June 27, 2006

Quadrant reviews The Anglosphere Challenge

Quadrant's review of my book is a homecoming of sorts. As reviewer Peter Coleman makes clear, Quadrant was responsible for the publication and sponsorship of Claudio Véliz, one of the first contemporary thinkers to return to and examine carefully the distinct nature of English-speaking civilization, in a series of articles and an important lecture delivered in the 1980s. These works are clearly forerunners and key foundation stones of the Anglosphere analysis.

But Véliz's works were admired briefly, and then dropped from sight. From the viewpoint of the Quadrant people, this is what happened:

Urged on by the Quadrant editor, the late H.W. Arndt, Veliz expanded his lecture into the book The New World of the Gothic Fox: Culture and Economy in English and Spanish America. Although it was well received, it was soon, as it were, put to one side. Then suddenly, quite recently, it enjoyed a revival. In his new polemic The Anglosphere Challenge: Why the English-Speaking Nations Will Lead the Way in the Twenty-First Century ( Rowman & Littlefield, 2004, about [Aus]$90), James C. Bennett sums it up: “Veliz is to today’s emerging Anglosphere what Tocqueville was to nineteenth-century America.”

What happened in the past twenty years to give Veliz’s ideas their new importance? A major factor has been the flourishing of the internet, which hardly existed when Veliz gave his Latham Lecture. In a few years the communications revolution has destroyed the tyranny of geography and has privileged the English language in world affairs and consolidated British civilisation (in the quasi-Hellenistic sense) on a scale undreamt of in past generations. Bennett calls this the Anglosphere. There is also a developing Hispano-sphere, Lusosphere, Francosphere.

What in fact happened was a convergence of minds coming from quite different places upon a suddenly-emergent common place. I had in fact written the entire text of what became The Anglosphere Challenge before having read, or even heard of, Véliz. It had begun as a discussion of what the effects of the Internet and hypertext revolutions might be on society and international relations; its primary focus was the emergence of cultural-linguistic "network cvilizations" and the potential for "network commonwealths" to emerge as political forms joining them.

The Anglosphere was merely the first and most obvious of these network civilizations, and the fact that Neal Stephenson coined the term "anglosphere" (as a throwaway in his novel The Diamond Age) to describe the phenomenon was merely an indication that something was in fact happening. (I have no idea whether "anglosphere" was an original coinage of Stephenson's; the term "francosphere" had been current in French for several years prior to publication of The Diamond Age.)

In fact, it was not until I was preparing the original manuscript for publication that I read Véliz, and because of a reference in a footnote in Gothic Fox, Alan Macfarlane's work. This caused a delay of at least a year as I had to go back and expand and elaborate upon the discussion of the Anglosphere in the work, and that discussion became so dominant that the central thrust of the book shifted from "network commonwealth" to "anglosphere", and the publishers changed the book's title to reflect that fact. Since the actual publication of the book I have gone much further in researchng some of the topics about the nature of the Anglosphere, a research which has been shared with a number of people including my fellow-bloggers here on Seedlings. Much of the discussion about "Gellner's Exit" and other such esoteric topics on this blog is the byproduct of a continuing email correspondence of our little cyber-salon.

Thus the book has a somewhat bifurcated nature, something Coleman, among other reviewers, have noticed and commented upon. For Coleman, of course, this is a bug, not a feature:

Unfortunately Bennett labours under two handicaps. One is a weakness for jargon (despite his years as a UPI journalist writing a column called “The Anglosphere Beat”). The book is marred by too many sentences like this:

“Given the emergence of transmission control protocol/Internet protocol (TCP/IP) as the universal standard for Internet communications, and of hypertext markup language (HTML) as the document standard, it is not clear that any further harmonization is needed at all.”

Bennett’s other, and related, handicap is that he was reared on science fiction and will not let a good idea speak for itself. No sooner has he laid out the role of the internet revolution in consolidating the Anglosphere than he takes us into the obscure and sometimes obscurantist realms of “the Singularity revolutions”.

If, on the other hand, you are part of the community that takes Singularity discussions seriously, this is a feature, not a bug. My only regret now is that I felt I had to take up so much space describing the idea of the Singualrity, since in the intervening two years, with the publication of Kurzweil and Garreau's works, it has become a commonplace of blogospheric discussion.

I guess that's one of the problems with writing a book that draws on highly disparate fields of knowledge -- I discover techno-geeks who think I invented the idea of Anglosphere exceptionalism, while I run into learned historians who are under the impression that I invented the idea of the Singularity. Much as I would enjoy credit for either one, I am perfectly happy to give credit to Véliz and Vinge respectively for those achievements. (I am probably the only person who knows both authors personally, however -- a pleasure in both instances, by the way.)

I do have to say that the particular sentence he quoted -- about TCP/IP and HTML as universal voluntary standards, is an important point, (given that standards harmonization is always trotted out as an argument for top-down structures like the European Union) and to have discussed it without using the actual terms would have been much more roundabout and less precise. But since Robert Conquest had also objected to that particular sentence, perhaps I should have worked on it a little longer.

Generally, however, when a book has a strongly bifurcated nature, it suggests that perhaps there should be two books altogether, or at least two future follow-ons. When I circulated the manuscript to a number of people, many of them commented that the scope was too wide, and that I would be better off narrowing the scope and discarding twenty or thirty percent of the text. The problem was that no two commentors agreed on what to keep and what to put in the next book.

