The Intellectuals
Be wary of that free WiFi

Can the Modern World Outlive the Anglosphere?

Sunday Night Journal — February 20, 2011

The January issue of The New Criterion includes a symposium called “The Anglosphere and the future of liberty.” It’s been on my mind a good deal since the issue arrived some weeks ago.

“The Anglosphere,” in case you haven’t encountered the term, refers to the English-speaking world, to all the nations which have their political roots and some significant cultural roots in England, even if the connection began with conquest. It includes, obviously, the USA, Australia, and New Zealand, and a good many other former colonies of the British Empire. The broad thesis of the symposium can be summed up in this sentence from Mark Steyn’s contribution, “Dependence Day”:

We are coming to the end of a two-century Anglosphere dominance, and of a world whose order and prosperity many people think of as part of a broad, general trend but which in fact derive from a particular cultural inheritance and may well not survive it.

What we call the modern world, say the contributors, has been in very large part shaped by the combination of constitutional government, technological innovation, and capitalism which is particularly characteristic of the English-speaking nations. That’s a very broad statement, and one can immediately begin a list of contributions toward that sort of development which came from other peoples, and of nations which have adopted the general pattern at least as successfully. But it does strike me as a defensible generalization. (If you broaden the category from the Anglosphere to include the Nordic countries, it’s even more defensible, and if you make it Europe and nations rooted in Europe, it doesn’t even need much qualification.) As Steyn says, “We forget how rare on this earth is peaceful constitutional evolution, and rarer still outside the Anglosphere.”

Steyn is a polemicist, and I don’t agree with everything he says in his piece. He includes a few overly-simplisitic or sensational jibes, and in general is certainly not concerned with doing justice to the opposing case. But he raises a serious and important question. Granting that his characterization of the Anglosphere’s role in making the modern world is at least a defensible generalization, what will happen if those nations become incapable and/or unwilling to do and to be what they have been? We have seen in the last two centuries a continuing trend toward the recognition of individual rights, the rule of law, and representative government. Most of us consider that to be progress, whether or not we applaud every aspect of modernity, although like any form of progress it has its defects and proceeds in a zig-zag way, not in a straight line, with rights gained here and lost there. And sometimes, as is particularly the case in the U.S. and Great Britain now, it becomes cancerous, so that the right to vote becomes the same thing as the right to paint a butterfly on your cheek which becomes the same thing as making pornography. Steyn notes a case which represents the reductio ad absurdum of this, in which the government of the U.K. paid for a man with learning disabilities to fly to Amsterdam and have sex with a prostitute—because, of course, he had a right to sex. (Why he had not been able to procure it on his own was not made clear.)

But what struck me most from Steyn’s piece, and has been most on my mind, is this: “ cannot wage a sustained ideological assault on your own civilization without profound consequences.”

It is typically those who argue for the institution of a sort of extreme version of human rights, which involves not so much liberty of action as the equation of liberty with the satisfaction of all wants and the duty of the state to provide it, who are least respectful of the actual history and traditions of human rights as understood in the Anglosphere. They tend to see history as a parade of injustices: the most notable features of the history of the United States, for instance, are slavery and the crushing of the Indians. They are far more ashamed than proud of the civilization that produced them, and they see themselves as standing apart from it. They tend to see the Anglosphere’s tradition of liberty and law as a sort of scam designed to preserve the power and possessions of the ruling class. Their rhetoric generally seems more that of rebels seeking to overthrow an oppressor than of citizens seeking the improvement of an order of which they are members and inheritors.

The inheritors, and also the beneficiaries: it is no secret that over the past several decades many of these quasi-revolutionaries have found themselves very comfortably situated in the academy, in the entertainment industry, in journalism, and in government. Especially in the first two of these, they exercise influence far greater than would be suggested by their numbers. And they’ve had a fair amount of success: it’s now quite common to hear people of no particular sense or education toss off secular-leftist platitudes as readily as others might say “God bless America!”

Well, all this is pretty well-known, and I’m pretty sure I’m repeating things I’ve said before. But I’ve been thinking about it in relation to Stein’s “profound consequences.” There’s a disconnect between the vision of the radical critics, which holds their civilization to be fundamentally corrupt—racist, imperialist, sexist, etc.—and their complacency about their own position in it. They act as if their own prosperity, security, and liberty have no connection to the history of the country that produced them—as if it had just somehow appeared, a pure product of nature like rain and sunlight, to which they have a natural right. There is sometimes, at least in the younger sort of radical, a sense of guilt about this, but it appears to diminish with age, perhaps still making itself felt but being directed outward, resulting in an intensification of the critique.

