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Book Review: The Crisis of Multiculturalism in Europe (Rita Chin)

I oppose the theory and practice of Euro-multiculturalism as both stupid and suicidal.  Thus, when I read Pankaj Mishra’s recent review of Rita Chin’s book in The New York Times, it struck me that, in order to be fair, I should read it.  All work and no play makes Jack a dull and narrow boy, after all.  I was not a fan of the most recent pro-multicultural book I read, James Kirchick’s The End of Europe, but I figured that maybe the second time would be a charm.  It was not, but this book was interesting, and not dreadful, which is really all one can ask of any pro-multicultural book, since it necessarily has to fight an uphill battle against facts and reason.

Mishra, the author of the also-not-bad Age of Anger, lauded this book and bitterly denounced another recent book, Douglas Murray’s The Strange Death of Europe.  Mishra didn’t say all that much specific about Chin’s book—his review was mostly about how awesome Pankaj Mishra is, and how important it is that Chin’s book recognizes that Europe has always only been about “domination and exclusion,” for which it can only atone by acknowledging that multiculturalism, i.e., the destruction of European civilization, has no limits and no end.  So one down vote for Mishra.  But let’s take Chin’s book on its own merits.

From its title, we learn that this book’s focus is on an admitted crisis of multiculturalism in Europe.  This crisis, we find inside the book, is not one that Chin necessarily sees as real—instead, it is the crisis declared in 2010 by Angela Merkel and David Cameron, echoed by other European leaders, which followed sixty years of increasing immigration into Europe.  From its subtitle, we further learn that this is “A History,” which is quite true.  There is little analysis here, and not all that much commentary.  Thus, while this book serves pretty well as a history of the precise arc of formal, public political action as it relates to immigration into four European countries (Germany, France, the UK, and the Netherlands) between 1950 and 2010, that is all it is.  It ignores all other countries; it ignores anything not part of formal political action; and it ignores everything that has happened since 2010.  On the other hand, as we’ll see, it does offer one startling and highly relevant insight, so perhaps that alone is worth the price of admission.

Chin is an academic, and she directs her book primarily at academics.  But it’s still readable, if dry.  The book starts off pretty peppy, though, managing to violate Godwin’s Law by page two, explicitly linking any “collective anxieties about internal ‘others’ ” with necessarily wanting to kill Jews.  (Mishra pulls the same dullard routine in his review, equating Murray to Anders Breivik—after all, they are both “surprisingly literate” and don’t see mass immigration as a joy, so they must be the same person—analysis complete!)  The academic nature of Chin’s book shows up in the fairly frequent reflexive use of today’s academic cant, especially the term “diversity,” which is nowhere defined or even parameterized, merely used as an upgraded Philosopher’s Stone, turning everything it touches to something better than gold.  In the view from Chin’s ivory tower, any immigration, great or small, legal or illegal, from any place or people, creates “diversity,” which “enriches,” though it is never explained in the slightest why or how.  Chin’s book is not a book of cost-benefit analysis—costs are never mentioned at all.  Those opposed to immigration are merely “antagonistic to diversity,” which is obviously evil.  Nothing more.  She does say once that “It was only in the process of debating multiculturalism that Europeans began to formulate the first affirmative arguments for social diversity as a core value and policy issue.”  But we are never offered a glimpse of even one of those affirmative arguments; like a will-o’-the-wisp they are vaguely seen and then fade away.

The book begins with “The Birth of Multicultural Europe,” which the author locates in the immediate postwar rebuilding period.  While Chin only talks with any substance about her four countries of focus, the same story was true throughout Europe, and I think nobody would disagree.  Western Europe needed low-skilled, low-cost labor, so workers were imported from countries with an excess of such—both poorer European countries, such as Italy and Yugoslavia, and also Muslim countries, especially Turkey.  Immigration was further swelled by the end of colonialism, as former colonial subjects “returned” to the motherland, whether Algerians to France, or Africans, West Asians and East Indians to the UK, or those from Indonesia to Holland.  Colonial immigrants, of course, were expected to stay, but were relatively small in number—we forget, in these days when Angela Merkel invites millions of migrants to flood Europe, that Enoch Powell’s fear, ridiculed as overblown, was that the immense sum of 50,000 immigrants per year would be allowed to enter Britain.  All this immigration was a new thing—despite attempts by confused people like Mishra, who claims with a straight face that “Persian, Arab and Chinese” influences are just as important to European history as “Greek, Roman, Germanic and Anglo-Saxon,” both mass immigration and any immigration by alien cultures were wholly new in these countries.  They did have national minorities of various kinds, but Chin, at least, acknowledges modern immigration was unprecedented in quantity and quality.

