The American Interest
Essays & Longer Thoughts
Published on October 30, 2013
Immigration: A Bigger Problem Than You Think

The modern Fordist paradises of the industrial world have seen their birthrates crater to the point that mass immigration is the only thing that can keep their economies staffed. This is riskier than it looks. The industrialized West is undertaking a historic experiment in real time: by allowing and even encouraging mass immigration from countries with vastly different cultural foundations, Western societies are testing whether people with deep cultural roots and few if any common loyalties can build cohesive and coherent societies in the 21st century.

For countries like the United States, Canada and Australia, this is a less risky experiment than for others. The English speaking societies of the British diaspora have a long history of receiving and assimilating millions of immigrants. The process has rarely been easy or without costs, both to the hosts and to the new arrivals, but over time it has largely been a success. Those societies are wealthier, wiser, and intellectually and culturally richer because of their immigrant populations, and tension between Anglo-Saxon and Celtic “first settlers” and immigrants from later waves tends to disappear after one or two generations.

Pessimists worry that immigrants from Mexico and other Spanish speaking countries in the Western Hemisphere will change America’s cultural balance, and/or that Muslim immigrants will fail to assimilate, becoming a permanent liability. But the hopeful signs outweigh the negative indicators, at least where I sit. The fashionable residential borough of Queens where I live is ground central for immigration in the Greater New York area, and Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Colombians, Mexicans, Ecuadoreans, African Americans, and Anglos all seem to be getting along reasonably well. That isn’t a scientific survey, I acknowledge, but the opinion pollsters and others supplement my unscientific sampling of the streets of Queens. The American assimilation process still seems to be in pretty good shape.

Europe’s problems with immigration, though experience differs from one country to the next, are much deeper. A commendable desire to avoid inflaming tensions and setting one group against another largely inhibits the establishment discourse about the nature and severity of Europe’s immigration issues, but driving this issue out of the respectable mainstream only empowers groups like the National Front in France and much uglier parties in countries like Hungary and Greece to exploit a hot button public issue that the mainstream parties do their best to ignore.

Much of the discussion of the problem focuses on the difficulty of integrating immigrants, particularly those of either Muslim, Roma or sub-Saharan African origins. There is much discussion of the perceived incompatibility of Islamic theology with the beliefs and practices of the postmodern, post-Christian and postindustrial West. Roma and sub-Saharan African cultures are, for different reasons, seen by some as too far removed from the social norms of contemporary Europe to allow for easy assimilation.

While it is difficult to construct a public discussion around these issues that steers a course between the Scylla of bigotry and the Charybdis of bland political correctness, there are important issues to be addressed. As one example, many (though by no means all) of the Roma seeking to take advantage of European Union mobility guarantees to escape the poverty and discrimination they face in their eastern homelands lack the skills and education to get and keep decent jobs in western Europe. Western Europe is not exactly a job creating dynamo for low skilled positions; many who move there will live on the fringes of society rather than carving out a comfortable, secure place in their new homes. For many of the immigrants, that’s an improvement: if you must live by your wits on the margins of society it is better to live on the margins of a rich country than of a poor one. Better France, Germany and Denmark than Bulgaria and Romania. It’s important for mainstream politicians to be able to discuss and address issues of this kind because they are very much on the public mind and will not go away.

There are other problems that arise from the nature of immigration into Europe. In France for example, immigrants from North Africa make up a very large proportion of the immigrant population. Their proportion is so large, and their difficulties with integrating into French society are so similar and so acute, that in a significant number of cases they are developing a North African or Islamist identity that is cohesive enough to form a rival pole of attraction. Instead of assimilating into a French identity, there is a tendency among some to assimilate into a permanent minority identity that could pose long term problems for the French state.

The biggest problems that Europe faces, however, stem less from the nature of the immigrants than from the nature of Europe’s social order. Since the 19th century, Europe has moved toward the creation of the ethnic nation state. The central demand of European democrats going back to the era of the French Revolution was for the right of each people to construct a state of their own. Every people had the right to live under a government of their own choosing, under laws that reflected their own cultural values and goals, and under policies that would promote the culture and well being of the gens that constituted the foundation of the state.

So powerful was the drive for ethnic nation states in European history that millions were killed and many millions more driven out of their ancestral homes in order to create these states. The Balkan wars of the 1990s were only the latest example of the irresistible force of ethnic nationalism in European affairs. Kosovars, Croats, Bosniaks, Serbs, and Macedonians could not bear to live under the rule of people who spoke a different language, had a different religion or cultural tradition. Now most of the peoples of the former Yugoslavia live in ethnically based states, statelets or proto-states and, after the usual atrocities and expulsions, things have settled down.

The Balkans are not unique. Poland and then-Czechoslovakia expelled literally millions of Germans in 1945 and 1946; today those parts of the world are peaceful, democratic and the dominant ethnic group is overwhelmingly the people for whom the state is named and whose cultural values it is intended to represent. Centuries of anti-Semitic hatred, accelerating dramatically all across Europe as nationalism became more powerful in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, only abated with the wholesale murder or emigration of the vast majority of European Jews.

