Networks and Language in Europe (and More)

Many thanks to the good folks at AFOE for the invitation to guest-blog here for a while. To include a non-European and non-European-resident among this crowd is not a little humbling; I hope I do the blog justice. I have no handy bio available, so suffice to say that I’m an academic, I teach political philosophy, once lived in Germany (but not for nearly long enough), now live in Arkansas, and often stay up late trying to get our two-month-old daughter to go to sleep. For more information, feel free to peruse my own blog, W?ldchen vom Philosophenweg.

Recently I ran across a fascinating article by James C. Bennett, he of “Anglosphere” fame. The article, one of the cover features of the most recent issue of The National Interest, is titled “Networking Nation-States” and is heavy-laden with ideas and insights. Bennett is an unapologetic defender of the globalized free market, who sees politics through the prism of contract and transaction, meaning that he understands healthy polities to be those which maximize fluidity, entrepreneurship, reflexivity and innovation, with little distinctions between the political and the economic spheres. Like some others here at AFOE, I find this kind of neoliberal triumphalism wearying. But I forgive Bennett because he has such an intriguing grasp of the related issues of “space” and language in the construction of societies. Those interested in the EU, and the argument over its relationship to traditional understandings of political identity and sovereignty (which I tend to think is a complicated philosophical matter, and not simply an IR debate over terminology), would do well to think hard about what Bennett is saying.

Bennett’s thesis is a large and rambling one, but it can essentially be boiled down to this: alongside various transformations in technology and social relationships has come the collapse of most of the costs associated with “sovereignty services,” meaning that the effective monopoly of what he calls the “economic state” (that is, the traditional nation-state) over the “transfer [of] resources from one sector of society to another” (through taxation, subsidies, welfare payments and such) is coming to an end. Of course, it’s been “coming” ever since the advent of modern means of communication and travel began to make people and material and financial goods easily mobile; but we’ve now passed the point of no return, according to Bennett. This does not mean, however, that the future belongs to wholly new forms of social organization that will be (as the EU has been described) “neither fish nor fowl”; he doubts both “crypto-anarchist” predictions of a stateless, apocalyptic future and confident descriptions of “omnidirectional cooperation.” Instead, Bennett sees nation-states evolving into “network commonwealths”–collections of more or less sovereign societies (generally characterized by relatively small homogenous populations with their own “positive, self-affirming narrative[s]“) networked together along “lines of cultural contiguity:…language[s], customs, legal systems, religions and other significant values.” Hence, the “Anglosphere,” in which Britons and Americans and Canadians and Australians share common discourses and patterns of political action and reflection, to say nothing of common investments, agendas and legal regimes. In the future, perhaps we will the emergence of the “Hispanosphere” (Spain and Latin America), the “Francosphere,” the “Lusosphere” (Brazil, Portugal, and the former Portugese states of Africa) and so forth. While Bennett always lists language along with other factors, it is clear that in a socio-economic world which he primarily understands as defined by one’s mastery of communication and network-construction, unity of language is the primary fautline along which the new network commonwealths will arise and take institutional form. As he puts it: “Just as the ethnic nation was the raw material from which the classical nation-state was built, so the network civilization is the raw material from which the Network Commonwealth is being built.”

It is interesting to hypothesize about the similarities between Bennett and Samuel Huntington’s “clash of civilizations” thesis. Obviously both are willing to suggest there are cultural identities which underpin societies, and that said identities are both enduring and useful (perhaps even essential) for social cohesion and motivation; in that sense they are both “conservatives.” But in some ways Bennett thinks through these questions much better than Huntington did. For example, one of the internal incoherencies of Huntington’s argument was that he posited the West’s socio-economic power as a factor driving other civilizations to “rally around” those religious or cultural markers which hadn’t yet been “colonized” by Western modernity, thus exacerbating latent civilizational conflicts. Yet at the same time he supposed that modern forms of social and economic organization were themselves threatening the traditional sources of Western civilization (Judeo-Christian values, etc.), thus creating a rallying effect in the West as well. In short, he wasn’t clear on what “modernity” is: is it the West, or is it some historical wave that is affecting the West as well as the rest? Bennett, to his credit, isn’t at all incoherent on this point; like the Hegelian dialectic, he sees the power of crude ethnicity as having been historically superceded by the inexorable rise of technologically and economically-aided mobility, hence bringing to the fore the only cultural factors still available for cohesive identity formation: mores and beliefs (mostly, but only very generally, religious ones), and especially language.

