Such network commonwealths, which like Topsy, “just growed,” may end up being more integrated — psychologically and socially, as well as economically — than consciously-designed entities such as the European Union. If you want to know which countries the British feel really close to, check which ones they telephone on Christmas Day. (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the U.S…. but you knew that.) Moreover, network commonwealths don’t demand the surrender of sovereignty that is a feature of supra-national bodies like the EU.
Bennett calls the English-speaking network civilization “the Anglosphere.” This term, coined by science fiction novelist Neal Stephenson, but unknown in political circles a few years ago, now yields 39,700 entries on Google (many of them dauntingly long and technical.)
As Christopher Hitchens pointed out in a recent article in the American City Journal
, the idea is certainly in the air — and in respectable circles too. Its academic foundations are rooted in the works of historians Alan Macfarlane, David Hackett Fischer, and Claudio Veliz. Between them these historians have demonstrated that England always had a more individualist culture than continental Europe, that the “civil society” tools of this culture were transmitted to the colonies settled from England, and that those countries have since not only prospered unusually but also established a world civilization rooted in liberalism.
Bennett himself, in his magnum opus, The Anglosphere Challenge, makes unmistakably clear that it is English cultural traits — individualism, rule of law, honoring contracts, and the elevation of freedom — rather than English genes, which explain this success. These traits enable a society to pull off the difficult trick of combining trust with openness. Nations with very different genetic backgrounds that adopt such traits seem to prosper more than their similar neighbors. Hence the Anglosphere includes India and the West Indies as well as the “old Commonwealth.”
Recent books which apply Anglospherist themes more sharply to current politics include:
Reflections on a Ravaged Century by the distinguished Anglo-American historian, Robert Conquest, who lays out a hypothetical political structure for an English-speaking commonwealth;
Our First Revolution, by the acute political columnist Michael Barone who argues that the liberty and political equality hymned in the Declaration of Independence were the universalization of the ideas established by Britain’s 1688 “Glorious Revolution;”
Andrew Robert’s fine continuation of Churchill’s History of the English-Speaking Peoples, which got the historian an invitation to the White House (and the abuse of culturally self-hating reviewers);
And, most recently, God and Gold: Britain, America, and the Making of the Modern World by Walter Russell Mead of the (usually) politically correct Council on Foreign Relations, who suggested unfashionably that it would be a mistake to bet against the future success of the English-speaking countries because of their winning combination of ruthlessness and idealism — and earned unexpectedly golden reviews.
The idea of the Anglosphere, lagging well behind economic reality, is now seeping into politics. Last year Canada’s pPrime minister, Stephen Harper, delivered an eloquent speech to the Australian parliament which praised the common heritage linking both nations. (He had delivered a similar speech in Britain the previous year which the parochial British media ignored.)