Even today, wherever serious ethnic diversity persists, states are in trouble. Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia both broke up after the fall of the Iron Curtain. Many Catalans and Basques want to leave Spain. The Flemish and the Walloons keep Belgium poised on the brink of breaking up. The Scots are pushing to leave the UK. Tens of thousands have died in fighting between Turks and Kurds. Russia faces huge problems and tensions around many of its ethnic and religious minorities. Russian speaking minorities in the Baltic republics remain intensely problematic. The presence of Magyar minorities in Slovakia and Romania complicates Hungary’s relations with both of these countries.

In Europe, even as church and state increasingly separated in the last 150 years, nation and state fused. The multinational states of Europe’s past (the Austrian, Ottoman, German and Russian empires) began to break down into their component national subunits. In those new national sovereignties, the promotion of the culture and the language of the dominant ethnic group was an integral element of their political structure. You had to speak Polish to teach in interwar Polish universities or work for the Polish civil service—just as Estonia today wants to preserve jobs and privileges for people who are fluent in Estonian. From one end of Europe to the other, the legitimacy of states is bound up with the identification of the state with the national majority.

More than that, the solidarity that underlies European social safety networks is grounded in a sense of ethnic identity and cohesion. The nationalist movements across Europe aimed to resolve class conflicts between the elites and the masses within ethnicities by heightening a sense of solidarity. “We Danes,” “we Czechs,” “we Poles” had to stick together and take care of our own. (America’s looser ethnic bonds account in part for our weaker social safety networks; many Americans see the poor as other and different from themselves.)

Europe’s system of protecting middle aged workers by hanging the young out to dry is in part a system of ethnic protection. The middle aged are much more ethnically homogenous than the young. One consequence of high youth unemployment in countries like Greece, Italy and Spain is systemic social marginalization of immigrant populations, who not only tend to be much younger than the host population but who also sometimes lack the credentials demanded by the increasingly formalized and bureaucratized employment process in many European countries. This is not helping the cause of peaceful assimilation, and one suspects that, as European populations become less culturally homogenous, support for generous welfare states that primarily benefit immigrants will gradually erode.

In many European countries, France included, ethnic nationalism is a force that animates both socialist and conservative nationalist politics. One of the reasons the French Socialists fear the National Front so much is that many socialist voters support the party because they see socialist welfare policies and socialist opposition to “Anglo-Saxon capitalism” as a way to protect the interests of ordinary French people. And by ordinary French people they emphatically do not mean Roma immigrants from Bulgaria or Arab and Berber immigrants from North Africa.

Europe’s social engineers of the last generation seem to have assumed that the “dark forces” of nationalism and chauvinism had been left behind. That was partly true; the horrors of the two world wars have made many (though far from all) Europeans unwilling to fight anymore on ethnic grounds. But the subsidence of ethnic nationalism in European politics was also a function of the mass ethnic cleansings and genocidal killings that left most European nation states fairly homogenous. There was no “German Question” in Polish or Czech politics because there were no more Germans in these countries. The “Jewish Question” largely faded in postwar Europe, in part because of revulsion against Nazism, but also because the Jews were gone. Europe’s architects liked to believe that Europeans had transcended ethnic hatred, but much of Europe’s postwar peace came from the success of ethnic hatred in creating homogenous countries.

What we now see in Europe as the Great Immigration Experiment continues is a steady drift toward a new politics of ethnicity. Nationalist sentiments and movements are gaining force throughout the region. (In this respect, Putin’s Russia is moving in the same direction as its neighbors, though in an even rougher way.) Europe’s remaining multiethnic unions (especially the UK, Belgium, Russia, and Spain) face strong secessionist movements. Throughout Europe, the new nationalism is in revolt against the cosmopolitan projects of the European Union, and it is also in revolt against mass immigration and the threatened loss of ethnic cohesion and homogeneity. We don’t know how effective the European mainstream parties will be at suppressing the growing power of the neo-nationalists, but it looks as if so far the trend over time is for the center, left and right, to decline and for the nationalists to rise.

In America, these problems are not as severe. Our nationalism is not quite as ethnically focused as nationalism tends to be in Europe, and our past history of successful assimilation conditions both the newcomers and the host population to believe that our current waves of immigrants will ultimately settle in just as past waves have done. What also limits the effect of anti-immigrant populism in American politics is that the two groups most powerfully and negatively affected (low income and working class African Americans and whites) have historically been at odds with each other. Each major American political party is an uneasy coalition in which pro-immigration forces on the whole outweigh anti-immigrant ones, and African American and Tea Party-like immigration opponents are unlikely to form an effective coalition on this issue.

Nevertheless, it would be foolhardy to believe that there is no practical limit to the ability of the United States to absorb new immigrants; there is some annual number x between zero and ten million at which anti-immigration feeling would likely reimpose some contemporary version of the 1920s quota system. Illegal immigration is particularly costly and divisive; thoughtful immigration proponents need to pay much more than lip service to the goal of policing the borders, or anti-immigration sentiment could become much more powerful in this country.