Given my interest in Johann Gottfried Herder, and what he has to teach us about linguistic community, I find myself drawn to his analysis; I truly believe that “nationality”–peoplehood–is a far more ancient concept than the dominant Ernest Gellner-Benedict Anderson theory would have us believe (I find the arguments of Adrian Hastings much more believeable), and I think that the communicative, expressive, linguistic element of nationhood is something that will, and should, find some new yet continuing form in our future, even if it is “postnational” (whatever that may mean). Of course, one can agree with all this without embracing (as Herder did, and as I do, to a limited extent) the sort of communitarianism which grants moral or theological significance to the distinct hermeneutics of specific linguistic identities. Bennett has nothing whatsoever to say about the philosophy of language itself; he does not posit any definitive relationship between between historical mores, linguistic practice and the instituionalization of networks, and hence he provides us with little guidance in regards to the politics of multilingual societies. Still, it’s not too difficult to tease out his opinions on such social entities, by simply looking at his opinion of the EU, and whether it amounts to such a true “network.” He says no:

“The inherent problems in defining a ‘common European culture’ that includes all Union member-states but excludes the Americas and Australasia make the idea of a wider European state or a ‘European Network Commonwealth’ highly problematic. What is more likely to emerge over time is a European Union structure that enables its member-states to develop Network Commonwealth ties with their non-European civilizational partners. The most likely arrangement–to over simplify brutally–is a “variable geometry” Europe with a tight federation of Rhenish states (grouped around the Franco-German core) much more loosely linked with the four historically ‘exceptionalist’ areas: the British Isles, Iberia, Scandanavia and east-central Europe….[in particular] Spain, like Britain, will eventually have to decide to what extent its European ties can be permitted to limit its ability to collaborate with its overseas linguistic compariots.”

To those who reject the very idea of cultural identity being necessary to the political realization of a demos, or who question the relevance of the demos itself, all this is nonsense: the EU will work exactly to the degree to which institutional structures can be made to function, and European leaders can learn to accept the pointlessness of traditional sovereign thinking. I would suggest, however, that the continuing frustration over European accommodation (or lack thereof) of their Muslim population should be taken as a suggestion that human beings cannot re-orient their historically, religiously and linguistically developed and embedded social spaces–that is, their national situatedness–at a whim. This is not to apologize or turn away from manifest injustice, but to merely to suggest that perhaps certain long-standing responses to injustice and need–for example, the formation of bounded societies of common concern, within which common identities grounded moral arguments for just treatment and equal opportunity–might not be exhausted yet. In any case, Bennett’s suggests a future for Europe: not a strictly multilingual union, but a federation of states which are overlapped by various more or less unilingual commonwealth associations; Europe would be a collection of some number of “homelands,” as it were (perhaps three or four, perhaps more), connected to disparate civilizational networks. Forget whether you find this likely. I wonder: is it appealing? And if not, why?

28 thoughts on “Networks and Language in Europe (and More)

  1. The problem with Bennett’s argument is that he gives excessive attention to aspects of culture which can be associated by language. It doesn’t seem to recognize those elements of culture which aren’t associated with language.

    Let’s take central Europe. It’s generally recognized that Czechs, Slovenes, Hungarians, and Austrians (among other ethnolinguistic groups) share a central European heritage, fostered by Hapsburg-era integration and continued–though attenuated–human ties. Language does not unite this community; German might enjoy prestige as the language most widely known, but more people speak Czech or Magyar than German, and Teutophone minorities outside of Austria are rather rare. Does it exist?

    Or, turning to the putative Anglosphere. Do Scots have less in common with (say) Norwegians than with Californians? On the one hand, Scottish-Californian links are reaffirmed by migration; on the other hand, Scotland shares with Norway fairly intimate economic, geographical, and to a point even cultural similarities. England’s historical experience over the past century has been rather more similar to that of mainland western Europe (common experiences of two world wars, economic decline relative to the US followed by some degree of catching up, high densities of population) than to North America or Australasia.

    And in turn, although there’s large flows of migrants and trade between these four countries, these flows aren’t automatically dominant. In Canada, for instance, only a small minority of migrants come from the United States.

    I’m skeptical about the degree to which there’s a conflict between European integration and association with overseas colinguals. France hasn’t seen a contradiction between European integration and la francophonie, after all.

    (Here’s a article on la Francosph?re, incidentally, in French.)

  2. Thanks for your comments Randy. On the conceptual level, one might ask the question: are there actually any “elements of culture which aren’t associated with language”? Some thinkers–especially those with a hermeneutical bent–would insist that language, ontologically speaking, is the necessary (if not solely sufficient) context for anything which could be called “culture.” Translingual cultural associations (in mores or beliefs, etc.) have to get around language differences somehow, whereas in monolingual associations the transfer of cultural markers and referents is often (if not always) seamless. Language, in short, might be an ever present obstacle or frame, a kind of sine qua non for culture, and hence it is reasonable for Bennett to so emphasize it.

