as a court. Unlike impeachment under the U.S. Constitution, which expressly restricts the penalty to removal from office, the English impeachment allowed any penalty the Lords saw fit to impose, including death. As we saw in the Clinton impeachment, the U.S. Senate acted in the unusual capacity of a court, as provided for by the Constitution, a vestige of its origins as an analog of the House of Lords, as the Founders intended.

Maitland noted that:

It seems highly improbable that recourse will again be had to this ancient weapon unless we had a time of revolution before us. If a statesman has really committed a crime then he can be tried like any other criminal: if he has been guilty of some misdoing not a crime, it seems far better that it should go unpunished than that new law should be invented for the occasion, and that by a tribunal of politicians and partisans; for such misdoings disgrace and loss of office are now-a-days sufficient punishments. Lastly a modern House of Commons will hardly be brought to admit that in order to control the king’s advisers it needs the aid of the House of Peers. However, there the old weapon is – an accusation by the commons of England at the bar of the House of Lords.

(Maitland, The Constitutional History of England.) I do not believe there has been any other impeachment in Britain since. So, this “old weapon” has most likely fallen into permanent desuetude. I suppose there is the remote prospect that an appointed House of Lords might be considered a more appropriate venue for an impeachment than a hereditary one, making a reappearance of this practice theoretically possible. Of course, if Britain were to go to an elective House of Lords, any power of impeachment would probably be expressly provided for by the enabling statute or written Constitution, whichever was employed. Retention of the right to summarily impose the death penalty on erring officers of the Crown is unlikely to be provided for, if the current soft-hearted attitudes continue to prevail. Not that there is anything wrong with that.

Our written American Constitution has allowed us to retain more of these ancient vestiges than the English one, curiously enough. The Second Amendment is a good example. The provision in the Bill of Rights of 1689 which it was based on holds that those "...subjects which are protestants, may have arms for their defence suitable to their conditions, and as allowed by law" -- is now a dead letter. There is no way for a provision to "drop out" of the U.S. Constitution, short of amendment. A court may say that a provision is obsolete, but a later court may find a use for anything which is still there. "Young" America has a more "Ancient" Constitution than "Old" England, and has retained more of its freedom as a result.

(Cross-posted on ChicagoBoyz.)

Posted by Lexington Green at 03:58 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

October 14, 2005

"Hydraulic" Civilizations

In the previous post on Columbus, there was substantial discussion in the comments about the "hydraulic" theory of the origin of the pre-industrial bureaucratic centralized state, (i.e., that large-scale irrigation works and the need to organize and administer same drove the rise of said bureaucracies) a theory that originated with Karl Wittfogel. For those who want to find out a bit more about this theory and its pros and cons, there's a useful summary and discussion at economist David Cosandy's website. Also check out his home page for a discussion of the wider topic of why the West (if indeed "West" is the right category) led the industrial revolution.

Posted by Jim Bennett at 01:04 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

October 13, 2005

The unspoken realignment of British defence

An important and timely paper has been published by the Centre for Policy Studies. It looks behind the empty phrases pronounced by politicians into the reality of British defence procurement.

Its author, Richard North, one of the co-editors of the EUReferendum blog, where much of his research was published over the last few weeks, has gone beyond the political phrases. He has uncovered a rather grim story, depressing in the way it has been ignored by the British media, though, interestingly, picked up by some of the specialist American publications.

The truth is that Britain has steadily turned away from its biggest ally, the United States, and towards Europe, becoming potentially more and more integrated through the procurement into the European defence structure that will undermine NATO.

Each new piece of equipment has been ordered from European firms, even if there was a cheaper and, what is even more important, better one produced by American, Anglo-American or South African firms. The amount of money wasted on projects that have not delivered on time or produced shoddy and inadequate equipment has run into billions. But, more importantly, the new equipment is produced not to NATO but to separate European standards. Britain will no longer be able to fight independently or alongside the United States or other allies like Australia.

In other words, a complete realignment of defence strategy is in progress, unannounced and undiscussed.

The paper is introduced by Major-General Julian Thompson, Commander of the British Land Forces in the Falklands and since then a highly esteemed military historian and analyst. It is full of technical detail about net-centric warfare, armoured personnel carriers, main battle tanks and our old friend the Galileo satellite system, built solely to rival the American GPS. There is, however, a summary for those with weaker nerves.

Posted by Helen Szamuely at 08:16 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

October 12, 2005

Points on the Sphere

Kevin Phillips has likened the nations and regions of the Anglosphere to cousins. Yet, as in real life, those cousins don't necessarily know each other all that well. One possible way to improve connections between those cousins is through exchanges of people, as is familiar from institutions such as American Field Service (for students) and Sister Cities International. Yet, for instance, the "sister" cities of Denver, Colorado are Brest, France; Takayama, Japan; Nairobi, Kenya; Karmiel, Israel; Potenza, Italy; Cuernavaca, Mexico; Chennai, India; Kunming, China; Axum, Ethiopia; and Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Not an Anglosphere location among the bunch! So here's a proposal: let's get at least one Anglosphere town on the "sister city" list for every participating city in America.

Alternatively, towns with the same name could seek out connections among themselves or even hold reunions of a sort. Consider some town names from different regions of England:

  • There are Bristols in England, New Brunswick, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, and Vermont.
  • There are Cambridges in England, New Zealand, Jamaica, Idaho, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York, Ohio, and Vermont.
  • There are Newcastles in England, Australia, New Brunswick, Ontario, Ireland, South Africa, Delaware, Indiana, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Wyoming.
  • There are Richmonds in England, Australia, British Columbia, New Zealand, South Africa, Arizona, California, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Minnesota, Ohio, Texas, and Utah.

Folks in these towns could hold a BristolFest or whatever every year, rotating among the towns with that name. It sounds like a good excuse to travel, see new places, make new friends, and experience the different flavors of Anglospheric culture.

(Cross-posted at one small voice.)

Posted by Peter Saint-Andre at 10:57 PM | Comments (7)

Was Canada Ever Serious? Militia and Military Since Confederation

In a recent post, I reviewed an excellent book on Canada’s role in the Boer War. Canadian social values, actively encouraged by the media and the elites of the day, led to the self-confident assembly and transport of thousands of young Canadian men halfway across the planet. Little more than a decade later, Canada again found itself engaged in a war not of its making. And again, tens of thousands of farm boys, factory workers and office staff were to risk their lives in the trenches of Europe during WW1. Why? Better yet, why not still? How did a nation that prides itself on G8 status somehow spend the last sixty years doing a 180 in its attitude toward the military?

The story, it turns out, is well worth understanding when considering the modern Anglosphere and the role that each of the Big Five (UK, US, Canada, NZ and Australia) play on the modern stage. “Canadian Brass” is an excellent place to start because it tells the story of British and then Canadian military culture in the eighty years after Confederation, and the domestic myths which drove and shaped international military participation.

Harris, Stephen - Canadian Brass: The Making of a Professional Army 1860-1939 -- pub. 1988 U of Toronto Press

Stephen Harris’ book on the history of the Canadian Army offers a much broader but entirely complementary to Miller’s Boer War account in Painting the Map Red. Harris considers military culture in Canada without focusing on battles at all (excepting their impact on politics, casualties, veteran's affairs, etc.). A member at the time of the Directorate of History at National Defence HQ, the author offers a very thorough piece of history, covering the organization of the militia, the nature of training and equipment, the role of national politics … and the establishment of permanent Canadian forces and a military college at Kingston, Ontario. Citations in the book are often to original internal government memos, letters, and planning documents. In other words, as close to candid insight as a modern author with official access could make it. Very good stuff.

Initial chapters consolidate the early periods of Canadian military history as the British military staff digested the new geopolitical realities demonstrated during the American Civil War. Canada was to be spun loose politically in 1867 but its foreign policy and defense were to remain a very strange hybrid well into the 20th century. The WW1 period in Canadian Brass is divided into pre-war, a Sam Hughes [Militia Minister] WW1 period, and a post-Hughes WW1 period. An interbellum period gets thorough coverage and then WW2 is broken out into separate Military Planning, and Training & Education chapters.

The rather shocking message of this book is that the Canadian military has been the constant butt of political interference during the last 150 years except for two brief periods: WW2 proper, and 1951-1964. During virtually all other periods of Canadian history, the permanent (professional) military forces have been starved of funds, denigrated in public by all and sundry, and then ignored completely during mobilization for wartime. The only time in Canadian history that professional pre-mobilization plans were actually used was WW2. In all other eras, professional plans were ignored and politicians turned to various militia cronies to assemble, train, lead, and transport Canadian troops.

