This short blog seeks to provide a more expansive understanding of the English-speaking world by identifying the complexities – or multiplicities – of the Anglosphere.
The Anglosphere has come to international prominence in the wake of the UK’s departure from the European Union as an influential but ill-defined transnational community bonded by language, culture, media, free-market economics and liberal democracy and ‘civilisational’ heritage. Viewing the Anglosphere through the lens of Euroscepticism and Brexit has rightly encouraged some to argue it is predominantly a conservative variant of English nationalism. This is understandable in that many leading Brexiteer Anglospherists are English, and the historical narratives, values, and institutions they draw on are often informed by a transnational ‘Anglo-Saxonism’. As Mike Kenny and Nick Pearce have persuasively argued, the outward-facing ambitions of this variant of the Anglosphere are founded on a nostalgic Englishness ‘steeped in images of the intrepid, entrepreneurial peoples of a world island, a seafaring nation committed to finding partners and acquiring influence across the globe’
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This noted, the typification of the Anglosphere as English nationalism ‘writ large’ diminishes a pervasive Anglo-Britishness evident both in the multi-national nature of the British Empire and its legacies, and also the Euroscepticism which informed Brexit. The Anglosphere also resonates within transnational expressions of Welsh, Scottish, and Irish nationalism, highlighting their common British imperial experiences, connections, and legacies. For example, the Scottish National Party-led government held ‘Year of Homecoming’ events in 2009 and 2014 appealed to ancestral Scots to ‘come home’ to celebrate their shared culture and heritage. As with the conservative English Anglosphere, attempts to engage with ‘blood Scots’ attracted criticism concerning the colonial origins and racialised framing of Scottish diaspora communities.
The Anglosphere is not, as some have argued, solely a product of right-wing neo-imperial romanticists. It has also been sustained by extensive civil society, political party, and trade union networks which underpin an alternative English-speaking world founded on liberal, socialist, and republican ideals. Indeed, the ‘core’ Anglosphere states appear increasingly divided into two ideological camps. A populist model of the Anglosphere, which appears to dominate in the United States and Australia, is defined by ethicised settler patriotism, militarism, strict Immigration policies, and polarized and volatile politics, media, and public culture. Canada and New Zealand appear more wedded to a liberal model founded on civic settler nationalism which encourages post-colonial reflection and proactive reconciliation, a positive framing of immigration and multiculturalism, and greater political stability. While the UK under the leadership of Boris Johnson appears increasingly to fit into the populist model of the Anglosphere, the impact of the Black Lives Matter movement has also emphasised the resonance of a more liberal variant too.
Moreover, the Anglosphere is not a solely Brexit-inspired concept conceived and then projected transnationally by British advocates. The growing international resonance of the Anglosphere has been strongly influenced by Anglospherists elsewhere in the English-speaking world. As contributors to a new volume on the Anglosphere (edited by Ben Wellings and myself) highlight, diverse formations thus compete with the post-Brexit vision advocated by conservatives in the UK. This reflects considerable diversity in the nature and composition of regional and geo-political relationships amongst the ‘core’ member states. The reality that the UK might be peripheral or overlooked completely in some manifestations of the Anglosphere is conveniently overlooked by Brexiteer advocates. But as the contributions to this conference highlight, the Anglosphere can and does exist without its ‘mother country’.
The question of whether there is a singular Anglosphere or a number of Anglospheres is further complicated by uncertainty as to its composition and purpose. It is noteworthy that some of the keenest Anglospherists now appear to favour the formation federation of the CANZUK states as ‘a vital first step on the way to a fully functioning Anglosphere’. The extent to which this is a display of pragmatism or concerns over the ‘fit’ of the United States under the leadership of Donald Trump is unclear. Other advocates have promoted an alliance of the ‘C-3’ (the UK, Canada, and Australia) as an antidote to ‘authoritarian aggression’ from China, Russia, and the United States. Some even argue the developing Anglosphere concept should be based on a series of bilateral treaties that will provide the foundations for a wider agreement.
It is noteworthy that potential Anglosphere allies such as South Africa, Singapore, or India where English is widely spoken, and Anglo-culture and free market economics dominate, are rarely evoked by advocates. It would appear that post-colonial legacies have compromised a more expansive framing of the English-speaking world. Furthermore, the Commonwealth is often differentiated or excluded, thus leading some to argue the Anglosphere is racialised community of nations based on ‘whiteness’. Such omissions might encourage competitor Anglospheres. For example, it will be interesting to see if Ireland emerges as an alternative representative of the English-speaking world in Europe.
Read another great blog in this series: Selling War and Peace: Syria and the Anglosphere by Jack Holland