Anglosphere: On unity and diversity

By JAMES C. BENNETT  |  Dec. 8, 2001 at 1:08 PM
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WASHINGTON, Dec. 8 (UPI) -- The Anglosphere idea is not intended to be a complete philosophy of life or system of ethics, but it is more than a commentary on the arrangement of our respective foreign affairs.

At heart, the Anglosphere outlook is a set of perceptions about the relationship between strong civil societies and the linked phenomena of freedom, democracy, prosperity, and technological progress. These phenomena do not float around in some abstract philosophical space, but are set in the historical and cultural context of a particular set of strong civil societies, the nations of the English-speaking world.

The basic ideas of the Anglosphere analysis can be understood readily enough, but it does require rejecting a set of intellectual prejudices and misperceptions that have grown up over time. So it is not surprising that some people are confused about what the Anglosphere idea is about and what it is saying.

This week, InstaPundit, a popular Internet weblog, (InstaPundit.com), run by law professor Glenn Reynolds, posted a comment by a reader on the subject of multiculturalism. The Anglosphere concept has been mentioned peripherally from time to time on InstaPundit, and the reader wrote:

"I'm not sure, but I think this (the reader's ideas regarding an alternative to multiculturalism) is all in contradiction to what I have seen of Bennett's Anglosphere stuff. He sees other ideas as inferior and polluting, while I see them as providing the United States with the flexibility essential to adapt and expand. The more you embrace, the more you expand your range of creative ideas and options. The key, of course, is to pick and choose (so maybe this is where Bennett is less exclusive, I don't know) based upon a real set of underlying values. Sushi and Japanese labor management? Good. Wife burning? Bad. Immigration, here, does not simply necessitate assimilation, as Bennett very certainly calls for, because he misses the fact that all cultural groups involved are being altered -- but the key is that as a result of social dynamics and identity creation that some are more epicurean in their tastes."

Of course, it's hard to know what this writer has read of my work, except that it's apparently not very much. But the perceptions bring up some points worth discussing. Does the Anglosphere perspective see other ideas as "inferior and polluting"? Well, the idea that one should hijack a passenger plane and fly it into a building full of thousands of innocent people is an inferior idea, and I have nothing to say to people who would hesitate to call it such. Other ideas are more problematic, but they should not get a free pass for that.

"Inferior" is a charged word. Certainly the idea that, for example, one should steal from strangers who are investors or fellow-citizens to line the pockets of family members and cronies is, to say the least, ill-adapted to life in a strong civil society. In fact, it's clear that the nepotism and corruption created by that particular idea has been a large part of the cycle that keeps most of the world in poverty and oppression.

"Polluting"? I'd rather say " infectious", because it's clear that corruption and fair dealing don't mix. Organizations and societies tend toward one or the other, and there is a tipping-point effect; when enough people in a previously transparent society become corrupt, then fair dealing becomes a punished behavior. Conversely, when enough people in a nepotistic society become fair-dealing, the remaining corrupt become exposed and penalized. A fair-dealing and transparent society has a strong incentive to assimilate newcomers from a corrupt and nepotistic society to its own ways.

Furthermore, the writer fundamentally misunderstands the idea of assimilation, and more broadly, of the interplay between unity and diversity in the Anglosphere. Of course all cultural groups in an assimilation situation are being altered. Think about the "melting pot" metaphor again -- a melting pot forms an alloy; it mixes different metals and forms a new substance stronger and more useful than any of its components. That the component cultures will interact is a fundamental assumption of assimilation.

As I have written elsewhere, one of the critical characteristics of the Anglosphere, and one of the reasons for its remarkable successes, it precisely its openness to the world. To freeze the Anglosphere cultures into the form they have at any given time is to destroy this ability to adapt. This openness has led to its ability, demonstrated over centuries, to accept, assimilate, and improve itself thereby.

Equally important has been its ability to pass on to newcomers its core values: the individualism, the concept of rights as things the state may not do to the individual, and the emphasis on fair dealing. If we lose either ability, we risk destroying everything that makes us more prosperous, progressive, and free than the bulk of societies on this planet.

The Anglosphere has come to value its own version of diversity. This vision rejected the centralized, bureaucratic state evolved on the Continent from the time of the Bourbons onward. The union of England and Scotland led to the departure of the royal court from Edinburgh, but left an autonomous church and university system behind. This meant that Britain from the time of Union always tolerated more than one approach to thinking, an autonomy which permitted the flowering of the Scottish Enlightenment.

The settlement of America meant that the substantially different regional cultures and religions of the British Isles were variously transplanted to different regions of America. Immigrant groups tended to settle and mix with compatible regional cultures. This diversity insured that no one culture or doctrine would become the orthodoxy of Anglo-America. The First Amendment owes its entrenched toleration to this diversity.

This diversity, however, was constrained within a larger common civilization, that of the English-speaking world. This larger civilizational consensus assured that the diverse strands were sufficiently alike to communicate and negotiate with each other most of the time. When the cultures grew apart, civil wars arose, resulting sometimes in resolution by re-assimilation, as in the English and American Civil Wars, other times by partition, as in the American revolution.

The result has been a civilization that has tolerated substantial diversity in many things, but unity in a few but critical things. Particularly, Anglosphere nations have always come together against real external threats: Hitler, Stalin, and now the radical Islamists. The challenge for the future is to continue to balance the openness to the world needed to thrive with the assimilation needed to make openness work; to balance the diversity of regional and national cultures with the maintenance of common civilizational values needed to keep functioning as strong civil societies.

Anglospherism is a recognition of what has worked in the past, and why. This understanding leads to a rejection of the brittle compartmentalization of multiculturalism. It was multiculturalism that allowed deluded fools, denied access to their own heritage, to volunteer to fight against their fellow citizens for the Taliban, one of the most repressive regimes on earth. Anglospherism instead advocates the continuation of a culture that effectively balances diversity and unity with openness and liberty.

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