Anglospheric Achievement and Global Resentment

[This post: ~1,000 words; reading time
Its links: approximate total 17,000 words; exhaustive reading time ~ 1 hour.]

This is inspired by Lexington Green’s More Than the Rest Put Together and Language matters. Borders matter. (Which reminds me — just to get it out of the way: go read this, and follow the links. Meanwhile, back on Earth …)
In part III of my review of The Substance of Style, I suggested that the secret of Anglospheric wealth, including the “aesthetic plenitude” that is the focus of much of Virginia’s book, may be due to a preference for process over principle, resulting in an open economic system rather than a closed one.
In support of this, I quoted from this book, which I received a while back as a member of the Classics of Liberty Library; a sort of bookmark-like card that came with it says:

One approach to the subject of liberty is to study and compare, across time and place, the legal systems that have governed the world’s civilizations. An investigation of the development of political and judicial systems reveals the tensions between the prerogatives of government and the human desire for individual freedom.
In the second half of the twentieth century, René David, honorary professor of law and political science at the Law School of the University of Aix-Marseilles provided, in Major Legal Systems in the World Today: An Introduction to the Comparative Study of Law, a respected and succinct work to begin such a [sic] examination. The book first appeared, in French, in 1964, and saw eight editions in its first quarter century. John E.C. Brierley of the Faculty of Law, McGill University, Montreal, undertook to translate the book, and it was published in English in 1966. Our facsimile is based on the third English edition, to which Professor Brierley added a considerable amount of material.

The book is a work of some note; it is found, for example, on this list (and on this one as well). Among its most striking passages is the one I quoted in my (incredibly long and unwieldy) TSOS review, from pp 360-361:

The laws of the Romano-Germanic family are coherent but, one may say, “closed” systems in which any kind of question can, and must at least in theory, be resolved by an “interpretation” of an existing rule of law. On the other hand English law is an “open” system: it has a method that can assure the resolution of any kind of question that may arise, not substantive principles which must, in all circumstances, be applied. The technique of English law is not one of interpreting legal rules; it consists, beginning with those legal rules already enunciated, of discovering the legal rule — perhaps a new legal rule — that must be applied in the instant case. This is accomplished by paying very great attention to the facts of each case and by carefully studying the reasons that may exist for distinguishing the factual situation in the case at hand from that in a previous case. To a new fact situation there corresponds — there must correspond in the English legal mentality — a new legal rule.

I then commented:

The freedom and openness — and wealth — of the Anglosphere may well rest on its ability to develop open processes for creation and discovery, as opposed to closed definitions of a tidier but fundamentally static world. And besides — to quote an ancient principle of nonintervention — the Anglosphere has learned not to gather the weeds, lest it uproot the wheat.

Lex’s recounting of the relative wealth of English and non-English speakers reinforced my impression that the world is dividing into two camps, Anglosphere and non-Anglosphere. Or perhaps into several camps, but when one is worth more than all the others combined, a more or less bipolar world may be inevitable. And what divides them ultimately may not be ethnicity or language or religion, but realism — a willingness to work with the world and human nature as it is, rather than construct elegant theories and then shoehorn (or bludgeon) societies into an unchanging mold.
To be sure, the distinction is largely a contrast between British and French attitudes. As this Gertrude Himmelfarb essay notes, quoting Alexis de Tocqueville:

In England writers on the theory of government and those who actually governed cooperated with each other, the former setting forth their new theories, the latter amending or circumscribing these in the light of practical experience. In France, however, precept and practice were kept quite distinct and remained in the hands of two quite independent groups. One of these carried on the actual administration while the other set forth the abstract principles on which good government should, they said, be based; one took the routine measures appropriate to the needs of the moment, the other propounded general laws without a thought for their practical application; one group shaped the course of public affairs, the other that of public opinion.

I contend that America became the richest nation on Earth by being the most realistic nation on Earth; as Ralph Peters has written: “Theoretical constructs did fantastic damage to Europe in the twentieth century, and much of the rest of the world lives in a fantasy land. They do not have our ingrained, hard-learned ability to separate fact from fiction.”
And praxis wins big: graze over here, for example, and select “Top 10” under “3. Limit Search”; result: 7 out of the top 10 countries are Anglospheric. On this list, by my count, 16 of the 41 highest-rated countries — nearly two of every five — are Anglospheric. And on this list, 5 of the top 15 (by PPP) are Anglosphere nations. Considering that only about 1/16 of the world’s population speaks English as their first language, ceterus paribus, these are wildly skewed results. But ceterus ain’t paribus. The disparity can only grow; and the resentment of non-achievers wedded to their theoretical constructs can only grow with it. Is this (from an American perspective) the Crisis of 2020 in the making?

