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Anglosphere

From Academic Kids

The term Anglosphere describes a certain group of English-speaking countries.

The term is usually attributed to science fiction writer Neal Stephenson, who used it in his 1995 novel The Diamond Age. It is used in several types of context, for utilitarian as well as political purposes. Its connotations may vary between specific usages; it should be treated with caution because of possible implicit content.

Contents

Membership

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, the Philippines and Singapore have been discussed as 'prospective members.' Though Anglosphere culture and integration may be spreading to other English-speaking countries of the world, nations outside of the original five nation "bloc" still retain several key differences which continue to make their "formal" inclusion into the group difficult.

Bonding qualities

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:

Some exceptions to the above rules obviously apply, for example the United States has a republican system of government while the others have constitutional monarchies, Scotland does not use Common Law and so on.

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.

Co-operation and common ground

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. The countries of the Anglosphere were military allies in major world conflicts in the 20th century. The United States, the UK, and Australia cooperated in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, while other NATO allies of the United States did not participate. On the other hand, the group is in no sense a bloc. During the 1950s and 1960s the Suez crisis and Vietnam War caused divisions on how to approach regional conflicts.

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.

The Anglosphere nations freely interchange cultural materials. Certain actors, directors, movies, books, and TV shows enjoy high levels of popularity across the Anglosphere nations. Of course the USA remains the largest global exporter in film, television and music, but even within the United States, many prominant actors and musicians originate from other Anglosphere nations. Stars such as Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman often appear to transcend their birth nationalities, and instead adopt a cross-cultural identity that have earned them great popularity with fans of all five nations. The Anglosphere's main cultural divide continues to be over sports, which vary considerably from nation to nation, with different forms of 'football', cricket/rugby and ice hockey/baseball having different popularities.

Proponents and critics

The term was popularised in its current meaning by James C. Bennett and the historian Robert Conquest, during the opening years of the 21st century. Andrew Sullivan, a journalist for the London Sunday Times, started to write about it in 2003.

Its employment has been criticised, as an obvious and divisive application of ethnocentrism to diplomacy. Michael Ignatieff has written against the thoughtless use of the term. While it has certainly been used in a tendentious way, the coinage also fills a gap in the English vocabulary, corresponding closely to the French language phrase le monde anglo-saxon.

There is a clear connection with Atlanticism, a longer-recognised concept of international relations. Naturally, this is only a partial overlap, leaving out the Pacific position of Australia and New Zealand.

Opposition

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 entirely well-defined, but there are four main, identifiable hostile schools of thought.

Regionalists

Some believe that the idea of cultural alliances is a distraction from regionally-based unions or partners, such as NAFTA and The Americas in United States, the European Union for the United Kingdom or greater Asia 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, Australasia, and Canada, critics may see America as being an influence for cultural and economic conservatism, which they believe should be avoided.

There is also unease that the argument towards cultural allegiances is a proxy for racism. That is to say it encourages partnerships with white nations in geographically diverse, and often far-off locations rather than ones with close, yet ethnically different neighbours.

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).

Realists

Realism (from the German Realpolitik) is a defined school of thought on international relations, more interested in maintaining effective power dynamics and self-gain than culture partnerships. It sees power as the defining factor in a state's relations, and may conclude that culture is irrelevant, aside from perhaps as a propaganda source. Some of the most telling criticism of the Anglosphere has been from the realist side. The clash between realists and Anglospherists may be sharper than any clash with another school.

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.

The most notable clash between Anglospherists and realists came during Suez crisis, when the United States and Canada refused to support Britain in a small war over the Suez Canal. A second spot of tension came during the Falklands War, during which some realists in the Administration of US President Ronald Reagan encouraged the US not to support the British side of the conflict. In the end the realists lost however, and America ultimately sided with the UK.

Autonomists

Autonomists criticise the Anglosphere concept from the cultural side. They argue that the culture of a particular society is either largely home grown, or consists of many more factors than simple heritage from the "Anglosphere". The Anglosphere concept tends generally to underestimate the non-English European cultures: such as the Scotch-Irish, Irish, German, Dutch and Quebecois cultures. There is wide variation in the supposed distinctive characteristics of the "Anglosphere", within each nation-state which is regarded as a member of it, and some of it comes from such contributions.

For example, 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. American culture, in part at least, 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, and the British to the mixed economy and welfare state. 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 (see though Merry England).

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. As well some critics have argued that some of what has emerged as so-called "civil society" are forces that still serve corporatist aims. It also does not very clearly support analogies between the UK and the USA, which is a federal political system.

Historical perspectives

The United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand are all former colonies of the United Kingdom, and were settled by migrants from the United Kingdom. The similarities of these countries, it is sometimes argued, manifest certain historical conditions which they have all faced.

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. 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.

The United Kingdom and the 'continental' experience: culture

To note the distinctions between the Anglosphere and other countries of Europe ('the continent', as it is often called) comes down to drawing a line separating the United Kingdom from the larger countries of the EU. To say the Anglosphere is culturally different from the European standard assumes inter alia that there is a unified European culture; which itself is not supported by historical perspective.