But if America is running some risks in going ahead with mass immigration, Europe is playing with fire. It is not primarily because many of the immigrants are from Muslim backgrounds; it is not because of their skin color. It is fundamentally because they are foreign: “not us.” Modernization in Europe was a process of creating ethnically homogenous nation states and, on the far side of the murders and expulsions necessary to create that new status quo, building institutions in which the homogenous states could work together.

Europe forgot that hard truth, and partly as a result, the health of the multinational European Union and the political stability of many of its ever less homogenous nation states are increasingly under threat. The contrast in living standards between Europe and its neighboring regions makes immigration attractive; the implosion of Europe’s birthrate makes mass immigration economically necessary. But the resulting diversity in nation states whose identity is closely tied to ethnicity threatens to summon up the dark demons of past ethnic conflict.

Bad economic times intensify these tensions—just as the hard economic times of the 1930s exacerbated the hatreds and rivalries of the day. Europe today is simultaneously creating depression-like conditions through the euro austerity drive, rekindling intra-European animosities as northern and Club Med countries squabble over whose fault the catastrophic euro situation really is, and, to throw gasoline on the fire, experiencing  accelerated immigration from the east and south.

It is not at all clear that Europe’s leaders fully understand the risks they are running. Polls putting the National Front ahead in France should serve as a wakeup call; mass immigration poses a serious danger to Europe’s social peace.

[Image: Members of the Pakistani community in Athens stand on January 19, 2013 in front of a banner with the portrait of a 27-year-old Pakistani migrant victim in the center of Athens. Hundreds of Greeks and other nationals marched peacefully against racism and fascism. Nearly 3,000 people joined the rally that was set up by municipalities, organisations, migrant communities and main opposition party radical leftists Syriza. This week, authorities arrested a 29-year-old firefighter and another Greek man aged 25 for the murder of the 27-year-old Pakistani migrant in Athens. Courtesy ARIS MESSINIS/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Pete

    “…. by allowing and even encouraging mass immigration from countries with vastly different cultural foundations, western societies are testing whether people with deep cultural roots and few if any common loyalties can build cohesive and coherent societies in the 21st century. ”

    Only a fool in the isolated Ivory Towers of academia would think so.

  • rheddles

    1. Seems like America is an exceptional nation. Why does anyone expect EUropeans to start acting exceptionally?

    2. The English speaking societies of the British diaspora have a long history of receiving and assimilating millions of immigrants.

    Merging would be a more accurate description than receiving and assimilating. Would the Progressive movement have emerged without the immigration of the ’48ers and others in the late 19th century? There’s a reason the Return to Normalcy was really only a last gasp.

  • wigwag

    “The fashionable residential borough of Queens where I live is ground central for immigration in the Greater New York area, and Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Colombians, Mexicans, Ecuadoreans, African Americans, and Anglos all seem to be getting along reasonably well.” (Walter Russell Mead)

    Professor Mead’s neighborhood of Jackson Heights is the most ethnically diverse neighborhood in the most ethnically diverse county (Queens) in the United States. To say that the diverse ethnic populations of Jackson Heights get along reasonably well is, if anything, an understatement. The area has a low crime rate and an amazingly small number of bias incidents. A Jackson Heights in London or Paris would be a tinder box; in the United States the fact that everyone in this community gets along so well seems hardly worth mentioning.

    One question that Professor Mead neglects to address in his thoughtful essay is why diverse ethnic communities work so much better in the United States than they do in Europe. I’m sure that there are many reasons but one of the reasons that is most important is the way public education works in the United States.

    The children of those first generation Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Colombians, Mexicans, Ecuadoreans, African Americans, and Anglos mostly go to PS 69, PS 145 or PS 212. As they approach their teenage years, they go to IS 230 or IS 245.

    Visit any of the classrooms in any of these schools and you will witness ethnic, religious and language diversity that would be unprecedented in Europe. Only the Anglo children are missing; many of them go to the private “Garden School,” which, as it happens is also ethnically diverse.

    If Professor Mead had his way, and if a voucher system was introduced, rather than having public school serve as the first vehicle to introduce kids into the melting pot of America, children would end up in schools that are far more segregated than they are now.

    If vouchers were available, those Muslim children would probably mostly go to schools set up to emphasize Muslim values; many of these schools would be Madrassas by another name. Many of the Colombians, Ecuadorians and Mexicans would probably end up in schools where Spanish was the primary language that courses were taught in.

    Its simple really; one of the many reasons that the our country assimilates foreigners better than European nations do is because here, the children of immigrants all go to school together, Professor Mead is rightly happy that immigration works so much more seamlessly in the United States than it does in Europe yet, if he had his way, the public school system which is a primary driver of this success would be revamped to look more like the system in Europe.

    Thank goodness that Professor Mead hasn’t gotten his way; yet.

