In this time of revolution, crisis and market upheaval, at least one traditional building block in world politics seems to be emerging stronger than ever.
This is the mysterious and perplexing “Anglosphere”, a group of countries where English is the first language of the majority of the population, political institutions and ideas are based in the ideas of the Glorious Revolution of 1688, and where much if not all of the law is rooted in traditional English (and Scottish) common law.The core countries in the Anglosphere are Britain, Ireland, Canada, the United States and antipodean realms of Australia and New Zealand. These countries are not united in a single formal alliance; they do not coordinate their policy as a bloc; they have no common currency. Some recognize Elizabeth II as their head of state; the US and Ireland fought wars to turf the royals out and if it came down to it we’d both fight another war to keep them from moving back in.This odd and ill-assorted bloc isn’t represented as such in any international institutions; there are no membership cards. The chances are that if you study international relations you won’t spend much time thinking or reading about this group — but historically and in the present day they matter much more than some of the groups the texts dwell on.Ethnically and culturally the English speaking countries grow more diverse over the years yet the common language, common law, common culture — and the internet — seem to hold them together. And stick together they do: there is more real cooperation within the Anglosphere than you’ll find in much more formal international gatherings ranging from ASEAN and UNASUR to the Arab League and the AU.Collectively the Anglosphere countries rule: the world’s best universities, best athletes, best scientists and best known musicians and writers come disproportionately from the English speaking world.There are two mistakes people always make about the Anglosphere: to try to turn it into something and formal, and to think it will disappear. There isn’t going to be an English Speaking Union — but the Anglosphere looks more relevant than ever in the 21st century.If anything, it’s pulling itself together. Some of this we must blame on the Windsors; the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge helped soften Australia’s republican streak and stroked the Canadians into ecstasies of love. (Canada is going to ‘reroyalize’ its armed services; the Canadian Army, Navy and Air Force are going to be the Royal Canadian Army and so forth, the Financial Times reports
.) Elizabeth II’s recent visit to Ireland was an extraordinary success; this may be the first time ever that a British monarch could give the Pope a run for his money in an Irish popularity contest.These days the Anglosphere is more or less in tune politically. Two of the most conservative members, American and Australia, are governed by center-left parties; meanwhile the historically more liberal big members, Canada and Britain, are run by the center-right. There will be spats; there always have been. (Wasn’t there some kind of tea party back in the past?) None of the members want to turn the Anglosphere into something formal and exclusive; nobody even wants regular summits. But more than 400 years after QE1 gave Sir Walter Raleigh permission to start the colonization of North America, the venture she helped to launch remains the most important group of countries in the world.Somewhere, Winston Churchill is smiling.