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?”