We are all Anglo-Saxons now

By Razib Khan | July 27, 2012 11:21 pm

I’m kind of wary of getting into political debates at this point because it’s not my primary interest (additionally, people with stronger political views often end up willfully misrepresenting me because they think I’m taking specific sides, even if they actually guess my preferences incorrectly!). But the whole Mitt Romney-Anglo-Saxon heritage kerfuffle has now gotten under my skin. What prompted my agitation is a post over at The Atlantic by Max Fisher, Sorry, Romney: Neither America Nor the U.K. Are ‘Anglo-Saxon’ Countries. There are two dimensions to this, the positive and the normative.

Most of you are probably aware of David Barton, the conservative Christian scholar whose bread and butter is a revisionist history of the United States which rewrites the past into a fiction to serve his own political ends, in a manner which would make Michel Foucault proud. But believe it or not conservative Christians are not the only group wont to rewrite the past to serve  their own contemporary political preferences. In the case of Max Fisher what you have is a conclusion in search of support, and so our enterprising young man went out looking for it in classic hack style. Reading through the comments very few spotted the errors and confusions, aside from a few British commenters.


First, Fisher assumes that Anglo-Saxon identity is a matter of blood. Or should I say blut? Let’s take this as a given, that ethnic identity is identical to descent groups, that nations are bound together by their shared blood. Is Fisher even right for England? To prove his assertion he engages in “google punditry,” simply sifting through the stack of facts in Google to find ones which support his supposition. He argues that anthropologists have disproved the Anglo-Saxon invasion, by citing a 7 year old piece in National Geographic. Seven years is a long time, and since then times have changed. Old school anti-migrationism is nearly dead. The assertion that most modern British are descended from Ice Age hunter-gatherers has not been falsified in totality, but it is certainly wrong to assert that it is rock solid orthodoxy in this day and age that such continuity exists. Second, the affinities between Germans and many modern British are rather stronger genetically than we might have thought in 2005 (using better techniques to ascertain genealogical relationships).

But there is more to this than genes alone. First, on a minor issue, Fisher refers to “the the Irish and Scottish whose forefathers were never under Anglo-Saxon rule.” This is wrongheaded because the Germans who crossed the North Sea and settled in northern Britain were one of the constituents of what became the Scottish nation. Scotland’s name derives from an Irish Gaelic people who crossed over from Ulster, but the national identity looks back also to the Picts, the Celts of Strathclyde, the Norse, and of course the Anglo-Saxon peoples who streamed out of Northumbria and brought their German language across Hadrian’s wall, which eventually became broad Scots! This is the native language of David Hume. In any case, the bigger issue is that Max Fisher’s attempt to minimize the cultural impact of the Anglo-Saxons. This is laughable. We’re both typing in English, the most prominent of the German languages. Listen closely to a Dutchman, the kinship in speech is clear. This is the descendant of the language of Beowulf for crying out loud! The flavor might be French, but the meat is still German.

A more important aspect of the assessment of the impact of the Anglo-Saxons is that post-Roman Britain witnessed one of the most traumatic civilizational ruptures in the history of late antiquity. There are reflections of this in the chronicles of the British cleric Gildas. Romanitas disappeared, and the native British became serfs, or driven to the “Celtic fringe.” The biggest indication of this is that the Christian religion itself collapsed, and had to be reintroduced anew. English Christianity in the south notably was not the heir to indigenous British Christianity, which had produced luminaries such as Pelagius. Rather, it was a new planting from the Continent in the 7th century (though Irish clerics did bring the religion to Northumbria). The Celtic language was also effaced from the landscape, and the Germans even termed the British “foreigners” in their own ancient lands (i.e., “Welsh” derives from a German word meaning foreigner). Though both the Norse and Norman invasions were influential, they inflected a sturdy Anglo-Saxon base. These invasions did not transform and overturn the order that was. Modern England’s roots go back to the 6th century, the hidden age between the fall of the Western Roman Empire and the rise of the Christian kingdoms of 7th century.

Finally, Fisher makes much of the demographic decline of Americans of English descent. This an artifact. The number of people who identify as English has crashed since 1980. Why? The winds of cultural change. If you are of German and English heritage, you will usually say you are German American. If Irish and English, again, Irish (not to mention “Americans” who are actually English).