Coleman's larger point, however, is on target. Since Véliz first returned to the idea of English-speaking exceptionalism in the modern world (it had been a common thread eighty years before, albeit in a somewhat different form) a number of people have come to the same place, for the most part independently. Véliz, myself, Robert Conquest, John O'Sullivan (who knows all three of us), and others have all taken up the distinct nature of the Anglosphere, and its possibilities, and the fact that such a diverse set of experiences all led to the same place suggests that there is something there. As Coleman say:

A major characteristic of these approaches—by Veliz, Bennett, Mead, Conquest, O’Sullivan and others—is their tentativeness and modesty. The Anglosphere is not a ready-made solution to the problems of the world, from Islamicist terrorism to failed multiculturalism. They see it as a direction, a potential, a liberal option.

It remains futurology. It may pass like other Anglo dreams or fantasies—Milner’s Kindergarten, Imperial Federation, or the Lost Tribes of Israel. For some Australians—late children of the British empire who (in Chris Patten’s formula) have lived their lives as enthusiastic citizens of America’s undeclared empire—it is a door they will not slam shut. But as Patten also warned, sentiment is only one element in Realpolitik.

I think that what Coleman sees as "tentativeness and modesty" is also a feature, rather than a bug, in our design. I would rather call it a real-world application of Hayek's concept of "local knowledge". We are saying not that we refuse to generate a universal solution for all peoples in all places and all times because we are better than others, but that solving any set of social problems, getting from the present situation to the desired situation, requires far more local knowledge than was assumed fifteen years ago. Then it seemed as if there was a universal democratic and free-market template that could be implemented overnight, anywhere, and deliver its benefits the next day. Today we value the end place no less, but are more cautious about what it takes to get there. Turning our attention primarily to the Anglosphere is an admission that that is where we know the most and can do the most good.

As far as the dreams of yesteryear, Seedlings has had a rather extensive discussion of the English-speaking Unionists of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, what they accomplished and what they did not, and how the lessons of their experience apply to the Anglospherists' challenge today. Of course it is futurology, as Coleman indicates, but to look at society twenty-five years ago and see what has changed since then, a futurology informed by taking the past seriously (which is what we strive for) is likely to be the only even potentially useful guide. The most unrealistic assumption is that nothing will change.


Lex has an interesting discussion of this post, with some useful further links, over at Chicago Boyz. Comments section is worth checking out, too.

Posted by James C. Bennett at 03:05 PM | Comments (6)

June 25, 2006

Pei -- China's Trapped Transition

[cross-posted on Chicagoboyz]

Pei, Minxin, China's Trapped Transition: The Limits of Developmental Autocracy, Harvard Univ Press, 2006. 294pp.

As much as the end of the Cold War, the big story of the tail end of the 20th century was the movement toward economic liberalism in mainland China after 1979. After twenty-five years on a new compass heading, how are things going?

For the interested general reader, business, foreign policy, and military websites provide deeply contradictory news. On the one hand, China seems to have dramatically increased its per capita wealth and changed its peoples' lifestyle faster than any other nation in history. On the other hand, the vast majority of Chinese are stuck in unproductive state-owned enterprises (SOEs) or subject to the whim of central authorities when it comes to the pricing of agricultural goods. That translates into hundreds of millions of people with little hope of climbing the Chinese ladder of prosperity in their lifetimes. China, according to the demographers and "best-case" economists, will still grow old before it grows rich.

On the military front, China appears as the most likely candidate for super-power status with a central autocratic government, a growing economic engine to fund military purchases, a massive population, a compliant diaspora funneling international secrets homeward (Time article [subscription] from early 2005), and a chip on its shoulder lovingly nurtured for centuries as a substitute for an effective political theory. The naysayers, in contrast, claim that China is fortress with no one manning the walls ... an army, navy, and air force more effective on paper than in reality, and a billion people dangerously dependent on potential enemies for the raw materials and consumer markets that would subsidize any military modernization.

Which is it?

While the wonks can debate the half-full, half-empty argument endlessly, Minxin Pei, a senior associate and director of the China Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington DC., has given us a book that explains to the lay person how China is actually run today ... who makes the decisions about rural and urban life, about justice and banking, about domestic and foreign markets. This overview is written smoothly enough to keep a general reader's interest but it does take the time to translate the literature from Chinese, and to set the Chinese quandry in a theoretical context, comparing the nation to other (typically much smaller) nations that have made the jump from communist to free-market economies.

Ten years after beginning its modernization drive, China responded to the end of the Cold War, and the Tiananmen massacre, with a conscious shift in focus to "gradualism" ... on loosening central control over economic activity while reducing any latitude for political liberalization. The collapse, and criminal or kleptocratic trajectory, of the Soviet Union and its satellites was seen as a sober warning to Chinese leadership of the perils of letting democracy loose at the same time as market economics. The peril, of course, would be the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) complete loss of power. Serious internal lip service was, and is, given to modernizing the political apparatus of the Chinese state, but the slim and often vague initiatives that resulted now meet a grim social reality.

