The Anglosphere, Part One: What’s in a Name?

What do you get when you intersect indices that rank top two dozen nations of the world by political freedoms, GDP per capita, productivity, literacy, and patent applications in late 2000s? The answer is you get some kind of an “Anglosphere” – usually the quartet of Australia, Canada, the UK, and the U.S., but also, depending on the underlying measures and thresholds, New Zealand, Ireland, Singapore and so on.

Using data from the World Development Indicators, The Economist Intelligence Unit, and International Labour Organisation, among others sources, I’ve played this game in my research methods classes quite a bit. No methods textbook endorses such mindless empiricism, but students, from what I can tell, tend to appreciate the loose structure of the exercise. This is because the objective – familiarizing students with comparison, measurement, scaling, and so on – almost always shifts onto the “why?” questions, at which point everyone (ok, not everyone) tries to come up with his/her social scientific narrative on what makes this or that grouping “interesting,” “different,” or “special.”

Joel Kotkin, one of America’s premier demographers, and his nine collaborators have shown me how this game can be played at an infinitely more sophisticated level. Their argument – developed primarily in a collection of the Legatum Institute papers entitled “The New World Order”, but also in two shorter pieces penned by Kotkin and Shashi Parulekar at and in City Journal – is that globalized economy by and large operates in and through three large “tribal groupings” or “spheres”: the Indosphere, the Sinosphere, and the Anglosphere [1]. As the authors note, their narrative can claim a formidable intellectual pedigree: “we have followed the great Arab historian Ibn Khaldun’s notion that ethnic and cultural ties are more important than geographic patterns or levels of economic development.”

Kotkin et al offer no shortage of interesting and novel observations and analytical points, but one of the project’s key punchlines is in the title of the Anglosphere section in the New World Order: “We are not dead yet.” The project’s foil, in other words, is the current wave of American declinism:

The era of unipolar domination by the United States and its key allies — which dates from the fall of the Soviet Union — has come to an end. Yet despite this, the core Anglosphere remains by far the largest cohesive economic bloc in the world. Overall it accounts for more than 18 trillion dollars, one quarter of the world’s GDP, far more than any other cohesive global grouping.

The Sinosphere (operationalized and measured as the PRC plus Taiwan, but conceptualized to include 40 million overseas Chinese) comes second, with around 15 per cent of global GDP in PPP terms ($11-trillion), followed by the Indosphere (the Republic of India and its diasporas), which accountt for 5.4 per cent ($4-trillion). In terms of GDP per capita, the relatively small Anglosphere (400 million people in six countries, which can also be defined as the world of the so-called “native English speakers”) towers the rest with $45,000 per person (compare with $7,500 in the Sinosphere, $4,000 in the Indosphere). The relative shares of the global pie might soon change in favour of the emerging spheres [2], but Kotkin et al are optimistic about the future of the Anglosphere for the reasons of science and technology (e.g., 450 out of 500 largest software companies are in the English-speaking countries); culture (the Englishization of the world, on top of the dominance of the media industry); demography (no other sphere attracts as many immigrants); and therefore global commerce:

Of course, the Anglosphere is well past the heroic era of Elizabeth I, Sir Francis Drake, Clive of India, Disraeli, Washington, Lincoln, or either of the Roosevelts. But, like the Roman Empire which survived for hundreds of years after the Augustan golden age, the Anglosphere is not close to its demise. After all, if Rome could come back from Caligula and Nero, the Anglosphere should be able to persist after George Bush and Barack Obama. And if, or maybe even when, the Sinosphere or India rise to the technological and material wealth of the Anglos, they still are likely to be using a language and economic and legal conventions developed by the English-speaking countries. Although no longer a hegemon of the world, the Anglosphere will likely remain a primary crucible of global commerce, culture and technology well into the 21st Century.

If the paragraph is too long for you, try Andrew Sullivan’s three-word summary: Anglosphere, Fuck Yeah!

Kotkin et al do not discuss their choice for the language of spheres, at least not in their writings I’ve seen so far. The label Anglosphere, for one, has many more-or-less retrospective alternatives such as the English-speaking peoples, Anglo-America, or the Anglo-world. Perhaps the authors saw the neologism to be self-explanatory, like the Australian historian Keith Windschuttle: “As soon as most people hear the word “Anglosphere”, they have a fairly good idea what it means” [3].

