Sunday, April 20, 2008

# Posted 1:11 PM by Patrick Porter  

SPECIAL RELATIONSHIPS, BLOOD TIES: In Prime Minister Gordon Brown's recent US visit, we can see the peculiar dynamics of the Anglo-American relationship at work.

This piece in the Times in particular tells us a lot about the anxieties that accompany the British/American alliance.

On the one hand, we see the competitive desire to prove that Britain is most special in America's constellation, even more than Atlanticist Sarkozy (who only got to speak to the President rather than all three candidates!) and Oz Prime Minister Kevin Rudd (who only, gasp, got a phone conversation).

The alliance with the US means that Britain can play Greece to America's Rome, and is first in a strong field of contenders for that role.

And we also get a glimpse of what the British alliance delivers the US: a sense of mystical pedigree and ancestral prestige. Thus the New England Historic Genealogical Society has found that Obama is a distant relative of Winston Churchill, himself part American, and the embodiment of Anglo-American kinship, shared burdens and world mission.

Obama's claim to a blood tie is actually more than an eager identification with Churchill. It is an American presidential tradition, but with a twist. On the accession of a new American President, there is the publication of their genealogy as it relates to the English monarchy.

Thus George Bush senior was announced as a distant relative of Queen Elizabeth II by the director of 'Burke's Peerage', and Burke's Presidential Families of the United States links Lincoln to Edward I, Washington to Henry III, and Teddy Roosevelt to Robert III, King of Scots.

Obama, wittingly or not, has updated this tradition, tracing his blood ties to an aristocrat, but one of democratic politics.

For her part, Hillary has more prosaically found a Welsh ancestor. She also discovered Jewish ancestry some years ago during a public dispute over her views on Palestine, and in a moment of real excitement, remembered in New Zealand that she was named after Edmund Hillary, who conquered Everest some six years after she was born.

But the factual truth of these claims is less interesting than what motivates them, which is a kind of compact. The US offers access to power, Britain offers the mystique of old-world prestige. And history is pressed into action to serve both.

NB: For more on this blood-tracing and much else besides, see the Hitch's Blood, Class and Empire.
(1) opinions -- Add your opinion

"...Britain offers the mystique of old-world prestige."

I don't really wish to come across with too much snark, but it seems unavoidable.

When Britain ceded their sovereignty to the EU they threw away any mystique that remained, and dashed their prestige on the reefs their Royal Navy avoided for centuries.
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