The Chinese program of "gradualism" decentralized party decisions, but not surprisingly, it vastly increased the potential for party apparatchiks to successfully siphon off public funds. As China monetized its national assets (agricultural, cultural, industrial), and absorbed vast quantities of foreign direct investment (FDI), it created a dual economy ... one was subject to the rigours of the marketplace and created a Chinese incentive to rationalize protection of foreign property and contract rights. The other economy was woefully managed, and hugely leveraged into debt. In order to maintain its control over money and the tools of patronage, the CCP kept control over the areas of the economy least transparent to foreign investors. A deeply corrupt banking system allows systematic looting of both state subsidies and any emerging market opportunities (typically in real estate development). As a result, key domestic economic segments are profoundly corrupt, inefficient, and effectively bankrupt.

Corruption, rather than being an end-game to foreign emigration by party and Army members (or their families) as it was in the early days of liberalization, became a "group sport." Bureaucrats, businessmen, and increasingly Mafia, co-operated in the methodical looting of public and private funds. Not only was China's growing wealth providing greater opportunity and scale for corruption but corrupt officials now have more, and safer, places to abscond to when they are discovered. And as for discovery and punishment, that leads to another point made by the author.

Pei claims that the CCP has now established a stasis -- a decentralized predatory state:

  1. It cannot enforce accountability of its cadres without highlighting its lack of power and supervision over the hinterlands and vast bureaucracy.
  2. It cannot wean itself from its inherently predatory behaviour because the captured money, and associated party advantage, is all that it has left to offer adherents.
  3. It cannot address the catastrophic drop in party morale because the majority of cadres are now convinced that socialism is a lost cause. The best strategy therefore (individual and communal) is to take as much out of the system as possible before it collapses.

It is in the unique combination of two features of the Chinese state (decentralized, predatory) that the "trapped transition" occurs. We have historical references for centralized predatory states. We know that they have an inherent threshold of mass terror and repression beyond which they cannot operate if they want a functional economy. Similarly, we know that centralized predatory states can monopolize resources (and corruption) to a large degree, and keep the subsistence economy of the masses relatively equitable.

But China's has released both its people and its cadres to develop the economy at a maximum rate, without the cultural and political elements of supervision, of governance, that would keep the nation from developing big dislocations in the economic and social spheres.

China now, according to Pei, suffers from a profound "governance deficit." It can no longer provide "law and order," health care, education, infrastructure maintenance, or many of the other necessary functions of the modern nation-state ... too much of its time and financial resources are spent in simply keeping itself afloat. The resulting gap between citizen expectations and bureaucratic announcements can be extreme and is leading to increasing social unrest -- riots as the only way to induce governmental change.

By the time Pei has finished his overview (with generous, careful, and thorough presentation of the "half-full" arguments at each stage), one comes away with both a better understanding of how China has managed its economic "miracle" and how shaky the governmental underpinnings now are. This is a nation that's riding the tiger but in no way is successfully directing it. Governing China effectively would require weaning the party from its parasitic role in the Chinese economy. And it cannot do that without relinquishing authority to a democratically elected government that would eliminate the need for the CCP.

Pei's book certainly doesn't qualify as light summer reading but it reads smoothly and logically as a high-level summary of political and economic science. For someone wanting to brief themselves in detail on the Chinese future, I feel it can be read to great benefit in tandem with W.J.F Jenner's The Tyranny of History" The Roots of China's Crisis (an assessment of the cultural/linguistic constraints on Chinese modernization) and Richard E. Nisbett's The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently ... And Why (summarizing cognitive differences between regions of the planet that impact individualization and innovation -- reviewed here).

Read as a set, these three books provide insight into the hurdles facing cultures that want to duplicate the success of the Anglosphere and European continental nations.

Table of Contents

Introduction [1]
Why Transitions Get Trapped: A Theoretical Framework [17]
Democratizing China? [45]
Rent Protection and Dissipation: The Dark Side of Gradualism [96]
Transforming the State: From Developmental to Predatory [132]
China's Mounting Governance Deficits [167]
Conclusion [206]

Posted by jmccormick at 07:24 PM | Comments (6)

June 23, 2006

Instapundit and the Medici Lesson

[cross-posted on Chicagoboyz]

Instapundit has a post up on a book about the Medici and Italian banking:

SO I'VE BEEN READING TIM PARKS' Medici Money: Banking, Metaphysics, and Art in Fifteenth-Century Florence. It's a pretty interesting book, with a juxtaposition of prejudices against sodomy and usury (both seen as "against nature") as a background for the Renaissance.
It's mostly a history of the Medici banking empire, though, and it's interesting to see how the bank declined. The problem was the passing of a generation of bankers who loved the work -- Cosimo Medici said that he'd remain a banker even if he could make money by waving a wand -- and its replacement by those who weren't terribly interested in the actual work, but rather in the opportunity their jobs provided to hang around with kings, queens, and cardinals. Not surprisingly, things went downhill fast once that happened.
I think that's a metaphor for politics and journalism today -- and a cautionary example for the blogosphere.

Economic historian Joel Mokyr believes that these periods of innovation in technology (hard and soft) can be spotted repeatedly back to the Greeks (see his Gifts of Athena: Origins of the Knowledge Economy reviewed here, and the The Lever of Riches: Technological Creativity and Economic Progress). The distinction, finally, with the Scientific/Industrial Revolution was that the inevitable rent-seekers couldn't get an adequate grip and the Malthusian caps were breached. The widening of the "epistemic base" (which Mokyr represents with the symbol omega) was creating usable knowledge (symbol lambda) faster than it could be controlled or stamped out by antagonistic parties. To quote Mokyr: "The broader the epistemic base, the more likely it is that technological progress can be sustained for extended periods before it starts to run into diminishing returns." A virtuous cycle rather than a negative feedback loop gets established. He's got a great article on Why was the Industrial Revolution A European Phenomena? available in .PDF format .

