A virtual Grand Tour around the various right of centre, libertarian and free market media sites and commentators over the last few years may have resulted in the, not unreasonable, conclusion there is a kind of Anglospheric Exceptionalism. From Roger Scruton, through Douglas Murray, Matt Ridley, Ben Shapiro, Jonathan Haight, Lionel Shriver, and many other voices who pop up regularly in each other’s podcasts and on the pages of The Spectator.
The unique Anglo cultural phenomenon is hard to define but likely to include elements of the following (in no particular order); individuality, free speech, free trade, freedom of movement, property rights, rule of law, meritocracy, religious and sexual tolerance, morality, and fairness.
Different versions of this are shown to perhaps apply variously across countries.
Australia, for example, has almost an entire national identity built on the shifting sands foundation of a concept of “fairness”. Everyone who has travelled around the Aussie media, legislation and government services will have encountered the word “fair”, without it ever really being defined. Australian fairness is defined as, to recycle the words of US Justice Potter Stewart, “I know it when I see it”.
The USA’s proud boast is based more on free speech, individual responsibility and the creative destruction of free markets.
The UK spends much of its currency of national conversation on expensive angst about how racist and intolerant it is whilst simultaneously being the destination of choice for immigration from almost every ethnicity and religion. UK tolerance is clearly a national trait, as witnessed by the inability of most of its citizens to complain about customer service.
The Canadian, New Zealand and Irish flavours of Anglospheric Exceptionalism are harder to define. They’re three irrelevances on the world cultural stage, taking their cues heavily from their larger neighbours and generally piggybacking on the good stuff whilst pointing at the negatives as if they were a problem of some other.
There’s clearly a place for the theory of Anglospheric Exceptionalism, otherwise so many of the products of these countries, both tangible and philosophical, from iPhones to fundamental legal concepts, wouldn’t be adopted and/or envied by other less happy lands.
Culture must be a factor too, otherwise the success of the USA might perhaps have been replicated to some degree on the west coast of Africa when the newly formed country of Liberia adopted a CTRL C/V version of the USA Constitution. Last time we checked, Liberia wasn’t at the top of the list of countries people were battling to emigrate to.
Some amazing outcomes have been achieved from the children of the anglosphere. As a proxy measure, Cambridge University has produced double the number of Nobel Laureates than the entire country of France. Interestingly, France has produced four times the number of Nobel Laureates than the entire continent of Africa (including the Africans of European ancestry).
Clearly, cultural relativism is a bollocks concept. Not all cultures are equal, as anyone trying to get to the grocery store and home again unharmed in Johannesburg or Durban could tell you right now.
It’s easy to fall into the fantasy that we’ve found some magic civilising incantation, a secret formula to civilise the world and ensure the direction of travel is forward.
Worse, if you’re tempted down the roads of patriotism, ethnic pride and supremacy-thinking, you might believe this has something to do with genetics or another hard to define concept, “race”.
What if we’re wrong? What is history telling us?
It’s easy to ignore the inconvenience of history. Until really very recently, say, until the second quarter of the 20th century, life for everyone was uncertain in duration, brutish and tough.
Freedom of speech, for example, would have been quite a distant thought for most people in the anglosphere when faced with the prospect of having to bury a child every year or two. Freedom of movement and property rights were theoretical for the vast majority, who had only the option to emigrate vast distances with little to no possessions, often to escape religious intolerance, indentured labour and restrictions to their ability to trade freely.
If we’re really being honest with ourselves, these modern miracles about which years’ worth of podcast content and self-congratulatory books have been produced, are a specifically modern phenomenon probably not yet even 100 years old.
The normal scenario was benign rule by king or emperor if we were lucky, but brutal authoritarianism mostly. After all, Marcus Aurelius was only one man in an empire lasting more than a millennium.
Perhaps we’ve been living in a dream? Perhaps we’d convinced ourselves the circumstances all but our last four generations found themselves in had been prevented from recurring.
Our ability to choose and find work, travel freely in and out of countries, speak freely in public, make our own health decisions, manage personal risk, protect our wealth and family and to take individual responsibility no longer exists.
Perhaps it never really did. Certainly, the swiftness with which these “rights” were removed indicates the fragile grasp by which we held them.
Le plus ça change, le plus c’est la meme chose, as your great great grandparents probably couldn’t pronounce but understood implicitly.
The reversion to the mean, is indeed very mean.