Under Discussion: Christopher Caldwell, Reflections on the Revolution In Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West, Doubleday (2009), 432 pages.
Christopher Caldwell opens his Burke-evoking opus examining postwar Europe’s dramatic demographic transformation by adapting Sir John Seeley’s famous comment on the British Empire—“Western Europe became a multiethnic society in a fit of absence of mind.” This arresting sentence not only says a great deal about why mass immigration into Europe was permitted to commence and why it continues—but tells us that the author is a genuine conservative with an excellent education.
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It is a promising overture for a book that seeks to expose the flawed premises behind the hyperbolical pro-immigration rhetoric of European politicians and other arbiters of the public conscience. Caldwell lives up amply to this early promise, despite some shortcomings, and has produced a courageous, complex and richly aphoristic work that may yet prove to be as influential as Burke’s Reflections, and is already more important. Europe survived regicide; it may not survive race suicide.
Some 1.7 million new arrivals pour into Europe annually. There are already between 15 and 17 million Muslims in Western Europe (in 1950, the figure was almost zero), and there is a mad yet mainstream idea to admit Turkey, with its 71 million mostly conservative Muslim citizens, as a full EU member. On current trends, between one fifth and one third of the populations of most European countries will be foreign-born by 2050. A fifth of the children in Copenhagen, a third of Parisian children and half of the children in London have immigrant parents (although this includes white immigrants). England’s second largest city, Birmingham, is projected to be majority non-white by 2026. These and many other statistics are marshaled with the actuarial skill one would expect from a Financial Times columnist. “Europe” he concludes “is not welcoming its newest residents but making way for them”.
Caldwell thinks this matters, or he would not have outstretched his neck by writing on this most sensitive of subjects. Perhaps he feels about the continent of cathedrals, castles and chateaux as Burke famously felt about Marie-Antoinette—“I thought ten thousand swords must have leaped from their scabbards, to avenge even a look which threatened her with insult.” But in modern Europe, even more than in the France of 1790, “the age of chivalry is gone; that of sophisters, economists, and calculators has succeeded.”
The bald facts and figures about immigration are bad enough, but what is even more provoking is that the revolutionary shift happened without any attempt being made to consult electors. As Caldwell writes, “At no point were Europeans invited to assess [immigration’s] long term costs and benefits.” This is despite decades of data indicating that most Europeans have long regarded immigration as being amongst the most pressing of all concerns. European opinion-formers and legislators were too busy awarding themselves plaudits and salary increases to notice that large parts of many great European cities are now only geographically European.
Worse again, even when they belatedly began to notice that immigration was causing severe stresses, they tended to blame the alleged recalcitrance and bigotry of the native-born. This decades-long dereliction of democracy may end up subverting democracy altogether, as humanism and liberalism are supplanted by sterner value-systems. Indigenous Europeans, Caldwell warns, “fear their individual countries are slowly escaping their political control, and they are right, although they can seldom spell out precisely how.”
Immigration has become embedded not just in political life, but also—thanks to understandable horror at Nazi crimes, plus “political correctness” and “multiculturalism”—in post-modern mythology. Every aspect of race has become barnacled with sentiment, to the extent that it is now not just regarded as gauche to raise reservations about immigration, but can even be illegal.
At a time when academics, commentators and legislators are busily erasing the final vestiges of traditional morality and jurisprudence from Europe, whole new mountain ranges of taboos are heaping themselves up to pander to “grievance groups” and provide employment-in-perpetuity for hundreds of thousands of “human rights” lawyers, non-governmental organizations, equality consultants, ethnic lobbyists and politicians more interested in psephology than patriotism.
The passionate energy that was once channeled into Counter-Reformation or Primitive Baptism has now been switched into mundane, bathetic channels—diluting centuries-old national cultures, sidelining or insulting the native-born, perpetuating poverty and unemployment, assisting illegal immigrants to remain in the countries into which they were never invited, circumscribing free speech, ensuring that public bodies are racially “representative” and all the other foolishnesses one reads about seemingly every day of every week of every year in every European and Anglo-Saxon country (but rarely elsewhere).
As the process becomes self-perpetuating, it becomes all the more difficult for its operatives to slow the pace, let alone reverse the great anti-Western, anti-white wheels that now grind exceeding fast as well as exceeding small. Even “conservatives” have become enslaved to the egalitarian engine, believers in its unstoppability, logic and moral worth. Those who criticize mass immigration and multiculturalism have become moral outlaws.