Moreover, there is an assumption that they can continue to propagate the idea that contemporary Western prosperity, security, and liberty are the fruit of a poisonous root which must be yanked out of the ground and destroyed, and yet continue to enjoy those same fruits. Well, it doesn’t work that way with plants, and I don’t think it works that way with societies, either.

Maybe this is partly just a swing of the pendulum, a needed correction to the natural tendency of any nation or culture to ignore the dark side of its own history. I’d like to think so. And I should note that I’m speaking in worldly terms here. From the most important point of view, that of the spiritual fate of mankind, it is certainly arguable that the worldly goods which the Anglosphere has excelled in procuring are serving now to pull people in the direction of hell. If so, then it will be a good thing if we lose them. But we shouldn’t have any illusions about what that will mean.

What if the broad order of which Steyn speaks really is by and large the work of the Anglosphere, and its internal critics succeed in demoralizing it to the point where its best institutions are no longer respected and cultivated? Take a good look at most of the rest of the world, and ask yourself if you really want to make Euro-American societies more like it. This doesn’t mean that we have nothing to learn from the rest of the world—quite the opposite is true—but I think most of us, even the more alienated, really would prefer to keep our basic institutions. Certainly there is no substantial migration out of Europe, America, Australia, And those institutions are in turn dependent on a huge number of cultural habits and presumptions, ways of thinking that have roots in Europe generally and in the Anglosphere specifically. Our idea of citizenship, for instance, is by no means a feature of all societies. It is under attack in many ways, of which the radical critique is only one—self-indulgence, aka consumerism, is another—but without it our representative institutions will inevitably fail.

Sometime in the late ‘70s or so, when the economy was looking bad and the Reagan-era reaction against government social programs was beginning, someone (perhaps Reagan himself), speaking of the capitalist economy as the goose that laid golden eggs, observed that it was time to stop arguing about how to divide up the eggs and start worrying about the health of the goose. Something similar might be said now about our political health and stability, upon which so much else depends: it’s time to stop arguing about who is going to get the best rooms in the house, and start worrying about the cracks in the foundation and the leaks in the roof.

In my view what the Anglosphere requires for its renewal can only be provided by the Catholic Church. But that’s another topic.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

I'd be interested in your thoughts on other pieces in that issue of the New Criterion, to which I used to subscribe.

Steyn's was the most attention-getting, not surprisingly. In brief, I had mixed though mostly positive views of all of them. I'll say more in a day or so if I don't come down with whatever bug my wife is suffering from.

As a radical critic, albeit one whose criticism flows from his Christianity, I must say that I believe the greater danger, to both what is good in our culture and tradition and to world peace, lies in American hubris, the jingoism that would have the US impose a Pax Americana on the world and the national security state on its citizens.

I agree that that's a danger, but I don't think it's as fundamentally destructive as an attack on the...well, fundamentals.

I also think the national security state and the welfare state are two sides of the same coin, which decreases the likelihood of either being reduced, because for the most part those who don't want the one do want the other.

As the Pax Americana expands, whether by "nation building" or the "opening of foreign markets," anti-Western cultural sentiment is being spread with it. We're basically exporting multiculturalism along with democracy, Wal*Mart, McDonald's, and porn.

Have you read that NC stuff, Rob? There's a related item in Steyn's piece, about the London subway bombers. Everyone was so surprised because they went to British schools, but Steyn notes that they were probably taught there that the British past was mostly wicked.

A case in point, perhaps?

That goes with William Blake so well.


No, haven't seen that NC issue (I'm not a subscriber -- too many periodicals coming already!) but I'll have to check it out. There were some pieces on the subject in an issue of Chronicles last year, and Paul Gottfried's wrote a book on the issue a few years back, "The Strange Death of Marxism."

"the subject" being the Anglosphere, or the "sustained ideological assault"?

Janet, did you mean the song? or just that one line about damp filthiness? I haven't listened to the song. Never heard any of her music, actually, but she's well-regarded.

sorry...the ideological assault.

I was just talking about the description of the song.


"war, imperialism and bad sanitation."


I think another aspect of this is the way industrial societies almost necessarily produce a certain revulsion (maybe not even almost), which I think is not unsound in its origins, in many of the people who benefit from them.

Remember back in the old CT days, when someone said that America exports the unholy trinity of Mickey Mouse, Ronald McDonald, and the Playboy Bunny?

Wasn't that you? In any case, it's a great line.

I've always suspected that the entertainment industry is at least as responsible for a lot of anti-American feeling as foreign policy.

