The British and European supporters of preserving Britain’s EU-membership have gone to almost any length in the referendum campaign to emphasise that Britain has in fact no alternative to Europe. As Hugo Young put it in his work on the troubled history of British– EU relations: “This is the story of fifty years in which Britain struggled to reconcile the past she could not forget with the future she could not avoid.”1

Now, in light of the 23 June referendum, the question can be posed: is one really justified to state that Europe is the destiny of Britain? There can be no doubt that a number of arguments can be mentioned to support the above-mentioned allegation but this study makes an attempt to call attention to a potential alternative. As long as British membership in the EU was not called into question, only a few – mainly conservative – intellectuals searched for viable alternatives, but if Brexit is to be given some positive content, then it might be necessary to take into consideration potential options. An obvious option is “Anglo-America”, or, in a wider sense, the “Anglosphere”. Readers of Hungarian Review might be interested in getting acquainted with this idea – all the more so because a possible reorientation of British politics would affect Central Europe as well.


After the Second World War, in 1948 Winston Churchill famously spoke about “three majestic circles” of British politics. “The first circle for us is naturally the British Commonwealth and Empire… Then there is also the English-speaking World in which we, Canada, and the other British Dominions and the United States play so important a part. And finally there is United Europe”, he declared.2 For Britain the Anglo-Saxon world has always been of crucial importance. The concept of Anglo-America includes more than the name suggests: it is a transnational community including not only Great Britain and the United States but also Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Peter Katzenstein points out that Anglo-America is a clearly identifiable part of the West; it is one of the “multiple Wests”.3 In the words of Andrew Gamble this community constitutes a form of government, a military alliance, a model of capitalism, a common culture and a global ideology at the same time.4 Its basis is formed by the “special relationship” of Britain and the United States.

A very interesting chapter in the history of international relations in the twentieth century is the process whereby the Americans took over global hegemony from the British – with the enforced yet voluntary consent of the latter. (“The Great 20th Century Handoff: Great Britain to America” – as termed by John O’Sullivan in the National Review in 2005.)5 It is a telling fact that the Communist Leon Trotsky was convinced after the First World War that “the fundamental antagonism in the world is that between Britain and America and that all the other antagonisms… can be only understood and assessed on the basis of this conflict of Britain with America”.6 In this study there is no need to go into details concerning the process of the transfer of hegemony (in O’Sullivan’s view the most significant event of the century); what is relevant is that though Britain lost her supremacy to the United States, she has remained a beneficiary of Anglo-America, owing to the special partnership.

This special position of Britain goes a long way to explain why she felt no need to be involved in the emerging European integration after the Second World War and why even after becoming a full member in 1973 the British have remained “reluctant Europeans”. It is not difficult to understand the attraction of Anglo-America for Britain. Seen from this perspective even the accession to the Common Market threatened Britain with the erosion of her connection to the English-speaking world and it was for this reason that Hugh Gaitskell, the then leader of the Labour Party declared: entry into the EEC would mean “the end of a thousand years of history…”.7 Both major British political parties were imbued with the commitment to “Atlanticism”, it had a profound effect on the formation of British identity and, as a consequence, “Anglo-America came to represent an alternative to involvement in Europe”.8 This attitude is in keeping with the age-old tradition of British political thinking to look upon Britain as separate from the continent and to form British national identity in opposition to Europe. One can easily understand the renewed interest of Conservative “Eurosceptics” toward the ideas of Anglo-America and the “Anglosphere”. An interesting and significant development in thinking about the “Anglosphere” can be seen in adapting it to the conditions of globalisation; as Ben Wellings and Helen Baxendale pointed out, this represented a break with the old-fashioned imperial idea (“it has been re-worked for a global, rather than, imperial era”).9 In this way the idea of the “Anglosphere” has come to offer a viable alternative vision to the UK’s involvement in European integration.