When you look at where the Medici financial innovations came from, and ended up, (per Alfred Crosby's The Measure of Reality: Quantification and Western Society, 1250-1600 reviewed here) ... first northern Italy, then the Lowlands, then England, then back to the Continent and over to America by the second quarter of the 19th century, it sure seems like a pattern. Wherever the Republics appeared, bankers and prosperity were sure to follow. Fortunately for us, the English and American republican influences endured into the 20th century.

The most readable pocket summary I've found of the movement of economic dynamism from northern Italy (Genoa/Florence/Venice) to the Lowlands is in Rodney Stark's The Victory of Reason : How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success. His overall hypothesis is a bit more aggressively retrofit that I think is warranted but his chapters on how prosperity moved from Italy to Holland to England are very well done.

And speaking of how innovation escaped the religious and political authorities, for a wonderfully well-written little book on the impact of Newton on English and Continental life, you can't get better than Jacob and Stewart's Practical Matter : Newton's Science in the Service of Industry and Empire, 1687-1851 As Holland's Golden Age came to an end, Newton's mathematical masterpiece was championed by a bizarre blend of Anglican clerics, provincial "engineers," showboating lecturers, and French intellectuals. By the time that the higher-ups realized what Newton's "action at a distance" might mean, it was too late. His ideas (including his own adherence to Baconian research principles) were woven throughout the English (and ultimately Continental) economy, and fueled an entirely new era of "public science" that continues to this day. The first Army of Davids actually attended lectures in coffeehouses on Isaac Newton's laws of motion. The book wraps with the Great Exhibition of 1851, which both confirmed British dominance of the science and industry of the day and stimulated Continental and American appetites to catch up and surpass Great Britain.

I hope to have a review up shortly.

As for Instapundit's warning of blogosphere co-option, I hope to poke around that question a bit during my review of his latest book (Army of Davids) -- "The Army of Fagins versus the Barnicle Folk." I think the "wisdom of crowds" effect pertains whether the crowd is civic, indolent, or criminal. And that's an important part of the equation in sorting out how the Anglosphere will make use of its great freedoms. What you talk about is as important as the fact you're talking. There's an argument for hyper-empowered crabgrass Jacksonians -- shades of the feared Norstrilians.

Posted by jmccormick at 03:29 PM | Comments (1)

June 19, 2006

In England's Green and Pleasant Land

Readers of this blog already know, thanks to Helen's reportage, that I recently had the pleasure of visiting England and, although I was there primarily for the purpose of attending a family wedding, I was able to give a talk at the Institute of Economic Affairs. (This talk was also blogged, more briefly, by Phil Chaston over at Samizdata.)

Helen's writeup conveys the heart of the talk quite well -- it was primarily a look at the "special relationship" from an Anglospheric point of view rather than strictly an Anglo-American one. For anyone who has been reading my writings over the last few years what I said would be no surprise. I have thought for some time that the idea of the special relationship, which really has only had any effectiveness for perhaps half of the time during the past 60 years, primarily during the Roosevelt-Churchill and Thatcher-Reagan years, and in an odd sort of fashion during the Bush-Blair years, is now well past its sell-by date.

For each of those cheerful examples, we have the counterexamples of the dynamic Major-Clinton relationship, the Nixon-Heath chumfest, the joys of Carter-Callaghan, and then of course there's always Eisenhower-Eden...well, you see what I mean. Particularly now that the US Constitution and Blair's own announced plans guarantee that the Anglosphere's Odd Couple will soon enough be history, it's more than overdue that we look at replacing the toss of the personality dice with a more structured relationship. The precise nature of those structures is another and much longer discussion, but right now progress consists of recognizing that it's a discussion that needs to take place.

The one dimension of my talk that Helen did not go into was something about which I have been doing more and more thinking, and on which I have several articles in draft. This is a discussion of exactly what the nature of the various Anglosphere nations are, how they resemble each other and how they differ, and what this means to the mechanisms we do and might use for cooperation among orselves.

Particularly when there is substantial unhappiness with the course of Anglo-American relations in England, there is a temptation to turn to the idea of a Brtish (or English, depending) "national character" which is counterposed to an American "national character". Much of the media presentation in both nations, whether ostensibly fiction or non-fiction, of the differences between America and Britain dwell on such characterizations. And most of it is nonsense. Both America and Britain (or for that matter England) are in fact highly diverse, and were so long before either experienced much non-British Isles immigration. The major differences between the regional cultures of the US derive primarily from the regional cultures of origin in the British Isles, as David Hackett Fischer has pointed out in his book Albion's Seedlings, to which this blog's name is a reference.

The idea of a "national character" is largely a fiction of 19th-century Continental European "organic nationalism", which fit Continental Europe rather poorly (in the 18th and 19th centuries, Germans were widely considered to have a peaceful, poetic, and artistic national character, while the French were considered to have a "national genius" for military matters...) and the Anglosphere not at all. Thus the stock American of anti-American fiction is an unlikely hybrid of supposed Southern fundamentalism, New York greed, and New England puritanism, while American media created a Britain that seems to consist entirely of decayed aristocrats and royals, and working-class soccer thugs.

