November 12, 2004

WELL, DANG: It looks as if the Times Literary Supplement review of Jim Bennett's new book isn't going to be available online to nonsubscribers, at least not today. But North Sea Diaries has a bit of it. And I've got a bit more below -- click "read more" to read it.

Excerpt from

Kenneth Minogue's TLS review:

The Anglosphere interests Bennett no less than the scientific future, and he devotes a great deal of space to explaining how it developed its remarkable features. The scholarly sympathiser with the argument will follow these pages with his heart in his mouth, but while some of it is heavy going and many of the judgements heavily generalised, Bennett avoids disaster. Individualism, magna carta, the common law, habeas corpus and the 1688 revolution all turn up. I rather like his idea that slavery was a basically un-English practice, a foreign temptation that we soon threw off, but this may appeal merely because it makes me feel good.

England appears as a “template society” whose moral features resulted from a fortunate conjunction of people and circumstances, especially, of course, the circumstance of insularity. Empire allowed the British to spread to the new world, and to bring many new peoples into their high trust societies, so that Bennett’s Anglosphere includes countries such as India, Pakistan and those of the Caribbean.

The recurring point in understanding the Anglosphere is that English rulers did not try to regulate and control every detail of its creations. In The New World of the Gothic Fox, Claudio Veliz (whom Bennett cites) brilliantly developed a contrast between the way the Castilians and the English colonised the new world. Spanish America became “an exceptionally centralized, homogeneous, and stable cultural entity” ruled absolutely from the centre. The contrast is with the largely unplanned liberty that allowed the English colonies in North America to be both vigorous and diverse. Tocqueville had made the same point in Democracy in America, recognising that it was their self-governing character that made the settlements of the Anglo-Americans so much more formidable than those of other Europeans.

Another aspect of this complex Anglosphere identity is described by Joao Carlos Espada in the Selzer book when he points to a distinctive feature of British life that he had not found in Southern Europe: “I would call it a sense of duty and self-control, which is gently combined with a sense of humour about oneself – as Karl Popper liked to say, an attitude of not taking oneself too seriously but a preparedness to take one’s duties seriously. “ (italics in text). . . . It is striking that in 1900, the basic vision of international relations distinguished technologically advanced Europe from non-European societies. A century later, in a more complex international world, the European Continent, with its heritage of bureaucratic absolutism and masterful conquerors, cannot but seem significantly different from us.

I hope that the TLS will wind up making the whole thing available online.