I am not often in disagreement with Dr. Sean Gabb. We can certainly agree that the American empire, which grew up in the decades following the Second World War, has had many detrimental effects on Western Civilization and on the world at large. What benefits it did bring with it came decades ago and dried up with the end of the Cold War. All the same, I do not share Sean’s ambivalence toward the future of American society. To paraphrase his opinion as I understand it: Let befall America whatever may, just so long as it ceases to be a nuisance to Britain.
Now, I doubt the fact of my not sharing his sentiment would surprise anyone, considering that I am, myself, an American. It is therefore only natural that I would have a vested and personal interest in the future of my country. Less obvious, perhaps, is that in my view the people of the United States and of the United Kingdom have a much deeper vested interest in the future of one another’s country than comes through in Sean’s essay. If the character of my country is allowed to be changed in the manner that president Obama, secretary Clinton, and a host of other establishmentarians have in mind, it will be to the great detriment not only of my country, but of those of our cousins on the other side of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
I understand perfectly well that many Brits, and indeed many peoples across the world for that matter, have grown tired of Washington’s constant meddling in their affairs. Americans are no less tired of it. Certainly the ruling classes of my country have unleashed great mischief upon the world over the last 70 years or so. You’ll hear no objections from me on that account. However, it should not be forgotten that the United States occupies the station it does owing only in small part to its own efforts. As I have written elsewhere, America became an empire by default. The United States filled a void that was left in the immediate aftermath of two massively destructive wars. Wars which, for all the ruling classes may have benefited from it, the United States did not start.
I will refrain from examining the causes of those wars here. Much on that has been written elsewhere by writers who are far more informed on those matters than I. Instead, I will only point out that regardless of the wisdom of policies which contributed to set the stage for war and whatever the intentions of the parties involved, war did come. The United Kingdom was put up against a wall on two separate occasions and, both times, even if only belatedly (and who can blame us on that account?) the United States came to the aid of its mother country. Did the elite, which led us in, carry with it its own ulterior motives? Absolutely. The effects of those motives are plainly visible today, and it is therefore understandable that Sean chose to write in the tone he did when he said the following:
I regret – indeed, I am outraged – that our relationship with America reverses the normal standing of mother country to former colony. Whatever happens in America has a direct and profound impact on what happens in England.
True enough. While American intervention undeniably carried with it the negative effects which impel Sean and many others to anger, Americans arrived in answer to a call for aid. Your elite got you into that mess. Our elite took advantage. But aid did come, even if not in the most agreeable form, and the fact that it did is owning to the attachment of the American people to the people of Britain.
I do apologize for the vampire that accompanied us to your shores, but let’s not forget that it was by invitation that Washington arrived in Dover. I do not pretend that Britain thereby avoided occupation. It did not. It did, however, exchange a probable occupation by a relatively more alien culture, for that of a more familiar one. The subsequent American hegemony over the UK introduced no alien institutions. It introduced no foreign ideologies or laws unfamiliar to and incompatible with its own constitution of which I am aware, or which were not already welcomed and embraced with open arms by the British intellectual and political elite, themselves. This is owing entirely to the fact that the United Kingdom is indeed our mother country.
Our constitution, our legal system, our language, many of our values, and many of our traditions we acquired from Britain. In many ways, our excesses and our vices are yours. Our east coast establishment is an Anglo-Saxon one. Their puritanism and their moral crusades have their ancillaries, past and present, in Britain. Indeed, they have their roots there. They are by no means a uniquely American phenomenon, nor will they whither away in Britain with the waning of American political dominance.
The ability of American and British societies to influence one another in terms of culture and politics stretches back much further than 1941-1945. To cite just one example, in the aftermath of the American Civil War, Lord Acton wrote to Gen. Robert E. Lee the following words:
The institutions of your Republic have not exercised on the old world the salutary and liberating influence which out to have belonged to them, by reason of those defects and abuses of principle which the Confederate Constitution was expressly and wisely calculated to remedy. I believed that the example of that great Reform would have blessed all the peoples of the world by establishing true freedom purged of the native dangers and disorders of Republics. Therefore I deemed that you were fighting the battles of our liberty, our progress, and our civilization; and I mourn for the stake which was lost at Richmond more deeply than I rejoice over that which was saved at Waterloo.