Which brings us back to culture, and away from factual positive claims to normative ones. The whole of Fisher’s piece is rooted in the thesis that the Anglo-Saxon people are united by blood. Destroy the ties of blood, as he attempts to do, and you minimize the influence of Anglo-Saxons. This again confirms my thesis that many modern progressive multiculturalists have simply refashioned the old racialist narrative. Does it really matter how many sons the Anglo-Saxons fathered if the local Celtic chiefs raised their own children as Germans? There is some evidence that the lineage of Alfred the Great himself derived from a set of southwest British Celtic chiefs who were Germanized (e.g., many of the early kings who Alfred claims as ancestors have Celtic names). The victory of Saxon blood may not have been substantial, but the victory of Saxon speech was! Even the layout of the countryside changed with the coming of the Saxons. To deny this reality seems farcical, but only if you deny the importance of blood in necessarily and sufficiently determining national identity.

If so, then Max Fisher has good company with the British National Party, and racial nationalists the world over. This is frankly not an uncommon position, and I am subject to questions as to my own identity as a person of color who identifies as Western from commenters (usually some Europeans and American white racists, for whom being Western is necessarily predicated on being white). This is a fundamental philosophical question: how much is a man born, and how much is a man made? To some extent this is a curious question being posed by me, as I suspect many of Max Fisher’s fellow travelers would take the side of nurture over nature on most questions in comparison. But it seems on this issue we are faced with the prospect that Fisher is espousing the proposition that blood is determinative in national identity. This is the mainstream model if you are German, Chinese, or Japanese. But one of the distinctive aspects of the modern Anglo-Saxon model is its assertive, expansive, and assimilative power. In the 19th century there were British prime ministers with Indian blood (Lord Liverpool) and those of proud Jewish origins (Benjamin Disraeli). As for America, what in the 19th century was a white republic has now become one headed by a colored man.

And not just any colored man. Barack Hussein Obama has English Yankee blood, if not copious amounts. If Fisher’s implicit assumption is that blood is the true test of a man’s tribe, than Obama himself is an Anglo-Saxon! Of course another of the old racist canards was of hypodescent, underpinned by the assumption that the inferior stock overwhelmed the superior one. And so perhaps Obama is in fact a Luo tribesman by this logic of blood.

At this point you may be exhausted by the exploration of picayune facts. But the point is that when we debase facts, and sacrifice them at the alter of expediency, we eat the very capital which is the basis of modern civilization. Without objective facts we are thrown into the world of conspiracies, where everything is illusion. Max Fisher and many others objected to the anonymous Romney aid’s imputations, and so he went out to tear down every aspect of the argument and all its assumptions. In the process he prostituted reality, and misled thousands of readers. This is shameful, and we should all hold ourselves to higher standards, no matter where we stand on matters of politics. When history becomes a tool of polemic, then we live in a far poorer world indeed.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: History
MORE ABOUT: Anglo-Saxon
  • gcochran

    Fisher isn’t going to change – you know that. He’s a bullshitter. To be fair – and you have to be fair, even to bullshitters – I think that not many people understand that Census trend of radically decreasing number of people of English ancestry over the past three decades. Probably most people just assume that they’re being gassed.

  • Amanda S

    It’s the use of the term “Anglo-Saxon” that’s strange to me. If it’s meant to refer to a shared English cultural heritage why not just use the term “English”. “Anglo-Saxon” was invented to refer to an historical period of multiple kingdoms before the English had yet become English. It’s also quite useful in describing the language spoken at the time (Old English) which is virtually unintelligible to speakers of modern English. It’s not usefully applied to contemporary people or culture.

  • Larry, San Francisco

    As is often the case Walter Russell Mead wrote the definitive column on this:

    http://blogs.the-american-interest.com/wrm/2012/07/25/our-president-the-wasp/

    I am often amazed by the ignorance of American culture that so many of our talking heads have. As a non wasp I am disgusted by their belittlement of wasp culture which has made our country great while integrating very diverse groups who often hated each other. Many people argue is that the US is only rich because it exploited an area rich in natural resources. My counter argument is always, what about Argentina? It is both whiter and more richly endowed than the US, but somehow much poorer.

  • Matunos

    I’ll defer to your knowledge of the history of English-speaking peoples. But I do think it’s worth keeping in mind the politics at play in the original assertion (which may or may not have come from an actual Romney “advisor”). Romney, for his part, has publicly disavowed the sentiment expressed.

    But whoever did make the statement was clearly making an oblique reference to race (though in terms of bloodlines, I’m not sure that Romney’s any more Anglo-Saxon than Obama). There’s no other explanation… because the notion that Obama is somehow cold on Britain is not supported by the evidence (other than some gifts of questionable taste, I guess).

    And anyway, whether the term was originally meant to refer to blood or culture, after this week of foibles, I doubt the Romney camp will be very quick to claim a warmer relationship with England (or all of Britain, for that matter) than the president.

