Friday 15 Oct 2021 | 00:15 | SYDNEY
Friday 15 Oct 2021 | 00:15 | SYDNEY

Don't dismiss Abbott Anglosphere


Michael Wesley


12 August 2010 09:52

Sam's post about Tony Abbott's use of the term 'Anglosphere' is right to link the term with a conservative cast of mind, but I'm not sure his categories of 'cultural' and 'civic' conservatism quite capture the significance of the Anglosphere concept.

Rather, I think Abbott's (and other conservatives') use of the term stems from a belief, captured by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, that 'the central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society.'

Anglospherists from Teddy Roosevelt and the Clivedon Set to James Bennett and Walter Russell Mead all agree on a simple claim: that the commonalities between English-speaking societies stem from common cultural roots. These cultural roots also explain their successes in political, social and economic organisation: secularism, the rule of law, free markets, democracy, entrepreneurialism, and so on.

John Howard was an Anglospherist even though, to my knowledge, he never used the term. If you read what he said about the US and the UK, you can see what cultural continuities meant to his worldview. On the other hand, cultural differences between Australia and its Asian neighbours would never be surmounted (as Gareth Evans argued they would be, through globalisation). But for Howard, cultural difference was no barrier to pragmatic collaboration or value-free exchange. In this sense, Abbott is firmly in the Howard mold.

What critics of the Anglosphere ignore is its real and enduring effects on world politics.

How else can one explain the intimacy and endurance of the UKUSA intelligence partnership, a relationship more than 60 years old in which countries share intelligence at a level never seen before or since' How else can one explain the extraordinary seamlessness with which political judgements, trends and policy reforms flow between the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand' How else can one explain the extraordinary parallels in strategic judgements arrived at by these countries with such different geolocations and power levels' How else can you explain the only peaceful great power transition in history, from the UK to the US'

Three things of interest should be noted about Abbott's use of the term. First, there is an interesting parallel between Abbott and his opponent here – Gillard has also prominently referred to the importance of the UK to Australia in her remarks on foreign policy.

Second, the pain of Iraq and then the GFC have taken quite a bit of shine off the Anglosphere's claim to a superior way – one wonders whether close collaboration will survive the biggest crisis in Anglos' sense of self-confidence in 300 years.

And finally, let's hope the Anglosphere's ability to transmit policy ideas is not yet degraded, because both sides of politics in Australia and America could learn much from the new British and Kiwi governments about politically tough but much needed economic reform.

Photo by Flickr user emdot, used under a Creative Commons license.