by Mary Harrington
Monday, 19
April 2021
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14:42

Why the new liberal elite is coming for the WASPs

The debate over ‘Anglo-Saxon’ is just another cover for power dynamics
by Mary Harrington
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene was one of the GOP members linked to the Anglo-Saxon report

Is the phrase ‘Anglo-Saxon’ racist? Across the pond, a Republican Party policy document defending ‘Anglo-Saxon political traditions’ has re-ignited this argument. But it’s less about race than an increasingly hotly-contested front in America’s intra-elite class war.

For many liberal Americans, ‘Anglo-Saxon’ today connotes white supremacy. In England, though, the story is somewhat different — and inflected more by class and culture than clear differences of skin colour.

When the late Gerald Grosvenor, Duke of Westminster, was asked by a journalist what advice he’d give someone seeking to become rich today, he replied: “Make sure they have an ancestor who was a very close friend of William the Conqueror.”

The closest thing the British Isles has to an ethnic subgroup with a stranglehold on political power is arguably this residual Norman aristocracy, not the Anglo-Saxons. Descendants of the 1066 invaders remain overrepresented in positions of wealth and power, even as Norman-origin names predominate in England’s middle and upper classes.

But this dimension of class is largely absent from arguments about ‘Anglo-Saxon’ across the pond. American law and politics does indeed incorporate many traditions with antecedents in England. Heavily represented among the founders and subsequent administrators of this regime, is a group that was until recently the equivalent of America’s Normans.

This group, still often synonymous with America’s ruling class, are the WASPs or ‘white Anglo-Saxon Protestants’. It’s this caucus whose political outlook and institutions are, for good or ill, identified in the US with the phrase ‘Anglo-Saxon’.

But just as with the once-Norman aristocracy, this has over time become more a caste than a clearly defined ethnic group. And in any case, this heritage isn’t even ‘Anglo-Saxon’ properly speaking. Such common-law practices that were adopted by America’s English founders largely date from the post-1066 Norman era, when the Norman invaders from France (in fact ethnically Scandinavian) installed a new aristocracy over the heads of the Germanic tribes that then dominated mainland England, after themselves displacing the Celts.

In other words, there are no ethno-nationalist conclusions to draw from those elements of America’s political heritage that are English. But this is irrelevant in a setting where the meaning of ‘Anglo-Saxon’ is totemic. Instead, we find the complex early history of European tribes, invasions and counter-invasions flattened into a generic idea, either of ‘Anglo-Saxon’ in a positive sense, or ‘whiteness’ in a negative one.

The upshot of all this is a discourse that struggles to comprehend power operating on any axis other than skin colour. And yet this is precisely the framing that makes the debate over ‘Anglo-Saxon’ intelligible. That is, it’s less about race than it is about the fact that the WASPs are losing their hegemony, and a new liberal elite seeks to replace them with its own people and values. Traducing WASP institutions and values is a crucial part of that project.

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J Bryant
J Bryant
1 year ago

I’m an American who spent several years living and working in the UK (also Canada), so I think I have a sense of how the term ‘Anglo Saxon’ is used in these countries.
There is much more of a racial undertone to Anglo Saxon in the US. It denotes the white race, particularly members of the social elite.
I’ve no doubt the creators of the Anglo Saxon caucus in the US understand they are aligning themselves primarily with the interests of white people. Is this race-baiting or racist? I don’t think so. For years ‘white’ people have been blamed for all the ills afflicting western civilization (while receiving no credit for the virtues). These attacks are fundamentally racist. It’s unreasonable to expect people who identify as white not to advocate for their own interests in the face of such relentless attacks.
As other commenters have noted in this thread, the left-wing tactic of racial division will, in the long term, prove extremely destructive to a multiracial society such as the US.
Will the new liberal elite come for the WASPs? Of course they will. They will inevitably eat everyone but themselves, and then they’ll eat each other–look no further than Suzanne Moore’s expulsion from The Guardian.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
1 year ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Thanks, that’s much clearer – and better explained than in the article. Coming from a UK understanding of the term “Anglo Saxon” (which the article didn’t articulate very well), I couldn’t grasp how this had become the subject of a discussion on racism. Bringing ethnic origins and race into play to attack a (supposed) hegemony does seem like a dangerous strategy to be pursuing. Referring to an “old boy’s/girl’s club” or suchlike would serve the purpose without unnecessarily stoking racial tensions. Although I guess if you see this wave of racial tension and division as your vehicle to gaining power, you’re unlikely to moderate your language in that way.