But the word Anglosphere is of recent vintage. It comes to us from the world of fiction, specifically from cyberpunk. In Neal Stephenson’s Diamond Age, the Anglosphere appeared as one of the three big ‘phyles’, civilization-like macro-communities competing with each other over markets and nanotechnologies in the deep twenty-first century. What gives the Anglosphere, a.k.a. the Neo-Victorian or Atlantan phyle, an edge over the Celestial Kingdom (Han Chinese) and the Nippon (Japanese) is not simply commerce and technology, but also its relative pluralism, openness and inclusiveness such that Indian, Korea and other lesser phyles are welcome to live and prosper within the Neo-Victorian phyle on the condition that their members acknowledge and accept the Anglo Leitkultur.

Stephenson uses the term Anglosphere exactly once in his long novel, but it must be said the idea has had a longstanding presence in utopian/dystopian fiction. In George Orwell’s 1984, the Anglosphere is Oceania, an entity created by the ‘absorption’ of the British Empire by the US, and now fighting for survival against Eurasia and Eastasia. Stephenson’s and Orwell’s worlds are comparable in the sense that they are defined by a three-way contest among large cultural (and racialized, I’d say) entities. Unlike Stephenson, who dreams up a new axial age, Orwell depicts a depressing Hobbesian dog-eat-dog fantasy in which three totalitarian, slave-owning ‘superstates’ are constantly at war with each other [4]. The future imagined by Kotkin et al is closer to Stephenson’s; the three great spheres (or pyles) will co-exist peacefully, and hopefully work together to address common problems such as the looming global demographic abyss (“Six Adults and One Child” is the title of one of the essays). The best hope for humankind thus lies not in this or that sphere, the authors correctly note, but in economic growth for all.

How the Anglosphere become part of the global policy discourse is unclear, but the term appeared at in 1999–2000 at two conferences convened by the Hudson Institute, a Washington think tank. If Stephanson is the father of the Anglosphere, its grandfather is James C. Bennett, an American entrepreneur (with polymathic tendencies, I would add having spent a weekend with him), who presented papers at the said conferences, which he later published as The Anglosphere Challenge (2004). The argument is wide-ranging, but the main point is prescriptive: the English-speaking nations should find ways to cooperate more with each other, specifically through a “network commonwealth” of free trade and labour movement. In Bennett’s book, the Anglosphere is conceptualized in terms of concentric circles, from the “densest nodes” or “inner circle” all the way to the “outer circle,” “frontiers,” and “periphery,” and with a variety of in between mid-circles and nodal points. Bennett’s outer circle is very large and it refers the community of all officially English-speaking nations, from Antigua and Barbuda to Zimbabwe, plus a few more, like Sweden or Switzerland, whose people speak English well, and in sufficiently large numbers. The language of the Anglosphere “core” (New Zealand) and “non-core” (Singapore) in the analysis by Kotkin et al comes from Bennett’s book.

By the second half of the 2000s, the term was floating among assorted groups of intellectuals chattering in English, sometimes propelled by the familiar ideological heat. On the political right, the Anglosphere rung as a programmatic call for a closer community of nations united by, to use Windschuttle’s words, the “ancient traditions of the British”, and an even closer community of their elites united in the opposition to the EU, the UN, and “radical multiculturalism at home.” It was this group that showed most enthusiasm for proposals like Bennett’s, especially if one also considers nearby conservative discourses on empire (e.g. Niall Ferguson) or the English-speaking peoples (e.g. Andrew Roberts). In the center, Walter Russell Mead (I say center mainly because he cleverly calls his column in The American InterestVia Meadia”) argued that the Anglosphere was the carrier of modernity, currently centered on US efforts to bring more and more people to globalized economy and, where possible, promote liberal values and institutions. And for Naomi Klein on the left, the Anglosphere was a neoliberal, imperialist and racist project aimed “against the Muslim world and anyone else who poses a threat.” Operational definitions of the Anglosphere wildly varied in these debates, even in texts authored by the same person, the main agreement being that America and Britain constitute the irreducible core of this club [5].

