The Anglo-American World Order
Let me begin by saying that God and Gold is an ambitious book. According to Walter Russell Mead, the book is not about history, but about the meaning of history. What is the overarching plot of world history? Mead argues that history is best viewed from the perspective of Anglo-American power. He writes, “It is not too much to say that the last four hundred years of world history can be summed up in ten letters. As leadership in the maritime order shifted from the United Provinces of the Netherlands to the United Kingdom and finally to the United States, the story of world power goes U.P. to U.K. to U.S.” (p. 86).
This story of power is both conservative and revolutionary. Conservative in that the United States seeks to defend the international status quo against those who would change it through violence, and revolutionary in seeking to change age-old power structures with market economics and democratic ideals. (p. 4). From an American perspective, the established liberal capitalist democratic system is the best way to promote social peace and stability in the world. But it also accelerates the pace of social, economic, and technological change for everyone in the world. (p. 16). It is a system of creative destruction in which the Anglo-American culture establishes the rules of the game and—of all the nations on earth—the Anglo-Americans are best equipped to play and win by those rules.
What follows is a brief outline of the first half of the book. Part One of the book “reviews three hundred years of clashing civilizations, explores the common Anglo-Saxon culture of the United States and Britain, and examines the rise of an “anti-Anglophone” ideology among the various forces that have opposed the English-speaking powers from the time of Louis XIV to Osama bin Laden.” (p. 13). Part Two of the book looks at the military, diplomatic, and economic strategies that led Britain and the United States to world power. The Anglo-Saxon powers did not just win wars, they changed the way the world lives, thinks, and organizes itself. (p. 13-14). The history he presents is worth the price of the book alone, for it underscores the centrality of Anglo-American power in shaping our current world order.
Not surprisingly, that power has led to fear and dread for many. Mead offers a wonderful analysis of the intensity of hatred of all things American. That hatred can best be analyzed as rooted in the creative destruction the modern Anglo-American world has wrought. While we may see the creativity in this change, others see the destruction. Mead argues that anti-Americanism is an all-consuming (albeit incoherent) worldview. The American must be hated. He must be hated because he is indifferent to the world but wants to impose his views on the world. He is a fat and lazy couch potato like Homer Simpson who is also the shrewd and relentless businessman who strips opponents of their assets through icy and malignant super-intelligence. He is a reckless cowboy and a feminized weakling. He endangers peace with unworldly idealism and foments war with ruthless and inhuman policies. (p. 73). For these anti-Americans, our country is an omnipresent, total, and terrifying menace to the world.
Mead does not appear to be particularly troubled by this hatred. Since Elizabeth I we have fought wars with illiberal opponents and have won. “It is perhaps bad manners to say so, but that does not make it less so. The Anglo-Saxon powers have established the most extensive, powerful, and culturally significant hegemony that history records—and this in the teeth of bitter opposition by rich and powerful states capable of waging both military and ideological campaigns against the Anglo-American order.” (p. 80). One cannot help but wonder if God is a liberal, for every century has seen Anglo-Americans face imposing, illiberal opponents and yet every century the Anglo-Americans and their world order is stronger at the end than it was at the beginning. The walls keep coming down, and Americans see in that destruction the hand of Providence. (p. 81).
The current world order is not modeled on British imperialism, but Mead suggests that it is akin to an empire nonetheless. With empires you have to conquer and control. With order people freely choose to belong. And in that order there is control. Anglo-Americans control the turf, the trade routes, the market share, the financial markets, and the key relationships. (p. 112).
The picture that Mead draws is a compelling and in many respects disturbing one. At bottom, he argues that democratic capitalism imposes a constant imperative to change, in what may appear to be a never ending Darwinian struggle. The rest of the world looks on with fascination, horror and envy at this economic model, a model which has given the English and Americans an economic edge that has sustained them in their battles with evil empires down the years. (p. 186). The world order is not rigged in our favor, but it is imbued by our culture such that we are predisposed to succeed in that environment. And others are predisposed to struggle just to keep up.