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Roger’s Rules

The Anglosphere and the Future of Liberty

October 6th, 2013 - 4:20 am

individualism

Andrew Roberts stresses the element of pragmatic skepticism that speaks English as its native language. “The unimaginative, bourgeois, earth-bound English-speaking peoples,” he writes,

“refuse to dream dreams, see visions and follow fanatics and demagogues, from whom they are protected by their liberal constitutions, free press, rationalist philosophy, and representative institutions. They are temperamentally less inclined towards fanaticism, high-flown rhetoric and Bonapartism than many other peoples in history. They respect what is tangible and, in politics at least, suspect what is not.”

I have nothing by way of an explanation for this filiation between the English language and the habit of liberty. I merely note its existence. Alan Macfarlane, in his classic The Origins of English Individualism: The Family Property and Social Transition (1978), shows that the habit is far older than we have been taught to believe. According to the Marxist narrative, individualism is a “bourgeois construct” whose motor belongs to the eighteenth-century. Macfarlane shows that, on the contrary, “since at least the thirteenth century England has been a country where the individual has been more important than the group.” “Peasant” was a term the English used about others but not themselves. Why? Macfarlane locates the answer in the presence of a market economy, an “individualistic pattern of ownership,” and strong recourse to local initiative that were prominent features of English life at least since 1250. “In many respects,” he writes, “England had probably long been different from almost every other major agrarian society we know.”

Different in origins and different also in outcomes. Consider Britain’s record as a colonial power. “Thanks to English law,” Keith Windschuttle has noted, “most British colonial officials delivered good government.” And the positive effects are not merely historical artifacts. They are patent everywhere in the world today. “The key regional powers in almost every corner of the globe,” Mark Steyn reminds us, “are British-derived—from Australia to South Africa to India—and, even among the lesser players, as a general rule you’re better off for having been exposed to British rule than not: Why is Haiti Haiti and Barbados Barbados?”

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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.
1 year ago
1 year 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.
1 year ago
1 year 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
1 year ago
1 year 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.
1 year ago
1 year 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.
1 year ago
1 year 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.
1 year ago
1 year 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.
1 year ago
1 year 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.
1 year ago
1 year 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).
1 year ago
1 year 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.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Really? What do you think it is?
1 year ago
1 year 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."
1 year ago
1 year 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.

1 year ago
1 year 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?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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