The term Anglosphere describes a certain group of English-speaking countries. It is ultimately derived from the term Anglo-Saxon. The Anglosphere is usually thought of as Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Other nations, particularly India, Ireland and South Africa, and Hong Kong, the Philippines and Singapore are often considered prospective members.
The term is usually attributed to science fiction writer Neal Stephenson, who used it in his 1995 novel The Diamond Age. It was popularised with its current meaning by journalists such as James C. Bennett during the opening years of the 21st century.
The similarity of these countries is argued to be manifested in certain historical conditions which they have all faced. These same conditions have not faced European countries, called "continental" by the English, have not or other parts of the British Empire that did not see significant British migration.
System of government
No English-speaking country, it is argued, ever was ruled by an absolute monarch. Hence none has ever seen the effectiveness, or mere dominance, of such rulers as Peter the Great of Russia, Frederick the Great of Prussia, or King Louis XIV of France, whom the French sometimes call Louis the Great.
What this also implies is that no English-speaking country had to form political groups to struggle against absolute rule. The French Revolution of 1789 did not have to be regarded as an advance in civilisation. Notably, the idea that philosophers could be serious constitutional theorists is to be considered absurd, rather than historically significant as in France and Germany.
This argument is based on the idea that the Stuart and Hanoverian rulers of the United Kingdom were sufficiently separate from the ancien regime to have left a distinctive political culture behind. It omits the theorists of the American constitution, or treats them as sui generis, as it treats the successful struggle against Charles I of England as different in kind from the resistance in Bourbon France to the centralisation of power.
This absence of a need to consider one's society as having surpassed the ancien regime extends, for example, to a certain chauvinism against the metric system in the English-speaking countries.
Internal security system
No English-speaking country (pace Ireland) had the secret police that existed throughout Europe in the late eighteenth century and throughout the nineteenth century, and which were brought to a higher level under Napoleon. This argument ignores some facts about British government actions, in particular in the Jacobin scares of the 1790s; but might be defended as a broad description of policy (such as the non-recognition of a minister for the Interior ).
No English-speaking country ever required its citizens to carry identity cards, which were also required in continental Europe in those years. (Identity cards were used in the UK in World War II, but were withdrawn some years after its end.)
No English-speaking country ever had a government installed by Napoleon, though there were some Bonapartists in England. Hence there is no heritage of being ruled by somebody else, or a faction that adulated foreigners. This argument could be said to rely on the idea that the German (Dutch, Scottish...) princes ruling in England were constitutional monarchs, there on tolerance.
No English-speaking country, except for the state of Louisiana, and parts of Canada was ruled under the Napoleonic Code, which those countries that accepted it, and there were many, considered an advantage over the many laws of the ancien regime. The case of Scotland is considered anomalous, since its system is an older system largely independent of common law.
No English-speaking country ever became part of the Latin league for currency, which had coins the size and weight of the five-gramme silver Franc. This means that there is no memory of the precursor to the Euro in Britain.
Progress of fascism between the World Wars
The consequences of the First World War did not result in fascism getting seriously considered as an alternative to political trends, and no country in the Anglosphere was occupied by the Fascist powers. Although there were fascist sympathisers, they never gained political control in these countries. Hence, the need to actively struggle against such tendencies has been less.
The philosophical trends in Britain, with logical positivism gaining at one point the upper hand, and in the United States, with a consistent strand of interest in types of pragmatism, differ from the existentialism and later philosophical trends in continental Europe. This distinction dates from around 1930.
Cultural identifications within Europe
The French have considered England a traditional antagonist since the Hundred Years' War. French thought in the twentieth century routinely identified a group of countries collectively as "Anglo-Saxons".
France had undisputed cultural leadership in Europe of the eighteenth century, and retained its glamour throughout the world, especially in Russia, Poland, and Latin America. Paris was even called "the capital of the nineteenth century".
The English-speaking peoples certainly developed a more independent and critical line in the reception of French ideas and culture during the nineteenth century. At the same time a German-speaking culture developed, contesting French influence, rooted amongst other things in nascent nationalism. One may therefore question whether the Anglo-French divide was solely based on the historical factors cited above. For example, there is also a religious difference.
This is to note the distinctions between the Anglosphere and other countries of Europe. To say the Anglosphere is separate from the standard European line assumes inter alia that there is a unified European culture; which itself is not supported by historical perspective.
Other than a common language, these nations also share many other common features, most of which come from their shared history of being former colonies of the United Kingdom. The shared features include:
The Anglosphere nations also share many other similarities, including high economic prosperity, firmly established civil rights and personal freedoms, and high levels of global cultural influence.
These reasons and others make the Anglosphere different from other English-speaking international groups, notably the Commonwealth of Nations.
Anglosphere nations have a history of co-operation and close political ties. A network of varying military alliances as well as intelligence arrangements exists between all five nations, and some are in free trade areas with each other.
Polls have shown that most citizens of Anglosphere nations regard other Anglosphere countries as their closest "friends and allies". The United Kingdom and Canada are usually named as the United States' closest friends and allies, while the other nations routinely list the US and Britain at the top of their lists.
