Monday, April 02, 2012

Christopher Hitchens, Blood, Class and Empire

Christopher Hitchens, Blood, Class and Empire; The Enduring Anglo-American Relationship, Nation Books, New York, 2004.

I used to wonder why there was no attempt at a general discussion, in book form, of the related phenomena of Anglophilia, Anglophobia, Anglo-Americanism, and Anglo-Saxondom. I now wonder less. (Acknowledgments, 1989, ix)

The following pages are neither a narrative history, nor a cultural survey, nor a full-dress political analysis. But they are offered as incisions, … (ix)

Authors who moan with praise for their editors always seem to reek slightly of the Stockholm syndrome, but authors who do not thank their friends are being remiss. Without these friendships, and the stern duties which came with them, … (ix)

…the main duty of an American foreign-service officer was to master the legacy of partition and postcolonialism that has been bequeathed to the United States by the United Kingdom. (Preface, 2003, xiv)

American policy in the 1990s was to a near-fatal determined by… (xiv)

…the President himself was reaching for Churchillian language… (xvi)

But Britain did, and could make itself highly serviceable to any American effort. (xvii)

…which finally put an end not just to the “Greater Serbia” fantasy but to the regime of Slobodan Milosevic himself. (xviii)

…coexistence with acquisitive and aggressive dictatorships was both unwise and immortal as well as ultimately impossible. (xix)

…this signal example of bravura statecraft. (xx)

He can thus be acquitted on the vulgar charge that… (xx)

…well practiced…in invoking the highest ideals of law and procedure… (xxi)

The neoconservatives in Washington were privately furious with Blair, and much of the Britisth press publicly so. The first faction knew that he was by means their “poodle,” while the second could not let go of this facile and memorable coinage. (xxii)

It is an even more considerable condemnation, when one reflects that most actual or potential leaders of the major British parties do not quite match this unexceptional standard. (xxiii)

…Niall Ferguson’s history of the British Empire began to enjoy a considerable vogue among American scholars, … (xxiv)

The English language has become a lingua franca, in India and Africa and elseqhere, not because of its association with empire, but because of its flexibility and capacity for assimilation (and because of the extraordinary literature, more and more of it written by Asians and other former “subjects,” with which it is associated). (xxviii)

…England—the has-been country par excellence. (Introduction, 3)

United States…has a powerful need for evocations of grandeur, which makes it the more noticeable that, when reaching for such necessary evocations, it so often ignores its own past and letters. (3)

This is a supreme, if oblique, compliment to the depth at which the so-called special relationship between the two countries and cultures operates and obtains. (4-5)

The hypocrisies of this marriage of convenience have often been occluded, at least partially, by an apparent cultural and linguistic familiarity. (8)

Beer pumps draw up franchised, tasteless American lagers with German names. (9)

In their protracted struggle to acquire the patina of “class” for their operations and for their many charities and promotions, they have found the patronage of the Prince of Wales to be essentials and continuous. (12)

One could scarcely enter a supermarket without seeing her photograph on the rack, or barely utter a sentence in an English accent without inviting friendly inquiries about her. (13)

England was understood principally as the home of the Windsors; a sort of theme park for royal activities and romances. (13)

This attitude, to which the British embassy defers as a matter of course, (13)

Much can be divined about any individual, however outwardly complex, from his or her explanation of the decline of the Roman Empire. (22)

Macmillan’s analogy is open to every kind of objection. (24)

The original American revolutionaries, many of them drawn form an essentially English class of gentlemen, took the Roman ideal as the model of republican virtue. (27)

…two of that Revolution’s most famous sayings: /
What a pity is it/ That we can die but once to serve our country. /
It is not now a time to talk of aught, / But chains or conquest, liberty or death. (27)

Rome, then, is present in the American idea from the very start. But the Rome cited by Macmillan [later] is a very different one—the Rome of conquest and booty and purple, not the Rome of Cincinatus leaving his plow. (28)

…as long as the idea of empire could draw moral and historic sustenance form some simulacrum of a “special relationship.” (34)

…the word WASP, which denotes a racial and religious group, is only every applied to a certain social layer of it. (34)

As Plutarch put it in his Precepts of Government (here adhumbrated by Sir Ronald Syme in his Greek Invading the Roman Government): … ‘The signal contribution that Plutarch made was less obtrusive. He hit upon a genial device, the sequence of parallel biographies, from legendary heroes down to generals and statesmen. The two nations were thereby recognized as standing on parity. (36)

The Masterpiece Theatre Sunday evening debauch of Englishness is one of the standbys and continual referents for students of Anglophilia and its American mystique. When Alistair Cooke assumes the leather armchair, the free association begins and Englishness takes on its varied guises and incarnations: the civilized country house; the strained but decent colonial civil servant; the regimental mess; the back-to-the-wall wartime coolness under fire; the stratified but considerate social system; the eccentric but above all literate milieu of London in assorted moods and epochs. (42)

This beautifully rendered paragraph… (53)

…reinforced the idea of a civilized kindred people, slow to anger but resolute when roused. (54)

…the distance between admiration and envy has never been a difficult one to traverse. (54)

“The White Man’s Burden” was finished on November 22, 1898, in Rottingdean, Sussex, and sent straight off across the Atlantic to Theodore Roosevelt. It was, in every sense, addressed to the United States. Its explicit purpose [63] was to never Roosevelt in particular, and American opinion in general, to take an unabashed advantage of the conquest of the Philippines. / “Teddy” had just been thrust into power as governor of New York State… Like a number of President McKinley’s supporters, he thought that that was worth fighting for was worth holding on to. But he did not have the language in which to express this imperial yearning. (64)

