Scruton’s Anglosphere

One theme coming strongly out of Sir Roger Scruton’s work is the particular brilliance of the English-speaking world, characterised also in his work as the Anglosphere.

The closeness of the Anglosphere is something I have discussed before:

The point which Scruton has made, as I read it, derives from the particular cultural norms of these islands which was inherited by the nation’s colonies and from that the United States and the ‘Old Commonwealth’. It is a bottom-up conception of society, law and state; where foreign countries have a top-down structure of state, law, and society. We can look for lifetimes for whence comes the particular genius of the English-speaking peoples, but more important is its reality.

Some of this is explained in a summary form in an interview Sir Roger gave for the Hoover Institution, as part of its ‘Uncommon Knowledge’ series, discussing his book How To Be A Conservative:

This conception of a cultural chasm between the Anglosphere and the European states appears to be one reason for Sir Roger’s robust advocacy of leaving the European Union. It is a pity that he was not to live to see the consummation of that achievement. He did however in his time see the validation in the flesh of all the principles he stood for, not least in Central Europe.

The common law is a schooling in the genius of the British conception. Scruton did study the law, though he never took up the profession, and all those who study English law will be imbued with the spirit on which it is built. Law is, as Hobbes will insist, fundamentally an expression of sovereignty, but the way in which the actual rules of law have been derived is very particular to the Anglosphere. In Europe (for reasons of history) the basis of law is a codification carried out by Napoleon Bonaparte as First Consul and so is issued from the centre and interpreted according to the will of the sovereign authority. This was in France a necessary corrective to the patchwork of local laws that had arisen from the feudal past. The laws were based on those of Rome, which itself was a top-down, codified system. England from the Dark Ages was not rooted in the Roman Empire and was not so feudal – it had, in theory a single set of law, or that was the ruling theory, and this law was a matter of custom and practicality. Codes issued by mediaeval kings recorded existing practice rather than making new rules. As a result, the doctrine of judges has been that they “discover” exiting laws and derive the rules by logic from them, based on the actual cases before them, not such hypothetical situations as a distant legislator may conceive. Many of the most important points of the civil law are not mediaeval but are points of commercial contract law laid down by Lord Mansfield in the reign of King George III, based on actual commercial practices of his time: again that is ground-up law-making, not top-down legislation.

Social organisation is of its nature built from the ground up if left to thrive on its own. A modern habit is for those with a project to beg for ratepayers’ money from the local council, which then ties them to the top-down state system, but it is not always like this. Local camera clubs, running clubs, book clubs and the whole plethora of society are wholly independent – in less happy lands the state is jealous of people gathering without licence and would seek to regulate, but not in the Anglosphere.

The early growth of democracy in England ensured a participatory example of rule, and perhaps prevented legislative activism so that the uncodified common law remained unchallenged, while society could remain gathered around local circumstances.

Whatever the reasons, and I can only skim the surface, there is a clear difference between the cultural assumptions of the Anglosphere peoples and those in Europe, notwithstanding that the latter share many of the same cultural references.

There is no suggestion of a racial superiority amongst Anglo-Saxons, which would be a nonsense, and one could not even say that our Anglosphere culture is objectively “superior”, if such a concept can even be defined – just that it is different in important respects from its neighbours, and largely coherent across the many nations of the world which share it.

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Who are the Iranians?

We do not understand Iran and maybe never shall. It is not a normal country, and that is meant in a good way. Half a century of dealing with fractious, artificial Arab states in the Middle East, and suddenly the face of conflict is not one of these but Persia, and we cannot behave the same way.

Iran is an ancient land. We once knew it as Persia and by that name we had more understanding of it. The land was not renamed: Persia was always called ‘Iran’ in its own tongue, going back five thousand years, but in the 1920s the king demanded that the native name be used by outsiders too. In doing so he unwittingly built a wall of incomprehension. Had we continued to use the name of ‘Persia’, then the nature of this extraordinary land would be more apparent to us all.

Persia echoes throughout our history and our culture. Biblical Judah encountered it; the Greeks fought it; Alexander conquered it and his followers became Persian as they ruled it; the Romans met the Persian Empire as an equal throughout their long Empire; but long before Rome was founded and long after it fell, Persia remained. Their language too is so deeply embedded that it became a lingua franca across the middle of Asia, and was even the official language of British India until Macauley’s reforms.

This is a fundamental distinction with the fractious Arab world we have become used to. Those states are a loose collection of emirates and new republics, the largest of them carved from the flesh of the old Ottoman Empire just a hundred years ago and they have no deeply rooted sense of nationality, beyond the name of ‘Arab’. Persia however has had that idea of itself for five thousand years. When Saddam Hussein invaded the Iranian province of Khuzestan, he thought that its people, as Arabs, would rise and join him, but he could not appreciate that the Persian Empire has embraced a variety of peoples and languages for millennia and the Arabs of Khuzestan were just as proud to be Iranians their Persian-speaking compatriots.

Therefore when the west confronts Iran, the Iranians may see us as precocious children: the western states, even the oldest, have nothing to say to a country which was a mighty empire of cities, craftsmen and armies when our forefathers were living in mud shelters.

It hurts such a nation if it is belittled or humbled, as it has been in 19th century conflicts with British India and Russia, in the concessions wrung out at that time, in that it took European archaeologists to display their own ancient treasures, in the almost casual military occupation of Iran by Britain and the Soviet Union in 1944.