    But then again, clearly Bennett isn’t making an argument at that level; he’s dealing with more material patterns, and at that point you can certainly challenge his particulars. For instance, you’re right that his appropriation of Central and Eastern Europe into a single, specific “exception” to the Franco-German-Benelux core is nutty, on linguistic and historical grounds.

    When he’s dealing with the “network” he knows best however–the Anglosphere–I think he may be on more solid ground. Clearly, one can point to how geography, climate and history have made Scots and Norwegians compatriots. But do actual patterns of information and hence (as Bennett reads the world, at least) social cohesion and common economic action follow that linkage? I’d have to see the data. As Bennett observes: “In an internet-mediated economy where information is the chief product, London, Toronto, Los Angeles, Cape Town and Sydney [and, one might add, Edinburgh] are next door to to each other–while London and Paris, Toronto and Montreal, Los Angeles and Beijing, Sydney and Jakarta are all separated by a wall of differing visions and assumptions.”

    You can disagree with his info-heavy presumptions of course; I do. (As I said, I’m suspicious of theories which celebrate–usually economic–mobility, interconnectivity and “transactions” as the keystone of human freedom.) But I’m still intrigued by Bennett, because he sees a future for cultural/national/linguistic identity in the emerging network civilization. Worth thinking about, at least.

  3. True. I take issue with Bennett’s point:

    “In an internet-mediated economy where information is the chief product, London, Toronto, Los Angeles, Cape Town and Sydney [and, one might add, Edinburgh] are next door to to each other–while London and Paris, Toronto and Montreal, Los Angeles and Beijing, Sydney and Jakarta are all separated by a wall of differing visions and assumptions.”

    (Firstly, his last two pairings are rather misleadingly arbitrary, given the relative paucity of interaction between northern China and California, and between Australia and Indonesia.)

    More importantly, this assumes that there isn’t a lot of interaction across nominal cultural frontiers. I’d be surprised if a Londoner was more likely to physically visit Toronto than Paris, or if a Madrile?o was more likely to go to Buenos Aires than to Paris, or if your average Aucklander was more likely to be American or Australian than (say) Samoan or Tongan. Cape Town’s main language is Afrikaans, derived from Dutch, with a growing non-Anglophone Bantu-speaking minority more culturally similar to other Bantu-speaking southern Africans outside South Africa’s borders than to your average Australian or Canadian. Geography and history still counts for quite a bit.

    Another thing that I’ve noticed about Bennett’s discussion of the Anglosphere’s internal structure seems to echo old Anglo-Saxonist thought interestingly, with the United States and Britain at the core, the old British dominions, Ireland, and India on the semiperiphery, and every other Anglophone on the fringes. This may, or may not, reflect power balances which do exist. Given Bennett’s extensive writings elsewhere on the geopolitical import of the Anglosphere, though, I can’t help but feel that the concept is at least a bit self-serving.

    Language definitely is a frame of reference. It’s just not, in the sense that Bennett uses it, the only or the definitive frame.

  4. “In an internet-mediated economy where information is the chief product, London, Toronto, Los Angeles, Cape Town and Sydney [and, one might add, Edinburgh] are next door to to each other–while London and Paris, Toronto and Montreal, Los Angeles and Beijing, Sydney and Jakarta are all separated by a wall of differing visions and assumptions.”

    Let’s consider the case of uber Internet company Amazon… it would seem to be a perfect example of what he wants to illustrate…

    Except that Amazon’s seven sites are in four different languages. And the differences between sites sharing the same language seem to be as great as those in different languages.

    And while Amazon sells information…it’s in solid form (Books,CDs,DVDs, etc.). It even sells physical products that don’t qualify as “information”, like frying pans.

    Maybe Amazon is an exception in the grand scheme of the internet economy, but more likely this theory doesn’t fit the reality.

  5. Anecdotal counter-example:

    When I go looking for statistical models, MATLAB modules or theories on how to test the reject inference, I almost invariably end up at Anglophone web-sites or English texts. I cannot imagine that less statistical work is done in, say, France or Germany or Japan, but the transaction costs associated with translation and the like mean that the Anglophone materials are vastly more valuable to me in terms of both time and money. This inevitably leads me to further interactions (newsletters, blogs, other texts by the same authors) that deepen my interaction with other Anglophone areas and, relatively speaking, lessen my connections with non-Anglophone Europe and Asia. And it reinforces itself via network effects, to boot.

    The Amazon example is interesting, but without data on the relative amounts of revenue and number of hits produced by each site (both measures of whether the interaction is predominantly inter- or intra-language), I don’t see that it says a lot about his theory.

    Bernard Guerrero

  6. the transaction costs associated with translation and the like mean that the Anglophone materials are vastly more valuable to me in terms of both time and money.

