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November 11, 2009

On that “Special Relationship”

Filed under: Culture,English,Foreign Policy — David Hume @ 12:20 pm

When it comes to multiple loyalties we know about the issues which cropped up with Germans, Italians and Japanese during World War II, and the vociferous anti-German activism of World War I, the ambivalence which the Irish viewed intervention on the side of Britain during the World Wars. But of course there is one overarching bond of affinity and hostility which has characterized the American nation, and that is the relationship with the United Kingdom. During the War of 1812 the elites of New England did mull over secession from the United States. There was a clear commercial rationale for this, a rationale which was inverted during the Civil War when it was the Southern states who had ties of commerce with United Kingdom, but there was also an ethno-cultural valence. Even today Greater New England remains the most explicitly “English” of American regions. Though the elites of New England had clear material interests with the United Kingdom, bonds of culture and ethnicity were also prominent during the late 18th and early 19th century, which set off this region as particularly Anglophile. By contrast, in 1800 the South was dominated demographically by Scots-Irish, and ruled over by a planter elite with paradoxical Jacobin sympathies (Thomas Jefferson’s Francophilia was extreme, but illustrated the trend). During the Civil War the Southern elite were no longer so enamored of revolution, and styled themselves cavalier aristocrats from the English West Country. Much of the British aristocracy was sympathetic with the Confederacy, again, for material reasons foremost, but buttressed by imagined ties of culture and heritage.

The American affinity for Britain, and in particular England, is such an assumed background condition that many would never even consider it a foreign tie or loyalty. But all nations have histories, pasts, and relationships with other nations.


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