If Western Europe became multiethnic in a fit of absence of mind, it has remained multiethnic in a fit of masochistic fear: “Unable to muster the will for either a heartfelt welcome or for earnest self-defense, [Europeans] hope the world will mistake their paralysis for hospitality.” (Amongst countless shrewd observations, Caldwell reminds us that the very act of hospitality implies temporariness and otherness.)
Unsurprisingly, Caldwell is excellent on economic arguments. He points out, “The social, spiritual and political effects of immigration are huge and enduring, while the economic effects are puny and transitory.” The big business orthodoxy—that mass immigration is A Good Thing because it provides an endless supply of young, cheap labor with low expectations—he characterizes as “the capitalism of Karl Marx’s worst imaginings.” And more importantly, the economic argument doesn’t hold water for the simply reason that new Muslim immigrants aren’t much interested in working. Caldwell points out that while the pool of immigrants residing in Germany more than doubled between 1971 and 2000, the number of foreigners in the workforce stayed the same.
These Gradgrinds merge seamlessly into the New Labour and Euro-communist types who seek to import young, cheap workers partly to preserve the welfare state; these immigrants “would ride to the rescue of the retirement checks and second homes, the wine tastings and snorkelling vacations, of the most pampered workforce in the history of the planet.”
The truth is that the welfare state is unsustainable; Caldwell cites a UN projection that European welfare states in their current form can only be preserved if Europe is willing to accept anther 701 million new Europeans by 2050.
Integration or assimilation is even harder for immigrants now that Europe’s economic life is based not on industry but on services, requiring articulacy and subtle social understandings that are beyond the grasp of many immigrants (and many Europeans). Thanks to his interest in economics, he is attuned to the generalized leftwing critique of the West as exploitative, rapacious, capitalistic and soulless, and points out how this critique is fuelling mass migration from the genuinely or allegedly exploited countries into the territory held by the erstwhile “exploiters.” “Immigration,” the author summarises, “is a fait accompli for which people are struggling to find a rationale.”
But he is best on Islam and the way it interacts and contrasts with both Christianity and the modern “European ideal,” which is partly derived from Christianity. He cites approvingly Mordechay Lewy’s essential differentiation of Christianity as a “guilt culture” and Islam as a “blame culture,” and heaps scorn on the ignoramuses who claim to be experts on Koranic theology. Exhibit A—George W. Bush:
Islam is a religion of peace.
Caldwell then multiplies the “Islamophobic” bon-mots:
Even if they did not believe in Islam, they believed in Team Islam.
Islam de France, deutscher Islam, islam italiano—these were slogans, answers to a question that Islam does not ask.
He is also scintillating on the vacuity of Europe’s liberals, whose “fundamental human rights” were dreamed up no longer ago than the late 19th century and are in no wise typical of the planetary experience:
At the heart of European universalism was European provincialism.
An amazing quotation from one Jeremy Rifkin, author of the aptly titled European Dream, an adviser to Romano Prodi when he was president of the European Commission, hints at the mush that passes for argumentation in too many minds:
The European Dream is a beacon of light … it beckons us to a new age of inclusivity, diversity, quality of life, deep play, sustainability, universal human rights, the rights of nature and peace on earth.
That such stuff can be written proudly by an adult advising one of the most powerful European officials underlines the seriousness of our disease. Caldwell well describes such ebullitions as “a new, uncompromising ideology…advancing under cover of its own ridiculousness”.
The useful quotes mount up exponentially, ranging from Aristotle’s Politics—“A State cannot be constituted from any chance body of persons, or in any chance period of time. Most of the states which have admitted persons of another stock, either at the time of their foundation or later, have been troubled by sedition”—through Alain Finkielkraut and Jean Raspail to the less predictable Milton, di Lampedusa, and Philip Larkin. These are backed up by copious notes and a well-selected if incomplete bibliography (there is no mention of several notable books on immigration into Britain, such as Anthony Browne’s Do We Need Mass Immigration?, available here.)
It seems ungrateful to criticize such a valuable book, yet there are some cavils. Caldwell hardly touches on non-Islamic immigration. Also, he is correct that Islam constitutes the clearest and nearest challenge to Europe, but Islam cannot be blamed for the sociopathic tendencies so characteristic of Peckham, Tottenham, Willesden, Moss Side (recently compared by a Conservative frontbencher with the Baltimore of The Wire) or other areas settled by West Indians in the 1950s, whose descendants too often do not share their forebears’ respectability. Nor can Islam be blamed for ethnic gang violence, the importation of Third World feuds, muti killings, or even female genital mutilation (which is not stipulated in the Koran).