    Now that you’ve explained why you aren’t inclined to use non-anglophone resources….

    and, relatively speaking, [the internet] lessen my connections with non-Anglophone Europe and Asia

    So your increase in usage of anglophone resources reduced your use of non-anglophone resources from none to none ?

    The point with the Amazon example is that Language is not the sole or even controlling divider, there are differences of vision and assumptions in the inventory that Amazon stocks in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K.

  7. Patrick,

    “The point with the Amazon example is that language is not the sole or even controlling divider, there are differences of vision and assumptions in the inventory that Amazon stocks in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K.”

    That would actually be a very interesting data set to study. I think Bennett, for his part, would be more interested in the fact that Anglophone book buyers in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Australia and so forth, are aware of and following each others “inventories” via networks like Amazon. I don’t think he’s arguing (necessarily) for an alignment of policy preferences; he’s arguing for alignments of orientation.

    Randy,

    “Another thing that I’ve noticed about Bennett’s discussion of the Anglosphere’s internal structure seems to echo old Anglo-Saxonist thought interestingly, with the United States and Britain at the core, the old British dominions, Ireland, and India on the semiperiphery, and every other Anglophone on the fringes.”

    That’s a fascinating comment; thanks for bringing it up. You’re definitely on to something. I’d have to think about it some more, but I wonder: is Bennett’s theory of the Anglosphere just a way to import and old-fashion Whiggism into the “network” age?

  8. [I]s Bennett’s theory of the Anglosphere just a way to import an old-fashion Whiggism into the “network” age?

    Among other things, yes. Witness his displeasure at the failure of Canada to join the US-led coalition, and his suggestion that western Canada–of course, supposedly more strongly in support of free trade/enterprise et cetera ad infinitum as a bloc than a part-Quebecois centre and east–should be encouraged to secede. That theory, for instance, doesn’t take into account that Quebec was the Canadian region most strongly in favour of free trade back in the 1980s, that western Canada apart from Alberta was strongly skeptical, and that Alberta by American standards would be a politically centrist state.

    The Anglosphere theories and their kindred have some relevance. Their role isn’t as determinative in the end, though, as Bennett would seem to like.

  9. Patrick,

    “So your increase in usage of anglophone resources reduced your use of non-anglophone resources from none to none ?”

    Of course not! I said “relatively”, didn’t I? I’ll happily pick up, say, MATLAB coded by a francophone, and I do.

    But the utility of English-language stuff is usually higher simply due to ease of use, so it predominates. And increasing usage of the one tends to drive down the _relative_ usage of the other. I might start out on a topic with 5 sites that vary as to language, but the English sites will tend to garner the lion’s share of increasing usage. The non-English sites will tend to fall in relative terms, even if I give them a certain low-but-regular level of usage.

    “The point with the Amazon example is that Language is not the sole or even controlling divider, there are differences of vision and assumptions in the inventory that Amazon stocks in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K.”

    But that’s obvious, given that the legal structures and patterns of consumption differ even though they speak the same language. It doesn’t address the question of _relative_ differences, though. Amazon U.K must, perforce, differ from the U.S. Amazon, but does it vary more or less from Amazon’s Continental offerings? Does it garner traffic and revenue of the sort the U.S. parent does, or is it marginalized in the Continental market due to cultural or linguistic issues? I don’t see that those questions are addressed by merely pointing out that Amazon maintains various sites.

    Bernard Guerrero

  10. I said “relatively”, didn’t I? I’ll happily pick up, say, MATLAB coded by a francophone, and I do.

    So glad, but I want to make that I understand correctly that you had meaningful access to non-anglophone material prior to the internet…

    Because if your absolute usage of non-anglophone resources went from none to some, there is no way that there could be a relative decline in your usage of non-anglophone resources compared to anglophone resources.

    But that’s obvious, given that the legal structures and patterns of consumption differ even though they speak the same language.

    So then it’s obvious that L.A., Toronto, and London have their own cultural walls in spite of sharing a common language. In the case of anglophone Amazon sites, the walls are roughly of equal height with the non-anglophone Amazon sites, in spite of the different languages because of the similarities of the sites’ layout. Web-tools that do automated translation can lower the language walls even further.

    It doesn’t address the question of _relative_ differences, though.

    I gave a counter-example for a specious assertion. If you want to argue that my counter-example isn’t nuanced enough, the onus for providing specifics is on you :)

  11. Cultural barriers between different core nations in the Anglosphere can be lower than compared to comparable other nations. I know, for instance, that I’ve used Amazon.com to order books and music unavailable via Amazon.ca. Automated translation will go some way to reduce these cultural barriers defined by language, but they’ll persist for a while.

