Dreamworlds of Race: Empire and the Utopian Destiny of Anglo-America
Princeton University Press, 2020.
Duncan Bell’s Dreamworlds chronicles the largely forgotten efforts to unite the British and American empires during the late Victorian and Edwardian eras. What I found most interesting, however, was not the core narrative, but the broader historical continuities and changes his story reveals. During the early Victorian period Britain was at the top of its game. Having earlier helped dispatched Napoleon, it saw no threat on the continent, its population was growing, its empire was expanding, being the first nation to industrialize it was “the workshop of the world,” and Britannia ruled the waves. Half a century later its population growth had slowed considerably, while the population of a rapidly industrializing Germany was expanding along with its military prowess. To the west the US was now a continental power with the largest economy in the world and a growing navy. Many in British leadership realized that the “Splendid Isolation” policy that had worked earlier needed to be revised. Some British elites even envisioned reuniting with the former colony across the Atlantic to achieve Anglo-American world domination, ushering in a millennium of global peace and progress. Supporters of this idea noted the shared language and other characteristics between the two nations especial that of race. Almost all the advocates for a British-American union mention that both were Anglo-Saxon nations. Although by this time American had absorbed millions of Irish, German, Scandinavian, and other immigrants, US culture and US elites were still overwhelmingly of British origins.
So in an era when White racial consciousness remained a positive force it was natural to see this racial affinity as a critical asset. Peoples’ articulation regarding race was a bit less precise in this period. Thus we have the “English race,” or even the “English speaking race.” The term Anglo-Saxon was sometimes applied to any English-speaking White person. The initiative for this Anglo-American union came mostly from Britain. American historical memories of the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and border disputes such as “Fifty-four Forty or Fight” provided context for the relationship during much of the nineteenth century. Only after 1898 did some Americans see any need or advantage in a British alliance. Bell highlights four of the most prominent proponents of the US -British union: Industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, journalist and editor W.T. Stead, imperial businessman and politician Cecil Rhodes, and novelist and essayist H.G. Wells. Three of the four were British, Carnegie being a Scottish-born American, more evidence that the wooing was predominately British.
I believe this project was largely a product of British elite’s anxiety over the rise of Wilhelmine Germany, though Bell does not explicitly state this. The author is a professor of international relations at Cambridge with a special interest in the history of the British Empire. His research on the issue of British-American union was prodigious. Among many interesting facts we learn that: “Arthur Conan Doyle dedicated his 1891 novel The White Company to ‘the hope of the future, the reunion of the English speaking races’” (203). Bell did stumble at least once, identifying the famous American historian Frederick Jackson Turner as “Frederick Turner Johnson” (60). The book’s main shortcoming, however, is its narrow focus which only hints at the wider issues that persist in the face of the historical change manifested in his monograph. These continuities include: race, globalism, and the role of Germany in world affairs. A more relevant study would relate these topics to our current state of affairs. The most useful historiography looks at the past to better understand the present, and perhaps even predict the future. Obviously the centrality of race is a major theme of the book, “race” is in the title. So for continuity we can say that the level of racial consciousness in the early twenty-first century is as high as it was in the late nineteenth century.
But the character of this consciousness has changed tremendously, and that change has occurred largely on the part of Whites. The positive White identity prevalent in an earlier time produced confidence, optimism, self- assurance, and pride in the British who created a world-wide empire and the Americans who conquered and settled a continent. Today the decedents of these men express shame, self- abasement, contrition, and penitence for these deeds. Race is central to both individual and collective identity so it is natural that White racialism would be pervasive in a White society. In the period dealt with here, White normativity was embedded into every aspect of culture. Today we have the reverse side of the same racial coin. Ethnic diversity and cultural inclusion are now the dominant values and have become intertwined in every facets of society.