The Anglosphere was popularized by the media empires of Rupert Murdoch and Conrad Black, both of whom had a certain fondness for the discourses of freedom and the marketplace that the term invoked. This may explain how Prime Minister Gordon Brown ended up authoring a piece in Wall Street Journal entitled “Enlarging the Anglosphere.” Intended to prepare the ground for Brown’s second official visit to the US, the piece discussed the meaning of the Anglo-American special relationship in the 21st century – more cooperation in education, research and development, as well as for joint effort to spread English, “the international language that happens to be our own.” By investing in these tools of global participation, Brown reckoned, the English-speaking peoples would augment their markets and tax revenues. Other leaders of the highest level from this period who probably had a fairly good idea what the Anglosphere meant are Tony Blair in Britain, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney in the U.S., John Howard in Australia (he once used the word in public, too), Stephen Harper in Canada, and perhaps Manmohan Singh in India as well. In his honorary degree acceptance speech at the University of Oxford in 2005, India’s Prime Minister said this: “if there is one phenomenon on which the sun cannot set, it is the world of the English-speaking peoples, in which the people of the Indian origin are the single largest component.”

The Anglosphere never became a buzzword, and it never will. My sense is that it will soon follow the majority of neologisms in English and end up in a terminological dustbin. But there will remain much, much to be said for the phenomenon it refers to. Call it a historical civilizational, macro-cultural, international, transnational, post-colonial, (post-)imperial community, sphere, entity or whatever, the Anglosphere exists. Its decentred, plural (and pluralistic) nature, loose boundaries, as well as a historical lack of formal institutional actorness can all be deceptive, but it hard to ignore the ways in which various English-speaking political authorities – from corporations to colonists to sovereign-territorial states to transnational networks – have dominated the global society for the past two hundred years, perhaps longer. Indeed, the story of England/Britain, that historically peripheral island that somehow projected its culture (writ very large) onto the rest of the globe, has long held a privileged status of a “puzzle” in history, historical sociology, comparative politics, and related academic fields and subfields going back to the time of the aforementioned Disraeli and Lincoln.

Arguably, the puzzle was even more puzzling to putative outsiders like (and let me mention but four well-known German names) Bismarck, Nietzsche, Marx, and Weber [6]. Consider an observation Bismarck made in an 1898 interview: “The most significant event of the 20th century will be that the fact that the North Americans speak English.” For someone as diligent as Bismarck, it was probably impossible not to think about the long-term implications of the fact that two main engines of industrial capitalism spoke the same language (plus this was in the years historians would later perioditize as the “great rapprochement“).  Bismarck was prescient, but what we ought to ask ourselves now is whether the most significant event of the 21st century will be the fact that a good chunk of the world speaks or will speak English. The numbers are quite simply dazzling. In early 1950s, no more than three hundred million people spoke any variety of this language; at the time of this writing, between one quarter and one fifth of the world’s population is in some way fluent in it. Whether on looks at trade, travel, entertainment, education or the mass media, there is only one “global language” and that is English. As Nicholas Ostler puts it in his masterful Empires of the World: the “spread of English was the first time that a language and culture had simultaneously made themselves desirable to peoples all over the world, truly a unique event.”

The global spread of English has disproportionately benefited Anglosphere societies and states. For one, it allowed them to forgo the opportunity costs of projects such as foreign language training or the Englishization of their mass media. For economic and political liberals, global Englishization is positive because it promises to facilitate the flows of goods, services, capital as well as information. As study upon study has shown, all being equal, collectives that share a common language tend to trade significantly more with each other than collectives that do not. Here, language is a commodity or a transaction cost and multilingual environments are characterized by classic collective and coordination problems (wouldn’t be marvelous for an EU-wide democracy if two thirds of all Europeans spoke some English, as opposed to the current sixty percent or so?). From the perspective of the perspective of culture (tribal ties, nationalism, national democracy etc.), however, at least as articulated by institutions like the Académie française or more than a few postcolonial/post-colonial critics, this is “linguistic imperialism”.

