A while ago I read two interesting articles by Deepak Lal. Helen Szameuly, of this blog, and ChicagoBoyz and her home base at the EU Referendum blog recommended Lal's book In Praise of Empires: Globalization and Order, which I have not read yet. I'll get to it.
The two articles were Asia and Western Dominance and In Defense of Empires , which is a short version of the book. So, even though I haven't read the book itself, I'll go after Lal a little bit anyway. How unfair is that? If you can't be unfair on a blog, where the Hell can you be unfair, anyway? And do, please, read these essays, if necessary rather than this blog post. Print them out and read them on the train tomorrow. Really. They are very good. That is why I bother to bring them to your attention.
My take-away is that Lal is solid on the econ side, and on the history, pretty much. Despite being mostly good, it does seem to me that he is wrong in two important ways. First, he misunderstands how different the Pax Brittanica really was from prior, land-based empires. As a result, he generalizes about "empires" in a way that I cannot fully buy into.
(As an aside, the best book to read about comparing how the various empires functioned and how they stack up against each other, you have to read Empire: The Russian Empire and Its Rivals by Dominic Lieven, which is brilliant.)
The British Empired ruled with a relatively light hand and at relatively low cost. It imposed the most general types of rules. It only ran up the flag where that seemed necessary, and probably made just as much money on the informal parts of its empire in China or South America as it did anywhere else. The British Empire expanded by a process of "creep" at the margins, often over the alarmed cries emanating from a tight-fisted treasury. The British also bluffed a lot. Perhaps most importantly, the British wisely wound up the business when the costs got too high. They hauled down the flag, ran up a new one for the natives to salute, and scurried up the gangway and got out of town before the whole thing fell apart. They did not have anything like the French experience in Algeria, for good reason.
And the sorts of costs associated with winning and keeping an empire are only getting higher. Lal's suggestion that anyone really undertake a new empire in any strong sense of the word is a century out of date, at least.
By failing to grasp this, Lal misunderstands the United States, which is more rational than he gives it credit for. We are a hegemon but we are not an empire in the sense of many of historical examples, and we don't want to be. Moreover, in an age of cheap explosives and firearms and cellphones and the internet and television, there are no more backward, isolated places to conquer. The dirt-cheap but very destructive Iraqi insurgency shows how hard it would be to impose a real empire. A Pax Americana cannot and should not look like the Pax Brittanica, let alone a mission civilatrice or other, more heavy-handed examples of imperial rule. We are correct to want to let people rule their own affairs, but get them to buy into certain "rule sets", to use a Barnettism. This is a rather minimalist vision, far short of "Empire".
Lal also shows that he is coming from the "econ" side by a certain boneheadedness when it comes to political reality. Like many econ-trained classical liberals he is absolutely certain about the benefits of free trade, it is an old argument to him that should not even have to be made. So, he suggests that the USA should just "get over it" and create a free trade regime. This is an utter impossibility. The Jacksonian element in American life is what gives America the military muscle to go kill people in foreign lands, and it is the only thing that makes all this empire talk possible, that keeps us from being a vast Belgium. But that same element in our national life has no interest in righting the worlds wrongs generally. Nor does it like foreigners, or trust them, and trade is perceived as a way to gain advantage over foreigners if possible and a way to lose American jobs if it is mishandled. It is adversarial. No amount of exasperated lectures by econ profs in bow ties will change this perception. It is structural.
A good corrective to Lal, even in his short form, is Myths of Empire: Domestic Politics and International Ambition, by Jack Snyder. Snyder talks about how people come up with security rationales for some pretty far-fetched military and imperialist ventures. His discussion of the intellectual house of cards that preceded the Fashoda Incident is especially good. A little too cynical, but a good antidote for someone like me who tends to get worked up and want to send the Marines to faraway locales, unless I impose a cool-down period on myself. It is a whole lot easier to get into these places than to get out of them again.
Cross-posted at ChicagoBoyz.
Western technological superiority has deep historical roots, and can only be understood – if at all – by an analysis that is willing to look back centuries, even millenia.Joel Mokyr, The Lever of Riches, quoted on David Cosandey's very interesting Rise of the West site (about which more later, I hope).
In my recent post on the Canadian elections I said, in part:
He should make sure the Canadian troops in Afghanistan are decorated in a visible and public ceremony, exactly what has been denied to them to date...And perhaps he might even consider a surprise visit to the forces in Afghanistan.
In foreign policy, he and his external affairs minister can do a lot to change the tone without legislation. Rather than being conspicuously closer to Bush, (which the media is waiting to jump on him for) he should become buddies with John Howard of Australia and to a lesser extent Tony Blair (while inviting the new British Tory leader Cameron to Ottawa for a visit. Cameron might spend some time thinking about why his party is now the only major Anglosphere right party to be out of power.)
On January 26th Mark Steyn wrote in the Wall Street Journal:
Unlike his hollow predecessor, Stephen Harper is a thoughtful man who understands the gulf between self-mythologizing and the harder realities. You can't change a free country unless you persuade free people to change their minds, and he will at least start that tough job. He doesn't have to be George Bush's best friend, and he may even be more effective at opposing him on trade and agriculture disputes. But he could try being Tony Blair's and John Howard's best friend and reconnecting us with other traditional pals from whom Canada's become increasingly estranged. He could honor our small but brave contribution to Afghanistan by flying out and meeting them on the ground.
Michael Barone also has some nice things to say about my post.
Since then Harper has been "following" our advice (not that it took a rocket scientist to come up with it, actually). He has made headlines in Canada by picking a fight with the US ambassador over the issue of sovereignty over the passages between Canada's arctic islands, over which Canada claims sovereignty and the US maintains are international waters. Ironically, on this issue the US is upholding the generally-accepted consensus of international law, while it is Canada who is being the unilateralist cowboy flying in the face of world opinion.
Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course.
When talking about this Anglosphere business, one occasionally gets asked whether discussions of Anglosphere culture and values are not " really all about Protestantism?"
The short answer is "no".
The somewhat more elaborate answer goes about as follows:
As a matter of demonstrable historical fact English exceptionalism preceded Protestantism by at least one thousand years. Furthermore, Anglosphere exceptionalism continues now, when most of the Anglosphere is not Protestant. Protestantism is therefore an episode in the Anglosphere, one part of its history. It is an important and influential episode, but it is only a portion of the whole story, and it is not the defining element in the story.
The fundamental origins of Anglospheric liberty are some combination of Teutonic folkways and medieval constitutionalism, which led to the development of representative government, common law, government power being subject to law, strong notions of private property, a strong civil society, etc. Note this is not a matter of mistaking origins for essence, as some commenter once said. Rather, it is a matter of seeing and understanding the existence of an unbroken line of development which, again, is a matter of demonstrable fact.
These cultural and institutional developments in England were strongly in place prior to the Reformation. To wax counterfactual, none of those need necessarily have gone away if the Reformation played out differently in England. A Catholic England would still have been a Catholic ENGLAND. Thomas More's world (as depicted so vividly by Peter Ackroyd) is recognizably the active, decentralized, voluntarist, outward looking, mercantile, law-abiding, enterprising civil society we see in other ages of English History -- and it is Catholic top to bottom. The world Ackroyd shows us is not a monolithic Catholicism, but a varied and dynamic Catholicism, with many different groups and orders and local parishes all doing their own thing within an overall religious commonality -- again, a very Anglospheric-looking Catholicism. And, of course, the Reformation era was marked by many setbacks for Anglospheric liberty, such as the use of the Star Chamber court. So, the influence of the Reformation era on Anglospheric developments is multifaceted, and not all positive. On the other end of the timeline, America was once almost entirely Protestant. But, of course, today it is a highly diverse place religiously -- and irreligiously. And we see that Anglospheric institutions and cultural values have been successfully adopted and adapted by various non-Protestant individuals and groups.
To the extent English or American conservatives see themselves as preserving a specifically Protestant -- or even Christian -- national identity, a larger conception of the Anglosphere may present a hardship for them. Many good-hearted men and women of a conservative disposition, in particular in England -- the erstwhile "Protestant Island" -- would like to define their national identity this way. Many want to "restore" a national identity along the line of religious identity. Curiously enough, this is so even, or especially, when they personally rarely set foot in a Church. While I often agree with such people on much else, this part of the program won't work.
In short, Protestantism and Protestant cultural values have had a strong and important and in many ways affirmative influence on the Anglosphere. But Protestantism and Protestant cultural values do not define the Anglosphere.
(On a personal note, as a Catholic American I grow rather weary of being granted the status of an "honorary white man", like Gunga Din, on the theory that all Americans have all really turned into Protestants now. The subtext is that we benighted Papists will eventually give up on our priest craft and idolatry and eventually become true and complete Americans. For now we are free to use the front door anyway as a gesture of tolerance from our betters. Thanks anyway, but we'll just kick the front door down with our boots and sit wherever we damn well want. Ha. I am a well-balanced Irishman. I have a chip on each shoulder. I have not yet read Samuel Huntington's book Who Are We? I understand it has more than a touch of this. But Huntington is a solid thinker, and I will get to him, and let him speak for himself.)
Cross-posted on ChicagoBoyz.
I had this post on ChicagoBoyz. It is only remotely and tenuously Anglospheric, but I figured I'd mention it here as it may be of interest.
The Saudi Arabians have withdrawn their ambassador to Denmark. Not much of a loss, you may think, but those free-spirited open-minded 21st Century Saudis have been influential in getting other Middle Eastern countries to boycott Danish products. Again, as the main Danish exports are bacon, Danish ham and lager, not much of a loss, you may think. But Arla products (including Lurpak butter) are a big export earner and at least one Saudi supermarket has cleared its shelves of their products.
This is in response to the Jyllands-Posten having published 12 cartoons of Mohammad after a Danish writer complained that he couldn’t find anyone to illustrate a book he’d written about him. The cultural editor of the newspaper put out a call to illustrators, twelve responded and the paper published the cartoons. They were pretty tame stuff, but have rocked the Muslim world because under Islamic law – which they now seek to apply in the West – renderings of Mohammad are illegal.
The cultural editor of the Jyllands-Posen has remained unapologetic, saying he put out the call in response to a worrying trend he had observed in the Western media: self-censorship. The paper has received bomb threats and the editors and the cartoonists have received death threats from adherents of the Religion of Peace but all have stood their ground.
With great bravery, so has Denmark’s prime minister, Anders Rasmussen, who declined a requested meeting with the ambassadors from 11 Muslim countries, saying he has no control over Denmark’s press “and nor do I want such”.
This was last September and the Muslims aren’t letting this issue go away. They’ve already lodged a somewhat florid protest at the UN, where they got the sympathy of a tranzi ear or two. But their aim is an abject apology from Denmark for breaking an Islamic taboo - or else. They grow more threatening and the courageous Anders Rasmussen calmly declines to change his mind, saying publishing cartoons is not against Danish law, which is the law that applies in Denmark.
Why are our cowardly leaders letting the steadfast Mr Rasmussen and the newspaper’s editors take the heat alone? Why has not one American Congressman raised the issue in Congress? No one would expect an unequivocal response from the British prime minister, but is there not one British MP brave enough to support Mr Rasmussen and the Danish people who are, after all, defending the liberty of all of us? Is there not one newspaper editor – even a tabloid – with the strength of conviction to support the Danes? Now Danish livelihoods are being threatened for failing to condemn this infraction against Islamic law, with boycotts of their products.
Is there not one damn’ politician in the entire Anglosphere who will take a stand with Mr Rasmussen? What about John Howard, then? The newly elected Harper? God help us, where is Jesse Jackson?
So far, the sole support has come from Norway – another Viking nation, let us note – one of whose papers printed the original article translated into Norwegian and ran the cartoons. Will not one elected member of an Anglosphere government stand shoulder to shoulder with Mr Rasmussen, who is single-handedly defending Western values and freedoms?
Harper's win in Canada is welcome news to the entire Anglosphere. This is not so much on account of what Harper may do, although there are some interesting possibilites, but at a minimum for what he will not do: ride anti-Americanism as his substitute for an honest patriotism. The fundamental problem with the Liberals is that ever since Trudeau deconstructued the basis of historical Canadian patriotism, the Liberals have not been able to construct an adequate substitute. They are almost embarassed to love the real, historical Canada, (they are too busy apologizing for it) unless that sentiment can somehow be tied into America-bashing. Dudes, get a life -- and while you're at it, get a national narrative that consist of something else besides "I'm not them."
I have been thinking about the critical question of what Harper can do even with no majority. His legislative agenda probably needs to focus on government process -- transparency primarily, to decouple the Liberals' cash machine, and secondly disintermediation, to finish the end run around the CBC and the press oligopoly. The Bloc Quebecois and to some extent the New Democratic Party can get behind that agenda, even if as leftists they cannot support much of the Conservative substance.
But aside from that, the Prime Minister's office is a pretty good bully pulpit, and he would be smart to use it to start deconstructing the Trudeavean deconstruction of the old Canada. He should make sure the Canadian troops in Afghanistan are decorated in a visible and public ceremony, exactly what has been denied to them to date. He should make a show of honoring the Canadian WWII veterans conspicuously and repeatedly, and having a substantial ceremony on every one of the big Canadian military anniversaries: Vimy, Dieppe, D-Day, etc. He might bring back the Red Ensign in a historical context -- ordering it flown as a "veteran's memorial flag" on select days like D-Day, and for Canadian ships to fly the Blue Ensign on a suitable day as well, maybe November 11th. It would be very hard for people to criticize him for remembering the veterans more conspicuously. And perhaps he might even consider a surprise visit to the forces in Afghanistan.
