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Anglosphere: Post-colonial U.N. crutch

By JAMES C. BENNETT   |   March 15, 2003 at 9:26 PM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, March 15 (UPI) -- Social and political concepts have a life cycle of expert opinion through which a new concept must pass between proposal and general acceptance. Stage One is, "It's flatly impossible." Stage Two is, "It's theoretically possible, but will never happen for the following reasons." Stage Three is, "It will happen, but not for a very long time." Stage Four is, "I always knew it was going to happen."

The Anglosphere perspective and program has been in the first stage for a number of years -- it was not considered to be on the political radar-screen at all. Now we have reached the second stage, in which its theoretical merits are acknowledged, but the numerous obstacles to its success are being trotted out in various quarters. As the term Anglosphere comes into general use, and the various forms of the Anglosphere concept enter debate, this criticism is thus a milestone in the idea's progress.

For example, this past week saw the Toronto Star, one of Canada's more left-wing daily papers, publish a piece by Gordon Barthos entitled "The `Anglosphere' siren call." In it, Barthos critiques his version of the idea by saying: "But the Anglo club will never replace the U.N. as the world's legal voice. It is not an especially moral club. It's not as cohesive as people like Blair might wish."

He adds, "Canadian policy makers recoil from the idea that the Anglosphere represents a higher moral authority and not just a shifting coalition of interests. There's a reason for that."

He ends by noting that "there's another Anglosphere out there. It consists of countries like India, with 1 billion people. Pakistan. Nigeria. South Africa. Even troubled Zimbabwe. Much of the Caribbean. Ireland. Kenya. Bangladesh." And he notes that, "Most look to the U.N., not to the U.S. and its allies, for legal guidance in dealing with criminals like Saddam. This is a wider, more multicultural Anglosphere than the tweedy set acknowledges. Canada belongs to it, too."

It's an interesting piece. It takes a certain kind of talent to be half right and all wrong at the same time, but Barthos has it. Of course, foregoing any research before you write is a help. In this case, Barthos seems to have obtained all of his familiarity with the topic from some offhand references in an opinion piece by British historian Paul Johnson.

He might have bothered to read, for instance, the cover article (The Empire of Freedom) on the Anglosphere idea in the current issue of National Review, authored by that tweedy old whiteboy Ramesh Ponnuru. Had he troubled himself to do so, he would have seen that the idea does not rest upon the idea of military cooperation among the narrower Anglosphere of America and the Old Commonwealth, but a broad range of economic, security and human ties among precisely the "wider, more multicultural Anglosphere" he would summon to carry his political water.

Growing more problematic every day is his enlistment of these Third World Anglosphere brigades in his crusade for the moral sanctity of the United Nations. He counterposes the Anglosphere nations, characterized as a "shifting coalition of interests" to the "higher moral authority" of the U.N. Scrutinizing the antics of the Security Council over the past few weeks, it is hard to characterize the U.N. as anything but a "shifting coalition of interests" itself.

The United Nations can be, and sometimes is a place where nation-states can work out mutually convenient agreements. It has also gathered under its wings a set of broad but necessarily shallow universal administrative regimes on technical matters, a function that pre-existed the U.N. and the League of Nations, and has probably been made more difficult by burdening them with the pretensions of the General Assembly.

I have never tried to claim a moral legitimacy for the Anglosphere nations to speak for the world. What they do have is a moral legitimacy to speak for their own peoples. This is conferred by the boring but to date irreplaceable method of an unbroken record of functioning representative constitutional institutions stretching back centuries.

To say that a community of nations with these experiences in common might be able to form a better basis for cooperation than the grab-bag of democracies, semi-democracies, semi-evolving totalitarian and authoritarian states, outright kleptocracies and failed states whose representatives in New York cannot in some cases risk their lives by returning to the countries for which they supposedly speak, is not arrogance. It is simply reality.

It was natural for countries emerging from colonialism to a shaky independence to turn to their U.N. memberships as a source of pride, legitimacy, and often scarce revenue. Canada itself found its international organization memberships useful after World War I as a means of exercising its evolving independence from London in a quiet, respectable, non-confrontational manner. It is understandable that many Third World nations, and even Canada, continue to value, and often over-value these universal organizations.

However, the next generation rising up in the nations of the wider Anglosphere, like India, are beginning to take a less romanticized view of their fathers' commitments. Taking their independence for granted, they are able to contemplate closer ties to America and renewed cooperation with Britain on their own merits, more free from the burden of past events. Often Anglosphere ties in these nations are the tolerant, outward-looking, freedom-oriented option, in contrast to more inward-looking nationalistic visions based on Continental European-style blood-and-soil ethnic nationalism.

As more of the nations in the wider Anglosphere leave behind their post-colonial cringe and take their place in the world as fully confident actors, they will be able to view organizations like the U.N. as what they are - crutches with mostly symbolic value. They will be able to turn to Anglosphere collaborative institutions for the genuine security, economic and human benefits they can offer. Indians, Africans, Caribbeans are all developing the self-confidence to participate in this work. Who knows? Maybe someday even Canadian liberals will get there too.

{The views articulated in James Bennett's weekly Anglosphere column for United Press International are his own and not necessarily shared by UPI.)

© 2003 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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