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Roger’s Rules

The Anglosphere and the Future of Liberty

October 6th, 2013 - 4:20 am

nativetongue

I’ll say something about the substance of those ideas in a moment. First, it is worth pausing to register the medium in which the ideas unfold: English. Nalapat remarks that “The English language is . . . a very effective counter-terrorist, counter-insurgency weapon.” I think he is right about that, but why? Why English? In a remarkable essay called “What Is Wrong with Our Thoughts?,” the Australian philosopher David Stove analyzes several outlandish, yet typical, specimens of philosophical-theological linguistic catastrophe. He draws his examples not from the underside of intellectual life—spiritualism, voodoo, Freudianism, etc.—but from some of the brightest jewels in the diadem of Western thought: from the work of Plotinus, for example, and Hegel, and Michel Foucault. He quoted his examples in translation, he acknowledges, but notes that “it is a very striking fact . . . that I had to go to translations. . . . Nothing which was ever expressed originally in the English language resembles, except in the most distant way, the thought of Plotinus, or Hegel, or Foucault. I take this,” Stove concludes, “to be enormously to the credit of our language.”

Indeed. But why? What is it about English? I do not have an answer, but I note the fact that there seems to be some deep connection between the English language and that most uncommon virtue, common sense. I do not mean that English speakers act any less extravagantly than speakers of other tongues, but rather that English generally acts to tether thought to the empirical world. This is something Bishop Thomas Sprat dilated on in his History of the Royal Society (1667): “The general constitution of the minds of the English,” he wrote, embraces frankness and simplicity of diction, “the middle qualities, between the reserv’d subtle southern, and the rough unhewn Northern people.”

English, Bishop Sprat thought, is conspicuously the friend of empirical truth. It is also conspicuously the friend of liberty. Andrew Roberts, reflecting on the pedigree of certain ideas in the lexicon of freedom, notes that such key phrases as “liberty of conscience” (1580), “civil liberty” (1644, a Miltonic coinage), and “liberty of the press” (1769) were first expressed in English. Why is it that English-speaking countries produced Adam Smith and John Locke, David Hume and James Madison, but not Hegel, Marx, or Foucault? “The tongue and the philosophy are not unrelated,” the philologist Robert Claiborne writes in Our Marvelous Native Tongue: The Life and Times of the English Language (1983). “Both reflect the ingrained Anglo-American distrust of unlimited authority, whether in language or in life.”

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All Comments   (14)
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On Belmont Club I directed readers to the excellent article by the late Kenneth Minogue in the September 2013 issue of your own The New Criterion. If by chance readers of your blog have not read it, I strongly encourage them to do so. Thank you for this blog and your outstanding monthly.
27 weeks ago
27 weeks ago Link To Comment
But the Anglosphere is sick and weakening, right now.

It's robustness is being attacked from within by the Gramscian termite, that force which seeks to replace the ideals of the American Revolution - Judeochristian values, family as the core unit of society, government as servant rather than ruler, dissemination of political power to the smallest unit possible, and private economic freedom - with those of the French one, with its repaganization, emphasis on centralization of economics and politics, and the notion that the public sector rules rather than serves the private.

It is a true civil war the outcome of which is far from certain.
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
The thing UK can do right now to reaffirm Anglosphere and regain some sovereignty over her affairs is quit EU and join NAFTA
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
This is a wonderful article, Roger. And I must say that the phrase "the Australian philosopher..." seems comically oxy-moronic - and I speak as an Australian - but David Stove (and Keith Windschuttle) do exhibit a remarkable hold on common sense and clear thinking. Something rare in the academic world.
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
The de facto British Empire lives on.
Imagine the world if the U.s., Canada, and Australia belonged to any other civilization.
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
A language of liberty?

Maybe.

But good ideas confidently and morally expressed in English, French, Chinese, whatever are more powerful in any culture, I think. No one has refuted Rand's thesis that America's failure has been the lack of a moral grounding of individual rights. Christian religious morality of sacrifice toward others (re: the cross) and Germanic altruism, a secularization of the same Christian philosophy, undermined the Renaissance and its greatest accomplishment--the American Revolution. Both philosophies are so obviously antipodal of the individual's pursuit of individual happiness, it becomes tiresome and embarrassing to feel the need to keep pointing it out. No wonder Rand likely died a bitter woman.
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
When the sacrifice of the Cross is a private, individual thing, it is beautiful. When people try to morph it into a government mandate, it becomes a great evil.

Jesus said to do things to help the less fortunate. Yourself. He did NOT say that charity was voting for politicians who use the police power of the state to take money from your wealthier neighbors to fund your personal vision of utopia. Yet that is what nearly all Democrats and a not inconsiderable number of Republicans call charity.

It allows them, in their own minds, to engage in a self-congratulatory frenzy of how enlightened and compassionate and wonderful they are. All the while never sacrificing much of their own treasure, or getting themselves dirty doing acts of charity personally, but rather doing fun, social, "look at me" activities like candlelight vigils, or "walks for fill-in-the-blank", or listening to NPR, or attending political meetings. Or by simply voting for whomever will raise taxes on your wealthier neighbors the most.

Remove these types from access to power and the Anglosphere will heal itself.
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
True enough. Helping others should be an individual decision, based upon individual values. Help the deserving by all means if you can and want to. However, Christianity morality commands that you help other regardless of individual judgement and that doing for yourself is immoral--that is the meaning of the cross. It is also the moral basis of all 20th and now 21st century statists programs and pograms.

Capitalism is based upon the moral ideal of making the most of your life. It requires no sacrifices of yourself to others or others to yourself. It is based upon win-win trade exchanges. Until Rand it never received the moral basis it deserved and was left open the corruption of Christian and secular altruism. Christian Conservatives have undercut American principles by stating they are are based upon Christian morality. Christian morality is toxic to capitalism.
27 weeks ago
27 weeks ago Link To Comment
about it not being blood based; always good to keep in mind how few of us reading and repeating these memes are actually English.... I'm not. I've spoken to a couple people from India that thought the US was a majority Anglo country. It is not. Not sure it ever was either (re: even at the time of the revolution).
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
Don't be so sure. I am originally from India. Although, I am not typical as I come from the small Christian minority in the South of India. India, even modern India, for sure is primarily a tribal society based on blood. However, there is very deep appreciation, at least among the elite, that that needs to change. Also, although often deeply flawed in its enforcement Indian law is based on English law in both letter and spirit.
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
Really? What do you think it is?
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
Bennet's book seems like it could well be paired with Gertrude Himmelfarb's "The Roads to Modernity: The British, French, and American Enlightenments".

From the Amazon review: "Contrasting the Enlightenments in the three nations, Himmelfarb demonstrates the primacy and wisdom of the British, exemplified in such thinkers as Adam Smith, David Hume, and Edmund Burke, as well as the unique and enduring contributions of the American Founders. It is their Enlightenments, she argues, that created a social ethic–humane, compassionate, and realistic–that still resonates strongly today, in America perhaps even more than in Europe."
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
Hayek's spirits are like Scrooge's ghosts. If we can invoke some Ghost of Honesty Past then maybe we will see your resurgent specter of freedom.

28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
"You can always count on Americans to do the right thing, after they have tried everything else." I hope Churchill was being too narrow in applying this to Americans.

Isn't this part of the resistance to progressivism, which continues to do the wrong thing with greater vigor, even when their ideas fail?
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
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