Roberts: The Legacy of the English-Speaking Peoples
Speech to the Institute of Public Affairs, The Grand Hyatt Hotel, Melbourne, Australia Ladies and gentlemen,
It’s a great honour for me to address the Institute of Public Affairs, whose fame reaches well beyond Australia as a paladin fighting for free-market ideas and political liberty. Since the Glorious Revolution of 1688 in Britain - from whence Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the British West Indies also derive their constitutional structures and assumptions - and the American Revolution of 1776, from which the United States’ derives her’s, the legacy of the English-speaking peoples has been the story of political freedom and limited government.
We believe in representative institutions; no soldier-dictators posing as politicians have ruled over our peoples. Plenty of soldiers have held high office – one thinks of the Duke of Wellington, Teddy Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and JFK – but none have come to power with the threat of armed men at their back. Yet in Continental Europe in the 20th century, let alone in Africa or Asia, one constantly finds men who have derived their power solely due to naked force.
Of course this is partly due to Britain’s lucky geography, which has meant that she has stayed uninvaded for centuries. Since 1789 Britain has developed in an evolutionary way, as a constitutional monarchy. In that same period France has had five republics, three monarchies and two empires: their Assemblée Nationale has been opened and closed more often than a dodgy street-vendors’ suitcase.
Similarly, the English-speaking peoples have been governed by the rule of a Common Law that has evolved through the use of precedent even since Magna Carta, in stark contrast to most European, Eurasian, African and Asian countries. This too has been epicentral to the sense of trust necessary for her economic development.
Religious toleration has proved of inestimable advantage to the English-speaking peoples; there has been prejudice, sadly, but no actual persecution beyond some anti-semitism in southern Ireland at the turn of the 19th century. We have had no equivalent of Germany’s Kulturkampf or France’s Dreyfus Affair. The result can be seen in the brain drain of Jews from the Third Reich, and its effect on American science, economics and culture. Between 1901 and Hitler coming to power, Germany won 25 Nobel Prizes in science against America’s five; from 1950 to 2000 Germany won only 16 to the United States’ 67.
Free Speech and freedom of the press were largely the constructs of the English-speaking peoples, supported by Law in Britain and the First Amendement in America, and it has done more than any other single factor to fight political corruption.
The free market economic model preferred by at least the conservative elements of the English-speaking peoples has ensured that while they only make up 7.5% of the world’s population, they nonetheless produce some 35% of global GDP. By allowing the market to unleash human potential far better than any other economic model, and with societies that encourage the open interplay of ideas, the English-speaking peoples have been in the very forefront of every single technological innovation since the Industrial Revolution of the 1760s, most recently those of the automotive, aeronautics, computer technology, finance, biotech, IT and Internet industries.
Now, the English-speaking peoples cannot claim to have invented all the ideas that have come together to make them great. The Romans invented Law; the Greeks came up with Democracy; Protestantism came from Germany, just as the Enlightenment was French, and modern Capitalism stems from Holland. Yet the English-speaking peoples did brilliantly adapt those ideas to the values of the 1688 and 1776 revolutions.
Although England only covers 1.3% of the world’s land surface, the English tongue is comprehensible to 25% of the global population. Presently there are almost as many Chinese learning it as their second language as there are people who speak it as their first language. This will permits, for the first time in the history of Mankind, a world conversation to be held, and our lingua franca, ironically enough, will be English. French attempts to defend and protect their tongue against the English onslaught by recourse to laws like the Loi Toibon have uniformly ended in farce and failure.
Of course, all this Civilisation, Law, Pre-Eminent Language and political Liberty is utterly worthless unless one is prepared to fight to defend it. In the past century alone there have been four great assaults on the primacy of the English-speaking peoples, and I fear I see a fifth fast developing. The first came from proto-Fascist Wilhelmine Germany; the second from Nazi aggression; the third from the Red Fascism of Soviet Communism, and the fourth and most recent mutation of Fascism, from Islamic fundamentalist totalitarianism. And the witness of history is testament to the fact that it is not wealth but willpower that determines who wins. Romans were richer than the Huns, the Ottoman Turks than the Mongols, the Romanovs than the revolutionaries, Weimar than the Nazis. Being rich is not enough.