9 thoughts on “Anglospheric Achievement and Global Resentment”

  1. Note that a crisis of 2020 would be a little bit late under my alternative model, Lex’s Cyclic Theory of Constitutional Crisis. Major Constitutional crises occur roughly every 75 years. We’ve had three. The disintegration of the Articles of Confederation and the drafting and implementation of the Constitution, the Civil War and the associated Constitutional crisis and Amendments, then the new Deal Era. Intermediate lesser crises occur at the midpoints between major shifts. We are due for a good blowout any day now. The structural bankruptcy of the Welfare State may be the impetus. Other things could provoke it. It seems that the institutional arrangements we live under can only go about three generations without some big revision being necessary.

    Anyway, I am only half-serious about any cyclic basis for making predictions about future events. Patterns there may be, but when exactly they will manifest themselves is too hard to predict.

  2. Sounds like you’ve read GENERATIONS, though I vaguely recall you saying that you had not (and I, in turn, need to read Albion’s Seed). Your three Lex Constitutional Crises (LCCs?) correspond exactly to three of their “secular crises” (the fourth occurred in the late 17th century), and your “intermediate lesser crises … at the midpoints” are their “spiritual crises.”

    Strauss and Howe claim that their model has predictive powers, largely because their cycles are driven by an overall cultural alternation between two extremes of parenting style, which produce four different types of generational outlook which (almost always) follow the same sequence. Based on what appear to be the starting and ending birth years of generations now living, the “Crisis of 2020” could actually be unambiguously underway by 2012 or so.

    While their data selection will always be a bit suspect, some of their predictions (the book was finished in 1990) have been stunningly accurate, like the idea that the first Baby Boomer president would be a historical analog of Warren Harding. The sharp decline in social pathologies in the US during the 1990s also fits their model closely.

    I now shamelessly refer anyone reading this back to Arcturus, specifically to what I modestly consider to be the most important post I’ve ever written. (Looks like Blogspot might be down right at the moment, though.)

  3. I’ve got a copy of Strauss and Howe, and have picked at it and got the basic drift. I didn’t dig in too far since I’m dubious about any Hari Seldon-like predictions. There are too many mules out there. And the book seemed a little too clever and marketing-driven.

    Albion’s Seed is a must.

    On the issue of global resentment, which you don’t get into too deeply here, see this good short synopsis of Amy Chua’s good book World on Fire. This interview from the Booknotes TV show is also, as usual, good.

  4. Man, that’s great stuff!

    I would encourage you to plow through GENERATIONS sometime. It is not mystical or Hari Seldon-ish, and to the extent that their model is predictive, the more people know about the risks we are approaching, the better.

  5. I lean towards the mid- to late- 2010’s for the next big constitutional crisis; when Social Security outflows start to significantly exceed income, and the deficits skyrocket.

  6. Jay,

    Before you wade into Albion’s Seed, Hackett Fischers, “Historians’ Fallacies: Toaward a Logic of Historical Thought” (1970) is probably a text worth going over first. Chapter IX, Fallacies of False Analogy deals fairly exhaustively with the tendency to overextend general similarities between eras to the point that some particular “unified theory” looks predictive when considered in hindsight (the Policy Review essay on this problem was a great summary… If youre interested I’ll dig up the link). In some cases fairly simple hypotheses/historic analysis CAN be useful in identifying policy areas that tend to cause types of responces, but it’s a very thin blue line and any use of historical analogy should be qualified to the gills before assumed applicable.

    In logical form it looks like this: AX : BX :: AY :BY, where the future, the unknown term, BY, is inferred from three known terms on the assumption that a symmetrical due ratio, or proportion, exists without demonstration. This is especially true of “generational” assumptions that oversimplify complex systems into questionable categories based on demographic statistics of populations born between particular years in a particular Country. If one forgets that “History” is always and ever a Prologue, and that the sheer quantity of legitimate variables that contribute to a particular event make claims of empirical quantitative analysis dubious (too many variables are non-repeatable) if over specific, then its easy to leap to policies that suffer from the “Weathermans” disease… (60% chance of showers, &etc). Anyway (obscure debate subject!).

  7. Well, now there’s two books I want for Xmas. ;)

    Notwithstanding my enthusiasm for this sort of thing, I do try to keep from getting too drawn in by it all — most supposed historical parallels turn out to be nonsense, especially those using the Roman Empire, which are unfortunately quite popular. And I’ve read more predictions of apocalypse than I can count — that stuff is enduringly popular with American audiences. Where I think most predictive scenarios fail is by underestimating (or even ignoring) technological advance.

    Alexander, thanks for the suggestion.

  8. Jay,

    regarding the legal issues. I was sort of surprised that the list didn’t include James Wilson, who was on the first US surpreme court and wrote on the basis for US law… essays linked here:

    (I’m also going to include the link to William Blackstone’s, ‘Commentaries on the Laws of England (selections)’ because the page is nearby)

    I agree wholeheartedly with you regarding the influence of technology as a unpredictable variable in History. Personally I’m in love with collecting primary sources on-line, so forgive me if I over-link interesting ones).

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