Caldwell says that race is unimportant, but Europeans’ views of themselves are race-specific. How could they not be, when every art gallery in every European country shows that Europe’s long history has been made by white people? Adjectives like English, Irish, French, and German conjure up immediate implicit images; the growing contrast between these resonant icons and everyday urban reality is probably the central (if least discussed) ingredient in contemporary European unease. It is but fair to note that Caldwell does allude to DNA studies showing that most of the inhabitants of the British Isles stem from people who have been here since the Ice Age, and offers the amusing aside,
Intellectuals can be found in every European country who will claim that theirs has always been a ‘county of immigrants.’ They say this even in Sweden, with a handful of Hanseatic trading posts and reindeer-meat entrepôts in Lapland adduced as evidence.
For such a clear-eyed commentator on Europe, the author has a strangely sunny view of immigration into the United States.
Hispanic immigration can disrupt a few local habits, and the volume of the influx can cause logistical headaches … but it requires no fundamental reform of American cultural practices or institutions. On balance, it may strengthen them.
He has, too, the habit of using tendentious terminology to assail those who are trying to stem the flow. Rather than letting these admittedly sometimes unpolished auxiliaries get on quietly with their dangerous and thankless work, he looses arrows at them as they pass on their way to the trenches.
Thus the French Front National is “fascistic,” the Danish People’s Party is “immigrant-obsessed,” and even Enoch Powell’s famous 1968 “rivers of blood” speech was a “rant,” which “can be defended against charges of bigotry only by splitting hairs.” He does not make these charges out of ignorance; elsewhere, he admits that Jean-Marie Le Pen’s worldview is complex, that the Danish People’s Party is “scrupulously democratic and law-abiding,” and that Powell was wonderfully prescient. Once, he combines ritualistic abuse with a literary faux pas, by describing a Swedish party as “explicitly xenophobic.”
There are other oddities and errors. He says, in reference to laws aimed at Muslims, but sneakily presented as laws aimed at everyone, that “European publics are beginning not just to accept but to demand that their governments shade the truth, or at least conceal the intent of the laws they pass.” On the contrary—there is a slowly growing recognition that Islam poses specific problems, and increasing willingness to discuss this openly. He writes puzzlingly of the “European lament for past grandeur”—but surely the Rifkinesque European ideal is marked by hatred of the past. He says, “It is probable that we underestimate the gravity of anti-immigrant violence, since much of it is camouflaged as street violence.” This may be true, but one could argue the obverse more convincingly—that a lot of anti-white violence is disguised as generic street violence. He says the BNP has local councillors in Bermondsey in south London; he means Barking in east London.
But what is least satisfying about this book is common to most conservative discussions about most subjects—the author proposes no solutions. He does not even tell us who might offer solutions. He makes it plain that mainstream conservatives are unlikely to take the necessary action, saying of Nicolas Sarkozy, “For all his get-tough talk, Sarkozy had absolutely no quarrel with the fundamental settlement the previous generation’s political establishment had reached before he arrived on the scene.” (After Sarkozy won the presidential election in 2007, Jean-Marie Le Pen commented sagaciously that the French had voted “for the semblance of change.”) Meanwhile, as mentioned earlier, Caldwell too often denounces those who are willing to act.
He would probably argue that a journalist’s duty is to describe rather than prescribe, and this is true; yet after such a multi-layered analysis it is anti-climactic to end as such:
When an insecure, malleable, relativistic culture meets a culture that is anchored, confident, and strengthened by common doctrines, it is generally the former that changes to suit the latter.
Emphasizing Europe’s plight without indicating any exits might even have the ironic effect of making this otherwise brilliant book a self-fulfilling prophecy. The nearest he comes to optimism is to outline the similarities between some strands of traditional Christianity and some strands of secular thought, and to suggest that the upsurge of Islam may yet trigger a Christian revival.
But although there is a time of winnowing ahead, and some Europeans will become as extinct as the Guanches, there is still strength and realism in Europe—and these will grow as the pressure becomes intolerable. Although the pro-immigration consensus is still strong, influential anti-immigration and anti-Islamic voices are beginning to be heard. It would have been unthinkable just a few years ago for an FT columnist to have produced a book like this. At local, national, and European levels, in almost all European countries, there has been a sharp shift to conservative, nationalist, and regionalist parties that are genuinely concerned about immigration. That even Gordon Brown feels he now has to pretend to be patriotic indicates just how much the public mood is changing. Our opponents are more divided and less powerful than they sometimes seem; theirs is a mere coalition of convenience, and it is already fragmenting. This is cold comfort perhaps, but it is comfort nevertheless. Europe and Europeans may be down—but we are not yet out.
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