Greatness tends to lead to attacks: it was true of Ancient Rome, of the Bitish Empire, and is now true of the United States. Envy, that most barren of all vices, is also one of the most common: to hate the top dog world power is part of the human condition. ‘I never spend five minutes in inquiring if we are unpopular,’ the Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon, wrote in 1900. ‘The answer is written in red ink on the map of the globe. No, I would count everywhere on the individual hostility of all the GPs, but would endeavour to arrange things that they were not united against me. And the first condition of success in such a policy is, in my opinion, to be as strong in small things as in big.’ Constantly to seek popularity is an unmanly and ultimately self-defeating policy in a Great Power. Too much introspection is unhealthy, even degenerate.
The attacks on the English-speaking peoples usually come from a clear blue sky, and see early defeats. Black week in the Boer War, the Schlieffen Plan in 1914, the invasion of Poland, the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Berlin Blockade of 1948 and the building of the Wall there in 1961, North Korea’s invasion of the South, the Suez Crisis, the invasion of the Falklands, the Gulf War and 9/11. Almost all were surprise attacks. ‘The most surprising thing about surprise attacks,’ Paul Wolfowitz has said, ‘is that we’re still surprised by them.’ Occasionally, pre-emptive action has been required by the English-speaking peoples, as when Nelson attacked the Danish fleet at Copenhagen in 1801, Churchill attacked the Dardanelles Outer Forts without a declaration of war in November 1914, Churchill sinking our ally France’s fleet at Oran in July 1940, and George W. Bush attacking Saddam Hussein in Iraq.
Great Power status has often been lost because of small, insignificant nations: tiny Serbia versus giant Austria-Hungary in 1914, North Vietnam humiliating France at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, two years later the British Empire was humbled by paltry Egypt at Suez, just as the Afghans drew attention to Russian weakness in Afghanistan in the decade after 1979. The moral is very that of Lord Curzon: ‘Be as strong in small things as in big.’
If the ESP had been more united after the First World War, if the USA had abjured isolationism, joined the League of Nations and taken part – or even the lead – in vigorous collective action against Nazi Germany from 1933 onwards, perhaps the second great global conflagration of that century might also have been avoided. As it was, much of Europe fell prey to Fascism, and those parts that escaped it fell prey to appeasement and pacifism. ‘It is the English-speaking nations who, almost alone, keep alight the torch of Freedom,’ said Winston Churchill in 1938. ‘These things are a powerful incentive to collaboration. With nations, as with individuals, if you care deeply for the same things, and these things are threatened, it is natural to work together to preserve them.’
When the English-speaking peoples are united, we win: when not – at Suez, for example, or Vietnam - things have tended not to go so well. Fortunately in Iraq and Afghanistan, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and now David Cameron have stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the rest of the English-speaking peoples (except of course for pacifist-neutral Ireland). It cost Blair his premiership, ultimately. Other modern heroes of the English-speaking peoples, such as John Howard – surely Australia’s greatest premier since Sir Robert Menzies – as well as Canada’s Steven Harper.
Today, when one looks at the vanguard of the struggle between Civilization and Barbarism, on the front-line in Afghanistan, one still sees the English-speaking peoples providing the bulk of the foreign troops. One hopes that they will prove equal to the challenges of the future. That will only be possible if they continue to cleave to the values that made them great. Yet an even worse existential threat than Islamic totalitarian fundamentalism faces them in the future.
I think Clive Bell’s definition of Civilization is as good as any, taken from his book Civilization published in 1928, in which he defined it as: ‘A taste for truth and beauty, tolerance, intellectual honesty, fastidiousness, a sense of humour, good manners, curiosity, a dislike of vulgarity, brutality and over-emphasis, freedom from superstition and prudery, a fearless acceptance of the good things of life, a desire for complete self-expression and a liberal education, a contempt for utilitarianism and philistinism’.
I believe the fifth great challenge of the future, not just to the English-speaking peoples but to Western Civilization itself, is well underway, and it does not come from the coming nuclearization of Iran or the terrorism of Al Qu’ida, viciously destabilizing as both of those undoubtedly are. For, judged by Bell’s definition, and for all its undoubted high civilisation in the distant days of Ming porcelain and the invention of printing, today’s China is very far from a civilized country, and looks set to move yet further away from the kind of civilisation as defined by Bell in the foreseeable future.
Should China ever achieve hegemony over our planet – something that is certainly not inconceivable on present trends, and might well happen in our children’s lifetimes, if not our own, then the prospect for the survival of the legacy of the English-speaking peoples, of all those liberal values of which I have been speaking, would be terrifyingly bleak. All that would stretch forward in the life of this planet would be a new Dark Age, in which the global whip-hand belonged to one of the most unpleasant totalitarian regimes on today’s planet, one whose leaders are activated by instincts diametrically opposed to the generous, open, enlightened ones I have been describing.