In foreign policy, he and his external affairs minister can do a lot to change the tone without legislation. Rather than being conspicuously closer to Bush, (which the media is waiting to jump on him for) he should become buddies with John Howard of Australia and to a lesser extent Tony Blair (while inviting the new British Tory leader Cameron to Ottawa for a visit. Cameron might spend some time thinking about why his party is now the only major Anglosphere right party to be out of power.)
Rather than bilateral meetings with Bush, he should set up some trilateral meetings with Bush and Howard in a Pacific venue, and focus on Pacific affairs, the neglect of which is another Liberal shortcoming.
(The Liberals have the curious habit of looking at the Pacific the wrong way around, essentially viewing it from Brussels, rather than from the natural vantage-point of Vancouver with its capital and technology, or Calgary with its energy resources. That is to say, they tend to share the French self-delusion that China is going to do their heavy lifting in "counterbalancing" American power, at great potential cost to China and little real benefit.)
Harper should make a point of going to India and elevating Canadian-Indian relations in an Asian-Pacific context. This might get some of the Indian immigrants wondering why they support what is essentially the suck-up party to Chinese ambitions in Asia.
Secondly he should become more proactive in Caribbean affairs and pick up some of the position the British have historically held with the Anglo-Caribbean states, including a muscular support of those states in their ongoing disputes with the Caribbean Hispanosphere states. Particularly this is so with Guyana, which is in the sights of Venezuela's Chavez, and whose natural ally in that dispute has always been Britian.
In regard to Cuba, he can appoint a new ambassador with instructions
to reach out to and suppport the Cuban dissidents. The rationale for Canada's relations with Cuba has always been that engagement brings more results in reform than isolation. So far there has been little to show for it. Harper has a very valid right to step up the pace of the engagement effort.
Harper and the Tories have a very solid reservoir of very Canadian ideas, symbols, and traditions that have been ignored or suppressed for decades, but that can be pulled out again selectively.
The Liberals and the media are waiting for him to become a "clone of America" -- but by taking an Anglospherist tack he can throw them off balance and turn the negative Canadian nationalism (in the form of anti-Americanism) into positive Canadian patriotism. America (and the Anglosphere) doesn't need a lackey of America on its northern border -- it needs a neighbor that has abandoned its touchy defensiveness and can take its proper place in the English-speaking community, of which it used to be a leading member.
An attorney sent this memo around his law firm and it is well worth reproducing here. As credit card fraud is constantly evolving, we need to stay one step ahead of the game with the sharpest new ideas. This information is specifically for Americans, but there is enough here that applies across the board, so everyone with a chequebook or a credit card should read it. (If for no other reason than, how often do you get free advice from a lawyer?)
1. The next time you order checks have only your initials (instead of first name) and last name put on them. If someone takes your checkbook, they will not know if you sign your checks with just your initials or your first name, but your bank will know how you sign your checks.
2. Do not sign the back of your credit cards. Instead, put "PHOTO ID REQUIRED."
3. When you are writing checks to pay on your credit car accounts, DO NOT put the complete account number on the "For" line. Instead, just put the last four numbers. The credit card company knows the rest of the number, and anyone who might be handling your check as it passes through all the check-processing channels will not have access to it.
4. Put your work phone # on your checks instead of your home phone. If you have a PO Box, use that instead of your home address. If you do not have a PO Box, use your work address. Never have your SS# printed on your checks, (DUH!). You can add it if it is necessary. However, if you have it printed, anyone can get it.
5. Place the contents of your wallet on a photocopy machine. Do both sides of each license, credit card, etc. You will know what you had in your wallet and all of the account numbers and phone numbers to call and cancel. Keep the photo copy in a safe place. Also carry a photocopy of your passport when traveling either here or abroad. We have all heard horror stories about fraud that is committed on us in stealing a name, address, Social Security number, credit cards.
Unfortunately, as an attorney, I have first hand knowledge because my wallet was stolen last month. Within a week, the thieve(s) ordered an expensive monthly cell phone package, applied for a VISA credit card, had a credit line approved to buy a Gateway computer and received a PIN number from DMV to change my driving record information online. Here is some critical information to limit the damage in case this happens to you or someone you know:
A. We have been told we should cancel our credit cards immediately. The key is having the toll free numbers and your card numbers handy so you know whom to call. Keep those where you can find them.
B. File a police report immediately in the jurisdiction where your credit cards, etc., were stolen. This proves to credit providers you were diligent, and this is a first step toward an investigation (if there ever is one). However, here is what is perhaps most important of all (I never even thought to do this.)
C. Call the three national credit reporting organizations immediately to place a fraud alert on your name and Social Security number. I had never heard of doing that until advised by a bank that called to tell me an application for credit was made over the Internet in my name. The alert means any company that checks your credit knows your information was stolen, and they have to contact you by phone to authorize new credit. By the time I was advised to do this, almost two weeks after the theft, all the damage had been done. There are records of all the credit checks initiated by the thieves' purchases, none of which I knew about before placing the alert. Since then, no additional damage has been done, and the thieves threw my wallet away this weekend (someone turned it in). It seems to have stopped them dead in their tracks.
Now, here are the numbers you always need to contact about your wallet and contents being stolen:
1.) Equifax: 1-800-525-6285
2.) Experian (formerly TRW): 1-888-397-3742
3.) TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289
4.) Social Security Administration (fraud line): 1-800-269-0271
In 1997, Dr. Robert May of the UK Office of Science and Technology wrote a very influential article in Science magazine entitled The Scientific Wealth of Nations (PDF format), sorting through the relative strengths of the world's nations in terms of their share in creating scientific literature. A wave of further research and government policy tinkering followed, responding in part to the dot.com bubble of the late 90s.
In July of 2004, Dr. David A. King (of the same UK Office) followed up May's research with an article in Nature entitled The Scientific Impact of Nations (PDF format) which went even further in detailing which particular disciplines were best represented in different parts of the world, and which countries were most represented in the critical "top 1% cited" scientific articles. The top eight countries, at the time, represented 84.5% of the most influential scientific articles published.
The "usual suspects" in Scientific Impact appear, both as major contributors to the scientific literature and as countries which make significant contributions even in relation to their relative wealth and population. Indeed, the chart below, fiddled on the X and Y axis could just as easily be a chart of per capita income, OECD standard of living ranking, Transparency International corruption ranking, Freedom House ranking, etc. etc.
The work of May, King, and other scholars has highlighted both the importance, and the relatively uneven distribution, of research and innovation across the world. Basic research funding (a mania of both governments and venture capitalists in the US and Japan) is often the foundation for technological breakthroughs and vast intellectual property incomes. Yet for many nations, such financial commitments are not seen as a central priority.
Converting the scientific strengths of each nation's universities and corporate labs into productive economic growth and jobs is no easy matter. The former do not automatically lead to the latter.
An EU initiative to increase effective R&D spending in 2000 (the "Lisbon Agenda") to gain parity with the US has had limited success, to put it most diplomatically. In a report published Friday (Jan 20), an independent Expert Group commissioned by the EU "urges Europe’s leaders to take radical action on research and innovation “before it is too late” " ... UK Telegraph article. The authors "propose a 4-pronged strategy focusing on the creation of innovation friendly markets, on strengthening R&D resources, on increasing structural mobility as well as fostering a culture which celebrates innovation."
The reported, effective abandonment of Europe by pharmaceutical companies, for example, is occurring at the very moment that the synergy of computation, biotechnology, and medicine is just getting underway (cf. earlier posts on Ray Kurweil's book The Singularity is Near). Europe's world-class scientists and corporations tend to focus on important, profitable but well-established fields. Meanwhile, the international ties associated with "frontier" research create wealth and productivity gains that pass much of Europe by.
Even when knowing what has to be done to encourage greater innovation, nations struggle to change attitudes in government, business, and society. Will adding more money and committee members to the problem boost innovation in Europe? Northern Europe, however, and the Anglosphere seem to have some systemic cultural advantages which leverage available people and money, in ways that translate into broad national productivity boosts. As social scientists still struggle to identify what "made" Silicon Valley or Route 128, the possibility exists that such places simply can't be reverse-engineered. Perhaps they happened by chance ... the "wisdom of crowds" just kicking in spontaneously. A case in point: Cambridge UK's science park, intentionally built to mimic the benefits of Silicon Valley, and now being enthusiastically used to convert British university genius into practical solutions ... by American and Japanese corporations!
National science policy, and its results, is one of the great slow-motion spectator sports for the technology-minded. For readers of this blog, however, monitoring the net flow of post-docs around the world, and of the head offices and labs of the high-tech multinationals, might be a faster way to track the scientific wealth and scientific impact of nations. "Planning for innovation" with painfully sincere EU Expert Groups seems like a thankless task.
John O'Sullivan's take on the upcoming Canadian elections makes some good points, particularly in that Canada has imitated the US system primarily in introducing a Supreme Court that can override laws on constitutional grounds.
One could take that point further. Canada's constitution now combines the British parliamentary system's stong prime ministership, which with a well-disciplined majority can pretty much push through whatever legislation it wants, with an American-style supreme court with very strong powers. Rather than serving as a check upon each other, they seem to act together in creating a ratchet toward a single set of solutions for any problem -- more interventions by the federal state, no matter how ineffective or obnoxious previous ones have been. Either the historical British system, or the historical American one, have been more effective in balancing government actions with freedom and an effective civil society. The Canadian hybrid seems to have imported the vices of both with the virtues of neither.
Playing mix'n'match with imported institutions is always problematic. The Japanese during the Meiji era, after it opened to the world, tried to copy the best of each Western nation. It modeled its navy after the British Royal Navy, and its army after the Prussian Army, and sent its young officers to Britain and Prussia, respectively, for training. It succeeded far better that they understood -- the officers picked up not only the skills but the attitudes of their mentors. The navy officers absorbed the British conviction that the Navy was the Senior Service; the army officers the Prussian attitude that the Army pretty much was the State. This did nothing to quench the natural interservice rivalry that most nations experience, nor did the fact that each service tended to be dominated by members of rival samurai clans, as Walter McDougall related. This interservice rivalry help spur the drive toward expansion both in the Pacific and mainland Asia, which ended up feeding the downward spiral into war.
When you mix two elements of disparate cultures in one system, it's not always clear how they will react in the new environment and combination.
Clayton Cramer comments on the current US PBS series The War That Made America, the opening episode of which I too watched last night. The series, as Cramer's post documents, is about the war known in the USA as the French and Indian War and elsewhere as the Seven Years' War. I was happy to see the series, as it helps to correct the lack of attention paid to the monarchist period of American history, and brings out the essential continuity of American life through the past four centuries. The war is also interesting as the last big thing that Americans did as part of the Empire, and to see how the Anglo-American tensions that arose during that effort pointed out to all how the political structures that had served the Empire to that point had become unworkable. This revelation led directly to Lord North's efforts to reform the structure by centralizing power in London, to Franklin's attempts to reform the structure by formalizing a balance of power between Westminster and America, and the Patriots' ultimate resort to independence.
It was also interesting because it shed more light on the interesting period between 1497 and (roughly) 1800, in which a set of hybrid cultures mixing various Indian tribes with French- and English-speaking cultures arose in the northeast quadrant of North America. At first it was confined to the Atlantic coastal strip, where fishermen mixed informally with Indians as soon as Cabot's voyage began bringing the former to American shores. However, as trappers and traders began to regularly visit the interior, and state interests followed with soldiers and missionaries, the various Indian nations began incorporating the capabilities of the Europeans into their political calculations. The PBS series shows this world at its maturity, a few decades before its collapse. It's worth remembering that the northeast North American Indian world as we know it from hsitorical accounts was nothing like a pristine native culture.
Cramer comments on the role of the American militias in the campaigns of that war. He notes that these militia were often drawn from the bottom of their respective colonial societies, and their lack of motivation to fight for Imperial and land speculators' interests might partly explain their poor performance. This is probably true of some units, particularly the frontier guard put together in Virginia after Braddock's defeat. However, that picture is at odds with the well-documented discussion of the New England militia in David Hackett Fischer's Paul Revere's Ride. Fischer documents the ways in which New England militias tended to be well-integrated into civic life, well-trained, and often militarily effective.
It's also the case that New Englanders felt very much under the guns of the French and their Indian allies. They were close to the French seat of power in Quebec, and had long memories of French-led raids into New England such as the Deerfield Massacre. They had been part of a long series of previous British campaigns against France, and had ready access to the stories told by veterans of those expeditions. Cramer complains about the tendency of critics of the current war trying to conflate "wars for the benefit of the rich" with the War on Terror, and cites the French and Indian/Seven Years' War as one of the former. Perhaps, though, the New Englanders saw, with some validity, that war as a war against terror and the sources of terror.
One of the mainstays of Anglosphere defence over the last sixty years has been the quiet but profound ties between the military forces of the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and, on occasion, NZ. This co-operation extends from frontline standardization of ammunition to the size and shape of the humblest screws used in equipment.
As a generation of Cold War fighter aircraft reach retirement age, all but NZ have made massive financial and technical commitments to the next generation US fighter (the F-35). The F-22 fighter is just now entering service in the US but has not been offered to any other nation. Recent New Scientist and BBC Online articles suggest that the UK, at least, is still participating in ongoing Anglospheric defence co-operation in the form of a BAE-designed unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) called the Corax.
Credit: BAE Systems
Credit: BAE Systems
What will be the nature of Anglosphere military co-operation as the UK undertakes greater involvement in EU military structures? Perhaps there will still be an appetite for US-UK Eyes Only military technology in the 21st century. The evolution of UAVs (and their ground [UGV] and sea-going [USV] equivalents) will represent the high-end of military technology in coming years. Depending on whether the Corax next shows up for testing in Toulouse or the Mojave Desert ... we may have some sense of what an Anglosphere Air Force might look like.