The Golden Arches are surely the worst of it, Maclin. Nick tells me that you drive into one place in the Middle East (Bahrain?) and the very first thing you see are some Golden Arches. His comment? "No wonder they hate us [i.e. Westerners]"

That seems an odd choice for "worst", but I guess you & the UK produce your own trashy entertainment, so we have less of a contribution to make there. :-)

The Canadian friend of mine who helped me settle in here (in South Bend) has been taking a holiday in Jerusalem. I remember her telling when she was here that she hates seeing the Golden Arches whereever she goes round the world. True enough, there it was, in the centre of Jerusalem, advertising Kosher Burgers

I saw a rather old Macdonald's in New Orleans last weekend, one of those that had actual big arches as part of the structure, not just a logo or something affixed to a sign. Like this one. And I had a sort of those-were-better-times moment, but quickly snapped out of it.

That's not an old one, Maclin, that's a new one. They are re-building them like that.


Okay, call me a knuckle-dragging dope, but why is it that McDonald’s is so popular all over the world? Could it be that the food is actually pretty good as well as reasonably priced? And isn’t it by and large the radical types who decry, and resent, any and all western influence?

I think that one actually is old, unless they are also rebuilding the prices at 1960 levels. The one I saw in NO is probably actually old, too, as it looked pretty dilapidated and is in a pretty dilapidated part of town.

Oh. Silly me. Long day.


I don't know, Marianne, that's sort of hard to answer. I think it drives some people crazy in the same way that American entertainment does: it's very appealing in a fairly quick and strong way, but not very good for you, and it tends to drive out the better stuff. In one way the food is pretty good, in another way not: it's got a lot of superficial appeal but if you eat very much of it you quickly find yourself sick of it, or at least I have, when I've eaten fast food several days in a row. And the whole slick merchandising thing just naturally gets some people riled (me), especially when it's successful.

I am by no means denouncing burgers and fries, though. I love 'em. Personally, I like some of the other burger chains better than Mcdonalds (I never can remember whether it's Mc or Mac). I had not had a burger and fries for many months until one day a couple of months ago when a co-worker was going to Wendy's and asked if I wanted something. I usually bring my lunch but hadn't that day, so I said yes, and mmmmmm it was delicious.

Apparently, it’s not all hamburgers all the time at McDonald’s around the world. For example, in Egypt, they sell the McArabia (chicken or beef patties wrapped in pita bread and served with tahini sauce) and in Norway, the McLaks (grilled salmon and dill sandwich). (Found at Hey, that salmon sandwich sounds downright healthy!

I promise I own no McDonald’s stock :-)

What is it about fast food that makes it simultaneously filling but unsatisfying? Why do you still feel hungry after a Big Mac, fries and a Coke? My 15 y.o. proto-chemist nephew tells me it's because it's loaded up with HFCS, which causes your hunger switch to stay on even when you're full.

I can't say it works that way for me. It tends to make me feel sort of greasily overstuffed. But there is something that makes it pretty appealing. Though I guess it must not be as appealing to me as it is to some people because I don't find it that hard to resist.

I don't know about HFCS but salt, fat, and carbohydrates do a lot for me.

Re the regional fare, Marianne: you used to live in the U.S., right, so you know about barbecued pork ribs? McDonald's has this thing called a McRib, which is meat (pork, I guess) somehow ground up and pressed into a rib-like shape. And covered with what's probably a very sugary sauce. It sounds pretty disgusting though I suppose I might be surprised if I tasted one. So I wonder what they do to that salmon...

Haven't had a McRib in several years, but I recall it tasting like bologna or a pork hot-dog in a sweet, bland BBQ sauce. Not awful, just terribly ho-hum. Like much fast food, it looks far better than it tastes.

I dislike MacDonalds, but I'm not sure how much blame they can reasonably be assigned for their success. Their international franchises would not be built if people there did not eat their food.

Personally, my favourite fast food is from A&W. (Full disclosure: twenty years ago I worked for A&W to make spending money.) I like to order the "Papa Burger" with cheese, no mayo, and with chopped onions substituted for the sliced onion. It is so delicious. Then I like to order fries sprinkled with the onion ring seasoning salt, and eat them dipped in Thousand Island salad dressing. With root beer to drink, obviously.

I like A&W, but with all of my customizations they tend not to like me.

Do you think they serve McPuffy Penguin Omelets in AntarCtica?


Janet, I am pretty sure that McDonald's has not reached Antarctica. If they ever do, I've little doubt that something very much along those lines will be on the menu. I can see it now: McPemmican, McPuffy Penguin Omelettes, and hot cocoa, all served cold.

If, that is, one can serve hot cocoa cold. Therein lies the challenge that has kept them out of the market so far.