The current sickness in the heart of the Iranian state comes from an existential conflict. Iran, Persia is ancient, but the ruling ideology is not. Extreme Islam will tolerate no rival identity; even that of the nation, and this leaves a problem for an average Iranian. Iran is 98% Muslim, which is a religion brought from outside by conquerors to supersede their culture, and there lies a conflict that has never been resolved. There is no consensus about whether the 7th century Arab conquest can be considered a liberation from evil practices, or a national humiliation. The late Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, incurred the wrath of the Ayatollah by modernisation, but it is said that the final straw was when n 1971 he lavishly celebrated 2,500 years of the Persian Empire and those aspects of Persian history which predated Islam: Khomeini called it “the Devil’s Festival”.

I do not believe an entire culture can be provided by Islam alone, to the exclusion of all other influences. If you look at Pakistan, it was an equal inheritor of India’s heritage, but in creating a separate, artificial country its rulers tried to create a difference, casting out their inherent Indian identity and millennia of rich culture, which left only the Mohammedan religion to be their basis. It seems as if the Iranian rulers are attempting the same.

This division, between popular culture and religiously defined culture is a powerful one. Iranians personally are delightful people in my experience, intelligent, aware, celebrating life and culture as well as anyone might, and they are very aware of their country’s seniority. Against them are the religious authorities which guard the state and would define every minute aspect. In 2014, you may recall, the young folk who filmed themselves joyously dancing to Pharrell Williams’s ‘Happy’; only to be shut down and sentenced to 71 lashes.

A division between state and society is apparent and is growing, and as I grows the state must react against it, deepening the division. I dread to think how that may end.

When we ‘precocious children’ in the west stand against Iran, as we must, it is the wayward government of the country that we confront. Threatening economic ruin makes little sense if the government could not care what happens to the people, and threatening war plays well with the ‘victim narrative’. Behind it though is a most remarkable people waiting to be let out.

Betsy Ross and the losses of Victory

Perhaps Nike could change their name from Nike (“Victory”) to Ētta (“Defeat”), as they have been routed in the culture war. If you missed it, for Independence Day 2019, the company launched a new range of trainers, the Air Max 1 Quick Strike Fourth of July, with the Betsy Ross flag on them – and were then accused of racism, and immediately withdrew the range, and were then accused of being unpatriotic and lost a $1 million subsidy and the respect of millions of customers.

A single accusation of possible racism caused the whole range to be pulled, at a loss to the company we can only imagine. Into this stepped Doug Ducey, Governor of Arizona, not in a formal address but (in the modern style) in a series of Tweets:

“Words cannot express my disappointment at this terrible decision. I am embarrassed for Nike.  Instead of celebrating American history the week of our nation’s independence, Nike has apparently decided that Betsy Ross is unworthy, and has bowed to the current onslaught of political correctness and historical revisionism”.

In retaliation for this slur against the United States, the Governor withdrew a state subsidy that was to help Nike develop a factory in Goodyear, Arizona. From our side of the pond it is hard to imagine a politician not siding in terror with the Cultural Marxists, but here is the Governor of Arizona punished the company for rolling over to the mob. That is sturdy resolve we do not see amongst British politicians.

Now Nike is facing a boycott by American patriots.

The BBC report was its usual one, accepting the accusation of racism without demur: of the Betsy Ross flag they wrote “Although opinion is divided over its origins, the flag was later adopted for use by the American Nazi party.” and give prominence to a picture of an American Nazi rally in the 1950s where it appeared. They say the alt-right have used it too. Truly, the BBC are incurable. (The only divisions of opinion on the flag are not political; just whether Elizabeth Ross herself designed it and whether Washington had a hand in it.)

My first reactions to the story were surprise: first that a politician has not rolled over to the first whiff of accusation, and secondly that one of the richest companies in the world, which sells sneakers to the poorest at hundreds of dollars a pair, lives off taxpayer subsidies.  In America they have name for that: ‘corporate welfare’.

A passing word too for those boycotting Nike; good for you. Perhaps you could help us in Britain to organise boycotts of companies here who bow before a handful social justice warriors with laptops and nought else.

It is not of course that protesters are actually offended, just pretending to be offended, unless the offence is just that someone has different priorities from theirs. They are not offended: they want power over those companies.  As this site noted before on this:

The Betsy Ross flag, for those unfamiliar with our colonial cousins, was the first independent flag of the new United States, or the most famous version of it, in a pattern first sewn (according to some accounts) by Betsy Ross of Philadelphia.  The canton of the flag has a ring of thirteen stars, for the thirteen newly independent colonies. It has been used in patriotic celebrations ever since it first flew during the War of Independence and is a common display on Independence Day.  We will not see it disappearing:  it appears each 4th July, and at Presidential inaugurations, including that of Barack Obama, who was not exactly alt-right.

The proof it the inherent racism in the flag was a photograph showing the American Nazi Party displaying it at a rally in the 1950s, beside a vast icon of George Washington. That the flag has been used by millions of Americans of all opinions, religions and races over two hundred years is weighed as nothing when a Nazi purloins it.

(I shall have to hide my collection of Beethoven in that case, as Hitler was a fan, and swear never again to eat pickled cabbage for the same reason. The latter is no hardship.)

What now for Nike / Ētta? A single expression of concern that need not have gone beyond the company’s wall has left them looking cowardly, which is not a good look in sportswear, has cost them $1 million in corporate welfare, millions more in losing the sales of goods they had already made and marketed, and now they are facing a consumer boycott. Mighty as you may be, never think to yourself ἀνίκητος εἶ ὦ παῖ.

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