The word Anglosphere describes a group of anglophone (English-speaking) nations which share historical, political, and cultural characteristics rooted in or attributed to the historical experience of the United Kingdom. The Anglosphere includes those former colonies and dominions of the UK where English is the main language.
The term is usually attributed to science fiction writer Neal Stephenson, used in his 1995 novel The Diamond Age. Its first published use after this was in an article by James C. Bennett entitled "Canada's World Advantage" which appeared in a Canadian newspaper, The National Post, on 4 January 2000 (page A16). The term "Anglophonie" is used rarely,
Definitions and membership
A leading advocate of the importance for contemporary international relations of a concept of Anglosphere is James C. Bennett, founder of The Anglosphere Institute. His book The Anglosphere Challenge: Why the English-Speaking Nations Will Lead the Way in the Twenty-First Century (ISBN 0-7425-3332-8), published in 2004, is an extended exposition of his version of the concept.
In a political context, the Anglosphere largely comprises the United Kingdom and some of its former colonies, including prior and current members of the Commonwealth of Nations. These territories have many common features, most of which come from their shared history. These include:
Some exceptions obviously apply: for example, the United States, South Africa, and Ireland have republican systems of government while the others have constitutional monarchies; Quebec and Louisiana do not use Common Law, with Scotland and South Africa using hybrid systems, and so on.
The Anglosphere nations also share other similarities, including traditional and established civil rights and personal freedoms. These make the Anglosphere different from other English-speaking international groups, notably the Commonwealth of Nations. Bennett writes:
Anglospherism is assuredly not the racialist Anglo-Saxonism dating from the era around 1900, nor the sentimental attachment of the Anglo-American Special Relationship of the decades before and after World War II.... Anglo-Saxonism relied on underlying assumptions of an Anglo-Saxon race, and sought to unite racial "cousins." ... Anglospherism is based on the intellectual understanding of the roots of both successful market economies and constitutional democracies in strong civil society.
British-inspired democratic political institutions
common law legal system (trial by judge and/or jury, etc)
capitalist, free market economies
the entire English-language corpus of literature, philosophy, poetry, and theatre, though this complements native cultural counterparts and innovations (e.g. Hollywood, Bollywood, Celtic culture) rather than supplanting them. Anglosphere co-operation and common ground
The Anglosphere as a concept has attracted some debate. Critical views overlap, and also extend over a number of schools of thought.
Some have criticised the term as an application of ethnocentrism to international relations by implying that certain nations and their cultures are superior to others. Journalist George Monbiot wrote, "instead of the Ummah, the anglosphere... I don't hate Britain, and I am not ashamed of my nationality, but I have no idea why I should love this country more than any other. There are some things I like about it and some things I don't, and the same goes for everywhere else I've visited."
Regionalists believe that the idea of cultural alliances is a distraction from regionally-based unions or partnerships, such as NAFTA and The Americas in United States and Canada, the European Union for the United Kingdom or Oceania and the Asia-Pacific for Australia and New Zealand.
Regionalists tend to be on the left wing. In the United States they tend to favour immigration from South and Central America.
Realism is a defined school of thought on international relations, more interested in maintaining effective power dynamics and self-gain than culture partnerships. It sees power as the defining factor in a state's relations, and may conclude that culture is irrelevant, aside from perhaps as a propaganda source. The clash between realists and Anglospherists may be sharper than any clash with another school.
Realists argue that it is dangerous for one power to see itself as having a permanent alliance with another power whose interests in a few years may be at odds with their own.
The most notable clash between Anglospherists and realists came during the Suez crisis, when the United States and Canada refused to support the UK over the Anglo-French Suez Canal intervention (with Israel's collusion).
A second spot of tension came during the Falklands War, during which some realists in the administration of President Ronald Reagan encouraged the United States not to support the British side of the conflict. Some held the view that an Argentinian defeat would endanger the military Government, with the possible risk of it being replaced by a Communist Government, which would have weakened the US position in the Cold War. In the end the realists lost the argument however, and the US provided moral and logistical support to the UK after the failure of Alexander Haig's diplomacy.