This is not to say that America and Britain are identical. However, the differences are not so much a matter of inherently different "national characters", but rather one of essentially similar ingredients mixed in different proportions, and with a similar but far from identical set of shared experience. Some elements are present in both nations, others are present in one while scarce in the other -- America has very little equivalent of the old Tory "wet" or paternalistic mentality, for instance. It's worth noting that the special relationship has worked best when the British prime minister has some element of the old British Liberal strain -- Churchill being a former Liberal, Thatcher coming from a family with a Liberal background, and Blair being closer to the Liberal strain of the Labour Party than to the Socialist.

Ultimately, all of the major core Anglosphere countries are what political scientists often call "state-nations" rather than nation-states; that is to say, distinct states whose principal visible differences tend to be artifacts of government. Since they are states, of course, they will have distinct state interests, which will never be identical. However, since the fundamental underlying cultural patterns lie within a wider common set (especially when contrasted against the rest of the world) there will also continue to be a set of consistent common interests. Balancing the permanently divergent interests of the individual state-nations against the also permanent common interests of our common cultural area is the ongoing political riddle of the Anglosphere. The special relationship has been the mechanism used to date; it is not obvious that it's the right mechanism now or at any time in the future.

I have begun thinking about the Anglosphere in terms of what I have begun to call "Burkean communities" and "Lockean bargains". Burkean communities are the very coherent local and regional communities, built from the bottom up by ties evolved over time between the "small platoons of society" that Burke famously described. These are counties, states and provinces, and regions -- perhaps even England as a whole might be seen as one such. We have tied these communities together into larger constructs that I think of as "Lockean bargains" -- unions and federations that were constructed by very explicitly negotiating deals among Burkean communities. Although Locke's "social contract" as a description of the emergence of government is a fiction, eventually the Anglosphere did produce genuine social contracts.

The first such was the under-appreciated Union of 1707, that produced the United Kingdom from the Kingdoms of England and Scotland. Because the Union was conscious, deliberate, negotiated, and dependent upon financial and security considerations (particularly a massive bail-out of Scotland's economy after the Darien fiasco) it has been derided as "artificial" nation-making, as if there was something wrong with that. Yet in many ways it became a model for the Lockean bargain that was the American constitution (which also involved a debt bailout, a deal on public lands, a deal on the new capital, and infrastructure committments), which subsequently influenced the very deliberate bargain that became the Canadian confederation (give us a railway, or we become Yanks, said the British Columbians...), and finally the Australian federation. In each case the national sentiment and poetics came well after the bargain was sealed, and new shared experiences on the battlefield or in development added a Burkean dimension to the original Lockean bargain.

What made the Union of 1707 different from the medieval dynastic acquisitions that were a standard part of the nation-building process of post-Westphalia Europe was the wider literacy and consequent widening of the "political nation" that was possible in 1706-7, espeically in Calvinist Scotland with its emphasis on mass literacy (probably the broadest in the world) and the broad public participation in the Church of Scotland, which was key in negotiating an acceptable Union. With widespread literacy and widespread means of public discussion (although it would seem narrow by current standards), there arose the possibility of something actually approaching a "social contract".

When stressed, what happens is usually that the Burkean units negotiate new Lockean bargains and they go on from there.  This may or may not involve new framworks. The First British Empire could have been such a Lockean bargain --
Franklin tried very hard to cut such a deal -- but Lord North couldn''t see the need to play seriously.  So the Thirteen Colonies cut a different deal.

The Burkean woof and Lockean warp creates a very strong and serviceable fabric. It's also instructive to look at the attempted Lockean bargains in the Anglosphere that didn't work out. The failure to cut a new workable bargain between the UK and the Thirteen Colonies is an obvious one. The Confederacy was another. And the various attempts to create either an Imperial Federation from the British Empire, or an English-Speaking Union including the US (both popular ideas from roughly 1890-1914) are examples of a Lockean bargain that might have been made, but wasn't.

Lockean bargains to not have to be states. It's possible that a set of structural coopeeration agreements between the core Anglosphere states, falling well short of confederation, could be a new Lockean bargain to ultimately provide a more equitable, reliable, and generally more effective means of cooperation than the old special relationship. It's time to start the discussion about it.

Posted by James C. Bennett at 05:55 PM | Comments (3)

Quote of the Day

Prior to the miracle of Civil Society, human societies habitually lived under coercive and superstitious systems, and generally took such a condition for granted. They were right to do so. There was no alternative. Within such societies, the maintenance of the social order was normally quite properly accorded far more importance than any possible augmentation of the cognitive capital or of productive potential, if indeed those things were valued at all, or held to be attainable or even conceivable. All this was reflected in the values pervading agrarian societies; these values led to a reverence of martial and hieratic skills, a Rule of the Red and the Black. They did not lead to any great respect or encouragement of productive capacity or of intellectual innovation. The specialist was often the object of contempt or fear or both. This, once again, is the normal social condition of mankind. It is foolish to expect anything else.

Then, on one occasion, something strange and unusual happened. Certain societies, whose internal organization and ethos shifted away from predation and credulity to production and a measure of intellectual liberty and genuine exploration of nature, became richer and, strangely enough, even more effective militarily than the societies based on and practicing the old martial values. Nations of shopkeepers, such as the Dutch and the English, organized in relatively liberal polities, repeatedly beat nations within which martial and ostentatious aristocracies, addicted to the values of aggression and conspicuous display, dominated and set the tone.

