In the midst of decades spent battling nefarious masterminds hell-bent on Britannia’s demise, the 21st-century incarnation of James Bond faces an antagonist tailored for our times. In the latest Bond novel, “On His Majesty’s Secret Service,” Agent 007 is tasked with safeguarding King Charles III from a diabolical scheme orchestrated by a supervillain donning the alias Athelstan of Wessex—essentially, a quintessential Little Englander, Brexiteer, and right-wing populist, who appears to be the rightful heir to the likes of Goldfinger and Blofeld.
Within the novel’s narrative, Bond, engaged in a “situationship” with a busy immigration law specialist (no impropriety, as she has other suitors), embarks on a mission to infiltrate Viktor Orban’s Hungary. His mission: thwarting a terrorist threat looming over Charles’s coronation, all while pondering the merits of the metric system and the troubling dog whistles of populism.
The existence of this book seems expressly designed to provoke conservatives, a work I might not have picked up were it not for the flurry of critical reviews emanating from right-leaning British writers. Yet, this progressive version of Bond also offers a glimpse into an intriguing facet of contemporary politics across the English-speaking world. It’s not just that American progressivism serves as an ideological bridge across the Anglosphere, influencing MI6 fiction as much as the actual CIA. It’s that strains of American-bred progressivism, cultivated under unique American circumstances, often appear more potent among our English-speaking compatriots than they do within the United States itself.
This is a hypothesis, not definitively proven, but one I strongly sensed during recent visits to Canada and Britain. Politically, Canadian Conservatives and Britain’s Tories seem worlds apart. In Canada, Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre appears poised for a substantial electoral victory, potentially ending Justin Trudeau’s three-term reign. Conversely, in Britain, the Tories seem poised for electoral defeat, which would relegate them to the opposition for the first time since 2010.
However, whether in power or out of it, both groups seem culturally besieged, accepting the ascendancy of progressive ideals and perhaps harboring a touch of envy toward American conservatives (albeit not toward our association with Donald Trump). In Canadian discussions, there’s nostalgia for the era preceding Trudeau’s 2015 victory and reflections on how elections hold real consequences—consequences that have taken Canada on a pronounced leftward trajectory that no Conservative government is likely to reverse. In British conversations, the focus is on the perceived futility of conservative governance in stemming the tide of progressive biases in government and the encroachment of American-style wokeness in the cultural sphere.
These grievances encompass diverse realities. In Canada, they revolve around the rapid advancement of social liberalism in drug and euthanasia policies, marked by nationwide marijuana decriminalization and British Columbia’s bold experimentation with decriminalizing some hard drugs, all while assisted suicide expands more rapidly than in even the most liberal U.S. states. In Britain, they center on the growing enforcement of progressive speech codes against cultural conservatives. Case in point: a Tory councilor was recently arrested for retweeting a video critiquing police handling of a Christian street preacher.
In both countries, conservatives feel that their national elites are desperately searching for their versions of the racial reckoning that gripped the United States in the summer of 2020, despite lacking an American-style history of slavery or Jim Crow.
To illustrate, Canada witnessed a spate of national apologies, the cancellation of patriotic celebrations, and church burnings in 2021. These events followed claims about the discovery of a mass grave in British Columbia near one of the residential schools for Indigenous children sponsored by the Canadian government, often through religious institutions, in the 19th and 20th centuries. While the cruelty and neglect in these schools were real, specific claims about graves at the school have outpaced the available evidence. In Britain, there’s an attempt to reframe the nation’s historically homogeneous narrative into an American-style immigrant nation narrative since at least 1066. This shift has sparked a sense, as British author Ed West noted in 2020, that America’s history is eclipsing Britain’s.
If these grievances indeed reflect an Anglosphere reality, several factors could explain the perceptions of Canadian and British conservatives.
First, there’s a tendency among provincial leaders to ardently align themselves with the elites of the American core, given that Ottawa and London can sometimes feel like provincial capitals within the American sphere of influence. Consequently, their leaders and cultural influencers may rush to embrace ideas at the forefront of American discourse, akin to “Gaulish or Dacian chieftains donning togas and trading clumsy Latin epithets” to assert their connection with Rome, as British writer Aris Roussinos aptly puts it. Conversely, in continental Europe, where the language and culture differ more from the United States, the eagerness for imitation may be less pronounced, and anti-woke politics that overlap with anti-American sentiment could hold more sway.
Secondly, the advanced stages of secularization and de-Christianization in the British Isles and Canada have created fertile ground for the new progressivism. This ideology doesn’t merely serve as a substitute for Western faith, but the rhetoric of diversity, equity, inclusion, and anti-racism fills a void left by the retreat of Christianity, particularly Protestantism. Consequently, an ideology born in post-Protestant America may find greater traction in post-Protestant Canada or Britain while encountering more resistance in the more religiously inclined regions of the United States.
Lastly, smaller countries with smaller elite circles may find it easier to enforce ideological conformity than larger, more diverse nations. Once a set of ideas takes hold among the cognoscenti, especially progressive ideas, it becomes natural to conform and challenging to dissent. This phenomenon is more prominent in the cozy circles of Westminster or among Canada’s Laurentian elite than in the expansive American meritocracy, where competing power centers and dissenting factions abound.
An extreme example of this trend is observable in Ireland, which rapidly transitioned from being a conservative-Catholic outlier in the West to predominantly progressive. This shift, as Irish writer Conor Fitzgerald notes, is due to the social cost of going against the consensus being much higher in Ireland, given its small size, compared to other countries.
Academic Thomas Prosser also emphasizes this pattern in smaller Celtic polities like Scotland, Wales, and Ireland. These regions often have governments more progressive than their electorates, as ascendant ideologies can more easily “capture” the elite in smaller countries.
Resisting consensus might be easier in Britain and Canada, but it’s not as straightforward as in the vast and diverse United States. In the United States, protected by the First Amendment and characterized by its multitude of voices, powerful progressivism incubates while resistance to that ideology remains robust, possibly even stronger than among characters like 007 and other servants of His Majesty the King.