Most recently since 2003, the Iraq War emphasised differences. Canada and New Zealand refused to support combat activities conducted by the coalition with the other three countries (other than with small contingents engaged in ancillary activities).
Autonomists criticise the Anglosphere concept from the cultural side. They argue that the culture of a particular society is either largely home grown, or consists of many more factors than simple heritage from the "Anglosphere", and that the Anglosphere concept tends generally to underestimate the impact of non-English cultures, such as the Scots-Irish, Irish, Scottish, Welsh, German, Dutch and Québécois cultures. They argue that in all member states, there is wide variation from the supposed distinctive characteristics of the Anglosphere.
In the United States autonomists tend to be natural cultural conservatives, while in Australia they are found both on the right and the left (e.g. see the 1930s Australia First Movement). In the United Kingdom, they also fall across the political spectrum (see Merry England).
Other critics treat the Anglosphere concept as political rhetoric, with aims they claim are identifiable. They argue that Thatcherites and Reaganites have used it to try to consolidate the political position they achieved during the 1980s and first half of the 1990s. Margaret Thatcher's administration, for instance, was centralising, in certain ways, with local government less autonomous and financially more constrained. These critics have argued that conjuring up visions of a unique political heritage is simply part of a power grab by forces that still serve corporatist aims.
Critics of Neo-Liberalism
When considering for purpose of argument a six-country Anglospheric model (USA, Canada, UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand), the Anglosphere is made up of three regions, each split into a larger dominant "core" and a smaller subsidiary "satellite state". Namely:
The association of an entire cultural region with the dominant "core" nation state is typically resented by the smaller "satellite" state. Irish, Canadian, and New Zealand identity is to some extent defined by its otherness, in a sort of "sibling mentality". Comparing the relationship between New Zealand and Australia with that of Canada and the United States, a number of parallels exist. Although on a global scale, Australia and New Zealand combined are smaller than Canada by any metric, and they, along with the United Kingdom and Ireland, and the rest of Europe for that matter, are also viewed by many as satellites of the United States and its global influence. Nevertheless, the satellite states, in this particular regional model, have developed a world-view and foreign policy that places a greater emphasis on multilateral rather than unilateral institutions. Certainly, Ireland has been first a neutral nation, then oriented towards the EU. This tendency was partially illustrated during the build-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq which saw the Anglosphere satellite states (Canada, Ireland, and New Zealand) refuse to involve themselves, in direct contrast to the three core states (USA, UK, and Australia), although the full reason for this division is perhaps more complex and nuanced. It should be noted, also, that this model does not consider the unpopularity of the Iraq war among the UK and Australian general populations and the contributions made by other countries such as Italy, Spain and Japan.
Europe: United Kingdom + Ireland
North America: United States of America + Canada
Australasia: Australia + New Zealand The core-and-satellite model
The United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Ireland are all former colonies of the British Empire, and the first four of these were settled by immigrants from Britain and Ireland. The similarities of these countries, it is sometimes argued, were manifested by certain historical conditions which they have all faced.
Anglosphere nations have a history of co-operation and close political ties. A network of varying military alliances as well as intelligence arrangements exists between five of the nations, and some are in free trade areas with each other. The countries of the Anglosphere were military allies in the majority of major world conflicts in the 20th century. The United States, the UK, and Australia continued in this vein in their cooperation in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, a venture in which other close allies of the United States did not participate.
Seeking to make a distinction between the Anglosphere and other countries of Europe or European Union ("the continent", or "continental Europe", as it is sometimes referred to) comes down to identifying key differences between the United Kingdom and the other members of the European Union. Arguing that the Anglosphere is culturally different from "Continental Europe" assumes inter alia that there is a unified "continental" European culture, something which is not supported by historical perspective.
