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Roger’s Rules

The Anglosphere and the Future of Liberty

October 6th, 2013 - 4:20 am

soliloquies

“English institutions” you might say, “the rule of law, and all that.” Well, yes, but why were the English peculiarly, almost, let’s face it, uniquely, prominent among the bearers of that beneficence? Again, I do not have an explanation. It has something to do, I feel sure, with the habit of liberty, the contagious temperament of freedom.

It’s a trait that has been widely noticed. The Czech writer Karel Čapek visited England in the 1920s. Writing about the country a few years later, he observed that the Englishman “stays in England all the time even when he happens to be somewhere else, say, Naples or Tibet. . . . England is not just a certain territory; England is a particular environment habitually surrounding Englishmen.” Santayana registered something similar in his essay on “The British Character” in Soliloquies in England (1922). “What governs the Englishman is his inner atmosphere, the weather in his soul.”

Instinctively the Englishman is no missionary, no conqueror. He prefers the country to the town, and home to foreign parts. He is rather glad and relieved if only natives will remain natives and strangers strangers, and at a comfortable distance from himself. Yet outwardly he is most hospitable and accepts almost anybody for the time being; he travels and conquers without a settled design, because he has the instinct of exploration. His adventures are all external; they change him so little that he is not afraid of them. He carries his English weather in his heart wherever he goes, and it becomes a cool spot in the desert, and a steady and sane oracle amongst all the deliriums of mankind. Never since the heroic days of Greece has the world had such a sweet, just, boyish master. It will be a black day for the human race when scientific blackguards, conspirators, churls, and fanatics manage to supplant him.

“Scientific blackguards, conspirators, churls, and fanatics”: I see them all about us. And you do as well. The question is whether Santayana’s agreeable observations should be filed under the rubric “As We Were,” like A. C. Benson’s nostalgic look back at a vanished Victorian heyday. The alarming possibility that recent history has presented us with is that the assault of Santayana’s “scientific blackguards, conspirators, churls, and fanatics” may come as much from within the Anglosphere as from outside it. “Civilizations,” observed the political philosopher James Burnham “die, in truth, only by suicide.” What have we been doing to ourselves?

To what extent have the epicenters of the Anglosphere—Britain, North America, Australia—abandoned their allegiance to the core values Alan Macfarlane descried in English society three-quarters of a millennium past: individual liberty and its political correlative, limited government? Take Britain. In a melancholy passage, the critic Anthony Daniels writes that

The huge change in British society, from a free and orderly but very unequal society to a highly regulated but disorderly and rather more equal society, came about because the ruling political passions and desiderata, particularly among the ever-more important intelligentsia, changed from freedom and equality before the law to equality of outcome and physical well-being and comfort. If freedom failed to result in the latter, so much the worse for freedom: very few people in Britain now give a fig for it. The loss of their double-glazing would mean more to them than the loss of their right to say what they like.

A sobering contingency. Is it really as bad as that?

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All Comments   (14)
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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