Because of their similar cultures, the nations share a lot of cultural materials between themselves. Certain actors, directors, movies, books, and TV shows enjoy high levels of popularity across the Anglosphere nations, regardless of their country of origin.
The countries of the Anglosphere were military allies in the majority of major world conflicts in the 20th century. The United States, the UK, and Australia continued in this vein in their cooperation in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, a venture in which other close military allies of the United States did not participate.
Interest in and promotion of the Anglosphere is a minor factor, compared with some other political trends; but it has attracted some fierce opposition. The opposition is overlapping and not at all well-defined, but there are four main, identifiable hostile schools of thought.
Some believe that the idea of cultural alliances is a distraction from that of a regionally-based union or alliance, such as NAFTA in America, the European Union for the United Kingdom or an Asian orientation for Australia and New Zealand.
Regionalists tend to be on the left wing. In America they tend to favour immigration from South and Central America. In the UK and Australasia they see America as being an influence for cultural and economic conservatism. (Note that this implies that cultural conservatives may be fissiparous rather than unified politically.)
There is also unease that the argument towards cultural supremacy is a proxy for racism. However, in some countries (Canada, New Zealand) regionalism is feared by some, because the loss of economic and cultural ties with Britain and other nations has forced them into a closer, and possibly more dependent and disadvantaged, relationship with their relatively larger neighbours (the United States and Australia respectively).
Realism (German Realpolitik) is a defined school of thought on international relations, which sees power as the defining factor in a state's relations, and may conclude that culture is irrelevant. Realists argue that it is dangerous for one power to see itself as having a permanent alliance with another power whose interests in a few years may be at odds with their own, as Britain's and America's interests were opposed in the Suez crisis.
Realists and Anglospherists both tend to be on the right of the political spectrum, and to be more interested in international affairs than culture. The clash between realists and Anglospherists may be sharper than any clash with another school. Some of the most telling criticism of the Anglosphere has been from the realist side.
Unlike the previously mentioned two schools, autonomists criticise the Anglosphere concept the cultural side. Autonomists argue that the culture of a particular society either (i) is largely home grown or (ii) is influenced by a far larger number of factors than simple heritage from the "Anglosphere".
In America autonomists may claim that American culture (or part of American culture) has been divorced from Britain for too long to be regarded as congruent. For example, Americans are more likely to be friendly to free enterprise than the British. Alternatively they may assert that the Anglosphere concept vastly underestimates the contribution of non-English European cultures: such as the Scotch-Irish, Irish, German, and Quebecois cultures.
Similarly, English Autonomists argue that since the American War of Independence American and British experiences have greatly diverged, Britain's experience of the Empire in India and Africa not being shared by Americans. Furthermore, the shared experiences of two World Wars were not at all the same experience, the particular British reaction being formative of much of the post-war culture.
In America autonomists tend to be natural cultural conservatives, while in Australasia they tend to the left; in Britain they fall across the political spectrum. The term ignores also variation in the supposed distinctive characteristics of the "Anglosphere" within each nation-state which is regarded as a member of it.
It is an oversimplification to depict a typically "southern British" individualist outlook on society as generally true of "Anglo-Saxon" society. There is also a "northern Britain"; that is, a strand of thinking more in tune with Scandinavian political thinking.
Critics of Neo-Liberalism
Other critics treat the Anglosphere concept as political rhetoric, with aims they claim are identifiable. They ask who has introduced the term "Anglosphere", how it has been used, and in whose favour. This involves analysis of the contemporary political situation.
They argue that Thatcherite and Reaganite apologists have used it to try to consolidate the political position they achieved during the 1980s and first half of the 1990s. Proponents of the Anglosphere argue that a characteristic of Anglo-Saxon dominated societies is that civil society, individualism and voluntarism all play a larger role than in other "cultural spheres".
Critics of this position call this a post hoc justification. Margaret Thatcher's administration was anti-corporatist. It was also centralising, in certain ways, with local government less autonomous and financially more constrained. Just to call some gaps left by the withdrawal of the older corporate forces "civil society" is not an analysis. It also does not very clearly support analogies between the UK and the USA, which is a federal political system.
It is also possible to point to a number of the supposed differences between the "Anglosphere" and "continental Europe" which are being eroded. There increase in centralised state control in the UK (such as the National Curriculum ), the proposed introduction of identity cards in the UK http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200304/cmselect/cmhaff/130/13002.htm (actually a part of EU-wide security-cooperation http://www.statewatch.org/news/2004/nov/hague-programme-draft3.pdf ). There have been recent extension of (secret) police powers in the USA post-9/11, and deliberate US sabotage of stronger EU data-privacy rules http://www.statewatch.org/pnrobservatory.htm .
The term "Anglosphere" is inherently selective in its historical claims, and is treated cautiously because of its political content.
- An Anglosphere Primer http://www.pattern.com/bennettj-anglosphereprimer.html
- The Anglosphere Challenge http://www.anglospherechallenge.com/
- Anglosphere Institute http://www.anglosphereinstitute.com/
Last updated: 04-25-2005 03:06:01