  • phanmo

    @ #2 Amanda S.
    I currently live in France, where “Anglo-Saxon” is the accepted term used when referring to any and all “white” people from primarily English-speaking countries. The U.S.A., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, and of course the U.K. are all considered Anglo-Saxon countries. Ireland is not considered Anglo-Saxon by those who are from Brittany, because of their (real or imagined) shared Celtic background.

    Using the term “English”, in either French or English, would create confusion with those who are actually from England.

    @ Razib
    “This is the descendant of the language of Beowulf for crying out loud! The flavor might be French, but the meat is still German.”
    Love it!

  • http://forwhattheywereweare.blogspot.com/ Maju

    “Anglosaxon”, usually without hyphen, is common term in continental Europe to refer to mostly white English speaking states, specially the USA and Great Britain (but also Canada, Australia, New Zealand). “English” means from England specifically, Anglosaxon is the cultural (and often political) term, reflecting the so-called “special relationship” between these countries in so many aspects.

    It’s roughly equivalent to Hispanic and very much distinct from WASP.

    However for some reason it does not seem to be applied to English speaking countries which are mostly non-white, like Jamaica, etc.

  • Roger Bigod

    There have been no genetic Anglo-Saxons for 1000 years. The term is gibberish invoked to express some social and political attitudes.

    A useful genetic marker is R1a haplotype on the Y chromosome. This started out south of the Urals and spread east (Uighurs), south to the subcontinent (high fives Razib) and west across Northern Europe and Scandinavia. It entered Albion with the Anglo-Saxon invasion and Scotland and the coasts via Scandinavia. Before those invasions, the population was almost all R1b (original hunter-gatherers plus Celts entering in first millenium BCE). R1a is about 10% of the present population, so even if it was 50% of the Germanic tribes, the gene pool is only 20% “Anglo-Saxon”.

    At enormous labor and expense, and out of pride in my Uighur heritage, I collected all the examples of R1a on the British Isles database with attributions of location and plotted them on a map. There’s an expected high concentration in southern England, but it trails off well south of the Borderlands. There’s a high concentration in the Orkney Islands, north of Scotland (probably from Scandinavia) and a sprinkling over northern Scotland. That’s probably Scandinavian, as well, and details of the Y markers might confirm this.

    On the assumption that the language spread only to places where its speakers were politically dominant, the people who conquered northern England and Scotland weren’t genetically Anglo-Saxon, at least on the Y chromosome. They were descendants of Celts (and the earlier inhabitants) who had adopted the language and culture. And that was a millenium ago. The gene pool is even more mixed now, although not homogeneous.

    Razib, you’d be welcome to a copy of the map, but there’s probably better data around.

  • ElamBend

    Many in the continent also refer to the British and British legacy political and economic system as ‘Anglosaxon’, indeed many French use the term as a pejorative. When I read the adviser’s line, I understood it to be in those terms. Contra Maturnos, there is a belief among those on the right that Obama disdains any prospect of a ‘special relationship’ and has some sort of animosity toward Britain (it’s a belief, I make no comment on its authenticity). I agree though, that Romney did not come out well this week in those terms, but has nothing to do with cultural or genetic ties.

    I think the best explanation of Fisher’s response (as well as other that I normally find quite intelligent) is a willingness to believe the worst of those they don’t necessarily like and then to commit the same prejudice that they decry.

  • willc

    The term ‘anglo-saxon’ is used, often by continental Europeans, to describe philosophical principles and specific policies and structures that origionated within the British Isles. A marked emphasis on scientific empiricism (as opposed to systems like french rationalism), a shared understanding of individual rights based on English common law, and adversarial judicial and governmental structures are all distinctive ‘anglo-saxon’ features of both Britain and the United States as well as the preponderance of common wealth nations throughout the world.
    Romney’s aid was suggesting, quite accurately I believe, that Obama has shown a certain disregard for many of these principles and seems to favor the idea of an America with a powerful centralized bureaucratic government and horizontal legal system similar to France, Germany, Belgium ect. Fisher’s reductive and facile analysis is typical of someone who dabbled in critical race theory/poli sci back in college and went on to become a member of the chattering class, unsuprising yet depressing nevertheless.

