Ed West, The Diversity Illusion: What We Got Wrong About Immigration and How to Set it Right, Gibson Square Books, 2013, $22.50, 288 pp.
Let us start with the facts as author Ed West sees them:
The latest projections suggest that white Britons will become a minority sometime around 2066, in a population of 80 million, which means that within little over a century Britain will have gone from an almost entirely homogenous society to one where the native ethnic group is a minority. That is, historically, an astonishing transformation. No people in history have become a minority of the citizenry in their own country except through conquest, yet the English, always known for their reticence, may actually achieve this through embarrassment.
This well-written, interesting book by a veteran journalist seeks to explain how Britain came to allow massive, unselective immigration, without particularly intending to. Ed West documents a typically British muddle, composed of idealism, ignorance, expediency, optimism, and lashings of embarrassment. He has charted the story with bemused dismay, analyzing yet another example of history being more cock-up than conspiracy. The actual decisions lurched from one expedient to the next, until the conquered peoples of the Benighted Isles conceded that their position was lost. An unspoken and much denied retreat from immigration has begun, with the often-muttered sentiment, “With any luck it can be confined to the cities.”
A series of historical and political factors conspired to create the mess. Employers wanted a quick fix to industrial problems that would help them get around union restrictions. Parliament saw the issue as minor, temporary, and best understood in terms of historical Commonwealth legislation. At the same time, the fact that immigration began in 1948 with men from the West Indies recruited to work in the London tube system meant that race became a dominant feature of the debate. Those who objected to immigration itself, or to unselective immigration in particular, could be silenced by the accusation that they were covering up their own racism. Racism was wrong because it was a judgment based on skin color alone. Therefore immigration in general was good, and opposed only by bigots.
As a consequence, as Mr. West notes:
Never in modern history has a free population simply suppressed discussion of a major issue. In living memory barely a newspaper article, radio or television show has seriously questioned the diversity orthodoxy, and even in the intelligent right-wing press, skepticism has had to be couched in such a cryptic way that the paper’s horoscopes are more candid.
This was useful for employers, who could avoid the charge that they were breaking the unions with foreign labor by sneering at the xenophobia of the working class. Liberal and wealthier classes were ashamed of small-minded, anti-immigrant sentiment, and found themselves in favor of immigration as a point of honor, perhaps even as a point of snobbery. As a consequence, Mr. West notes, “British people have come to accept these changes, assured that to do otherwise is morally repugnant.”
It should have been realized that mass economic migration was a new phenomenon which had to be managed, but there was too much else to think about in shattered, post-war Europe.
By the time they started thinking about immigration, Labour, at any rate, got it wrong:
Labour’s attempts at creating a truly multicultural society have unquestionably succeeded. But why did the Government do this? What drove them towards imposing such an enormous change on England, one that will have profound, long-lasting and irreversible effects? And why did the entire political class go along with it?
Of course, some people opposed it, most notoriously senior Conservative politician Enoch Powell. However, when he decided to talk about the problem, he did so in such florid and apocalyptic terms—“like the Roman, I seem to see ‘the River Tiber foaming with much blood’ “—that it was embarrassing. The English do not like being embarrassed. Thereafter, to be concerned about immigration was treated as if it revealed some distorted, childish version of penis-envy, best epitomized by the front cover of the satirical magazine, Private Eye, which showed an animated Enoch Powell with arms fully outstretched, saying “I tell you, some of them have got them this long.” The debate has yet to recover.
Indeed, there has essentially been no debate at all. As Mr. West notes:
Everyone in a position of power held the same opinion. Diversity was a good in itself, so making Britain truly diverse would enrich it and bring ‘significant cultural contributions’, reflecting a widespread belief among the ruling classes that multiculturalism and cultural, racial and religious diversity were morally positive things whatever the consequences. This is the unthinking assumption held by almost the entire political, media, and education establishment. It is the diversity illusion.
Mr. West might as well have called his book The Diversity Religion: “A belief in the benefits of a multicultural, multi-racial society is an article of faith in today’s largely atheist society; to not believe is to not be in communion.”
Of course, diversity’s devotees seldom practice it: “If diversity is such a good thing, why do so many people vote with their feet to avoid it?”
Mr. West has a clear view of the evolutionary reasons why mass immigration does not work:
The universalist ideal rests on the belief that human beings are willing to share such a collective system with the rest of humanity. But evolutionary psychology suggests that humans have developed kin selection, those tribes with the strongest sense of in-group altruism being the most likely to survive. . . . No universal altruism has evolved because a sense of universal altruism would have no evolutionary advantage. Garrett Hardin argued in a 1982 essay, ‘Discriminating Altruisms’, that a world without borders or distinctions is impossible, because groups that practice unlimited altruism will be eliminated in favor of those that limit altruistic behavior to smaller groups, from whom they receive benefits.