Matthew Powell
Matthew Powell
1 year ago

I think this is correct. Race is being used as a toxic and potentially explosive cover for what is essentially a class war.

Desperate to block the formation of a working and lower middle class coalition, which Popularism threatens them with, the Progressive upper classes in America have sought to fragment it by driving racial divisions between groups which have essentially the same economic interests.

Whiteness thus less denotes race but has become a cypher for attacking the working classes, with even ethic communities which don’t accept the Progressive narrative also absurdly been classified as “white”.

This issue with this is of course, that these race baiting tactics threaten to become a self fulfilling prophecy and turn the largely fictitious claims of structure racism into real racial animosity on a much wider scale.

The Democrats are playing with fire but as we’ve seen with the ongoing riots in America, its the working class communities which end up getting burnt.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
1 year ago

I’ve completely lost the plot with all these discussions as they just seem to spin further and further away from any kind of reason. I can’t get a handle on it.
If you are going to lampoon as racist the term “Anglo-Saxon” as applied to describe certain legal, political or economic traditions and their historical/cultural origins…then surely the term “African American” would also be racist – denoting as it does certain groups, their cultural behaviours or traditions and their origins.

Last edited 1 year ago by Katharine Eyre
kathleen carr
kathleen carr
1 year ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Instead of WASP they could have CASS ( Catholic American Spanish Speakers) who were there before us.

kathleen carr
kathleen carr
1 year ago
Reply to  kathleen carr

Realized could also have CASH-as its interesting that hispanics have manoevered themselves to be an ethnic minority wheras surely they are just another lot of European invaders?

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago
Reply to  kathleen carr

Hispanic is a mix of indigenous, African, and Spanish, the Spanish are European, Hispanic the people in ex-Spanish colonies. You may argue this, but in reality this is the case.

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
1 year ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

My experience of the ex-Spanish colonies in S America is that those of European extraction can be very racist towards the indigenous people.

kathleen carr
kathleen carr
1 year ago

Thats rather what I understood, that infact they are quite a clique

Last Jacobin
Last Jacobin
1 year ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

I think the issue is more that anglo-saxon has, in America, long been used to by some to describe the alleged moral and cultural superiority of those of north and north western European Protestant ancestry over southern Europeans, Catholics and non-europeans.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

alleged?

Tom Jennings
Tom Jennings
1 year ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

I won’t get into moral superiority. In terms of legal systems, government, economic and scientific/engineering progress, “Anglo-Saxon” is the envy of much of the world. Those who challenge the Anglo-Saxon contribution need to provide their alternative.

Vóreios Paratiritís
Vóreios Paratiritís
1 year ago

The Anglo Saxon is the latest in long line of scapegoats that the powerful use to direct the energies of the intelligentsia and maintain their power.

Jonathan Ellman
Jonathan Ellman
1 year ago

American blacks and hispanics are on the verge of re-identifying as part of broader working and middle class identities. This is a silent, creeping economic and demographic process. But it can be observed in bars with colleagues drinking together regardless of race; in couples holding hands over pushchairs containing mixed-race babies; in neighbourhood bbqs and so on. And it will make itself felt in the ballot box: even in the last election there was a drift towards Trump from black and hispanic voters. Meanwhile in the UK the Conservatives have already taken the British-Asian vote from Labour.
The abuse of race for political power is in its death throes but this is what makes it so hatefully dangerous; it’s a dying power thrashing out in desperation. Biden won thanks to the freak event of Covid-19; they have a limited timeframe to rescue themselves and re-secure their power. They will stop at nothing in the manner of all despotic regimes to achieve this. The current American hell of rolling back democracy will continue until the mid-terms when the Democrat party will effectively end as a relevant political force. Then the chaos will really begin but within it the seeds of regeneration and a new order will be sewn.

