As Suez proved, the idea of a cultural affinity between Britain and the US is meaningless. Britain should be America's criticby Owen Harries / April 20, 2001 / Leave a comment
During recent months, many people have been looking back to the beginning of the 20th century to find parallels with our present circumstances. The position of Britain then-both with respect to its dominance and the first signs of its decline-has been compared to that of the US today; the significance of the rise of Germany then has been compared to the anticipated emergence of China as a genuine world power. And Norman Angell’s belief-expressed on the eve of the first world war-that interdependence was rendering war obsolete is seen as the equivalent of the current faith in the pacific effects of globalisation and the spread of democracy.
There is another parallel which deserves mention. Today, a few thoughtful conservatives-among them Robert Conquest and John O’Sullivan-have been making the case for an English-speaking political union. The argument is that the US, Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and some other smaller entities have so much in common in terms of political culture, values and institutions that they should band together and enter into some sort of formal arrangement to act in concert-to create what some are now referring to as a political “Anglosphere.”
This line of argument almost exactly replicates one advanced by a group of highly intelligent, well-educated and well-connected young men at the beginning of the last century. The group-known as Milner’s Kindergarten after its patron Lord Milner, or sometimes as the Cliveden set because of its connection with the Astors-included among others Philip Kerr (later, as Lord Lothian, Britain’s ambassador to the US during the second world war), Lionel Curtis (founder of Chatham House) and Geoffrey Dawson (to be for 25 years editor of The Times, when that newspaper still had great political influence).
The historian Norman Rose has recently written about this group in terms that could be applied, almost word for word, to today’s advocates of an English-speaking union: “What they meant by ‘doing things in the world’ was primarily to sustain the Anglo-Saxon fraternity. Dedicated to an intimate partnership between the dominions and Britain… and a strengthening of the Anglo-American connection, they aimed in this way to preserve Britain’s distinctive role in international affairs.” The similarity extends also to what they disliked and feared: “For Kerr and his friends, France was the bogeyman of Europe. There was an almost paranoid fear that scheming French politicians would embroil Britain in disputes at variance with its genuine…