It is rare to see political ideas congeal into a movement. Occasionally, however, it is possible to move up close enough to see the thought processes going on. Earlier this month, I was able to do just that, at a meeting of right-wing American and British thinkers and advisers. The conference, in a Berkshire hotel, was organised by the Hudson Institute, and was to have been presided over by Baroness Thatcher, but she was too ill to attend - a source of much regret to her, I was told.
No wonder: almost exactly ten years after her forced resignation from power, here were people who seek to make politics according to her example. I was there because I had written (NS, 13 March 2000) about the theme of the conference - the Anglosphere. I was asked to provide an opposing viewpoint for people who largely agree with each other.
The Anglosphere, first adumbrated by the Anglo-American scholar Robert Conquest, is the English-speaking parts of the world which share, as Conquest has put it, "a commitment to the concepts 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". The idea, as I explained in March, is to turn the Anglosphere - with its common language, common culture, common legal traditions and, above all, common entrepreneurial instincts - into a loose association of some kind, as an alternative to Europe.
The idea offers a resolution to problems facing the right wing in both Britain and America: for the Americans, how best to make the current century as American as the previous one; for the British, how to avoid becoming part of a European federal state. But it resonates beyond the right-wing thinkers of both countries. Democrats as much as Republicans swear allegiance to a continuingly powerful USA. New Labour, Euro-friendly as it is, protests that its friendliness stops well short of agreeing with the French, Germans and Italians on the need for a state, let alone a superstate.
As the Americans see it, their country, at the beginning of the 21st century, is uniquely rich, powerful and technologically dominant. The old foe, Russia/the former Soviet Union, is dramatically weakened; the possible new one, China, is decades away from parity on anything important or threatening. For now, the opposition is softer, more insidious. The enemies within are political correctness, multiculturalism, the new human rights agendas pushed by non-governmental organisations and the academy. The enemies without are the EU in general and France in particular.
The slight figure of Francis Fukuyama was the dominant presence at the conference. He became the foremost public intellectual of the Nineties for his thesis that history is at an end, and that this end is a benign "democratic capitalism". But his last book, The Great Disruption, is foreboding on the collapse of cultural values, and the human casualties from it. This is due, he says, to an inner contradiction in the culture of the Anglosphere: the individualism and openness to new ideas that he sees as one of the strongest elements of Anglo-American culture. "Individualism also has the power to destroy," he says, "and unlimited openness and diversity mean there can be no common culture."
Herbert London, the Hudson president, agreed in an article in his institute's journal that American values are suffering a constant and radical erosion. He went further, to argue that "the US is engaged in a relentless search for orthodoxy because its spiritual condition is so poor". The "relentless search for orthodoxy" was another major theme of the weekend: the Anglospherists see America as peopled with legions of PC commissars, especially in the federal bureaucracy and in the academy. Kenneth Minogue, who teaches politics at the London School of Economics and was an adviser to Thatcher, said that the curbs on human nastiness in the west were now "managerial rather than moral: working on human material to make us suitable for a prefabricated purpose, while a doctrine of rights seeks to create a standardised being, with standard needs. The very idea of 'inclusion' is one which neuters people's individuality."
An internet entrepreneur called James Bennett is seeking to give fuller expression to the Anglosphere. He set out to write a book on how the internet was putting an end to nations and found, while writing about it, that the web was promoting the return of culture. As economic boundaries dissolve, culture becomes more important, both as a prop for rootless people and as an exemplar in a world where the discipline of the nation state loosens.
The most virulent enemy of English-speaking culture, in Bennett's view, is multiculturalism. It sees the different ethnic groups that make up America as capable of existing only in self-contained units, because it rejects the notion that there is a wider, or dominant, culture. Thus the Anglosphere's greatest genius - for assimilation - is being denied in the name of a theory that stresses separation and almost hostile relations between the groups. Bennett's forthcoming book, The Anglosphere Challenge, is, he says, a call to arms to construct a "loose civilisational alliance" to counter these threats with a revival of the founding doctrines of the US - and to spread Anglo culture around the world.
In the Hudson journal, Thatcher wrote: "Anything which stands in the way of [a political alliance of the English-speaking peoples] . . . could constitute a risk to our security. That is why I'm so concerned about the current attempt to create an autonomous European defence structure which must, if taken further, pose a threat to transatlantic defence co-operation and undermine Nato." At the conference, David Davis, a Tory MP and former minister for Europe, painted a picture dark with European superstate fantasies and new Labour acquiescence. John O'Sullivan, the Anglo-American commentator who is the organising genius of much Anglospherist activity, said that where the threat was Europe and its homogenising impulse, the antidote was Anglo-American culture. "Culture trumps geo-graphy," he said.
Some of the American right at the Berkshire conference were surprisingly cool about the prospects of a George W Bush presidency. This was partly because they share the view (see Andrew Stephen in last week's NS) that a divided country and the likelihood of an economic downturn make the 2001-2005 presidency a poisoned chalice. But it was also because, in the view of some of these conservatives, the Republicans are still culturally confused. "They have to define themselves better," said Fukuyama. "For example, in California, they came out with the worst of all worlds. They came out against immigration, when they should be encouraging it, but against assimilation, when they should be for it." Yet, others thought that however modest Bush's abilities, or whatever the difficulty he would have in winning a second term, anything was better than Al Gore - seen as a hard leftist.
This is a long-term project on which the Anglospherists are embarked: an effort to reconquer the culture by putting values and discipline at the heart of the political struggle. It is not racist. On the contrary, it explicitly encourages racial mixing and assimilation, although with the proviso that this assimilation is into a dominant, Anglo culture. But it is "civilisationist": it is perfectly explicit that Britain-in-America (and the former British colonies) is at least close to what the end of history should be, and that any attempt to depose its supreme position must be resisted and squashed.
At the end of a time when most American minorities have sought to discover their "roots", the Wasps are looking for theirs. African, Irish and Jewish Americans found their roots in times and places of repression and murder and victimhood, the Wasps in bracing religious struggles and the development of freedom. It is a beguiling myth to set against that of Europe, or against a cosmopolitan vision that seeks to transcend nation in favour of transnational rights and organisations that promote justice. Rights and justice, in the view of the Anglospherists, can reside only in a nation state informed by values of constitutional freedom - that is, by Anglo values.
The search for these roots is probably as futile as that of the other ethnic groups in the US - yielding a narrative of the collective and the individual which might be satisfying for both, but which says little about either's present state and possibilities.
Realpolitik and national interest, said the editor of the US journal the National Interest, Owen Harries, dictated America's and Britain's actions in the past century - most divisively over Suez, when the US ruthlessly cut the feet from under the British-French initiative in Egypt. France drew the lesson never again to trust America; Britain, never again to cross it. France is now reluctantly concluding that its posture is no longer viable; Britain is slowly deciding that its interests are with Europe, so long as Europe remains tied to the same values and strategies as the US.
In the end, however, the Anglospherists seem to demand subservience to a continuing American hegemony. It is that which is their largest contradiction, that which would block the development of a partnership of equals: the real transatlantic project for this emerging century.