Epstein, E.J., The Big Picture: Money and Power in Hollywood, Random House, 2005.
If your last visit to the cinema was a disappointing mix of overpriced tickets and salt-and-sugar concession snacks, followed by a postage stamp theatre blaring rock music, 15 minutes of advertising, with sticky floors and oafs talking on their cell phones during the feature film, you’re not alone. And if you felt that the movies on offer were only suitable for teenagers, antinomians, and nihilists, you were correct. They were made that way on purpose.
Edward Jay Epstein, previously known as a writer on political events, has crunched the numbers and written a book on Hollywood like none seen before. Part introduction to film making, part-history, part-economics, “Big Picture” describes the studio system of the first half-century of the film business as it reached its peak of power and simplicity in the late 1940s. Before the era of television, theatres and creative talent were owned by a handful of studios. The product was cranked out on Hollywood back-lots at minimal cost. The cheaper the film, the more profit at the studio’s theatres across the nation. Post-war restrictions by foreign governments meant the foreign market was a significant but only small portion of studio profit. Theatre tickets and concession sales were the goal.
With a captive weekly domestic audience over 100 million, studio films (mixed with a package of newsreels, cartoons, serials, “trailers”, and B-films) were relentlessly adult oriented without being “adult” in content. The only exception, and indeed the only Gentile movie mogul of the time, was Walt Disney. He was convinced that kids were the market.
Flash forward sixty years … after the anti-trust legislation which forced studios to divest their theatre chains, after the appearance of television and the catastrophic drop in cinema attendance, after the anti-trust legislation which forced TV networks to divest their production houses (quickly scooped up by the movie studios), after Disney began minting money with character merchandising deals, after the appearance of home videotape players (VCRs) and video stores, after the appearance of DVDs and the big-box retail stores, after the resurgence of foreign appetite for Hollywood films … the world is entirely different.
Now the Hollywood film industry is dominated by six huge entertainment companies (Paramount, Fox, Sony, Warner Bros. Disney, and Universal). Each integrates broadcast, pay- and satellite TV networks under one umbrella. Some have theme parks and publishing companies. Each has vast merchandising ties with fast-food, music, Internet, and clothing companies (if they don’t actually own those companies). All have monopolistic foreign distribution subsidiaries that can shuffle money between branches to minimize taxes. These giants spent $18 billion dollars in 2003 to create and promote of 80 films around the world, and were rewarded with $6.4 billion in cinema revenue. A net loss of roughly $11 billion.
How Hollywood turns that $11 billion from scary red to perpetual black is part-and-parcel of why your average movie experience is nonsensical feast of noise, pyrotechnics, computer-generated image (CGI) special effects, inane celebrities, and supernatural bulls**t. It’s why dialog is at a minimum, the endings are happy, the movie running times are under 128 minutes, the popcorn is insanely salty, the ratings are usually PG-13, and every plot line requires lots of car chases, monsters, and explosions. Nonetheless, only a tiny handful of the films you see in the theatres will actual make money during theatrical release (known as “current production”). The handful of films that will gross more than a billion dollars follow a similar formula:
“All of them:
1. are based on children’s stories, comic books, serials, cartoons, or, a theme park ride.
2. feature a child or adolescent protagonist.
3. have a fairy-tale-like plot in which a weak or ineffectual youth is transformed into a powerful and purposeful hero.
4. contain only chaste, if not strictly platonic, relationships between the sexes, with no suggestive nudity, sexual foreplay, provocative language, or even hints of consummated passion.
5. feature bizarre-looking and eccentric supporting characters that are appropriate for toy and game licensing.
6. depict conflict – through it may be dazzling, large-scale, and noisy – in ways that are sufficiently non-realistic, and bloodless, for a rating no more restrictive than PG-13.
7. end happily, with the hero prevailing over powerful villains and supernatural forces (most of which remain available for potential sequels).
8. use conventional or digital animation to artificially create action sequences, supernatural forces, and elaborate settings.
9. cast actors who are not ranking stars – at least in the sense they do not command gross-revenue shares.”
In one word, “Spiderman” … in two words, “Harry Potter” … in four, “Lord of the Rings.”
This formula must now also accommodate the domestic tastes and governmental concerns of the eight major foreign markets for Hollywood films that contribute as much or more to profits than domestic income (which includes Canada). In order of financial importance, they are Japan, Germany, Britain, Spain, France, Australia, Italy, Mexico. While the rest of the nations of the world contribute their share to Hollywood wealth, the design and formulation of films is driven only by these eight foreign countries.
Hold on a minute, though. The formulaic kid-bait and toy franchising represented above is only occasionally represented at awards time. Wasn’t last night’s Golden Globes a festival of gay and transsexual awakening? Yes, indeed it was. For part of the emotional cost of making bilge for children from 8-80 is a deep ennui amongst the creative and management talent that feeds the “sexopoly” – the six-company beast. In order to boost morale and acquire prestige, studios, stars, and directors also participate in making movies of interest to them and those they admire. The result is a number of films that will certainly lose money in the cinemas, have only a small chance of recouping costs in DVD or during free TV broadcast, but which will appeal to the creative talent which otherwise is engaged in making merchandisable blockbusters. Make a blockbuster, get an “art-house” film, and maybe an Oscar, as a reward.
According to Epstein, the former studio system of the mid-twentieth century has morphed into the entertainment giants who focus on being financial clearinghouses for the lucrative home entertainment market (games, toys, DVDs, TV broadcast). All else is financially trivial. WalMart, through its loss-leader DVD sales, is now the largest single customer for Hollywood. And the eight foreign nations listed above provide more income that the US/Canada market. Giving the customer what they want drives the film business.
What’s the Anglosphere angle?
The complete absence of civic culture in modern movies. The movies made for kids and adolescents are, by design, denatured and created in the form of over-simplified hero tales. And the “art house” loss-leaders created to placate Hollywood’s egomaniacs are about individuals casting off the cultural, moral, and sexual constraints of their societies to find personal liberation (sound familiar?). Since the merchandising blockbusters must satisfy the international market, the “hero tales” transmit little more about American culture than US teens are good with guns. And the “art-house” films are mostly about outdoing the rest of the world in the denigration of Anglosphere domestic culture and sanctifying appropriate victims.
Now there may be some indirect value to educating the world that the average 20 year-old US marine or soldier is raised to enthusiastically deal death from childhood, but this hardly goes very far in explaining the actual reasons for American or Anglosphere success to the rest of the world. The values of decentralized decision-making, hammered out in town halls and parishes across the Anglosphere in boring multiplicity, day after day, never appear in any Hollywood films. Granted, the subject matter isn’t sufficient dramatic to sustain the interest of children, teenagers, or foreigners. Nonetheless, it’s the foundation upon which these giant entertainment corporations are able to wield so much international power.
Conservative columnist Ben Stein once described Hollywood culture as “high school with money” with the Caucasian businessman now the only universally acceptable movie villain. It’s ironic then that all the corporations but Sony are American-owned, and all feed the international market with product managed (if not financed) out of the US. Here’s a classic messy dynamic Anglosphere undertaking, overwhelmingly successful and adaptable, yet entirely oblivious of its origins and civic sustenance.
The next time you scan the marquee looking for something interesting in the multiplex, it’s worth recalling – you’re not the audience. You are just so not the audience.
In The Measure of Reality, Alfred Crosby makes an important observation about the nature of Western culture (pp. 53-54):
Change was not greater in the late medieval West than it would be in that society a half millennium later during the industrial revolution, but it may have seemed so. Europe in 1000 had no set way to think about change, certainly not social change, while Europe of 1750 was at least acquainted with the concept.
Yet the West, compared with contemporary Muslim, Indian, and Chinese civilizations, was uniquely prepared to survive and even to profit from such an avalanche of change. Western Europe had the characteristics that physicians seeking means to counter the disorders of senescence hope to find in fetal tissue, that is to say, not so much vigor, though that is surely valuable in itself, as a lack of differentiation. Fetal tissue is so young that it retains the potentiality for becoming whatever kind of tissue is required.
The West lacked firmness of political and religious and, speaking in the broadest generality, cultural authority. It was, among the great civilizations, unique in its stubborn resistance to political, religious, and intellectual centralization and standardization. It shared one thing with the universe as described by such mystics as Nicholas of Cusa and Giordano Bruno: it had no center and, therefore, had centers everywhere.
Here we see, early on, that Western cultures were decentralized. And I think they have become more so over time. In religion, for instance, Western Civilization in 1000 was much more centralized (turning, as it did, upon a central point in Rome) than it was to become soon after 1500 or, even more so, in 2000. Protestantism was in important respects a movement of decentralization.
I think we see a similar phenomenon in the realm of secular power, especially in those subcultures of Western civilization that are most dynamic. Consider the difference between, say, the Francosphere (which rotates around the sun of Paris) and the Anglosphere (which has major nodes in London and New York but many other quite significant nodes in Chicago, Los Angeles, Sydney, Toronto, and the like). The Czechs even have a word for it in their country: Pragocentrismus, the centralization of all national life in Prague.
Cultures that are resistant to centralization are also resistant to ossification, to what Carrroll Quigley called the decline of (productive) instruments into (obstructionist) institutions. Even today, there is much evidence that the foxlike cultures of the Anglosphere retain "the potentiality of becoming whatever is required" in order to meet the challenges of technological and social change (which all indications are will soon be faster and more radical than ever). Indeed, Western civilization and especially its Anglosphere subculture are not only prepared to react to such change, they are actively fomenting it. Headlong into the future we go. May we live in interesting times. :-)
(Cross-posted at one small voice.)
Back in October 2005 I published an article on Gordon Brown’s desperate need to inculcate a renewed sense of Britishness. It met with mixed reactions with one commenter stating that ‘Frankly, none of this matters’. But it does matter. Gordon Brown’s latest attempt to wrap himself in the robes of Britannia, has been deservedly ridiculed by the British press and has succeeded only in dividing a divided Britain still further along north south lines. In Scotland Brown was accused of denying his own roots, whilst in England his speech was viewed as little more than a transparent and cynical attempt to overcome his electoral handicap of being a Scottish MP.
|The Guardian: In an impassioned speech, he made the case for recapturing the union flag as a 'British symbol of unity, tolerance and inclusion'. But despite his best intentions, it is not supranational identities which Britons want to cling to, rather, the more particular identities of Wales, Scotland and, increasingly, England.|
Calling for Labour Party to feel pride in a British patriotism and patriotic purpose Brown conveniently overlooks the fact that his Labour Party have done more than any other organisation to destroy the concept of Britain. Brown does have a few suggestions as to how British pride can be restored:
The left-wing in Britain has traditionally demonized anyone that is overtly patriotic. Most, if not all, Labour Party members would rather commit suicide than sing Land of Hope and Glory. And if it wasn’t for the Left routinely accusing anyone that unfurled the Union Flag of fascism there would be no need now for this vulgar British introspection. Furthermore if Brown believes that his own constituents in Dunfermline are going to take down the Scottish flag and hoist a Union Flag he is mistaken, quite, quite mistaken - in fact he’s farther detached from reality than anyone could have previously imagined.
Under Labour the teaching of British history has been all but erased from the national curriculum. Besides, as UK Prime Minister Brown would have no say in the Scottish national curriculum or just what history is taught to his own child up in Scotland.
Britons would much rather celebrate English, Scottish, Welsh or Irish days than a British national day. Brown’s suggestion that Remembrance Day should be turned from a day of solemn reflection into a flag waving jamboree is frankly distasteful.
The British constitution and British institutions have been systematically vandalised by New Labour. The concept of a unitary state has all but disappeared, we are no longer one people, and the sovereignty of Parliament has been undermined by the handing away of powers to the EU and devolved legislatures. The only constitutional settlement that will give Brown the moral authority to govern Britain is a federal Britain.
Under a Brown government students that volunteer for community work will have their tuition fees waived by the Government. This measure, believes Brown, will encourage "strong modern patriotism" and "an agreed British national purpose". The rather glaring problem with this policy is that such a measure would not apply to Brown's own constituents in Scotland, it would only apply to English students, the only group directly affected by the UK Government's legislation on education. Quite why English students should volunteer for community work in the cause of building an agreed British national purpose when their Scottish counterparts do not have to pay those tuition fees, and when it was Scottish MPs voting in the UK Parliament that imposed those fees upon them (by overturning the collective will of English MPs who were opposed to tuition fees), is beyond me.
Some will see Gordon Brown’s vision for Britain as laudable, others laughable. Perhaps most laughable is his appropriation of English acheivements - Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights - for Britain (the Bill of Rights was never even incorporated into Scottish Law):
"So there is, a golden thread which runs through British history - that runs from that long ago day in Runnymede in 1215; on to the Bill of Rights in 1689 where Britain became the first country to successfully assert the power of Parliament over the King"
Despite the air of desperation that Brown exudes, and the abject ridicule that he has courted, his speech will certainly assure his place in history, not as the Prime Minister of the UK but as the man who finally awakened the English. Prior to 1997, and devolution to Wales and Scotland, for most English people English and British identity were coterminous. Not so any longer, the English genie is out of the bottle and its existence threatens Brown's succession to Blair's throne.
Of course Brown must have expected the English backlash and presumably the Brown camp formulated a game plan to counter it; for the sake of the Union I hope that his vision for Britain wasn't it.
Malaysia, this most relaxed and friendly of Islamic republics, appears, sadly, to be stealth tilting towards shariah law, and thus will eventually remove itself from the Anglosphere.