  • Paul Ó Duḃṫaiġ

    The People of British Isles published an interesting map there recently at the “Royal Society” showing populations clusters that they have seen using their sample pool of 4,500 people from the UK (they didn’t test anyone in Ireland outside of the North of Ireland)

    http://sse.royalsociety.org/2012/exhibits/genetic-maps/

    The implication from some stuff I’ve been reading is that the red cluster is specific to Anglo-Saxon input into the population. Of course when you look at the Y-Chromosome data from Busby there is a visble cline from East to West when it comes to
    1. Increase in L21 (R1b1a2a1a1b3) as you go west
    2. Decrease in U106 (R1b1a2a1a1a) as you go west

    As for the term “Anglo-Saxon” and Irish people, well obviously given the linguistic shift since 1800 we belong to the “Anglosphere” linguistically, but most Irish people would regard been called “Anglo-Saxon” as quite insulting that’s for sure.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    #9, britain is actually very centralized. new labor took a step in the opposite direction with devolution. second, obama is manifestly more popular than romney in britain. the whole line of attack on the merits was kind of a joke. and i don’t have any problem admitting that. the issue is that people of low ethics like max fisher use a political argument to literally shit into the well of history. who’s going to drink out of that now?

    second, i don’t think we should focus too much on the term ‘anglo-saxon’. perhaps it was a racist telegraph, i have no idea, and i don’t really care. this won’t matter at all come nov. 2. what does matter is that max fisher is propounding false ideas all across the internet, false ideas that will persist long after this one particular dispute of the summer season news lull blows over.

  • Justin Giancola

    That last paragraph has some wonderful lines. quotables!

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    hey all, note the comments policy: Insults, persistent off-topic comments, and refusal to address direct questions by the blog proprietor will result in banning.

    though fwiw, i don’t mind banning lots of people :-)

  • willc

    @Razib Khan

    While I agree that the Democratic party in the US would probably be considered slightly right-leaning by British standards, the UK is still, when compared to the rest of Western Europe a bastion of neo-liberal (to borrow their term) capitalism and austerity and also has a markedly more right wing military and law enforcement policy when you consider their participation in the wars in the middle east and the fact that they have the highest incarceration rate in Europe. Don’t forget that the American constitution was highly influenced by the drafting of the English constitution following the glorious revolution.

    I would actually go as far as to say that Obama is doubly English as a result of both his mother’s heritage and his father’s experience living much of his life as a citizen of the British Empire (something the British seem to take a sort of paternalistic pride in). Still it seems to me that Obama, like so many other progressives, looks further inland (I’d wager Scandinavia) in his assesment of how a society and economy should operate and I think a Norse president is something we should all be concerned about.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    #14, who are you talking to? i just pointed out that british centralism peaked during the thatcher years. and i’m not interested in bracketing all of western europe together. the differences between scandinavian welfare statism are very stark in relation to french quasi-autarky or the bizarre employment protection laws of spain. i would say britain resembles scandinavia more in this regard. but that’s not the discussion we were having.

  • Riordan

    Razib,

    I don’t quite understand this :
    “The assertion that most modern British are descended from Ice Age hunter-gatherers has not been falsified in totality, but it is certainly wrong to assert that it is rock solid orthodoxy in this day and age that such continuity exists. Second, the affinities between Germans and many modern British are rather stronger genetically than we might have thought in 2005 (using better techniques to ascertain genealogical relationships).”

    So based on the current evidence, do modern Brits have or do not have significant levels of Germanic descent that would no longer be considered as “minor” or “negligible” as the NatGeo article seems to imply? Second to that, is it still to correct to say modern Brits derive a large majority (perhaps 80-90? 60-70%?) of their genetic descent from the pre-Roman era Celtic/indigenous peoples living on the isle?

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    So based on the current evidence, do modern Brits have or do not have significant levels of Germanic descent that would no longer be considered as “minor” or “negligible” as the NatGeo article seems to imply? Second to that, is it still to correct to say modern Brits derive a large majority (perhaps 80-90? 60-70%?) of their genetic descent from the pre-Roman era Celtic/indigenous peoples living on the isle?

    you are confused for a real reason: this section of the nat geo article doesn’t address the question at hand. it’s focused on continuity of paleolithic europeans with modern europeans.

  • Ian

    While I have Saxon, but no Anglo-Saxon blood, like Barack Obama (and Mitt Romney) I am very much shaped by ‘Anglo-Saxon heritage’. Why? Because my first language is English, which governs not just the words with which I express myself, but also influences the way I think. Because, as an American-trained ecologist, I’m the product of an academic field shaped by Anglo-American traditions (very different from those of the European continent). Because as the product of (several) post-colonial societies, I learned to think of Anglo-Saxon history as my history – by the age of 10 I had not just memorised every English king since Alfred the Great, I was also emotionally invested in the fact that Henry I’s marriage to Edith/Matilda ensured that the descendents of Alfred sat on the throne since Henry II.

    I’d say it’s not about blood, it’s about culture. And fwiw, even a predominantly African American UCC congregation is far more English than the LDS church.

  • Luke Raines

    My counter argument is always, what about Argentina? It is both whiter and more richly endowed than the US, but somehow much poorer.

    How is Argentina whiter? Doesn’t most of the population have Native American Indian ancestry?

  • Luke Raines

    A useful genetic marker is R1a haplotype on the Y chromosome. This started out south of the Urals and spread east (Uighurs), south to the subcontinent (high fives Razib) and west across Northern Europe and Scandinavia. It entered Albion with the Anglo-Saxon invasion and Scotland and the coasts via Scandinavia.

    Actually I think R1a was brought to Britain by the Vikings. Most Germanics, outside of Scandinavia, are either R1b or I.

  • Luke Raines

    obama is manifestly more popular than romney in britain

    The British tend to be pro-Democrat and anti-Republican since Britain tends to be to the left of the United States on most issues.

  • Luke Raines

    And fwiw, even a predominantly African American UCC congregation is far more English than the LDS church

    How? From what I understand, most Mormons are of British ancestry.

  • Roger Bigod

    Paul

    Thanks for the link to Ye Royal Society. If I understand the first paper they cite, there’s a high incidence of A-S in SE England extending up into Central England. It may be effectively 100%. This is compatible with R1a haplotype representing a small fraction of A-S males. Even so, R1a declines markedly to the north, at least on the sample I looked at. The paper didn’t appear to discuss anything north of Central England. My map suggested that the invaders of Scotland were genetically more Celt/indigenous. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

    I looked at the the Fisher piece and it’s pathetic. It’s kind of basic that the US legal system derives from the UK. And it goes back to a codification of Anglo-Saxon customs. It’s a waste of time to ponder whether Romney meant it as some kind of coded racism. it’s true, and the kind of diplomatic filler that US politicians have said before.

  • Brel

    Anyone interested in this discussion should look at the book Replenishing the Earth: The Settler Revolution and the Rise of the Angloworld, which Razib reviewed here: http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp/2010/07/the-anglo-revolutions/

    The author, James Belich, gives a broadly comparative description of the creation of the phenomenon we’re discussing here: the “Anglo-Saxon” world, or modern Britain + the US + Canada, Australia, etc. He chooses to call it the “Angloworld”, but admits that traditionally it was denoted by the term “Anglo-Saxon”. But he declined to use Anglo-Saxon due to its association with the racialist ideas of 100 years ago, and coined his own term instead.

    I think we should simply understand that “Anglo-Saxon” has two meanings: one referring to the Germanic tribes who settled part of Britain about 1500 years ago, and the other referring to the “Anglosphere civilization” created in the last 200 years, which (now) refers to specific institutions and cultural values. It should be sufficiently obvious from context which is meant.

  • Riordan

    “you are confused for a real reason: this section of the nat geo article doesn’t address the question at hand. it’s focused on continuity of paleolithic europeans with modern europeans”

    Very well. Will it be possible for you to give a (very) brief lowdown on those two questions here or at least direct me to articles that will at least try and answer them ?

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    to follow up #22, mormonism is actually a religion derived straight out of new england yankee early 19th century heterodoxies. in fact, the UCC and mormonism are “sister clades” derived from the same common ancestor, 18th century congregationalism (mormonism has some more “derived” features though!).

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    Will it be possible for you to give a (very) brief lowdown on those two questions here or at least direct me to articles that will at least try and answer them ?

    1) there is a model where most of the ancestors of modern britons were already resident in briain at the end of the last ice age (the first recolonizers). this is almost certainly false.

    2) there is a model where the anglicization of britain occurred via elite emulation, so that only a few thousand germans shifted the culture of the whole society. this is a more complex issue. but i’m pretty sure that it was NOT just a few thousand, and that large portions of east anglia at the least underwent population replacement. i would put the “german” contribution to modern british at a minority, but a substantial one at that. and probably the majority in regions of east anglia (perhaps a majority if you assume that the norse are german).

    fisher basically tried to refute that britain was anglo-saxon because if they were descended from ice age hunter-gatherers by definition their ancestors were not anglo-saxon. but that’s probably a wrong model anyhow. so he needs to defend #2, which is more defensible, but which mounting evidence is suggesting is also wrong.

  • Grey

    “is it still to correct to say modern Brits derive a large majority (perhaps 80-90? 60-70%?) of their genetic descent from the pre-Roman era Celtic/indigenous peoples living on the isle?”

    http://robertlindsay.files.wordpress.com/2009/08/r1b-dna-distribution.jpg

    What people tend to forget when discussing this is the Celt, Saxon, Viking and Norman invaders all came from the at least 40-50% R1b region themselves. So if those invasions were 50% R1b and 50% a mixture of I and R1a then the R1b component as a marker of a distinct population would be lost (unless you could separate out specific clades i guess).