    Bennett’s Anglosphere argument is flawed, though, inasmuch as it argues that this fairly direct question of language is the determinative one. It overlooks–for starters–multilingualism, or culturally-instilled prefrences not corresponding with language frontiers (French or Australian wine? German or, um, Canadian beer?), or alternative networks which don’t conform with Anglosphere internal and external frontiers (a transnational Roman Catholic culture, for instance, or Internet discussion groups).

  12. “Let’s consider the case of uber Internet company Amazon… it would seem to be a perfect example of what he wants to illustrate…”

    I guess the point could be that Amazon might well be the begining not the end of the line here. Also you are talking really about a user interface, a “skin”, not the actual inner-workings. It woould be interesting to focus more on the internal harmonisation of Amazon communication.

    Maybe the majority of digital products which will be floating around will have a relatively non-linguistic format: Mp3, computer code, DNA recipe, design structure, X-ray etc.

    And just maybe the point of the Anglosphere is the facility it provides in knowing where to find such information and its providers, plus the capacity to leverage state of the art observations about what you might be able to do with such information products once you do have the access.

    Perhaps Fistful itself is a useful example of the Anglosphere in this context.

    Finally: just a brief point on the non-linguistic dimensions of culture: I would start by looking at kinship patterns and ties generally,then maybe music, and certainly food.

  13. I think Bennett is on to something, but he does engage in a few too many things that I think are rather cliché. I’m still unclear on the concept of civil society. This in particular:

    Societies that place individuals under the permanent discipline of inherited or assigned collectivities, and permanently bind them into such, remain bogged down in family favoritism; ethnic, racial or religious factionalism; or the “crony capitalism” that has marred the economies of East Asia and Latin America.

    But of course, the state itself is the ultimate “inherited or assigned collectivit[y].” That short-coming in his outlook is quite critical to his case. The states he is holding up as examples are those that have abolished all competing identities. Bennett’s notion of civil society really is deeply confused. He also overestimates the significance of the US-Canada free trade agreement, which probably created less identification between the US and Canada than the old regime did.

    Part of his failure is to recognise the dialectical nature of identity. Canadians are becoming less like Americans, not more. Proximity and dependency produce distinction and difference at least as much as they produce unity.

    But, his essential failure is to see cause and effect relationships where the actually events are more simultaneous. He is just as guilty as the French social scientists that he criticises for trying to distill from the British experience of state construction and industrialisation a raod map for the rest of the world. Democracy and civil liberities came into being in conjunction with the kinds of institutions he is pointing to as their causes. The two were not readily separable. He is correct to think that transplanting western-style governance is not a sure-fire recipe for social progress, but he seems to think that western-style economic instituions are.

    Randy’s got a point about his overemphasis on language. Part of what holds Europe together is that, despite different languages, the actual underlying social structures in western Europe are not terribly different. The police have similar powers and authorities in all of western Europe. Each member state of the EU has a legislature and multiple political parties. Each state has a state-subsidied medical system and state-run schools. Speed limits and traffic rules don’t change much from coutry to country – except the UK. They all pay at least lip service to the same set of human rights and standards for institutional behaviour. If you point to an institution in one state, you can easily point to an equivalent one in the next state.

    Also, don’t imagine that language will replace money as the key tie that binds. Latin America is more important to American trade than Australia, and Japan is more important to Australia. For American and British conservatives, like Bennett, free trade is an agenda, not a political union. That the US has a free trade pact with Canada says more about a common interest in free trade than anything it says about identity. Also, don’t underestimate the power of chauvinism and people’s belief that they should take care of their own first.

  14. Scott,

    As you might imagine, I also took some exception to his comment about “societies that place individuals under the permanent discipline of inherited or assigned collectivities.” Like so many others with an essentially economic/empirical outlook, he is ignorant of the role and nature of collectivities, whether they be states or language groups or “networks.” The maintainence of the networks which he thinks (hopes?) will provide resources for social cohesian and legal regimes, and hence materially dependable forums for transactions, is at least partially a function of “inherited” identities; to suggest that such collectivies not be “assigned” (via parents, schools, etc.), but rather be, say, freely chosen or revised at the whim of children or immigrants or judges, would make his whole vision impossible: his “network commonwealths” would be be ad hoc, “crypto-anarchic” creations of the sort he dismisses. I think Bennett has read enough Fukuyama (who has his own limitations, but still…) to know that the virtues inculcated in groups is fundamental to the kind of societies he prefers, but he, as you note Scott, he still falls back clich?s. Perhaps it’s just his language getting the better of him.

    I also think you’re right, as Randy has observed, that there is an interesting kind of Anglocentric historical chauvinism present in his claims. But I would still want to push your disagreement with his interest in language networks even further. You write that “what holds Europe together is [that]…the actual underlying social structures in Western Europe are not terribly different. The police have similar powers and authorities in all of Western Europe. Each member state of the EU has a legislature and multiple political parties. Each state has a state-subsidied medical system and state-run schools. Speed limits and traffic rules don’t change much from coutry to country–except the UK.”