I have read elsewhere on the Libertarian Alliance Blog, although I cannot find the comment now, that what I have just written above is no longer true. That owing to 19th century immigration, America has taken on a rather more German than British character. That is nonsense. The German and American mentalities are more dissimilar. I don’t consider the Germans alien by any means, but I don’t find any more commonality with them than I do with the Poles or the French or any other Continental European nation. And I am, ethnically speaking, more German than English. But the Germans in America didn’t retain much of their German-ness, insofar as I can tell. Not nearly to the extent that the Italians or even the Irish retained their separate identities, and certainly nothing at all in comparison to the way more recent immigrants have retained their cultures and languages.
I’ll provide just one example to demonstrate my point. In high school I took two years of a German language class. On the first day, the instructor asked each student why he or she chose to learn German rather than the French or Spanish that were also offered. Nearly everyone replied that he or she had German roots and no or very little connection with the other two (though, had it not been mandatory to study a foreign language, I think we would all have been quite satisfied with English). In this class, we occasionally watched German films with subtitles. I still recall the baffled looks on our faces when watching some of those. We had quite a good time after class making fun of those films, sometimes even years later. Language barrier aside, there was something odd to us about the Germans. And yet at the same time, we were all fans of Monty Python, Sherlock Holmes, Doctor Who, etc. We all watched British films or TV shows. Everyone was capable of naming any number of British musical groups, but none of us could name anything German besides Rammstein, sour-kraut, and lederhosen. There is still to this day a very strong cultural bond between our peoples.
When I was a student in Russia, I was very glad for the Australian and English friends that I had there. There were other students from other European countries as well, and every one of them spoke English fluently. We were all on friendly terms with one another, but we American, Australian, and English students were a group unto ourselves. When I am speaking with someone from Canada, the UK, Australia, Ireland, and, I would hazard to guess even though I’ve never met anyone from there, New Zealand – I do not really feel as though I’m speaking with someone from a foreign nation. I feel no more removed in terms of culture, language, or mentality from someone living in London, Ottawa, or Canberra than I, a Clevelander, feel removed from someone living in Boston or Seattle.
Our peoples are inextricably linked – linguistically, culturally, and historically. It is not by accident that American conservatives and libertarians have drawn inspiration from the recent Brexit referendum. Nor is it owing to the American establishment’s hegemony in the UK that British conservatives and libertarians take inspiration from the American New Right, or from the presidential run of Ron Paul in 2008 and 2012. I imagine the American establishment would rather have prevented these particular cultural exchanges, had they been able.
Yes, our elite has a malign influence on your country. It has a malign influence on ours, as well. But your elite is no better, and Washington’s hegemony makes no difference there. This has been the age of neo-liberalism, itself an intellectual reverberation of the Second World War and the failures of communism and fascism. It makes no difference whether the capital of that daemonic renaissance is Washington or London. You gave us Fabians and we gave you Neocons. At the same time, you gave us Enoch Powell, and we gave you Ron Paul. This exchange can be traced right back to Plymouth Rock.
With a large part of Sean’s essay, I am in agreement. Really it is only in a few places that I must disagree, but I think those points to be significant enough to warrant full discussion. Below is another such point:
I am told that she [Hillary Clinton] will open the gates to unlimited immigration. If true, this is a mostly American problem in which I take no interest. Where it is not a purely American problem, I see benefits to England. Every immigrant who turns up in America does not, by definition, turn up here. More importantly, immigration weakens the New World Order.
I won’t venture to criticize the opinion that immigration to the US will relieve the UK of the burden of accepting more immigrants, as that argument has been taken up elsewhere in the comments to his essay. Furthermore, although I may be mistaken, I do not believe that this remark represents Sean’s actual considered opinion. I take this remark to be the rhetorical equivalent of pouring a bit of salt in America’s wound. An expression of schadenfreude vented from a long-held resentment over the fact that a foreign nation has lorded too much control over the destiny of his own country. I can appreciate that and would expect no less of a patriot.
However, I will emphasize that I believe it an error to assume that mass immigration to the United States will have no impact on the United Kingdom. I take particular issue with the following presumption:
The sorts of immigrant I have in mind are not leftists in the American sense. They have no interest in “saving the planet.” Most of them smoke. They are not visibly in favour of invading Timbuctoo for its failure to let transsexuals use the ladies’ toilet. The more important they grow as a voting group, the less trouble America will make in the world – and this is in the interest of my own people.
Quite the opposite. America has a tendency to draw from the upper as well as from the lower ranks of the societies from which it receives immigrants. The lower classes will be quickly thrown on the dole and will vote as directed. Their children will help to fill up the ranks of our military. The immigrants who hail from the upper echelons of their societies, however, will be still less benign. They will not, after all, be complacent and happy with the institutions and leaderships of the societies they left. The fact of their leaving demonstrates both this and their lack of ability to change the circumstances prevailing in their home countries on their own initiative. With them will come legions of new Aristagorases, Khamid Kharzais, and Ahmed Chalabis.