    Another couple of thoughts come to mind about Professor Mead’s provocative essay. One thing that we should all be worried about is the rapid decline of America’s civic religion; after all, it is this civic religion that immigrants have been rallying around since the inception of our country. Immigrants have always been willing to reduce (but not eliminate) their affinity for the co-religionists, fellow speakers of the same language and their ethnic kinsmen because the American credo provided a substitute to which they could pledge allegiance. This civic religion can be summarized in the words “We hold these truths to be self evident” and in the Latin phrase, “E Pluribus Unum.”

    The left has spent the better part of the past fifty years belittling this credo and encouraging a form of multiculturalism that insists that loyalty to one’s affinity group should trump loyalty to America’s civic religion. In this, the left and voucher supporters like Professor Mead share something in common; should their aspirations be achieved, the successful assimilation of immigrants in the United States would become far more difficult.

    Professor Mead is right about one thing; in Europe, immigration has proven to be problematic and poses many threats to social cohesion. In the United States, its been just the opposite; immigration has proven to be an enormous boon to our country. Immigrants tend to be entrepreneurial, wily and hardworking. Count the number of American Nobel Prize winners who have been second and third generation Americans and you will see what I mean.

    We should be making it easier for immigrants to come to the United States not harder but we should be encouraging them to go to integrated public schools, not segregated private schools where they will mostly associate with people from the same place they are from. At the same time more immigrants are encouraged to come to the United States, we should proudly invite them to share our civic religion, not constantly harp on how anachronistic that civic religion is.

    One final thing; Professor Mead provides a great summary of ethnic turmoil in Europe. To my mind, the best piece I have ever seen on this subject is an article that appeared in Foreign Affairs a few years ago by Jerry Z. Muller entitled “Us and Them: The Enduring Power of Ethnic Nationalism.”

    The article was written in 2008 and disgustingly, Foreign Affairs still keeps it behind a pay wall, but the article is well-worth the price. It can be found here,

    Muller is startlingly smart and his article his startlingly good. I go back and read it periodically. Anyone who wants to understand the world that we live in and its antecedents should read this article.

    Every time I do, it makes me more proud to be an American.

    • qet

      Wigwag, I don’t think you can extrapolate the experience of a single borough in a single city to the rest of the nation. Nor am I certain that “assimilate”, as in, we assimilate foreigners better than other nations do, is the right word. Tolerate would be more accurate, in my opinion. And that is directly the result of the fact that we no longer have, and for some time haven’t had, a civic religion that binds us.

    • Kevin

      The Irish, Poles, Italians, etc immigrants of 19-20th century America went to Catholic schools. They then joined ethnic based political parties for spoils. This does not seem to prevent us from looking back at them as the Golden Era in assimilation.

      • wigwag

        Yes, many went to Catholic schools but the vast majority did not. And while the Irish, Italians and Poles that you refer to shared a religion, when they lived in the same neighborhood, they went to the same Catholic school even though they did not necessarily share a common language or culture. Nor were they offered an option to go to a school where the language was other than English.

        Kevin, you say, “They then joined ethnic based political parties for spoils.”
        I’m not sure what ethnic based parties you are referring to. Despite their different ethnic backgrounds, they all joined a single political party; the Democratic Party.
        They joined the Democratic Party because then, as today, the Democratic Party welcomed them. Then, as today, the Republican Party was jingoistic.
        As a result, many if not most of the descendants of those Irish, Italians and Poles that you refer to have been voting Democratic ever since.
        Unless the Republican Party gets its act together, the descendent of today’s Mexican, South American and Asian immigrants are also going to be voting Democratic for generations.
        The only difference is that the current Latino cohort is the fastest growing ethnic cohort in American history.
        While many of them are illegal and can’t vote; most of their children are American citizens. They will remember which Party wanted to integrate them into American society and which Party thought their parents were disgusting. So will their grandchildren and great grandchildren.

    • Clayton Holbrook

      Good thoughts. But aren’t you saying in the Jackson Heights example that currently public schools are already segregated? The white kids go to the private school (Garden School), while the public schools are mostly non-white immigrants or decedents of. So in that case, how exactly would a voucher program make schools “more segregated” when they already are segregated?

      As long as each those schools are performing up to par and attract students and parents and their vouchers, the voucher system wouldn’t change the racial demographics other than perhaps some of the more ethic folks that currently make up the public schools may want to attend the private schools. In the case of Jackson Heights, that would increase diversity in the private school while preserving the racial diversity in the public school, no?