George Wells
George Wells
1 year ago

I hope you are right.

Jonathan Ellman
Jonathan Ellman
1 year ago
Reply to  George Wells

It’s rather wishful thinking. But I believe there’s a little truth in it.

Cassian Young
Cassian Young
1 year ago

There is a more interesting story here. Sussex, land of the South Saxons, inherited a distinctive accent that is also the source of many American phrases and accents, and in particular, African American speech patterns.
From Wikpedia
Phoebe Earl Griffiths, an American writer in the 19th century, commented that Sussex dialect had considerable similarities with the dialect of New England at the time. Some phrases common to Sussex were common in New England as well, such as “you hadn’t ought to” or “you shouldn’t ought”, the use of “be you?” for “are you?” and “I see him” for “I saw him.”
There are also significant links with the dialect of East Sussex and the dialect of African Americans in the southern United States. In particular, the use of dem, dat, and dese for them, that, and these was common in the 19th century both in Sussex and in the southern United States.
Other phrases that may appear to be Americanisms were widely used in Sussex dialect. Examples include the use of “the fall” for autumn, “mad” for “angry,” “I guess,” and “I reckon”.

kathleen carr
kathleen carr
1 year ago
Reply to  Cassian Young

Different British people went to America before ( roughly) 1776 and after. Before there were a lot of unemployed people who became indentured servants and actual criminals ( just like Australia ) that Britain was glad to get rid of. After 1776 there tended to be more farmers ( Laura Ingalls Wilder’s family came from Scotland)and also one of the origins of the cowboy-the drover-who mainly came from Wales. Possibly a lot of Sussex people decided to try their luck in the 19th century?

Keith Payne
Keith Payne
1 year ago

I have always wondered in a rather comic and curious way why the Americans have expanded so greatly the supposed territory of a group of peoples who in reality occupied such a relatively small portion of the earth.

Barry Dixon
Barry Dixon
1 year ago

For me the term Anglo Saxon has always be a frame of mind. An attitude and mode of living that originated in the many generations that led to the Enlightenment within our shores.
The historical success of this frame of mind is what is so problematic to the left, of all shades.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago
Reply to  Barry Dixon

The Norman Genetic contribution to the British gene pool is minute, the writer is just rambling on for the fun of it.

Robert Pay
Robert Pay
1 year ago

Founding ideas were largely drawn from England and France (mainly Locke and Montesquieu) so why Anglo-Saxon? The Anglo-Saxons are now a focus of debate by historians as to whether they exist. The French use Anglo-Saxon to encompass the Anglosphere but particularly U.S. and U.K. Total own goal which will be weaponized against them along with the historic use of America First.

Last edited 1 year ago by Robert Pay
Hardee Hodges
Hardee Hodges
1 year ago

Not at all sure where this discussion is going. The somewhat unique US American culture created mainly by the original settlers is being challenged. The principles of the US Constitution depend on a high degree of personal self-reliance, trust, and some belief in a common morality. The ability to assimilate other unique cultures into the US American culture has allowed great prosperity and personal freedoms. Much of that seems now under attack in an attempt to create a new culture with questionable benefit. Assimilation seems less important in creating a cohesive society reverting to a degree of promoted tribalism that carried to a logical end will terminate the foundations of US culture.

Oliver McCarthy
Oliver McCarthy
1 year ago

White Anglo-Saxon Protestant is an oxymoron anyway. Whatever else the Anglo-Saxons may have been, they certainly weren’t protestants.

Michael Cowling
Michael Cowling
1 year ago

The use of Anglo-Saxon in the USA is not unlike the use of Gallego in South and Central America: it is no longer associated with its original meaning. But Gallego also has a connotation of stupid.