Attempts to provide a political framework for the Anglo-Saxon world date back to the nineteenth century. In 1883 the noted Cambridge professor, John Robert Seeley, published his work with the title The Expansion of England; in it he urged London not to continue the politics of territorial expansion in Asia and Africa but to create a “Greater Britain” by establishing closer links with the English-speaking “settler colonies”. At the beginning of the twentieth century Joseph Chamberlain started a political campaign for introducing a British Zollverein, i.e. customs union with the aim of transforming the British Empire into an imperial federation, based on cooperation with the Dominions. In 1903 the father of the noted American writer, John Dos Passos, a lawyer of Wall Street also campaigned for the creation of Anglo-Saxon political unity in his work The Anglo-Saxon Century: The Unification of the English-Speaking People.10 In his famous speech at Fulton in 1946 Winston Churchill not only recommended a political union between Great Britain and the United States, he even called the “fraternal association of the English-speaking nations” a necessary precondition of preventing another world war.11 However, after the war the value of partnership with Britain began to depreciate in the eyes of the Americans and Washington put pressure on London to take part in the process of the emerging European integration.

A new and strong impulse was given to the “special relationship” by the close cooperation and personal friendship of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. After the end of the Cold War a number of commentators had prophesied the erosion of close Anglo-American partnership but the reaction to the events of 9/11, and then, subsequently, the alliance of Tony Blair and George Bush in the Iraq war refuted this supposition.12 It is revealing that in the 1990s, in the political turmoil following the Maastricht Treaty there were suggestions from both sides of the Atlantic Ocean that Britain should join the North American Free Trade Association. In April 1995 the noted historian, Paul Johnson, went as far as to suggest in Forbes magazine that Great Britain – and also Canada, Australia and New Zealand – should become states of the United States.



Another well-known historian, Robert Conquest also spoke up for the idea of close Anglo-Saxon political cooperation. In his influential book Reflections on a Ravaged Century (1999) he criticised heavily British membership in the European Union, arguing that Britain had no reason to choose the European option. His approach is summed up in the following statement: “In fact, no serious reasons (properly speaking) have ever been advanced for British membership of the EU.”13

Conquest pointed out that, except in a very general sense, the culture of Europe cannot be regarded as a unity. There is no identity of political and legal practice, no identity of customs and traditions. Consequently, the artificial attempts at creating a federation cannot rely on a solid basis. “The ‘European’ attitude has something in common with the short-sightedness, and too great reliance simply on political willpower, of the revolutionaries.”14 The presumed unity of European culture thus offers no justification to divest the European nations of their national identity and to create a denationalised superstate. In this train of thought Conquest draws the conclusion that this concept of Europe is “divisive of the West and is in effect anti-American”.15

As for Britain, she is “a particularly alien element” in any such projected synthesis. To explain this statement Conquest reminds his readers that the idea of state accepted by the overwhelming majority of Continental countries differs sharply from the British model: in contrast to the latter they regard bureaucracy “as rational and acceptable rather than as dubious and unsympathetic”.16 The “natural links” of Britain are over “the open seas”, to those countries which emerged from the same political and legal traditions. And it is only one step from here for Conquest to bring forward the “Oceanic perspective”, leading to the idea of a “more fruitful unity” – the unity of the English-speaking countries. He is right in pointing out that the arguments against this perspective which are based on the obstacles of geography are strongly exaggerated; the argument by distance fails in our days. What is really important – says Conquest – is the commitment of the Anglo- Saxon world to its own values of law and liberty, “in a way that is not shared to anything like the same degree by other countries within the general democratic sphere”.17 This attachment to the rule of law explains the fact, he adds, that the English-speaking nations became the bastion “against the various barbarisms and worse” in the twentieth century. Within the West – he writes – it is primarily the English-speaking community that has succeeded in maintaining “the middle way between anarchy and despotism”.18 Let us add that Andrew Roberts also calls attention to the success of the Anglo-Saxon countries in meeting the challenges of the twentieth century (German militarism, Nazi aggression, Soviet aggression, Islamist jihad) in his book about the English-speaking peoples.19

Conquest saw the beginning of the new century as “a moment for regrouping”. In his reading the emerging processes of disintegration call for action “to create greater and more reliable forms of union” between the English-speaking nations. He argued that the framework of this union should be less than a commonwealth but more than a mere political alliance – he acknowledged that its idea was still rather sketchy but had no doubt that it could provide a plausible direction. In his Dragons of Expectation Conquest goes further in trying to work out a political association for the English-speaking world which he considers to offer the best solution to preserve the Western tradition against its enemies.20