      • wigwag

        Thanks for the interesting response to my comment, Clayton. Before I say anything else, let me mention that I am very familiar with the public schools in the Jackson Heights neighborhood of Queens where Professor Mead lives. I reside in Astoria, the community in Western Queens that abuts Jackson Heights and until two years ago, my brother was a public school teacher in Jackson Heights where he taught for 27 years.
        The public schools in Jackson Heights have experienced the same “white flight” that many urban school districts have experienced. As I mentioned, in Jackson Heights many white students have fled the public schools and instead attend the private “Garden School” and other private schools in Queens.
        Still, even with the “white flight,” about 20 percent of the students in the Jackson Heights schools are native English speaking white students. So there is an opportunity for black, white, Asian, Latino and Muslim students to learn together in the same classrooms and play together in the same school yards.
        If a voucher program induced Muslim parents to send their children to an Islamic-oriented madrassa-lite there would almost certainly be no native English speaking white children at the school so the opportunity for these children to socialize together would be nearly nonexistent.
        Similarly, if a voucher program induced parents from Central and South America to send their children to a school where the primary language for instruction was Spanish, there would surely be almost none of the Islamic students or the white English speakers attending that school; again, the opportunity for these students to learn tolerance by growing up together would not exist.
        It goes beyond the students though. About 35 percent of public school teachers in New York are Jewish and about 25 percent are black. I suspect that there is something very conducive to assimilation that comes from a Jewish school teacher comforting a five year old Muslim child from South Asia, Egypt or Bosnia when he skins his knee in the school yard. I also suspect that there is something very conducive to assimilation that comes from a black teacher giving reading lessons to a child whose first language is Spanish not English.
        If vouchers made it financially feasible for immigrant parents to send their children to schools where everyone was just like them, the faculty would almost surely be less diverse (not likely to be too many Jewish teachers at an Islamic oriented school).
        If you suspect as I do that schools play a valuable role in integrating immigrant children into the American mosaic, then it is natural to be suspicious of any system of education that would make education even more segregated than it already is. Vouchers would surely do that.
        Finally, public schools, despite the unfortunate recent wave of political correctness, are still the best vehicles for conveying America’s civic religion to immigrant children.
        In the public schools in Jackson Heights around Thanksgiving time, kids in elementary school are still taught about the Pilgrims and they still decorate the class room with paper turkeys.
        Do you think that they would do that in an Islamic oriented madrassa-lite? Do you think they would do that in a school where Spanish was the primary language and Latin American culture not American culture was celebrated?
        I don’t.

        • Clayton Holbrook

          Thx for delving into it a bit more. This would certainly be something to consider with school vouchers.

          I question the level of the phenomenon you speak of in regards to immigrants using their vouchers to send them to these newly created ethnic schools. In my anecdotal experience, most immigrants have a desire to integrate, not segregate themselves. Further, a voucher system should, imho, be coupled with minimum educational requirements. Grant autonomy but with extra accountability. If students can’t write an essay on a standardized test in English, then the school would not be qualified to use public vouchers.

        • john700

          The vouchers should cover only schools that meet a certain criteria: English as a first language, American history, math, etc. They would have to go by the curriculum, right?

    • john700

      I support a voucher system, but I appreciate that you are making your point using arguments, not spewing invectives like many supporters of the status quo do.

  • Fat_Man

    For an excellent explanation of the “deep culture” of the Middle East:

    “Why the Middle East is the Way it Is.” The Hedgehog Review. Vol. 13 (3). Fall 2011

    “The Middle East’s tribal DNA“. The Middle East Quarterly. Vol. 15 (1). Winter 2008. p. 23-33.

  • Fat_Man

    “Poland and then-Czechoslovakia expelled literally millions of Germans in 1945 and 1946″

    It was the Red Army under orders from Stalin.

    In the Process, Poland was moved about about 100 mi west of where it had been, and the boundaries of every country in Eastern Europe were rearranged.

    • wigwag

      That is true, but it is only part of the story. Stalin had the full support of his World War II allies, Winston Churchill and the Roosevelt/Truman Administration.

      In the aftermath of World War II, up to 12 million ethnic Germans were expelled from the nations that they had inhabited for generations and forced to move to Germany, a country most of them had never even visited. It is estimated that 500,000-2,000,000 German evacuees died in the process.

      Most of the expulsions came from Poland and Czechoslovakia; some came from the Ukraine, Denmark and Hungary as well. Naturally, the Allies as well as native speaking Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Hungarians and Danes viewed the German population as destabilizing.

      Churchill was as in favor of the expulsion of the Germans as Stalin was. In a 1944 speech in the House of Commons, Churchill famously said,

