Hjörtur J. Guðmundsson is a historian and MA in international studies. He lives in Reykjavik, Iceland.
The question of whether Iceland could belong in the Anglosphere was put to me last year when I was in London visiting. My first response was pretty much to just say it was an interesting question, since I had never actually thought about it. But, as I gave it further though,t I realised that the question wasn‘t actually that far out, as it can be argued that Icelanders have at least certain important things in common with those nations usually considered to be part of the Anglosphere.
The term ‘Anglosphere’ has primarily been applied to the United Kingdom, the United States, Ireland, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, which share a common first language, to a large extent culture, roots and history and have maintained close cooperation in many areas such as trade, politics and the military. In a wider sense the definition of the Anglosphere has included countries where English is the main language or largely spoken and/or which were formerly a part of the British Empire.
In a British area of influence
So where does Iceland stand regarding all this? Well, first of all although English is not the native tongue in Iceland most Icelanders nevertheless speak the language, and many have mastered it very well. Iceland was also never a part of the British Empire, but rather the Danish Kingdom until gaining independence in 1944 (although in the early 19th century it was floated that the country be transferred to lie under British rule). Nevertheless, Iceland was for centuries in a British area of influence.
British influence in Iceland culminated during the First World War, as the war resulted in looser political and economic ties with Denmark. That continued in the inter-war period with a growing British interest in Iceland which eventually led to the occupation by British military forces in May 1940 after the outbreak of the Second World War. A year later, the United States agreed to replace the British and defend Iceland, since the United Kingdom needed its forces elsewhere in the war effort.
Politically more to the right
The United States continued to have troops stationed in Iceland during the Cold War until 2006, when they were finally evacuated entirely from the country. As a result of all this Iceland has become both very Americanized and Anglicized. That also goes for Icelandic politics which are generally more in line with those of the Anglosphere than on continental Europe, including the other Nordic countries. The emphasis is generally more to the right and more economic liberal.
The conservative Independence Party, the dominant party in Icelandic politics for decades, is for example more in line with its sister party the British Conservatives, in its policies than the Danish Conservative Party or the German Christian Democratic Union. The dominating political parties in the other Nordic countries have, however, traditionally been social democratic parties. The Left in Icelandic politics has also tended to be closer to the centre when it comes to its policies.
Individualist national character
Furthermore, the national character of Icelanders has tended to be very individualist, and therefore much in line with the Anglo-Saxon tradition – which in turn has probably contributed to the historically strong position of the Independence Party. This individualism may very well derive at least partly from the fact that Icelanders are islanders, which they of course have in common with the British. There is something which has been referred to as the island mentality.
Finally, and solely as an interesting historical point, the roots of Icelanders happen to be traceable largely to the British Isles – mainly to Celts in Scotland and Ireland. According to an ongoing research based on Iceland’s present population by the company deCODE genetics and the University of Oxford, 20 per cent of male settlers of Iceland more than 1000 years ago had ancestral lines which could be traced to the British Isles and 63 percent of the female settlers. The rest was of Nordic origin.
Good basis for close cooperation
Obviously, Iceland is not exactly a perfect fit into the Anglosphere. Nevertheless, it certainly has several important factors in common with the countries traditionally associated with the Anglosphere, as mentioned above, regarding culture and history as well as politics. All in all, there is a good basis for closer co-operation between Iceland and the Anglosphere countries in the future – for example regarding trade, security and defence.