Emre Emre
Emre Emre
1 year ago

Is there an angle of wealth concentration here? I understand the 0.1% of the elite have an unprecedented proportion of the overall wealth today and it is rising. Whoever these people are, they don’t need to be WASP or anything else to hold on to power, all they really need is legitimacy – a justification for their share of the wealth.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
1 year ago

The essay is just drivel. When people say ‘Anglo-Saxon’ they just mean white. In England, as far as I know, we are not run by Normans or Anglo-Saxons but we are run by ‘Whitey’ and that is clearly a crime against humanity.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

I disagree. The use of the term Anglo-Saxon is far more wide-ranging. To say that it just means “white” is false – there are many white people in the world who have no connection to any kind of Anglo-Saxon heritage. “White caucasian” is a more precise and suitable term to use in any discussion about white supremacy.

Johannes Kreisler
Johannes Kreisler
1 year ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

I think it’s not Chris Wheatley using the term that way, but rather he’s saying that those who take offence in the term ‘Anglo-Saxon’ are misinterpreting it to mean “white”. (The same people who invented the term “white supremacy” to make excuses for black ineptitude.)

James Slade
James Slade
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

So are the millions of Irish Americans Anglo-Saxons? The millions of Italian Americans and so on and so fourth

Last Jacobin
Last Jacobin
1 year ago

“America is a nation with a border, and a culture, strengthened by a common respect for uniquely Anglo-Saxon political traditions.”
This is from one of the links in the article – a draft document written by the Republican America First Caucus.
Anglo-Saxon is a term long used by racists to differentiate themselves from people they believe to be racially inferior. It also has class and political implications when used within the context of WASP (which wasn’t coined until the 1950s, apparently.
The America First Caucus knew that when drafting their document and knew what the impact of using the term would be. They were deliberately picking a fight by bringing race into the debate.
And I thought it was the left who were obsessed with identity politics?

Johannes Kreisler
Johannes Kreisler
1 year ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

Anglo-Saxon is a term long used by racists to differentiate themselves from people they believe to be racially inferior. 

Also a term long used by historians, teachers, pupils, and very much everybody on the planet with a basic grasp of literacy. I’m neither Anglo, nor Saxon, yet i knew that word by the age of 7 from books.
On the other hand, words like “house” or “green” or “mollusc” or “and” etc. are long used by racists, antiracists, criminals, clerics, communists, fascists, hairdressers, vegans, butchers, journalists and whathaveyou. Probably we should abolish language altogether, as it is used by any number of individuals one may disagree with.

Your point is? Are you denying that the ethnic group ‘Anglo-Saxon’ exists? Or do you have a grudge against said ethnic group and its members? Do you object against AngloSaxons differentiating themselves from non-AngloSaxons? If so, then do you also object against the Irish or Scottish differentiating themselves from the English, or the sunnis differentiating themselves from the shi’a, etc?

Last Jacobin
Last Jacobin
1 year ago

Johannes – I should have been more specific. Racists in the USA have used the term to differentiate themselves on what they consider to be racial lines. I totally agree it’s use elsewhere is more associated with literature, history etc. and long may it continue.
I’m not saying the term shouldn’t be used but that it shouldn’t be used out of context in a deliberate attempt to whip up racial conflict.
‘Uniquely Anglo-Saxon political traditions’ means, in the code used by US racists, white. What traditions are they? The ones that delayed the abolition of slavery of non-white people until 100 or more years after other democracies or the one that kept racial segregation in law until less than a short lifetime ago?
When they talk about ‘a border, and a culture’ associated with this unique anglo-saxon tradition are they talking about a country that welcomes immigrants and respects the diverse origins of its population? No, they are talking about white people. with a border that specifically excludes hispanic/latino/indigenous people and that was not formalised until 150 years ago.
Anglo-saxon was used as a term by US racists to differentiate themselves from the Catholic Irish emigrating to the US in the 1840s.

Hardee Hodges
Hardee Hodges
1 year ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

No, they are talking about white people. with a border that specifically excludes hispanic/latino/indigenous people” – The US southwest includes Hispanics who settled here in the earliest days and who also decimated the tribes they came across in the process – like all previous tribes before them. Many of those Hispanics who trace Spanish heritage are at peace with current tribes including those of mixed Mexican heritage. Many of them dislike being displaced by newcomers as resistant to change as anybody. So those non-White people support a border that meters newcomers.