The author spends quite a bit of time delineating the specifics of each country’s approach to this torrent.  Much of this is technical, throwing around acronyms representing various government bureaus, but her key point is that at no point was there any public declaration by any branch of government, anywhere on the political spectrum, in favor of immigration on principle.  Quite the contrary—in every country, “guest workers” were always formally and explicitly expected by those in charge to be temporary inhabitants, though for the most part not only did none leave, they were allowed to, and did, summon their families and relations as well.  Furthermore, except in France, immigrants were explicitly expected to acculturate, or at least conform to the local culture; there was no concept that immigrant cultures were in any way something desirable to preserve or that could add value to Europe.  These approaches continued through the 1960s—even as anti-immigrant feeling grew in some areas, governments had no interest in dialing back immigration, for various interlocking reasons that ranged from simple economic expediency to not wanting to anger the immigrants’ countries of origin.

And why was restricting immigration not acceptable to the elite, even after the early 1970s, when colonial immigration had ended and all agreed there was no further need for guest workers, so that ideally they should all go home immediately?  Chin, logically enough, ascribes it in Germany to the ideology of anti-racism that took hold after World War II, with somewhat weaker analogues in other countries.  In France, she ascribes it to similar ideological reasons on the left, and on a desire to encourage immigrant communities to go home, to make which possible they should not assimilate, on the right.  Whatever the reason, in each of her four countries, the reaction by those in power, left or right, was to increasingly vigorously endorse some variation of a policy of strong “multiculturalism”—celebrating immigrant cultures as necessarily no worse than the culture of the country into which they had been invited, if not better, and abandoning any effort to make immigrants conform to the local culture.  And they permitted more and more immigrants in, while publicly talking about the need to restrict further immigration.  Not surprisingly, in both Germany and France, any actual attempt to restrict immigration by the legislature was immediately ended by the courts, who invented new rights belonging to immigrants, such as the German Federal Constitutional Court ruling that immigrants had a brand new “reliance right” that enabled them to stay as long as they cared to, and ruling this a “human right.”

Beneath Chin’s narrative, though, the reader can sense strange, unacknowledged currents, gurgling like running water under thin ice.  Thus, when discussing attempts from the early 1970s onward to create a new dogma of multiculturalism, Chin says “Fewer [government officials] still were willing to discuss openly how the protracted residence of multiethnic labor forces might impact or even alter their societies.  Indeed, the government officials who addressed the various policy issues generated by the inflow of foreign workers operated almost entirely behind the scenes, striving to make their initiatives largely opaque to ordinary citizens. Above all, European leaders did not want these initial efforts at multicultural management to draw the notice of curious journalists or become targets of public scrutiny.”  Such a profoundly anti-democratic approach should occasion question and comment, you would think, from an author purportedly wholly committed to liberal democracy.  Nope.  This, of course, is the usual “democracy” in “liberal democracy”—the people get what they want, except when it is deemed not be to be acceptable by the elite.  In fact, Chin later in the book explicitly demands less democracy—“It is simply irresponsible for European states to allow significant segments of their population to be driven by nostalgia for homogeneity.”  Off to the re-education camps!

So, why the elite should want to conceal their actions goes totally unaddressed.  In a similar vein, Chin notes in passing something that Murray makes much more explicit—at all times since at least 1960, very substantial majorities in every European country have vigorously supported sharp restrictions on immigration, and they have always been ignored by their political leaders.  Enoch Powell was hugely popular, by far the most popular Conservative politician in the country, yet was forced to retire when he dared speak.  It is not a coincidence that the only two people named in this book as robustly opposing immigration, Powell and Ray Honeyford, were both immediately and permanently silenced.  Sometimes, politicians paid lip service to their constituents’ desires, but in practice always did the opposite, in every country.  In combination with the concealment, the only logical conclusion is that the elites wanted to force on the rest of their countries more immigration for some other reason.

And what could that reason be?  Again, Chin ignores this question, but Murray parses this closely, adducing several drivers of this elite push for ever-greater immigration.  These are claims that immigrants are good for the economies of their target countries; that immigrants are necessary to maintain the welfare state because Europeans have stopped having children; and that there is some moral or cultural imperative to accept immigrants.  The first is silly, as Murray shows.  The second is actually true, though Murray tries to deny it.  The third is roughly the same as Chin’s contention that diversity is inherently wonderful, and to the extent there is any discourse on this issue, is the argument used by the pro-multicultural side, because its protean nature makes it impossible to counter, and because it allows the advocate to scream “racist” in substitution of reasoning.  But in this book, none of these arguments are even outlined.

