Brexit and the Future of the Anglosphere


The triumph of Brexit opens a new page not just in British history, but in the emerging configuration of the global society. It represents not just a rejection of universal globalism embraced by our political and business elites, including in Britain itself, but potentially the rise of new trans-national blocs held together not just by markets and capital, but culture and common beliefs.

This evolution was predicted neatly a quarter-century ago in Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations.”

At a time when the embrace of globalism was at its height, Huntington suggested, correctly, that the world would divide along historical, religious and cultural lines. These national divisions have become increasingly evident not only here but in China, the UK, India, Turkey, Russia and in other parts of Europe. The rise of nationalism is shattering the globalist structures and creating the basis for new forms of association.

No surprise then that in a post-EU world, Britain is looking to the United States for a new trade relationship which, according to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, could be in place by the end of the year. This new alliance would supplant the bureaucratic torpor of Brussels and provide a timely response to the Beijing-dominated Sinosphere that now extends itself throughout much of the world.

How the clash has changed

When Huntington wrote his famous thesis, he envisioned the rise of several cultural groups — Hindu, Japanese, Buddhist, African, Islamic, Orthodox, “Western” and Sinic.

Yet over the past 25 years, the trajectory of these “civilizations” has shifted in ways Huntington could not have foreseen. Once fearsome Japan has declined and there’s no break from continued chaos in the Islamic countries, while the Russian Orthodox world, Africa and Latin America have all failed to achieve anything close to global competitiveness.

Only China’s role has waxed and only its emerging system of alliances has gained power globally. In contrast, the Western alliance has weakened, as is clear from the EU’s internal divisions, particularly in Eastern and Central Europe, as well as with Brexit. This has left the U.S., with an administration widely despised around the world, as China’s only competitor in terms of economic growth, cultural power and military strength.

Given the failure of the EU, it makes sense for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to reach out to the U.S. as his primary partner in the post-EU future.

This could be followed up with efforts to join other English-speaking democracies such as Australia, Canada and New Zealand. These are all far more politically compatible with British values than post-democratic continental Europe, where popular votes against EU intrusions have been repeatedly ignored by the ruling bureaucracy. Besides sharing a common language and history, these countries also can offer access to critical natural resources which, for the most part, Britain itself lacks.

The Chinese challenge

Dissatisfaction with the EU’s intrusive bureaucracy may have sparked Brexit, but the primary driver toward building a powerful Anglosphere lies in the rise of China. A quarter-century ago there was no such clear competitor; Tokyo and Brussels mattered much more than Beijing, and both were allied to Washington and London.

Today China easily surpasses everyone outside the United States in economic, military and technological power. It also has developed a powerful alternative to the West’s liberal institutions. China’s authoritarian system, its massive surveillance apparatus and widespread repression,appeals to dictators now thriving in an increasingly illiberal world where dissatisfaction with democracy is on the rise.

China’s influence represents a challenge even to Anglosphere. Nowhere is this clearer than in Australia, a country whose trade of supplying natural resources to China have underpinned the fact that Australia hasn’t experienced a recession for almost 30 years.

“Our whole standard of living is virtually tied to our exports to China,” noted billionaire businessman Kerry Stokes in The Australian.

Under the current right-of-center government, curbing Chinese influence now has become a priority item. But Australia cannot hope to resist Chinese domination without allies, suggesting to some it’s time to once again strengthen ties with the Anglosphere, as well as with democratic Asian countries, notably India and Japan, that are also worried about Chinese expansionism and political meddling.

The future of the Anglosphere

The ability to absorb and incorporate other cultures may threaten some nativists, but it is the key to the Anglosphere’s long-term prospects.

Great societies, rather than turning inward, are by nature expansive and inclusive.

Rome’s greatness, suggested the historian Edward Gibbon, rested in part on tolerating religious heterodoxy and providing outsiders, including former slaves, a chance to rise above their station. In contrast to Athens, where the citizenry was restricted to the native-born freemen, Rome expanded its citizenry to its furthest possession and by 212 all free people were eligible to be citizens. “The grandsons of Gauls, who besieged Julius Caesar at Alesia,” Gibbon noted, “commanded legions, governed provinces and were admitted into the Senate of Rome.”

This ecumenical approach, made possible by the commitment to rule of law and democracy, also makes the Anglosphere attractive to other countries — India, Japan, South Korea — whose constitutional order was in large part shaped, or even imposed, from the English-speaking countries. All this is happening as the world learns more about the failures and excesses of the communist dictatorship, as evidenced by such things as its inability to deal with the coronavirus, the disturbances in Hong Kong and the systematic oppression of the Uighurs.

Those with the good fortune to live in pluralistic Western-style democracies, rooted in classical culture, should recognize how rare such open societies have been through history and how singularly attractive they remain.

Now that Britain has acted boldly, it’s time for its offspring to embrace again the promise of the Anglosphere, whose brightest future may still lie in the years ahead.

This piece first appeared on The Orange County Register.

Joel Kotkin is the Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University and executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism. He authored The Human City: Urbanism for the rest of us, published in 2016 by Agate. He is also author of The New Class Conflict, The City: A Global History, and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. He is executive director of and lives in Orange County, CA. His next book, “The Coming Of Neo-Feudalism,” will be out this spring.

Photo Credit: T P via Flickr under CC 2.0 license.