Malaysia has around a 40% minorities population – primarily Chinese and Indian - and has hitherto been careful to treat everyone equally under the Common Law it inherited from the British. Although Muslims can’t drink alcohol, the supermarkets happily sell liquor to the Chinese, the Indians and the thousands of expats in the country. Churches and temples are accorded the same protection as mosques. Restaurants stay open all day during the month of Ramadan, serving everyone but Muslims.
The route map of running a progressive Islamic country that has a very large minority of non-Muslims – those non-Muslims being the major wealth creators – was developed by Dr Mahathir, both a devout Muslim and a pragmatist.
Yet according to www.Dhimmiwatch.org, under Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi, who has only held office for a couple of years, things are already taking a dive. Native Malays (called Bhumiputeras – or sons of the soil – natives) are beginning to demand that the Islamic way of doing things be imposed on the rest of the country. From halal food to Islamic banking and the dreaded shariah law, they want the Muslim way of life imposed on the rest of the citizenry.
Last month, an Indian, who his Hindu wife said was Hindu, was given an Islamic burial against her wishes. She had absolutely no legal recourse. Several Hindu organizations have now banded together to protest the slide into shariah. Non-Muslims fear that Common Law and the previously unself-consciously secular society are under threat.
Said TERAS (the non-governmental Malay National Force) president Mohamad Azmi Abdul Hamid, “The Sharia court should not be seen as an institution that denies justice to non-Muslims. On the contrary, if its laws are fully applied, there is an assurance of better justice here compared to civil laws, which are the heritage of British colonial rule."
Malaysia's 40% non-Muslim population doesn't see it that way. Human rights lawyer P Uthayakumar demanded, “How can anyone even suggest such a remedy to non-Muslims? What becomes of the civil law, the judicial system and the secular Constitution?” His concern is justified. Malaysia has now embarked down the slippery slope of Islamism and there will be no stopping it.
Certainly, Malaysia has oil, but it is also dependent on the wealth created by the dozens of multinationals that have made their homes there in the confident expectation of resolving legal matters under English Common Law. A two minute drive on the causeway across the Straits of Malacca takes you to Singapore, with an immovable adherence to English Common Law and a very friendly attitude to multi-nationals.
Frankly, I think the 40% of the population that is non-Islamic has reason to worry. Militant Islam is on the rise and poisoning many a formerly free society. I foresee a sharp rise in property prices in Singapore.
Good post on Nutrition and Life Expectancy in Colonial American vs. Engand, on the very good 2Blowhards blog, talking about Robert Fogel's book The Escape from Hunger and Premature Death, 1700-2100. (Fogel is a ChicagoBoy). Michael Blowhard's post provoked a good discussion in the comments. I made the following contribution:
The American colonists were responding to changes in the way Britain sought to govern them. After the Glorious Revolution of 1688 Parliament was supreme. Most of the colonies had been founded before that time. The colonies were governed by people who believed in an older model which focused on limitations on government power; they were descendents of people who had fled from over-reaching government power. They clung to a notion of limited government, with the King in particular being subject to limits on his power. The post-1688 British government, which prevails to this day in most ways, is in essence a parliamentary dictatorship. The British parliament, and now only the House of Commons, faces virtually no express limitations on its powers. The men who constituted the British House of Commons in the 1700s were a hard-nosed class who were interested in exploiting the territories under their control for economic advantage. They saw the American colonies as operating outside of their control, and they wanted to rectify that, to make them work for the benefit of Britain's elite. The American colonists saw accurately where all this was going. In the years before the revolution, they wanted to have their loyalty be to the King, but not the new all-powerful parliament, with their own legislatures being in effect the local equivalent of the British parliament. The British governing class rejected the legal arguments for this, which were compelling. They were having none of it. They wanted control.
Eventually, the Americans saw, they would have to strike out on their own, or become subject in every important respect to control from Britain, for the advantage of Britain, and lose all their rights as equal British subjects. They chose to fight instead. Had they not done so, or lost, we can get a good idea of what ongoing British rule would have looked like by looking at the fate of Ireland and India and the Caribbean islands during this era. A class of English landlords and businessmen, with a small body of British troops and a larger body of locally-raised police and troops, keep order by harsh means, denied legal and political rights to their subjects, and extracted the economic wealth of the places under their control with a high degree of ruthlessness.
It was not about a few pennies on a packet of tea. The British were clever. They wanted the Americans to admit the principle that they could be directly taxed, by starting small. But once the principal is admitted, you have given away absolutely everything. The Founders were mostly lawyers, many of them London-trained. They knew exactly what was going on -- their freedom, their charters, their own governments, their civil and political rights, all would be lost if they admitted that Parliament could tax their tea. They were legalistic men living in a legalistic age, but they were also men who sincerely believed in freedom and its value. Paradoxically this was particularly true of slave-owners, who knew firsthand what it was not to live in freedom, since they exercised mastery over human beings themselves, and preferred death to that condition for themselves. This is hard for we people of the year 2006 to get our heads around, but the past was a very different place.
My bottom line conclusion: The Americans were right to fight.
Good books on this subject include M. Stanton Evans, The Theme is Freedom (on the self-understanding of the American revolutionaries); Charles H. McIlwain, The American Revolution: A Constitutional Interpretation (an older book which takes seriously the Constitutional and legal arguments made by both sides in the run-up to the war); David Hackett Fischer, Paul Revere's Ride (which has an excellent short discussion of the British ruling class and its worldview at the outbreak of the Revolution).
I've got the Fogel book at home. Some day I'll get to it.
(Incidentally, Michael Blowhard had a lengthy and very moving post about Townes van Zandt which I strongly commend to your attention.)
Nisbett, Richard E., The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently ... And Why, Free Press, 2003, 263 pp.
Over the past few months, Albion's Seedlings blog has drawn on history, political science, technology trends, and a bit of economics. Only occasionally does Anglosphere discussion turn to the biological or social sciences.
Recently, I put forward a proposal that the central unique attribute of the Anglosphere was its (inadvertent) ideal social structure for optimizing communal decision-making - the so-called "wisdom of crowds" effect. This proposed advantage is a matter of degree drawing as it does on a universal capacity of humans in groups. Differences however, even small ones, can have a big impact.
In the course of preparing materials for a website on medical decision-making for patients, I stumbled on a book with additional significance for the debate about the underlying nature of the Anglosphere. This book takes the biggest of "big picture" overviews of human cognition and perception.
Geography of Thought, by eminent U Mich social psychologist Richard Nisbett is a plain-language summary of years of social psychology research that suggest there are profound and substantial differences between the way Asian and Western cultures (and individuals) perceive the world.
In a nutshell, Asian people focus on substance and relationship, while Westerners focus on objects and properties. What does this mean at a practical level? An example. Shown a new object, say a pyramid made of cork ... Asians will find the cork memorable and significant, while Westerners will focus on and think more about the shape (pyramid).
This general pattern of perception is repeated in a number of ways -- shown a photo of a tiger in a jungle setting, and then a second photo with small differences, Asians (and to a lesser degree Asian-Americans) will be most sensitive to changes in the background while ignoring changes in the tiger, its stance and its position in the photo. Westerners focus on the tiger almost exclusively. Such differences in focus are ranked on a scale of "field dependence." These patterns are reflected in the way adults in the two cultures raise infants and children. Introduce a new toy and ask a mother to play with their toddler. An Asian mother will emphasize the niceties of sharing the toy and exchanging it with the child. The toy itself will be identified by the kinds of people who manipulate or relate to it (e.g. a firetruck). A Western mother however will begin by talking to the child about the physical properties of the object ... its size, colour, weight, etc. and how its properties relate to other objects and toys with which the child is familiar. The toy is also described by its actions: what it does, what is done to it.
Not surprisingly, when children are instructed in dramatically different types of categorization, which carry through into their day-to-day life as adults, the emphasis of the cultures themselves is quite different.
Research by colleagues in Nisbett's discipline further discovered that the emphasis on, and appetite for, identifying causality is very different in East and West. Westerners tend to over-simplify how the world works in order to model causality in useful active ways. Rules about non-contradiction are held to be very important. Asians tend to emphasize the complexity of the situation and ponder the variables. They will tend to see people as influenced by their environment while Westerners attribute personal behaviour to inherent, and relatively less plastic, personal attributes. Once a thief, always a thief, in other words.
A case in point is the "P-3 spy plane" incident off the coast of China in 2001. A US P-3 surveillance plane was nudged in the air by a much smaller Chinese fighter jet. The Chinese jet crashed and the P-3 made an emergency landing in China without permission after heroic efforts by the American pilot. America and China had two very different foci about the issue. Americans were obsessed with the initial cause of the incident (reckless Chinese piloting) while the Chinese wanted to address the broader situation (American spying and an unapproved landing). The resolution, after potentially damaging economic consequences loomed, was a mealy-mouthed statement of "regret" by the Americans that satisfied Chinese needs for apology without triggering American anger about causality by actually giving an apology.
Nisbett provides a nice balance of illustration and summarization of the research which he, his students, and the members of his profession have assembled over several decades. The implications of this research for medicine, law, science, human rights, and international relations generally are substantial.
Take for instance the case of public debate and rhetoric. Asians, and their governments, generally distrust the value of public airing of different sides of a debate. The strange (to Western eyes) role of South Korea's education system in not teaching their students about the specifics of life in North Korea is a case in point. Public discourse is more often seen as boilerplate consensus rather than a list of debating points that must be addressed by political opponents. And in fact, counterintuitively, when people are shown two explanations for an event, one plausible, then one implausible, Asians will view the plausible explanation as less likely after hearing the implausible explanation while Westerners will consider the plausible explanation more likely after hearing the implausible explanation.
In the West, from an early age, children are expected to express themselves verbally and make a case for their desires and opinions using elementary rules of logic, of noncontradiction. This skill is highly valued, often very well remunerated, and generally considered both a sign of intelligence and of a good education. Japanese students at the primary and secondary levels, temporarily living in the US when their fathers are transferred for work, are occasionally diagnosed as "learning disabled" because they haven't been educated to speak in class and display progressively better skills in applying formal logic and identifying causality.
Consider the following however:
Ask people to verbally describe the steps they are taking to solve a puzzle in a laboratory setting. Western participants proceed as normal while the Asian participants find it much more difficult to complete the puzzle if they are required to verbalize the steps they take. The problem becomes very acute, Nisbett relates, for Asian grad students coming to America who are held to particularly high standards of verbal participation in the classroom and who will be required to epitomize and rationalize their research with fellow students and teachers.
Indeed, Nisbett believes that learning Western logic and scientific rhetoric is often the last and most difficult (but not impossible) step that Asian students working at his university must complete in order to enter the highest ranks of scientific success.
The current controversy over Korean scientist Hwang Woo-suk's faking of scientific results on cloning of human embryos suggests that social requirements can overwhelm the commitment to scientific integrity even for those whose work is going to receive minute scrutiny. The damage to both personal and national reputation has been substantial and may take many years to overcome. A similiar Korean scandal in the financial and business areas was required before GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles) was instituted and taken seriously.
Personal guilt (distinguished from shame) or accountability is driven by a different set of standards. "Westerners are the protagonists of their autobiographical novels; Asians are merely cast members in movies touching on their existences." p.87
Reading about this kind of cognitive research, I was struck by the efforts in the 19th century (described by Alan Macfarlane in his book The Making of the Modern World: Visions from the West and East) by Japanese scholar Yukichi Fukuzawa to establish the infrastructure that would support this Western emphasis on verbal articulation and rhetoric: clubs, universities, courses in public speaking, scientific writing, and even double-entry accounting. What seems inevitable and universal to Westerners simply isn't. As Nisbett says, "I firmly believe that the entry of East Asians into the social sciences is going to transform how we think about human thought and behaviour across the board." p.226 It seems very likely that we'll discover more about cross-cultural variation in perception as time goes by.
The research on cognitive styles also has uncovered variation between subgroups ... there is some information about variation between northern and southern Europe (the northerners are even more object-oriented), and between Korea, China, and Japan. Also, there have been efforts to test Asian-Americans, Asians in Hong Kong and Singapore, Asians who learned English as adolescents versus Asians who grew up in bilingual environments from childhood. Clearly however, the samples are skewed toward nations and cultures where psychological research is most developed.
Nisbett describes these two different styles of cultural perception as part-whole categorization (relationships, substances, complexity) and individual-class categorization (objects, properties, simplified causality and relationship). In his words: "My claim is not that the cognitive differences we find the laboratory cause the differences in attitudes, values, and behaviours, but that the cognitive differences are inseparable from the social and motivational ones. People hold the beliefs they do because of the way they think and they think the way they do because of the nature of the societies they live in." p. 201
Research results do suggest that there is plasticity in modes of thinking. Asian-Americans and those living in Anglospheric environments like HK and Singapore score somewhere in the middle of the object-substance continuum and in fact seem to toggle between the two modes depending on the social and work environments in which they find themselves. For example, focus on causality and objects kicks in when troubleshooting software code but focus on relationships may reassert itself at home. Everyone, apparently, can be primed or cued to temporarily perceive in a more "Asian" or more "Western" style, but the effect and its duration are very limited.
A moment's thought will identify the implications of these East-West contrasts on the topics which dominate the Albion's Seedlings weblog -- the emergence of individualism, science, business, democracy, etc.
To quote Nisbett: "[r]emarkably, the social structures and sense of self that are characteristic of Easterners and Westerners seem to fit hand in glove with their respective belief systems and cognitive processes. The collective or interdependent nature of Asian society is consistent with Asians' broad, contextual view of the world and their belief that events are highly complex and determined by many factors. The individualistic or independent nature of Western society seems consistent with the Western focus on particular objects in isolation from their context and with Westerners' belief that they can know the rules governing objects and therefore can control the objects' behaviour." p. xvii
Where do these differences come from? Are they an artifact of population density or agricultural requirements for communal living?