    That’s a good argument…but does it actually undermine Bennett’s analysis? You talk about institutional similarities throughout Western Europe, while allowing that the U.K. in some ways is doing it’s own thing. Well, didn’t Bennett himself argue that, for a variety of reasons, Western Europe, meaning France-Germany-the Benelux states, were very much a single cultural entity (despite the linguistic variety, which in practice–as your own life and career demonstrate–are a minimal nuisance at best), while the U.K. was a European “exception”? He could simply claim that what you say about political or social institutions simply re-emphasizes existing cultural/linguistic network patterns, with the U.K. being an obvious outlier from the Western Europe core. Moreover, he lists other “exceptions”: Iberia, Scandanivia, and East-Central Europe. Your own claim factors out the last of those; what about the other two? Are the medical, legal, political, police and other social environments of those areas really commonly binding as you suggest? I honestly wouldn’t know; I’m curious to hear your response. My suspicion, informed by what I’ve read and heard from friends who have lived there, is that Bennett, whether or not his conclusions or prescriptions are reasonable, is noting something quite real about the divisions between “old” and “new” Europe, to say nothing of Portugal or Italy or Greece.

    Some years back, an American legal scholar, George Fletcher, wrote an interesting paper on how the English phrase “fair play,” which linguistically signals a whole matrix of culturally embedded sport and playground practices, has had a real impact on Anglophone law and procedure, and that a comparable concept isn’t available in other linguistic contexts (he plays around with “?quitable” and “juste” and concludes they simply can’t come out the same way in terms of praxis). Consequently, despite similarities, Bennett might be right in thinking that, in the long run, networks will follow language rather than institutional consensuses, since institutions follow languages as well.

  15. [D]idn’t Bennett himself argue that, for a variety of reasons, Western Europe, meaning France-Germany-the Benelux states, were very much a single cultural entity (despite the linguistic variety, which in practice–as your own life and career demonstrate–are a minimal nuisance at best), while the U.K. was a European “exception”?

    Interesting roundabout turn. ;-)

    He could simply claim that what you say about political or social institutions simply re-emphasizes existing cultural/linguistic network patterns, with the U.K. being an obvious outlier from the Western Europe core.

    A quick question: Why, exactly, is Britain an outlier? I think the discussion might benefit if we all clarified our terms.

    Moreover, he lists other “exceptions”: Iberia, Scandanivia, and East-Central Europe.

    My suspicion, informed by what I’ve read and heard from friends who have lived there, is that Bennett, whether or not his conclusions or prescriptions are reasonable, is noting something quite real about the divisions between “old” and “new” Europe, to say nothing of Portugal or Italy or Greece.

    If he is, though, for starters he’s not using a fine enough point. Culturally, is Catalonia more like France or like Andalucia? Is northern Italy more like Austria or more like southern Italy? Europe–at least, those areas of Europe which were non-Communist during the Cold War–does share a common history, marked by cross-border trade, migration, and other assorted cultural influences being transmitted without significant regard for linguistic barriers. That the western European core seems to be generally held up as normative models for Europe is also suggestive of the existence of a shared mental community, regardless of barriers.

  16. One more point:

    Consequently, despite similarities, Bennett might be right in thinking that, in the long run, networks will follow language rather than institutional consensuses, since institutions follow languages as well.

    In the European case, though, transnational networks were created by language, by fluency in shared regional lingua franche–French, German, now English.

    Bennett’s argument doesn’t seem to distinguish between L1 and L2 networks, which is problematic to say the least–a majority of Italians, Spanish, Germans, and Dutch have never been Francophone, but all those countries have recognizable variants of the Code napoleon serving as the basis of their legal professions.

    For that matter, only a small minority of Indians are Anglophone. As incomes rise across the board, it’s a fair conclusion that the vernaculars of the masses–Hindi, Bengali, Tamil, and so on–will rise to a greater appearance of prominence relative to English. Does the fact of India’s overwhelmingly non-Anglophone population and the likelihood of a further shift away from the language as the country develops disqualify India from the Anglosphere?

    My thinking on Bennett, I guess, is that it is definitely a present condition, but it’s not the only one. I remain to be convinced that it’s the definitive answer.