For the post-revolutionary clique that controls China does not believe in any of those values that made the English-speaking peoples great – except one, which is currently making them great. They despise representative institutions, waive the rule of law, persecute religious faiths and crush free speech. Only to Capitalism do they adhere, at least for as long as it serves their purposes. They can also learn from the past and not challenge the English-speaking peoples militarily, at least too soon. Instead, as with Oriental martial arts, they will use their opponents’ very strength – in our case our free market beliefs – against us.
The English-speaking peoples have become powerful since the Industrial Revolution because we produced the goods and services the rest of the world wanted at prices they could afford; today China is doing that instead.
There is absolutely nothing about human affairs that suggests that democracy must triumph over dictatorship, Civilization over barbarism, good over evil. As John Stuart Mill warned in his book On Liberty: ‘It is a piece of idle sentimentality that truth, merely as truth, has any inherent power denied to error, of prevailing against the dungeon and the stake.’ Modern China is the country of the dungeon – with its vast hidden gulag complex of political prisons – and of the stake, with its world record in the number of people it executes, as Amnesty International stated in a recent report, ‘extensively, arbitrarily and frequently as a result of political interference’.
Great civilisations of the past – one thinks of the Romans crushed by Attila, the Aztecs and Incas falling before the Conquistadores, the Spanish Moors expelled by Ferdinand and Isabella – have succumbed to the energy and might of their enemies, for multifarious reasons adumbrated by historians such as Edward Gibbon and William Prescott. So there is nothing inevitable in the future triumph either of Democracy or the English-speaking peoples. Indeed, as ‘earth’s proud empires pass away’, it is perhaps more likely that the power of the English-speaking peoples is on the wane now, two and half centuries after the Industrial Revolution. Meanwhile China has entered the 21st century with a burgeoning economy, a totalitarian political system, a vast army, and a regime which boasts the doleful combination of a resentful historical memory and a quiet but implacable determination to succeed.
If you think that I am merely playing the role of the Fat Boy in the Pickwick Papers, who ‘wants to make your flesh creep’, consider these seemingly random facts that plucked almost at random from recent news stories which, taken singly, might not individually amount to much, but which I believe that taken together provides us with a scenario for the future that should indeed worry us about how much longer the English-speaking peoples can enjoy their place in the sun.
The latest IMF report that states that China could be the world’s largest economy by 2016. Although the accounting for this requires adjustments for the purchasing power of the two countries’ currencies, the date is not that much retarded even taking that into account. The Economist predicts it will happen in 2019, for example. Although the average American is 10 times richer than the average Chinese, China has over $3 trillion in foreign reserves.
At the risk of sounding like another H.W. Segar, predicting the end of China’s long sleep as far back as 1907, in March 2011 China has become the world's leading manufacturer by output, returning the country to the position it occupied in the early 19th century and ending the United States’ 110 year run at the top. The next month, in April, we learnt that China first-quarter GDP grew at a higher than expected 9.7%. We can only dream of numbers like that. Your outgoing ambassador to Beijing, Dr Geoff Raby, has stated in his farewell address that the Chinese economy will double in the next ten years.
In the last 30 years, China had doubled its GDP three times. The only historical precedent for this was Britain in the industrial revolution and America in the last fifty years of the 19th century, which doubled their GDP, but once only in half a century, not thrice in 3 decades. The first foreign trip made by Dilma Rousseff, the new president of Brazil, was to China, not the US, as countries all over the world are starting subtly to realign in order to reflect the new economic reality.
Yet for all its being an economic success story, everything else about China flies in the face of civilized values. Cardinal Joseph Zen, former bishop of Hong Kong and advisor to Pope Benedict XVI on matters Chinese, has been speaking up about the way artists, lawyers and bloggers have ‘disappeared’ in China since the Middle Eastern democracy movement took down the Tunisian and Egyptian regimes in February. ‘They want a Catholic church completely obedient to the government,’ he warns, ‘and they are succeeding.’ Meanwhile, the methods used against the non-political, non-violent sect Falun Gong, including mass imprisonment, public book-burnings, beatings, cigarette-end burnings, hot iron branding, and scores of other well-documented acts of torture, have led to the deaths of over one thousand people. ‘Torture and ill-treatment remain widespread,’ reports Amnesty, while in the US the Congressional Women’s Caucus has drawn attention to ‘China’s appalling human rights record, and its practice of female infanticide, forced abortion, and the abortion of female foetuses.’
