Friday, June 01, 2007

Let me off the Anglosphere!

I recently came across the writings of political futurist James Bennett. He is an advocate of a new political alignment, which he calls the Anglosphere.

I cannot support his project. I can never be a loyal member of an Anglosphere, and I wish to explain why.

Three states

In one of his articles, James Bennett spells out the three kinds of nation states that might survive into the future. In effect, these three states are right-liberal, left-liberal and traditionalist conservative.

Bennett describes the features of these different states very well. For instance, he accurately describes the right-liberal state as,

The classical-liberal civic state, which seeks to carry out most social functions through voluntary institutions of civil society rather than through the state, seeks to minimize the percentage of GDP devoted to remaining core functions, and in general seeks to maximize the prosperity of its citizens as individuals.

This very ably describes the ideal state of right-wing liberals. Right-liberals ideally want a free market economy and a small state. The state can be kept small because many of the functions of society are carried out by small voluntary associations instead of by a central state.

Bennett describes the left-liberal state as,

The social democratic civic state, which maintains a high tax rate relative to classical-liberal states, intervenes more frequently in its market economy, delivers more elaborate social benefits, and seeks to maximize the economic and social security of its citizens.

Again, this is an intelligent description of the ideal left-liberal state, in which there is a greater emphasis on deliberate intervention by a central welfare state, such as you find in the Scandinavian countries.

Finally, Bennett describes a more traditionalist conservative state as,

The nationalist-conservative or religious civic state, which generates a strong nationalist, religious or ideological narrative and places duty obligations on its citizens, yet maintains a relatively open market economy.

This is perhaps the least tidy description, but it does attempt to describe a state based on what he calls a "positive, self-affirming narrative ... provided by religious, national or ethnic identity."

Which one?

So I agree broadly with the alternatives set out by James Bennett. Which leaves the vital question: which one do we wish to follow?

Bennett gives us a clear answer: he wants the English speaking countries to go with the first, right-liberal option.

Bennett points out, correctly enough, that the English speaking countries have tended to adopt a right-wing form of liberalism, in contrast to the more left-liberal continental European countries.

He therefore wants the English speaking countries to form a kind of right-liberal alliance. This alliance would develop around trade agreements and defence treaties.
The group of English speaking nations would form a "network commonwealth" which Bennett has dubbed the Anglosphere.

Civil society

So what is wrong with a right-liberal Anglosphere? It's important to remember that right-liberals have a particular understanding of a civil society. In Bennett's own words,

A civil society is one that is built of a vast network of networks. These networks start with the individual and the families, community organizations, religious congregations, social organizations, and businesses created by individuals coming together voluntarily. Continuing up through the local, regional, national, and international networks, the tying together of local organizations creates civil societies, which in turn beget civil states.

At first sight, this might seem like a conservative view. Conservatives too believe that a central state should remain small so that the natural institutions of civil society can flourish.

But there's a key difference. Bennett insists that the institutions of civil society be strictly voluntary. It's no accident that he specifies a voluntary arrangement.

All liberals, whether of the left or right, believe that the individual must be created by his own will and reason. This means that the individual must rationally consent to membership of any social grouping. That's why liberals so much like the idea of individuals making a contract or covenant to form social groups. It's also why liberals contrast a "good" voluntary organisation to a "bad" one which is inherited or otherwise unchosen by the individual.

Listen, for instance, to Bennett describe one of the "successes" of modern civil society,

One of the quiet success stories of strong civil societies, particularly the United States, has been the manner in which the compulsory family and religious affiliations from the Old World were transformed in the New World into voluntary associations of civil society, and the immigrants themselves changed from members of traditional societies into self-actualized individuals.

This is one of those pure expressions of liberal belief. According to Bennett we become a "self-actualized" (self-created) individual only when we leave behind a traditional society with its "compulsory" (unchosen) affiliations in favour of purely voluntary forms of social organisation and identity.

Not surprisingly Bennett also praises the early settlers of America for their support of individual contract and covenant as a basis of social organisation. He writes,

In fact, Anglo-America was a particularly strong civil society from the start, especially in New England and Pennsylvania, where Puritans and Quakers, both of whom were strongly dedicated to the fundamentals of civil society, brought particularly robust institutions. Above all, they elevated the sanctity of contract and covenant to central places in their moral universe, a critical advantage in fostering civil society.

So Bennett takes very seriously the idea that social organisations are to be built around the voluntarily contracting individual. Hence his insistence on the following:

It is important to make clear that at the root of civil society is the individual. People who define themselves primarily as members of collective entities, be they families, religions, racial or ethnic groups, political movements, or corporations, cannot form the basis of a civil society.

In a true civil society, individuals must be free to dissociate themselves from such collectives without prejudice and reaffiliate with others. Societies that permanently bind individuals under the discipline of inherited or assigned collectives remain bogged down in ethnic, racial or religious factionalism ...

It is likewise important to make clear that a family in a civil society is a voluntary association.


Perhaps the problem with Bennett's vision of civil society is now clearer. For Bennett even the family is only allowed to exist as a "voluntary association".

What's important for Bennett is that there are no necessary or natural allegiances binding us in particular ways to certain groups of people.

Yet we are bound in a natural way to our own families. Ties of kinship are strong, and ought to be encouraged to help preserve a stable family life.

Again, in Bennett's view there is a problem with ethnic allegiances, since these are inherited or "assigned" rather than purely voluntary (self-chosen).

Bennett, it is true, does not wish to forbid individuals from associating with an ethnic collective. But this is to be a private matter, a kind of personal choice or preference. The state is to only recognise the individual.

This effectively rules out the survival of an existing ethnic identity. It means that the state can't consider ethnicity in determining its immigration policy. And so you reach the point at which ethnic mixing occurs and the original strength of an existing ethnic identity begins to weaken.

Not that Bennett is too fussed by this. He believes that right-liberal societies can prosper and triumph by reducing impediments to foreign immigration, thereby attracting the best and brightest from around the world.

He claims, for instance, that America has powered ahead of Germany because America was more willing to recruit South Asian computer programmers and that Japan will miss out on the "next stages of the scientific-technological revolution" because its restrictions on foreign immigrants are too "rigid".

So Bennett can be described as nothing less than an immigration enthusiast.

A high cost

The cost of James Bennett's Anglosphere is very high. You get the promise of a technologically dynamic society. But you are only allowed to maintain voluntary associations.

This rules out a stable family life, at least for a great many people. It also rules out the survival of existing ethnic groups, including the Anglos themselves.

I don't want to be part of such an Anglosphere. I believe that our task is not to extend right-liberalism internationally, but to oppose it and drive it back within our own countries.

To do so, conservatives need to carefully distinguish our own view of civil society, in which human associations are allowed to grow naturally, "organically" and deeply, from the right-liberal one, in which only voluntary associations made by covenanting individuals are permitted.

(First published at Conservative Central, 09/04/2005)

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