Christopher Caldwell begins and ends his Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West by evoking Enoch Powell. In 1968, Powell, a British Tory parliamentarian, warned that his nation might be “busily engaged in heaping up its own funeral pyre” by permitting, indeed encouraging, an excess of immigration, particularly Muslim immigration.
Powell’s story captures the dilemma faced by anyone who expresses concern about the growth of Muslim immigration in Europe. His demographic projections have proven spectacularly accurate: Powell predicted that Britain’s non-white population would grow from the 1968 figure of about 1 million to 4.5 million by 2002; the actual figure for the latter year was 4.6 million. But while he may not have been in the wrong factually, there was bigotry in his speech, and he paid for it, forced to resign his position in the Tory leadership.
New Humanist, begins his essay with a comparison of Caldwell to Theodore Lothrop Stoddard, a racialist, anti-immigration advocate prominent in the 1920s and ’30s.By writing on this topic, Caldwell himself runs the risk of being remembered, like Powell, as at best a clever bigot. Sure enough, one of his first reviewers, writing in the
But Caldwell is no provincial, xenophobic Cassandra. Rather, he is, undeniably, a kind of cosmopolitan. Caldwell lives in America, but writes for perhaps the most influential newspaper in Europe, the Financial Times. In his book, he moves seamlessly through sources in French, Spanish, German, and Dutch. He meditates on Homeric hospitality, the bleak picture of European moeurs drawn by French novelist Michel Houellebecq, and offers a careful and extended reading of the writings of Tariq Ramadan, Islam’s foremost spokesman on the continent. Caldwell’s work testifies to a cosmopolitanism bred by rich knowledge of particulars rather than the easy generalizations that assure us all globalization is to the good.
Too often, garden-variety cosmopolitanism is simply patriotism inverted—an unthinking preference for all things foreign or global, born of the desire to fancy oneself a morally superior citizen of the world. Caldwell, however, evinces a deep appreciation of the particular, competing goods honored and cultivated on the two sides of the Atlantic, and is animated by the desire to identify and preserve the best aspects of both of these forms of Western culture. This makes Caldwell’s cosmopolitanism distinctive: It is a conservative cosmopolitanism.
In cultivating this perspective of conservative cosmopolitanism or enlightened patriotism, Caldwell follows in the footsteps of the greatest of all transatlantic observers, Alexis de Tocqueville. Tocqueville partook of the cosmopolitanism that liberates from national prejudices without ever allowing cosmopolitanism to become a prejudice of its own, showing a deep appreciation for the virtues of American democracy without ever compromising his basic, French loyalties.
One sees a similar attitude manifested in Caldwell’s discriminating appreciation of the American and European versions of Western universalism. As societies informed by the Western philosophic tradition, both America and Europe are oriented around standards that claim to be universal or natural. But their relation to these standards is decidedly different. Universalistic, natural-rights philosophy has become a concrete way of life in America; not perfectly, to be sure, but to the degree that a Hawaiian-born son of an African man and a Kansan woman can become our president. For Americans, reverence for the rights-based creed articulated in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution is what Abraham Lincoln called “the electric cord” that replaces blood and ancestry to bind Americans together.
The European nations all have their modern professions of faith, more or less similar to our own, but those statements of universalistic principle are far less definitive of their national identities. European national identities are formed as much by history, religion, language, and race as they are by declarations of rights. As Caldwell points out, “Three-quarters of the ancestors of contemporary Britons and Irish were already present in the British Isles 7,500 years ago.” Rather than forming a people defined by shared allegiance to universalistic principles, Europe has remained a continent of particular peoples open to the universal, but never willing to adopt one particular interpretation of it as the center of their identities. In America, the universal is a creed; in Europe, it remains, to a large extent, a question.
Caldwell’s close acquaintance with and clear affection for Europe gives his book an acute sense that there is something worth conserving, something that is on the verge of being lost in the present waves of immigration. “The rest of this book will ask whether you can have the same Europe with different people,” he writes. “The answer is no.” But to conserve is not simply to defend the status quo; indeed, preserving current immigration policies will only exacerbate the problem. Europe will have to change if it is to conserve. To preserve its identity as a Western society, open to the universal, it will have to move toward an American interpretation of Western openness.
One of the advantages of American society is that it offers a clear answer to the problem of immigration. For an immigrant, it is obviously easier to assimilate to American society, which has been defined for 400 years by the ways of immigrants and the children of immigrants, living out the American creed in the mobile rough-and-tumble of a commercial democracy. Europe is a tougher nut to crack: How does one assimilate in a country where many of the natives can trace their ancestry back 7,500 years?
Thus, for European societies to become more successful at assimilating immigrants, they will have to become more like America. As Caldwell observes, for Europeans, “Immigration is Americanization.” Caldwell thus puts his finger on an important difference in perspective: For a Frenchman, transnational forces such as immigration, NATO, Anglo-Saxon liberalism, and the European Union work in concert to dissolve the sovereignty of his ancient nation, and America is frequently seen as the symbolic head of these forces. Thus, while American observers, particularly conservatives, tend to think we have more in common with the traditional nation-states than with the internationalizing E.U., to the French, the E.U. is an Americanizing institution. It’s no accident that many of the E.U.’s strongest proponents, such as Guy Verhofstadt and Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, argue for a “United States of Europe.” To make assimilation more possible requires Europeans to choose their trans-cultural Europeanism—which seems to many a step in the American direction—over their historic national identities.