Ernest Gellner, The Conditions of Liberty: Civil Society and Its Rivals .

(Alan Macfarlane lecture on Gellner, speaking as if he were Gellner. Macfarlane’s review of Conditions of Liberty.)

Posted by Lexington Green at 02:58 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

June 15, 2006

Forward the Anglosphere?

A report on Jim Bennett’s talk to the Bruges Group in London

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

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

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

Jim Bennett is a friend as well as a man with whom I have had many discussions on many subjects (he knows about so many things that I find it hard to keep up and often don’t bother) though until a few weeks ago these had all been conducted on the internet. This is entirely appropriate, because Jim believes, as do most Anglospherists, that the existence of the new technology makes it possible for the Anglospheric networks to grow in parallel to official ones.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cross-posted (mostly) from EUReferendum

Posted by Helen Szamuely at 10:29 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

June 12, 2006

Quote of the Day

They have made their choice, as we must do. Those who remember with honour men like Hampden and Washington, regard with a corresponding aversion Peter the Great and Frederic William I. But without the first Europe might be French, and without the other it might be Russian. That which arose in Northern Europe about the time of our revolution settlement was a new form of practical absolutism. Theological monarchy had done its time, and was now followed by military monarchy. Church and State had oppressed mankind together; henceforth the State oppressed for its own sake. And this was the genuine idea which came in with the Renaissance, according to which the State alone governs, and all other things obey. Reformation and Counter–Reformation had pushed religion to the front: but after two centuries the original theory, that government must be undivided and uncontrolled, began to prevail. It is a new type, not to be confounded with that of Henry VIII., Philip II., or Lewis XIV., and better adapted to a more rational and economic age. Government so understood is the intellectual guide of the nation, the promoter of wealth, the teacher of knowledge, the guardian of morality, the mainspring of the ascending movement of man. That is the tremendous power, supported by millions of bayonets, which grew up in the days of which I have been speaking at Petersburg, and was developed, by much abler minds, chiefly at Berlin; and it is the greatest danger that remains to be encountered by the Anglo–Saxon race.
Lord Acton, Lectures on Modern History, Peter the Great and the Rise of Prussia
Posted by Lexington Green at 10:07 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

June 06, 2006

Quote of the Day

The success of equality in America is due, I think, mainly to the circumstance that a large number of people, who were substantially equal in all the more important matters, recognized that fact and did not set up unfounded distinctions. How far they actually are equal now, and how long they will continue to be equal when the population becomes dense, is quite another question. It is also a question, which I cannot do more than glance at in two words in this place, whether the enormous development of equality in America, the rapid production of an immense multitude of commonplace, self-satisfied, and essentially slight people is an exploit which the whole world need fall down and worship.

James Fitzjames Stephen, Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, (1873)

Posted by Lexington Green at 09:37 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

June 01, 2006

English first, British second

It was with Helen's recent post on British values in mind that I sat on my flight back to England reading the CRE's paper 'Citizenship and Belongning: What is Britishness?' (pdf).

It has long been my view that the British identity politics preached by the British government are a hamper to successful integration in England. The CRE's paper reinforced that view; following are some selected extracts:

In England, white English participants perceived themselves as English first and British second, while ethnic minority participants perceived themselves as British; none identified as English, which they saw as meaning exclusively white people. Thus, the participants who identified most strongly with Britishness were those from ethnic minority backgrounds resident in England.
There is a difference between being British and being English. English is being indigenous, being white and from this country. But being British, the primary thing that comes to mind is that you have a British passport. The second thing is that you live here and you function here, in this society [...] I am British. I am not English (Pakistanis and Bangladeshis, London)
For many ethnic minority participants, in particular, maintaining the difference between the English and the British was crucial, because this provided them with some space to belong.
This seemed to be more important for ethnic minority participants who lived in England than for those who lived in Scotland or Wales, where they were happy to take on those national identities.
At the most basic level, all British passport holders know they are British citizens. However, not everyone attaches any value significance to being British. In Scotland and Wales - and this is true among both white and ethnic minority participants - there was a much stronger identification with each country than with Britain.
We therefore found that most black Caribbean participants identified as black British in England, as black Scottish in Scotland and as black Welsh in Wales.
...it may be that partial devolution in Scotland and Wales means that Scottish, Welsh or even European identies become more attractive than a British identity.

Those extracts seem to suggest that the British government is failing in its aim to integrate immigrants in England, whilst the Scottish and Welsh governments are having some success in fostering a civic, rather than ethnic, nationalism in those countries. Immigrants to England feel distanced from the indigenous population; they largely regard themselves solely as British, certainly in a legal sense; they rarely regard themselves as English, which they see as a ethnic or racial identity.

Why is England failing where Scotland and Wales are succeeding? Well, a quote from Helen's article may help shed some light:

...the government has announced that “All secondary school pupils could be taught about "core British values" such as freedom, fairness and respect under new plans unveiled today.

That British government directive applies only in England; in Scotland and Wales it is the concern of the Scottish and Welsh governments. Why does the British government feel the need to foster a sense of Britishness in an English population that feels palpably more English (and increasingly so) than British, and, conversely, why reinforce a sense of Britishness in an immigrant population that feels palpably more British than English, in defiance of the indigenous population's views? Isn't it all a bit arse about face!

