Andrew Roberts on the Anglosphere

Cross-posted at Albion’s Seedlings.

This is cool. Andrew Roberts, one of the best English historians of this generation, is about to have his History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900 published. I have not gotten my hands on it yet, but here are two quotes, one from the extract on his website, and the other extracted from a review.

This from the extract: Just as we do not today differentiate between the Roman Republic and the imperial period of the Julio-Claudians when we think of the Roman Empire, so in the future no-one will bother to make a distinction between the British Crown-led and the American Republic-led periods of English-speaking dominance between the late-eighteenth and the twenty-first centuries. It will be recognised that in the majestic sweep of history they had so much in common – and enough that separated them from everyone else � that they ought to be regarded as a single historical entity, which only scholars and pedants will try to describe separately. A Martian landing on our planet might find linguistic or geographical more useful than ethnic factors when it came to analyzing the differences between different groups of earthlings; the countries whose history this book covers are those where the majority of people speak English as their first language.

Yes — this lays out one of the most basic points very succinctly. Most of the people of the Anglosphere are so close to the matter that all we see is the visible differences, which are often just a matter of “ethnographic dazzle” — colorful but fundamentally trivial differences. The more perspective the observer gains, either through cultural distance, passage of time, or geographical distance, the more the similarities and continuities of the Anglosphere stand out. Once you have gained this perspective, proper study of the Anglosphere can begin.

And here is a quote presented in Michael Burleigh’s review: A Maori spokesmen expressed this very well in 1918 as he outlined why his people had fought so courageously for the British Crown:

�We know of the Samoans, our kin: we know of the Eastern and Western natives of German Africa, and we know of the extermination of the Hereros, and that is enough for us. For seventy-eight years we have been, not under the rule of the British, but taking part in the ruling of ourselves, and we know by experience that the foundations of British sovereignty are based upon the eternal principles of liberty, equity and justice�.

An interesting footnote, and chilling foreshadowing that the Maori quoted could not have imagined when he spoke those words in 1918, is that the extermination of the Herero in South-West Africa in 1905 took place under the governorship of Paul Goering — father of Reichsmarshall Hermann Goering.

I’m sure I will have much more to say when I have read the book. And I look forward to what Lex, James, Helen and our other illustrious co-bloggers have to say as well.

12 thoughts on “Andrew Roberts on the Anglosphere”

  1. A Maori spokesmen expressed this very well in 1918 as he outlined why his people had fought so courageously for the British Crown

    While the British fought courageously so that the French and Russians wouldn’t have to learn German. Or something.

    On a more serious note, the extermination of the Herero was a terrible crime indeed.

  2. “While the British fought courageously so that the French and Russians wouldn’t have to learn German.”

    So that no single power would dominate Europe, especially the coastline opposite Britain. Churchill called this the defence of the liberties of the small states of Europe. This was a policy that the British followed for centuries. The Germans were well aware of it, and were acutely conscious of the ultimate fates of Philip II, Louis XIV and Napoleon as far challenging Britain and trying to dominate the continent. The Germans were also aware that building a navy that they openly said was for the purpose of driving the Royal Navy from the seas would provoke Britain. And it did.

    The British believed that the Germans were a threat to them for two reasons (1) the Germans openly proclaimed their hostility to Britain and their intention to replace Britain as a global power, and (2) their armaments program was consistent with these threats.

    Hence, Britain went from hostility to Russia and France in 1900 to a 180 degree reversal by 1914. They did what they had always done, creating an alliance, financing the continental powers. The one difference was they got into the land war early, since they correctly perceived that the continental powers would lose if they didn’t.

    That was why Britain and its allies fought bravely against Germany — amongst other reasons.

    The Germans got into colonialism too late. By the time they got into Africa, the only places left were damn near useless to Europeans. The reason no one else had already wiped out the Hereros was that (1) their land was not worth having, and (2) they were a tough bunch it would be hard to fight. The Germans, despite Bismarck’s admonishment to forget about Africa, which he correcty considered to be useless, grabbed the place anyway. The entire episode makes you feel pity for the Hereros and amazement at the Germans for bothering with the place.

