America’s ability to overcome ethnic differences comes in handy in its role as the sole current superpower, but the European Union’s ambition to become a superstate, as they like to call it, poses significant dangers.
When the Cold War ended definitively in 1991, the conventional wisdom was that the new world order would be built around an alliance between the United States, its West European allies, and its former enemy, Russia. Of course, things have turned out not to be quite so simple. The alliance with Russia is now in shambles, with the Russians embarking, under Vladimir Putin, upon quite aggressive diplomatic efforts to forge links with both Middle East and Pacific countries in a bid to reduce the power and influence of the sole superpower, the United States. The French have based their foreign policy on opposition to what they call the hyperpower, the United States. The Germans are unsure of what to do, but in the last year they have shown interest in the idea of a common European home emphasizing links between Europe and Russia rather than between Europe and the United States. And, finally, the British—on whom the Americans could normally rely as ally of last resort in almost all circumstances—have made it plain that under prime minister Tony Blair’s government they would like to move toward a much closer relationship with Europe, making that their single most important alliance in practical terms by supporting the European defense identity and attempting to develop a European military force alongside the French.
In these circumstances America must find a basis for a consistent foreign policy, and obviously that will entail alliances with different parts of the world on different bases. There is no doubt, for example, that the United States would like to forge an alliance with various powers in the Pacific and in Asia; after all, America has a great deal at stake there. But there is an interesting subtlety here. In the attempt to deal with the violence in Indonesia in 1999, the powers that actually made military arrangements to involve themselves were the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and most deeply, Australia. That’s an extraordinary fact when you consider that this part of the world is not directly relevant to Europe or the United States. The intimate and easy relationship among the English-speaking powers not only allows them to work together but also provides a cultural model that nations such as Indonesia can appreciate and emulate.
This easy working relationship is possible because all successful nation-states are in fact ethnocultural units, with different mixtures of cultural unity and ethnic base, the ethnicity comprising something of an extended familial relationship. A nation, in that sense, is like a very large extended family. Now, in the great settler nations, such as the United States and Australia, which experienced continuing, periodic immigration, the cultural element in nationhood has been much more important than the ethnic element. Even though the new immigrants arrived bearing existing cultural heritages, they went through a process—partly automatic, partly conscious policy—that assimilated them into the existing cultural identity of their new nation. The entire English-speaking world, unlike the bureaucratic European Union (EU), is designed to both assimilate and retain their immigrants’ private cultural and ethnic identities from their past lives. Hence, while immigrants were assimilating into the culture of the United States, there was a second process going on as well: the national identity of the host country was assimilating influences from the immigrants’ ethnic cultures. As I have argued before, America was, in a sense, the universalization of English civilization in much the same way as Christianity is the universalization of Judaism.
Because of this great absorptive capacity and ability to turn immigrants into Americans in a relatively short time, America is not naturally a multicultural society. It has an enriched common culture that draws upon different cultures to produce a distinctive mix in which members of the society have common memories and allegiances. They can look back to the same heroes and sing the same songs, and from that everyday culture they draw ideas, emotions, and memories that they can exchange easily with one another. Such a civilizational society is quite different from multiculturalism, which asserts that numerous cultures should remain distinct within the society and that assimilation involves surrendering an important part of one’s soul. The English-speaking world, by contrast, is open to these cultural influences, which means that newcomers are not only able to adapt to it but also are able to retain enough of themselves not to feel that they are surrendering their souls. The society that emerges from such a process—when it is well done—is a relatively stable, effective one that unites people.
Immigration, of course, always creates problems for both host and immigrant. For example, when large numbers of Irish Catholics began to immigrate to America in the nineteenth century, they were seen by most Americans, who were Protestants, of course, as incompatible with the nation’s liberal political traditions. Over a period of time, however, the American Protestant church became converted to liberalism, and because of its wealth and power, it moved the Catholic church to a more liberal position (although not true liberalism). This happened for a number of reasons, one of which was that the supply of Irish people to America slowed dramatically, allowing the Irish people to adapt to America rather than remaining in ethnic enclaves. In fact, the history of almost all American immigrant groups includes a period of “ghetto” ethnicity followed by assimilation and absorption into the wider society.
