- - Monday, January 11, 2016


Benjamin Schwarz has produced an expository piece on the impact of Britain’s mass immigration policies of the past 20 years that constitutes what is probably the most probing analysis of those policies to be seen on this side of the pond — and probably on the other side as well. Titled “Unmaking England: Will immigration demolish in decades a nation built over centuries?” it appears in the current issue of The American Conservative magazine. (Disclosure: I sit on the board of the American Ideas Institute, which publishes the magazine.)

What’s happening in British demographics (seen most intensely in English society), writes Mr. Schwarz, represents “the most profound social transformation since the Industrial Revolution.” Mass immigration, he adds, “hasn’t merely embellished, changed or even assaulted” the country’s national culture. “Rather, by its very nature it perforce obliterates that culture.”

This is strong stuff and certainly not the kind of fare generally seen in the country’s mainstream media these days. Mr. Schwarz, currently The American Conservative’s national editor, spent 13 years as national editor and literary editor at The Atlantic, and before that he was associated with the RAND Corp. and the Brookings Institution. His approach to the high-voltage immigration issue is scholarly, measured, comprehensive — and highly controversial.

Mr. Schwarz attributes Britain’s immigration crisis to a conscious policy by the New Labor Party shortly after Tony Blair became prime minister in 1997. Labor eliminated nearly all previous restrictions on immigration, lax though they were already, in the name of “diversity,” “inclusiveness” and “globalization.” This brought in masses of new arrivals, many of whom quickly demonstrated little inclination to assimilate into the prevailing British culture. Indeed, with their very arrival in such numbers transforming that culture, many considered it a bit ridiculous to think there was any prevailing culture to assimilate into.

The result is a profound transformation not only in British demographics, but also in British politics, culture, economics, national identity and the social fabric. Serious tensions are emerging in the polity that wouldn’t be there if the country had continued its immigration policies that prevailed before 1948 — going all the way back at least to the Conquest in 1066.

Indeed, Mr. Schwarz punctures the ignorance of immigration advocates such as former Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, who averred in 2001 that, after all, Britain had always been a multicultural society, “a gathering of countless different races and communities, the vast majority of which were not indigenous to these islands.” Mr. Schwarz cites recent DNA research showing that fully three-fourths of the ancestors of today’s Britons were already in the British Isles by about 6,000 years ago. True, the Romans came and much later the Normans, but they constituted a mere population veneer. The waves of Angles, Saxons, Frisians and Jutes that arrived during the Germanic migrations probably constituted no more than 250,000 people over a period of several centuries. “[G]enetically,” writes Mr. Schwarz, “the population of Great Britain has been essentially frozen in time and place since at least the Dark Ages.” He calls this a “striking fact.”

From around the 16th century to the mid-20th century, Britain’s immigration policies brought in what Mr. Schwarz calls “a more or less steady dribble” of new arrivals, who found it necessary to bend to the folkways and mores of the prevailing culture, forged into a strong knot of cultural affinity by the homogeneous nature of the society over so many centuries.

Mr. Schwarz writes: “The keys, then, to England’s successful, if very limited, history of immigration were the small scale and gradual pace of entry; a confident, well-defined, and long-established national culture; and the ability and willingness of the newcomers to integrate fully into that culture. None of these conditions obtain today.”

Mr. Schwarz’s piece is long — some 11-and-a-half pages in the magazine — and it probes all the ramifications of British immigration. But it is particularly noteworthy in pursuing the cultural implications, an element of the immigration issue that cadres of political correctness often try to keep off-limits in political discourse. Their enforcement tool frequently is allegations of racism.

No reasonable person would lodge that epithet against Mr. Schwarz in response to this exposition. He makes a strong case that those who question current immigration policies in Europe and America have as much political legitimacy as those who favor such policies. Indeed, a striking feature of the immigration issue, as illuminated by Mr. Schwarz, is the political chasm between the Western elites, strong advocates for mass immigration, and ordinary citizens, increasingly agitated over the issue.

Mr. Schwarz notes that, even before Mr. Blair’s open border initiative, polls consistently showed that nearly 75 percent of Britons opposed the loose border controls then in place, which allowed some 50,000 immigrants into the country each year. When New Labor decided to drastically reduce even those barriers, the party never fostered any real national debate on the matter. “In the context of the enlightened cosmopolitan values that hold sway in Britain today,” writes Mr. Schwarz, “liberal democracy permits — in fact, demands — that the majority be excluded from political consultation.”

This chasm between the Western elites and large segments of ordinary citizens is growing, which partially explains the political populism welling up within Western societies, including the United States. The Donald Trump phenomenon reflects this, as do the right-wing populist parties emerging in Europe. Whether the elites of the West will continue to hold sway in the face of this angry agitation remains a fundamental question of our time.

Robert W. Merry, longtime Washington journalist and publishing executive, is the author of books on American history and foreign policy.

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