There are certainly key cultural differences between the United Kingdom and individual European states (e.g. France or Italy), but it would be difficult to sustain an argument that the culture of the UK is in some way unique in its distinctiveness when set against the massive diversity of "the continent" as a whole. It is possible to probe the continent's internal diversity by reflecting on the cultural similarities and differences of the following pairs of countries: Finland and Portugal, Lithuania and Italy, Bulgaria and Norway. However, if one is to generalise, the United Kingdom is perceived by most commentators to be more culturally similar to the near neighbour countries of northern and western Europe (e.g. Ireland, Netherlands, Sweden) and less similar to those of eastern Europe.
The United Kingdom and the European 'Continent'
Advocates of the view that British culture is distinct from 'European' culture, often draw on France as an example. Whilst it is possible to gain important insights into both cultures by probing the culture differences between the two states, there are undoubtedly many more cultural similarities than differences between the two countries, which are geographically close (France is one of the UK's nearest neighbouring states) and whose history and language are deeply intertwined (reference the history of the two states since 1066, the date of the Norman invasion of England and victory over the Anglo-Saxons at the Battle of Hastings).
In the Middle Ages, England and France emerged as distinct leading European nation-states. They were often at war. From the 17th century onward, as the two countries conquered extensive empires, each attempted to increase its colonial possessions and prevent the other from doing so. Although both countries have lost their empires and are now members of the European Union, some traces of Anglo-French rivalry remain.
In language, on the other hand, there has been a profound mutual influence between Anglophone and Francophone cultures. After the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, French remained the language of the English aristocracy for three hundred years. Roughly a third of the vocabulary of the English language (e.g. agree, brave, carry, define, empire, etc.) comes from the French language. More recently, the forces of globalization and technical innovation have also increased the number of words that are common to the two languages (e.g. bus, casting, fax, leader, missile, etc.).
In this debate, the example of Canadian confederation - the ongoing interaction between French and English Canada providing a major impetus in its development - is a prominent one, reflected in Canada's membership in both the Commonwealth and La Francophonie.
Cultural differences: The example of the UK and France
Regardless of the distance separating America from Europe (unlike the United Kingdom's proximity), the country's population is largely descended from non-Anglo European immigration during the 19th and 20th centuries. The total number of immigrants from European regions other than England vastly outnumbers those of English ancestry. Louisiana was originally a French colony with French settlers; New York and New Jersey were originally part of a Dutch colony, New Netherland; while Florida and the entire Southwestern United States were originally Spanish possessions. Furthermore, the Southwestern United States, which includes what are now the country's two most populous states in California and Texas, was part of Mexico until well into the 19 century. There have been numerous non-British influences in the United States. All manner of Continental European cultures are now fused in the United States.
Only 8.7% of Americans claim to have predominant English ancestries, with other British and Irish groups such as the Scottish, Welsh and Scots-Irish each making up less than 2% of the population. The top three ancestries in the United States are German (15.2%), Irish (10.8%), and African (8.8%). Italians (5.6%), Polish (3.2%) and French (3%) are also major self-identified continental European ancestries.
America has a history of direct contact with Europe, other than through the United Kingdom's affairs.
The USA and continental European influence
Proponents of the concept of Anglosphere argue that no English-speaking country ever was ruled by an absolute monarch. Hence none has ever seen the effectiveness and sheer dominance of such rulers as Peter the Great of Russia, Frederick the Great of Prussia, or King Louis XIV of France. No English-speaking country had to form political groups to struggle against an existing absolute rule (with the possible more modern exception of South Africa). On the other hand, the English Civil War could quite well be considered a struggle against attempts by English kings to establish an absolute monarchy, and King Henry VIII could quite well be considered to be an absolute monarch.
