Monday, November 11, 2013

Iceland and the Anglosphere

My friend Hjörtur J. Guðmundsson (well, I think he is my friend but as he came to London and discussed the Anglosphere without bothering to let me know I may have to re-think that) has sent me a link to a piece he wrote on ConHome, which is just as well because I rarely read it, not being that interested in the Conservative Party's internal squabbles.

This piece, however, is of great interest and importance as the  subject under discussion is whether Iceland can be or ought to be part of the Anglosphere. My own view is that countries of Europe that sent little ships out into the wide blue yonder without knowing where that was are a separate breed from those who concentrated on their immediate land borders and that is one reason they cannot really survive for very long in one union. There are three exceptions to this: one is France, which did both but, ultimately, decided that those land borders were more important, perhaps because of such events as the Seven Years War; the second one is Spain that did send ships out but somehow managed to lose intellectual momentum; and Hungary, which did not send ships out but sent people absolutely everywhere from Central Asia to the New World. Mind you, (Hungary also had the Golden Bull in 1224, which lays down almost exactly the same agreements as did the Magna Carta nine years previously and Budapest had the first underground line on the Continent, following London's example.)

Iceland is obviously on the "little ships" side of the divide. This is what Hjörtur J. Guðmundsson has to say:
In a British area of influence

So where does Iceland stand regarding all this? Well, first of all although English is not the native tongue in Iceland most Icelanders nevertheless speak the language, and many have mastered it very well. Iceland was also never a part of the British Empire, but rather the Danish Kingdom until gaining independence in 1944 (although in the early 19th century it was floated that the country be transferred to lie under British rule). Nevertheless, Iceland was for centuries in a British area of influence.

British influence in Iceland culminated during the First World War, as the war resulted in looser political and economic ties with Denmark. That continued in the inter-war period with a growing British interest in Iceland which eventually led to the occupation by British military forces in May 1940 after the outbreak of the Second World War. A year later, the United States agreed to replace the British and defend Iceland, since the United Kingdom needed its forces elsewhere in the war effort.

Politically more to the right

The United States continued to have troops stationed in Iceland during the Cold War until 2006, when they were finally evacuated entirely from the country. As a result of all this Iceland has become both very Americanized and Anglicized. That also goes for Icelandic politics which are generally more in line with those of the Anglosphere than on continental Europe, including the other Nordic countries. The emphasis is generally more to the right and more economic liberal.

The conservative Independence Party, the dominant party in Icelandic politics for decades, is for example more in line with its sister party the British Conservatives, in its policies than the Danish Conservative Party or the German Christian Democratic Union. The dominating political parties in the other Nordic countries have, however, traditionally been social democratic parties. The Left in Icelandic politics has also tended to be closer to the centre when it comes to its policies.

Individualist national character

Furthermore, the national character of Icelanders has tended to be very individualist, and therefore much in line with the Anglo-Saxon tradition – which in turn has probably contributed to the historically strong position of the Independence Party. This individualism may very well derive at least partly from the fact that Icelanders are islanders, which they of course have in common with the British. There is something which has been referred to as the island mentality.

Finally, and solely as an interesting historical point, the roots of Icelanders happen to be traceable largely to the British Isles – mainly to Celts in Scotland and Ireland. According to an ongoing research based on Iceland’s present population by the company deCODE genetics and the University of Oxford, 20 per cent of male settlers of Iceland more than 1000 years ago had ancestral lines which could be traced to the British Isles and 63 percent of the female settlers. The rest was of Nordic origin.

His conclusion is that while Iceland probably cannot be a full member of the Anglosphere, "there is a good basis for closer co-operation between Iceland and the Anglosphere countries in the future – for example regarding trade, security and defence". Sounds very reasonable to me. Now all we need is for the Conservative Party and its denizens to recognize the importance of the Anglosphere and to understand that it is the obvious way forward.


  1. "Iceland probably cannot be a full member of the Anglosphere."

    But the Anglosphere is not defined by national boundaries.  

    The twelve year old Anglosphere Primer says this:

    "The Anglosphere, as a network civilization without a corresponding political form, has necessarily imprecise boundaries. Geographically, the densest nodes of the Anglosphere are found in the United States and the United Kingdom, while Anglophone regions of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, and South Africa are powerful and populous outliers. The educated English-speaking populations of the Caribbean, Oceania, Africa and India constitute the Anglosphere's frontiers."

    Countries are more or less Anglospheric.  The "core" countries are the "densest nodes" of the Anglosphere but they are not the Anglosphere categorically. And to adopt Tom Barnett’s usage, there are non-Anglospheric “Gap” areas inside these countries. So there is not membership at a political, nation state level, but rather there are degrees of participation in the Anglosphere (I erased the spontaneously generated neologism "Anglosphericity"), and there are deeper or less deep ties to the Anglosphere.  So, for example, India is a world-scale civilization with a special relationship with the Anglosphere, but it is tied to the Anglosphere by its many English speakers and to the extent it has adopted our values and institutions.  It is NOT however ANF, for example.  What family type is Iceland, anyway?  China has literally hundreds of millions of Anglophone citizens, with more or less grasp of English, and this development is only a generation old.  There is a Anglo-Sinosphere whose shape and content, and future, are not fully knowable at this point.  What will this mean? How will this “blow back” into the larger Anglosphere, or the older nodes of the Anglosphere? That is a big and fascinating question.

    Back to Iceland: It is clearly a country with similar cultural roots which has deep and strong ties to the Anglosphere, and which by being a small country in the cultural orbit of Britain and the USA has probably been largely incorporated into the Anglosphere.