The main drive towards this New Britishness comes from Gordon Brown who has his own selfish reasons for moving against the swelling tide of English self-awareness. It's a mad, bad and dangerous policy - he is playing fast and loose with identity politics for political gain - and the net result may not be a happy one. I forewarned of this in my article English Civic Nationalism which was first published on the Campaign for an English Parliament website in November. I hope it will find an interested readership here.

English Civic Nationalism

Nationalists are people that claim that the nation is the only legitimate basis of the state and that each nation is entitled to its own state. It is a fundamental belief, and the axis around which the world’s politics revolve. Those that claim it is not a fundamental belief are usually people who have their own political agenda, and who wish to see supra- or multi-national states formed from pre-existing nations. In time these multi-national states either become nations themselves, or fail, as we have witnessed in the cases of Yugoslavia, USSR and India, to name a few.

But the issue is more complex than that. ‘Nation’ can mean one of two things; an ethnic nation, based on a common ethnicity, collective identity and culture; or a nation based on shared purpose, beliefs and common goals, usually founded on such principles as democracy and individualism. In most nations though, or at least for most people in most nations, nationalism is a mixture of both these forms.

Academics refer to nationalism based around these two alternative definitions of ‘nation’ as ‘Ethic Nationalism’ and ‘Civic Nationalism’. In the West, especially in multicultural nations, it is the commonly held view that only civic nationalism is acceptable. The USA and France are often held up as examples of nations based on ‘civic nationalism’ as both nations were founded on constitutions expressing common rights and privileges, and the principle of citizenship. Although, from an ethical standpoint, civic nationalism is preferable to ethnic nationalism (in multicultural states at least) the Los Angeles and Paris riots show that neither ideology is without its faults.

It could be said that Britain is an example of a state based on civic nationalism. After-all, we are a multi-ethnic and multi-national state, and, for all intents and purposes, a unitary nation with a shared purpose and equal constitutional rights for all. Or at least we were prior to 1998.

In 1998 Scotland became a nation apart, able to influence English and Welsh legislation, but spared from political interference from Wales, and, more importantly, from England and the English. Scottish nationalism was, and still is, a hybrid of civic and ethnic nationalism, but the path to independence – temporarily stalled by devolution – was driven mostly by ethnic nationalism and a deep-rooted pathological hatred of the English. The Scots define themselves not as what they are, but as what they are not; and what they are not is Sassenachs.

When Scotland ring-fenced its legislation to prevent English interference, and when UK politicians started speaking of Scotland as ‘a proud historic nation’ (Tony Blair) and stating that ‘Scotland is a nation in its own right’ (Nick Raynsford – Labour Regions spokesman) without making similar claims on behalf of England, any sense of a shared collective purpose, for me at least, disappeared. Since that time politicians – most notably Gordon Brown – have invested a great deal of energy in trying to redefine Britain in terms of ideals that unite us and a shared collective purpose.

At the same time there has been an assault on English nationalism, with the Labour Party appealing to the Conservative Party to make devolution to Scotland work by not fanning the flames of English nationalism. Ostensibly Scottish nationalism is a civic nationalism, and Welsh nationalism too, otherwise the UK Government would have had trouble justifying it; and to their credit the SNP and Plaid Cymru are signed up to the European Free Alliance, a nationalist alliance that promotes civic, as opposed to ethnic, nationalism, and which supports all nations in their quest for self-determination. But the UK Government did not allow England the same right to self-determination as it offered Wales and Scotland in their 1997 referendums.

Last month Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, writing in anticipation of an English Ashes triumph in her Independent column, complained that ‘If the cricket is won, many more white Britons will give up on Britain and take refuge in England’. The implication being that English nationalism is purely an ethnic nationalism based on skin colour (see The England Project).

Alibhai-Brown was followed by Vince Cable MP, in his Demos pamphlet on multiple identities, who compared English nationalists to Islamic fundamentalists and white supremacists by stating that ‘The threat to harmonious social relations in Britain comes from those who insist that multiple identity is not possible: white supremacists, English nationalists, Islamic fundamentalists’.

It should be remembered that both Yasmin Alibhai-Brown and Vince Cable are nationalists themselves: civic British nationalists.

Vince Cable went on to say ‘This is the opposition and they have to be confronted. An important element in that confrontation is the assertion of a sense of Britishness’.

As someone that counts himself as an English nationalist – a civic nationalist – I was offended by these remarks and responded to Alibhai-Brown and Cable (see The Green Ribbon) in the same knee-jerk way that they no doubt made their remarks. Having had time to cool down and reflect I am still offended by their remarks, and see them as politically motivated, but I concede that they are at least partly correct.

Where they are correct is in the fact that, at the moment, English nationalism is mostly an ethnic nationalism. Immigrants that come to England are informed that they are now British, and they are. ‘British’ is not an ethnicity, Britain is a political construct that incorporates the different nations and ethnicities, and in that sense it can be argued that Britain was multi-cultural before the waves of immigration that began with the Empire Windrush.