Chin next offers two long, tedious chapters viewing Euro-multiculturalism through the lens of oppression theory, in which any opposition is always a “backlash,” and diversity spreads a diffuse golden dust over any possible problems resulting from immigration.  Margaret Thatcher—racist.  Any talk of national decline—racist.  The Falklands War—racist.  Any criticism of Islam—racist.  Any talk of national culture—racist.  Suggesting Muslims were mean to Salman Rushdie—racist.  The Rushdie affair, according to Chin, was also the time in modern Europe when the “backlash” against multiculturalism went mainstream, because it was followed by demands in France that Muslim women not wear the headscarf (racist) and that Muslim women have equal rights (racist to suggest they do not in Islam, and don’t you know that not all women “experience subjugation” the same way, racist?  Modern European women are all oppressed by the white patriarchy; Muslim women cannot be oppressed by Muslims, because all Muslims are victims.)  And so on, until the reader nods off entirely (kept awake for a few minutes by chuckling at Chin’s accounts of leftists attacking leftists for ideological failures, in a chaotic Inferno of Trotskyite purging).

But then the reader jerks awake, because Chin finally scores a relevant insight at the core of all this.  Namely, that Europeans, in their “backlash” against multiculturalism, didn’t rise up to support the glory and grandeur that made Europe the originator of everything good in modern life, from electricity to the rule of law.  Quite the contrary.  Instead, they formed as their idol a corrosive ethic of total sexual freedom, and then used that as the new touchstone of whether any particular immigrant community should be accepted.  Chin refers to this as “the epitome of democracy itself, as democracy writ large,” and she is very much of mixed mind about it—cognitive dissonance would not be too strong a term.  Like all of her class and politics, she worships total sexual autonomy, but she also sees how it is used to hold immigrants, that is, Muslim immigrants, to a standard they have no wish to meet, and since Muslims are a victim class, Chin recoils from any suggestion that they be forced to adhere to anything.

Thus, the Dutch require devout Muslims, as a condition of citizenship, to watch films celebrating homosexuality and public nudity.  Chin refers to this sort of thing as a “use of sexual democracy to construct a positive notion of national belonging.”  My bet is devout Muslims don’t see it that way (nor do devout Christians).  She cites a political theorist, “sexual freedom becomes the form of freedom that comes to stand for all.”  She notes “this particular model of democratic governance replaces—or even trumps—other freedoms and foundational principles.”  In other words, you can have democracy, but only as long as it is directed at total sexual autonomy, otherwise the state will stamp on you.  A shorter, and older, term for all this would be “moral decay and decadence.”

So we are left with a Europe where multiculturalism and unlimited immigration is not opposed by promoting what made Europe great, but rather by promoting liquid modernity, with the only objection to immigrants being that they might place some brake on the total autonomy of the individual.  This aligns closely with one of Ryszard Legutko’s complaints about so-called liberal democracy, so it is not original to Chin, but I have never seen it made by someone on the Left.  (It would have been interesting had Mishra addressed this part of Chin’s book, but he was too busy stroking his beard and trying to look super-intelligent.)  Chin furthermore correctly notes that many so-called conservatives have, explicitly or in effect, adopted this use of sexual autonomy as a touchstone, because, afraid of being called racist, they see no other coherent way to oppose immigration on principle.  This leads to such loathsome scenes as Sarkozy celebrating abortion as a human right, in order to beat immigrants around the head with their failure to be adequately French.  A man from 1950 granted a vision of this modern scene would immediately check himself into an asylum, thinking it an insane dystopia.

Finally, Chin notes the dissonance all this caused on the Left, as those committed for decades to “cultural relativism and pluralism” found that, after all, not all cultures are equal—if emancipation and autonomy are everything, it must be true that any culture not devoted to total emancipation and autonomy is inferior.  That pop-pop-pop sound you hear is the heads of leftist thinkers exploding all over Europe.  Chin herself draws no firm conclusions (although she nods in the direction of restricting sexual freedom to give more power to immigrants), because she can’t.  Not even God can square a circle, and the Left is trapped in a hell of their own creation, into which they have dragged the rest of Europe.

At the end of the day, though, Chin herself denies there is any crisis of multiculturalism.  The 2010 pronouncements of Merkel and Cameron notwithstanding, Muslim immigration has hugely expanded since then, at the deliberate wish and with the open encouragement of all the European elites.  For reasons I cannot fathom, Chin mentions events since 2010 in only one bland sentence, even though they definitively prove both a continuation and an expansion of the past sixty years of European government policies.  Chin’s point seems to be “nothing should be done, and anyway, nothing can be done, so let’s celebrate!”  And she’s right, of course—short of massive violence, nothing can be done.  Sometimes, there is no solution.  Certainly, if the people who will defend the actual bases of European civilization, Christianity most of all, are reduced to a tiny number, and the titanic struggle is between two giants, one a bundle of contradictions with no core belief other than total sexual autonomy, shrinking every day as it kills its children, and the other giant is retrograde but growing, muscular, and self-confident, we might as well write off the continent, for there is no future for the rest of the world there.

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