Meme Radar: Here Comes The Anglosphere
April 12, 2003 4:58 PM   Subscribe

The Anglosphere: This has been floating vaguely in the memesphere for a year or so, and is ready to pop. Seems we Anglophones are not nations separated by a common language anymore, but "a distinct civilization in [our] own right."
Western in origin but no longer entirely Western in composition and nature, this civilization is marked by a particularly strong civil society, which is the source of its long record of successful constitutional government and economic prosperity. ... [its] continuous leadership of the Scientific-Technological Revolution from the seventeenth century to the twenty-first century stems from these characteristics and is thus likely to continue for the foreseeable future.
It is not, however, a return of " the racialist Anglo-Saxonism dating from the era around 1900" ... he says. The author was profiled in Industry Standard in August 2001. His company provides "sovereignty services" — i.e., moving wealth offshore.
posted by hairyeyeball (9 comments total)
The main thing I'd use to characterise the "Anglosphere" from the rest of Western civilisation is our theory of rights. I'm stealing a page from Isaiah Berlin here, but the predominant conception of liberty in the Anglophonic world is from Locke, Burke and Mill, what we might call "negative liberty", or the right to not to be interfered with by others. A state is best constituted when it interferes in the lives of its citizens to the minimal amount necessary.

By contrast, the predominant conception of rights is most of the rest of the West is Rousseaunian, by way of Napoleon, Kant, Hegel and Marx - one has the right to be free to pursue one's "true nature", which is common amongst all men and discovered by rational inquiry, which leads to what Kant called "Enlightenment". A state is therefore "most free" when it organises itself in order to allow people to attain this self-understanding.

That's not to say, of course, that the two streams of thought aren't present throughout the entirety of the West, but their historic and intellectual centres are definitely geographically distinct from one another.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 5:50 PM on April 12, 2003

Speaking of Burke and Mill, this article posits that their ideas and policies in British India might be the best model for the US in Iraq.

"If we find ourselves shouldering an imperial burden in Iraq or beyond, we shall want to study the wisdom — and the folly — of Burke, the Mills, and their respective disciples. Far more than America’s post-World War ii occupation of Japan, the British experience in India may be the key precedent for bringing democracy to an undemocratic and non-Western land like Iraq."
posted by homunculus at 6:16 PM on April 12, 2003

"Our" theory of rights? Define the scope of the first-person plural here.

I seem to recall that Thomas Paine wrote The Rights of Man as a refutation of Burke's attack on the right of popular self-determination at the expense of "a host of feudal and ecclesiastical privileges which the favored classes and families of past generations had claimed for themselves into perpetuity — at the expense of later generations' majorities." [Paine, of course, died in exile.]

And need it be pointed out that the legacy of British empire was a failed one? Witness the partition of Palestine. And then there was a fellow named Ghandi. And of course, our cousins' previous adventures in the Mesopotamian region.

Paine, writing about the British empire, could well have been writing about Bush and his corporate cronies:
I become irritated at the attempt to govern mankind by force and fraud, as if they were all knaves and fools, and can scarcely avoid disgust at those who are thus imposed upon.
Did you read the professional biography of the proponent of this view of the world? He is a poster boy for the rank hypocrisy of the current ruling cabal.
posted by hairyeyeball at 9:36 PM on April 12, 2003

You realise, of course, that in fact Paine and Burke were arguing about the course of the French revolution, not the American one, right? Both supported the latter, because it increased the liberty of the colonists according to their mutually Lockean scheme of rights. Burke was in fact a vociferous supporter of the right of Englishmen to revolt because he saw it as a time-honoured right well-integrated into English society.

In fact, their debate over the French revolution was exactly along the lines I previously adumbrated, with Burke arguing that the French revolutionaries were not interested in a Lockean conception of liberty, but a Rousseaunian one, which would inevitably lead to the withering of the former; while Paine argued that the former could only exist once the latter was achieved. Their positions were as significantly different from one another as consubstantion from transubstantiation.

