Special Relationship’s Specialness: Why Britain (England) *Could* Do Fine after Brexit

Brexit negotiators,the UK’s David Davis, and the EU’s Michel Barnier, in Brussels. Photo: Video grab from YouTube

A post-Brexit Britain (England) could fare decently on its own since it remains armed with the Anglo-Saxon principles in government, and everything else.

 

In my rather scathing article, “Brexiting Britain’s Special Relationship with the US: Not So Special Anymore,” I argued that by deciding to quit the European Union, the UK has downgraded itself, reducing its own international importance, and has therefore hurt its much prized “special relationship” with the United States.

With Britain no longer one of the top three (or top two) EU member states (despite its numerous EU privileges, opt-outs, and more intra-EU sway than it deserved), its worth in America’s eyes is bound to diminish.

Yet, even as the UK–US “special relationship” may not be so special anymore, Britain will probably do alright on its own.

(Or England—it remains to be seen how many parts of the United Kingdom will still stick around a few years from now.)

That’s because of the real reason behind the “specialness” of the special relationship not just between Britain and the United States of America, but also between Britain and any of its other former settler colonies – Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and, by extension, even Ireland and South Africa.

The reason in question is the Anglo-Saxon culture and heritage and the Anglo-Saxon ways of seeing the world and doing things.

So, while Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is the wrong one as far as the UK is concerned (not so much for the rest of the EU) for reasons I already discussed, Britain (England) could fare decently on its own since it remains armed with the Anglo-Saxon principles in government, economy, society, trade, and international relations.

It is those principles that have made it and the other Anglo-Saxon states, for the most part, the most successful countries in the world in the last 200 years or so.

Anglo-Saxonism

The UK, or whatever might be left of it, will never be as important internationally as when it was one of the top three EU members, but it will probably still keep a decent economy and international standing because of its Anglo-Saxonism (or Anglo-Saxonness, if that’s even a word).

By “Anglo-Saxonism” I refer to the overarching culture in government, diplomacy, military affairs, social organization, and the economy – a wider meaning than just the “Anglo-Saxon model” or “Anglo-Saxon capitalism.”

In this sense, Anglo-Saxonism does not refer to ethnicity but rather to culture and cultural principles: only a minority of the US population is of Anglo-Saxon origin, but the United States is the epitome of the highly successful Anglo-Saxon culture. The same is more or less true of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and even Ireland and South Africa.

A piece of anecdotal evidence about the “specialness” of the “special relationships” within Anglo-Saxonism is epitomized in the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing pact of the US, the UK, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand.

These Western Anglo-Saxon countries are also allies with other Western nations such as Germany, France, the Netherlands, etc., but they still spy on them. The only ones they don’t spy on are each other.

Being a more specific brand of Max Weber’s “Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism,” it is the principles of Anglo-Saxonism coupled with a favorable geography keeping away extremely dangerous adversaries that have made the UK, the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand so successful over the recent centuries.

Both geography and the Anglo-Saxon principles remain in place in Britain regardless of Brexit, so the logical conclusion is that it will continue to perform decently after quitting the European Union, despite losing a great deal of economic opportunities and international influence.

It is this specialness of Anglo-Saxonism that is the real foundation for a special relationship among the countries with an Anglo-Saxon heritage, not the political declarations of the respective British prime minister and American president.

Think about it. The Americans take pride in their nation’s revolution and exciting history (which is about as exciting as everybody else’s on this planet despite anti-American propaganda around the world claiming that “America has no history”).

But where would the Americans be today without their Anglo-Saxon heritage, the Englishness and then Britishness of the 13 colonies?

Just compare their fate with that of the former colonies of France, Spain, and Portugal in the “New World.”

(Such a comparison indicates success is not just a matter of geopolitics and favorable geography – the French in North America had even more favorable geography than the English [British] did at the beginning.)

The “Specialness”

Time and again it has been evident that the “special relationship” of the Anglo-Saxon powers has been lodged with the specialness of Anglo-Saxon principles by themselves, rather than with concrete political arrangements or anything else.

It is because of this specialness that Great Britain (from the time of the British Empire) and the United States of America appear to have been the only great powers in modern human history (if not in all of human history) that could do it all on an unprecedented scale—fight, maneuver, trade, innovate, develop, grow, and evolve.

In terms of a combination of scope, efficiency, and quality of life, nobody has achieved what these two have – not the Romans, the Persians, the Arabs, the Germans, the Russians, the Ottomans, the Chinese, the Japanese, the French, the Spanish, or the Portuguese – to name but a few of the other great imperial nations out there.