If we analyse the overseas perspectives of British policy in the context of the Brexit- vote, it seems imperative to have a look at the concept of the “Anglosphere” as worked out by James C. Bennett. He is a successful businessman and an influential publicist, a regular contributor to such respected journals as the National Review, National Interest and Orbis. Besides, he is the founder and president of the Anglosphere Institute. It should be also mentioned that John O’Sullivan, adviser to the late Margaret Thatcher, president of the Budapest-based Danube Institute has also contributed vastly to elaborate the idea of the Anglosphere; this has been acknowledged by Bennett himself.21

Bennett’s work starts from the assumption that the nineteenth century was dominated by the British, the twentieth century by the Americans and the twenty-first is likely to become a century of the “Anglosphere”. (Defined by him as “a discrete entity composed of the English-speaking, common law-based political communities, cultures and people”.)22 He is convinced that the Anglosphere has a unique civilisation and the English-speaking world “has been the pathfinder for all of humanity”.23

Now the question arises: what has enabled the Anglo-Saxon world to fulfil the role of pathfinder? Bennett makes it absolutely clear that he rejects any explanation that is based on some kind of determinism, ethnic superiority or religious creed. The reason is to be found in the social and political development of the English-speaking countries, primarily in their extremely strong civil society. In his interpretation a civil society consists of a network of networks and these networks start with the individual. In other words: civil society must be based on the individual; collective entities organised along religious or ethnic lines cannot serve as the basis of civil society.24 He agrees with Francis Fukuyama in respect of the importance of trust and points out that the English-speaking nations are characterised by “high-trust” societies.25

In Bennett’s approach the roots of the historical “exceptionalism” of the Anglosphere, i.e. the roots of the exceptionally strong civil society go back as far as the late Middle Ages. He cites the pioneering work of Alan Macfarlane, The Origins of English Individualism to prove that the classic features of individualism were present in English life as early as the fourteenth century. Consequently, those social characteristics which were considered to be the results of the Industrial Revolution turn out to have preceded it in England – in contrast to Continental Europe.26 It was not the Industrial Revolution that made the inhabitants of the British Isles individualistic; conversely, their individualism led to the economic revolution. One of Bennett’s most remarkable observations is that the religious expressions of English (and American) exceptionalism may have been attempts “to give theological significance to an already observable sociological difference”. He does not hesitate to draw the conclusion: “Democracy, modern market economies and civic states are effects of a strong civil society, not causes.”27

For Bennett to belong to the Anglosphere “implies the sharing of fundamental customs and values at the core of English-speaking cultures”, consequently the Anglosphere cannot be reduced to the sum of all persons speaking English.28 Without a corresponding political framework the Anglosphere has “imprecise boundaries”. Bennett depicts it as “concrete spheres marked by differing degrees of sharing of the core Anglosphere characteristics”. The innermost states are characterised by an entirely (or predominantly) English-speaking population: this core comprises the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and English-speaking Canada. The “middle” circle includes English-dominant states, in which English is “one of the principal languages of government” (South Africa). The “outer” circle includes “English-using states of other civilisations”, such as India or Malaysia.29 (In connection with India he makes an interesting remark: Bismarck famously said that the most important fact of the twentieth century was that the United States spoke English. The most important fact of the new century might be that India increasingly speaks English.)30 The inclusion of India proves that the defining quality of the Anglosphere is not shared ethnicity but shared values.

It is a crucial assumption of Bennett that the present state of the Anglosphere can be classified as an “emergent network civilisation”. How does he define this term? In his reading a network civilisation is a “globe-spanning, multinational linguistic-cultural community”, sharing “trust characteristics”.31 The Anglosphere has the potential – he goes on to argue – to generate “a more real, vital, and ultimately more useful” common political structure than any other geographically defined region. The lack of physical proximity is no longer a problem because the information revolution is drawing the Anglosphere closer together. (This is why the Anglosphere perspective, the Anglosphere civilisational identity could not have arisen earlier – he points out.) Thus, out of the emerging network civilisation an English-speaking “network commonwealth” could emerge.32

