Noted art expert Bernard Berenson sat out World War II in his Italian villa. One day, he admonished a German officer friend, "The Anglo-Saxons will be here in a few days." Regularly he noted in his diary the approach of the "Anglo-Saxons." Say what? Those Teutonic tribes who invaded Britain in A.D. 449 were invading Italy in 1943?
Well, no. Not exactly. Berenson was referring, of course, to the Allied armies. But since those armies were composed of British, Americans, Canadians, South Africans, Australians, and New Zealanders (all English-speaking, culturally Anglo-Saxon countries), he had a bit of a point.
The "Anglo-Saxons" had been rather spectacularly going places for that thousand years.
It's common shorthand among writers on world affairs to call "Anglophones" (English speakers) "Anglo-Saxons." The only obvious alternative, "Anglo-Americans," isn't only longer; it's inaccurate. It leaves out too many people and countries.
Now a new book credibly advances the obvious idea that these folks have dominated the world, won all the wars, and made the major cultural advances of the past 300 years.
The book puts its worst foot forward in its title, which it never explains, "God and Gold -- Britain, America and the Making of the Modern World" (Knopf, 2007). Author Walter Russell Mead is a senior fellow of the think-tank Council on Foreign Relations.
Early on he clarifies his use of his thematic term:
"The study of British history and culture has almost vanished from American schools today; as a result, many Americans are unaware of just how deep the similarities between the two countries go. Foreigners have a clearer idea about this, and often lump us together as the 'Anglo-Saxon powers.' This isn't about ethnicity; the term 'Anglo-Saxon' today is used to describe a cultural heritage that continues to influence Britain and the United States."
As an alternative term Mead calls this Anglo-Saxondom the "maritime system." Actually it was invented by the Dutch; but tiny Holland, ever at the mercy of continental giants, soon lost out to England, safe on her island and able to throw all her energy into developing sea power and global, capitalistic commerce, free enterprise, a meritocratic class system and democratic government. England was soon rich enough to finance continental coalitions that defeated powers of three times her own size: Spain, France (twice), Germany (twice). And to overwhelm any nation that failed to embrace capitalism, the economics (and politics) that grew out of Protestant Christianity and the idea of progress, often called "the Whig theory of history."
As England passed her prime, America took up the baton, continued and expanded the worldwide Anglo-Saxon predominance. The two powers cooperated to defeat the Kaiser, Hitler, Japan, and Communism. Never once, since the development of this "maritime system," has a "land power," a continent-bound system, successfully defied Anglo-Saxon sea-power. Blockade by sea defeated Napoleon, the Kaiser, and Hitler.
(And with stealth airplanes able to fly from carriers, or from Missouri, to anyplace on the planet and back, the situation isn't likely to change anytime soon.)
America's present hegemony, Mead maintains, isn't all that different from the British Empire. Britain wisely preferred to hold sway, where she could, not directly, but through local surrogates, princes or chieftains, "advised" (i.e. dictated to) by the innocuously-named British "resident." (I'm reading in another book how a dozen British East India Company soldiers in 1830s Persia decided who would be shah, and commanded his army.) The United States calls its equivalent functionaries "advisors." American "advisors" call the shots in more countries than you can shake a stick at. How? "He who lays down the money lays down the law." Many Americans think America lays down too much money. The National Debt will be the ruin of the country! Someone moaned these very words to Adam Smith, back in 1776. His answer: "There's a lot of ruin in a country." Smith, like Mead, knew well that a National Debt is an engine of progress. Any "debt" is also a "credit." It's an investment in the future.
A fad word for Mead's Anglo-Saxon "maritime system" is "globalization." Four-fifths of the world's mail is written in English. Air traffic control worldwide is carried on in English. Foreigners complain because the World Wide Web is American-run.
Understandably, many of them resent and even hate us because of our power, our success, which is undermining indigenous, non-Western cultures worldwide. Their self-respect prevents all but a few of them (e.g. Japan) from adopting our principles and so copying our achievements.
Moslems imagine they can have a banking system "according to the Koran" (i.e. banks that pay no interest!) and then wonder why their economies are basket cases in the emergency ward of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (outgrowths of that signal Anglo-Saxon institution, the Bank of England). Africans (e.g. at present, Kenyans) and Arabs (e.g. Iraqis) massacre each other on the basis of tribe or clan, refusing to learn the lesson of the "loyal opposition" that Anglo-Saxons learned in 1688 and 1789, the idea that a political party can run a country without runaway corruption and cronyism, and without utterly "wiping the other fellow out." Mead doesn't approve of all the doings of the American-run global or maritime system. (Oddly he's one of those who think George W. Bush, a dyed-in-the-wool globalizer, is the author of all national and international ills.) But he sees clearly its inevitability. Progress is a runaway train; it can't be stopped. The best we can do is keep it on the tracks. We Anglo-Saxons can't go back to our idyllic cultural roots (maypoles and Plymouth Rock?) any more than Islam can go back to those rather gory glory days of the Prophet.
"Anglo-Saxon," as Mead noted, is no longer "ethnic." It's worth noting, though, that the American populace is still 25 percent British and 25 percent their German cousins, and that most of the rest are assimilated sons of old Hengist and Horsa. New Mexican blacks jokingly refer to themselves as "us Anglos"!
And "diverse" Nevada, as I once roughly concluded by tallying surnames in the phone book, is a whopping 83 percent "Anglo-Saxon."