And nobody else has come up with the notions of Modernity (based on Classical Age ideas, but taken much further) in their most humane forms in terms of civil society, human rights, democracy, and the value of the middle class.

Anglo-Saxonism has been the first to proclaim the invaluableness of “life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness,” to merge John Locke and Thomas Jefferson into one quote because they stand for the same thing.

Sure, Britain and America, the Anglo-Saxon empires, have committed countless atrocities around the world. But what Empire hasn’t?! At least these two have had the decency of evolving, with moral principles eventually kicking in, creating norms for themselves, more or less following them, and then influencing everyone else to do so as well.

Both of those had slavery, but they also grew to realize it was inhumane, fought internally and repealed it, and got everybody else to do it, too.

Who else did that? Continental Eurasia, the pre-modern African kingdoms, the pre-Columbian empires, the Ottomans, the East Indies?

Who else would have done it hadn’t it been for the Brits and the Americans? The French? Ah, the French. Sure, but they were late, even with the French Revolution (which, in all fairness, did abolish slavery for a while, and which was so beloved in the former communist bloc because of its utterly mistaken Leninist interpretations).

Except the French Revolution happened only in 1789, a full 145 years after the Puritan Revolution in England (English King Charles I was executed 144 years before French King Louis XVI), 101 years after the Glorious Revolution in England, and 13 years after the American Revolution.

While it may have taken things further in terms of declared ideals, the French Revolution was to a great extent based on the Anglo-Saxon revolutions which preceded it.

There were others that early on had basically the same kind of values and principles as the Anglo-Saxon British and Americans – for example, the Low Countries, i.e. the Dutch.

However, the Dutch were devoid of scale, and their geography always left them exposed to massive attacks by outside powers preying upon their economic success. (The Dutch still “did well” in terms of overseas imperial conquest, though.)

This is not a nice thing to admit, but as far as imperial oppressors go, Anglo-Saxon dominance might have even had some advantages. Just ask any nation that has been crushed by some of the Eastern empires throughout its history.

In Bulgaria, for example, there are some sayings such as “We weren’t lucky with our oppressors, among other things!” or “Others at least got to learn a [useful] foreign language from their oppressors!” Perspective is everything, right?

Magna Carta

What’s even more important is that neither the French, nor the Dutch, nor anybody else had the Magna Carta Libertatum, the Great Charter of the Liberties, signed on the battlefield at Runnymede in 1215, which saw the seeds of limiting the power of the monarchy for the sake of the rights of feudal lords, people, and towns.

Over the course of several centuries, those principles gave birth to liberal democracy, with its checks and balances.

Of course, at the time there was no guarantee whatsoever that for centuries to come the Magna Carta would end up being interpreted as it has been, and influencing English, British, and global history the way it has. But it has, and those truly unique principles of limiting supreme authority and introducing checks and balances didn’t emerge so significantly anywhere else.

In my native Bulgaria, we take pride in our medieval history, and with good reason (of course, the world barely knows about it because since then we let ourselves be trampled upon by the Ottomans for 500 years, and by the Soviet communists for another 50 years).

But in 1235, 20 years after the Magna Carta, one of the greatest rulers of the medieval Bulgarian Empire, Tsar Ivan Asen II (r. 1218–1241), after defeating a contender to restore Byzantium’s glory, had a stone column made with an inscription styling himself “autocrat” of the Bulgarians, and, by extension, of Greeks, Serbs, and Albanians.

The overwhelming majority of great powers and other countries in the Middle Ages and even late into the Modern Age were like that: autocracy reigning supreme.

The Anglo-Saxon tradition of limiting the powers of the monarch on the basis of written law was unique, and while other similar examples from other states also exist, this is the one that has prevailed and has had a truly global impact.

Post-Brexit Britain: Simply a More Populous New Zealand

After Brexit, a non-EU, downshifting Britain, or England (as Scotland, Northern Ireland, and even Wales might be considering splitting off), will most probably be downgraded in terms of great power status.

But whatever is left of the UK will likely continue to perform well in economic and social terms precisely because of its Anglo-Saxon specialness.

It is those principles of the common Anglo-Saxon heritage, and not political declarations or formalized alliances, that have made up the essence of any “special relationships” among the UK, the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

So, in case you are still wondering what a post-Brexit Britain will be like, taking into account Anglo-Saxonism and geography, the answer is:

a more populous New Zealand.

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*Note: An earlier version of this article appeared on intelligencer post . com.

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