  17. There seems a general desire to downplay linguistic differences, in particular with regards to English. But there’s a fairly sizable gap between the logical distinctions expressable in a given language versus those of another, and this can be problematic in situations that depend on a common contractual or legal understanding for efficient operation (like government). Here’s a link to a 200 level overview of logical conditional sentences in English (from Berkeley) to give an idea:

    http://www.icsi.berkeley.edu/~kay/bcg/lec07.html

    Having had a fair amount of recent experience in legal translation between Portuguese (Brazilian) and English, there’s absolutely no comparison between the legal/contractual language of a Latin speaking (and laid back) system like Brazil (or Mexico) and the “legal-ese” used in the US (which is not laid back, to put it kindly).

    That said, I don’t think this dooms the EU per say. I’m not convinced that pointing to the “institutional” similarities of western Europe (sans Britain) is revealing as to a fair extent they share a common post-war history that’s made each quite reactionary in it’s own formation. The underlying social structures are not terribly different because they developed with obvious external constraints and under similar conditions. Yet aren’t these conditions the basis for a common …. European meta-culture, say?

    (And Scott… if youse Canucks were sincere about differentiating yourselves from the US, you’d recast your small change!)

  18. Randy, you ask why Bennett considers Britain an “exception” to the French-German-Benelux European core, but doesn’t, in fact, see that core itself as being constituted by linguistic exceptions from one another. Good question. One might just be tempted to write it off as another example of Bennett’s odd 21st-century Whiggery, and maybe that would be correct. But whether it holds much water or not, Bennett does make claims in this regard. For instance he talks about the common experience with “Colbertian” institutions in the European core, thus suggesting that he doesn’t always privilege language in the origin of networks. Then again, might one say that Colbertian forms of organization and “expertise” production is precisely what made possible the mutual fluency among political elites of a few key languages in these states? In which case, we’re looking at a chicken-or-the-egg problem here. In Bennett’s eyes, the problem with grander visions for the EU is that, for example, Italians and Spaniards, even if they share a similar legal code with the rest of Europe, lack the language base so to produce a cultural environment that will make strong social cohesion with states like Germany or France possible–and yet those very states themselves arguably got to the point that they significantly shared a cultural environment because social cohesion (or, at least, elites capable of cohering) were produced, in a sense, wholly separately from their countries’ respective bases. Which makes one wonder if language determines the path of networks, or is a tool in the hand of networks, or both at the same time.

    I really enjoy tossing this sort of stuff back and forth. These are exactly the kind of questions and arguments I wanted to see Bennett subject, so many thanks for the input.

  19. Russell,

    Well… Italy was in NATO as well, as well as holding the others hands through the rebuilding process after WWII. The Italians have a language base and cultural environment that’s at least as integrated into the European concept as the UK. Italy had the same euphoria as Germany, and suffered more destruction than France when it fell. And at a deeper cultural level, Spain and Italy and France have more basis for intuitive cooperation than France and Germany.

    The fluency of the political elites is a common military and structural cooperation that extended into rebuilding and technological cooperation. All of these required a shared basis for communication and established/reinforced the most natural networks that presented themselves to each culture. On another hand, the ideological choices were limited by circumstance and depended on an ease with double talk the Russians think is hilarious and the Americans take over seriously.

    So the shared trauma of mutually getting dragged along as bit players in a tragedy-comedy forced them to concede where previously each was unwilling. The Tom Stoppard play (“Gildenstern and Rosenkranz are dead” (sp) illustrates their positions in a weird way, including the double talk (probably counter productive at this stage).

    A question I’d put forth to an English contributor would be to ask what the language used translates like to their “ear”? To an outsider, the shared English lexicon is that of those latin root words that are most commonly used easily by French, rather than German or Spanish or Italian. But it’s not clear that the definitions carry the English rather than French implications.

  20. Russell, no Bennett makes a not dissimilar point. What I would say is that you shouldn’t neglect how the same sorts of factors come into play elsewhere and can overpower linguistic similarity. Indeed, if we really could deem language the most important factor in creating a common public sphere, we would have to explain why it’s accomplished so little in Scandinavia, the Balkans and the Indian subcontinent.

    I did say that I think Bennett is on to something, although I’m not convinced that it’s what he thinks it is. The “Anglosphere” does represent something real, although precisely what is unclear to me. If I say “I didn’t do it, nobody saw me do it, you can’t prove anything” anywhere in it, people usually get the whole cultural effect. Even in Belgium, people don’t get it. (Although, I should note that an English professor of English lit who I was talking with last night didn’t get “I’m having some difficulty with my lifestyle.”) On the other hand, even as benign a Canadianism as “he shoots, he scores!” doesn’t even get recognised in much of the US. I fear that what Bennett is seeing is more the domination of American discourse in the “Anglosphere” (and it’s diminishing dominance outside of it) rather than a real community forming.