China also has an appalling environmental record, as pollution often goes hand in hand with corruption. The Three Gorges Dam project on the Yangtze River forced no fewer than 700,000 people to leave their homes, yet water quality on one stretch of the river near Chongqing, it was discovered, was unfit for human consumption and there is now the prospect ‘of the 140 mile stretch of the river along the Three Gorges turning into a giant cesspool’.
Consider too, China’s automatic response to issues like SARS and Avian Flu is to lie and cover up as much as possible. A Chinese artist has recently been released after three months in gaol simply for naming the children who were killed in a recent earthquake. China has the world’s largest programme of Internet censorship, all too often aided by software produced by Western countries. In his recent speech to the Shanghai International Film Festival Rupert Murdoch pointed out how China only allows a quota of only 20 foreign films to be imported into China a year. And it’s never a good sign when you can’t collect your Nobel Prize, as Liu Xiaobo was prevented from doing in 2010, because you’re banged up in gaol for demanding basic human rights.
With no external military threat to guard against whatsoever, China nonetheless maintains a People’s Liberation Army of over three million men. Its development of drones, building of aircraft carriers and huge increases in defence expenditure is already tipping the balance of power in the South China Seas and creating deliberate volatility in the Sprattly Islands. Meanwhile, China’s vastly expanding Space programme has very clear military applications. Try to imagine a war in which one power was able to use GPS and its antagonist could not.
In 2009 the ‘Aurora’ attacks against Google and other American information technology companies and US government agencies was followed by the ‘Night Dragon’ cyber-attacks on oil and gas companies. Australian defence contractors and the US electricity grid have also been attacked, which can give no-one any commercial advantage. This is China flexing its cyber-muscles.
‘Whether you like it or not, history is on our side,’ a threatening Nikita Khruschev warned a group of Western diplomats in Moscow in 1956: ‘We will bury you.’ Recent events should warn us that, although the Soviet Union never succeeded in burying the West, China might. A second Boxer Rising has begun, but this time it is being fought by means of trade surpluses, low wages, and exported unemployment.
The world will be a very different, and far more uncomfortable place, for the English-speaking peoples when China becomes the global top dog power, displacing the United States, as she is now set to do economically, and ultimately, I believe, in the other vital criteria too. One can debate exactly when, sometime between Pearl Harbour and D-Day, the Britain Commonwealth handed the imperial baton over to the United States – or had it taken from her – but whenever it happened at least the successor power spoke our language, shared our laws, traditions and values, and were twice our war-tested allies.
If China does eclipse the United States in our lifetimes, we may come to regard Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger’s opening up of China in 1973 not as we do today, as a brilliant way of outmanoeuvring the USSR in the Cold War and bringing a stable force into the world economy for the first time since the early 1930s, but instead the opening of a Pandora’s Box full of terrible new threats to face Mankind.
Apologists for Chinese totalitarianism argue that a country of 1.3 billion people cannot be ruled democratically, yet neighbouring India, with 1.15 billion, has managed it well enough. As the Taiwanese showed when peacefully bringing Kuomintang rule to end on their island, it’s nonsense to argue that Chinese people are somehow incapable of working representative institutions. The 20th century was called ‘the American Century’ with some reason, but with China’s ceaseless sabre-rattling against democratic Taiwan, her boot on the neck of Tibet, threats against Vietnam and the Philippines in the South China Sea, and her enabler relationship with North Korea over its nuclear weapons programme, China’s international behaviour hardly augurs well for a peaceful Chinese Century.
China is now the only empire left in the world, in the sense of a multicultural entity held together by force, and soon the most powerful nation in the world will not be a liberal democracy, but instead an authoritarian, totalitarian nominally-Communist dictatorship. This will inevitably call into question whether Western-style liberty really is the best form of government. Historically, rich middle classes have demanded a say in their own government, but in the case of China what if they’re so happy at this astounding economic growth that they don’t want to jeopardize it by importing Democracy?
Perhaps the Sinophiles – of whom we must expect many more in our society, culture and media, because opportunists always gravitate towards the strong – are right when they claim that China has no interest in translating its economic power into hard, or even soft power, that the days of the Great Khans are over and the Chinese are too sophisticated and Zen-like to lust for backward Western concepts like imperium and hegemony. All I can say is that the witness of history bears testament to this: when the leaders of a nation find they can exercise soft or indeed hard power without significant drawbacks, they tend to do so. China’s behaviour towards each of its neighbours – except of course the psychologically-disturbed North Korea - suggests that while soft power corrupts, hard power will corrupt absolutely.
