Who are 'Les Anglo-Saxons'?


This week on Facebook: I wondered why the Francophone world had such a pejorative view of ‘Les Anglo-Saxons’¹, justified in part by the notion that Anglophones have of a ‘special relationship’² with the USA. They may have good reasons to hold such views, now Anglo-Saxon is a term employed by prominent politicians, serious academics, political commentators, and in everyday conversation”³. For example, Jean Claude Juncker  (clearly not only a Francophone but also a Francophile) accused the Anglo-Saxons of hovering like vultures over the euro crisis, waiting to revel in its failure (4).  

Nevertheless the world constantly changes, the French and perhaps continental Europe may find that they have more in common with the Chinese Model than the Francophone pejorative views when referring to ‘Le Modèle Anglo-Saxon’. It’s not the first time that the world has changed, it happened to the Anglo-Saxon ruling elite post 1066.

Stopping only just short of genocide, William and his cronies not only seized land, women and treasure, but also slaughtered or hounded into exile all but a few scattered survivors of what had previously been the Anglo-Saxon ruling elite. Thousands died. A rich native culture was subordinated to the glorification of foreign conquerors and a foreign, French-speaking king. William the Conqueror: hero or villain?

Yet sometimes even those in the USA view the Anglo-Saxons through rose tinted glasses,  including those that criticise the manner in which the articles are written.

Anglo-Saxon customs had eroded and the historicity is murky, but England suffered far less feudal paralysis than Continental Europe with a relatively fluid class system. The colonists bent British culture towards still greater liberties, forging a uniquely American perspective. Governments were established indigenously by small, often isolated groups dealing practically with local exigencies. Restore The Anglo-Saxon Philosophy Of Liberty

It’s worth forgoing the back-and-forth and pausing for a moment to take the comment at face value. Presumably, whoever said it wanted to highlight the “shared history” and cultural common ground between the United States and its former colonial master, which is tough to dispute. . Neither America Nor the U.K. Are ‘Anglo-Saxon’ Countries

Bill Flax and Mitt Romney do imply what they each see as the benign roots that the Anglo-Saxons established. Both are writing what I would call ‘political articles’ used to justify their views in a historic context. I have no idea if they intended to include the term white supremacy as the Anglo-Saxons used ethnicity quite differently from today’s system justification.

System justification theory is unique in postulating a tendency to defend, bolster and justify aspects of the societal status quo — not necessarily at a conscious level of awareness. I am not suggesting that people always perceive the status quo as legitimate and stable. As with all other motives in psychology, the strength of system justification motivation is expected to vary considerably across individuals, groups, and social contexts. There are plenty of other motives — including motives for justice and self-interest — that may overpower system justification tendencies in any given situation. A theory of system justification

1. 10 things you (probably) didn’t know about the Anglo-Saxons: The Roman period in Britain is often said to end in the year 410 when the Roman emperor Honorius supposedly told the Britons to look to their own defences because Rome itself was beleaguered by barbarian attacks. Certainly around that time, Roman rule in Britain faltered, leaving a power vacuum that was filled by incomers arriving from northern Germany and southern Scandinavia. Today, we know these immigrants as the Anglo-Saxons, and they ruled England for much of the next 600 years.

2. Why the idea that the English have a common Anglo-Saxon origin is a myth: It was not until the 19th century that Anglo-Saxon poems such as Beowulf, the Seafarer and the Wanderer were translated into English as interest in Anglo-Saxons grew. In London’s National Portrait Gallery, there is a statue of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha dressed as Anglo-Saxon monarchy – a commission that equated their Germanic descent with that of their subjects. This Anglo-Saxon origin story has its roots in politics, downplayed when anti-German sentiment during World War I prompted the royals to change their name from Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to Windsor in 1917.

3. The Early Anglo-Saxons: This episode covers the aftermath of the Roman withdrawal from Britain, focusing on the lack of sources for the centuries afterward and the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons. It begins with the legend of Hengist and Horsa, through the Northumbrian Golden Age all the way to the end of the Mercian supremacy in the wake of Offa’s death.

4. The Anglo-Saxons love of secrets … and a good fight: Continental Europeans — French, Germans, Italians and others — often call the Anglophone peoples “Anglo-Saxons.” Derived from the name of a medieval people in England (partly composed of German tribes, ironically) whose culture dominated from the 5th to the 11th century, the term was revived in the 19th century, often in a self serving form to affirm the superiority of white British imperialists over the people of colour, whom they ruled. Now it refers to all English-speaking peoples — especially the Americans. It can be used neutrally, enviously and sometimes even affectionately, but it’s more often a pejorative.

5. Anglo-Saxon England was more cosmopolitan than you think: An exhibition (held at the British Library last year) aims to dispel any lingering prejudice about Anglo-Saxon England, presenting it as an outward-looking, cosmopolitan country, enriched by the spread of Christianity. “Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Art, Word, War” is what the curators described as a once-in-a-generation chance to view a collection of Anglo-Saxon manuscripts and artefacts side by side. Among the highlights are the manuscript of Beowulf and some fascinating scientific works. 

Referenced Articles Books & Definitions:

  • A bold text subscript above and preceding a title below (¹·²·³), refers to a book, pdf, podcast, video, slide show and a download url that is usually free.
  • Brackets containing a number e.g. (1) reference a particular included article (1-5).
  • A link (url), which usually includes the title, are to an included source.
  • The intended context of words, idioms, phrases, have their links in italics.
  • A long read url* (when used below) is followed by a superscript asterisk.
  • Occasionally Open University (OU) free courses are cited.
  • JSTOR lets you set up a free account allowing you to have 6 (interchangeable) books stored that you can read online.

¹Les Anglo-Saxons (url*): The very same term, usually deployed as an adjective, has passed into everyday language at all levels of society. The French breezily refer to les Anglo-Saxons when talking about the British, the Americans, the Canadians, the Australians or some mix of all four; they are more than happy to engage in vigorous arguments about the so-called modèle Anglo-Saxon, which has become a catch-all term to describe a variety of cultural, social and economic policies developed in the English-speaking world; and they are quite comfortable drawing stark contrasts between une culture Anglo-Saxonne and a wide range of countercultures. 

²The Not-So-Special Relationship (url*): Whenever relations between Britain and the United States are discussed, mention of the so-called ‘special relationship’ is never far behind. Like all relationships, Britain and the US have endured peaks and troughs, but few would argue with the view that for many years the nations have enjoyed mutual friendship and broadly shared interests. Yet at the onset of the Second World War the relationship appears to have been regarded by many in Britain as decidedly less than fraternal and anything but ‘special’.

³The Rise Of The Anglo-Saxon (url/pdf): Despite the fact that, since the early twentieth century, few Britons or Americans would be inclined to celebrate their Anglo-Saxon identity, the French still use the term to cover a wide range of stereotypes, pre-conceptions, and judgments about the Anglo-American world… Strange though it might appear to those who are covered by the term, the Anglo-Saxon has become a consensual part of the French language.

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The Land Is Ours

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The Bulletin

This site was created for members and friends of My Telegraph blog site, but anyone is welcome to comment, and thereafter apply to become an author.

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Ed Conway

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