The Anglosphere, the group of countries where English is the native language of a substantial majority of the population and where social values and culture are largely shaped by Anglo-Saxon values, remains an important fact of world politics. Canada, Australia and New Zealand fought alongside Britain in both world wars from start to finish; all the English-speaking nations fought in the Cold War as well. Australia is the only country in the world which sent military forces to fight side by side with the Americans in the Korean War, the Vietnam conflict and the two wars with Iraq.
The words are from Walter Russell Mead, in his book ‘God and Gold: Britain, America and the Making of the Modern World’, which offers a rendering of the Anglosphere that is so unsentimental as to be steel-tipped. Think of a phenomenon that is pragmatic, even ruthless in operation, while juiced by liberal optimism. Mead can’t resist the family metaphor—while the Anglosphere is about profit as much as power, it must be seen as a family firm:
For roughly three centuries now the English-speaking peoples have been more or less continuously organising, managing, expanding, and defending a global system of power, finance, culture, and trade. The British branch of the family held the majority of shares and furnished the firm’s leadership up through World War II; since then, the American branch has the lead…For better or worse, the family business is the dominant force in international life today, and looks set to remain the foundation of world order for some time to come.
That last sentence about the Anglosphere continuing as the foundation of world order is roughly where Tony Abbott sits, and is the point of departure for the argument The Strategist has been running.
Mead’s family analogy is useful because the attendant realities of large families are mistrust, envy, anger and argument. This is a ruthless family that combines a ‘unique mix of cynicism and faith’. Mead calls Franklin Roosevelt the most Anglophobic American president of the 20th Century: while loudly and enthusiastically proclaiming solidarity with Churchill and the Brits during the war, FDR also ensured, as John Maynard Keynes put it, that the US would ‘pick the eyes out of the British Empire’. FDR aimed to help Britain win the world war while ensuring Britain lost its supreme place in the world. If those at the heart of the Anglosphere can do that to their closest kith and kin, imagine what they can dish out to everyone else.
The latest version of this family saga is John Howard, hearing the Anglosphere drums, following a dud president into a disastrous war; or, as Mead observes of the British experience with George W. and Iraq: ‘Tony Blair was not the first Anglo-American leader to discover that the special relationship can be a millstone around the neck rather than an anchor in stormy seas’.
To relate all this to The Strategist’s discussion, it’s clear that China has been closely studying the Protocols of the Elders of Greenwich. Beijing doesn’t have to buy the belief that God is a Liberal. A long Anglo history of hypocrisy, humbug and greed means there’s plenty of truth in the jibe that the early agents of the Anglosphere kept the Sabbath religiously, and everything else they could lay their hands on. But if the system isn’t divinely ordained, it has displayed a ruthless longevity that compels respect. China can see clearly the power of open societies and open trade, because it’s striving to create a semi-open society with closed politics, while seeking all the benefits of open trade.
China does accept some of the international Rules of the Road, especially on the economic side. The dozen arduous years Beijing spent negotiating its way into the World Trade Organisation is profound proof of this. But, while understanding the Anglosphere tradition, China does not have to like the liberal internationalist principles that fuel this version of trade, even as it can take a deeply pragmatic satisfaction in joining the game and playing it with huge success.
China can drive as fast as the trade traffic will allow and pay little heed to any calls to help police the roads. As China stands on the threshold of taking the top spot from the US on the economic ladder, these are Rules of the Road that have truly delivered, even if they are written in English.
But the Rules of the Road are only one aspect of the Anglospheric tradition. The other is the Anglosphere way of War. Even there, and despite thousands of years of their own ways of war, there are signs that the Chinese are following—a point I’ll return to tomorrow.
Graeme Dobell is the ASPI journalist fellow. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.