At the time of the Holy Alliance, after the Napoleonic Wars had ended, democratic reforms started earlier in the UK, with Catholic Emancipation in 1829, propelled by the economic and social changes spoken of as the Industrial Revolution. The process took a century to complete, however, if universal suffrage is taken as the marker. Other European countries overlapped in particular reforms. The character of UK politics differed in several ways from those prevalent in continental Europe, with anti-clericalism largely absent and feeling against the monarchy rarely politicised, British socialism more closely allied with the Protestant religious tradition and British right-wing and nationalist thinking considered by some to have been largely moderated by Disraeli's conservative thought (if one excepts the Irish Home Rule question, to 1922). As a result, Continental European politics appears to be more driven by partisan feeling.
The United Kingdom and the 'continental' experience: political history
A certain residual resistance against the metric system is symptomatic in the USA and UK. On the other hand, Ireland, Australia, Canada and New Zealand have largely embraced the metric system in principle, if not always in practice.
English-speaking countries, except for the state of Louisiana, and parts of Canada, have not had legal systems based on the Napoleonic Code. The case of Scotland is considered anomalous, since its system is an older system largely independent of common law. Some states in the USA, that at one time were a part of the Spanish Empire and later Mexico have vestiges of the Napoleonic Code. The community property statutes in regards to family law (most relevant in divorce property distribution) that are present in California and seven other western states are an example of this.
No English-speaking country ever had a government installed by Napoleon, though there were some Bonapartists in England. The foreign princes (Dutch and German following the Glorious Revolution) ruling in England were in theory constitutional monarchs, on sufferance. On the other hand, there was an earlier scare that England would become a fief of the Holy Roman Empire's premier Austrian family when Philip Habsburg was king in right of marriage to Mary Tudor.
No English-speaking country (save, perhaps, Ireland, and in more modern times, South Africa) had the secret police that existed throughout Europe in the late eighteenth century and throughout the nineteenth century, and which were brought to a higher level under Napoleon. (This ignores some facts about British government actions, in particular in the Jacobin scares of the 1790s; it might be defended as a broad description of policy, such as the non-recognition of a minister for the Interior).
Against this one can argue that the UK and USA have in fact fundamental divergences in a number of aspects of their institutions. These include separation of religion and politics, the constitutions and the monarchy. Analogies between the UK, largely run from Whitehall, and the USA, which is a federal political system, are treacherous.
The consequences of the World War I did not result in fascism or communism being adopted in the Anglosphere; there were fascist and communist sympathisers, but they never gained political power except in some very limited ways. None of the countries was occupied by the Fascist powers (except the Channel Islands, which are crown dependencies rather than part of the UK.)
The philosophical trends in the United Kingdom, with logical positivism gaining at one point the upper hand, and in the United States, with a consistent strand of interest in types of pragmatism, differ from the existentialism and later philosophical trends in continental Europe. This distinction became sharp around 1930.
Identity cards were used in the UK in World War II, but were withdrawn some years after its end. Otherwise identity documents have not yet been required.
Discussion of Anglo-American diplomacy is often formulated, from the UK side, in terms of the existence and health of the special relationship, mostly harkening back to the years 1941 to 1945 of very close alliance. This could be called a 'Churchillian' formulation.
The Anglosphere has cemented itself in formal alliances, such as that of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and ANZUS, and is more directly manifested in the existence of the ABCA Armies and the UKUSA Community, an intelligence-gathering alliance formed by Anglosphere members.
Commonalities in the twentieth century
Some view as an example of this an increase in centralised state control in the UK, examples being the National Curriculum, and the proposed introduction of identity cards in the UK. Police powers have been recently expanded slightly in the USA post-9/11. The REAL ID Act in the US centralises state-issued identification cards.
Samuel P. Huntington, in his controversial work Who Are We? The Challenges to America's National Identity (2004), claimed that America's national identity is largely based on Anglo-Protestant culture, and that Latino culture represents a threat to that heritage; in other words, the USA is subject to a pull towards Latin America.
- Anglo-American relations
- Anglo-Celtic Australian
British New Zealander
- Anglo-Celtic Australian