Did Cuban immigrants make America less bellicose to Castro’s Cuba or more so? Did the Polish, Ashkenazi, and Belorussian immigrants to America make the United States less bellicose toward the Soviet Union or more so? Or how about the Irish immigrants before that? What were the Fenian Raids into Canada if not an early predecessor of the Bay of Pigs a hundred years later? These new immigrants will not prevent, but rather give further impetus to more foreign interventions. They will be the strength, not the weakness, of the New World Order.
It is repeated quite often nowadays that America has become the new Rome. That is not quite accurate. In my opinion it is Britain that deserves that title. It was Britain, not America, that conquered the world in self-defense and gave to the world its laws, language, science, and institutions. On the contrary, if America can be compared to anything, it is rather like the new Byzantium.
More populous, blessed with greater resources and a more advantageous geography, and left intact after the wars which led to the disintegration of its predecessor. Equally in awe of Britain’s former glory, as Constantinople was enamored of Rome’s, the American elite sought to reestablish the empire that was lost and attain for itself an equivalent if not greater glory than that of its parent. It succeeded, as Byzantium, only imperfectly and always ignoring the fact that where once were less civilized peoples wanting of law, or of infrastructure, or of institutions, or of enlightenment, that deficit was already in large part remedied – states having taken the place of tribes. As a result of this willful ignorance, Byzantium made all the wrong enemies, just as Washington has managed to do.
I find it instructive in the present context, to point out that Classical Civilization was finally brought to an end when the Franks, Italians, and other westerners decided that if the Greeks were to be replaced in Anatolia and the Hellespont, that was a Greek problem, and not the concern of westerners. To be fair, the Byzantines were often a thorn in the side of their brethren further west, no less than America has been a thorn in the side of its brethren further east. But they were, in the end, brethren.
It is one of the great tragedies of history that this fact was forgotten or ignored owing to near-term goals, bad blood, and ideological disputes when, after a time, westerners came to ignore the Greeks’ calls for help. Asia Minor was lost to European civilization forever. How many Classical texts, our cultural heritage, were forever lost to us in the destruction which accompanied conquests that followed? Europeans further west may have let out a collective sigh of relief at the time, but ask the peoples of the Balkans if the problem remained a Greek one. Ask the Austrians. The Ottomans made it all the way to Vienna before they were stopped, and this only because the Poles, by contrast, had not forgotten their bonds of connection, nor the duty it implied.
We should not forget that borders which are not drawn by geography will inevitably be drawn by war. If the greater part of North America is allowed to become a banana republic, sooner or later, Britain (if it survives long enough) and other powers will be drawn in, and who can predict the consequences? The decision by medieval western rulers to abandon the East one day, many hundreds of years later, drew them all in and led to the war that brought down their kingdoms and ushered in a century-long cultural decline from which we have not yet reemerged. Our chronically poor relations with Russia can be, at least in part, attributed to our ancestors’ error.
There will be consequences to the Anglo countries in particular, but also to Western Civilization at large if we allow our westernmost borders to be pushed back to the eastern shores of the Atlantic, just as there were and continue to be consequences owing to an analogous error in the past. I am in complete agreement that decentralization is a good thing. Schism, on the other hand, is not. I hope that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past because of our present resentments.
For the first time in a long time, there seems to be a chance that America will retreat from its overseas possessions and become a nation once again. I’ve already written elsewhere on the topic of the fork in the road which my country now faces in that regard. I will here add only that now, as in the past, all roads lead to Rome. It is therefore our common struggle now to ensure that those who shall control the traffic on those roads are no longer the dangerous, self-styled messiahs who have done so for the better part of a particularly grim century, but guardians of the traditional institutions of our common civilization. A victory for one of us is a victory for all of us, and the same goes for defeats.
For my part, I hope that Nigel Farage will not one day need to write a letter to a defeated Donald Trump to say, in echoing Lord Acton, that he “deemed that you were fighting the battles of our liberty, our progress, and our civilization; and I mourn for the stake which was lost in November more deeply than I rejoice over that which was saved by Brexit.” If America is to be irreversibly transformed in accordance with the vision of Clinton or Obama, traditional Britain will soon thereafter be lost forever. That is my opinion.
Our fates are joined.