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To become more American, however, is not simply to become more open. It is also to wholeheartedly embrace a modern liberal creed, presenting new arrivals with a stark choice between assimilation and exclusion. As Caldwell points out, “America may be open in theory, but in practice it exerts Procrustean pressures on its immigrants to conform.” One aspect of this is our penal system, which currently holds a full fourth of the world’s prison population, of which about 25 percent are non-U.S. citizens. According to Caldwell, the evolution in our penal code since the 1970s, which has made offenses more numerous and penalties more severe, ensures that those immigrants most recalcitrant to assimilation do their assimilating behind bars.
At present, Europe has the opposite problem. In France, entire neighborhoods have become zones de non-droit, “lawless zones,” where the police simply do not go. Rather than demanding that immigrants conform or go home, Caldwell suggests, Europe has allowed the development of “spaces of Sharia.” There are signs, however, that things are changing, as right-leaning, tough-on-immigration political figures rise all over the continent. Here, Caldwell offers an instructive comparison between the murdered Dutch politician, Pim Fortuyn, and his French counterpart, President Nicolas Sarkozy. Fortuyn’s politics were a strange brand of European conservatism, “a kind of tribalism, expressed in the language of diversity.” He sought to conserve “the attainments of postwar tolerance” for those who now enjoy them against the encroachments of Muslim newcomers who demand tolerance from others but are often intolerant themselves. Caldwell calls Fortuyn’s politics “tribalism” because Fortuyn spoke for the tribe of the decadent against the tribe of the fanatical: He did not speak the language of abstract principle and equality before the law.
Sarkozy, by contrast, has much in common with American conservatives. He is an ardent believer in the French Republic, and insists that “the Republic and democracy are much stronger than we realize.” The French veil law, which bans all religious symbols from schools, although not directly his work, typifies his approach: It is a policy clearly aimed at the veil, but, because it comes in a legally neutral form, it forces all of French society to change so as to compel immigrants to assimilate. Sarkozy believes in the “values of the Republic” and insists that Muslims adopt them. “At the same time,” Caldwell writes, “Sarkozy warned the French that their problems with immigration and the new, multiethnic society would abate only if they accepted that the newcomers who had come were in France to stay.” His is a modern, democratic—and American—approach.
Indeed, the French sometimes call Sarkozy “l’Americain.” Like Americans, he is hopeful, forward-looking, and energetic. He jogs. France, and Europe generally, could use such an injection of American energy and hopefulness. As Caldwell writes, among Europeans, “there is a sort of sad sack, hang dog attitude towards European culture, a kind of loss of confidence.” This attitude is understandable: How could one live in the land of Molière and Louis XIV and not believe that his country’s greatest glories were in the past? At the same time, declinist fatalism is enervating, as Europe’s low birth rates attest.
Caldwell, in good American spirit, is no fatalist. Europe’s immigration problem is “a problem of will,” and as such, it can be fixed. On his account, “the only proven solution” is “to become more like America.” Europe should both accept its fate as a multicultural society and muster the will to regulate immigration effectively; it should articulate a definite, pan-European creed to facilitate assimilation; it should summon up a bit of American can-do spirit so as to secure its future, rather than indulging in backward-looking guilt and nostalgia.
Such a path might indeed give Europe a much-needed revivification, and allow it to retain its character as an open, Western society. But it would be a path with real cost—for native Europeans, for Muslim immigrants, and for Americans who love Europe. The French philosopher Pierre Manent has argued that “the competition of a limited number of comparable political bodies in the same zone of civilization,” such as that found in the long reign of the European nation-states, “is particularly propitious for historical creation.” As Manent acknowledges, the competition between Europe’s nation-states included its wars and its hatreds, but that rivalry also gave us the remarkable achievements of everything from French and German philosophy to English and Dutch republicanism. No European had to go far to encounter other human beings neither incomprehensibly different nor cloyingly similar to himself, in the light of whose ways he might better appreciate the benefits and defects of his own ways. The smallest of the continents was therefore the most intensely cosmopolitan.
From a greater distance, Americans have also enjoyed the privilege of intra-Western rivalry and friendship. Generations have discovered, in crossing the Atlantic and visiting these ancient societies, both the benefits of American mobility and the costs of American rootlessness. Americanization would probably be good for Europe, particularly if the alternative is, as Bernard Lewis wryly suggested, that the Europe of the year 2104 “will be part of the Arabic west, of the Maghreb”—a prospect that one may find distasteful without bigotry, just as one may love America but be distressed by the sight of a McDonald’s in Paris or Kyoto. Be that as it may, making Europe more American will leave us with a less rich west, a prospect no one—American, European, or Muslim—should relish.
Perhaps that is why Caldwell’s book, for all the wit and liveliness of its prose, makes for a melancholy read. If genuine cosmopolitanism entails awareness of the real and competing goods available in political life, one would rarely view fundamental political change as unqualified improvement. Awareness of competing goods, however, need not be a recipe for passivity. The conservative, Burkean prudence evoked by Caldwell’s title combines “a disposition to preserve, and an ability to improve,” categories that become less exclusive in the face of acute political problems, when innovation becomes the only means of conserving the best of the old order. Reflections on the Revolution in Europe leaves one hoping that Europe will rouse itself to meet its demographic challenges, but aware that the changes it will have to make will not be all to the good.
Benjamin Storey is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Furman University in Greenville, SC.
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Joseph Hammond
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Emma Elliott Freire