The problem for English nationalists like myself, is that for all our best intentions – arguing for an English parliament that represents all English people regardless of ethnicity – there is no civic nationalism in England, not for immigrants, not for anybody. We English have no collective political representation that allows for an expression of our collective political will, and many or most of our cultural and civic institutions have been appropriated for Britain. Scotland has a Scottish parliament to which all Scots, regardless of ethnicity, elect their Scottish representatives. The Scots also have a National Library of Scotland, a National Portrait Gallery and a National Gallery, and much else besides. Taken apart these things mean little, but taken together an immigrant to Scotland – and I lived there myself for five years – is left in little doubt as to what nation they are in. Minority ethnicities in Scotland are much more likely to prefix their ethnicity with ‘Scottish’ than ethnic minorities in England are inclined to prefix their ethnicity with ‘English’. In fact ethnic minorities in England almost always refer to themselves as ‘British-[insert ethnicity here]’. It makes sense as that is how the Government defines them. This fact annoys me greatly, and I think it is divisive and damaging to race-relations in England, but that said I don’t blame the immigrants I blame the political establishment and the race-relations industry.

Without any form of civic nationalism the English seem only to be able to express themselves through sporting tribalism and xenophobia. That is a sweeping statement, but it seems to be the widely held opinion of what Orwell referred to as English intellectuals, particularly those on the left. The Government’s steadfast refusal to allow or build any form of English civic nationalism has created a situation where English pride is exhibited in moments of pure tribalism; St George’s Day and sporting victories are the only times that England’s flag can be waved without accusations of racism. This is wrong, the English flag should fly above the English National Library, the English National Museum, the English Portrait Gallery and, YES, the English Parliament and Executive. Only in that way can we build a civic nationalism for England in which all can take pride. The Government are culpable in making 'English' a synonym for 'Anglo-Saxon' and in being so they have played into the hands of what Vince Cable refers to as 'white supremacists', which – by the way Vince - is not a synonym for ‘English nationalist’.

‘English’ cannot any longer be permitted to be solely an ethnic description, it must embody more than that. The absurdity of Tebbit’s cricket test is plain for all to see:

A large proportion of Britain's Asian population fail to pass the cricket test. Which side do they cheer for? It's an interesting test. Are you still harking back to where you came from or where you are?

Immigrants to England cannot be informed they are British and then implored to support the English cricket team. Why should they when they are British not English? Why should they take any note of England’s history or achievements prior to the Act of Union when Britain and their adopted ‘Britishness’ came into being? The sense of Englishness is growing, it has been well documented, and a divide is opening up in England between that part of society that define themselves as English and those that don’t. It is noticeable that those that don’t are overwhelmingly from non-white sections of the population, although it is also noticeable, and encouraging, that some blacks do refer to themselves as English. I think that this black-led revelation has come about through inclusion in English sport; it certainly hasn’t come about thanks to the race-relations industry or Government; both of whom constantly seek to define them as Black-British, and whose very policies exclude them from Englishness.

The 'Death of Britain' has also been widely documented - Hitchens, 1999; Heffer, 1999; Redwood, 1999; Marr, 2000; Nairn, 2000 – but it doesn’t have to be that way. We can all be British citizens with equal political and constitutional rights within Britain, and with a democratic say in the way our own nations are run; that is the only way that it can work, the British onion cannot be put back together; Welsh, Scottish and English nationalism are all out of their own halves and running towards the opposition’s unguarded goal. The only guard against a certain goal is in creating an inclusive civic nationalism not just for Britain, but for England, Scotland and Wales. And that’s the task that faces British nationalists like Vince Cable and Alibhai-Brown if they want a civic and civil Britain. Trying to keep the English from asserting their Englishness all the while talking down English nationalism as if it were any less valid or worthy than Scottish, Welsh or British nationalism is simply no longer an option.

The freedoms bequeathed by England to the United Kingdom, guaranteed by law, represented an exceptional method of social integration, 'the most civilized and the most effective method ever invented by mankind' (1948: 476; 489-90). This method of social integration translated a specific aspect of the English political tradition - parliamentary sovereignty - into a British one in order to secure the unity of the United Kingdom (Crick 1991). This made the development of a specifically English nationalism not only counter-productive but also irrelevant (Crick 1995). This has been usually interpreted as an expression of English arrogance. The opposite reading can also be made and it is possible to interpret it as an expression of English modesty, for what is often ignored is the attraction of English civilisation as a method of social integration. In the mid-nineteenth century even one of the stalwarts of the proud Edinburgh Review was prepared to declare that 'the nearer we (the Scots) can propose to make ourselves to England the better' (cited in Massie 2002: 13). Moreover, its method of social integration was also here a method of multi-national integration. England, while remaining England, 'a concrete reference' for poets, in a real sense also became Britain, as its economy drew in the Irish, Scots and Welsh. As an 'absorptive patria', there was no need to base Englishness on blood or soil or even a flag and 'flying the Cross of St George was a protest or a foible, usually Socialist or Anglican' (Grainger 1986: 53-5). The good fortune of this social and national integration relied in large measure upon the relatively stable identity that England gave to England/Britain (Stapleton 1999). The United Kingdom was a nationality not a nation, one that had taught 'its citizens at one and the same time to glory both in the name of Scotsmen or Welshmen or Englishmen and in the name of Britons.' (Barker 1928: 17). --- Arthur Aughey

We need to glory again in the name of Scotsmen or Welshmen or Englishmen and in the name of Britons, but in a multi-racial society we can only do this through fostering a sense of civic nationalism and pride in our collective and separate identities.

Posted by Gareth at 12:50 PM | Comments (11)