Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Political Culture of the Anglosphere

Michael Barone covered the "Five Best" book section this week at WSJ's Weekend Journal. Each week "Five Best" offer capsule reviews of five books within a subject area, and Barone looks at the shared cultural heritage of the United States and Britain.

Here's what he says about James C. Bennett's, The Anglosphere Challenge (2004):

James C. Bennett coined the term "Anglosphere" to describe countries where English is the native language or (as in India) serves as a lingua franca for the well educated. But language is not all that America, Britain, Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and other places have in common. Bennett argues that the peculiar island history of England produced a set of institutions that other advanced nations in Europe and Asia lacked - the common law, respect for private property, continuous representative government, a culture that nurtures civil society and entrepreneurial enterprise. It is thus no accident that the Anglosphere has excelled in innovation and economic growth and, Bennett believes, will continue to do so.

I haven't read the Bennett volume, but my lectures in comparative politics develop the theme of the "cultural requisites for democracy," and the British political experience is held out as a model of gradual, pragmatic political development.

There seems to be a fundamental set of cultural attributes conducive to the consolidation of a democratic regime - attitudes toward authority, conceptual understandings on knowledge and progress (belief systems), feelings of attachment to nation (a sense of belonging), and basic values (religiosity, freedom, equality). When these attributes lean in a postive direction (feelings of national belonging and community rather than alienation), and when a nation resolves its crises of development (establishment of a constitutional order before the onset of mass mobilization) early in the country's history, a more lasting political order is the result. (See Lawrence Mayer, Comparative Politics: Nations and Theories in a Changing World, 3rd Edition, for the full theory.)

The Anglo-American history is the epitome of these processes, and as Barone notes in his remarks on Bennett, "Anglosphere" greatness is likely to continue far into the future.