Nisbett prefers to source the differences between East and West in the exemplar classical culture of Greece and China respectively. Here, readers of this blog may find his summaries of the two ancient cultures generally convincing but subject to many caveats. Nonetheless, one can hardly argue with the statement that Confucius and Aristotle provide convenient conceptual hooks for very, very different views of the world.
Table of Contents
1 The Syllogism and the Tao: Philosophy, Science, and Society in Ancient Greece and China 
2 The Social Origins of Mind: Economics, Social Practices, and Thought 
3 Living Together vs. Going It Alone: Social Life and Sense of Self in the Modern East and West 
4 Eyes in the Back of Your Head vs. Keep Your Eye on the Ball?: Envisioning the World 
5 The Bad Seed or the Other Boys Made Me Do It?: Causal Attribution and Causal Modeling East and West 
6 Is the World Made up Of Nouns or Verbs?: Categories and Rules vs. Relationships and Similarities 
7 Ce N'est Pas Logique or You've Got a Point There?: Logic and the Law of Noncontradiction vs Dialectics and the Middle Way 
8 And If the Nature of Thought is Not Everywhere the Same?: Implications for Psychology, Philosophy, Education, and Everyday Life 
9 The End of Psychology or the Clash of Mentalities?: The Longevity of Differences 
In a series of thought-provoking chapters, Nisbett outlines a vocabulary that helps a general reader carefully consider what the impact of such differences might be for daily life.
"If the key difference between agricultural peoples on the one hand and hunter-gatherers and modern, independent citizens of modern industrial societies on the other has to do with the degree of attention to their social world, then it would be reasonable to expect that subcultures within a given society that differ in degree of social constraint should differ in degree of field dependence, as well." p.43
Beginning with the differences in direct perception (what is memorable and/or important), he then reviews the research results on perception of the larger world, the utility of logic and the concept of "truth".
He spends some time in the book discussing the strengths and weaknesses of the two styles of perception. Westerners can tend to skip or overlook necessary detail. They can also get so caught up in logic that they deny reality for some time. Oversimplification is a problem. For Asians, apart from the serious impediments to scientific thinking, there is a tendency to "hindsight bias" -- an after-the-fact comfort with whatever has happened that both over-estimates the inherent complexity of any situation and is notably incurious about differences between what has happened and what was predicted. The latter is the classic Western seed of scientific innovation.
Nisbett does conclude his book with a hopeful statement on the human capacity for Westernization and Easternization ... but he certains doesn't address the challenges raised by the Ray Kurweil's of the world and any impending Singularity. Indeed, Nisbett notes that during the 90s Japan managed to win only one Nobel prize in science. The Germans (5) and the French (3) won their prizes with a fraction of Japan's funding ... and the US haul (44) was managed on a science budget twice as large as Japan. Like it or not, Western modes of perception permit scientific traction. Mothers in Beijing know this ... and Nisbett documents some indications that an individual appetite for Westernized styles of perception is growing in Asia, even if the day-to-day and sociopolitical realities of Asian countries appears very traditional.
Nisbett's book is particularly well-written and serves as an excellent general introduction to an area of social psychology that is controversial but very much a part of the discussion on this blog.
To what extent is the Anglosphere transferable to other nations, other cultures? This book would suggest that the hurdles are perceptual, and cultural, as much as institutional. It also suggests that the potential for misunderstanding is greatest when the East-West perceptual boundary is crossed. This was certainly evident in the AngloAmerican war with Japan during WW2 and might suggest particular caution in dealing with China in the near to mid-term. Correcting for the fact that Nisbett's book is an introduction to the area of research and not meant to be an exhaustive academic tome, I would say that my only major frustration was reading a copy from the public library ... I couldn't annotate the volume page-by-page. There's a lot of stimulating information in this book, and many little details that seem to relate to the history and political science discussed on this blog. So I plan on buying my own copy very soon and re-reading with a sharp pencil. I would expect that the discoveries highlighted by Nisbett will come back to haunt us regularly in coming years.
A few additional comments:
1. I believe that Nisbett's use of Greece as the root of Western thinking styles is practical but could be "premature." The styles of perceptual thinking which he highlights as Western did not penetrate into the general Western public until the Renaissance, I believe. In an upcoming book review (Crosby's The Measure of Reality: Quantification and Western Society 1250-1600), I'll describe the case that can be made for Europe's big break in perception coming in the late Middle Ages. Nisbett's pocket summaries of Chinese and Greek philosophy/culture are therefore definitely open to further refinement.
2. Nisbett doesn't use the term Anglosphere but certainly, here and there, manages to highlight America and the commonwealth countries as particular exemplars of the Western style of perception. It would be an interesting piece of meta-analysis if he could be encouraged to organize his information on a global level (cf. the World Values Survey)
It would also be very useful to have information on the perceptual styles of additional parts of the world. I guess the research simply isn't available. Russia, Africa, the Muslim world, are all influential in the modern world and understanding their preference for social versus object perception would be helpful. One could, I think, make educated guesses based on the degree of focus on causality and logic in public discourse. By that standard, I'd guess that northwest Europe is an outlier in yet one more way ...
Nisbett himself states "[s]omeone has said "The Idea moves west" meaning that the values of individuality, freedom, rationality, and universalism became progressively more dominant and articulated as civilization moved westward from its origins in the Fertile Crescent." p.69.
3. As noted in the early part of this post, I'm personally convinced that it is in the dynamic interplay of social structure and human psychology that we discover the unique nature of the Anglosphere. With the addition of the perceptual information provided by Nisbett's overview, we might speculate that the Anglosphere is not only an extreme example of European culture, it is almost completely distinct from Asian culture. I struggle to imagine how any "wisdom of crowds" effect could successfully take hold in Asia without a parallel system for the tolerance and encouragement of perceptual styles of individual authorship and action. The necessary diversity of opinion and information-gathering seen as central to optimal group decision-making is absent. There's nothing genetic about this, of course, as specific examples of Asian culture in Hong Kong and Singapore confirm, but the research does suggest that Asia will be playing catch-up in both science and decentralized civic decision-making for some time yet. Not that Asian decisions and discoveries will be bad ... but they will be persistently and marginally less successful than those made in the West.
I welcome contrary views on this subject because I'm a self-admitted pessimist when it comes to the export of Anglosphere values. I doubt it can be done ... and if it can, I'd suggest it takes a long, long time and often occurs unilaterally.
Letting Nisbett sum up: "I have presented a large amount of evidence to the effect that Easterners and Westerners differ in fundamental assumptions about the nature of the world, in the focus of attention, in the skills necessary to perceive relationships and to discern objects in a complex environment, in the character of causal attribution, in the tendency to organize the world categorically or relationally, and in the inclination to use rules, including the rules of formal logic." p. 189
For regular readers of Albion's Seedlings who are interested in possible psychological roots of the Anglosphere, Geography of Thought is an excellent read and strongly recommended.
Michael Barone published an interesting column last week on the Heritage Foundation's Index of Economic Fredom. I commented further on the topic in my post here. Now Barone, who has read the post, has written the following further comment:
My post last week on the Wall Street Journal/Heritage Foundation 2006 Index of Economic Freedom, and the predominance of the Anglosphere among the most free nations, have prompted an interesting response from James Bennett, who coined the term Anglosphere, on his Albion's Seedling blog. I heartily recommend Bennett's book, The Anglosphere Challenge. Here is the concluding paragraph of his blog post:
"What is it about the Anglosphere that permits its people to form large federations of states with strong civil societies, absorb large numbers of immigrants, and prosper? The short answer is probably something like 'A fifteen-hundred-year history of flexible institutions that are particularly good at capturing the "wisdom of crowds," a tradition of individualism, enterprise, and risk-taking, a high radius of social trust, the ability to spin these characteristics into strong civil societies, and a long history of people expanding and forming institutions of self-government wherever they go.' Many other people have had some or most of these characteristics; it is just that they have never elsewhere all been put together in exactly this package. As we can see once again by the Heritage report, its effectiveness stands out starkly over a wide range of metrics."
His endorsement is highly appreciated!
I admit it: I'm one of the three Americans who take an interest in Canada. Maybe it's because I'm from a border state (Maine) or because I have quite a few relatives north of the border (all from the Dutch side of my family, not the French-Canadian side) and visited there many times when I was growing up. Heck, lately I've even been reading policy studies on Canada in the evening (mainly from the excellent C.D. Howe Institute), so you know I have an abnormally high interest in Canada for a Yank.
Our friends up north are having an election soon, but that's not what has triggered this blog entry. No, it's a post entitled Hockey and America by Tim Bray. Now, I have the utmost respect for Tim Bray as a technologist (e.g., he is one of the founding fathers of XML), but I must disagree with his thoughts on Canada and America. Reflecting on the World Junior Hockey Championship just concluded in the Great White North, he writes:
[O]nce you got past Canada and Russia, the other really good team in the tournament was the USA. And here's what's weird and disturbing: the mostly-Canadian audiences were actively cheering for anyone playing against the US, and occasionally booing the Americans. Granted, economically-literate Canadians are mad at the US for egregious NAFTA abuse, and we're terrified of the consequences of our neighbor's lunatic fiscal and trade deficits. And of course, from the mushy Canadian cultural centre, Dubya and the neotheocons seem like beings from an alien planet. While, like most Canadians, I disapprove of many actions of the current US administration, like most Canadians I also like most Americans. And it's just moronic to take out political gripes on a bunch of eager, dedicated, young athletes. But having said that, if there were any doubt that the USA has a major public-relations problem, booing hockey fans a half-hour over the border should dispel it.
The problem of Canadian anti-Americanism goes way beyond public relations. Instead it is, to put the matter bluntly, a childish indulgence on the part of Canadians. Canada is, for better or worse, joined at the hip to the United States -- economically, militarily, geopolitically, even culturally. Last I checked, 85% of Canadian exports (representing 40% of Canadian GDP) go to America, and that percentage has only increased since NAFTA took effect 12 years ago (preceded by the Canada-US Free Trade Agreement in 1989). The United States is a geopolitical hyperpower without precedent in world history, and it's not always fun to be neighbors with such a behemoth, but with what world power would Canadians prefer to be neighbors? China? Russia? India? Germany? France? Brazil? America is the locomotive pulling the world economy and Canada, as a middling regional power, is pulled along for the ride. Granted it gets a bit hot being near the locomotive, but would Canadians prefer to be in the caboose?
Further, when you get right down to it, Canadians and Americans are distinctly similar, not different. Canadians share a number of core values with Americans: freedom, consensual government, open discourse, market economics, and much else besides. Both nations are fundamentally parts of the Anglosphere (well, Canada is "two nations warring in the bosom of a single state" as Lord Durham put it in 1839, but I'm talking about Anglo-Canada here). Despite the fact that Canadians like to emphasize the softer side of these values (as do, for that matter, lots of people from places like Massachusetts and Minnesota), they still share them with Americans. Demonizing America (not Americans, since most Canadians like American people and vice-versa) doesn't help anything, even if it feels good (I believe the social psychologists might be able to shed some light on the phenomenon, using their insights into "in groups" and "out groups").
Then we have what I like to call "Canada's dirty little secret": massive and continuing emigration from Canada to the United States. Even official Canadian documents recognize the problem:
Immigration plays a determining role in shaping future population and language trends in Canada, since without immigration, the Canadian population faces long-term decline. (Since the early 1970s, fertility rates have fallen below replacement. But even in the unlikely event that fertility rates rose to the theoretical replacement level, the historical pattern of emigration from Canada to the United States would still mean that the population would decline if immigration were halted.)
If America is such a horrible society, why have so many Canadians (including, by the way, my French-Canadian ancestors) been drawn south over the years, and at an ever-increasing rate since free trade was inaugurated in 1989? Traditional free trade theory posits that if goods are not allowed to cross borders, people will -- but in this case, both people and goods are crossing. Would it not behoove Canadians to ask why?
And let us not forget the ever-more-pressing issue of regionalism. One of the little-acknowledged implications of free trade between Canada and America is that Canada's provinces increasingly exchange goods, services, people, and ideas with their near neighbors across the US-Canadian border rather than with each other (B.C. with Washington and Oregon, Alberta with Colorado and the mountain west, Manitoba with Minnesota, Ontario with Michigan, Ohio, and New York, the Maritimes with New England, etc.). The result is a much more pronounced north-south orientation, superseding the traditional east-west orientation of Canadian society. And the result of that is greater regionalism. As Dan Dunsky points out in an article from today's Toronto Star, Canada is already three "solitudes" -- Quebec, the West, and the multicultural cities. (We might divide the country still further, since, for example, Alberta is quite different from its neighbors in B.C. or Saskatchewan, thus giving the lie to the idea of a monolithic Canadian West.) Indeed, I wonder how long Canada can last as a coherent political entity given the forces pulling it apart.
Anti-Americanism is a convenient hobbyhorse, which Canadian elites ride for all it's worth to inculcate a false sense of unity. Yet it strikes me that Canadians would do better to take a long, hard look in the mirror and think seriously about their true values, their economic and strategic interests, and their future rather than rail against America. It won't feel as good, but in the long run it will be a lot more productive.
(Cross-posted at one small voice.)
