More Anglo-Saxon

by Rich Lowry

I asked our friend James Bennett what he thought of the Anglo-Saxon controversy. His e-mail:


I would begin by endorsing the greater part of what Charles Cooke has said so well.  A century ago, the term “Anglo-Saxon” was in great vogue.  It simultaneously reflected an empirical observation, the predominance of the established British Empire and the rapid rise of the United States close behind it — and a theoretical explanation, that there was some sort of essential characteristic of “Anglo-Saxon blood” that explained this predominance, one that “lesser breeds” could never hope to match.  A century later, the English-speaking nations still form a unique and exceptional block in many ways.  The Index of Economic Freedom is overwhelmingly led by English-speaking countries.  But the “Anglo-Saxon” racial explanation lies in tatters, and deservedly so.  This is partly because the main English-speaking nations themselves have large components of their populations from non-English sources, and indeed most populations are so mixed that it is hard to find a significant population of people without some non-English ancestry.  It is also because the ranks of English-speaking jurisdictions also include nations that never were English to begin with, but for historical reasons now use English language and law in their business and civic life to a substantial, although usually not exclusive extent.  India is perhaps the most obvious example, but there are many others, and research has shown that they have, on average, become more successful than those of their neighbors that were influenced by other cultures.  That is why I have tried to use the neologism “Anglosphere” precisely because it captures this reality of a wider, growing, and rising set of nations and peoples connected by language and institutions, not by genetics. 

As alternative geopolitical theories have faded, particularly the conceit of a United Europe wielding its soft power, it would be a good time for a presidential candidate to articulate a foreign policy of strengthening ties with traditional, proven allies like Britain; extending cooperation with rising powers who share some important values, like India; and downplaying failed ideas like encouraging deeper European integration.  This need not happen to the exclusion of other real, proven allies.   Unfortunately, the alleged statement by the unnamed Romney adviser, if it actually happened as relayed, distracted attention from the underlying reality behind the sentiment expressed, and by the unfortunate choice of an outdated term, let the statement become the issue.  To be fair, the adviser was probably somebody who followed the European financial press closely, where the term Anglo-Saxon is a standard and uncontroversial term for describing the English-speaking economies, especially in the French press.  However, in a campaign, nobody is going to stop to be fair.

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