A network commonwealth differs markedly from the previous attempts at realising Anglosphere cooperation. Bennett’s emphasis on this new type of political association is in keeping with his conviction that in the present century “we would indeed have a borderless economy, but not a borderless world”. By this he means that though the nation-state as an economic unit is undoubtedly at an end, the “civic state” based on the realities of language, culture and shared narratives would prove to be “the basic organising form of the new era”.33 A network commonwealth is not incompatible with civic states sharing a common culture and it can also deliver those benefits which were provided by the economic states. In the twenty-first century, he argues, there is no need for either a classic nation-state or a universal state. We should exceed “the paradigm of the Industrial Era” which reduced all political entities to either classic nation-states or to “a notional universal world-regime”. As is known, the supporters of the classic European nation-state concept hold that the nation-state should unite all members of an ethnolinguistic group. Bennett reminds his readers that this stance has never characterised the Anglo-Saxon countries; “the English-speaking world was only unified in a single state between 1707 and 1776”.34 But he does not sympathise with the idea of a universal world government either and rejects regional organisations, too, since in his view they would become “administrative subdivisions of a world government”.35

An important element of his message is that Anglosphere nations need something “that is more structured than the relationship used by randomly related nations but short of full union”.36 A common framework is all the more necessary – he warns – because nation-states often experience conflicts between their short-term needs and their long-term civilisational interests. O’Sullivan is certainly right in supposing that “such network commonwealths may end up being more integrated – psychologically and socially as well as economically – than consciously designed entities such as the EU”.37


Bennett criticises Washington for having urged London to get involved in European integration. He points out that the United States has spent the last fifty years trying to push Britain into an integrated Europe in the hope that she would be an advocate for American interests. “The United States’ long-standing encouragement… of UK membership in the European Union has been a miscalculation” – he sums up his deeply felt conviction,38 even though he understands that by this strategy the United States aimed primarily at containing, and eventually defeating the Soviet Union. Bennett agrees with Conquest in that if Britain left the European Union and joined NAFTA, it would lead in all probability “to far more productive partnerships”. (He lays special emphasis on his proposal to create an Atlantic – eventually an Anglosphere – Defence Industry Community which could be a precursor to more sophisticated network commonwealth forms.)39 In his view the US should make it a priority to enhance political and economic ties with English-speaking nations and should not require these nations to mediate their relations with one another through regional or multilateral organisations.

Among its other effects, Brexit has reopened this debate in England and other English-speaking countries. Even before the June 23rd vote, a petition for free movement among the non-US Anglosphere countries known as CANZUK (Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the UK) launched on line at had quickly garnered 100,000 signatures. Subsequently several new organisations – CANZUK International, the website CANZUK Uniting ( – appeared alongside the Anglosphere Institute which had itself been inactive but now began to revive. They included several well-known authors (historian Andrew Roberts, Brexit economist Andrew Lilico, Anglosphere theorist James C. Bennett.) And a raft of Facebook groups espousing CANZUK free trade, CANZUK free movement, all the way up to groups such as CANZUK Federationists, centred around the programme in James C. Bennett’s book A Time for Audacity, for an ultimate CANZUK political union attracted followers and attention.

CANZUK has become the locus of excitement because it is newly encouraged by Brexit, because it seems more immediately practical than any wider Anglosphere organisation, and because it is a less ambitious, and therefore more readily realisable step than Anglosphere concepts that require dealing with the US’s economic and military preponderance. CANZUK is in the Goldilocks zone of political concepts, being smaller and more manageable than the Anglosphere or Commonwealth as a whole, but twice as large and wealthy, and therefore with twice the prospects, of Britain alone.

It is clear that “the Anglospherist agenda” is more in keeping with the view of the English-speaking world’s conservatives who regard English-speaking civilisation “as a positive force in history”. In the referendum campaign David Davis delivered an explicit invocation of the Anglosphere idea when he declared: “We must see Brexit as a great opportunity to… renew our strong relationship with the Commonwealth and Anglosphere countries.”40 Whether the conservative government of Theresa May would consider an “Anglospherist” perspective still remains to be seen.


1 Young, Hugo: This Blessed Plot: Britain and Europe from Churchill to Blair, Macmillan, London, 1991, 1.

2 Churchill, Winston, Conservative Mass Meeting, Llandudno, 19 October 1948. http://www.

3 Katzenstein, Peter J.: “The West as Anglo-America”, in: Katzenstein, Peter J. (ed.): Anglo-America and its Discontents. Civilisational Identities Beyond West and East, Routledge, New York, 2012. He stresses that Anglo-America is marked by a great degree of internal pluralism.