Did you read the professional biography of the proponent of this view of the world? He is a poster boy for the rank hypocrisy of the current ruling cabal.

It's not "his" view, it's a view he happens to have. It's not even a view he invented, as any survey of weblogs from the past two or three months ought to show. Ad hominem attacks don't interest me.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 12:59 AM on April 13, 2003

He's obviously never heard of the Stavrosphere :

"Western in origin but no longer entirely Western in composition and nature, this civilization is marked by a particularly strong enjoyment of beer, which is the source of its long record of tipsy global nomadery and general bonhomie. ... [its] continuous leadership of the Ranting Smartass Revolution from the Metafilter to the blogosphere stems from these characteristics and is thus likely to continue for the foreseeable future."
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:37 AM on April 13, 2003

Beware, Stavrostan, you are next, or so the rumors say. Irony is dead. Best global nomad your tipsy ass across the border into Switzerland and gorge yourself on fondue and liebesfraumilche.

I've got myself into a pointless debate here, ah, well. The notion of the Anglosphere is a grand intellectual justification for the continuation our current unilateralism — the pragmatic wisdom, not the intellectual coherence, of which is probably the real issue, although the implication that American thinking should be purged of alien forms of thought is an extremely disturbing prospect for the openness of democratic deliberation in our society.

Paine thought natural rights were the property of all humanity, and that "the mutual dependence and reciprocal interest which man has upon man, and all parts of a civilized community upon each other, create that great chain of connection which holds [civil society] together." Colonialism denigrates and degrades the culture it attempts to reengineer because it attempts to impose the values of the metropole on the subject population and to replace spontaneous forms of social intercourse with its own forms of behavior and system of social hierarchy.

Democracy can't be imposed by force; it must evolve, as your guy says. Paine thought the basis of the state was "plunder" — the Ba'thist state is of course the nakedest example, Bush's economic plan a more sophisticate illustration of this principle — and his quarrel with Burke can be characterized as having to do with the perpetuation of the spoils in the hands of the plunderers, legitimized by a government dominated by economic elites.
As property, honestly obtained, is best secured by an equality of rights, so ill-gotten property depends for protection on a monopoly of rights. He who has robbed another of his property, will next endeavor to disarm him of his rights, to secure that property; for when the robber becomes the legislator he believes himself secure.
"Imperialism as the midwife of democratic self-rule is an undeniable good," writes your guy — a paradox, he admits. And what if the popular will veers toward Islamism, or Shi'ite nationalism, or some renewed version of Nasser's Pan-Arabism? Remember when the Chilean people elected a socialist government in the 1970s? Salvador Allende? There are many such historical exceptions to the claim that America is a nation that selflessly promotes democracy. It has, for example, now effectively dealt a death-blow to liberalization in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Will "American rule in Iraq really "be relatively free of the racial and cultural bigotry that so marred British rule in India"? I do not detect a high degree of respect for, or even understanding of, the values of the subject peoples in the rhetoric of the coming occupation. Anyone with sensitivity to the religious feelings of Muslims would send Rev. Graham packing back to his pulpit, for example, and our president would never have used the word "crusade" to describe his war on terror.

What we are calling "liberal imperialism" and "democratization" here will likewise prove nothing more than an imposition of one conception of our national economic and strategic interests, a conception incompatible with universal human rights.
posted by hairyeyeball at 6:45 AM on April 13, 2003

So your basic argument is "the Anglosphere can be used to justify imperialism, therefore it can't exist"? That's somewhere between silly and intellectually dishonest. It's a distinct element in Western civilisation. That doesn't imply "Hey, let's murder brown people because they aren't us" - you're jumping the is-ought divide without good reason to do so, solely for rhetorical effect.

his quarrel with Burke can be characterized as having to do with the perpetuation of the spoils in the hands of the plunderers, legitimized by a government dominated by economic elites.

That's a facile understanding of what they were arguing about. As I said, they were both firmly within the tradition of John Locke, and as a result, they were arguing about how social contacts are formed and what principles they should have. To concentrate solely on the wealth angle is to misguidedly try and make a material analysis of the works of two guys who were not materialists.

