After Thatcher, after Reagan, after the cold war, what remains of the “special relationship” between Britain and America? There has always been less there than meets the eye. In the nineteenth century, a special feeling for the English was nurtured primarily by WASPs of good birth for whom it represented not only “blood” and “class” but the dirty secret of residual toryism, an Un-American Activity of the right wing never prosecuted by Congress. In contrast, most Americans had good reasons to hate the English, chiefly Irish reasons (at a time when the Irish were America’s most vocal ethnic minority), republican reasons, and anti-imperial reasons.
In our own century, changes on both sides of the Atlantic have undermined the foundations of Anglophobia. Both WASPs and the Irish play a diminishing role in American public life. America is less militantly republican, Britain less imperial. But only in this last respect did sagging Anglophobia make way for a resurgent Anglophilia. Over the fifty years between the Spanish-American and Second World Wars, the grudging, halting but inexorable baton-pass of imperial responsibilities forged a new and special relationship between the British and American governing classes. In this phase it matters little that the American governors are called Roosevelt rather than Adams. The essential glue is no longer “blood” and “class” but NATO and the “national interest.” It does help, though, that upper-class WASPs still buzz around the foreign policy hive and that non-WASPs can don Harris tweed and Burberry as dignified fig-leaves for the naked interest that lies beneath. The function of Anglophilia in the twentieth century is to lend that veneer of civilization and higher purpose to the dirty business of empire.