    A mirror analogy to what i mean might be an island to the east of Japan originally settled by Ainu subjected to multiple invasions made up of genetically 50% Japanese and 50% Ainu but culturally 100% Japanese.

    Which ties back to the main point.

  • Tory

    Nice little article.

    This, though:

    >>>Though Irish clerics did bring the religion to Northumbria.<<<

    Is only marginally true – significantly, the principal reason for conversion was the banishment of Æthelfrith's sons, Eanfrith, Oswald & Oswiu, following a usurpation in Northumbria. The sons were exiled to Pictland at a young age; consequentially they were completely subsumed in Pictish culture and Pictish religion, which was orientated towards Iona rather than Rome. Hence they became 'Celtic' Christians and once Edwin – the usurper – was dead, they returned and brought their new religion with them. A illuminating example of the importance of culture in forging a particular worldview.

    Incidentally, some have mentioned the futility in using a possibly anachronistic term like 'Anglo-Saxon' rather than English – that's a false assertion. Anglo-Saxon is a broad and inclusive term to describe the Anglosphere, i.e., the English speaking, British rooted nations; 'English' is an ethnic signifier and is, and perhaps has always been, exclusive because it's bound by history.

    In Britain, where petty little nationalisms are emerging in the Celtic fringes, the identity 'British' has been incrementally discarded for more fulfilling and substantial identities, like Scots, Welsh or English. The need for exclusive and meaningful identities has seen the atrophying of 'Britishness'; in the panoply of modern Britain, with diverse major cities, 'British' as a universal umbrella has been sidelined for a more rooted identity. English is one those emergent ethnic signifiers.

  • chris y

    that large portions of east anglia at the least underwent population replacement.

    This may well be true, but in assessing the genetic make-up of East Anglia it shouldn’t be overlooked that the region also received a very substantial immigration from the Netherlands during the “middle ages”, which would probably look very similar to the earlier Germanic colonisation.

  • Roger Bigod

    Luke,

    For R1a in Anglo-Saxons, I’ve seen estimates as high as 10% , but the most relevant data points on the Wikipedia summary are 4-5% in two surveys from East Anglia and the Midlands. Scandinavia is an alternative source and probably accounts for the Orkneys and northern Scotland. But my map of the BI DNA set and the Wikipedia cites suggest that it’s spread out over southern England, with no concentration on the coasts. And little in the area of the Danelaw.

    Subtypes of R1b may give more information about how far the carriers of AS genes got, and the interesting question of the origins of the Borderlands population.

    The term “Anglo-Saxon” has some scholarly usages in discussing cultural history and genetics. But the fuss is over the many meanings it can have as a social label, all of them invidious in a positive or negative way. I once dated a temperamental musician from Chile whose father was English, and during an impasse in a minor disagreement she exclaimed “You Anglo-Saxons are all alike! You think that if you express an emotion, you will lose it.”

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    #30, yes. also norse. this may not be soluble in the long term… though i would perhaps hazard to guess that if dutch influence was stronger than anglo-saxon, what was the cultural influence of the former in relation to the latter?

  • Pincher Martin

    Of what use is the idea that WASPs are like the Borg, assimilating various identities into their collective, when so many of the people who are rounded up for assimilation today clearly and strongly identify as something else?

    The problem I have with pieces like Walter Russell Mead’s “Our President the WASP” is that they essentially take a few common generic features of the president’s life — his education, for example — and then refer to his “English Yankee” descent to buttress the claim that the man is a WASP.

    Well, if Barack Obama, Colin Powell, and Condi Rice are all WASPs, then why not Malcolm X and Louis Farrakhan — both of whom, like Obama, have some white ancestry? If Obama is a WASP, what about his former reverend, Jeremiah Wright ? Wright preaches at a church with very strong Yankee roots. At what point does the rejection of an identity become a reality? Or like the Borg, is there no escaping it?

    Mead even argues that the President’s Puritan roots can be seen in his vision of a strong central government with a moral vision. I found this rather funny for two reasons. First, I recently read Jacques Barzan’s From Dawn to Decadence, where he refers to the Puritans’ “legacy of libertarianism”. Second, do we really need to trace Obama’s vision of a strong central government all the way back to the Puritans?

    This analytical framework which assimilates Obama (and others) to the WASP collective doesn’t seem much more robust than the ridiculous claims that he’s a secret Muslim or a third world socialist. I don’t care about the politics of it, but the analysis seems weak.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    like Obama, have some white ancestry?

    ancestry isn’t too relevant in mead’s piece. did you read it? bringing up specious issues undermines your credibility. some of your other questions are on point. though i have to disagree with barzun’s characterization of puritan libertarianism. i think modern terms have difficult mapping onto the past, but the yankee ways has always been a moral and well-ordered society. they are fundamentally the ancestors of american technocrats. i have qualms about pointing a straight line between yankees and modern liberalism (e.g., calvin coolidge?), but there has long been a southern accusation that yankees fixate on ‘-isms.’