Racism, or what anti-racists understand as racism, is a universal part of human nature, ‘as human as love’ as novelist Thomas Keneally put it. . . . One might regret that, just as one might regret that greed, lust and violence are part of human nature, but building a society based on the assumption that they can be driven out through re-education is an optimistic idea.
Mr. West recognizes that ancient nations like Britain have deeply-rooted assumptions about how society should be organized, and how its members should behave. The following passages recognize the threats to those assumptions of massive immigration by people who may not share them:
The creation of nations, under which common law ensured that Justice was dealt out by disinterested magistrates, allowed the radius of trust to expand and, even where the authorities were not close at hand, mutually-understood norms of behavior were built up. And so, with enormous increases in social capital, people living in nations, social solidarity maintained by a deliberately-encouraged patriotism, we were able to speed ahead of societies where men still owed their loyalty and protection to clan and tribe.
The basis on which you can extract large amounts of money in taxation, and pay it out in benefits, is that most people think that benefit recipients are people like themselves facing difficulties which they too could face. If values become more diverse, lifestyles more differentiated, it is harder to sustain the legitimacy of a universal risk-pooling welfare state.
Social capital, just like any other kind, requires generations of careful saving and hard work, and can last long after its original source dries up. Perhaps we are currently running on the reserves that were built up by our ancestors.
Mr. West notes the difference between the free movement of goods and the free movement of people, a distinction lost in fashionable praise for “globalism:”
Globalism has many benefits, but mixed with universalism it can become an ideological dogma that ignores the human consequences. [British economist] Phillippe Legrain asks: ‘Why can computers be imported from China duty-free but Chinese people cannot freely come to make computers here? Why is it a good thing for workers to move within a country to where the jobs are, but a bad thing for people to move between countries for the same reason?’ That is because human beings are not computers. Goods can be freely moved about only because they can be discarded when they are no longer useful; humans cannot. Immigration is long-term and has permanent effects for everyone involved. . . .
An extreme example of this [globalism] is the white liberal environmentalist who decides, for the good of the planet, that he or she should remain childless—the result being that future generations will contain fewer white liberals.
Mr. West also notes the double standards that are almost universal:
Writing about Tibet, [a] liberal blogger . . . once stated that China ‘has resettled Han Chinese colonists there to the point where Tibetans are at risk of becoming a minority in their own homeland.’ On his own country he declared that ‘further mass immigration obviously has the potential to rejuvenate the population of this island once the politicians can get their head around the idea.’ Tibetans becoming a minority in their country are a threatened species; the English are being ‘rejuvenated.’ Of course the Tibetans have no choice in becoming a minority, yet when the British express their opposition to ‘rejuvenation’ they are condemned as racists.
As should be evident by now, Mr. West is immensely quotable. He has the rare knack of summing up a complex chain of events with a succinct observation in plain English. In a book of 14 chapters he covers such topics as: the leftist language of social justice, Enoch Powell, the shadow of Auschwitz, doing jobs Brits won’t do, the new blasphemy laws, and the tribal nature of society. In every chapter there are many observations worth quoting.
There is one major omission. Ed West is a fearless critic of unselective immigration, and is willing to talk about immigrants’ skills and education, but not about their intelligence. He makes several references to skills, but not to intelligence as a heritable characteristic, nor to the fact that the acquisition of skills will be proportional to the power of the intellect. If not even sixth-generation immigrants can learn high-level skills, in economic terms this is a lasting deficit.
On the other hand, if high skill levels can be achieved in first- or second-generation immigrants, then immigration is a reasonably transitory cost. Bright immigrants flourish almost immediately, less able immigrants struggle for a very long time. The foolishness of immigration that ignores ability is that it brings in many people who are likely to be permanently less quick to learn. What country would willingly make such an error? Perhaps the author understands this, but feels that to mention intelligence would have been “a bridge too far” given that he had already taken the brave step of opposing racial diversity.
I wish I could write that this book has shaken the establishment, but it has not. It was reviewed dismissively in The Guardian, and a bit more sympathetically in The Telegraph, but does not appear to be having an impact. More precisely, because there is so little open discussion of this subject, it is hard to judge whether it has had any impact. It has a ranking of 14,451 on Amazon, UK; The Hairy Bikers’ Great Curries has a ranking of 91.
This is a book well worth reading, particularly because it shows a keen appreciation of the excruciating contortions of the middle-class Anglo-Saxon mind, which I parody thus: “If one may be so bold as to make a comment, one does not wish to be associated with anything vulgar. To treat someone impolitely because of race is vulgar. Immigrants are a different race. Opposing them is impolite and vulgar. Therefore opposing immigration is vulgar. Shall we talk about something else?”
Tony Bain is a researcher who lives in London.