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Sunday, 21 February 2010

Anglo-Saxonism as one basis of Anglo-American relations

"The Empire Strikes Back: Liberal Imperialism, Anglosphere and Anglo-Saxonism"

As Britain approaches a General Election in the next few months, foreign policy and Britain’s role in the world will be discussed from time to time. This is particularly likely to be the case in regard to the Iraq War and the escalating war in Afghanistan. Both wars involve a very close relationship between Britain and the United States, the basis of which will undoubtedly lead to allegations that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown are mere puppets or ‘poodles’ of US power, or that they are ‘slavish’ in following the US lead. Indeed, David Cameron, the Conservative Party leader, has already used such language as part of his campaign to suggest that he would inaugurate a sea-change in Anglo-American relations.

The post below is the first of several that provide a broader context than party politics for understanding the relationship between Britain and the United States. In it, I suggest that Anglo-American relations may be better understood, at least in part, if considered in an ethno-racial context.

In The Breaking of Nations (2003), Robert Cooper, Tony Blair's pro-imperial former foreign policy adviser, called for a return to colonialism by advanced states to mop up the problems caused by 'failed states'. Right wing historian, Robert Conquest, calls for an Anglosphere, a union of English-speaking nations with Anglo values, to be constructed in the world, to promote order, peace and progress. Anglo-Canadian press magnate, Conrad Black, along similar lines, argues that Britain's future lies less with the European Union and more within the North American Free Trade Area - in the Atlantic, not on the Continent. At a Hudson Institute meeting, Margaret Thatcher referred to the need for greater "Anglo-Saxon" cooperation, while the Heritage Foundation's John Hulsman pointed to its economic, cultural and psychological underpinnings. Less than one hundred years ago, Anglo-Saxonism, empire, the "white man's burden", and Christianity's civilising mission, were all the rage in Britain and America. Since the late 1990s, they seem to have made a comeback, albeit in a more sophisticated guise.

Cooper's essay caused a storm of controversy in Labour and other leftist circles, being denounced as a return to slavery, colonial oppression and militarism. But his views resonate with some sections of the publics of Anglo-America, and the press and politicians who exert so powerful a hold on opinion. The argument goes thus: there are 'failed', 'rogue' and 'weak' states in the world that are, in varying ways, brutalising and killing their own people, disrupting regional stability, developing weapons of mass destruction, engaging in acts of terror or are linked with violent anti-Western terrorist organisations, such as Al-Qaeda. In such cases, it is the moral duty of successful states, such as Britain and the United States, to intervene in a variety of ways, including militarily, and even pre-emptively, to ensure that humanitarian crises are brought to an end, that good government is restored or implanted, and that order reigns. In short, a doctrine of global interventionism, sanctions and blockades, not to mention covert intervention and the arming of pro-Western guerilla organisations.

Robert Conquest and, even more, the American internet entrepreneur, James C. Bennett, enthuse about the importance of Anglo-Saxon civilisation and the benefits of exporting it to the rest of the world. Federal Europe divides the civilised world and is anti-American, Conquest claims. The "natural" alternative is an association of like-minded countries, an "English-Speaking Union". "We are… the main bastion against the various barbarisms that have reared their heads so devastatingly in the past half century," Conquest argues. However, this is not a racial union but one based on a "shared commitment to concepts of Law and Liberty…" Conquest wants such a union to "define political civilization" and open up "the world to joint solutions of economic and social problems." More alarmingly, for Third World states, the union would transform "politically backward areas and creat[e] the conditions for a genuine world community," founded on the assimilation of Anglo-Saxon values.

Interestingly, Prime Minister Gordon Brown, no less, has endorsed the idea of an Anglosphere – a union of English-speaking nations – to lead the world.

In the late 1930s and early 1940s, many Anglo-American 'idealists' - such as Lionel Curtis and Clarence Streit - proposed a Federal Union of the US, Britain and the British Empire, plus one or two Scandinavian democracies. The plan was overtly racist, especially in the beginning, and ignored Indian representation. The problem was, if India were to be represented in the federal parliament, on a population basis, it would 'swamp' the Anglo-Saxons and dominate proceedings. After much deliberation, the federalists came up with a solution: make representation dependent upon individual taxable capacity, rather than on one person, one vote, and Anglo-Saxon New Zealand would emerge as the best represented! The idea had emerged after the federalists had studied the notoriously undemocratic and racist disenfranchisement techniques perfected by the segregationists of the southern US states like Alabama and Mississippi. Not for nothing was the federal plan denounced, even at the time, as "a great Blond beast" that would bring disaster to the world. The fact that Britain was engaged in a war against the racially-inspired Nazis cut no ice with the federalists.

The anti-Nazi war, the Cold War, and decolonisation, appeared to have destroyed the credibility and respectability of Anglo-Saxonism, although, under the guise of the Anglo-American 'special relationship', the central ideas of cultural superiority were kept on a backburner. Yet, with the end of the Cold War, a clear opportunity presented itself as 'new' rationales for US power were sought. The "clash of civilisations" thesis presented a coherent view of upcoming crises of world order confronting the West; 9/11 appeared to confirm the thesis, and the war on terror since then institutionalised it in the Bush Doctrine, and in Anglo-American cooperation in defence of "civilisation" against the "barbarism and savagery" of Islamic terror groups.

The war against the terrorist Al-Qaeda network, Osama Bin Laden and the Taleban followed 9/11, although Iraq was seen as the hidden hand behind the attacks on New York and the Pentagon: a 'rogue state', brutal in the extreme, aggressive and expansionist, linked to terror groups, and constituting an "imminent threat" to the US and Britain. Iraq was 'made-to-measure', even if the Al-Qaeda link was as non-existent as its arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. Iraq remains occupied by American military forces, and the subject of intense interest among construction and engineering, let alone, petroleum, corporations. The Americans' timetable for withdrawal, as suggested by President Obama in late 2009, has already been revised: withdrawal will now begin, if conditions permit, in summer 2011. Some neo-conservatives in the Bush Administration, such as Paul Wolfowitz, considered Iraq to be "the new Germany" -- to be occupied for a long time while democracy is built there; President Obama is implementing the policy.

Anglo-Saxonism remains an influential current in Anglo-American thought. As noted above, it has support at the very top of British government and politics. This is not to suggest that an Anglosphere will result: it merely serves to illustrate the point that there are deeper currents than party politics and accusations of ‘slavishness’ and poodle-ism’ that animate Anglo-American relations.


  1. Great blog post! David Willetts, currently the Shadow Minister for Universities and Skills, recently contributed a chapter on England and the Anglosphere in the Wright-Gamble volume on
    Britishness and the British Question (2009). It is the best study on Gordon Brown and his identity policy thus far.

  2. Thanks Srdjan - I'll look that one up! IJ