Contemporary Anglosphere governments cannot be blamed for their attempts to mainstream English as part of the global educational curriculum. First, language learning is not a zero-sum game, and there is, second, no such thing as single English; indeed, all linguistic practices are characterized by their plurality, malleability and fractionalization. So while it is possible to identify an actual or potential international English standard like World Standard Spoken English (D. Crystal), Globish (J-P. Nerrière), or even Basic English (C. K. Ogden), this must be done against the backdrop of the growth of “world Englishes” (Kachru and Kachru), as well as the growing technological counterweights to Englishization. Because new technology is poised to bring about a revolution in translation, Ostler concludes that the years of English as a global lingua franca are numbered, and that we are evolving towards a world broken by linguistic regionalism, some of which will in fact involve regions defined by different varieties of English. Maybe so, but if fractionalization ends up counting for less than linguistic unity, then we might the Anglosphere and the Indosphere might be on the way of some sort of unification, much like the Anglo and Indo phyles in Stephenson’s novel.

And yet, there is no doubt that the global power of English comes in multiple forms. What, for one, are we to make of the “neo-Sapir-Whorfian” school, which posits that the differences in language structure sometimes cause humans to perceive, and act in, the world differently? Here, while a speaker might re-appropriate the semantics and syntax of standard English, the very activity of speaking English – or Englishes – follows certain in-built, unconscious ontologies that privilege individual autonomy, control of the environment, reason, and even top-down forms of political authority. From what I can tell (which says little), the idea of linguistic relativity is usually not as startling to those who live their lives in multiple linguistic intersubjectivities on a regular basis. If correct, this perspective would suggest that linguistic imperialism operates at a much more fundamental level: rather than the intentional use of soft power, linguistic imperialism is about the habitualized movement of perceptions, emotions and embodiments of English-speaking and the subtle patterns in which this movement influences the ongoing political struggles between the imperial metropole and its peripheries as well as those among the putative peripheries themselves. If so, the future of the world order might be intertwined with the global dynamics of the English language in ways we are only beginning to appreciate.

Bismarck’s quip could address this deeper power of language, too. Speaking English was no big deal for nineteenth century state leaders and diplomats; what mattered in North America was a sense of kinship or common ethnic and cultural identity between the American and British empires. Kotkin et al make this link explicitly:“What was once a globe-spanning empire is now best understood as a union of language, culture, and shared values.” In the next post, I will turn to the culture and shared values side of the equation, focusing on the Anglosphere’s liberal taproots.


[1] This work is replete with maps, histograms, and pie charts (Robert Pizzo’s visuals used here are from the two shorter pieces), but check out this critique at The Geographer-at-Large, a self-described frienenemy to NewGeography.  With respect to the first paragraph, I should like to draw your attention to World Bank’s excellent visual displays of data, which can be used to rank countries across an array of metrics on governance, productivity, and so on. Another excellent tool for playing with data visualization is

[2] Why, one might wonder, are the Eurosphere, the Hispanosphere etc. dropped from this analysis? On Europe and Japan, the authors are explicit:

Our approach departs from the conventional wisdom developed after the Cold War. At that time it was widely assumed that, as military power gave way to economic influence and regional alliances, the world would evolve into broad geographic groups. A classic example was presented in Jacques Attali’s Millennium: Winners and Losers in the Coming World Order. Attali, a longtime advisor to French President Francois Mitterrand, envisioned the world divided into three main blocs: a European one centered around France and Germany, a Japan-dominated Asian zone, and a weaker United States-dominated North America. Time has not been kind to this vision, which was adopted by groups like the Trilateral Commission. The European Union proved less united and much weaker economically and politically than Attali and his ilk might have hoped. The notion of Japan, now rapidly aging and in a two decades long slump, at the head of Asia, seems frankly risible.

As for the BRIC (BRIIC, BRICS etc.), they are dismissed for the lack of a “common “tribal” link, as expressed by a shared history, language, or culture.” Note that Kotkin’s long-standing thesis on “global tribes” is that panethnic communities dominate the world economy. He’s also written on America’s growing post-ethnicity and post-raciality, which is a topic I’d like to address in a future post.