In the case of two Canadian political crises with conscription in WW1 and WW2, the governments of the day (and the politically appointed militia officer corp) ignored the professional projections of the number of troops needed to sustain divisions in the field ... and then over-promised how many divisions they could provide to the British. Incredibly, the government used what trained troops they had to first guard Canadian installations (needlessly), triggering the haphazard training of ineffectual replacement battalions that could not be fed effectively into frontline units in Europe. Falling further and further behind, they were forced to conscript troops to fill positions while perfectly suitable troops stood idle or were improperly deployed.

The author suggests, therefore, that lack of professionalism in the organization of the military led to unnecessary political crises (specifically the split between Quebec and English-speaking Canada), and, in the case of the First World War, the needless slaughter of the initial Canadian divisions (because they were led by totally unqualified militia officers with political connections). The WW1 crisis created by Minister of Militia Sam Hughes was the result of a totally mythical and exaggerated memory of militia superiority in the War of 1812 and the Fenian raids of 1866, and careful news management out of the Boer War. Militia were held to be a superior in all ways to a professional force, moral and martial. Government money for militias (urban and especially rural) was a traditional source of political patronage in Canada, frustrating British military advisers and Governor-Generals for literally generations (and ruining many Brit careers in the process). Such patronage methodically starved the professional units in a nascent professional Canadian Army of training, equipment, facilities, pensions, wages and prestige. The result was a professional army that wasn’t and an oblivious overconfident citizen-soldier militia that was destined for a horrific introduction to modern war.

The casualty situation got so bad by the late fall of 1916 that Hughes was dismissed, and a new generation of Canadian officers (all political appointees but survivors of the savage Darwinian selection at the front) began to lead, and promote their junior officers out of the ranks. The impact on morale and military success from early 1917 to the end of the First World War were dramatic. Canadian reputations for combat effectiveness essentially came out of this period.

Unfortunately, General Arthur Currie's wartime success (he was ultimate WW1 commander of the Canadian Corps) was soon diminished by (1) the inter-bellum return to partisan political manipulation of the militia, (2) the deep enmity to Currie from Sam Hughes' dethroned cronies, and (3) the Depression. Currie was unable to sustain professionalism in the military after WW1. Canada was marginally better prepared for WW2 than for WW1 but it had to relearn the professionalization lessons all over again.

It's clear, in retrospect, that Canadian politicians and the Canadian public have had a long-standing expectation that the British (and then the US) were going to bail them out in any serious military situation. As a result, the professional Canadian military was seen as simply another source of political largesse for the party in power. It never had to be effective, and post-1964, it actually was designed not to be used at all ... unification of the three services (Army, Navy, Air Force), and endless UN peace-keeping missions were an effective way to strip combat effectiveness and combat equipment out of the Canadian military. Harris provides all the necessary context and information for that conclusion but is politic enough to avoid much further commentary.

He does writes an interesting epilogue that delicately skirts around those post-1939 issues ... and avoids touching the “third rail” of military bilingualism introduced in the 60s, which further degraded esprit de corps and combat effectiveness. After all, Mr. Harris was essentially writing about his own Cold War employer at the time of publication (1988), and probably wanted to keep his job. Nonetheless, it's pretty clear that the Liberal dismantlement of the conventional Canadian military (after tactical nukes appeared in Europe in the 60s) was yet another iteration of the political manipulation of the permanent military and a return of the good old days of "jobs for the boys." The sorry state of today’s Canadian military (a small but excellent antiterrorist force [JTF2] to protect the elite in Ottawa, and a sprinkle of blue helmet cannon fodder without adequate air transport) is therefore very much part of a proud Canadian political tradition stretching back 135 years. It’s not a mistake. It’s on purpose.

To what can we attribute the 180 turnaround from the self-confident days of WW2 – and the list of Canadian battle memories evoked by names like Dieppe, Juno Beach, and Arnhem? If Harris is to be credited, there simply was no turnaround. Canadians have played at war since 1867 and apart from WW2 and the initial conventional forces era of the Cold War, Canada has methodically avoided a serious and mature view to the use of military power. Canadian military glory in WW1, WW2 and its steadfastness in the early Cold War are anomalies, not expressions, of Canadian culture and attitudes. The current myopic behaviour of both the Canadian government and the populace therefore becomes much more comprehensible. Any change is unlikely without a deep crisis.

A few factoids for consideration:

1872 - British garrisons removed from Canada (some troops remain in the coastal fortresses). Militia standards prevail, and preparedness drops to virtually zero.
1908 - The Royal Navy concludes that it can no longer protect Canada from the US Navy (because of increasing German naval power in Europe) and recommends diplomatic resolution of all future Canada-US problems.
1913 - final round of Canadian planning for a US invasion. British military advisers consider the plan completely incompetent.

Posted by jmccormick at 08:19 PM | Comments (6)

October 11, 2005

Columbus, the Exit, and the Forge of Modernity

In the second millenium, a small part of Northwest Europe, including England, became an exception to that rule, as serfdom gradually evolved into tenancy, while productivity in these societies started to rise. However, the Mediterranean world, both the Christian and Islamic sides, was still a group of slave civilizations. As the Portuguese started to sail down the African coast, they found that the local slave markets offered pretty much the only cargo worth buying and taking back. Thus started the Renaissance African-European slave trade, in which pre-existing slave markets in Africa were used to supply pre-existing slave markets in Portugal. Any contact from the Old World to the New was more likely than not to have extended some form of coerced labor to it, because that was the global norm in that era.

The New World had been epidemiologically isolated from the Old for geologic eras, and thus was, epidemiologically speaking, a huge tinderbox waiting to be set alight. The first major contact from the Old World would set it alight. As it happened, this was Columbus -- but it could have been Chinese voyagers had the Ming treasure fleets not been cut back, or it could have been Japanese mariners cast adrift on the Japan Current and landing in the Pacific Northwest, or it could have been, as it nearly was, the Portuguese landing in Brazil as they did in 1500, not because they were trying to imitate Columbus, but because they had gone a bit wide turning around the bulge of Africa. Columbus was the agent of this contact, but he can hardly be charged with genocide for it, any more than the nameless Muslim trader who passed on, unwittingly, the bubonic plague to Italy and started the great Black Death epidemic in medieval Europe can be charged with Muslim genocide against Europe. Let's save the charge of genocide for cases where there is something like the Wansee Protocol -- a deliberate decision by an entire political system to eradicate a specific ethnic group.

Had the New World been settled entirely by cultures from the zone of coerced labor, it is not clear that the cultures thereby established ever would have abandoned coerced labor. Prior to the Exit, coerced-labor states were more efficient at warfare than free states except in certain geographically limited circumstances. Thus, coerced-labor states tended to snuff out free labor states, and then ultimately collapse due to the Malthusian trap, only to be replaced by new coerced-labor states. Getting out of this cycle is the Exit - -that is specifically what this term refers to.

What really counted, then, was that a free-labor society could expand and create a critcial mass of capital to make the Industrial Revolution happen. Once through the Exit, such a society would then be on the right side of a revolution in military affairs, allowing it to cancel out the traditional slave-labor advantage in warfare. That in turn would create, for the first time in history, an incentive for coerced-labor societies to convert themselves into free-labor societies, in other words, to put themselves through the Exit.

The northwest European societies -- England, the Netherlands, Belgium, northern Germany, parts of northern France, and Scandinavia, were proto-Exit societies. They were increasing their productivity through technological and social innovation, creating better agriculture and shipping, and financial systems to finance more productivity. War sidetracked France and the German states and forced them to bureaucratize and militarize their societies to survive. The Low Countries had too little hinterland to support domestic production, and being supported by trade alone, gradually became less compeititve. Only England had the insulation from Continental military rivalry and the domestic potential for sufficient agricultural and industrial scale and productivity to support a state able to organize a strong enough navy to remain free.

The opening of the New World, and England's expansion into it helped it to become the predominant naval power in Europe and the world. For a period of time, it used coerced plantation labor extensively in the tropical and semi-tropical colonies to augment its profits and capitalization and increase its wealth, power and independence. But it never became reliant on coerced labor at home or in the temperate-zone colonies, which remained under the free labor system. Ultimately, the full flowering of the Industrial Revolution gave rise to the first powerful class of producers in history, the Quaker, Presbyterian, and other dissenting industrialists of the English Midlands, Northern England, and Lowland Scotland in the Old World, and their counterparts in New England, New York, and Pennsylvania. These regions together became the what we might think of as the Forge of Modernity -- forging technological, scientific, philosophical and constitutional progress all at the same time.

