After so many decades of battling evil masterminds bent on the destruction of Britannia, the 21st century version of James Bond has found a very 21st century adversary. The latest Bond novel, ‘On His Majesty’s Secret Service’ features 007 charged protecting King Charles III from a dastardly plot by a supervillain whose nom de guerre is Athelstan of Wessex – in other words, a Little Englander, a Brexiteer, a right-wing populist, apparently the true and natural heir to Goldfinger and Blofeld.
The novel’s Bond, who has a “situation” with “a busy lawyer who specializes in immigration law” (don’t worry, he’s not taking advantage, “he wasn’t the only man she hung out with”), has to go to the travel home of Viktor Orban. Hungary to infiltrate the massive right-wing conspiracy and stave off a terrorist attack at Charles’s coronation; along the way, the secret agent muses on the superiority of the metric system and the deplorable dog whistles of populism.
The mere existence of the book seems designed for that purpose agitate conservatives; I wouldn’t have read it without the impetus of hostile reviews from right-of-center British writers. But the progressive Bond also usefully illustrates an interesting feature of contemporary politics in the English-speaking world. It is not just that American progressivism provides an ideological lingua franca that extends throughout the Anglosphere, so that what we call “wokeness” naturally influences the fictional MI6 no less than the real CIA It is that forms of progressivism that originated in the United States, under specific American circumstances, may seem more more powerful among our English-speaking friends and neighbors than in America itself.
This is not a fully provable claim, but it is something I felt strongly during recent visits to Canada Britain. Politically, the Canadian Conservatives and the British Tories seem to be in very different positions. In Canada, Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre looks poised for a major victory in the next election, which would end Justin Trudeau’s three terms as prime minister. In Britain, the Tories are poised for a beating in the next election, moving them into opposition for the first time since 2010.
But whether in power or not, both groups seemed culturally under pressure, resigned to progressive power, and a little jealous of the position of the American conservatives (if not our political imprisonment to Donald Trump). Canadian talks lamented what was lost when Trudeau defeated Stephen Harper in 2015 – how elections have consequences, and the fallout in Canada was a sharp left turn that no Conservative government is likely to reverse. In British conversations, it was all about the way elections take place not consequences, and how the imaginary conservative regime has done nothing to halt the resilience of progressive biases in government and the rise of wakefulness in American culture.
These complaints encompass many different realities. In Canada, they relate to the rapid rise of social liberalism in drug and euthanasia policies – with nationwide decriminalization of marijuana followed by British Columbia’s new experiment to decriminalize certain harder drugs, while assisted suicide is expanding faster than even in the most liberal American state. In Britain, they relate to the increasing enforcement of progressive speech codes against cultural conservatives – such as the Tory alderman recently arrested by police for retweeting a video criticizing the way police officers treated a Christian street preacher.
In both countries, the complaints center on rising immigration rates – the deliberate policies of the Trudeau administration, which is spearheading an extraordinary wave of new Canadians, and the sleepwalking policies of Britain’s Tories, who have taken the lead despite Brexit and repeated populist uprisings. have record numbers. net migration figures. (In contrast, when America elected immigration-restrictive Trump, immigration numbers actually fell.)
And in both countries, conservatives believe their national elites are desperate for their own versions of the “racial reckoning” that rocked the United States in the summer of 2020, despite the lack of any American experience with slavery or Jim Crow. .
So the wave of national apologies, canceled patriotic celebrations and church burnings across Canada in 2021, following claims of the discovery of a mass grave in British Columbia near one of the residential schools for Indigenous children sponsored by the Canadian government, often through religious institutions, in the 19th and 20th century. (The cruelty and neglect at these schools were real, but the specific claims about burials at the BC school are evade the hitherto scant evidence.) Or so the attempt to reduce England’s profoundly homogeneous history—well, since 1066, at least—to an American-style “nation of immigrants” narrative, and its sense, as British writer Ed West wrote in 2020, that in English schools “the history of America is swallowing ours.”
To the extent that these complaints reflect the reality in the Anglosphere, I think you can identify several points that might explain what Canadian and British Conservatives see.
The first is a general tendency of provincial leaders to go overboard in establishing their solidarity and identification with the elites of the imperial core. Both Ottawa and London can feel like provincial capitals within the American empire, so it’s not surprising that their leaders and tastemakers have at times rushed to embrace ideas that seem to be at the forefront of America – and act like British writer Aris Roussinos post it, such as “Gaul or Dacian chieftains donning togas and exchanging clumsy Latin epithets” to establish their identification with Rome. By contrast, in continental Europe, in countries that fall under the US security umbrella but don’t share as much of our language and culture, zeal for imitation feels somewhat weaker, and “anti-woke” politics that doubles as anti-Americanism. feel more influential.
The second point is the role of secularization and dechristianization, which are more advanced in the British Isles and Canada than in the United States. The new progressivism is not simply a new or semi-Christian substitute for the former Western faith, but the rhetoric of diversity, equality, inclusion and anti-racism clearly fills some of the void left by the Christian and especially the retreat of Protestantism. So it wouldn’t be surprising if an ideology that originated in the post-Protestant areas of the United States spreads all over in post-Protestant Canada or Britain, while meeting more resistance in the more religious regions of the Americas—and not just in post-Protestant Canada or Great Britain. the white Christian Bible Belt, but among the religious-conservative minorities of which right trend can keep the Republican coalition afloat.
The third point is that smaller countries with smaller elites may find it easier to enforce ideological conformity than countries that are more sprawling and diverse. Once a set of ideas has gained a foothold among the cognoscenti — progressive ideas in this case, though it could apply to other worldviews — it is more natural to conform, and more difficult to disagree, in the cozier neighborhoods of Westminster or in Canada. Laurentian elite than in the American meritocracy, which spawns more competitive centers of power and dissenting factions.
An extreme example of this tendency can be seen in Ireland, which changed incredibly quickly from the conservative-Catholic outlier of the West to almost uniformly progressive, a turn that Irish writer Conor Fitzgerald experienced. attributes to a basic reality of small island life: “Because of the size of Ireland it is socially much more expensive for an Irishman to give the impression of going against consensus than for other people in other countries.”
a recent essay by Cardiff academic Thomas Prosser makes a related point about other small Celtic polities, noting that both Scotland and Wales and Ireland have governments that are more progressive than their constituents, a pattern he attributes to the way emerging ideologies (neoliberalism in the 1990s) (or the awakened progressivism now) can sometimes more easily achieve a kind of complete ‘conquest’ of the elite in smaller countries.
Breaking consensus is presumably easier in Britain and Canada. But perhaps not as easily as in the vast and teeming United States – which, in its First Amendment-protected multiformity, can be both the breeding ground of a powerful new progressivism and the place where resistance to that ideology is strong, even stronger than ever . among 007 and other servants of His Majesty the King.