[3] If “most people” refers to anyone with a modicum of interest in history or social and political research, then I think there is something to be said about Windschuttle’s hypothesis. In sociology, Ron Inglehart’s World Values Survey has long divided the world into regions or zones defined by common values, one of which he describes as “English-speaking.” The same goes for political science. Consider three examples from the subfield of comparative political economy. The Hall-Soskice (2001) “varieties of capitalism” schema typifies the Anglosphere in terms of its liberal market economies (characterized by self-reliant and competitive industry and finance as well as the weak state and weaker organized labour). Gøsta Esping-Andersen’s (1990) triad of welfare capitalism includes the so-called liberal world in which social relations are mediated by nationally specific political party systems – middleclass and centrist in the U.S., centre-right in Canada or centre-left in Australia – resulting in the liberal, need-based provision of welfare. Then there is Herbert Kitchelt’s (1999) tripartite model of party systems in capitalist democracies, whereby the Anglosphere is (was?) distinguished by a two party system and a predilection for economicizing politics. By default, ideal-types are empirically unrepresentative and serve to be continuously subdivided, expanded and refined, but the practice of differentiating the same grouping of the English-speaking nations from the rest of the word is somewhat remarkable.

Also note that Kotkin et al are alone in their optimism about thee future of the Anglosphere. A similar sense of Anglospheric optimism can derived from a recent Goldman Sachs report, which suggests that Britain is “on course to eclipse Germany and France to become Europe’s largest economy within four decades.” The Wall Street is not joking.

[4] Which, note, sometimes goes nuclear, but apparently only on the frontlines of Africa. Of course, there could be many parallel readings of these two novels, but the obvious point is that they encapsulate very different parts of the twentieth century. Orwell’s reflects the three-cornered fight among communism, fascism and liberalism of the 1930s and 1940s, while Stephenson’s perhaps indexes the post-Cold War liberal triumphalism. And yet, both novels depicted a future in which the main political entities are constituted as linguistic, cultural, and racialized communities.

[5] Or a certain America and a certain Britain. Indeed, is it possible to talk about the onion once you once you peel all its layers? One needs not be a philosopher to propose that the Anglosphere exists only because it is written into existence by science fiction authors, political pundits, and bloggers like myself. Unevenly, but hand-in-hand with cyberpunk, think tank conferences, and academic conversations, the blogosphere does produce the Anglosphere and shapes it according to certain intellectual, social, cultural and political structures. I don’t necessarily disagree with this critique, but I would also add that this particular discourse reflects a long-standing ideational, institutional, and practical reality that exists by virtue of its “deep” intrinsic and dispositional properties. And who would know for real? For clever reflections on the politics of ontology, see this TDOT series.

[6] In future posts on this subject I’d like spend more time on this unlikely foursome and its love-hate relationship with the English-speaking world.

8 thoughts on “The Anglosphere, Part One: What’s in a Name?

  1. Nothing like a formal informal jurisdiction-enclosure. Perhaps space to develop an Anglosphere (rather than Western or North Atlantic basin or liberal-capitalist) biopolitics?

    FYI (maybe this goes in the military-industrial complex thread): see also the American, British, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand Armies’ Program aimed at ‘optimizing coalition interoperability’. and standardizing the doctrine, discourse, and ‘plug-and-play’ capacities of these states’ militaries. In short, harmonizing the metrics, vectors, and techniques of expeditionary violence. Talk to state nomads and counter-insurgents in Afghanistan and they’ll tell you about the factionalism within NATO, with the ABCA states exclusively hoarding and trading intelligence…


    • Srdjan: I was unaware of your book, which is to say that I’m sure you’ve developed or explored both of the above points of interest. I digress!


  2. Good morning, Neil, and thanks for your comments. You’re absolutely right: there has long been an Anglo NATO within NATO, and the most functional military alliance in the post-WWII era is ABCA. In terms of formal institutions, an Anglosphere most definitely exists in the intelligence community (signals, especially), which currently goes by the name “The Five Eyes.” Please send me anything you may have written and read on the subject – I am always looking for Anglosphere stories, especially in the military and security domain.