  3. There’s a vivid fictional description of the repression of the Herero uprising in Thomas Pynchon’s novel “V”. The Hereros also play a part in his “Gravity’s Rainbow.”

  4. Lex,

    it was mostly just a bit of snark. :)

    I’ll get in more detail in my post, but the real, initial goal of Germany in 1914 was taking out the French military before Russia could mobilize. Once that failed due to British interference, Germany had to declare war on Russia on behalf of Austro-Hungary. Britain was just a concern of many at the time.

    The situation for Germany, Austro-Hungary and the Osmanic Empire also was unsustainable due to Russian agitation among their Slavic nationalities. Russia as an up and coming superpower also was a bigger threat for Briatin and Europe than Germany could ever be.

    Britain shouldn’t have forgotten why it fought the Crimean war, Russia was, among other things, still after the same goals of that earlier war.

    PS: The fleet mostly was for showing off.

  5. Ralf, if the fleet was just “showing off”, it was the most expensive example of “showing off” in world history. The British took it very seriously indeed. It was a piece of political insanity to engage in a gratuitous arms race with Britain.

    As to forgetting lessons, the Germans forgot the lesson that Bismarck taught them — never be separated from Russia.

    I’ll reserve commenting on the rest of what you have said here.

    Most people fight World War II over and over. We refight World War I. Thank God for the blogosphere, or we would never have found each other.

  6. Ralf:

    Germany in 1914 was sitting pretty. It had a first-rate industrial and scientific capability that was still pulling ahead among nations. It had a constitutional system that was gradually becoming more representative and less arbitrary, as the rich commercial areas of the West continued to gain influence against the Prussian landed aristocracy. Its educational system was first-rate. Its military was first-rate, and it had nothing to fear from any single nation, certainly from the Russians who had just had their asses kicked by the Japanese nine years previously, and who hadn’t particularly fixed their military’s problems since then. The baton of leadership was gradually passing to them in Central Europe from the Austro-Hungarians, in a manner similar to the passing of the baton from the British Empire to America in the mid-Twentieth Century. Many people in eastern Euope, including particularly the Jews, looked to Germany as the enlightened, civilized power that would potect them from the backward Russians. Germany was set to become the natural hegemon between Berlin and St. Petersburg. Had they just avoided aggravating a general alliance against them, they could have continued to grow stronger, richer, and more competitive. Certainly the British wold have been happy to have avoided all the trouble of coordinating an alliance against Gemany (who they liked and admired — notice all the German quotes that started appearing in British literature between 1880 and 1914), and especially making an alliance with the French, of all people.

    It’s as if a genie gave the Germans all the wealth, power and brains anybody could have wished for, but told the Kaiser “just don’t push the red button”. Bismarck in effect said as his final legacy, “that’s right, don’t push the red button.”

    Sure enough, Wilhelm II pushed the damned red button. And here we all are today still dealing with the effects.

    German self-examination should center around why Wilhelm felt he couldn’t help but push the button. It has something to do with the narrative of victimhood, encirclement, and frustrated entitlement the German intellectuals had nurtured for decades (at least) beforehand. And some of that legacy seems to have been transmitted to certain other troublesome parties today.

  7. A Maori spokesmen expressed this very well in 1918 as he outlined why his people had fought so courageously for the British Crown:

    The spokesman was speaking for his people (I’m guessing Te Awara), not all Maori. Certainly not the ones that resisted conscription so well that it was not re-introduced for Maori in WW2.

  8. Errol, if you’d care to write a longer comment about the varying attitudes toward the British among different Maori people, I’m sure it would be of interest to people, and I’d be happy to reporst it if it ran to length.

    This leads to a wider point worth repeating, that neither the Europeans in the imperial systems, nor the non-European peoples they ended up among, typically reduced all interactions to “whites” versus “natives”. Each group was different, and experienced European influence differently. Often subgroups among the same population had diffferent attitudes — one group’s oppressor was another group’s rescuer. For example, many Hawaiian women found Christianity more liberating than traditional religion — I always liked Kapio’ulani and her tabu-defying consumption of a banana in public, forbidden to women presumably on the principle of sympathetic magic.

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