First their precursors created the American Revolution, permitting the northern states to become the first polities in the modern world to abolish slavery. Then they gained control of British politics in a process starting in the First Reform Bill of 1832, and abolished slavery in the British realms and colonies, because for the first time in history, organized productivity outspent and outvoted the recipients of predatory wealth in the form of the Caribbean sugar plantation owners. Then they financed and achieved abolition of coerced labor in the southern United States, completing the truiumph of production over predation in the Anglosphere.

Meanwhile, the example and influence of this class of producers, and the rising classes of producers in the rest of the world, set the pace for the rest of the developed world in the 19th century, seeing slavery and serfdom abolished throughout Europe, Russia, Latin America (finally in 1888) and eventually in all but the most primitive fringes of the world. In 1790 coerced labor was universal and unremarkable, as it had been for millenia. By 1890 it had largely been abolished. This was the critical period of the Exit.

Would the Exit have happened without the linking of the New World with the Old? We can never say for sure. Likewise, we can't say for certain that the particular combination of history, technology, and geography that led the British Isles to become the driving force for the Exit was inevitable or unduplicatable. What is clear that the chain of events set in motion, as it happened, by Columbus ended up in the Exit. It is also the case that had the Old World been colonized entirely by Mediterannean civilizations, it is not clear that the Exit would have happened. Therefore the chain of events triggered by John Cabot's voyaging to North America, leading to the extension of the Anglosphere to the bulk of North America, must similarly be treated as essential to the Exit.

Therefore we should give due credit to Columbus's entrepreneurism, as leading to Stage One of the circumstances leading to the Exit. But we must also not fail to honor Cabot and those who came after him, for it was they, and all our ancestors, memetic if not genetic, who broke the endless cycle of predation. This is the standard, and accomplishment, against which all other considerations of history must be measured and calculated.

Posted by Jim Bennett at 05:00 PM | Comments (30) | TrackBack

October 10, 2005

Federal Britain

2007 will be the 300th anniversary of the Act of Union and, if political pundits are to be believed, Gordon Brown will be the shoo-in Prime Minister. But will Britain be celebrating the Union, or will constitutionalists be ruminating on the last ever Scottish incumbent at No. 10, and possibly the end of the United Kingdom? The next leader of the Conservative Party will decide.

“People have said … it would be very difficult for a Scot to become prime minister.” The change, if it is happening, is profound. It is the reason why Labour, as a party, is determined to prevent home rule from “getting out of hand”. Should the idea gain ground that Scottish MPs have no legitimate right to Westminster office, the political arithmetic will look very bad indeed for the party. Brown’s personal ambition is one thing, but if No 10’s door is barred to the best-qualified candidate because he represents a Fife constituency, Scottish independence – not to mention English independence – follows. --- Ian Bell, Glasgow Herald; 20th March 2005

On the 28th November HM Treasury will host a debate asking 'How 'British' do we feel? What do we mean by 'Britishness'? which will focus on the impacts of the Government’s programme of devolution on Britishness. Quite why this should be the business of the Treasury can only be answered by one person; Prime Minister in waiting, and present incumbent at the Treasury, Mr Gordon Brown.

It is not Brown’s first incursion into the debate on Britishness, and it will not be his last. Brown’s ambition to become UK Prime Minster rests on his ability to convince the English electorate that he is one of them: A true Brit. But it’s a tall order, for at the heart of his dilemma lies the thorny old West Lothian Question, the question that, as it will pertain to Brown, asks:

How can it be right that Prime Minister Brown, elected to Westminster from a Scottish constituency, has no ability to affect the issues of his constituents which have been devolved to the Scottish Parliament, and;
If power over Scottish affairs is devolved to a Scottish Parliament, how can it be right that Gordon Brown representing a Scottish constituency in the Parliament of the United Kingdom will have the power to vote on issues affecting England (including those that don't affect Scotland), but English MPs will not have the power to vote on the commensurate Scottish issues that affect Brown’s constituents?

The 2008 General Election may well be dubbed ‘the battle for England’ because Gordon Brown does not see England as a nation but as a collection of regions. Giving his first address as Chancellor of the Exchequer to Labour Party Conference in 1997, Brown spoke of "the nations of Britain". Until then British politicians had spoken only of the 'British nation'. He did not in that speech exclude England as a nation. However he did exclude England as a nation in the next speech he gave on devolution three and a half years later, speaking to the CBI in the Manchester Town Hall in February 2001 well after he had seen the Scottish Parliament firmly established with powers independent of Westminster. This time he spoke of "the nations and regions of Britain". By "the nations" he meant Scotland and Wales by "the regions" he meant English regions.

Since that time Brown has repeatedly used the phrase ‘nations and regions’, much to the annoyance of campaigners for an English Parliament, and at the Labour Party Conference he stepped up the rhetoric in a speech widely regarded as a blueprint for his coming premiership:

"I will in the next year visit every region and nation of our country. With you I want to listen, hear and learn, to discuss the economic, social and constitutional changes we need to build for the future" --- Gordon Brown, 2005 Labour Party Conference

The vernacular employed by Brown has since become accepted Government parlance, and is employed with political intent by UK ministers across all Whitehall departments. But each mention of the phrase ‘nations and regions’ increases the ire of English nationalists, who believe that England is not just a collective of UK regions but a nation too; and is also offensive to Scottish and Welsh nationalists who do not much like their nations being cast as analogous to mere regions of England; and also to campaigners against the concept of a 'Europe of the Regions', a group that has broad-based support within the 'Europe of Nations' Conservative Party.

"We are entering an era in which national government, instead of directing, enables powerful regional and local initiatives to work, where Britain becomes as it should be - a Britain of nations and regions" --- Gordon Brown, Jan 2000

Setting his stall out thus Gordon Brown hopes to appeal to the subset of the British electorate whose primary allegiance is still to the British state. It is a dangerous policy because 'Brits' are a declining demographic, and most of the electorate does not believe that Britain should be a state of 'nations and regions'. Whilst many in Britain have multiple identities devolution to Scotland and Wales has created a climate where British people’s primary allegiance is to either England, Scotland or Wales, and where before British nationalists were the biggest constituency, English dissatisfaction with the unbalanced constitution has manifested itself in a rapidly growing constituency that define themselves as English, not British.

Gordon Brown is of the old order; unlike most Scots he is British first and Scottish second, he believes passionately in the Union and will fight anything - such as an English parliament - that he feels may threaten that union. Brown has seen that the component nations of the Union are pulling in different directions and believes that the constitution must be tailored to prevent this, regardless of whether it places England at a constitutional disadvantage.

I think almost every question that we have to deal with about the future of Britain revolves around what we mean by Britishness, whether it is asylum or immigration, the future of the constitution, our relationship with Europe...[...]...The real challenge over the next few years is to see how our institutions can better reflect these values. That may mean quite profound changes in how our constitution is organised, --- Gordon Brown, Prospect Magazine; April 2005

In contrast to Gordon Brown and the Labour Party, the Conservative Party offer up their solution - a constitutional minefield of a solution - that they refer to as ‘English Votes on English Matters’. But a few contenders for the Conservative crown, notably David Davis, have gone further than this by stating their preference for an English Parliament. The prospect of an English nationalist Conservative leader, advocating a quasi-federal Britain, must fill Gordon Brown with dread. How could Brown, a Scot, argue that England should not be entitled to the same level of self-government as his native Scotland? But this is the way that the die could be cast come the next general election.

The West Lothian Question not only remains unanswered, but under Brown's ‘nations and regions’ model, it is unanswerable, and English nationalism looms as an ever-growing immovable object on the political horizon ready to thwart his claim to Tony Blair’s throne. Rather ironically Brown helped to create the resurgent English nationalism that may ultimately floor his ambitions when he put his signature to the Scottish Constitutional Convention, whose claim of right for Scotland read:

We, gathered as the Scottish Constitutional Convention, do hereby acknowledge the sovereign right of the Scottish people to determine the form of Government best suited to their needs, and do hereby declare and pledge that in all our actions and deliberations their interests shall be paramount.