Lawrence Mead's National Interest article, (the same that contains his regrettable mischaracterization of the Anglosphere idea, discusses the issue of why the principal actors in maintaining international peace and order in the past 200 years have been English-speaking -- part of a set he terms "Anglo" nations. He then defines "Anglo nation" as follows:
American primacy is not an accident of this or that administration. It reflects the special capacity of English-speaking countries to lead the world order. These "Anglo nations", or the "Anglos" as I will call them, include Britain and the chief territories that were settled initially from Britain--pre-eminently the United States but also Australia, Canada and New Zealand. What makes a country Anglo is that its original settler population came mainly from Britain. So even though a minority of Americans today have British roots, they inherit a political culture initially formed by the British. Some other countries that Britain ruled, such as India or South Africa, are not Anglo in this sense because British settlers never formed the bulk of their populations. They may be English-speaking, and their public institutions have British roots, but British culture did not form the society as it did in the Anglo countries.
Of course Mead is free to create any categories he chooses to, so his category of "Anglo nations" is tautologically true. And it is a reasonable category -- the best way to transmit memes, historically, has been to bundle them with genes, and the British Isles settler populations have had a very strong founder effect wherever they have been the first movers. But beyond that, the next questions for any taxonomical scheme are "is it useful?" and "is it a good predictor?"
Mead's scheme appears to create at least three taxa: Anglo nations, who have British-descended core settler populations; British-ruled nations, like India and South Africa, who have some British-derived institutions but not British-descended populations (South Africa in fact being a partial exception); and everybody else. Membership in any given taxon is, in this scheme, a useful predictor of a nation's willingness to take an active role in maintaining international peace and order, and in particular to use military force to those ends.
In Mead's schema, membership in the class of Anglo nations should therefore be a good predictor of willingness and ability to take a proactive stance in creation and maintenance of international order. This certainly works well in regard to the US and the UK, and increasingly Australia. It is less obvious in the case of Canada and New Zealand, or for that matter the Republic of Ireland (although the "Anglo-ness" of the Republic is a more complicated case for historical reasons.)
There is another dynamic at work within Mead's class of "Anglo nations", which is regional pairing or the "big brother-little brother" dynamic. The UK and Ireland, the USA and Canada, and Australia and New Zealand each form regional pairings with substantial interconnectedness in the economic and personal movement categories. Each pair is now integrated economically under free trade or customs union schemes. At the same time, there is a considerable temptation for the smaller member of each pair to become a free rider on defense issues. This leads to maintaining smaller forces than would be the case if the larger partner were not around to assist in defense crises, but with a contribution of some sort to some critical events. For example, both Canada and New Zealand contributed small but high-quality forces to the Afghan campaign, and even Ireland contributed landing and refueling rights to military flights in that case. However, their general stance (for example regarding Iraq) certainly demonstrates that being an "Anglo nation" does not in itself make one a leading participant in such matters.
In the same vein, we can see nations that have a relationship to the Anglosphere, but are not "Anglo nations" in Mead's schema, beginning to step forward in international leadership in cooperation with the old core Anglosphere powers. India was a quick and central player in the 2004 tsunami relief effort, its forces interoperating very effectively with US, Australian, and Japanese forces despite no track record of alliance or joint action in the past fifty years -- the fact that its military forces are heirs to Commonwealth structures, practices, and the widespread use of English made it quite easy to pick up cooperation. India is now looking at maintaining a forward presence in the Straits of Malacca, again in cooperation with the US and Australia.
Singapore is another nation that is not "Anglo" but definitely Anglosphere, and it was the fifth (also very effective) partner on the tsunami team in 2004. And it is increasing its regional role, again in cooperation with the US and Australia. So perhaps Anglosphere affiliation is a better predictor of a proactive international role than "Anglo nation" status.
But what exactly is an "Anglosphere affiliation"? Let's look again at the anatomy of the Anglosphere to see where the useful dividing lines can be drawn.
First of all there are the set of nations that Mead describes as Anglo nations, and I define as "Core Anglosphere", or, using the metaphor of a set of concentric spheres, the innnermost sphere of the Anglosphere. I describe these spheres thusly in my book:
Innermost: states with an entirely or predominantly English-speaking population, where English is the primary or sole home language. They develop a legal system based on common law, with trial by jury. There is representative government, and the news and entertainment media are primarily in English, sharing information with the rest of the Anglosphere. This core group includes the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, English-speaking Canada, and the English-speaking Caribbean, along with assorted small islands and territories. Areas with other official languages and/or legal systems, such as Quebec, Puerto Rico, and Wales, are seen as exceptions, as they are geographically discrete subunits.
Middle: English-dominant states. These are states in which English is one of several official languages and is one of the principal languages of government administration and commerce. Significant daily media are presented locally in English, but other languages are important. English is a minority as a home language and is confined primarily to an educated elite and perhaps an urban middle and industrial class. These are placed in a more inward circle when the country is not part of a larger, non- English world civilization; in other words, one where the primary connections to the outside world are in English.
South Africa is on the borderline between the Inner Sphere and the Middle, because of its substantial, but not majority, population of first-language English speakers.
English speakers in South Africa are essentially part of the Anglosphere; Afrikaans speakers are not. Additionally, South Africa’s retention of Roman-Dutch law keeps it outside the inner circle of the Anglosphere in an important dimension. Beyond South Africa and Zimbabwe, the non- Islamic, non-Indian former colonies of England in Africa, the South Pacific, and some parts of Asia are perhaps the primary examples; the Philippines might also be considered borderline.
Outer: English-using states of other civilizations. (Typically, these states have been the core of their own linguistic-cultural sphere; their Anglosphere affiliations are secondary, although often important commercially.) These consist of nations that use English as a governmental or commercial language and have significant local media in English, but use other languages in official communications, business, and media as well and identify themselves with another major world-civilization tradition. India, Pakistan, the Arab states formerly under British control, and the Islamic former colonies of Britain (Malaysia, African states) are all examples of such states. Israel is a special case, because it is the focal point of a wider relationship between the Jewish diaspora and the Anglosphere, but it probably fits better in this category than any other.
Periphery: States that use English as a language of wider communication. These include ones in which knowledge of English is widespread and English is the principal second language of the nation but is not official. These include Northern Europe, East Asia (particularly Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, and Southeast Asia), and northern Latin America. Southern Europe, Eastern Europe, and southern Latin America are moving in this direction as well, as French, German, and Russian lose their position as the principal second languages of those areas.
There are a number of differences between Mead's category of Anglo nation and my definition of the innermost sphere of the Anglosphere. The Republic of Ireland is one; its history places it in a unique relationship with the Anglosphere, both a destination (very anciently) and a source of Anglosphere immigration. Yet by the criteria set out in my book, it's hard to see how it can be excluded. As for military cooperation, that is a matter of perception of national interest, which changes over time. Yet it's important to note that fifty thousand citizens of southern Ireland volunteered for service with Allied forces in World War Two; perhaps several hundred aided the Axis.
Also important are the Anglo-Caribbean societies. All of these states retain substantial voluntary ties to the UK; all except Guyana have retained the House of Windsor as their head of state. None of these have anything but a small minority derived primarily from British Isles settlers. However, they are English-speaking, use the Common Law system, and share the other core characteristics. During the Falklands War they all firmly supported the United Kingdom diplomatically and in the United Nations. Although they are not Anglo genetically, they are unquestionably Anglosphere memetically.
Of the rest, there is a great deal of flux. As the Philippine commentator Dean Jorge Bococho observed
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of "Anglosphere Studies" is the idea that the Anglosphere is not at all a static thing, but like all scale-free networks like WWW, it is free to grow and evolve and conquer new territories in the broader lingosphere of the world -- as it always has in history.
At the time The Anglosphere Challenge was first drafted, for example, I felt comfortable in describing India as being in the outer sphere of the Anglosphere, primarily because of the strength of its indigenous civilizational tradition. Since then, accelerating events, such as India's movement toward a more assertive regional and international posture, its increasing security ties with America, and the ongoing shift in the sociology of English-language acquisition in India, I would feel comfortable moving it to the middle sphere.
The article referenced in the above link is also interesting in that it implies that India is at the knee of a curve just about to take off, in terms of English-language acquisition on the part of a majority of its population. Typically, when a phenomenon (such as use of a new technology, product, or service) begins to penetrate a population, there is a core of early adopters who form the initial critical mass of users. This often stabilizes for a period of time, with relatively few additional demographic segments joining it. But at some point conditions shift, and many more people find it useful (and eventually necessary) to adopt it. If you are old enough, you can remember the point at which you realized you had to get an email address. When enough people get to that point, that is takeoff.
What is changing in India is that the call-center and information-technology industries have come close to exhausting the supply of qualified English-speakers willing to work at salaries that permit the industries to be competitive internationally. Some of this work is being shifted to other countries with a surplus of qualified English-speakers; some such include Ghana and the Philippines. Another response (specifically, for the IT industry) is to increase the quality of the lower tiers of universities, who have not been able to turn out properly qualified candidates. But the third solution, and one that is inevitable over time, is to encourage the acquisition of English by social classes that until now have largely not had the motive or opportunity to do so. Steep adoption curves usually flatten out at about 80% penetration of the population, with the remainder joining very slowly after that.
Such a phenomenon will have a substantial impact on both India and the Anglosphere. It will shift the bulk of production of English-language media, especially new media, to India, and although much of this will neither be aimed at nor appeal to non-Indian audiences, the fraction that does will inevitably be large in absolute terms. If we see the percentage of English-speakers in India rise to 60-80% within the next generation or two, this will eventually result in a mass of at least 600-800 million English-speakers, which will substantially outnumber the 400-500 million we might see in the old core Anglosphere by that time.
Such a world cannot be described as an "assimilation" of India by the Anglosphere, but rather an Indo-Anglosphere fusion. (It hardly need be said that some long-term Anglosphere values, most particularly transparency and openness, must prevail in the fusion, or it will not take place, because India will fail to meet its potential, and the engine of fusion will falter and grand to a halt.) Added to this will be the inflow of several hundred million increasingly vocal English-speakers from the "Third Anglosphere" -- the Philippines, Anglophone Africa, and other parts of the world. We can already see some precursors of this phenomenon, such as the increasing importance of West and Southern African voices in the worldwide Anglican communion.
This is a different world (bearing in mind that it will unfold in conjunction with a wide variety of other substantial technological, social, and political changes). The current description of the Anglosphere, with its fairly traditional segmentation of spheres, will probably no longer be useful by that point. Exactly how the anatomy of the Anglosphere will be described then is far too problematic to speculate upon, outside of futurist fiction.
However, even for the present day, I believe it is clear that even though the bulk of the economic, political, and military action is centered in the core Anglosphere nations, and will be for some time to come, we must already think of the entire Anglosphere in our surveys and calculations. The core Anglosphere will continue to count for much, but increasingly the new parts will play their part. Although much of the Third Anglosphere lags well behind the core (or most developed nations) in areas like transparency and openness, it's interesting that they still seem to be, as a class, clearly ahead of non-Anglosphere developing nations, which suggests that 1. the Anglosphere advantage is transferable to nations with no "Anglo" settlement past, and 2. that the opportunity for further improvement exists.
I think the case is clear that there is a need for a conceptual and descriptive category of the set of societies sharing various parts and degrees of the structures and attitudes of the core English-speaking nations, and for defining those core nations as exactly that -- the core of a fuzzy but real phenomenon that will likely be a central player in the description of human affairs in this century.
And that phenomenon is the Anglosphere.
Almost a generation before David Hackett Fischer published Albion's Seed in 1991, cultural geographer Wilbur Zelinsky wrote a book entitled The Cultural Geography of the United States (Prentice-Hall, 1973). While Albion's Seed is six times longer and much more detailed, Zelinsky's treatment is still of interest.
From the Anglospheric perspective, Zelinsky emphasizes that America is memetically downstream from Britain (p. 5):
Basic to this entire discussion is the premise that the United States belongs to the Greater European cultural realm, and that in all essentialls our culture is derived from that of Northwest Europe and, most particularly, of Great Britain. This is not to claim that non-British or non-European sources have not contributed to the peculiar American cultural blend, for they obviously have, but simply to assert the powerful genealogical fact that British cultural parentage underlies all else.
And (pp. 9-10):
It cannot be said too often that the means whereby American culture acquired its present form are not peculiar to this part of the world, or that this national pattern is by no means unique. On the contrary, it is useful to classify the United States as a member of a rather large set of countries: the neo-European lands whose culture, population, or both were derived from European sources and implanted successfully at some distance from the homeland, beginning in about 1500 A.D. More specifically, the United States can be viewed as belonging to either of two intersecting subsets of this larger group: a Western Hemisphere area, taking in all of the Americas; or that scattered collection of countries that might be labeled neo-British, namely Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Rhodesia [ed: this was 1973!], and perhaps Eire, the British West Indies, Bermuda, and the Falklands, in addition to the United States.
The identification of a Pan-American cultural realm is hazardous. Aside from whatever fusion of ideas and behavior might result from a non-too-great spatial propinquity and a certain parallelism in political and settlement history, it is hard to put one's finger on cultural features shared by Anglo-America and Latin America [ed: see The New World of the Gothic Fox by Claudio Veliz]....
The existence of the neo-British cultural community is too obvious to be argued. Despite great spatial intervals, locations in frequently dissimilar habitats, and envelopment within strikingly alien indigenous and immigrant groups, the family ties and continuities of these sibling countries persist. If ever there were a ready-made laboratory situation for the cultural geographer, here it is....