Consider for example wine and beer: it may appear obvious that the English are natural beer drinkers, but in fact wine was imported many centuries ago, and beer is something in common with Belgian, Dutch and German culture. Tea- and coffee-drinking show a different pattern, but with coffee becoming more popular: convergence of the UK with both the USA and France.

In the Middle Ages, England and France vied for dominance in Europe; following the Protestant Reformation, this conflict had a religious dimension. From the 17th century onward, as both countries conquered extensive empires, each country attempted to increase its colonial possessions and prevent the other from doing so. Although both countries have lost their empires and are now members of the European Union, some traces of Anglo-French rivalry remain, particularly among those Anglophones who advocate strong political and economic ties between English-speaking countries; this argument is often accompanied by attempts to draw a sharp distinction between Anglophone and Francophone cultures.

However, such a distinction fails to recognise the profound influence that each of these cultural and linguistic spheres has had on the other. After the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, French remained the language of the English aristocracy for three hundred years; during that time and since, a large number of French words have entered the everyday vocabulary of the English language (e.g. agree, brave, carry, define, empire, etc.) More recently, many English words have entered the French language (bus, casting, fax, leader, missile, etc.). Globalisation has tended to increase the influence of American culture in many countries, and France is no exception; American pop music, cinema and TV programmes enjoy widespread popularity.

The United Kingdom and the 'continental' experience: political history

Proponents of the concept of Anglosphere argue that no English-speaking country ever was ruled by an absolute monarch. Hence none has ever seen the effectiveness and sheer dominance of such rulers as Peter the Great of Russia, Frederick the Great of Prussia, or King Louis XIV of France. No English-speaking country had to form political groups to struggle against an existing absolute rule.

On the other hand, the idea that English-speaking countries share a common culture because of something they didn't have appears to be based on a logical fallacy. One might as well say that their common culture is based on the fact that they didn't have the Chinese language. The English Civil War can be quite well be considered as a struggle against attempts by English kings to establish an absolute monarchy.

Those who argue for the superiority of English political culture over the French Republican tradition sometimes suggest that the French Revolution of 1789 did not constitute an advance in civilisation. More accurately, they point instead to the Glorious Revolution of 1688.

This belittles the lasting effect of the French Revolution on the global political landscape, for example through the concepts of manhood suffrage, and human rights. It also rejects the idea that philosophers could be serious constitutional theorists. Even restricting discussion to the United Kingdom and United States, it fails to recognise the immense influence of English philosophers such as Jeremy Bentham, Thomas Paine and John Stuart Mill on the shape of politics. English political thought relates in a more complex way to the Enlightenment than this suggests, and that can be said both of conservative and liberal thinkers. Since the USA has a strong Enlightenment political tradition, none of this really supports the idea of commonality in the Anglosphere.

Institutional history

In general Anglospheric countries did not suffer abrupt changes in institutions, caused by the end of the ancien regime. A certain residual chauvinism against the metric system in the English-speaking countries is symptomatic.

English-speaking countries, except for the state of Louisiana, and parts of Canada, have not had legal systems based on the Napoleonic Code. The case of Scotland is considered anomalous, since its system is an older system largely independent of common law.

No English-speaking country ever had a government installed by Napoleon, though there were some Bonapartists in England. The foreign princes (Dutch and German following the Glorious Revolution) ruling in England were in theory constitutional monarchs, on sufferance.

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 ignores some facts about British government actions, in particular in the Jacobin scares of the 1790s; it might be defended as a broad description of policy, such as the non-recognition of a minister for the Interior).

Against this one can argue that the UK and USA have in fact fundamental divergences in a number of aspects of their institutions. These include separation of religion and politics, the constitutions and the monarchy.

Legacy of the twentieth century

The consequences of the World War I did not result in fascism or communism being adopted in the Anglosphere; there were fascist and communist sympathisers, but they never gained political power except in some very limited ways. None of the countries was occupied by the Fascist powers, if one discounts the German occupation of the Channel Islands.

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 became sharp around 1930.

Identity cards were used in the UK in World War II, but were withdrawn some years after its end. Otherwise identity documents have not been required. (This may however change since proposals are again being floated for identity cards, to combat crime, terrorism and illegal immigration.)

Discussion of Anglo-American diplomacy is often formulated, from the UK side, in terms of the existence and health of the special relationship, mostly harking back to the years 1941 to 1945 of very close alliance. This could be called a 'Churchillian' formulation; talk about the Anglosphere is in some sense a reformulation to suit policy discussion from Washington's perspective.

Trends as of 2005

It is possible to point to a number of the supposed differences between the "Anglosphere" and "continental Europe" which are (as of 2005) being eroded. There has been an increase in centralised state control in the UK, examples being the National Curriculum, and 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)).

Police powers have been recently expanded in the USA post-9/11, and some argue about what they consider deliberate US sabotage of stronger EU data-privacy rules (http://www.statewatch.org/pnrobservatory.htm).

See also

External links

fr:Anglosphère

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