But it is likely that Brown and his Labour colleagues had not fully appreciated the knock-on consequences of that declaration:

The long standing paradox of Scottish politics has been the surging forward of working class industrial and political pressure (and in particular the loyal support given to Labour) and its containment though the accumulated failures of successive labour governments… We suggest that the rise of modern Scottish nationalism is less an assertion of Scotland’s permanence as a nation than a response to Scotland’s uneven development … the discontent is a measure of the failure of both Scottish and British socialists to advance far and fast enough in shifting the balance of wealth and power to working people. --- Gordon Brown, Red Paper on Scotland; 1975

In light of that statement it seems likely that Brown’s signature on the Scottish Constitutional Convention was secured not on Brown’s desire to secure Scotland’s future as a nation, but on his hope that a Scottish parliament would kill off nationalist demands for independence, or perhaps even on the hope that it would secure a permanent socialist foothold in Scotland. This latter hypothesis has some credibility as it is supported by Conservative claims that devolution was an attempt by Labour to gerrymander the UK constitution, and is borne out by the fact that Labour only offered devolution to within Britain to Scotland, Wales, and the three northern English regions – all Labour heartlands.

Opposition Members are prepared - for their own narrow party political ends, because they want to have an entrenched socialist majority in Scotland - to gerrymander our constitution, to put Scotland's vital services at risk, and to play straight into the hands of the nationalists. --- The Secretary of State for Scotland, Mr. Michael Forsyth (Cons), Hansard; 29 Nov 1995

Today it seems bizarre that Labour did not foresee an English backlash in response to the democratic deficit caused by Scottish devolution. However, the former Scottish Secretary George Robertson - better know to Anglospherists as NATO Secretary General - actually believed that Labour's constitutional plans (loosely modelled on the asymmetrical Spanish model rather than the federal model set up by Britain in Canada and Australia) would ensure that the question could not arise:

The answer to the West Lothian question is the fact that our constitutional plans are not confined to Scotland and Wales. It will also embrace regional government in England, and that's a firm commitment too" --- George Robertson (Labour), Scotland on Sunday; 8 January 1995

Far from worrying about England's second-class constitutional status Gordon Brown and Tony Blair were still more concerned about warding off Scottish nationalism.

Brown and Tony Blair are faced with the very real danger of the 291-year-old Union between England and Scotland being dismembered. The Scottish Question remains unanswered and the forces of the Union are having to rethink, regroup and prepare to strike back. It has been a faltering response so far. Brown, deputed by Blair to sort it out, has been in the vanguard, struggling to come up with a coherent strategy…[…]… In the Treasury, and in Labour's Scottish headquarters in Glasgow, Delta House, the party's brightest have been struggling with ways of making the image of Britain more attractive for Scots. 'Cool Britannia had no resonance for most people,' said one of those formulating the new image of Britain. 'They all felt it was something happening somewhere else which they had no part in.' Many Scots never regarded themselves as British anyway. That view of identity has increased with each generation: Scots now present themselves as both Scottish and European, but not British. Why should they remain part of the United Kingdom any longer? Brown and his colleagues have been working on an answer. --- The Guardian; April 7, 1999

Labour's failure to address the English Question, particularly the West Lothian Question, means that Brown will face the political reality of English, Scottish and Welsh nationalism, but it is English nationalism that causes the most immediate threat to his future premiership. After devolution to Scotland Labour politicians implored the Conservative Party to not ‘fan the flames of English nationalism’ in order to ‘make devolution to Scotland work’. By and large the Conservatives have not fanned the flames, and they have not reinvented themselves as an English party despite the fact that after 1997 their only MPs were based in England. However many in the Conservative Party are deeply concerned about England’s place in the Union, and resentment has deepened since the last election when, in England alone, the Conservatives narrowly gained more votes than Labour. That England is governed in its entirity by a government that does not have the plurality of the popular vote in England suggests to many that Labour has no moral right to govern England on those matters that they devolved to Scotland. If England, like Scotland, was similarly favoured with devolution and proportional representation then England would have a very different government - one that would probably give the Conservatives control over Health; Culture, Media and Sport; Transport; Tourism; Police and Fire Services; Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing; Planning; Social Work; Housing and the natural and built environment in England.

Should the Conservatives feel that they can win the next General Election on the plurality of votes across the UK then they will, likely as not, choose to ignore this constitutional anomaly? However, if the polls are too close to call then the Conservatives will be forced to adopt an English nationalist policy resulting in an attack on the very principle of the House of Commons: That all members of the House have equal voting privileges. On the receiving end of that attack will be a Scot: Gordon Brown.

As they stand now the Conservative proposals to tackle the West Lothian Question - English votes on English Matters (EVoEM) - would have the Speaker designate bills as English and would exclude Scottish, Welsh and Irish MPs from voting upon them. It is a policy fraught with potential problems:

  • There would be no English executive, so although EVoEM would prevent non-English MPs voting on English legislation it would not prevent England being ruled in its entirety by a second choice minority government?
  • The ‘EVoEM parliament’ would not be a devolved parliament that is subordinate to the UK parliament, but would instead be a sovereign UK parliament that excluded non-English MPs.
  • The House of Lords would still scrutinize English legislation when it does not, and cannot, scrutinise the legislation of the devolved administration in Scotland.
  • Scottish MPs would still be entitled to be ministers of English departments, unaccountable to the people whose lives their ministerial performance impacts upon.
  • Only the UK Government has access to the Civil Service, Parliamentary draughtsmen, etc. So a Tory English Votes on English Laws parliament would have to rely on the UK Government in order to codify and implement its legislation.
  • There would be no English ‘First Minister’ for English Questions. Potentially Gordon Brown PM would be held to account for areas that his Government was unable to legislate for and that he was unable to vote upon?
  • MPs representing English constituencies will merely be able to react to proposals put forward by the UK government, rather than formulate legislation for the benefit of England?
  • If the Tories were the largest party in an English Votes on English Matters parliament but Labour formed the UK Government Labour Ministers would preside over departments that the Labour Party were unable to implement legislation for.
  • The Speaker’s decision on what constitutes an English bill is subjective, particularly in light of the facts that England and Wales share the same legal system, and the block grant to the devolved administrations is determined by the level of spending in England.

There is little doubt that the Conservatives are aware of these problems which is why they have been less than candid on how English Votes on English Matters would actually work. English Votes on English Matters is not a solution but rather a stop-gap solution to fill a policy gap whilst an internal debate rages inside Conservative Central Office between a progressive pro-English faction and the conservative Unionist faction, though a few voices of Tory dissent have been raised publicly:

I fear that we shall be providing a weapon for the assault on the integrity of the Union....If we exclude Scottish MPs from our deliberations on purely English affairs - assuming that those can be isolated and defined, which I doubt. --- David Curry MP (Cons), Hansard; 21 January 2001

The Labour Party are equally tight-lipped when it comes to the Conservative proposals, careful not to inflame the English Question, but state that the Conservative proposals are ‘unworkable’ whilst refusing to be drawn on quite why they believe that to be the case. Cynically though Labour have counter-claimed against Tory objections to Scottish devolution to argue that the Conservative policy of English votes on English matters is an attempt to gerrymander the UK constitution in favour of near permanent Conservative rule in England.

The [English Votes on English Matters] motion is not constitutional. It is an attempt by the Tories to gerrymander votes in the House to their own political ends. Members on the Labour Benches believe that we remain a United Kingdom Parliament and that, as such, we shall not move into a realm where there are first and second-class Members of the House. --- Anne McGuire, Parliamentary Under-Secretary Scotland, Department for Constitutional Affairs (Labour); 21 Jan 2004

The third party in England, the Liberal Democrats, are equally dismissive of the Conservative proposals, and have good reason to be. In 1886 Liberal Prime Minster William Gladstone considered 'English Votes on English Laws' as a solution to the constitutional problems created Irish home-rule but later rejected it as unworkable in practice.

Regardless of just why English Votes on English Matters is unworkable the issue has to be resolved, and if Gordon Brown becomes Prime Minister it will have to be resolved sooner rather than later. There are three possible solutions:

  • The dissolution of the devolved Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish administrations, a solution not considered equitable by the Scots and Welsh, and potentially disasterous for the Northern Irish peace process;
  • An England with regional parliaments equal in power to the Scottish parliament, a solution not equitable to the English, or;
  • A federal UK of four constituent nations, a solution equitable to all but never before in the world would a federation have been so unbalanced because 84% of the UK population resides in England.

With the Labour Party entrenched in its position it will fall to the new Conservative leader to decide which of these three options to pursue, and whether England - the Mother of all Parliaments - should have its own parliament.

