[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?