Who's "my guy" by the way? Burke? I don't care really what this particular chap you linked to thinks of the "Anglosphere", as it's not "his" idea and therefore, I don't need to buy anything he says to use the term.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 2:20 PM on April 13, 2003

"My country is the world, and my religion is to do good," said Paine the self-educated proletarian in "The Rights of Man." That's about as un-Anglospheric a sentiment as there is, and I personally try to live by it.

The Anglosphere exists, certainly — alongside another distinction of growing currency, between the "global North" and the "global South" — and the argument for its superiority is being used in public discourse as a frank justification of imperialism.

The question is, is imperialism a good or a bad thing? In my experience, people have different views of the matter depending on whether they're the subjects or the evangelists of the enlightened, neoliberal moral-economic instruction of the empire. Having lived abroad [further abroad than Canada, eh] and read rather widely in authors un-Anglospheric, some of whom did not even have the courtesy to write in English, and having written a textbook on moral and social philosophy, I am neither silly nor intellectually dishonest, though I can, on occasion, be mistaken. I thought you felt nothing but distaste for the "ad hominem."

Neither Paine nor Burke wanted the terms of the social contract to be imposed by the state — read the latter's essay on conciliation with the colonies — but Burke believed that only the landed, "men with a greater stake in the preservation of society than either the propertyless or those owning nonlanded property," were qualified to negotiate them. Eventually, the interests of the latter form of wealth, the capitalist-industrialist, came to assume this role from the feudalist-agrarian form — Civil War ring a bell? — and impose its interests on the way that the theory of rights is articulated in law: Kenneth Burke has a nice essay on the subject, and if you ever spent any time in Brazil, you'd see the conflict being played out even now. [In fact, you should hang out with the Movimento de Trabalhadores Sem Terra one of these days as they go up against the latifúndio system. They'll straighten you right out. Or you could read some Faulkner, if you're monolingual.]

The role of Burke's peerage is gradually usurped by the owners of capital, to Burke's dismay. Still, if, as Burke said, "the commons have the deepest interest in the purity and integrity of the peerage," who "dispose of all the property in the kingdom, in the last resort; and they dispose of it on their honour and not on their oaths," then, if the analogy holds, we ought to have the same public interest today in the moral integrity of Wall Street, for instance — which has not exactly disposed of its trust on its honour of late. The way in which the buying and selling of political favor erodes the rights of individuals in favor of the rights of corporate interests is an exercise is precisely what Burke was talking about: the responsibility of ordinary people to hold the elites accountable for their despoiling of the public commons.

Many nations abroad now feel that it is their role to prevent the Anglosphere from despoiling the international commons. They perceive us as arrogant, provincial, self-righteous, and self-deluded as to the source of our prosperity, which in their view — I'm recalling a seminar I attended with an organizer of the Indian Social Forum this year, at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre — stems not from the inherent talent of Anglospheric civilization cited by Mr. Bennett, but from the liberties we permit our elites in ruthlessly exploiting and thwarting the self-determination of nations still recovering from the effects of the last round of colonialism. The fact is that "they" know a lot more and have thought a lot more deeply about "our" tradition than we know about theirs. I speak from experience, as someone who has put in a lot of years studying the Arabic language and Islamic civilization, for example. Declaring ourselves a "distinct civilization" is to foreclose all open, critical dialogue with these voices and any possibility of understanding our role as a responsible citizen of the world community. It's smug, it's intellectually cowardly, and it's likely to lead to serious economic and political miscalculations, if it hasn't already.

Cool flaming with you, college boy.
posted by hairyeyeball at 8:38 PM on April 13, 2003

At the risk of sounding stupid/irrelevant (I didn't read that 50-page link), it's worth pointing out that the "anglosphere" lags behind the rest of the developed world in most areas -- lower life expectancy, higher crime rates, lower-performing students, etc.
posted by Tlogmer at 9:25 AM on April 14, 2003

« Older Feudal States of America Democracy lost   |   Maggots: not just for dinner anymore Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments