Guest Notes

Cultural notes

11 July 2020

9:00 AM

11 July 2020

9:00 AM

My answer to China? The Anglosphere.

‘Enough buying from China! Why do we need their stuff? It’s s—t quality anyway. Why can’t we make this stuff in Australia?’

A question – and a complaint – now reverberating around the country, no doubt. It was intoned by a fellow who was a dinner guest of my (one-day-to-be) in-laws at a dinner party in Melbourne the other night. (I assure Our Rulers that it was a modest gathering and impeccably aligned with Covid-19 social regulations.)

Now, I happen to live in outback Queensland at the moment, where I edit and manage a small newspaper. But my partner, enjoying the conversation so much and flush with the abundance of intellectual back-and-forth (as well as, perhaps, the Bacchic potations that give such conversations their special enthusiasm) decided to get me on the telephone to join in.

I won’t here elaborate on the contents of this symposium – or as Bertie Wooster would call it: this ‘feast of reason and flow of soul’ – but, in brief, the whole thing circled around the question of how best to combat and/or separate ourselves from the pernicious influence of the Chinese Communist Party.

It’s a good question and one that can’t be answered hastily. As with all matters of statecraft, and particularly for those of a modestly sized country like Australia, prudence is the key. We can’t go swinging our weight around like we’re President Trump’s pendulous gut. Ever since 2016 there has been a certain slightly dotty set that would like to emulate the ‘America First’ tradition in American politics: ‘Australia First!’ they cry. Now, I don’t think this is a particularly good idea for America let alone for Australia. But at least with America it’s a plausible idea with a plausible history. They’ve got a big population, a whacking great big economy and a military that’s simply indecent in scale. Our population isn’t even a tenth of the United States’, and our economy, though successful, doesn’t even make us a middle power. (Had Australia actually let immigration rip throughout the 20th century, which was a possible course of action at the end of the 19th, we might now be a big enough country to chant ‘Australia First!’ – an irony probably lost on those enthusiastic immigration-suppressors most likely to deploy the slogan today.)

A brief recap for those who haven’t been paying attention. Australia has always been an outpost of the English-speaking civilisation. First we were an extension of the British Empire and protected by its navy. Then, during the second world war, when it became apparent that the United States would eclipse Britain and more or less take over administration of its overseas territories, it became necessary for us to reposition ourselves under the benevolent military umbrella of Uncle Sam. This wasn’t inevitable. The Americans were reluctant at first. But much fine work was done by Dick Casey (later governor-general) as a diplomat in Washington to bring the Roosevelt administration over to the view that Australia was worth protecting. Australia is helpful to America, but America is necessary to Australia’s survival.

So if we can’t go in for narrow nationalism – and it’s certainly not in our interests for America to become narrowly nationalistic – what should we be doing to separate ourselves from the communists in Beijing?

I say we should be doubling down on the notion of the ‘Anglosphere’ – that unique civilisation that encompasses the English-speaking peoples and their attendant cultural-politico-legal institutions. Liberal traditions, the rule of law, democracy, counterpoised governmental institutions – all that sort of stuff. I’m not sure whether he coined the term, but James C. Bennett, an American technologist and political theorist, has been its most enthusiastic champion.

China, with its massive economy and population, becomes a lot less threatening when you pit it against all of the countries that could plausibly make up the Anglosphere: the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand – not to mention that tiny little chap called ‘India’. Conceived of as a civilisation, the Anglosphere may be thought of as concentric circles: with an inner core of traditionally anglophone countries occupying the centre and then spreading out into secondary and tertiary rings as countries get further away from our values and interests. While India may now be in the second ring, the key aim of diplomacy and foreign policy would be to bring it into the centre. And other obvious countries – those in Europe; Japan; Taiwan; Singapore; Israel, etc., – would occupy various positions relative to the centre. But the goal would always be to bring them closer in, culturally, economically, and politically – while making explicit who is outside the realm of our civilisation altogether: China, obviously, but countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia, too.

This is not a novel thought. Churchill had similar ideas of joining Britain and the USA and many have mooted the idea since. And in many respects the implicit assumptions of the Anglosphere are already incorporated into diplomacy, trade and foreign policy.

But if, as political scientists keep assuring us, we are all ‘tribal’, then the question becomes: How do we most profitably define our tribe?

We know China is an enemy. Increasingly, leaders in the United States (particularly Mike Pompeo), Britain (note Boris Johnson’s U-turn on the Huawei decision) and Australia (Mr Morrison’s pushing for an investigation into Covid’s origins in China, despite harsh trade retaliations from the communists) are acting as if they realise this, too.

The Chinese Communist Party is a political mafia. They’re totalitarians, they’re gangsters, they’re racists, they’re ethnic cleansers, they’re cheap thugs, they’re misogynists. What are we?

Rhetorically, culturally, politically, economically: we need to be clear what our tribe is. Our tribe – our civilisation – and the most important for the 21st century, is the Anglosphere.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Edward Cranswick is the Editor of The Barcoo Independent. He tweets at @edwardthecran.

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