Here in Australia, you are on the front line of this terrifying new existential threat against the English-speaking peoples. In twenty years time there could be as many as a dozen Chinese cities with populations as big as present-day Australia. Immigration will become a vital issue, and indeed a weapon, and if the lion’s share of your business is done with China by 2025, you will find it next to impossible to refuse China’s demands to export population, and the old cry of ‘racist’ will of course be directed against anyone who tries. Foreign Direct Investment in Australia from China has grown twelve times between mid-2007 and mid-2009. Your Foreign Investment Review Board has accepted 230 proposals worth $60 billion but only imposed any conditions on six of them. The Chinese are beating the English-speaking peoples at our own game – red-in-tooth-and-claw Capitalism – we have no Plan B.
Of course there are grounds for hope that the Chinese threat might implode before my dystopian vision becomes a reality. Only last week there were riots in three provinces with cars being set on fire, although these were met with murderous force from a regime that has no intention of apologizing for killing five thousand of its own citizens in its capital’s central square on one day. As Gideon Rachman recently pointed out in the Financial Times: ‘The US has a global reach and a technological sophistication that China is nowhere near matching. The US is also ahead on soft power. China, as yet, has no equivalents to Hollywood, Silicon Valley or “the American dream”.’
Moreover, there were 118 boys born in China for every 100 girls in 2010, an increase on the 2000 imbalance, so in 20 to 25 years’ time there will be not enough brides for one-fifth of today’s baby boys, with potentially hugely destabilizing social consequences. As well as demographic problems, China faces formidable political, regional, environmental and ethnic ones, and presumably its present astonishing 8 to 10% annual growth rates must tail off at some point.
China’s seemingly inexorable rise is no reason why we should make China’s path to greatness easier or quicker for it; indeed it should be a reason for the West to retard the day when China overtakes us. Yet President Obama pursues a foreign policy that denies the existence of rivals, acknowledging only partners. It’s the 1968 Woodstock approach to international relations, in which strangers are merely friends you haven’t met yet. To treat China like that is impossibly naïve. Far from trying to put off that dismal day of our overtaking, the English-speaking peoples are doing all in their power to stoke up their own funeral pyre. By not demanding a true conversion rate for the Chinese currency; by not expelling the scores of espionage agents in Chinese embassies around the world (in a manner they never baulked at doing to do to KGB agents in the Cold War); by refusing to acknowledge where these cyber-attacks are really coming from; by exporting our call-centres and production facilities; by training thousands of Chinese scientists in sensitive research areas at MIT, Harvard, Yale, Oxford, Cambridge, Melbourne and dozens of other great Western seats of learning, by turning a blind eye to the huge swathes of Africa and Asia being bought up by the Chinese for their raw materials, the West is, as Lenin said the capitalists would do, ‘selling us the rope with which we shall hang them’. By adopting free-market Capitalism in their coastal provinces, at least for as long as it suits them, the Beijing regime has even de-fanged the West ideologically, while not altering its revolutionary nomenklatura one iota. One can admire their genius while denouncing their ruthlessness and cynicism.
The writer and philosopher Umberto Eco has spotted this process clearly, writing in La Repubblica about how ‘It has become clear that the next great confrontation foreseen by the US will be with China. There is no reason to suppose that this will take the form of a war but it will certainly be an economic and demographic conflict. You only have to visit an American university to see how Asian students are taking more and more of the scholarships and research positions.’ Here in Australia you have your most important economic relationship with China, but your most important military relationship with the US, as does Japan and South Korea. Sooner or later these must diverge, and so you will find yourself in the vanguard of the next great struggle of the English-speaking peoples. It will be made all the more difficult and confusing and morally challenging because it will not be a military struggle of the kind that simplified the anti-totalitarianism struggles for earlier generations of Australians.
Civilisation is, as Evelyn Waugh reminded us when writing of Rudyard Kipling, ‘the work of centuries’ which is ‘laboriously achieved’ but only ‘precariously defended’. When the Chinese are in the global driving seat, we will look back in loving nostalgia to the ‘boyish tyranny’, and the once-lustrous but by then utterly moribund legacy of the English-speaking peoples.