There are worse havens from historical past than the Pacific Palisades. We are supposed to be surprised, even tickled, that Thomas Mann, Bertolt Brecht and different Weimar stars made their lives among the many groomed pets and extortionate chocolatiers of West LA.

However see it from their angle. On one aspect: an invincible ocean. On the opposite: a display screen of mountains. To the north and south: a lot weaker nations. Europe’s claustrophobia, its overlapping nationalisms, have been a bodily impossibility right here. So was the attendant violence. Variations of the identical refuge might be present in Sydney or, with the protecting Channel, London.

Even after the naval pact between the US, Australia and Britain final month, the “Anglosphere” remains to be an thought in quest of stuffing. In its gun legal guidelines, paid depart, racial combine, religiosity, per capita revenue and favoured sport, Britain is much extra European than American. Neither nation has a lot intimacy with the distant Antipodes past some pooled espionage.

In truth, just one non-linguistic thread ties the primary English-speaking nations collectively. Name it geographic luck. I’ve come to sense that it shapes their outlook extra profoundly than language.

Of the “5 Eyes”, just one has a border with a bigger nation (and that’s Canada’s with a benign US). None is landlocked. None, until we depend Britain’s decolonisation, has a lot expertise of territorial loss or occupation. Rising up in these nations can blind one to the rareness of such geographic windfall. Our bodies of water and good neighbours spare us the anxieties that historical past has induced in France or Nigeria or Mexico.

Or, come to think about it, China or India or Russia. Navigation of this century goes to name on varied unexercised muscular tissues within the Anglosphere. One is data of civilisations that predate the west. One other is the vim to compete with economies that have been poor sufficient just lately sufficient to don’t have any irony or ennui about commerce.

Of all of the changes forward, although, the least mentioned is the most essential. We now have to fathom the psychological lives of nations that weren’t so spoilt by geography. It isn’t simply in principle that the expertise of exterior predation has moulded them. It’s there in what residents do — whom residents elect or comply with — to make sure there is no such thing as a repeat.

The Anglosphere conceit is that one thing deep in its tradition explains why it by no means fell to tyranny. Leaving apart the selective recall right here (what did the Confederacy communicate? Tamil?), there is no such thing as a allowance for geographic accident. Does the Netherlands, house of Spinoza, and service provider capitalism, and non-ecclesiastical portray, lack a freedom intuition? If it capitulated to the Nazis, isn’t tons of of miles of German border the likelier wrongdoer? Jokes about French give up — that unerring mark of buffoonery — are simply pretty much as good at lacking the apparent. And if we will’t see the pressure of geography in such acquainted nations, what probability a really feel for Asian sensitivities?

Three years in Washington acquainted me with a political class that’s, like London’s, hardworking, civic-minded and, if not blazingly authentic, good sufficient. If there was a blind spot, it was for the ingrained insecurity of a lot of the world: for the position of humiliation in so many nationwide histories. Chinese language conduct, for example, absorbed everybody. What George Kennan would have referred to as the “sources” of it, didn’t.

The issue is as a lot training as all that shining sea. The forex of the humanities is summary concepts: Enlightenment versus Romance, the Protestant ethic versus Catholicism. That one thing as corporeal as setting may form nations too feels nearly philistine to recommend. Jared Diamond’s Weapons Germs and Metal has made it solely faintly extra respectable.

The Anglosphere-ists, who’re proper for the incorrect causes, are merchandise of that concepts tradition. Sure, there’s an uncanny sample among the many 5 nations. Sure, it should inflect their view of the world. However language isn’t it (is Singapore, now extra populous than New Zealand, within the Anglosphere?). Neither is it the mental inheritance of John Locke.

No, what marks them out from a lot of the world is the coincidence of their geographic detachment. Brentwood’s personal Theodor Adorno discovered LA unhealthy for the thoughts even because it saved him secure. Anglosphere nations face the identical quandary: that what protects them leaves them uncomprehending.

E mail Janan at janan.ganesh@ft.com

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