David George
David George
1 year ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

America’s founding constitution was/is openly and unashamedly based on English common law, enlightenment notions of liberty and equality (English and French) and English “traditions” going back to the Magna Carta. “Anglo Saxon” is just an alternative for all things old English in America.
WASP is used more specifically about people rather than ideas. In this context it has nothing to do with race but a respect for that tradition. You seriously have to question the motivations of someone trying to twist an inference of racism out of someone’s respect for the tradition that laid down the framework for the freest, most just and prosperous societies in human history. Part of an assault on the foundations of Western culture, it’s history and it’s heroes?

Last Jacobin
Last Jacobin
1 year ago
Reply to  David George

Anglo-Saxon is a term consistently used by openly racist people in the USA to mean what they consider to be white.
From Wiki: The Anglo Saxon Clubs of America was a white supremacist political organization which was active in the United States in the 1920s, and lobbied in favor of anti-miscegenation laws and against immigration from outside of Northern Europe…The organization was successful in lobbying for tougher legislation, and is credited with having secured the passing of the Racial Integrity Act of 1924.
From a 1964 KKK leaflet: If you are a Christian, American Anglo-Saxon who can understand the simple Truth of this Philosophy, you belong in the White Knights of the KU KLUX KLAN of Mississippi. We need your help right away. Get your Bible out and PRAY! You will hear from us.
The use of anglo-saxon in a racist context is not something inferred, it’s explicit. And the people in the America First Caucus were aware of this and used the term deliberately to stir up racial tension.

Hardee Hodges
Hardee Hodges
1 year ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

Not the first time a group has hijacked words. Antifa isn’t really anti-fascist but simply anarchists. The BLM organization is a Marxist front with little to do with resolving discrimination.

Tom Graham
Tom Graham
1 year ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

Anglo-Saxon is a term that has for a very long time been used by Americans to refer to English – to differentiate it from all the other white European immigrant groups in the country – Irish, Scots, German, Scandinavian etc, and is not remotely racist.
Anglo-Saxon is a term used by upper-middle-class Guardian reading humanities students to refer to bad white people, and has a definite racist connotation.
Anglo-Saxon is a term used by the English to refer to the losing side of the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

Last Jacobin
Last Jacobin
1 year ago
Reply to  Tom Graham

Also a term used by KKK to refer to the right sort of white people. I quote examples in another post which is waiting approval.

Tom Graham
Tom Graham
1 year ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

By a group active in the 1920s – a century ago.
And the KKK are not exactly a big organisation in the US for some time now.
Do you have any examples of the racist connotations of the term Anglo-Saxon from my lifetime, apart from the neo-racist left?

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

The KKK also use money, so by your thinking money is racist.

Last Jacobin
Last Jacobin
1 year ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

I’m not saying ‘anglo-saxon’ is racist. I’m saying the way it is being used is deliberate and in the context it is being used is racially provocative. ‘Money’ isn’t racist but using it to buy advertising saying racist things would be.

Liz Walsh
Liz Walsh
1 year ago
Reply to  Tom Graham

As an American, I congratulate you on a plain and accurate response. In America, in fact, Anglo-Saxon culture has come to include Germanic (including Scandinavian) cultural roots. It is mainly significant as an umbrella term, a POV on civic participation. One must go back, beyond the Magna Carta, to the origin of vapnataken (wapentakes) to understand a core American value: an assembly of equals, equally armed, meeting to deliberate.

Last edited 1 year ago by Liz Walsh
Colin Haller
Colin Haller
1 year ago
Reply to  Liz Walsh

This is the slipperiness and uselessness of “whiteness” — it doesn’t mean the same thing across eras.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago
Reply to  Colin Haller

It pretty much does.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago
Reply to  Liz Walsh

Saxons had their Tithing, a local group of a 10 or a score, or whatever, of men obliged to keep law and fight when called, and during peace, then Hundreds made up of tithings, 100 men who were bound to fight when called, under the Shire-reeve (making the fyrd).

This still is very much American psyche, as in the Sheriff and his civilian Posse.