  • Pincher Martin

    “ancestry isn’t too relevant in mead’s piece. did you read it?”

    Mead says quite clearly and repeatedly that Anglo-Saxon is a cultural, not an ethnic/genetic term. And he refers to Condi Rice and Colin Powell, two African-Americans who have no claim to ancestors riding on the Mayflower, as the cultural descendants of Anglo-Saxons.

    But I was using Mead as an example of a line of analysis, not merely critiquing his piece. That’s why I began my second paragraph with “The problem I have with pieces like Walter Russell Mead’s “Our President the WASP”…”, and it’s why I posted it here and not there.

    For example, you wrote, “But there is more to this than genes alone”, after having made the argument that there is some attenuated continuity in genetic descent — a weak correlation if you will — between the people who trace their descent back to England and to the modern ideas associated with Anglo-Saxons. A couple of Mead’s approving commentators also listed Obama’s ancestry as proof of his Waspish tendencies.

    Mead is not responsible for either your analysis or his commentators’, and I apologize if my post implied he was. But I focused on his approach, and posted about it here, because I thought it was illustrative of a larger group of analyses that I believe have a common problem. I don’t see anything “specious” in that approach.

    “i have qualms about pointing a straight line between yankees and modern liberalism (e.g., calvin coolidge?), but there has long been a southern accusation that yankees fixate on ‘-isms.’”

    I have nothing against “-isms” as long as they have some descriptive or empirical value. But what value is there in an approach that drafts unwilling recruits into the WASP identity ranks because they’re part white or were educated in WASP-founded institutions or believe in such amorphous notions as a strong central government with a moral vision? If someone like Jeremiah Wright can be dragged kicking and screaming into the WASP collective, hasn’t the framework for how we identify WASPs jumped the shark?

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    If someone like Jeremiah Wright can be dragged kicking and screaming into the WASP collective, hasn’t the framework for how we identify WASPs jumped the shark?

    wasp generally connotes someone of establishment position. wright is not that. but wright’s variant of xtianity and political activism pretty easily can be traced back to the radicalism of some northern yankee preachers of this era. also, i don’t think that an interpretative frameworks loses utility even if people deny that they are part of that framework. a great deal of scientific analysis of religion would be null & void if that was the case.

  • Pincher Martin

    ” also, i don’t think that an interpretative frameworks loses utility even if people deny that they are part of that framework. a great deal of scientific analysis of religion would be null & void if that was the case.”

    I agree that individual claims concerning identity are not necessarily the gold standard for any analytical framework about identity. But those claims shouldn't be dismissed, either, especially in cases where the framework comes up with counterintuitive results that most people of all identities would think absurd. It's not as if most people who classify Obama — WASP and non-WASP alike — are relying just on his claims or even on his looks.

    Where's the weighing of contrary evidence? Or a mechanism for looking at competing claims of identity and testing how well a particular case fits the framework? Where Obama grew up in the U.S., the years he spent in Indonesia, his choice of a spouse, his choice of a church, his choice of professorial role models and teachers at Harvard, his choice of friends, his choice of political allies and handlers, his choice of ideas, etc. — all these reflect on his identity. I know you and Mead and many others making these arguments know these details of Obama's life quite well — perhaps much better than I do — but it seems that your analyses ignore or slight them in a rush to make the particularly complicated case of Obama fit the general WASP framework.

  • JK

    I’m not sure if this was mentioned in any of the previous comments, but what I’d like to know is what is the big deal of using a term like Anglo-saxon to desribe a culture, when the term “Latin” is used (practically shoved down our throats) for all of central and south america and even parts of the carribbean, and all people who’ve come from those areas are labelled “latinos”.

    Where the outcry about racism and the false use of a european term such as “latin”(it’s a dead language isn’t it?). Major portions of the population are black or amerindian, but they are shoved under this labels, or use as way to escape their race (i.e. dominicans will usually say they’re “latino” not black).

    Anglo-saxon is a culture and not a genetic legacy, I would even push to include countries in Africa and the carribbean as well as parts of south asia under that banner.(just my opinion)

  • http://3lbmonkeybrain.blogspot.com/ Mike Keesey

    “The flavor might be French, but the meat is still German.”

    Excellent! Outstanding!

  • mrmandias

    #22,
    how we go about evaluating the ‘englishness’ of a religion I don’t know. But–and I don’t mean this pejoratively, because I’m a believing Mormon–Mormonism clearly arose out of the radical English protestant tradition. In some ways, Mormonism looks like an elaborated British Israelitism.