      “Expulsion is the method which, insofar as we have been able to see, will be the most satisfactory and lasting. There will be no mixture of populations to cause endless trouble… A clean sweep will be made. I am not alarmed by the prospect of disentanglement of populations, not even of these large transferences, which are more possible in modern conditions than they have ever been before”.
      Nor was the expulsion of the Germans in the aftermath of World War II the only enormous forced population transfer. At around the same time, most of the few Jews remaining alive in Europe had little choice but to emigrate to Israel or the United States, and at the same time, millions of Jews residing in Arab countries were forcibly expelled and moved to Israel.
      During this same period, with the end of the British Raj, many millions of Muslims living in what would become India left their ancestral homes and moved to what would become Pakistan. Conversely, millions of Hindus left what would become Pakistan and moved to a place most of them had never even visited; the land that would become India.
      Earlier in the 20th century there had been a mass exchange of populations between the Greeks and the Turks.
      Although Professor Mead doesn’t mention it in his blog post, it was only after this mass exchange of populations and the achievement of ethic/religious/language homogeneity in Europe that an enterprise like the creation of the European Common Market and later the European Union could be contemplated. And one of the things tearing the European Union apart is the lack of affinity between different European ethnic populations. It’s not European elites in places like Germany and Greece who necessarily dislike each other; its that ethnic Germans and ethnic Greeks have different values which makes it difficult for them to live by the same rules.
      Another interesting aspect of all of this is that in the aftermath of the forced expulsion of tens of millions of people after the Second World War and their integration into their new homelands, despite the hiccups, within a generation everything worked out well. By the 1960s, few of the ethnic Germans forced to move from Poland to Germany had any desire to return to their ancestral homes in Poland; they integrated beautifully into German society. Few Hindus regret that their grandparents left Pakistan to move to India and few Muslims regret that their parents and grandparents left India to move to Pakistan.
      There is really only one notable exception to this story; the Palestinians. Some say the Palestinians left their homes deliberately because they did not want to live in a Jewish nation; others say the Palestinians were forced out like the ethnic Germans were.
      It really doesn’t matter. Only the Palestinians were unable to integrate into the Arab societies to which they moved.
      What this says about Arabs and Palestinians you can decide for yourself.

  • qet

    “…. by allowing and even encouraging mass immigration from countries with vastly different cultural foundations, western societies are testing whether people with deep cultural roots and few if any common loyalties can build cohesive and coherent societies in the 21st century. ”
    Unlike Pete, I believe this statement to be true, except that the testing is not intentional; that is, it is not the purpose. However, our commitment to pluralism is today only a pro forma one. Decades of left-liberal policy and opinion have prevailed, so that each individual’s, and each distinct group’s (ethnic, sexual orientation or otherwise), primary relation is to the State, and only secondarily to one another. The State demands that it mediate our relations to one another, with the result that we do not develop ties of empathy, or pity, or even just mutual recognition and understanding, directly with one another. This is the coherence crisis that is one of Via Meadia’s Big Five, and it is insoluble so long as people in ths country look to the State first and to each other only second.

    • Andrew Allison

      While in general agreement, I think the problem is that each distinct group’s (ethnic, sexual orientation or otherwise), primary relation is to the State, and not to other groups. In other words, we’ve been busy creating “tribes” with other “tribes” which are competing for limited resources. History tells us where this leads.

  • Anthony

    WRM, you pull together various strands in making case for reflection on immigration relative to Western Countries. Your brief exposition on “blood and soil” (peoples/nations embedded in a culture – ethno-nationalism – and its meanings, symbols, myths, etc.) giving both purpose and rise to neo-nationalism provides context to immigration dilemma. Yet, there exist a course between Scylla and Charybdis.

    Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities – Voltaire. That is, conscious reflection on what immigration means to country of which I am part and serious evaluation whether laws, customs, politico-economic apparatus needs retooling or change must be civic value. Immigration when thought through strikes directly at nation’s/country’s identity.

    But, if nation’s identity or nationalism is amorphous (sensed yet undefined like in U,S,) immigration means different things depending where you sit so to speak – its effect socio-economically. That is, immigration (legal and illegal) and its policies may, on first look, reinforce a country’s liberalism (classic sense) but in reality operates against large numbers of its citizenry. Therein WRM, I think, immigration both legal and illegal require countries – its citizens, representatives, elites, etc. – to examine the reality of its nature as well as the logical relationships and empirical facts on ground; this ought to be undertaken independent of professed interests as immigration in 21st century brings with it forces that are in contrast to blood and soil.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    Despite any claims of austerity, the socialist welfare states continue to spend more every year. This continually increasing burden on their economy’s, has cut off any hope of growth. With stagnate and falling incomes, those with political clout are going to use it, to maintain or increase their incomes at the expense of the clout-less. Immigrants will be increasingly scape goated as parasites holding the nation back, and taking an unfair share of taxpayer support. While the blame for economic decline rightly belongs to the burdens of a socialist welfare state, it’s the immigrants that are going to be blamed and purged for it, the politics of socialism make this inevitable. This purge in Europe’s case is going to extend to the EU and the Euro as well. Only after the EU is in the rear view mirror, will a few states take measures to cut the socialist welfare state, and restore a modicum of growth to their economies.

  • f1b0nacc1

    You can have multiculturalism, democracy and immigration…
    Pick 2

  • Andrew Allison

    Prof. Mead is fortunate to sit in the fashionable residential borough of Queen’s, which as wigwag points out is about as unrepresentative of the real world as could be. In California, for example, Hispanic kids are taught in Spanish, thereby not merely disadvantaging them economically but reinforcing their cultural separateness (c.f. replace the Stars and Stripes with the Flag of Mexico, etc. in schools.
    The real crime, and I use the word advisedly, of the Blue model is the encouragement of separateness.
    I grew up in the UK during the mass migration of what are colloquially referred to as West Indians, and saw the impact (race riots) when they were perceived to be taking jobs from the natives. Two generations later, they are so integrated that they are in danger of disappearing (more than half of West Indian men are in relationships with a partner of a different ethnic background, as are a third of women). This occurred, IMO, because they spoke English and their children went to mono-cultural schools. The same thing happened with the Indian immigration which peaked a generation ago, the first wave of Pakistani immigrants and, of course with the waves of immigration into the US. The problems now faced in the UK as a result of policies which encouraged Muslim separatism rather than assimilation have been well-documented. Prof. Mead is unduly optimistic in thinking that “For countries like the United States, Canada and Australia, this is a less risky experiment than for others.”