Yet despite the fact that early immigration to America was overwhelmingly from the British Isles and especially from England (see D.F. MacDonald, "The Great Migration", in C.J. Barlett, ed., Britain Pre-eminent), America is not England. Indeed, Zelinsky notes that "if one glances at some of the more extreme forms of American cultural development and then compares them with developments in England past or present, any immediate kinship may be difficult to detect. How, then, did American culture come to be what it is today?" (p. 5). Zelinsky proposes five factors for investigation:
As to the first factor, Zelinsky notes that those who left their native lands for America were different (pp. 11-13):
Even though we cannot decipher too many specific items on that crucial early bill of lading of cultural exports from Europe to America, one outstanding conclusion emerges from fragmentary, indirect evidence: the bearers of this culture were not in any sense a representative sample of the people back home. Instead, we find migrants selected, through external circumstances or by themselves, for specfic qualities. The movement of Old World natives to the United States -- by all odds the largest migrational shift in human history -- was largely spontaneous and uncontrolled. Only in the last few decades, and too late to be of decisive effect, has there been any official screening and rejection of entrants. Although a great mass of public and private documents could be mined to ascertain the kinds of people who decided to hazard their fortunes in America, their motivations, and the processes of selection, to date historians and others have barely begun this monumental chore. However, even the present-day demographer, working with voluminous current data and with living informants who can be tested in great depth, confronts severe problems in measuring motivations or in interpreting differentials in skills, intelligence, and personality traits as between migrants and stay-at-homes or among various categories of migrants. Although selectivity is, and has been, of major import, it need not be simply slanted in one direction, nor is it invariant through time and space.
What, then, was unusual, or nonrandom, about those immigrants who came to be the makers of American culture? First of all, as with almost any modern, long-distance migrational stream, the immigrants were largely young adults, sometimes accompanied by children, and a disproportionate number were male. And, as is also characteristic of most contemporary voluntary movements, they came in the main as single families or individuals rather than in larger groups, although clusters of kinfolk or former neighbors would frequently arrive sequentially in a "chain migration".... There was probably also some bias in the recruitment of migrants as between urban and rural areas; the city folk may have been overrepresented, but perhaps not consistently....
One plausible generalization is that, contrary to popular belief, poverty was not the chief spur driving the hopeful across the ocean (except, of course, for such panic migrations as followed the Great Potato Famine in Ireland). More probably, a certain critical threshold of incipient affluence, and the appetite for even more, had to be breached before passage was booked....
We reach much more solid ground in treating the religious composition of the transplanted Europeans. Quite clearly, the immigrants tended to favor the aberrant creeds, whether of the theological left or right. Thus we find gross overrepresentation in colonial America of such non-establishment groups as the Congregationalist, Presbyterian, Quaker, Mennonite, or Moravian, and perhaps British and German Baptists; and virtually all the French minority in the American colonies were Huguenot. There is much more to such a strong incidence of churchly dissent than may meet the eye. Adherence to such "fringe" groups no doubt reflected, and reinforced, certain nonmodal personality types and, it is not too bold to assume, deviant political procilivities....
Quite possibly the American settlers may have deviated in personality structure to a significant degree, but in complex ways, not always in the same direction, from those they left behind. The existence of a distinctive American national character would indicate either that such an entity reflects the cumulated propensities of just such individuals, who gave American culture its decisive early twist, or that the peculiar conditions of early American life would have led to the same end in any event, or, more plausibly, that some convergence of these factors took place. That is, a rather special cohort of immigrants interacted with one another and a novel physical and socioeconomic setting to form a strikingly similar new culture.
Determining the nature of the first American settlers (who we can differentiate from later immigrants to an existing if evolving society) is crucial because the cultural geography of settlement exhibits important similaries to the "founder effects" found in the biological sciences (p. 6) or the psychological phenomenon of imprinting (p. 13). Zelinsky thus expounds what he labels the "Doctrine of First Effective Settlement" (pp. 13-14):
Whenever an empty territory undergoes settlement, or an earlier population is dislodged by invaders, the specific characteristics of the first group able to effect a viable, self-perpetuating society are of crucial significance for the later social and cultural geography of the area, no matter how tiny the initial band of settlers may have been. As an obvious corollary to this statement, we can ignore nonviable experiments, for example, the Raleigh group in North Carolina or some ephemeral shore parties in pre-Puritan New England and elsewhere. Thus, in terms of lasting impact, activities of a few hundred, or even a few score, initial colonizers can mean much more for the cultural geography of a place than the contributions of tens of thousands of new immigrants a few generations later. The history of the northeastern United States clearly illustrates how indelibly the early colonial patterns have marked its cultural landscape.
That said, the original culture did evolve. Old cultural baggage (e.g., feudalistic attitudes) was more or less quickly dropped, whereas other traits gained renewed importance (e.g., hunting). Cultural groups that were not in close (or positive) contact in the Old World were thrust together in the New World: even though the English, Welsh, Scots, Danes, French, Swedes, Norwegians, Germans, and Dutch may seem quite similar to us from today's more global vantage-point, at the time they probably felt much different than they do today (and they had never been forced by circumstances to work together). As Zelinsky notes (p. 8), "this spatial juxtaposition in America of social and ethnic groups that had been widely separated in the Old World led spontaneously to cultural interchange and the diffusion of old and new ideas and thus must have contributed materially to the forging of the special American identity." As North America was settled and explored, its sheer size, wildness, and natural resources impressed themselves upon the minds of its new inhabitants, probably inculcating a kind of innate ambition and scale of effort. The distance of America from the imperial powers of Europe also played a large role -- the Americans were separated from Europe not by the 30 miles of the English Channel but by 3000 miles of ocean. Etc.
So what was the cultural result of the massive, mostly voluntary migration of thousands and then millions of ambitious, dissenting, hustling, quite possibly abnormal young men, women, and families from northwestern Europe, especially the British Isles, and most especially England, to the huge, wild, isolated, far-away continent of America? According to Zelinsky, it is an intensely individualistic culture (even when compared to other parts of the Anglosphere) that places an extremely high valuation on social mobility, economic progress, and technological change; that is characterized by a kind of achievement-oriented, mechanistic world view in which anything and everything can be fixed and improved; and that is driven by the idea that America is not just another nation among nations but that it has a special mission to play in realizing and spreading the dream of human freedom and progress. Zelinsky explores these facets through a necessarily brief examination of American folkways, economics, government, religion, education, settlement patterns, and the like, but he does so mainly to encourage future research rather than to provide an exhaustive treatment of American culture (the second half of his book, which I do not discuss here, provides some suggestions for the study of American regions). Zelinsky thus points the way to the massive research project of David Hackett Fischer, but also leaves plenty of cultural territory unexplored (e.g., similarities and differences across the U.S.-Canadian border). In all, The Cultural Geography of the United States, despite its small scope and somewhat dated perspective, provides valuable food for thought for Anglosphereans in America and elsewhere.
(Cross-posted at one small voice.)
Ozblogger James Waterton has some interesting observations on the relative prospects of India and China. I find they are pretty much in synch with what we've been saying here. Very crudely put, the best way to make up for a Chinese economic stumble is to encourage India to modernize faster. Both India and China have such large amounts of "low hanging fruit" in terms of potential benefits of political and economic reform that either could substantially accelerate the development of their internal markets. But India is much better poised to actually implement such reforms.
Turning from the frustrating matter of the Mead article (see two previous posts), there is the more cheerful matter of an excellent column by Michael Barone, who has indeed read my book and who has had no trouble understanding what I said. In it he comments on the recent Heritage Foundation/Wall Street Journal Economic Freedom Report, which ranks the nations of the world on economic freedom and prosperity. Barone comments:
Twenty nations are classified as free. What I find most interesting is that eight o them are English-speaking or have an English-speaking heritage: Hong Kon (ranked No. 1), Singapore (2), Ireland (3), the United Kingdom (5), Australia (9) New Zealand (9), the United States (9), and Canada (12). In another four, Englis is widely spoken, at least by the well educated: Iceland (5), Denmark (8), th Netherlands (16), and Sweden (19). And perhaps there are others you could ad to the list; I'm not sure how widely English is spoken in Luxembourg (4) an Finland (12), and Cyprus (16) is a former British colony, though I would gues English is not in common use there today. The other five are Estonia (7), the onl free country in the former Soviet Union; Chile (14), the only free country in Latin America; and Switzerland (15), Austria (18), and Germany (19), which are al primarily German-speaking. What we see here is that the Anglosphere, as James C. Bennett calls it in his book The Anglosphere Challenge: Why the English-Speaking Nations Will Lead the Way in the Twenty-First Century, leads the world in both economic freedom and economic prosperity.
This is true. However, a closer look at the top twenty is even more interesting. Not only does the Anglosphere predominate in the top twenty, but if you look at the states with more than ten million population, the Anglosphere completely sweeps the top fifteen -- only the Netherlands (17th) and Germany (19th) place in the top twenty at all. In fact, only three states with more than fifty million population (the UK, 6th place; the USA, 11th place, and Germany, 19th) get into the top twenty; between twenty and fifty millions, there are only two more -- Canada and Australia. The message seems to be, be small or be Anglosphere. (The top three are both.) If you are small, it also helps to be "Anglo-Confucian" -- having the powerful combination of Chinese entrepreurship and British-trained judges.
With the exception of tiny Luxembourg (essentially a rent-seeking parasite firmly lodged in the European Union's intestines), the top ten are either Anglosphere or what we might call the Nordicsphere -- Scandinavia plus the two Ural-Altaic states on the Baltic, Finland and Estonia (whose languages are close cousins). of the next five, two are Anglosphere, two are Nordicsphere, and two are outliers -- Chile and Switzerland. ) Chile of course had a heavy dose of American tutelage.) Of the next five, one is tiny tax-haven Cyprus, one is Nordicsphere Sweden, and the other three are Germany, Austria, and the Netherlands.
So what can we learn from this? One seems to be that only the Anglosphere sems to have figured out how to make a largish state free and prosperous. Small Nordic states, and to some extent the other Northern European strong civil societies (the Netherlands, Switzerland, etc.) seem to have figured out how to make their social-democratic model work well in small, strong, homogenous civil societies. Where that description breaks down (for instance, in dealing with departures from homogeneity, as with their immigrant situations) their model seems to come apart.
Never the less, the Nordicsphere refutes the idea that there’s some magic to the English language per se -- although English fluency is widespread in these countries, it is more likely an effect of their cosmopolitan prosperity than a cause (they were already cosmopolitan and prosperous before World War Two, when German was the more common second language.) It’s strong civil society that is the key, and the Nordicsphere and places like the Netherlands and Switzerland had evolved their own civil societies in parallel with the Anglosphere.
Another lesson seems to be that federalism is a winner. Almost all of the states above five million population in the top twenty have a strong tradition of federalism. Even the UK, seemingly the outlier, is quasi-federal in nature, with Scotland historically having kept its quite different educational, established church, and legal institutions over the past three centuries. What this seems to say is that if you can’t be a small state, you should try to be a federation of small, substantially autonomous states. Again, the Anglosphere seems to be particularly good at this, with all four large Anglosphere states being federal or quasi-federal. It is probably significant that the only large Continental European nation to make the top twenty (albeit just barely) has one of the stronger federalist traditions in Europe. In fact, going down the entire top half of the list one only finds a handful of unitary states over fifty million in population -- France and Japan are virtually alone in that category.
What is it about the Anglosphere that permits its people to form large federations of states with strong civil societies, absorb large numbers of immigrants, and prosper? The short answer is probably something like “A fifteen-hundred-year history of flexible institutions that are particularly good at capturing the “wisdom of crowds”, a tradition of individualism, enterprise, and risk-taking, a high radius of social trust, the ability to spin these characteristics into strong civil societies, and a long history of people expanding and forming instiitutions of self-government wherever they go.” Many other people have had some or most of these characteristics; it is just that they have never eslewhere all been put togetehr in exactly this package. As we can see once again by the Heritage report, its effectiveness stands out starkly over a wide range of metrics.
I am posting John O'Sullivan's comments on Lawrence Mead at his request.
"While I understand Jim's chagrin at seeing his work mis-described and while I admire the sharp-eyed loyalty of those who have risen to his defense, I have to say that the criticism of Mead seems to me to be overdone and the real significance of his article is in danger of being missed. To begin with, Mead is a distinguished scholar and an original one. He has written with great distinction on welfare reform and poverty over the years and taken a good deal of heat from the Left for doing so. It is inconceivable to me that he would be guilty of lifting someone else's thesis even if there were not three good reasons for knowing him to be innocent of any such underhandedness.
The first has already been given by Jim: that his definition of "Anglo" countries is slightly different from Jim's and he follows it consistently in the piece. The second is that I know from TNI that the article has been floating around the journal for some time and in fact its first arrival pre-dated the publication of "The Anglosphere Challenge." The third is that he actually gets Jim's theory significantly wrong when he refers to it--a mistake I doubt he would make if he were imitating it.
Jim is right to be indignant about being misunderstood and mis-described. He makes abundantly clear both in his book and in his TNI article that he is not proposing a political organization of English-speaking countries on lines like those of the EU. What he is describing, rather, is the gradual development of a network--a series of overlapping forms of cooperation in different areas (trade, law, immigration, culture, military collaboration.) Mead may have been misled by the phrase "network commonwealth" which in this context might evoke associations both with an American state like Massachusetts and with the institutional successor to the British Empire . But that is not what Jim is writing about. (Robert Conquest's institutional outline of an English-speaking association would be a better illustration of what Mead thinks unlikely--and I am on Conquest's side of that particular argument.)
Now, what is the point we are in danger of missing? Surely it is that a distinguished scholar has independently reached very similar (though not identical) conclusions to those that inspired Jim's book and that animate this blog. He draws, moreover, on some of the same scholarly works to which Jim has drawn attention in his writings. And he makes use of them to outline and explain an otherwise curious fact about international politics—namely, the virtual monopoly of the Anglos when it comes to the use of military power for the collective interests of the "international community." On balance this should be a cause for celebration. It is the latest demonstration that the Anglosphere concept is an increasingly relevant and useful tool for understanding both strategic international and domestic economic and social issues.
