Anglosphere: The stakes in India

By JAMES C. BENNETT   |   March 16, 2002 at 5:39 PM
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WASHINGTON, March 16 (UPI) -- Reader mail is one of the most interesting aspects of writing a column, as is the comment on the Web. The column in which I suggested that the characterization of the French as a pack of "cheese-eating surrender monkeys" was not literally and invariably true brought forth more mail than any other column, most of it vociferously insisting that I was too soft on the French. More interesting, although less voluminous, was the comment elicited by my recent column on India and the Anglosphere.

One commentator in particular took me to task for employing the Anglosphere analysis as a "one size fits all" analysis in which everything English is good. He then pointed out that many of India's problems in fact stem from political and economic models imposed by or imported from Britain in the decades before and after independence.

This point is correct, in so far as it correctly identifies the source of much of India's bureaucratic miasma. But it fatally misunderstands the Anglosphere perspective. It is neither Anglophilia nor Imperial nostalgia, as some imagine. Rather, it is a set of observations and conclusions about observable phenomena, leading to some working assumptions about strong civil societies in general, and a particular set of such civil societies, namely the English-speaking, Common Law-based societies that constitute the core of the Anglosphere.

It also does not assume that Anglo-Saxons and their memetic heirs are angels, Pope Gregory's alleged pun to the contrary. In fact the peoples of the Anglosphere can screw up from time to time, sometimes spectacularly. The point about the Anglosphere and its institutions is that they seem to have gone through many of the traumas of modern times particularly early, and have evolved workable solutions to the problems in response.

Thus the commentator was right to imply that the English-speaking bureaucratic class in India that imported the prevailing political and economic ideas from 1930s England and retained them in India after Independence (and kept them long after they were discarded in England itself) have done no favor to India. In that sense the Anglosphere had failed India, at least in that iteration of the link.

What is now beginning to fade in memory is exactly how moribund large parts of the English business culture had become in its decades of relative decline. I can certainly recall some parts of the English business world I encountered in the late 1970s, in which I dealt with a collection of well-educated, well-mannered young men with no particular high expectations of the future, struggling to maintain the semblance of a middle-class life on an amazingly small salary even before considering the amazingly high taxes. Not surprisingly, initiative and entrepreneurship were not foremost qualities in this environment.

Several decades of deregulation, privatization, and competition have shaken up the British business world and have rendered it far more competitive, with resulting improvements in the gross domestic product and employment figures for the economy. However, India, which started from a far lower base point, has only begun the path of reform. Although its Anglosphere legacy has opened up the links to the high-technology world, it also, in the form of the dead hand of the economic ideas of the past century, has left a bad side of its legacy.

Reader Suman Palit, who also writes the very interesting Weblog The Kolkata Libertarian, makes the distinction between the Anglosphere and what he calls the "Englishsphere" -- the class of English-speaking bureaucrats and intellectuals in India who benefit from and maintain the bureaucratic-regulatory legacy of the last phase of British colonialism.

His characterization of Anglosphere vs. Englishsphere is exactly right. The Anglosphere is about more than English-language competence. The Englishsphere of India seems to be pretty much what many call the academic-bureaucratic class in the rest of the Anglosphere.

In the end, we must return to my point in the past column, that, having made the many links (far beyond the upper-class links he discusses) between India and the Anglosphere, the Anglo-Indian encounter started a process that nobody can now control, least of all the bureaucrats of the Englishsphere. I have no better idea of where it will ultimately lead than anybody else, but I suspect that the key will be the Indian diaspora in the Anglosphere and particularly the network of high-tech people between India and the diaspora.

If we are lucky it will create an interesting and positive fusion of the Indian cultures and the basic Anglosphere values of individualism, the strong civil society that individualism creates, and the advanced market economy and constitutional government that strong civil society enables.

If we are unlucky we will have an aggressive, nuclear-armed Hindu nationalist state, whose relations with its own religious minorities and its neighbors may be foreshadowed by the internal strife seen so vividly in the events of the past few weeks.

This suggests that the stakes in strengthening the Indo-Anglosphere ties may be high, and effort in this direction rewarding.

(You can reach James Bennett via e-mail at bennett@anglosphere.com )

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