Posted by Gareth at 10:38 PM | Comments (21)

Columbus Day

Horatio Nelson famously said, in his orders before the battle of Trafalgar, that no captain could do very wrong by laying his ship alongside that of the enemy. Similarly, it is very tempting to say that one could do no wrong by opposing anything Ward Churchill has ever advocated. Indeed, the Denver Columbus Day protest he founded continues to be an annoying circus of political correctness. Nevertheless, I prefer yet a third position, which Glenn Reynolds was kind enough to dig out of the UPI archives and link to today.

Posted by Jim Bennett at 06:13 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

October 07, 2005

Exits and Trappings

Herewith a few additional observations on the Exit and the West. The exit to a modern industrial society occurred first in the West for a whole host of reasons that historians are still exploring. As I've discussed before, I think one of the keys was identified by Carroll Quigley in his description of the distinctively Western outlook (Weapons Systems and Political Stability, p. 1129):

The method of the West, even in religion, has been this: The truth unfolds in time by a cooperative process of discussion that creates a temporary consensus which we hope will form successive approximations growing closer and closer to the final truth, to be reached only in some final state of eternity.

Furthermore, the Exit occurred first in a specific region of Western civlization: England. Why? Here again the historians have been busy, led by Alan Macfarlane. It seems that England was in important ways more open, flexible, polycentric, pluralistic, trustful, individualistic, market-oriented (etc.) than the rest of the West around the time of the Exit (and indeed for centuries before). Observing these facts leads to the recognition of Anglosphere exceptionalism within the context of Western civilization.

As Western civilization has become ever more successful in solving the problems of existence, other cultures have attempted to emulate that success. The pattern is well described by Quigley (ibid., p. 166):

When a society finds a fruitful organization and outlook, other societies may copy its organization (although not its outlook), either in emulation or in self-defence against such a superior organization of human efforts represented by that superior system. When this occurs, numerous distinct societies over a wide area and over an extended period of time may seem to be moving, almost simultaneously, in meaningful and purposeful directions.

Naturally, few people in those cultures want to say that they are turning their backs on ages-old cultural traditions, so they claim to be advocates of (acceptable) "modernization" rather than (unacceptable) "Westernization". In Quigley's terms, they attempt to copy successful organizational features -- representative democracy, stock markets, research universities, and the like -- without copying the distinctive outlook of Western and Anglosophere societies. Yet a civilization is more than an outlook or a philosophy, it is a whole matrix of practices, attitudes, structures, and (in the broadest sense) technologies. As I've written before about modernization:

More than abstract philosophy or ideology, the West became such a powerful force in human history because of things like economic freedom, legal competition, choice in marriage, efficiency in timekeeping, eminently practical and often downright fun technologies (eyeglasses, guns, printing presses, washing machines, phonographs, telephones, computers, and who knows what next), forms of entertainment such as sports and theatre and movies and popular music, fast means of travel (including the invention of tourism), freedom first for slaves and then for women, and in general a culture that makes personal fulfillment not just a distant possibility but a lived reality for the vast majority of the people in Western countries (and a growing number elsewhere, whether you call it "modernization" or "Westernization").

The process of modernization is helped along by the many diasporas to Western nations, and especially to the Anglosphere, which for historical and cultural reasons is more open to immigration and assimilation than other parts of the West. Those who come from outside the Anglosphere to study or work for a while (or permanently to live) act as bridges to their home cultures, seeding them with aspects of the tacit knowledge built up over centuries within the Anglosphere -- knowledge about markets, society, volunteerism, trust, law, governance, consensus, cooperation, innovation, entrepreneurship, individualism, responsibility, and freedom. These all sound like big ideas, but they are just as much practices, behaviors, customs, and implicit attitudes that must be lived to be absorbed. Simply reading about them in a philosophy book or copying their outward forms is not enough, and results in a society that has the trappings of modernity but not its substance. Yet it is not the trappings that caused the Exit, but the underlying habits and practices and attitudes -- precisely what is hardest to impart. The implications for how the Anglosphere understands itself and interacts with other cultures are far-reaching.

(Cross-posted at one small voice.)

Posted by Peter Saint-Andre at 12:00 PM | Comments (3)

October 05, 2005

What's This "Exit" Stuff All About?

A lot of the posts on this site have talked about something called "the Exit". This terms comes from the work of Ernest Gellner, and is discussed particularly in Alan Macfarlane's Making of the Modern World (and is summarized briefly here.) It refers to the transition point in human history where production become in general a more effective means of survival and prosperity than predation. It also refers to the fact that predation-based societies have historically developed into increasingly static and calcified bureaucracies, and subsequently collapse under either internal or external pressures. The Exit is the escape from this cycle. The means by which the Exit is achieved is generally called the Industrial Revolution. Its side-effects are constitutional democracy, increased literacy and education, and a generally more humane social environment.

Our society has navigated the Exit so successfully that many people have entirely forgotten what life before the Exit was like. Some of these idiots are described here. Read the whole thing.

Posted by Jim Bennett at 11:09 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Iain Murray's Foxy Advice

Iain Murray, writing in National Review Online, examines the British Conservative Party leadership race and comes up with a strategy for victory. Certain of our fellow-bloggers may have some comments on this.

Reading it, one tactical thought comes to me: Tony Blair greatly improved his position in the Labour Party leadership race by his famous pact with then-rival Gordon Brown to give him the Number Two slot in power (the Chancellorship) in return for support, and eventually to turn the reins oveer to him. Although that pact is now fraying around the edges, it has been one of the pillars of the New Labour victory. Fox and Davis might well consider such a pact, particularly as it would serve to heal the rift between their supporters, who tend to be philosophically the same sort of people.

People interested in this topic might also want to look back at my conversation with Fox from last summer. (Scroll down to "Who Will be The British Lincoln?")

Posted by Jim Bennett at 12:07 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

October 04, 2005

Anglo Mojo Rising

The following discussion between Captain Mojo and me in comments to Mitch Townsend's previously-linked post at Chicago Boyz seemed interesting enough to me to post separately here.

Captain Mojo comments: I would argue that in the battle between the “unbroken line” and more recent revisionist theories about the origin of Anglo political liberty, of which Lex mentions in his first response, the truth is somewhere in the middle. Certainly, as Mitch mentions, the Althing, which seems common throughout most Germanic culture, is a uniquely egalitarian system of governance in the ancient world. It was effective at organizing small groups of disparate individuals into a cohesive group. However, as most “primitive” (if I can use that term non-pejoratively) political systems go, it had problems with scale, and fell apart easily, leading to constant infighting. As for the large Germanic confederacies (Alemanni, Goths, Lombards, Franks), instability and eventual defeat or assimilation in the existing Roman culture was the rule.

The Anglo-Saxons were culturally closer to the Scandinavians than their cousins on the Rhine and central Europe, and like the Nordic peoples remained both pagan, and outside of the mass-army environment of the post-collapse western empire for centuries. During this time, though, they retained the same weakness at large-scale organization. The gradual reintroduction of Christianity in the 6th through 9th centuries brought greater ties to the continent, but the fractious nature of English politics continued until the Danish invasion of the 9th century nearly wiped out Saxon power. Alfred the Great, in the process of saving England against the Danish scourge, unified English resistance along more continental lines.

The extra time England had away from the main European cultural and political conflicts of the early Middle Ages allowed time for the development of the small scale innovations and institutions which are still so important to us today. However, without the reintroduction of continental (roman derived) political institutions, such as a centralized and powerful monarchy and church, none of the unique attributes of Anglo civilization would have survived the ages of struggle which followed.

The end result of all this was that by the time the Normans invaded, they found a highly productive kingdom running under an economic and cultural system that they saw no reason to drastically change. As much as I hate to defend the Norman invasion, they laid the defense and governance framework that kept England from ever being violently invaded again.

I guess the gist of what I’m trying to say is that without the slow infusion of post-Empire continental despotism to protect without overwhelming, the Anglo traditions of liberty would have died just like those traditions did on the continent.

Even more to the point here is that I believe (and I think I’ve got Edward Gibbon on my side) is that Anglosphere exceptionalism is primarily the result of the slow merging of Germanic individualism with the efficiency of Roman governmental traditions.

I get the impression that among the Anglosphereists we’ve heard from here that the Germanic direct descent line of thought is more popular than my hybrid view. Am I misunderstanding your position?