4 Gamble, Andrew: Between Europe and America. The Future of British Politics, Palgrave-Macmillan, Basingstoke, 2003, 86. For the historical origins of Anglo-America see: Kevin, Phillips: The Cousins’ Wars. Religion, Politics and the Triumph of Anglo-America, Basic Books, New York, 1999.

5 O’Sullivan, John: “The Great 20th Century Handoff: Great Britain to America”, National Review, 19 December 2005.

6 Trotsky, Leon: “Where is Britain Going?” 1925, Leon Trotsky’s Writings on Britain, Vol. 2. Chapter 1, “The Decline of Britain”, Marxists Internet Archive, trotsky/britain/wibg/ch01.htm.

7 Labour Party Annual Conference Report, 1962, 155, in: Document 7/c, in: May, Alex: Britain and Europe Since 1945, Longman, London, 1999,106.

8 Gamble: op. cit., 89.

9 Wellings, Ben – Baxendale, Helen: “Euroscepticism and the Anglosphere: Traditions and Dilemmas in Contemporary English Nationalism”, Journal of Common Market Studies, 2015, Vol. 53 (Special Issue 2015: Interpreting British European Policy), 123–139, 123. (Issue online:.doi:10.1111/jcms.12207).

10 Dos Passos, John R.: The Anglo-Saxon Century and the Unification of the English-Speaking People, Putnam, New York, 1903.

11 The Sinews of Peace, 5 March 1946, elder-statesman/120-the-sinews-of-peace. For a detailed analysis see: Gilbert, Martin: Churchill and America, Free Press, New York, 2008.

12 Hitchens, Christopher: Blood, Class and Empire: the Enduring Anglo-American Relationship, Nation Books, New York, 2004, Preface, xix–xx.

13 Conquest, Robert: Reflections on a Ravaged Century, John Murray, London, 1999, 255.

14 Op. cit., 255.

15 Op.cit., 260.

16 Op. cit., 258.

17 Op.cit., 275.

18 Op. cit., 270.

19 Roberts, Andrew: A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900, Phoenix, London, 2007.

20 Conquest, Robert: The Dragons of Expectation. Reality and Delusion in the Course of History, W. W. Norton, New York, 2005.

21 Bennett, James C.: The Anglosphere Challenge. Why the English-Speaking Nations Will Lead the Way in the Twenty-First Century, Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, London–New York–Toronto–Oxford, 2004, xi.

22 Bennett, James C.: The Third Anglosphere Century. The English-Speaking World in an Era of Transition, Heritage Foundation, Washington, DC, 2007, Introduction, i.

23 Bennett: The Anglosphere Challenge, 67. He even says that former English colonies retaining common law and English as a widespread language have done significantly better than their counterparts colonised by other European powers. Bennett: The Third Anglosphere Century, 42–43.

24 Bennett: The Anglosphere Challenge, 32.

25 Fukuyama, Francis: Trust. The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity, Free Press, New York, 1996.

26 Macfarlane, Alan: The Origins of English Individualism, Blackwell, Oxford, 1978; Bennett: op. cit., 73.

27 Bennett: op. cit., 34.

28 Op. cit., 79.

29 Op. cit., 80–81. He uses the term “New Anglosphere” for these countries.

30 Bennett: The Third Anglosphere Century, 4.

31 Bennett: The Anglosphere Challenge, 41.

32 Op. cit., 68.

33 Op. cit., 2–3.

34 Op. cit., 74.

35 Op. cit., 147.

36 Bennett: The Third Anglosphere Century, 68. This model does not even need a capital, he says.

37 O’Sullivan, John: “A British-led Anglosphere in World Politics?”, The Daily Telegraph, 29 December 2007, html.

38 Bennett: op. cit., ix–x;

39 Bennett: The Anglosphere Challenge, 165–166.

40 Baxendale, Helen – Wellings, Ben: “Anglosphere Cooperation Given a Surprise Boost After the Brexit Vote”, LSE, 26, 07, 2016,

Most recent

Newsletter signup

Like it ? Share it !

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pocket
Share on email