The White racialism described by Bell transcended political and economic ideologies, as well as national borders. There were liberal racialists and conservative racialists; there were socialist racialists and capitalist racialists. And although the era is remembered for its national rivalries, Bell describes “how unionists sought to build a globe-spanning racial community” (6). Cecil Rhodes, for one, believed in “the ontological priority of race to political institutions” (139). After his death in 1902 his colleague W.T. Stead wrote that Rhodes was the “first distinguished British statesman whose Imperialism was that of Race and not of Empire” (142). Rhodes put his money where his mouth was by establishing the Rhodes scholarship at Oxford for young men from the Commonwealth, America, and Germany. Carnegie also praised Rhodes “for rejecting a myopic form of imperialism in favor of an expa—nsive ‘race imperialism’” (149). Today Rhodes is a controversial figure across the political spectrum. Bell’s understanding of his beliefs may run counter to some White racialists who are critical of Rhodes’ affiliation with the Rothschild’s Bank and his role in the Second Boer War.
Those promoting an Anglo worldwide federation considered including reciprocal or transnational citizenship. These ideas were “often fused with a commitment to ‘race patriotism,’ a reengineered account of loyalty and affective signification that identified race as a privileged site of political devotion, even love” (251). There was a belief on the part of many that “individuals owed allegiance to a nested set of communities, including their country and their race” (252). Carnegie thought “that treaties and defense pacts were temporary, whereas the ‘patriotism of race lies deeper and is not disturbed by waves upon the surface’” (288). What Bell is describing here—the idea of an international racial union to manage world affairs—is the genesis of today’s globalism. Its racial exclusivity has mutated, of course, into a militant multiracial, multicultural inclusivity.
Christian universalism played a role in this transformation. For example, in an 1885 book Our Country influential Congregational minister Josiah Strong wrote that Anglo-Saxons were God’s anointed people, destined to bring civilization to the less fortunate of the world. In The New Era (1893) Rev. Strong penned, “that the day is not far distant when Great Britain and the United States will join hands in defense of justice and liberty the world over” (90). What Rudyard Kipling called “The White Man’s Burden” evolved after World War II into the US (with Britain as junior partner) playing global cop and social worker, dispensing cruise missiles or humanitarian aid depending upon the circumstances.
It’s not hard to see how liberal imperialism of the late nineteenth century morphed into, the neoliberal globalism of the late twentieth century. While Christian universalism was an element in this internationalism, Jewish particularism saw an increasing role in the latter period. The words “Jew” and “Jewish,” however, do not appear in the 400 pages of Dreamworlds.
Of Bell’s four main characters: Carnegie, Stead, Rhodes, and Wells, Andrew Carnegie comes across as the most thoughtful and insightful. In his younger days he engage in some sharp business practices, but he spent the last twenty years of his life engaged in an unprecedented level of philanthropy. Although the British-American union he envisioned was never realized he was right about most issues. A Darwinist and a racialist, he was concerned about “intra racial animosity” (51). He recognized the unity between the Anglo-Saxon and the German. “The Briton of today,” wrote Carnegie in 1893, “is himself composed in large measure of the Germanic element, and the German, Briton, and American are all of the Teutonic race” (56). Carnegie was an anti-imperialist. The only expansion he supported was settler colonialism which would lead to self-government. Anticipating the Spanish-American War he declared: “If American can learn one lesson from England, it is the folly of conquest, where conquest involves the government of an alien race” (84). His pre-World War I proposed League of Peace “was inflected by his belief in the ontological primacy of race . . . [and] he argued that it was essential to ally (not unify) with Germany, given their shared Teutonic origins” (337).
It is widely believed that the optimism that produced visions of a racial utopia died in the mud and blood of World War I, so the failure of the Angles and Teutons to pursue common interests rather than narrow national interests proved disastrous. As noted above, many Anglo unionists — Carnegie, Stead, Rhodes — sought to include Germany in their project to one degree or another. At this time there was a wide-spread belief that a common thread ran from the ancient German folk assemblies described by Tacitus in Germania (98 AD), through England to the political institutions of the New World. Sometimes call the Teutonic Germ theory, this idea was articulated by scholars such as Herbert Baxter Adams, a founding member of the American Historical Association. A proponent of this thesis cited by Bell was James Bryce, author of The American Commonwealth (1888). Bryce saw “the history of Teutonic self-government stretching back through England to the Germanic tribes.” Political practices are “expressive products of racial deep time, New England town meetings could trace their origins back centuries” before Plymouth Rock (59). Incidentally, Bryce was a liberal racialist who criticized the rise of the gilded age plutocracy and advocated for civil service reform.