  • foobarista

    The US benefits from having what amounts to an old-fashioned imperial identity. Large, multi-ethnic empires need to embrace some level of diversity in order to survive, while also embracing some variant of “e pluribus unum” identity with the empire itself. Breaking up the empires was the worst thing that could have happened to Europe (and the Middle East), and Wilson didn’t help things any with his misguided notion of “self-determination”.

    One could argue that the EU is an attempt to rebuild a European empire, with “European” as the imperial identity. But it isn’t working all that well so far.

  • davidepstein

    Much too sanguine. As the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, and multiculturalism is promulgated by our élites, it can get ugly–as it is in Los Angeles, where Mexicans are ethnically cleansing black neighborhoods at gunpoint.

    We need to deport the illegals who are here and impose as close to a moratorium on legal immigration as we can achieve.

    • John Morris

      Nothing so drastic. We could solve the problems with far more politically possible measures.

      1. Enforce the border. First step is to stop digging the hole deeper.

      2. Apply mild pressure to make going home attractive when things go bad, the jobs dry up etc. Offer a one time free transport by bus. Sweeten the deal by saying anyone who so self deports with no other serious criminal record (i.e. be willing to forget the identity theft and other crimes require to be here illegally) gets a clean break and can get in the legal line normally.

      3. Card check. Dry up some of the jobs. See above.

      4. Force our welfare clients to take some of the ‘jobs Americans won’t do.’ More pressure AND stops the political pressure to fill those jobs with a fresh massive immigration push. Offer them free or subsidized relocation to get them to where the jobs are because they are generally in big urban hellholes and the jobs aren’t.

      5. Work to destabilize the corrupt Mexican government and replace it with a better more free one while eliminating (i.e. assassinate) the narco terrorist problem. Making Mexico a viable country would do wonders to stop the outflow.

      6. Take policy steps to encourage our birth rate to more closely approach replacement rate. Then allow legal immigration to make up the difference.

      • olderwiser

        Point 4 – Americans won’t take these jobs because illegal immigrants have driven down wages, not because Americans are lazy. This is a cost of illegal immigration that both Dems and GOP want to keep hidden. This also reaches into highly skilled jobs – transnational corporations would rather bring someone in from India on an H1 visa and pay them 1/3 less than what an American would need to be able to pay back his/her student loans. The visa program is the biggest scam going to discourage Americans from investing in the educations required to fill those positions.

        Point 5 – Ending the counter-productive prohibition on drugs would solve 90% of the problem and save us billions that are wasted on on a criminal justice industry that is stripping away our personal liberty. It would have the added benefit of eliminating the parasites who swarm congress and every state legislature lobbying for longer prison terms and bigger budgets for that industry. The other 10% of the problem would be solved by using a small fraction of the tax revenue from the legalized sale of drugs to fund treatment programs for addiction.

  • circleglider

    Professor Mead should spend some time in California before proclaiming, “The American assimilation process still seems to be in pretty good shape.”

    Even in America, assimilation can fail in the presence of fast and cheap travel and communications and a dominant culture that celebrates identity politics.

  • Parker O’Brien

    The difference between Europe and American, in regards to immigration, is identity. European identity is largely tied to ethnicity, while American identity is to a set of ideals (at least in the past). Distinct ‘cultures’ and rejection of assimilation have been constant throughout the US’s immigration history, but this push was largely driven by the first generation and later ignored by their progeny. However, the political movement on the left to encourage different cultures and reject well-worn American ideals has heightened the possibility of a political fracturing along ethnicity.

    • williammcdill

      The United States is not a ‘nation-state’, it is a ‘Contract State’ All immigrants going for citizenship become explicitly informed about our Intra-national
      contract- The Declaration of Independence (All men are created equal and endowed…), the Constitution (“We the people of the United States, in order to…), the Gettysburg Address (whether a nation so constituted..) Every immigrant knows EXACTLY what they are getting into- re: “Fiddler on the Roof”. If they don’t like it, they better not come here. Why did we have so little problem with Sensei and Nisei in WW II? Because the Japanese immigrants KNEW what the US was for (mostly) and liked it. Similarly with the German-American Bund groups and the Italian Americans. These immigrants KNEW exactly why they were here and bought into it. You can be Buddhist, Muslim, animist- whatever, Just remember “separation of Church and State.” Consider the huge Somali population in Minnesota- virtually no problems at all. Except for the Boston Marathon bombers, we have had no problem with immigrant terrorist – regardless of the rhetoric. Europe- with its nation-state structure cannot cope with mass immigration.