  • Mike Yocom

    @ #19 (Luke Raines)

    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1469-1809.2009.00556.x/pdf

    “Argentineans carried a large fraction of European genetic heritage in their Y-chromosomal (94.1%) and autosomal (78.5%) DNA, but their mitochondrial gene pool is mostly of Native American ancestry (53.7%); instead, African heritage was small in all three genetic systems (<4%)."

    The African genetic contribution amounts to a rounding error, and there's no cultural contribution to speak of (especially compared to the US). The skin color genes are all in the nDNA IIRC, so Argentines ("Argentineans" pshaw!) would be whiter in a physical sense. Asides from drinking mate, there's been no Amerindian contribution to Argentine culture, which is no surprise since this study points at lots of cases of native women pairing off with white men, suggesting they were either living as prostitutes within white cities or married into or working for white families. Either way, their children would have been raised in an overwhelmingly Euro culture.

  • BH Cameron

    Razib:

    I think your observation on ‘how much is a man born, and how much is a man made’ is the central point.

    By all external appearances, I am the archetypal WASP, and yet there is a good measure of French Canadian, Mohegan Indian, New Amsterdam Dutch, as well as Spanish, Italian, Hungarian, Jewish and Arab DNA coursing through my veins.

    We can get caught up in the genetic aspects of ‘Anglo Saxonism’, but there is a cultural / civic variant that truly does go where bloodlines often do not pass.

    Memes pass among us far easier than genes.

  • Ed

    @willc
    “While I agree that the Democratic party in the US would probably be considered slightly right-leaning by British standards, the UK is still, when compared to the rest of Western Europe a bastion of neo-liberal (to borrow their term) capitalism and austerity and also has a markedly more right wing military and law enforcement policy when you consider their participation in the wars in the middle east and the fact that they have the highest incarceration rate in Europe.”

    What the Democratic party “promises” would be considered slightly right-leaning by British standards. In practice however, The two parties in America are definitively authoritarian right.

    Obama has surrounded himself with conservative advisors and key figures.. many from previous administrations, and an unprecedented number from the Trilateral Commission. He also appointed a former Monsanto executive as Senior Advisor to the FDA. Obomber has extended Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, increased a spiralling rich-poor gap and sacrificed further American jobs with recent free trade deals.Trade union rights have also eroded under his watch.
    (from a forum I frequent)

    Don’t be fooled by a pretty speech sir.

  • French comment

    I don’t think that you should take the expression “Anglo-saxon” as a genetic meaning. In the genetic meaning almost nobody an no country is Anglo-saxon. The antic Anglo-saxons themselves were, as any human group, a mix of individual with their own genetic identity and history.
    The term “Anglo-saxon” is used in the world (outiside of the concerned English-speaking countries) as a way of describing those countries whose cultural based has been laid on the CULTURAL herency of the English civilisation. From a person outside the English-speaking world it is obvious that endless list of cultural charateristics are common among countries likes the USA, the UK, Australia. That common culture, united by a common language (and all that is brought with it) is what is universally called “Anglo-saxon” for centuries in many countries. I know that it seems that it has taken a negative racialist connotation (as a synonym of WASP), mainly in the USA, and so, many people logically reject the term. But if you take it as what it should, as a cultural term, there is no problem to do. It is the same way the word “hispanic” is used for centuries to refer to the cultural herency of Spains and the new world countries whose cultural base came from the Spanish colonisation. There is no “genetic” conotations under this term; and hispanis may be a black person from Dominican republic, an Argentinean of Polish ancestry, a hispanized indegenous from Peru, a Mestizo from Mexico, or a Colombian of Libanese ancestry… As long as all of them have been shaped by a Spanish-speaking and spanish-derived culture, they are hispanic, despite their obvious racial differences and the differences due to thei own country specificities. It seems that nowadays, in the US, this term has also taken some genetic connotations (describing mestizo looks) that it never had before.

NEW ON DISCOVER
OPEN
CITIZEN SCIENCE
ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

Gene Expression

This blog is about evolution, genetics, genomics and their interstices. Please beware that comments are aggressively moderated. Uncivil or churlish comments will likely get you banned immediately, so make any contribution count!

About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com

ADVERTISEMENT

See More

ADVERTISEMENT

RSS Razib’s Pinboard

Edifying books

Collapse bottom bar
+

Login to your Account

X
E-mail address:
Password:
Remember me
Forgot your password?
No problem. Click here to have it e-mailed to you.

Not Registered Yet?

Register now for FREE. Registration only takes a few minutes to complete. Register now »