Anglosphere: Why I'm not an Anglophile

By JAMES C. BENNETT  |  June 15, 2002 at 3:51 PM
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WASHINGTON, June 15 (UPI) -- I am amused when from time to time I read reactions to my Anglosphere writings, and find myself described as an "Anglophile." I do not think of myself as such a creature at all. Of course, Anglophilia comes in any number of manifestations, and I'm sure one could be found with which I would be comfortable.

However, there are several Anglophile species of which I am not a member. One is the sort of American Anglophile for whom anything English is a pretext for criticism of America; in other words, one who automatically finds English institutions and customs superior to American ones. I find such people intensely irritating, as is anybody who bears an automatic prejudice against one people or country in favor of another, especially when it is their own native land.

Another is the sort who dotes over everything quaint or eccentric about England, or who hangs on every doing of the Royal Family. This variety was once described as the type who knew the names of all the Queen's corgis. Now, I hold nothing particular against Her Majesty or her dogs. But just as De Gaulle once described himself as "Christian by history and geography," I am a republican (for my own country) for the same reasons, and would not attempt to assume the mental habits of a monarchist.

What I am is something quite different. There is no precise name for it, but if I were to coin one on the spot, it would be something like "Anglospherophile." What I most like are those things the Anglosphere countries have in common with each other. I also enjoy the way the various English-speaking nations form a continuum, with some things common to all, some things shared by some, but not all nations, and other things unique to each country, or even a region of a country. It is as it is an endlessly fascinating set of variations on a theme.

I sometimes think of it as the "Anglosphere kaleidoscope" -- a set of characteristics, always shifting, that never quite fall together the same way in two different places. Thus Sydney to me recalls something of California, something of England and something of Canada, in addition to its particular Australian-ness and unique Sydney-ness. Other people see it differently, according to their own experiences and exposures.

Anglospherophilia has rarely been practiced consciously. There is a natural tendency for journalists, authors, and other observers to play up the differences and ignore the similarities. This is partly for dramatic effect. Contrasts and conflicts make good stories, while similarities are usually taken entirely for granted, and are hardly ever good copy.

The first-time traveler between England and America will usually focus on the differences; it is not until one has spent time in the non-English-speaking lands that one really begins to understand the similarities. With apologies to Kipling, there is some truth in "What do they know of the Anglosphere, that only the Anglosphere know?"

Nor is Anglospherophilia centered on dislike of or contempt for non-English-speakers, particularly when one of the defining characteristics of the Anglosphere seems to be the large number of non-English-speaking people who have come to join it. In its own way this immigrant mix has become part of Anglosphereness, so that a bowl of Vietnamese noodle soup can be for me a taste of home in Australia.

For me each step of more intimate association with other Anglosphere nations added to my Anglospherophilia. As a tourist in England, one spends as much time as possible trying to experience what is uniquely English, and shuns whatever might seem familiar. Travelling on business, one still experiences the England (or Australia, or wherever) of hotels, airports, and offices. To some extent there is a global level of abstraction to business travel, where even very foreign lands can be experienced as a blur of bland office buildings and hotel lobbies, all speaking some form of International Business English. (Once one attempts a real project, then the differences begin to emerge.)

It was not until I married an Englishwoman and started a family that I really began to experience a different England, one experienced very much like the America I experience in daily life. I inhabit two different worlds, but they are not England and America; they are travel-on-business and travel-with-family. The England I see from a car with family, spending time in the kitchens of my son's grandparents, aunts and uncles is far different from the England I saw as a tourist or even business visitor. "Which service area on the M1 is best for children?" replaces "Which play in the West End to take in on that free evening?" as the subject of speculation in idle moments.

Of course there are anti-American idiots wherever one goes. However, this is true of America as well. The only difference is that anti-Americans in the rest of the Anglosphere can disguise themselves as nationalists; but they are pretty much the same types of people, and for the most part have the same things to say. Anti-Americanism has itself been globalized, with a sort of McChomsky franchise in every city.

To say I am not an Anglophile is not to say that I dislike England or things English. With enough experience with the various English-speaking and non-English-speaking countries, what I have found is that there are many specific things about England, or Ireland, or Canada, or Australia that I like, and some things about America I don't like. Likewise, there are many things about America I like, and some things about other Anglosphere countries I don't like. Each has some things the others could learn from and possible copy at home.

Nor have I become any less appreciative of America. On the contrary, understanding what America does and does not have in common with other parts of the English-speaking world has made me more of an American patriot in the simple sense of loving the land and the people. Understanding the roots of many American things in various parts of the British Isles makes me more of an Anglospherophile but no less an American.

Anglospherophilia is quite distinct from classic Anglophilia; it does not place one Anglosphere nation above another, and builds naturally on basic, innate patriotism. Rather, it expands on that patriotism, and enjoys the sense of a larger arena that is no longer merely national, not really foreign, but not yet global or universal.

The more instantaneous flat-rate communication and cheap intercontinental travel make it easier to share this universe, and the more that our common Anglosphere values become contrasted to truly alien mentalities like radical Islamism, the more this sense will emerge from a vague cultural sensibility to be a real factor in determining the shape of the world to come.

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