Posted by: Captain Mojo on October 4, 2005 04:39 PM

Jim Bennett responds: I don't really see an inherent conflict between the direct-line-of-descent argument and the fusion argument, unless one is being a absolutist about the direct-descent model, and I don't think any of the Seedlings are absolutists. Germanic primitive liberty really wasn't directly transferable to the running of an urban society or a national-scale economy of any complexity. Mediterranean imperial rule could hack the administrative tasks, but was subject to bureaucratic gridlock and stasis leading eventually to breakdown. The genius of medieval european constitutionalism was precisely that it lead toward a workable fusion of the two. Pre-Conquest England, because of its relative (emphasize relative) isolation from continental politics and the effiency of the late ANglo-Saxon state, had a particularly workable (and more liberty-leaning) version of this fusion. The Normans kept much of the Anglo-Saxon state and grafted on another version of medieval constitutionalism (less freedom-oriented but still within the medieval consensus) on top of the Anglo-Saxon foundation. The next real big break came with the military revolution of the early Renaissance and the end of medieval constitutionalism on the Continent in favor of bureaucratic centralism. I think a lot of people, looking backward, tend to conflate this bureaucratic centralism with the much looser Norman aristocratic regime.

Useful references on this are James Campbell's The Anglo-Saxon State, Macfarlane (of course)especially his chapters on Ernest Gellner in The Making of the Modern World, W.J.F. Jenner in The Tyranny of History (especially his discussion of bureaucratic gridlock and collapse in China vs. Europe) Downing on the early-Renaissance collapse of medieval constitutionalism. The Macfarlane and Jenner are referenced and discussed in the bibliography to The Anglosphere Challenge.

By the way, another continuous survivor of very early Germanic assemblies is the Manx parliament, the Tynwald. The name is cognate to the Icelandic name Thingvellir, which was the place where the Althing met.

Posted by Jim Bennett at 07:37 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Our Nat Comments

Natalie Solent has been kind enough to comment in her blog my previous post on resilience and disaster, drawing parallels between the gauge-standardization issues in British railroading and the Internet. There is an interesting story to the British railway-gauge issue, although since I can't recall its source it should be treated as apochryphal. Apparently I.K. Brunel, architect of the broad-gague Great Western Railway, had been working toward a precursor of the freight-containerization system so as to reduce the need for railway-gauge standardization. A Parliamentary committee looking into the matter decided to schedule a visit to the Great Western yards to watch the system in operation. Brunel's competitors supposedly made sure the yard crews were treated to copious amounts of gin as an eye-opener that morning, with the result that the operations were reduced to total chaos, and the committee decided the system would never work.

I don't know whether the story is true or not, but it wouldn't be out of line with 19th Century competitive practices. It does show the hazards of trying to answer important questions by referring them to a committee of decision-makers for the One Right Answer.

Posted by Jim Bennett at 04:50 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Tacitus Then and Now

Mitch Townsend has posted the quote from Tacitus relevant to several of the recent posts here. Interestingly enough, there is a fairly straight-line descendant of the open-air asemblies Tacitus describes still practiced on the Continent, namely in the smaller cantons of Germanophone Switzerland. Some still vote directly in open-air assemblies, where at least until recetnly the voters brought their arms to the meetings.

This is quite relevant to the converation that is going on here because it backs up the point that many Anglosphere practices and attitudes are survivals or further evolutions of customs that used to prevail all over Northwestern Europe. They also survived in Switzerland because it was poor operational terrain for the big Continental armies, and because the Swiss always fought like hell. But mostly they were wiped out by militarization and bureaucracy on the Continent and only survived and flourished offshore in England and her daughter lands.

The validation of Tacitus by recent historians is part of a larger phenomenon, the rediscovery that much of when is handed down to us actually does have a basis in fact. It is so easy to take for granted something as elementary as writing, but if you step back and think about it for a moment, it is quite something that we can receive an eyewitness account of something that happened two millenia ago.

Posted by Jim Bennett at 01:20 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

October 03, 2005

Book Review: Painting the Map Red: Canada and the South African War, 1899-1902.

After repeated prodding from several blog contributors, I've completed some minor edits to a review written some months ago.

Earlier this year, after working my way through many of the books in the Annotated Bibliography from Jim Bennett’s The Anglosphere Challenge, I became interested in the dramatic turn-of-the-20th century rapprochement between Great Britain and the United States. Books of the time which promoted the unity of the English-speaking peoples cited the Spanish-American War and the Boer War as influential in changing attitudes. I needed to familiarize myself with these two wars.

After I read First Great Triumph: How Five Americans Made Their Country A World Power (Zimmermann, W., 2002) ... about the Spanish-American War era, Lex suggested a book by Professor Carman Miller called Painting the Map Red: Canada and the South African War, 1899-1902. (hdcvr 1993, ppbk 1998).

While calling Miller’s book encyclopedic would be misleading, it would be accurate to call it comprehensive. Miller, chair of the McGill history department, has assembled a snapshot of the culture and politics of the time and written substantial chapters on the events surrounding the nine major contingents of Canadians in the Boer War (recruitment, supply transport, battlefield engagements, demobilization). In addition are chapters on more minor units (nursing, postal, etc.) and a constabulary force (based on the NWMP model) that was recruited in hopes of colonizing SA after service. Total participation was about 7,000. The detail in the book is amazingly rich, covering newspaper accounts of the time, official letters and government documents, and carefully reconciling conflicting battlefield accounts. The book would also appear to have had the great good fortune to be handled by a professional editor. It reads much more smoothly than the usual efforts from academic historians. The co-publication of this book with the Canada War Museum and the McGill-Queens University Press also suggests that the manuscript got much better treatment than usual. And indeed, the author states that the book is merely the condensation of a much more massive manuscript placed in the Public Archives.

Not only would this be the initial "go-to" book for military aficianados, it is also a great book from the Anglosphere perspective because it offers substantial commentary (referenced) to the major personalities of the time, the arguments about Canadian participation, and the implications for the Canadian political landscape. It also highlights the clash of Canadian and British military traditions that led to much more independent Canadian action in WW1 and WW2. A haphazard Canadian militia showed itself to be capable of feats of both courage and pragmatic adaptation to the Boer War battlefield. British generals like Smith-Dorrien and Baden-Powell came away from the Boer war very impressed with the physical stamina, flexibility, and quality of the Canadian troops. Those attitudes coloured subsequent Canadian participation in the European wars.

Regrettably, as another excellent book (Stephen Harris, Canadian Brass: The Making of a Professional Army 1860-1939, [1988]) outlines, the Canadian adventure was so brief that it did not allow a professionalization of the Canadian military. It was a "good war" for the national sense of self-confidence but political patronage continued to dominate the organization and staffing of the militia and armies through WW1 and up to WW2.

So what does Miller's book have to tell us about late 19th century Canada and its attitude toward foreign adventures? It's clear that in the quarter century after Confederation (1867) Canadians were searching for an identity. They were not quite American, yet constantly tempted by its opportunities. And they were increasingly touchy about British involvement in government, yet at the same time unwilling to shoulder any burden of defence. Large-scale immigration to English Canada and the expansion of the northwest frontier also encouraged a round of myth-building in which the major political parties and their respective newspaper allies had a vested interest. Commercial interests were constantly shifting. Talk of commercial union with the US was matched by demands for imperial tariffs, especially once the McKinley Act of 1890 appeared. Though many Canadian immigrants of the period were from the British Isles, many were not. The educated elites of English Canada (and to some degree in French Canada), were keen therefore to cast the Canadian identity in a manly, Christian context suitable for taming a huge and sometimes unforgiving country. Compulsory elementary education had just been instituted and curriculum were very patriotic. Music, drill, parades, holidays, flag display were all geared toward harnessing cultural, religious and institutional values. "Flag, Bible, the English language." Canadian history necessarily had to contrast itself with American history, and loyalty to the Crown and the British parliamentary system was a logical way to distinguish Canadian-ness. The Imperial Federation League founded a branch in Montreal in 1885. Its successor, the British Empire League, had 2,000 influential members. The establishment of the transcontinental Canadian railway was a source of great pride and, like a teenager near to leaving home, there was both anxiety and eagerness for Canada to begin to play a role as a "senior dominion." A clear direction or agenda, however, had not been set.