  • lukelea

    WRM: “The modern Fordist paradises of the industrial world have seen their birthrates crater to the point that mass immigration is the only thing that can keep their economies staffed.”

    Given the trends in labor-saving technologies this isn’t plausible on the face of it, and I can’t imagine how you are going to argue it persuasively. Are you going to point to the Social Security crisis of too few workers supporting too many retirees? But that just turns our economy into a Ponzi scheme and only delays the day when we must learn how to live in a world of stead or slowly declining population.

    Why not think in terms of a much shorter work week — made possible by all our labor-saving technologies — which would make it easier to delay the age of retirement (or even abolish the idea altogether) while giving working children and grandchildren time to take care of their aged parent and grandparents when they can no longer take care of themselves. See here for example.

    Now I guess it’s time for me to actually read what you have to say. Hopefully I’ve not made a fool of myself.

  • DelmarJackson

    Immigration will doom the GOP demographically, but, assuming a one party system is desirable, which it is not, there are few if any other benefits to Democrats and liberals from massive immigration.

    Immigration is bad for labor union MEMBERS, it is bad for the environment, it depresses wages and steals job opportunities for the working poor, it will eventually bankrupt social programs much faster than current expenditures are doing, it destroys social capital as diversity in communities has shown a marked decrease in civic participation and responsibilities, it also encourages some to begin to question the abeyance of laws as they see others rewarded repeatedly for breaking immigration laws which leads to anarchy, it will also end affirmative action programs, encourage even more left/right/ divisions which will be a distraction from those elites in charge who will benefit from a dumbed down imported electorate with no historical or cultural connections to a nation that is being plundered.
    immigration is a racket.
    It may benefit some democrats for a short while, but they will eventually find out cheap compliant gardeners and nannies are a high price to pay for the dispossession of your country,culture,language and history.
    Join Numbersusa
    read vdare every day
    work to enact term limits,
    and vote out the globalist open border cheap labor lobby washington weasels of BOTH parties.

    • John Morris

      Everything you say is true and a progressive would admit it under truth serum. And admit it is part of the plan. You can’t have ‘the Revolution’ if people are prosperous, happy and at peace.

      If it is true that a crisis should not go to waste it is also true that a crisis should be made when needed.

  • MQG

    “Pessimists worry that immigrants from Mexico and other Spanish speaking countries in the Western Hemisphere will change America’s cultural balance…” (emphasis mine)

    Will change? Apparently the good Professor has not wandered out of his multicultural Queens utopia for long enough to visit, say, Southern California, large swaths of Chicago, or anywhere in Miami to compare those places to what they once were. Cultural and civic bifurcation is unquestionably afoot. “To see what is in front of one’s own nose needs a constant struggle.”

    And so there is low crime in his supremely diverse neighborhood. Well! In that case perhaps we should just tear down the border posts and declare a police state, if diversity and low crime are such wonders. I wonder how many hip Hindus and posh Pakistanis there get together for dinner? Granted the good professor probably has a delightfully international dinner parties from time to time, but would he send his kids to the public schools? Worship at the mosque? More likely he gains a feeling of moral superiority over the troglodytes who might oppose mass immigration, or live in neighborhoods that resemble the ones in which they grew up.

    I’m occasionally a Mead fan, but nuts to the premise of this piece.

    • John Morris

      Actually I think he makes a good point… although not the one I think he intended. A Hindu in America really needs to assimilate since taking over isn’t an option. A multicultural melting pot like NYC works a lot better than a bi-cultural one like most of the western US. Especially when the alien culture is militantly determined on ‘reconquest’ with the wholehearted support of our own progressive ‘intellectuals.’

      I have no doubt that America COULD assimilate half of Mexico in a generation or two if we set out to do that. That we appear to have explicitly set out a goal to take them in and go out of our way to NOT assimilate them is what convinces many that this experiment will end badly.

  • Durrani LawFirm

    I believe Mass Immigration is not at all a solution to the needs of our ageing population and you are right that it is plunging our society into crisis.

  • chicagorefugee

    New York City is about to elect an openly Socialist, Sandinista-supporting mayor. Hardly what I’d call a reassuring omen for our polity.

  • Daniel

    This article assumes that the full responsibility for what’s going on in Europe is on European leaders. I don’t think, this is the case. We can only see what’s going on the stage. There is something going on backstage. Surely, European leaders are fully aware of what’s going on. The US by the way is a strong supporter of Turkey’s entry to the EU. And think whether there would have been as much immigrants in Europe, had there been no conflicts in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Egypt, etc.

  • Amy Parlette

    Bravo! I really enjoyed your essay. Immigration policies here and abroad are a glowing topic of debate and you covered all the main points.

  • Yohance Salimu

    “The fashionable residential borough of Queens where I live is ground central for immigration in the Greater New York area, and Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Colombians, Mexicans, Ecuadoreans, African Americans, and Anglos all seem to be getting along reasonably well.” Why are the African immigrants called African Americans again? America is trying to hard to not be racist sometimes. Its OK to call them just Africans they won’t be offended by a history that wasn’t theirs.