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In August 1941, a Democratic American president and a Conservative British prime minister met on the deck of HMS Prince of Wales off the coast of Newfoundland and sketched out the principles that would govern the post-war order.
What became known as the Atlantic Charter was never written down or given that name. But it formed the basis of the democratic alliance that would defeat the Nazis and usher in an unprecedented era of human happiness based on representative government, national sovereignty, and free trade.
Eighty years later, at the opposite shore of that cold, pewter-colored sea, another Democratic president and another Tory prime minister renewed their nations’ vows with an updated Atlantic Charter, covering trade, defense, and the response to COVID-19.
On the waves behind them was the lineal successor of that original battleship, the aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales, which went into service in 2019. Britain’s prime minister has a boyish enthusiasm for big machines and sees the new craft — 300 yards from prow to stern, and arguably the most powerful warship ever built — as a symbol of Britain’s global vocation.
It is instructive to contrast the two Atlantic Charters. Both were products of disaster — World War II then, the pandemic now. In the summer of 1941, the mood in the United States was isolationist: Most Americans believed (wrongly as it turned out) that they could stand aloof from the world’s troubles. This time, the entire world is isolationist. Countries have banned each other’s citizens while joining a beggar-my-neighbor scramble for protective equipment and vaccine ingredients.
Winston Churchill believed that the way out of the crisis was through concerted action by the English-speaking peoples. Boris Johnson, his biographer and successor, sees no reason to change a winning formula. He has long aimed to turn the G-7 into a D-10 (D for Democracies) by adding Australia, Japan, and India, making a credible counterweight to the autocracies.
In both cases, there was an urgent goal — drawing the U.S. closer to the British war effort for Churchill, sponsoring a global vaccination program for Johnson. But, in both cases, the bigger aim was to forge an Anglosphere alliance that would go on to make the world safe and free.
Churchill used every trick in the book to demonstrate the cultural unity of the English-speaking peoples. His meeting with Franklin D. Roosevelt happened to be on a Sunday, so he had the crew of the USS Augusta mustered alongside that of HMS Prince of Wales for a joint religious service. He chose the hymns, he chose the reading: “As I was with Moses, so I will be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.”
“The same language, the same hymns, the same ideals,” he exulted afterward. Adolf Hitler, watching from Berlin, plainly got a similar impression. How else do we explain his decision, five months later, to declare war on the U.S. in the wake of Pearl Harbor?
The Anglosphere alliance, with some welcome auxiliaries, did indeed guarantee the post-war order. There were occasional quarrels. Successive U.S. administrations, to Churchill’s dismay, pushed for the liquidation of the British Empire, and Dwight D. Eisenhower’s refusal to back Britain when Egypt’s strongman, Gamal Abdel Nasser, seized the Suez Canal haunted the old general for the rest of his days. Nonetheless, the two states shared military secrets, hardware, and even nuclear technology in a way that has no real equivalent in history.
The Anglosphere alliance saw off first the Nazis and then the Soviets. For a while, it seemed that the principles of the Atlantic Charter — limited government, individualism, and the rule of law — were the natural state of an advanced society.
Now, we know better. As power shifts, we are brutally reminded that those precepts were overwhelmingly spread in the language in which you are reading these words. They did not spread because others found them attractive. They spread because, in the final analysis, the English-speaking democracies were prepared to deploy proportionate force in their defense.
Are they still? Are we prepared to stand together in freedom’s cause? To overlook the disagreements that occasionally arise between friends, such as Joe Biden’s rather retro United Ireland agenda — one that few serious Irish politicians still espouse?
Are we, in short, prepared to carry on being the grown-ups in the room, what George Santayana a century ago called “a steady and sane oracle amongst all the deliriums of mankind”?
We no longer have the military or economic preponderance we did then. Every day sees the balance tilt further. But no one has yet come up with a better way of ordering a nation. As Churchill himself put it, “The future is unknowable, but the past should give us hope.”
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Original Author: Dan Hannan
Original Location: Anglosphere democracy still matters