We can discern, perhaps, during this period the possibility of an ORION (our race is our nation) ideology developing. Instead, in 1914 Germans became baby-killing Huns and Anglo-Saxons and continental Saxons commenced slaughtering each other. After 1945 Germany was gelded and lobotomized. Its natural role in economic and political leadership subsumed by NATO and the European Union. Germany is needed to both check and partner with the Orthodox/Cyrillic civilization to the east.
In the last chapter Bell shifts gears and describes what he calls “Afro-modernism contra White Supremacy” (373).Here again we see a continuity in the arguments Black writers have used to challenge White society. The first such author examined is Martin Delany. In his The Principia of Ethnology (1879) Delany claims that Black Egypt gave rise to Western civilization. Bell does not dispute this falsity, but he does note that Delany was also a novelist and “Afro-modern writers frequently utilized speculative fiction as a medium of political critique, vindication, and desire” (377). To provide an example Bell pivots to a contemporary Black novelist Colson Whitehead. A product of the Black bourgeoisie, an elite prep school, and the Ivy League, Whitehead is the author of The Underground Railroad (2016), a convoluted alternative history lavishly praised by the critics. It is not much of a stretch to believe that the novelist speaks through one of his nineteenth-century characters to express the rage the twenty-first-century Black literati. “This nation [America] shouldn’t exist if there is any justice in the world, for its foundations are murder, theft and cruelty” (379). There in a nutshell explains why statues and monuments must be toppled, history revised, and social and cultural institutions remade.
Another Black author Bell considers is W.E.B. DuBois. In The Color Line Belts the World (1906) DuBois repeats the Black Egyptian theory. He goes on to express joy over Russia’s defeat by Japan in 1905, probably not realizing that the Japanese were as race conscious as Southern Whites and generally held Blacks in low esteem. In The Souls of White Folks (1910) “DuBois argued that the best social science of the day had wholly discredited the idea of race as a distinctive entity” (383). So the idea that races really do not exist also has a long history, though at the time these Black contras wrote, few Whites took their ideas seriously. A third turn-of-the-century Black writer examined by Bell is T.E.S. Scholes. Scholes explained the current low status of Africans as part of a historical cycle, claiming that Blacks like “all peoples rose and fell, undergoing periods of progressive development before they eventually declined” (388). Thus Black Egyptian civilization led the way for European ascendency.
One interesting observation made by both DuBois and Scholes is that White elites tend to be less racially conscious and more cosmopolitan than the White middle and working classes who seek support from a racial community. Jamaican-born Scholes believed that while the imperial elite of the British Empire was somewhat open to integrating natives, the settler populations were not. He goes on to complain that American racialism was negatively influencing British colonial administrators.
Relevant points: More evidence that the diversity and inclusion ideology has been a top-down movement from the start; and nineteenth century British liberal imperialism had a seminal role in producing today’s globalism. I think we can read Dreamworlds as further indication that there will be no post-racial America, much less a post-racial world. Race is an essential aspect in both interpersonal and group dynamics. Most Whites cannot help but to think and act White. It is literally in their DNA, so authors such as Robin DiAngelo, who claim that to be White is to be racist, may have a point. Only by transcending their essence can Whites be “anti-racist.” To achieve such a change on a large scale would require a totalitarian political and social order. Many of the individuals described in Bell’s book believed that Anglo-Saxons had a special genius, not only for self-government, but also for governing others; that they should be global administrators for mankind. This idea has led to the current interventionism and destructive globalism. There is an obvious need to reform present international organizations or create alternatives, ones that take into account the importance race. One such proposal is Euro-Siberia advocated by Guillaume Faye. Another, bit more esoteric plan, is Hyperborea, a union of northern nations based on Greek mythology. The ideal international arrangement would be a confederation that protects and enhances Western peoples and culture by addressing collective needs while preserving national independence. Perhaps the most important contribution made by a book such as Dreamworlds is as a reminder that Whites were once the masters of their own destiny. We have since lost our sovereignty, but while utopia was never a real possibility the hope for an instauration remains.