    • My own work somewhat is nebulous & undeveloped; I’m (still) trying to complete/cobble together my dissertation project on the military violence, the spirit of counterinsurgency, and the biopoliticization of battlespace.

      Regarding ABCA (in brief:) I recently listened to a podcast from the King’s College Department of War Studies about the waning role (or not) of counterinsurgency as both military-social practice and fashionable academic topic.We could have a whole other discussion on that…

      The podcast (with Thomas Rid, Theo Farrell, and UK Lt-Gen. Jonathon Riley) was quite revealing re: the lack of unity before McCrystal in relation to the COIN paradigm in AF and the ongoing lack of continuity in relation to different national military cultures attempting to apply, animate, or modify COIN, whether in terms of ‘warfighting’ or the stability-contingency-PRT side of operations (false distinctions if we choose to look at both ‘sides’ as part of a spectrum of martial violence operating different speeds).

      The specific organizational and institutional cultures certainly shape the counterinsurgency package and product; plus, with the specific historical, rhetorical, and semiotic idioms of each military in NATO (ABCA v. Italy v. France v. Denmark…), discursive friction seems to be a significant hindrance. While such disjunctions are to be expected, this is nothing less than ironic given the supposed culture-centric/human-terrain focus of COIN’s expressive ‘up-and-out’ vectors. You best watch it lest your book be integrated by military agents to better harmonize the expeditionary joint operations of Anglosphere militaries.

      For the podcast, see the 12 May 2012 entry @


      • Interesting podcast (I hadn’t seen this feature at War Studies before, thanks). Theo Farrel knows a ton about military matters, and the lt-general is very good, too (I’d love to learn more about his Gorazde experience in Bosnia). The part on 2 ISAFs and the “ABCA Four Eyes Intelligence-sharing club” within the fighting ISAF is indeed very telling, and I hope to learn more about it. CF members I’ve talked in Ottawa also tend to be candid about inter-club friction in NATO operations (including, I bet, among contractors, too), and it wouldn’t be impossible to get a lot of this oral history on record relatively quickly. (ps. them jokes about the Italian military never seem to get old, do they?).

        For your diss project, look out for an article by Tarak Barkawi and Josef Ansorge on the banal and less banal ways through which modern militaries learn about the Other in during the so-called small wars. And if I may be so bold to add, Barkawi (w/ Shane Brighton) edits a series on Critical War Studies with Columbia/Hurst which is something you should keep in mind once your dissertation becomes a book.


  3. I recall reading an essay recently by Barkawi (+ someone else) on a renewed ‘critical war studies’. The oral history angle is notable; as well, I’m always interested by the analytical-positivist-vehicular tone and disposition of military operators themselves. Farrell’s work on norms of war is useful, and I was unaware he’d been working with MoD. I consider this state-uptake in relation to someone like Virilio, who has ‘walked’ amidst and among the military cadres but still maintains an adversarial position and relation to military actors. His work is like a minor philosophical literature that has refused to become Royal science, even as it’s been significant as a guiding framework over 35+ years in the critical/theoretical humanities for thinking the ontology and philosophy of war. Currently, I’m combing through some essays from a special issue of Theory & Event regarding Deleuze & war studies. All said, thanks for the suggestions. I will also look at your book when I get some time.


      • Thanks, Pablo. What do you think of the essay? While prying open space in relation to conventional international relations (is there such a thing anyway?) or international political sociology, the work indicates for me a kind of ‘behind the curve’ position that has yet to engage with some of the insights from continental/poststruc philosophy/theory (choose your modifiers or objects) on matters of political violence, life politics, and the displacements of war. That said, this doesn’t diminish the piece. I appreciate the emphasis on the grammar of battle and fighting, and on the nuance of Clausewitz’s thought (who is, I think, a distinctly ‘biopolitical’ thinker on war). This allows for a productive rethinking of vectors of force and lines of coercion in both domestic and expeditionary contexts that tend to be framed as non-kinetic or non-warfighting but which are nevertheless slower speeds of political violence. For more reading, check South Atlantic Quarterly 110 (3) (2011) for a short compendium of pieces extending Dillon & Reid’s idea of the liberal way of war (2009).


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