‘Take up the White Man’s burden— [first line of “The White Man’s Burden”] (64)

By all ye cry or whisper,
By all ye leave or do,
The silent, sullen peoples
Shall weigh your Gods and you. (65)

Kipling… felt hostile to, and wrote against, the principles of the American Revolution and the principles of democracy. … British super-patio though he undoubtedly was, he liked the United State more and more as it decided to move outside its own borders. (68)

When Kipling aimed for the sublime, he always stuck at the imperial. (73)

When, a decade or so later, Kipling became the semi-official laureate of the Roosevelt-Lodge set, with his verse urging white solidarity and the conquest of the Philippines, Twain emerged as the greatest and most scornful opponent of the new imperialism. (73)

Reasonably satisfied as he was that the United States had found an alternative to republican and democratic illusions, and fairly sure as he became that no American fleet was every likely to challenge a British one, Kipling still did not like the Anglo-Saxon cousins all that much. His appeal to them had a purely instrumental aspect, which was the making of a common cause against imperial Wilhelmine Germany. His most energetic hour therefore struck when Britain and Germany went to war. (76)

This was not a happy or fruitful collaboration. (81)

Thus the ground so well watered by Kipling bore fruit after his death… (85)

…a high synthesis of the Episcopal and the social… (122)

He continued to skirt around these aspects of the problem… making an excursion through… before returning with relish to his main theme, which was, as ever, sex and fertility: … (149)

…in this century, the British and the Americans have existed in one another’s imaginations. At one pole, the WASP identity can only confirm and reassure itself by an almost excessive reliance on England and things English. At the other, the British elite makes an instinctive but shrewd determination that its own survival necessitates a metamorphosis of the “Anglo-Saxon” into the “Anglo-American,” with the American element grudgingly admitted to predominate. (150)

This is, in effect, the paradox expressed by Canning when he boasted of having “called the New World into existence in order to redress the failure of the Old.” (153)

In other words, both London and Washington (not for the first time) thought they were being clever at the expense of the other. (153)

On May 13, 1861, the British government “recognized the belligerency of the Confederacy,” which is to say, it adopted a position of feigned neutrality. (157)

In the public realm, there is an almost unappeasable demand for Churchillian invocation. The decline of direct Soviet-American confrontation has slightly lessened the intensity of the Munich analogy, which is the most salient form in which Churchillism lives on. But any issue on principle, or any confrontation with the a lesser power than Russian, can also bring the “lessons of Munich” tripping off a speaker’s tongue. (182)

Churchilliam … “Never give in, never, never, never, never—in things great or small, large or petty.” (This rather unsafe injunction, make by Churchill to the schoolboys of Harrow on one of his few return visits to an academy he had thoroughly disliked, … (183)

…Winston Churchill was the last British Prime Minister who really possessed an Imperial General Staff and who really enjoyed a panoptic grasp of affairs. This, in alliance with his high oratorical style and his generally conservative growl, makes him an ideal fetish object for American “hawks.” (183)

Twain then inscribed one of his own books to young Churchill, remarking pithily on the flyleaf: “To do good is noble; to teach others to do good is noble, and no trouble.” (188)

Having acted with flamboyance at a critical juncture… (191)

Others, taking a more sanctified liberal line, invoked Thomas Jefferson’s lapidary warning against “entangling alliances.” (196)

On one such evening, he recalled in an interview with Sidney Blumenthal of The Washington Post, the hour was late and Churchill was nursing a scotch. “The fact is,” said this rather reduced but still intimidating figure, “that America has now become the hope of the world. Britain has had its day. At one time we had dominions all over the world… But England is gradually drying up. The leadership must be taken over by the United States. You have the country, the people; you have the democratic spirit, the natural resources which England has not… If I were to be born again, I’d want to be born an American.” / On the eve of the best-received and best-assimilated American speech, Churchill seems to have given was to resignation. The response to the speech certainly took him up on this implicit surrender. It is another was of illustrating what can be found in other areas of American culture and politics—that the reverence and affections for things English has increased in direct proportion to the overshadowing and relegation of real British power. (251)

If James Burnham’s concept of “receivership” had ever been made explicit, with the British being asked to disburden themselves of empire in a planned and graduated fashion and the United States moving to assume the said burdens with coordination and consent, there might have been some impressive results. … But in the event, the displacement of Britain by America as a world gendarme and guarantor was a chaotic, brutal, and dishonest process. On the British role, and on the American side a repressed reluctance to actually seem to be seeking one. (252)

Such republican and democratic instincts as did manage to cross the Atlantic form east to west did so as contraband: the astonishing and germinal moral energy of Thomas Paine; … But these are preeminently not the sorts of image that leap to mind when the word “Brit” is uttered in today’s America. (359)

America, founded in self-conscious opposition to the backward, imperial, complacent, hierarchic English, counterposed a certain utopianism of its own to the solid virtues of kingship, social predestination, conquest and dominion. The luminous documents composed by the Founders and ratified as law in the Greek-named city of Philadelphia all show, in the sort of English that has quite disappeared from official usage, an educated disrespect for standing armies, hereditary privilege, state surveillance of the citizenry, “foreign entanglements,” monarchism, and the rest of it. (360)

And every time that the United States has been on the verge of a decision: to annex the Spanish empire, to go to war in Europe, to announce the Soviet Union as the official enemy, to acquire new and weighty “burdens” in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia, to embark upon nuclear weapons research, to establish a national nexus of intelligence gathering, there has been a deceptively languid English advisor at the elbow, urging yes in tones that neither hector nor beseech but are always somehow beguiling. (360)

More important, though, are perhaps the long rhythms… (361)


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