    Britain is certainly not European in the sense that the rest of Europe is. I can’t tell if language really is the key issue. I don’t know Ireland or Scandinavia much, and it would be there that the claim should be tested. As for the rest – Europe is not really homogenous for any kind of institutional characteristic, but there is a sort of Wittgensteinian “family resemblance” going on. I would argue that Spain and Italy certainly fit the resemblance better than the UK, and that eastern European aspirations fit it as well. The facts on the ground east of the old Iron Curtain may be quite different.

    Alexander – Canadian units of money date back to the 1830′s, I think. Nowadays, Canada has no penny and has 1 and 2 dollar coins. Like I said, we are growing more different, not less.

  21. Scott,

    ” even as benign a Canadianism as “he shoots, he scores!” doesn’t even get recognised in much of the US”

    The Hell you say! I use it all the time, didn’t even realize it was a Canuckism.

    Bernard Guerrero, Devils fan

  22. I’d question the assumption about the degree to which southern European states aren’t part of Europe. The fairly basic similarities between Catalonia and northern Italy on the one hand, and the France-Benelux-Germany group on the other, are one point. More important is the profound integration of these countries into the France-Benelux-Germany group, whether measured in terms of the volume of migration, trade, fluency in French and Germany, et cetera.

    Britain is certainly not European in the sense that the rest of Europe is. I can’t tell if language really is the key issue. I don’t know Ireland or Scandinavia much, and it would be there that the claim should be tested.

    I disagree about Ireland, given the strong cultural similarities with mainland Britain. Scandinavia would be the appropriate venue, I suspect.

    As for the rest – Europe is not really homogenous for any kind of institutional characteristic, but there is a sort of Wittgensteinian “family resemblance” going on. I would argue that Spain and Italy certainly fit the resemblance better than the UK, and that eastern European aspirations fit it as well. The facts on the ground east of the old Iron Curtain may be quite different.

    That’s my general impressions from this side of the Atlantic. It’s open to question, of course, just how big the gap is between ideal and actual norms.

    Question: Is East Germany part of this core area of Europe?

    Alexander – Canadian units of money date back to the 1830′s, I think. Nowadays, Canada has no penny and has 1 and 2 dollar coins. Like I said, we are growing more different, not less.

    Quite right about the coins, but my change from my Tim Horton’s coffee says that we’ve still got pennies.

  23. a Canadianism as “he shoots, he scores!”

    I seem to recall that phrase becoming popular in my part of the U.S. in connection with the “Wayne’s World” movie…

  24. Scott,

    I’m from Detroit… my State’s Governor is Canadian (ex-Canadian, that is). Do you imagine that there’s a magical force field across the Detroit river that keeps us from receiving Canadian radio or tv signals? Or perhaps the Nationalist sentiment in Windsor is so strong they’re not Red Wing fans! (yeah, right.)

    Furthermore, The claim about Canadian units of money seems at odds with the Royal Mint (1830, indeed). It’s a petty argument between Canadians and Americans, true. But I find it very hard to believe that Canadians don’t know what their own nickels and quarters look like (Queen Beth II is the face on both, the ‘noble’ beaver’s on the nickel, and an elk is on the quarter). Bahhh! Canadians!

  25. “the actual underlying social structures in western Europe are not terribly different”

    Amazing statement — the sort of thing only a Dutch internationalist would say. Social structures in Italy and Germany are the same? I suspect the writer knows nothing of Italian family life for a start. If he had said “institutional arrangements” he might have had more of a point.

    And I think the discussion here is among largely polyglot people. Most of the Anglosphere speaks only English however so I think the importance of language has been much underestimated in this discussion. For 98% of the Anglosphere, language is almost an ABSOLUTE barrier. Write what you like in French and you might as well be pissing into the wind as far as almost all of the Anglosphere is concerned.

  26. People may be interested in looking at the website for Bennett’s new book, The Anglosphere Challenge. It has lengthy excerpts from the book which address many of the points raised in this comment string. The book is excellent and very much worth reading.

  27. 70% of Canadians live at or south of Seattle. Many are wedged between Michigan and New Yourk state. 90% of Canadians live in a twisting 4000 mile ribbon only 50-100 miles wide, most of the rest live close to the ribbon. What a monstrosity this border has become, in this age of information, economic and human interaction.

    I believe that the English world and the Spanish world are going to merge because of the USA ethnic transformation taking place. Spain better move fast if it wants to benefit as it potentially might. So I agree with the idea that Europe will have a main central core, with important branches into Eastern Europe, Scandanavia, England and its friends, Spain and its friends. The USA will have some Pacific reach for sure and would be foolish to ever become far apart from 350-400 million Franco-German centered core Europeans who have shared so much, and are powerful. The Mediterranean and Arab lands are of interest to Europe-East, the Core of Europe, the English and Spanish speaking areas.They will all seek alliances, and Arabs should skillfully use these competing alliances, to benefit their own group.