Jim is perfectly entitled to drop Mead a line and point out the misunderstanding that underpins his criticism of "The Anglosphere Challenge." I hope he will do so. But I also hope that we can engage Mead fruitfully in debate on the development of "Anglosphere studies." The role of India of an Anglosphere power--which to my mind he dismisses too brusquely, which increasingly seems to fit his "military" thesis but which, if he accepts it, would force him to revise his definition of "Anglos"--would be a good place to start."
It's always a bit annoying for an author to be cited in such a way as to imply that he has said exactly the opposite of what he actually did. Lawrence Mead has written an article on "Anglo" supremacy (defining "Anglo" as a nation with a core of English-derived settlers, which is quite different from my non-genetic definition of "Anglosphere" nations) that although generally is on the right track, misses a number of points. Since the only specific point he cites me on entirely misrepresents my position, a clarification is, at minimum, in order.
Mead's cite of my book reads "Still less do I assume that there is or ought to be any explicit condominium among the Anglos. No "Anglosphere", where English-speaking nations collaborate to run the world, is likely to emerge. 1 " (1 citing The Anglosphere Challenge). How wrong is this? It could hardly be a more inaccurate statement of the book's argument or position.
To begin with, "the Anglosphere" is a descriptive, not a prescriptive, term. It describes something that is coming into being, and partly already exists -- the worldwide English-speaking community, enabled by instantaneous, flat-rate electronic communication and low-cost intercontinental travel, and connected by a dense network of commercial, human, media-academic, and intergovernmental ties. These axes of cooperation are important now and are becoming rapidly more important.
Secondly, the Anglosphere is not a "condominium of powers" nor am I advocating such. The second major thesis of my book is the discussion of a phenomenon I call the "network commonwealth" (which Mead could have read about in the very journal in which he writes), which describes the emergence of a whole class of international cooperative institutions, including security alliances, free trade regimes, and project-specific collaborative institutions. This trend has two possible outcomes, one of which is a move toward becoming organs of transnational government, and the other, the potetial for a meaningful extension of civil society across national borders where there is sufficient shared culture and institutions to permit meaningful citizen overview and control through national institutions. The first example includes the United Nations and the European Union; the second does not exist today, but could be an Anglosphere Network Commonwealth. My book contains a fairly detailed discussion as to why such a phenomenon would be unlikely to rise to the level of a formal political union or a "condominium".
As for "running the world", perhaps Mead has confined his research to the more fervid paranoia-swamps of the left-blogosphere, surely an unlikely primary resource for a contributor to The National Interest. Had he bothered to read my own writings (or, say, James Kurth's review of my book in The National Interest, or Keith Windschuttle's review in National Review) he would see that for the past five years I have been pointing out the same "path-dependency" issues regarding creation of good government that I bring up. I would like to see the Anglosphere nations run themselves properly, and perhaps assist peripheral Anglosphere nations to ride up the ladder of increasing transparency and expansion of radius-of-trust, as the increasing convergence of the Anglosphere impacts these societies more and more. As I pointed out during the last minimalistic American intervention in Liberia, a case might be made for some form of political linkage with that nation, in the interests of stability and development, but that Americans don't have even the minimal taste for empire that such would entail. An Anglospherist politics must judge foreign interventions (particularly those entirely out of the Anglosphere) on an entirely case-by-case matter. This is about as far as can be gotten from a "condominium...for running the world" as one can get short of the doctrinaire absolute anti-interventionism of the rothbardo-chomskyites.
Mead would have done better to cite Robert Conquest, who actually has advocated at least a political union of the core Anglosphere nations (although not for purposes of "running the world") and he might have cited that work, rather than mine, to footnote that particular point.
My own view is that such a union might not be a bad thing, but I don't see a crisis sufficiently acute to drive the creation of such a union in the near term, while network-commonwealth type institutions could serve many of the same functions, and could be created in the short term. Certainly if the populations of the core Anglosphere nations were to perceive that such a union were urgent, and in their collective interest, a reasonable confederal treaty could probably be thrown together quite quickly. But that sentiment does not exist today, and we would be better occupied to concentrate on near-term goals, except as an occasional thought-experiment.
In short, Mead's article covers a number of points, all of which were adumbrated in my book and other writings over the previous five years, and generally more thoroughly researched and referenced (for example, on the medieval and pre-medieval roots of the English market economy and constitutional government). If he had wanted to cite The Anglosphere Challenge, he would have done better to do so on the many points I treated before he did. Instead, he chose to cite on only one point, and that he got entirely wrong.
It is hard to see how Mead could have read my book and taken such conclusions from it. That he did is unfortunate, considering the many points onwhich we are basically saying similar things.
NOTE: This is a revision of my original post based on further information received.
Hanson, Victor D., A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War, Random House, 2005, 397pp.
Thucydides' "The Peloponnesian War," written almost 2500 years ago, still sells roughly 50,000 copies a year in English translation. Why? From a literary perspective, as the first true example of historical narrative recorded in the Western world, the book clearly deserves pride of place in importance and general interest for classical or literary scholars. As an account of thirty years of catastrophic war between democratic urban Athens and oligarchic rural Sparta (431 - 404 BC), it has more than its share of drama, intrigue, anachronism, and tragedy for any general reader. But why should the war itself have been become a metaphor for republican and democratic hubris for the last several centuries? Why is it still the subject of heated discussion even in our current era? And why should this tale of agrarian Greeks butchering each other so long ago have been required reading for generals and diplomats since the Renaissance?
Answering those questions requires deep familiarity with the text and Victor Hanson, a famous historian and social commentator in his own right, has now created a concordance of sorts to Thucydides' great masterpiece which makes the original text substantially more approachable and comprehensible. As a gateway then to all that Thucydides might mean for the Anglosphere (or not), Hanson's new book deserves a quick look.
The Table of Contents for A War Like No Other immediately telegraphs what is different about this book.
Fear – Why Sparta fought Athens (480-431)
Fire – The war against land (431-425)
Disease – The Ravages of the Plague at Athens (430-426)
Terror – War in the Shadows (431-421)
Armor – Hoplite Pitched battle (424-418)
Walls – Sieges (431-415)
Horses – The Disaster at Sicily (415-413)
Ships – The War at Sea (431-404)
Climax – Trireme Fighting in the Aegean (411-405)
Ruin – Winners and Losers (404-403)
By picking a theme and reviewing what the archaeologists and historians can tell us to supplement Thucydides, Hanson makes it much easier to track both the sequence of events in the Peloponnesian War but also their source and implications. As can be seen by the table, Hanson was faced with a challenge: some subjects had significance which stretched across the entire period of the war (e.g. Ships) while others had their greatest impact at a particular time (e.g. Disease). The author accepted the problem and readers must therefore accommodate a certain amount of repetition and scene-changing as the War is surveyed, theme by theme. We follow the thread of each theme through the places, battles, and personalities of the War. This actually aids recall. Hanson does his best to front-load the themes from the early part of the War toward the front of his book but nonetheless, the reader cannot coast through the book as they would a strict chronological narrative. Thucydides and Hanson are complements, not duplicates.
Online reviewers at Amazon.com have noted the less-than-crisp maps found in Hanson. While I personally didn't find them a problem, there's no doubt that greater care in matching the text with the maps (i.e., illustrating more of the text in the maps) would have been worthwhile. In some cases, the maps seemed unnecessarily repetitive. Painful as it might be, they may well have been better grouped together at the front or back of the book.
Having made unsuccessful stabs at reading through Strassler’s Landmark Thucydides (an excellent annotated version of Thucydides) and Donald Kagan’s narrative The Peloponnesian War, I'm really grateful for Hanson's approach and his background material. If I was a young military officer or classics students, my gratitude would be even greater. I'm not qualified to say but Hanson's new book seems like an ideal and permanent bookshelf companion to Strassler for those who want to refer to Thucydides work in future.
I feel I’m now better able to track the "players" of the war, and settle into the pure chronological narrative with a better grasp of the broader social, economic, and technological stances of the day. In addition, Hanson's end notes offer a wealth of modern bibliographic source material for those who find a sudden interest in hoplite warfare or trireme construction.
The Peloponnesian War certainly has resonance for modern democracies, with its tale of Athenian over-reach and reckless execution and expulsion of their military leadership. The Spartas come across as more lucky than bright. The Persians and Carthaginians waited effectively in the wings to pounce. Critiques of Hanson's book claim that he draws links to the present day too often but I didn’t actually find that at all. Hanson certainly notes how the Athenian democracy fought on far longer than anyone of the era expeced. From a financial perspective, it was far more willing to commit itself to battle and military regeneration after each defeat. It should be remembered that the fiscal resources necessary for the Spartans to outlast Athens came from Persian satraps in western Turkey. No doubt the Athenian slaves offered their freedom for service in the final fleet of ships assembled by Athens fought for their own dreams as well as those of their city. But we see no broad-brush analogies between Athens and America in this book. Readers must turn to Hanson's many essays for National Review to determine how his historical conclusions relate to the modern world.
Hanson's tale of the war does circle a broader theme -- the shift from inter-Greek hoplite warfare by agrarian landowners to a model of "total war" that engaged the poor, the enslaved, mercenaries, and the urban in battles using lightly-armed soldiers on foot, horseback, and sea. Rather that fighting for scraps of land between city-states and deciding the matter in an afternoon, the Greeks embarked on a thirty year catastrophic engagement that left neither side a victor and demolished the economies of cities throughout the eastern Mediterranean. The Peloponnesian War broke the rules of warfare in a way that traumatized the literati of Greece far into the 4th century BC, and it established the Greek genius for warmaking in a way that underlay the success of Phillip of Macedon and Alexander, a half-century later. Alexander's success at dominating the Greeks was based on their fiscal and demographic exhaustion from the Peloponnesian War.
Hanson hints at but does not elaborate unnecessarily on the conditions of Athens, its many mistakes, its endurance, and the results of its final collapse. The destruction of generals, the slaughter of civilians, soldiers, and sailors, the madness of the Sicilian expedition and lack of Spartan capacity to follow up on their victory all get their due. After complete defeat and destruction of the critical walls linking Athens with its port, the city fell to an oligarchy -- the Thirty Tyrants (404). Yet within months, democracy in the city was restored and 60 years of relative tranquility followed. The "Long Walls" were rebuilt within 11 years of defeat by Sparta along with a spate of new border forts on the edge of Attica. Within three decades, Athens had regained its role as a leading sea-going trade depot and was patrolling the Mediterranean with 300 triremes, providing protection for a widespread trade network. Agriculture outside the city rebounded almost immediately. Sparta and Athens were to reconcile in the face of new threats from Thebes and Boeotia.
A War Like No Other is certainly not a book for everyone. And it's certainly not the feel-good book of the year. But it is an excellent companion to Thucydides' great story and it resparked my confidence in returning to the subject in future as time and circumstance allow. The impact of this first civil war of the Western world stands unique in its ability to both inspire and worry our modern world.
In The Offshore Islanders, Paul Johnson makes much of the early intellectual separation of the English from Continental trends, especially a kind of unorthodox Christian tradition stretching from Pelagius through Ockham to Wyclif, the Reformation, and beyond. Thus his take on what Ernest Gellner calls the Exit from predation to production (forged in England during the industrial revolution) is distinctive (p. 268):
The fact that the English avoided a political breakdown in the early nineteenth century is all the more remarkable in that they were undergoing social and economic changes of unparalleled scope and severity. The English industrial revolution of 1780-1820 is the great watershed in the history of mankind. It liberated the body, as the Reformation had liberated the mind. Indeed the two were intimately connected. It was in the light of the escape from Rome, and the break-up of a static intellectual system, that Bacon saw the Fall reversed and forecast man's conquest of a hostile and grudging environment. He regarded the prospect as stupendous and imminent, and so it might have been, for he wrote on the eve of great events. The collapse of the English republic undoubtedly decelerated the process, but it was beyond anyone's power to halt it. Indeed, we can trace from the middle of the sixteenth century a majestic chain of events, each projecting the next, which made the outcome of the modern world inevitable.
Geography had always placed the English significantly apart from the Continental conflux of societies whose very proximity and interaction secured their conservative elements in possession. The Channel gave us a certain eclectic freedom in the reception of Continental ideas: we could take by choice; we could not be made to receive by compulsion. The act of separation might have occurred much earlier, and the film of history speeded up in consequence. At all events, the change was decisive when it came. The religious revolution made possible a revolution in education, not just in scope but in quality. The new education bred the first scientific revolution, and it was the impact of scientific rationalism on society which brought the political and constitutional revolution of the 1640s. From this convulsion we can date the agricultural revolution, which completed the break with the subsistence economy, and made possible the commercial and financial revolution of the late seventeenth century. The flow of cheap money thus secured, the stability of credit, the rapid development of world trade and, not least, the emergence of a sophisticated consumer market at home, combined, in the 1780s, to produce a revolutionary combination of capital and technology in the mass-production of goods by powered machines. This transformation, paralleled by the administrative revolution in the central organs of government, in turn projected the social revolution of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. English religion died in the process; the Reformation God did not live to see His handiwork. Nevertheless, He was the prime mover in it all. The Gospel according to Karl Marx, or to Mao Tse-Tung, or to Keynes, all spring by direct intellectual descent from the Protestant Bible. And behind it all lies the enigmatic, mocking smile of Pelagius.
(Cross-posted at one small voice.)