And into that situation, the Boer War suddenly appeared. What would Canada's role be? As the events in South Africa moved towards war (a tangled and compromised tale of its own), Canadian patriotism, nationalism, military careerism, Christian missionary zeal, commercial appetite, and partisan politics combined to create a situation where Canada's volunteers were very much supported. That much of this support was reinforced by the media of the day is worth noting. One hundred years ago, the media were self-confident proponents of the nation's values. Public support very much carried through the course of the militia's service and after the troops returned home. To a degree impossible to imagine now, the culture of the time was rural, partisan, and driven by ethnic and denominational differences. The response to the events of the Boer War emerged out of that welter of influences. The war accelerated both the maturation of the country and its confrontation with fundamental fault lines that had been papered over during Confederation in Britain's haste to unload its colony. The question of whether Canada should have anything to do with an imperial war on the far side of the world also brought to the surface the role that each of the communities in Canada felt they wanted to play, within Canada and the broader world. The case has been made by various authors, other than Miller, that the Boer War:

1. weakened imperial ties
2. strengthened English Canada's nationalism
3. split French and English Canada
4. launched French Canadian nationalist intellectual thought
5. broke Liberal PM Sir Wilfred Laurier's power base in Quebec
6. stimulated militia reform
7. served as a dress rehearsal for WW1.

Miller provides the concrete details to evaluate these claims in greater detail, and modify them as needed. The Canadian militia officer corps, educated elites, churches and newspapers in English Canada worked themselves into a self-serving lather. The British Governor-General (Minto) and the British Colonial Secretary (Chamberlain) were instrumental but not crucial to the promotion of a first volunteer contingent. Prime Minister Laurier was initially against involvement but the politics of the era demanded that he acquiesce, at the very least, to the volunteers heading off. Once the political decision was made, there was money to be made. And subsequent contingents were assembled in a rather ad hoc way, with individual mounted units often sponsored by wealthy or charismatic individuals. As for the troops themselves, a good many of them were looking for an adventure and a break from the routine of farm and office. Later contingents had plenty of ne'er-do-wells. Some volunteers were recent immigrants from Britain and so had clearer loyalties. The Royal Military College at Kingston, Ontario cranked out British Army commissions, it needs to be remembered, not Canadian militia commissions. Canadian graduate officers ended up playing a significant role in South Africa in British units. The Canadian experience in South Africa with British army logistics and medical care, driven as it was by class distinctions, was also a defining event in forming a sense of Canadian military uniqueness. The Canadians returned feeling that they could hold their own with any British unit, when properly equipped and supplied. And that their Canadian ways were often superior to those of the British Army. Canadian "autonomy" and a "sense of power" were increased.

After all the troops returned, my reading of Miller suggests that things were "the same, only moreso." Like modern war, Canada was domestically unaffected by the service of the troops. There was some commercial benefit from provisioning the troops, and of course, the ongoing care of the wounded and disabled. But the numbers, the time frame, and the minor overall percentage of the economy and population mobilized meant that the War did not impact the domestic scene in the way that WW1 and WW2 did. Questions about Canadian participation in the Empire were essentially unresolved. The imperial federation idea ... a grander political union ... died. Laurier tried to split the difference politically in Quebec ... as the man who gave the English what they wanted without demanding that the French be involved.

Nonetheless, the Boer War was a wake-up call to Quebec that their participation in future British dramas might only be a matter of time. War was ultimately a "party issue" as it was in subsequent years, and indeed is, right to the present day. Imperialists did try to take advantage of the War afterwards to increase the bonds between Canada and England. Knighthoods were dished out to Canadians. "Paardesburg Day" celebrations were elaborate. Veterans groups were established. Canadians were now garrisoning Halifax and Esquimault, and a Canadian was made GOC of the Canadian militia. Famous British heroes and generals of the war made speaking tours of Canada. A raft of institutions were created for the Canadian militia in light of the South Africa experience. Military training bases were purchased and constructed, many to operate until the end of the Cold War. Notably, of the 106 Canadian generals in WW1, 34 were Boer War vets. The watchword was to become "pragmatic, co-operative imperialism" rather than further imperial integration. Canada for Canadians. Canadian troops were in future to enter imperial service as distinct units ... a trend mirrored by Australia and New Zealand, and ultimately the South Africans themselves. In summary, Miller's book is excellent. Far more detailed, and far better written, than I could convey in this note. While it reflects a topic of limited importance in the grand scheme of things, for Anglosphere readers, it's an important snapshot of Canada at a time when the Pax Britannica was beginning to stumble. And in many ways, the controversies of 1899, about Canada's role in the world, have changed little in the intervening century.

Posted by jmccormick at 05:49 PM | Comments (3)

Is Atlanticism doomed in the UK?

Below, Mr. Bennett quotes Dr. Liam Fox extensively. Anglospherists might be disillusioned to see that, when The Spectator put various facts about the four main contenders for the Tory leadership to the public, Dr. Fox's Atlanticism was viewed strongly as a negative. Or was it? If you follow the link at the bottom of the Spectator page and download the PDF of the poll, something interesting emerges.

When it is pointed out that Kenneth Clarke "opposed the war in Iraq," That is viewed positively by 56% and negatively by 15%. The point made about Dr. Fox is the opposite, but adds his fondness for the special relationship: "He is a strong believer in the special relationship with the USA, and a supporter of the war in Iraq." That is viewed positively by 26% and negatively by 46%. Now, if the pollster has done his job correctly, it is surely fair to assume that, had the question not mentioned the USA and just mentioned Iraq, then the Clarke figures would have been reversed for Dr. Fox, with 15% viewing support for the Iraq War positively and 56% negatively. Yet, with the addition of the US element, we see 11% more favorable and 10% less negative. Assuming this interpretation is correct, then Dr. Fox's Atlanticism actually carries with it a 20 point positive rating.

Perhaps all is not yet lost for the Special Relationship.

Posted by Burkean at 02:48 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

English Exceptionalism -- Yes, but ...

I had a dispute with a friend about the degree of exceptionalism which may be attributed to England and the Anglosphere. While England is unique for a lot of reasons, it is still part of several larger groupings. I put it as follows:

Let us not go too, too far with our exceptionalism, however. England was not part of the planet Jupiter, after all, it was part of the West and of Christendom during times when those terms were accurate descriptions of observable unities. This is a point made by Lord Acton, John Courtney Murray and Brian Downing in various ways and is worth keeping in mind.

Is England a "European" country? Yes and no. As compared to Anglo-Canada or Kentucky? No, in that comparison, it is an Anglospheric country. As compared to Tunisia? Tanganyika? Thailand? Tibet? Yes. If I teleported a Fukienese peasant living in China in 800 A.D. into Picardy for a day, then to East Anglia for a day, then sent him home, would the differences between the places outweigh the similiarities? No. What if I repeated the experiment and plunked him down in 1,000 AD? 1500? 1750? 1950? Probably, in each case he'd see for all their differences, the places were more similar to each other than either would be to China. It is always a matter of degrees of differences. The Anglosphere is a part of the West. In important ways it has diverged from the mainstream of Western culture, increasingly so in the last 500 or so years, in important ways which are not always immediately obvious on the surface, but which have had very important practical effects. Churchill saw this. No one better understood and celebrated the depth of English uniqueness and the ties of the English-speaking peoples -- but he yet saw the unity of Europe as a historical heritage, if not a living fact, and he understood that France was not really a foreign country but a contentious member of one large family. And he saw England as a part of the European system, the offshore power which was the ultimate guarantor of the liberties of the smaller states of Europe. And he was right about all of this.

England was very much part of the West, and in fact it still retains elements of what is oldest and most rooted in the West. Moreover, England grew up as it did because of an ongoing dialogue and exchange and conflict with Europe. English merchants and soldiers and pilgrims and scholars were all over Europe from the beginning, and London in particular was a focal point for foreign contact from all points of the compass for many, many centuries. England, Britain and their daughter polities of the Anglosphere are culturally part of the West. England and the Anglosphere are unique within the West, but to overstate this exceptionalism would be to seriously misstate the facts.

English exceptionalism consisted in large part of preserving things that were once more universal across Europe. Representative institutions and free, self-governing cities and various other things were far more common in various parts of Europe 1,000 A.D. than they were 500 years later, and much less 700 years later. English exceptionalism consists in large part of retaining the synthesis of Germanic folkways which evolved into Medieval constitutionalism, and allowing it to continue and to evolve further. On the Continent the "modern" notion of centralized control and despotism, embodied in the reception of Roman law, gradually choked out everything else.

This is exactly the point made by Lord Acton about a century ago in his History of Freedom in Antiquity and History of Freedom in Christianity. He understood English exceptionalism very well, and he saw it as the continuation of these deeper roots. Just as Macfarlane is teaching us once again to understand the roots and reality of English exceptionalism, and its critical role in the development of the modern world, Rodney Stark appears to be rediscovering the exceptionalism of Christendom, which is a larger and older story, but a necessary though not sufficient condition for the sub-development of English exceptionalism.