Couldn't they just serve melted penguin fat?


That's what they cook the fries in.

Isn't it interesting, and a little sad, how Mac's thoughtful post has devolved to this point?

Well, I was thinking that earlier, however, experience tells me that this is only what could be expected.


I'm not complaining. I've been thinking of inaugurating a regular "We're Doomed" feature, and lightness will be needed.

That A&W thing sounds great. However, I would hesitate to attempt to get A&W or any personnel to prepare an order as customized as that. They tend to resent it and there are persistent rumors of revenge. I think or hope Canada is more civilized.

"We're Doomed" feature--Don't you think that would be a little too cheery?


I remember reading somewhere that one way to judge fast food burgers is to order one from various places with nothing on it. The idea was that if the meat and bread were good, and the burger was cooked well, it would taste good even plain. I tried this with Wendy's, McDonald's, and Burger King. None of them was good, in the sense that a homemade burger off the charcoal grill is good, but the best of the three was BK, followed by Wendy's then McD. In the latter two the meat tasted remarkably bland, which make me think that what makes their burgers "good" is all the rest of the stuff that's put on them. The only advantage the BK burger had was the fact that it was fire-grilled. The beef itself is still pretty tasteless.

I don't eat burgers all that often, but my fave from a (non-fast) national outfit is from "Chili's."

There's a place in Gulf Shores (near the beach, an hour or so from here) called Lulu's, which is run by Jimmy Buffet's sister (whose name is not Lulu). They claim to have the best hamburger in the world and on the basis of one experience I think it's a viable claim.

Speaking of McDonald's

Rob G, I've actually done the opposite experiment at A&W: I ordered a hamburger with all the usual fixings but without any meat. It tasted pretty much the same. I used to make this "meatless burger" for myself when I worked there because it would only cost about $0.30.

That seems an odd choice for "worst"

Yeah, sure! But the Arches are just so "in your face" and that's what I mean. It's a cognitive dissonance thing. If I go to Bahrain, I don't really expect to be greeted first off with MacDonalds. I do occasionally eat their food, but I wouldn't want it if it weren't there. It's the capitalism that MacDonalds represents which is unpalatable really. I mean, if one has enough money one can deface any part of the landscape with gaudy crap. :)

Although, Playboy Bunnies (ie P*rn) are increasingly more so.

Although, Although, Playboy Bunnies (ie P*rn) are increasingly more so.

I meant, Playboy Bunnies (ie P*rn) are increasingly more "in your face."

I lived in the U.S. most of my life and have been in New Zealand only the last three years, so, yeah, Maclin, I know all about ribs, even McRibs. Can’t say I’m a fan of either.

I am surprised at just how popular McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC, Domino's, etc., are here in NZ. And with just about everyone. Of course, maybe it’s because this fast food is better than the traditional Kiwi fast food -- meat pies, the most favored of which are made with mutton. They must have at least three times the saturated fat of the food produced by the U.S. fast food chains.

I was thinking it was since this blog has been here that you moved to NZ. I take it you were not too much affected by the earthquake?

I'm really wanting some ribs now. Mutton pie sounds pretty good, too.

Mutton -- ugh. I once smelled a mutton stew cooking, and it was quite unpleasant. Then I read that Lizzie Borden and her family had mutton soup for breakfast on the morning of her killing rampage, and, well, that did it for me.

I’m in Dunedin, which is about 230 miles south of Christchurch, and felt only some rolling and shaking during the earthquake on Tuesday. It’s pretty awful up in Christchurch, and so many deaths.

My only experience with mutton was many years ago, when my grandmother, of Scots descent, gave me a recipe for a drawing salve: one part pine tar, one part beeswax, and one part mutton tallow, rendered from sheep fat.
I found the ingredients, and rendered the sheep fat, which meant boiling down raw fat. It stunk to high heaven, but I am happy to report that the salve was almost magical...

There's nothing like a good meat pie, and mutton are the best of them.

To pick up on a topic mentioned earlier in this thread: I heard P.J. Harvey's Let England Shake on the weekend. The circumstances were such that I could not listen very attentively to the words, but the music was pretty terrific.

There did seem to be a political angle to some of the songs -- I even heard the two least poetic words in the world ("United Nations") in one song -- and there was a fair bit of blood and some arms and legs in the trees. But I couldn't say more until hearing it again. Which I hope to do.

I've never heard any of her music, but I know she's been a big critical favorite for a long time. I'll be interested in hearing what you think.

There were some great albums in the '60s that had a real affection for traditional Englishness--some of the Kinks' stuff, for instance. By the mid-70s it was the Sex Pistols pouring out their rage.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)