Anglosphere: The Sand and the Pearl

By JAMES C. BENNETT  |  Jan. 19, 2002 at 1:04 PM
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WASHINGTON, Jan. 18 (UPI) -- The Anglosphere assumption is based partly on the assumption that as physical barriers become less relevant on the information economy, the other economic equivalents of mountain and water barriers -- linguistic and cultural differences -- will tend to take their place. This will result in the emergence of "network civilizations." These are groups of countries with substantial linguistic and cultural commonalties, which, whether geographically adjacent or not, will form significant areas of mutual cooperation. The Anglosphere -- the set of English-speaking, Common Law countries -- are one such, of course, but there will likely be many others.

However, there will also continue to be strong, unique, distinctive cultures that are not readily assignable to any wider civilization. Japan is perhaps the world's most visible and successful example. It is worth examining the Japanese case, not only for its own sake, but also to think about the fate of states which like Japan are not obviously part of a wider network civilization.

The most important fact about Japan may not be what it is, but rather what it is not. It is not part of an East Asian, "Confucian" civilization as many superficial observers tend to assume. Samuel Huntington and others define it as a unique civilization; this seems reasonable in light of the evidence.

In the same way that the Anglosphere is recognizably rooted in Western Christian civilization, but has become something distinct, so has Japan become something rooted in East Asian Confucian civilization, but has similarly become something distinct. British historian J.C.A. Pocock called England "European, but European with a difference." Just so, Japan could be called "Asian, but Asian with a difference."

Just as a pan-European political institution is thus unsuitable as a primary affiliation for Britain, so would a pan-Asian political institution be unworkable for Japan. History certainly shows how Japan's own version of a pan-Asian political institution, the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, did not gain acceptance with many non-Japanese.

The other historical fact of interest about Japan is its deep, problematic, but mutually stimulating century-and-a-half relationship with the Anglosphere. From Commodore Perry and his Black Ships, through Japan's early alliance with Britain and the influence of the Royal Navy on the Imperial Navy, MacArthur as Occupation authority, to Edwards Deming and his quality-control revolution, and now the impact of the Internet, the Anglosphere and its people and institutions have often been the irritant that causes the Japanese oyster to produce its pearls.

The influence has not been one-sided, however. Japan's esthetic, its architecture, its religions, its philosophies, its manufactures, and its emigrants have all profoundly influenced the Anglosphere, and particularly America, to a greater degree than other European cultures. The distance between Tokyo and Honolulu is hardly more than the distance from London to New York; San Francisco and Los Angeles have always looked west over their horizons, as Tokyo has looked east to America since the Black Ships.

This suggests that in the continuing scientific-technological revolutions, Japan may find its task to be balancing its historical ties with the Asian continent with its newer but also profound ties with the Anglosphere. Such a balance may be the key to maintaining Japanese independence, not so much from formal threats of conquest, but rather from excessive submission to one or another culture.

Japan has never successfully maintained its independence through closure against the world. It has tried various methods of doing so at different times in its history, and each time that route has led to stagnation. Rather, Japan has been most successful when it has opened itself to the outside world, while adapting what it absorbs into a uniquely Japanese form.

Some theorize that Japan's primary task must be to reconcile itself to the idea of China as a growing power, one that will become more modern and more strong every decade. But the real question is whether China can make the transition to a genuine strong civil society fast enough to be an actor in the drama of the coming phases of the scientific-technological revolution.

Japan cannot look to an Asian identity or an Asian alliance as its primary route to success in political or international affairs. The United States and its partners will be the principal security and economic partners for Japan in the next phase of the scientific-technological revolution as it has been for the postwar period.

In order to prepare for the future, Japan must think hard about the social and constitutional changes it must undergo. Japan is in the situation of needing to enact social and political changes that both enable it to deal more effectively with its current economic situation, and also prepare it to benefit from its natural advantages in a the coming technological and economic environment. Fortunately, these are effectively the same.

A more entrepreneurial economy, easier mobilization of capital through venture capital and open financial exchanges, and direct integration of Japan's economy with the other high-trust, strong civil societies via the Internet economy must replace corporate domination, cozy but inflexible bank-corporate funding arrangements, and de facto insulation of the Japanese economy.

Japan responded to the opening of the postwar constitution with the founding of great companies like Honda and Sony. Entrepreneurism is latent in any high-trust civil society and will flourish again once political impediments have been removed, as the case of England after Thatcher's reforms demonstrates.

In that event Japan could well emerge as one of the leaders of the coming world.

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