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The Anglosphere and the Future of Liberty

October 6th, 2013 - 4:20 am

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A growing influence of elites brings with it an erosion of local initiative as the blandishments of security are dispensed in exchange for a tithe on freedom. Tocqueville noted the perennial tension between the demand for freedom and the demand for equality in democratic regimes. And his great disciple F. A. von Hayek described the process by which “extensive government control” produced “a psychological change, an alteration of the character of the people.” “The important point,” Hayek wrote,

“is that the political ideals of a people and its attitude toward authority are as much the effect as the cause of the political institutions under which it lives. This means, among other things, that even a strong tradition of political liberty is no safeguard if the danger is precisely that new institutions and policies will gradually undermine and destroy that spirit.”

Evidence for the collapse of the spirit is not far to seek. Mark Steyn cites the deliciously awful spectacle of former Prime Minister Gordon Brown endeavoring to come up with a patriotic British equivalent of Independence Day for Americans. What did his government turn up? July 5, the anniversary of the inauguration of National Health Service, a fitting symbol of British surrender of personal freedom for the sake of a spurious security. “They can call it,” Steyn writes, “Dependence Day.”

The anatomy of servitude, which most bulks large in any anatomy of human affairs, tells a depressing story. But it is not all of the story. Even the “apocalyptic” Mark Steyn points to the way out. He is quite right that “you cannot wage a sustained ideological assault on your own civilization without profound consequence.” We’ve had the assault and we are living with the consequences. He is also right that “without serious course correction, we will see the end of the Anglo-American era, and the eclipse of the powers that built the modern world.” The hopeful part of that prediction comes in the apodosis: the course may still be corrected.

As Hayek noted about his own dire diagnosis: “The consequences can of course be averted if that spirit reasserts itself in time.” There are, I believe, two main sources of hope. One lies in the past, in the depth and strength of the Anglosphere’s traditional commitment to individual freedom and local initiative against the meddlesome intrusion of any central authority. “The future is unknowable,” said Churchill, “but the past should give us hope.” The Anglosphere, James Bennett writes, “is not a fragile hothouse flower that can be easily uprooted and disappear forever.”

The second main ground for hope lies in the present and immediate future. In the United States, anyway, I suspect we are beginning to witness a new “revolt of the masses,” different from, in fact more or less the opposite of, the socialistic eruption Ortega y Gasset limned in his famous essay on the subject. A specter is haunting America, the specter of resurgent freedom rising up in responses to the many depredations of the statist juggernaut that everywhere besieges us. Just after the 2010 mid-term election in which the American people delivered a much-deserved “shellacking” to Barack Obama’s top-down, “fundamentally transform” imperatives, I spoke on a cruise sponsored by National Review. One of the other speakers was the pollster Scott Rasmussen. One thing that that the election demonstrated, he said, was that Americans do not want to be governed by Democrats. Nor do the wish to be governed by Republicans. They want to govern themselves. Do they? If he is right—there’s that little word “if” again—the Anglosphere has a lot more mileage in it. Are things bad? Is it late? Yes, and yes again. But as Lord D’Abernon memorably put it, “An Englishman’s mind works best when it is almost too late.”

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Cross-posted at PJ Lifestyle

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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.
41 weeks ago
41 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.
42 weeks ago
42 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
42 weeks ago
42 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.
42 weeks ago
42 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.
42 weeks ago
42 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.
42 weeks ago
42 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.
42 weeks ago
42 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.
42 weeks ago
42 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).
42 weeks ago
42 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.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
Really? What do you think it is?
42 weeks ago
42 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."
42 weeks ago
42 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.

42 weeks ago
42 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?
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
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