That process, however, was facilitated by a forty-year pause in immigration between 1925 and 1965. (The hiatus, in fact, was slightly longer because the immigration rate did not really accelerate until the late 1960s.) Thus it seems likely that in order for absorption to work, a society must have either moderate, steady immigration, which makes assimilation possible, or periods of great immigration followed by pauses in which the country absorbs and digests those who have arrived. In any case, America, Australia, Britain, and other English-speaking nations have shown a remarkable capacity for such assimilation, and their use of culture, rather than ethnicity, for social cohesion is a foreign policy asset, as noted earlier in reference to Indonesia.
Balance of Power Scenarios
The question of foreign policy brings us back to the European Union. The worst possible result for America—and the world—in terms of EU scenarios would be the complete collapse of the European Union and its replacement by some kind of horrible 1930s-style squabbling. But perhaps the second-worst result would be the development of a rival power that, even if it were not capable of posing a mortal threat, could nonetheless be a damned nuisance in alliance with other powers around the world, particularly in relation, for example, to the Middle East and other problem spots. And maybe the best possible result would be for Europe to develop along looser, more flexible lines that would enable America to participate in many more decisions, perhaps with the assistance of the English. That, in fact, is the kind of relationship proponents of an English-speaking union propose for the Anglosphere. What the English-speaking nations have established so far is a series of ad hoc, overlapping arrangements between countries sharing common interests that are deeply rooted in their values. They have long-standing habits of cooperation, particularly in the military sphere; and, because they are on all the continents, they are very useful allies for the United States when things blow up, as they have in Kosovo and elsewhere. What we are talking about here for Europe is a set of loose confederal arrangements with which America could be perfectly compatible.
This is not to say that America should become an integral decision-maker in the European Union or that the current situation, with the United States as sole superpower, should never change. I do think that in some circumstances an imbalance of power in the world, if it’s a well-established and well-entrenched one that there is no real hope of overthrowing, can be a very useful aid in solving disputes, although I agree that the power that is given this opportunity should not be too fussily interventionist. And in fact, in a way, we’ve had such a world for almost two hundred years, if you consider that starting around 1760 until approximately fifteen years ago, the joint gross domestic product (GDP, or total economic output) of Britain and the United States comprised approximately 40 percent of the world’s GDP. Even though the English-speaking countries did not totally agree among themselves on how to apply their influence, they did have a shared set of values, among which was an interest in maintaining an open international trading system. This commonality of interests enabled the English-speaking countries to shape the character of world institutions and world trade, as a result of which the world ran rather better than it otherwise might have done during most of that period.
This Anglo-Saxon power had two challenges during this period, one of which it coped with very badly—namely, the rise of Germany—probably because it occurred exactly when Britain was declining from the position of leading English-speaking power and America was not yet ready to pick up the baton. The alliance bungled that very badly, but it dealt very well with the second great challenge, the rise of the Soviet Union, partly because by then America had clearly emerged as the leader, with Britain giving aid and comfort. The Cold War military, intelligence, and foreign policy links between Britain and America were (and to some extent still remain) extremely strong, close, and productive.
As this example suggests, the world often benefits from having a power in such a position of dominance that it cannot be challenged, as a result of which it is able to press for solutions of lesser conflicts. There is great value in having a power that exercises a benevolent hegemony and is not capable of being seriously challenged. That is why the European Union’s ambition to be a superpower, or a superstate as they like to call it, poses some danger. Europe certainly should continue the useful work of unification, but not in ways that challenge American power. And that will require a looser sort of association along the lines described earlier. In the absence of that development, America should look to other friends on which it can rely, powers that have unquestioned friendship and are thus able to exercise a wise, restraining influence on American policy when necessary.
The United States may be the sole superpower, but it is surely not alone—it is part of an extraordinarily vibrant, worldwide, culture. When you think of the novels that are coming out of India, the influence of the movies made throughout the English-speaking world, and the English-speaking cultures’ global influence, America clearly has a ready source of support and succor.
It is for this reason that few, if any, proponents of a union of English-speaking nations are seeking to create an entity like the European Union—some kind of state, whether federal, confederal, or unitary. We are proposing only a series of overlapping arrangements in economic affairs, military cooperation, and diplomacy. These, moreover, would not grow out of a blueprint for bureaucracies but rather out of a long-standing habit of working together to solve particular problems. That, after all, is the kind of muddling-through way that is characteristic of English civilization, and although it may not appear very persuasive when sketched out in advance, it often looks wonderfully successful in retrospect.