Think of it as a pyramid. Christianity in itself was a huge breakthrough. It placed infinite value on individuals, including women, and it defined reason as a God-given capacity which was to be cultivated in the service of God, it asserted that God was reasonable and made the world comprehensible and that we could and should understand Him and it, it said that there were things that belonged to God and not to Caesar, and it defined all persons possessing authority as servants of those place under their authority for the common good. These, and others, were earth-shattering, new ideas. There could be no freedom, no individualism, not even “reason” as we have come to understand these things without the foundation of Christianity. The next layer, the Western branch of Christendom, was the uniting of Christianity with Classical Civilization and Germanic influences. That is the base of the “Old West”, as David Gress calls it. It is distinct from Byzantine civilization, and the Eastern Christian world, which was Caesaro-Papist and had no division of political and religious authority. The Western division of religious and political authority, rendering different things unto God and unto Caesar, led to a unique and decisive increment of freedom. Those portions of Europe under the Western Church which maintained the stronger mix of Germanic personal freedom and legal equality were more likely to develop and sustain free institutions, which evolved into medieval constitutionalism. This added a further increment. This gives us the "Northwestern gradient" in political and economic freedom and dynamism in Europe. England uniquely sustained its medieval inheritance and built on it, due in the main to its "moat" and the creation of naval power to secure that moat, a process N.A.M. Rodger, and here, has described in detail. The English sub-civilization, part of the West, part of Christendom, achieved the “Exit to modernity” and disseminated itself around the world. But it did so not as some alien growth, but as part of the West, of Europe, of Christendom.

(Others on this blog may differ with me on these points, in general or in detail.)

[Cross-posted on ChicagoBoyz.]

Posted by Lexington Green at 10:03 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

October 02, 2005

Lex waxes poetic

Lex's poetic efforts are just too good to hide in the comments section. So here (in response to the end of Helen's last post) they are!

Tis only fit that Shakespeare's plays should be
Examined on this Anglospheric blog!
For what more timely, now, as then, to see
Th'essential nature of those things we share
That heritage far-spread, for good and ill,
So fitly limned in Will's enduring plays?
So Helen feel not bound to hold from us
Thy musings on the Tudors or the Bard!

Let not thy Blogging Muse be so betrayed!
Please break thy promise so untimely made!

Lexington Green

Posted by Jim Bennett at 06:55 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 01, 2005

"This is the English not the Turkish court"

The Royal National Theatre in London is an iffy institution. Most months it produces highly tendentious uninteresting soft-left plays but every now and then … well, every now and then it hits the heights.

A couple of months ago it was Tom Stoppard’s stunning trilogy about the Russian revolutionary movement of the nineteenth century “The Coast of Utopia”, much disliked by the intelligentsia a.k.a. journalists and reviewers. Stoppard had the temerity to be rude about Marx and the various revolutionaries. He also had the temerity to write the plays after he had found out a good deal about the subject. Shock, horror all round.

This summer there were the two Henry IVs. Beautifully acted by people who could actually speak Shakespeare, with spare scenery and no gimmicks, the productions allowed the plays to speak for themselves. And what they said was fascinating.

There are several themes in Shakespeare’s Chronicles, the most interesting of which are the plays of the Wars of the Roses, from Richard II to Richard III. The two Henry IVs and Henry V can be seen as a trilogy at the heart of which stands the English hero, Prince Hal, later King Henry V.

Henry IV Part II is often described as a picture of English life from top to bottom – and a very unpleasant one it is, too, particularly at the bottom end: crooks, liars, cheats, fools, the lot of them.

But what the plays are more than anything is a long meditation on the concept of England, Englishness and the English crown. Written in the sixteenth century, during a period of relative calm (give or take a few plots, rebellions and assassination attempts of the Queen), about half-way between two devastating civil wars, these plays make it clear that all these concepts were ones familiar enough to a very varied audience for them to be discussed on the stage.

Most people know John of Gaunt’s glorious and lyrical monologue from Richard II, in which the dying man, fearful of the future, talks of

“This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea….
This blessed plot, this realm, this England.”

The phrases are often quoted and the sentiment proudly repeated but it is unlikely to have gained complete acceptance among the audience, who knew well the truth about infection and the hand of war. But again, the sentiment was there; the idea of England was clear enough to work into a play.
The plays deal with more specific matters: the Crown of England being the most important one, both as a symbol and as a physical object, of some significance in the age of a more peripatetic court and of greater need for emblems and artifacts. (I say that, but is it true? Emblems and artifacts remain as important to people as ever. We all live by symbols.)

Richard II is forced to hand the crown over to Bolingbroke and agrees to do so but at the last moment either drops it or throws it on the ground; Henry IV is obsessive about his need to have the crown with him all the time, whether he wakes or sleeps, but at the same feels its weight as his coscience remains heavy; Henry V knows that he must put the crown on his head as soon as he can and does so prematurely, in fact, when he believes his father to be dead. And so it goes, till finally, the crown is retrieved at the Battle of Bosworth Field and placed on Henry VII’s head.

An important part of the theme is the search for the king who is both the rightful heir and deserves to be so. Richard II is the rightful monarch but forfeits his kingship by commissioning the murder of Thomas Woodstock, that starts the century-long cycle of violence, by his profligacy, his weakness and, finally, his wrongful confiscation of Bolingbroke’s lands.

Bolingbroke is justified in reclaiming his property by whatever method is necessary, but he goes further in usurping the crown and having the rightful king murdered. Not only is his position undermined but his action sets off the next round of violence, the Percy – Mortimer rebellion.

He knows he can never be worthy of his great burden, as he explains to his son:

“…God knows, my son,
By what by-paths and indirect crook’d ways
I met this crown; and I myself know well
How troublesome it sat upon my head:”

Hal, on the other hand, will inherit rightfully (a questionable assumption) and will have the chance to show himself worthy of the great honour of being King of England, Henry IV dying full of troubled worries about the state of the realm. The main problem is Hal’s apparent flightiness and unacceptable companions.

The crucial scene of the play comes immediately after Henry IV’s death when Hal comes out of his father’s chamber, in the latest production, already wearing the crown. His brothers and close courtiers stand unhappy and fearful for their own and their country’s future.

It is at this point that Henry V shows his greatness for the first time and says the words that, in my opinion, crystallize much of what England (and following from that, the Anglosphere) is about.

First he comforts his brothers:

“Brothers, you mix your sadness with some fear:
This is the English, not the Turkish court;
Not Amurath an Amurath succeeds,
But Harry, Harry. …”

That he has to say it, shows that the truth of this is not self-evident; that he says it shows that the notion of it is strongly held.

It is of some interest how often both the kings are referred to as Harry, the more intimate English name than the formal and foreign-sounding Henry. That may be one reason why Shakespeare never managed to write a play (so far as we know) about Henry VII – a usurper, if ever there was one, but Elizabeth’s grandfather. Who could have called that mean-minded despot Harry? His son, on the other hand, may have been an even bigger despot but was undoubtedly a Harry.

Having comforted his brothers, Henry V turns to the Lord Chief Justice whom he had once struck and who, in return, had thrown him into prison. When tasked with this, the Lord Chief Justice replies proudly:

“I then did use the person of your father;
The image of his power lay then in me:
And, in the administration of his law,
Your highness pleased to forget my place,
The majesty and power of law and justice,
The image of the king whom I presented,”

Henry’s greatness is shown by his forgetting the personal injury and accepting the statement of right: the law is the law and nobody is above it, not even the heir to the throne. There is a direct link here with the story John O’Sullivan tells in his article in the New Criterion of his Hungarian friend who, as a refugee, chose to go to Canada because it was ruled by the Queen and, therefore, even the policemen obeyed the law.

Alas, it is not really true for Britain any more, if it ever was fully. But the idea is there. And those two ideas are vitally important in showing what the English ideal was and the fact that it must have been recognized not just by Shakespeare but by his audience as well. Otherwise, why would he have written it?

The famous scene of Hal disowning Falstaff may be more important from a dramatic point of view, but the one of Hal accepting the role of an English king is of great historical significance. The play ends with him calling Parliament together – money is needed for the French wars and that is the only way to get it. Another English idea.

PS I promise not to write about the Tudors or Shakespeare for a while.

Posted by Helen Szamuely at 07:58 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack