Editorial note: If you have not yet read our mission statement above, please do so in order that you can put our blogs in context.
5 July 2016
Arma virumque cano, Troiae qui primus ab oris
Italiam fato profugus Laviniaque venit
Litora, multum ille et terris iactatus et alto
Vi superum, saevae memorem Iunonis ob iram.
I sing of arms and the man who first from the shores
Of Troy came destined an exile to Italy and the
Lavinian beaches, a man much buffeted on land and
On the deep by force of the gods because of fierce
Juno’s never-forgetting anger.
The first lines of the Aeneid of Roman poet Publius Vergilius Maro (Virgil), who lived from 70 to 19 BC.
Immigration was a hot potato in the UK referendum campaign which ended on 23 June 2016 with a majority of UK voters opting to take Britain out of the European Union (EU).
It should not have been.
The EU is an overarching political, economic and financial federation of 28 member states whose goal is “ever closer” union leading, in the medium term, to a United States of Europe and ultimately to a global free market. The development of this federation since its first beginnings in 1952 as the European Coal and Steel Community has led to the creation of a vast corpus of EU legislation, which affects virtually every aspect of political, economic and financial life in the member states. The EU economy is based on four basic “freedoms”, ie the free movement within the EU, unimpeded by tariffs or non-tariff barriers, of goods, services, capital and people (particularly, workers).
The free movement of workers involves the migration of EU citizens between the 28 member states. In its early years, at a time when the Europe was fast recovering from the wreckage of the Second World War and its national economies were growing apace, migration between states was largely welcomed. Migrants left homelands with endemic unemployment, such as Portugal and Italy, to fill job vacancies in fast-growing economies such as those of Belgium and Germany. Since the world-wide financial crash of 2007 to 2010, however, global economic growth has slowed, stagnated or gone into reverse, making immigrants considerably less wanted in previously welcoming host countries, many of which are suffering from unprecedented rates of unemployment, particularly among the young. And we are still not out of the wood. For most countries full employment is still a pipe-dream.
Which brings us back to the Brexit campaign. The chronic joblessness experienced in Europe since 2007 has led to the rise of rightwing populist movements throughout the Continent, including Britain, where the anti-immigration UK Independence Party (UKIP) has flourished. The party was founded in 1991 by the historian Alan Sked as the eurosceptic Anti-Federalist League. It was renamed UKIP in 1993. The party was led by Nigel Farage for most of the decade since 2006 until he resigned yesterday 4 July 2016, “his work done”: the UK had regained its independence. Under Farage’s leadership, the party tailored its policies to the white working-class and the lower middle classes, including erstwhile Labour voters who had hit the skids, and made significant breakthroughs in the 2013 local elections and the 2014 European elections. UKIP is now the largest UK party in the European Parliament with 22 elected members (MEPs).
IMMIGRATION, RACISM AND THE EU
UKIP and Farage took a lot of flak during and after the UK referendum campaign on the grounds that the party was a magnet for racists.
Many educated white metropolitan liberals have told us that they voted to remain in the EU mainly because they could not bear the thought of putting their ballot in the same box as Farage and his allegedly racist accomplices. The very idea made them feel sick. Oddly enough, they were quite happy to put their ballot in the same box as Big Business, Big Pharma, Big Oil and Big Banksters, all of which poured shed loads of donations into the coffers of the Remain camp.
Having routed for Brexit (Britain’s Exit), Antigone1984 responds as follows:
- Racism – discrimination against others on the grounds of race – is deplorable under all circumstances.
- However, we reject the sophism often peddled by metropolitan liberals that nationalism = populism = xenophobia = racism. None of these four words are synonyms and it can be argued – and is argued by us – that the first two words, nationalism and populism, can have positive connotations.
- So far as immigration is concerned, you cannot put a gallon into a pint pot. No country in the world can accept unlimited immigration and survive. And no country does. However, find me a bleeding-heart metropolitan liberal who will acknowledge even the remotest possibility that there might be a sliver of plausibility to this (to us) self-evident truth and I’ll give you a fiver.
- To believe in immigration controls is not to be racist. To be racist is to discriminate against another person on the grounds of race. Now it is quite likely that xenophobic racists will welcome immigration controls or even a total ban on immigration. That does not necessarily mean that those who favour immigration controls are racists.
- UKIP strongly favours immigration controls, as does its leader until yesterday Nigel Farage. This does not prove that either UKIP or Farage are racists. It’s a case of simple logic. As a matter of fact, Antigone1984 worked with Farage (who is married to a German) at the turn of the century. We never heard him make a racist remark.
- Now it is quite possible that xenophobic racists will be attracted to a party such as UKIP because of the party’s commitment to controlling immigration. This does not mean that the party itself is racist. In fact, UKIP members proven to be racists have been expelled from the party. It seems to us that no one should be criticised for advocating immigration controls on the grounds that this might also be to the liking of racists outside the party.
- The referendum result in favour of Brexit on 23 June 2016 has encouraged a scattering of racists in Britain to come out of the woodwork and abuse immigrants living in their neighbourhoods. This is absolutely inexcusable. However, it does not invalidate arguments in favour of controlling immigration.
- Immigrants, desperate to get work and often living in inexpensive substandard accommodation, can undercut existing wages. They can also take the jobs of native workers. Much of what they earn is not spent in the host country but remitted to their country of origin. [There is a whole army of economists paid to refute these (to us) self-evident truths but their arguments have always rung somewhat hollow, so far as we are concerned.]
- In a thriving economy without sufficient native workers to service its needs, immigration can be a win-win solution for both immigrant and the host nation.
- As we have tried to demonstrate above, migration is an integral feature of the EU economic system. However, it is not the central feature of the European Union, which is a multi-faceted political, economic, financial and legal organism with ramifications in every sector of the EU’s member states. A rational decision on whether to back Remain or Brexit would involve analysing and assessing all aspects of EU polity – not simply immigration – before making up one’s mind.
- Alas! Dream on!
On the day after the UK referendum on 23 June 2016 the most frequently asked question on Google in Britain was:
What is the EU?
Can you hear the sound of hair being torn out?
Here is a passage we included towards the end of our post Contra Unionem Europaeam published 23 April 2016:
CHANNEL STORMS – CONTINENT ISOLATED
The feedback to that polemic, which has been revised many times since its original publication on 23 April 2016, has been exasperating.
Experts with knowledge and experience in a particular field must often tear their hair out when they hear comment from the great unwashed. We recognize the feeling. Antigone1984 has insider knowledge of the European Union gained over two decades. We also are intimately aware of the machinations and culture wars that rage behind the benign public image that the EU takes care to project. In particular, we know that the guys in charge – no matter what their political affiliation – will stop at nothing to achieve their ideological objectives. The most important of these is to establish market rule throughout the continent and confine any relics of socialism to a footnote in the history books. In a natural progression, Ayn Rand (1905-1982) has replaced Jean Monnet (1888-1979) in the European pantheon.
Given our experience, therefore, of the inner workings of the European Union, it is disheartening to encounter some of the reaction to the arguments for Brexit. Much of it, it seems to us, is based on sheer ignorance. There is also the boredom factor. We get the impression that much of the UK population, including educated people, know very little about Europe and care even less. Britain’s geographical and historical detachment from the mainland is still a factor today. “Channel Storms – Continent Isolated” ran a headline in the London Times in the 1930s. The UK media still bear some of the blame for the UK’s insularity. We would hazard a guess that the French newspaper Le Monde publishes twice as many detailed articles on the EU as its UK counterpart, the Guardian.
Here are some of the reactions we have had since we published the first version of that post on St George’s Day last month. One reader said they didn’t have time to wade through the arguments but disagreed with them any way. Another comment was that the reader didn’t think that the issue was as momentous as Antigone1984 and the commentariat seemed to think. Along similar lines, another reader, who had not read anything of our text, maintained that that the EU was “just a single issue” instead of being (as we see it) an over-arching leviathan with ramifications throughout the body politic. One commentator said they intended to vote against Brexit on the grounds that the EU didn’t cost much and brought some benefits. The same is true of marijuana. Few deny that there may be some benefits in belonging to the EU. The point, surely, is whether the benefits outweigh the disadvantages. Logically, there is no point in paying even a small fee to a club if the downside trumps the upside. The latter reader then produced his clincher: “I don’t want to be associated with the xenophobes, little Englanders, racists and dog whistlers who are speaking for Brexit and attending the campaign meetings”. So the arguments are not important then? What matters apparently is the company you keep. This last comment appears to us to carry an unwarranted and invidious subtext, namely the oft-peddled sophism that nationalism = populism = xenophobia = racism. The subconscious slander, widely espoused among touchy-feely liberals, is that those who favour Brexit, or at least most of them, are racists. We do not believe that this is so. In any case, while condemning racism without reservation, we find it hard to believe that it is the key factor to be taken into account when considering the case for or against membership of the European Union. As we have argued above, the key factors are the economic system (either competition/capitalism or cooperation/socialism), sovereignty, the acceptance of national diversity, and efficient political decision-making. The “Little England” riff is played regularly by critics of Brexit.
Rising above hidebound anglo-centric navel-gazing and with our own intimate awareness of the workings of the EU from the inside, Antigone1984 sees Brexit as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to kickstart a process whose ultimate goal is to defang the EU dragon throughout the continent and thereby remove the straitjacket that is stifling the spirit, sapping the energy and still-birthing the democratic and economic renaissance of the captive nations of Europe.
Nonetheless, random conversations with educated middle-of-the-road middle-class UK voters having liberal/centrist or mildly radical leanings confirm the impression, for what it is worth, that the critics of Brexit we have just cited are fairly typical of their class: when the chips are down and the fat hits the pan, wringing their hands and squirming with indecisiveness, they will first hem and haw and then do what they usually do in the end, that is to say, troop into the voting booths with an unequivocal thumbs-up for the status quo.
More generally, as in any election, in the UK’s EU referendum on 23 June 2016, many of those who bothered to vote at all were likely to have decided on the basis not of the quality of the arguments for and against Brexit but on the basis of their gut feelings – and which side of the bed they got out of that morning.
And, at the end of the day, those of us who are democrats have to accept that. This is democracy, warts and all, after all, not a test paper in an examination. In contrast to the views of Plato (447-327 BC), who advocated a political constitution supervised by an educated elite, democracy gives all citizens the right to vote, regardless of their level of education or their knowledge of the issue at stake.
A JACOBITE’S EPITAPH
To my true king I offer’d free from stain
Courage and faith; vain faith, and courage vain.
For him I threw lands, honours, wealth, away,
And one dear hope, that was more prized than they.
For him I languish’d in a foreign clime,
Gray-hair’d with sorrow in my manhood’s prime;
Heard on Lavernia Scargill’s whispering trees,
And pined by Arno for my lovelier Tees;
Beheld each night my home in fever’d sleep,
Each morning started from the dream to weep;
Till God, who saw me tried too sorely, gave
The resting-place I ask’d, an early grave.
O thou, whom chance leads to this nameless stone,
From that proud country which was once mine own,
By those white cliffs I never more must see,
By that dear language which I spake like thee,
Forget all feuds, and shed one English tear
O’er English dust. A broken heart lies here.
Poem of exile by Thomas Babington (Lord) Macaulay (1800–1859), historian, essayist and politician.
UNDERSTANDING AND DEALING WITH IMMIGRATION
For those who have not had enough of our immigration analysis, here is a lot more. Feel free to ignore.
To clarify our stance on immigration, here is a reprint of our extended essay on immigration, which is tucked away inside our post Contra Unionem Europaeam published 23 April 2016:
“Throughout history people in general have tended to die roughly in the same part of the world as that in which they were born. The reason is simple: people prefer to stay put and live in the same neighbourhood as their extended family and the friends with which they were brought up.
So why do we have immigration?
Immigrants can be divided into two broad categories: economic migrants seeking jobs and refugee migrants fleeing war or persecution.
There are about half a million Poles in the UK and about half a million French citizens – to mention only the top two suppliers of immigrants to the UK. We already had unemployment in the UK before these immigrants came. Therefore, they are bound to take jobs from UK citizens. It’s a no-brainer. You cannot put a gallon into a pint pot. It is possible that some additional jobs are created in due course, but that is no consolation to the UK citizen who has lost their job to the incomers.
Immigrants can undercut the wages of UK citizens for three reasons:
- To save money to send back home, many immigrants to UK live in cheap substandard accommodation and multiple-occupation housing; as a result, they can make do with lower salaries than native workers subject to standard accommodation costs;
- They tend to come from relatively low-wage economies so that even a low UK wage is better than the pay they would get for the same work back in their home country;
- A low wage in UK is better than unemployment in their home countries.
The long-term lasting solution is for the world’s rich countries to provide aid and investment to create jobs in the countries from which the economic migrants come.
These are fleeing war or persecution.
The long-term solutionis to end wars and oppression. Western countries could help achieve this objective by ceasing to make shedloads of tainted money by selling arms in conflict zones, as the US and EU governments – particularly Britain and France – have been doing for decades in the Middle East. Britain, for example, has recently been assiduously supplying Saudi Arabia with weaponry and battlefield tacticians, thus enabling it to bomb Yemen out of existence.
Pending long-term solutions, the rich first world, which has exploited and impoverished the rest of the planet for at least five centuries, has a moral duty to treat both kinds of migrants – both refugees and economic migrants – with humanity and courtesy and to give them financial and social support.
Here again the European Union has failed abysmally.
When the first mass waves of immigrants began to cross the Mediterranean a couple of years ago in search of a better life in Europe, the initial European reaction was chaotic. The European Union failed to come up with a collective response and it was left to the countries where the immigrants landed, mainly Italy (economically in the doldrums) and Greece (an economic basket case) to deal largely on their tod with the new arrivals. Inevitably, once again the result was chaos.
Not every would-be immigrant managed to reach Italy or Greece. Thousands died at sea when the rickety overladen vessels into people smugglers had stuffed them capsized. Others were rescued from drowning by European patrol boats, particularly vessels from the Italian navy, Italy having a long and honourable humanitarian tradition.
However, the number of immigrants continued to mount. Last year more than a million migrants made it to Europe, most of them ending up in Germany as a result of the initial open-arms approach – since abandoned – adopted by Chancellor Angela Merkel.
At this point fortress Europe began to pull up the draw-bridge.
The most inhuman approach was advocated by the British Government. From the outset of the crisis, of the big European states, Britain had taken in the lowest number of immigrants. The few who make it to Britain are, in any case, often warehoused for years in detention camps. Britain now announced that the focus of its Mediterranean patrol vessels would no longer be on saving the lives of drowning immigrants whose dinghies had been shipwrecked but rather on pursuing the people smugglers who had enabled them to board the vessels in the first place. The British view, expressed publicly by government ministers without a shred of compunction or compassion, was that by rescuing drowning immigrants you simply encouraged more immigrants to undertake the perilous sea-crossing. The thing to do was to let those drowning drown. That would learn ’em! And it would also send a stark message to would-be emigrants back home.
Needless to say, the focus on putting the people smugglers out of business failed abysmally, as the Brits knew it was bound to do. Without police and military bases in North Africa and Turkey and without the right to land, find and seize the smugglers in lands bordering the Mediterranean, the operation was doomed from the start. The Brits proposed it, not because they seriously believed it would work, but simply as a public relations exercise to deflect attention from the glaring inhumanity of the British plan to look the other way as the drowning drowned.
The European Union then held dozens of meetings – some seven or eight at summits of the leaders of its 28 Member States – to try and forge a common policy. At one of these the Member States agreed collectively to distribute up to about 160 000 migrants among themselves in proportion to their own relative economic or demographic size. Immediately thereafter, tearing up the agreement they had just signed, one by one Member States closed their borders and blocked entry to further immigrants. The distribution plan remains a dead letter.
Finally, on 18 March 2016 the EU cut an immigration deal with Turkey.
Turkey would stem the flow of immigrants to Greece from Syria and elsewhere and also take back immigrants arriving in Greece after 20 March 2016 in exchange for a fee of 6 billion euros, visa-free travel in Europe for Turkey’s population of 75 million, and the resumption of talks on EU membership for Turkey.
To qualify for the visa concession, Turkey agreed to tone down its anti-terror law, which criminalises not only terrorists themselves but also journalists and activists generally whose activities or comments are deemed to have abetted terrorism.
However, the agreement is now up in the air. Europe has been slow in coming up with the readies, while the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said that Turkey has no intention of toning down its anti-terror law. On the contrary, it will seek to beef it up.
Three million Syrian refugees have already entered Turkey. It is not clear that Turkey, with its still developing economy, has the capacity or the will to accommodate further immigrants, including those sent back by Greece, in decent conditions.
The EU-Turkey deal has also attracted repeated criticism from the UN on human rights grounds.
Europe, if it got its act together, certainly has the capacity to absorb further immigration. Most of the 28 EU states are among the richest countries in the world. Their joint population is 508 million. They could absorb one or two million immigrants without major disruption if they went about it fairly, efficiently and professionally. Dream on!
The chaos of the refugee crisis is just the latest example of the inherent stasis and ultimate inadequacy of the European Union. A better case for Brexit could not be invented.
However, it is important also, when formulating immigration policy, to take account of the sometimes deep-rooted causes of the widespread opposition to immigration in parts of Europe.
We flesh out this point below.
Host country attitudes towards immigrants
In general, moderate immigration is accepted by native residents of host countries. It is when it gets out of proportion – admittedly an arbitrary assessment – that they resent it and this often results in increased worries about employment and a rise in racism and xenophobia.
That is why curbs are often imposed in the host country once immigration has reached a critical mass, whatever that may be.
This is a letter which was published in the Guardian on 18 April 2016:
Your editorial and Martin Kettle’s comments on Jeremy Corbyn’s pro-EU speech (both 15 April) fastidiously avoided addressing its failure to adequately meet the concerns of the majority of Labour voters over the EU’s inability to control the flow of people across its borders. To really keep us in Europe Corbyn needs to persuade voters that he will work with other socialist governments, themselves losing support across Europe because of this issue, to address the democratic concerns of the majority about migration.
The concerns to which Mr Hines refers affect many ordinary people up and down the UK. Migration is of little direct concern to the affluent and complacent metropolitan elite. The latter quite appreciation immigration as it supplies them with a palatable variety of foreign restaurants at which to eat out.
“Que la France reste la France, que l’Angleterre reste l’Angleterre, que l’Allemagne reste l’Allemagne, et ainsi de suite.”
“May France remain France, may England remain England, may Germany remain Germany, and so on.”
Sentiment expressed by a eurosceptic Member of the European Parliament
When it comes to immigration, Antigone1984 has always been in favour of multiculturalism – the right of immigrants to hold on to their native culture and language while at the same time picking up the culture and language of the host community. We are in favour of integration, not assimilation.
However, we also recognize the importance of rootedness. People in general, in our opinion, tend to feel the need to belong to one – or more – particular cultures in which they feel at home. The German word “Heimat” – a term laden with deep-seated nostalgic connotations in the Teutonic world – is closely related to rootedness. Its meaning embraces the concepts of home, homeland, native land, native soil and even native region. A related word “Heimweh” is the German term for homesickness – a longing for one’s native land.
It is not surprising, therefore, that it is a German author who was one of the earliest to analyse the concept of rootedness. The human need for rootedness was emphasized by the German writer Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803). Here is a paraphrase of two essays on Herder by philosopher Isaiah Berlin (1909-1997) in the July and August 1965 numbers of Encounter magazine:
Herder was responsible for three major cultural insights. He believed in:
- Populism: the value of belonging to a group or culture; every individual is inescapably rooted in his own culture, in his own nation. Pity the poor cosmopolitan who has no nation or culture to sustain him. An individual’s native language is the key component in this culture.
- Expressionism. Human society and art in particular express (or reflect) the personality of an individual or group. Works of art are intimately connected with their makers and cannot be examined in isolation or, as it were, in a vacuum.
- Pluralism: belief not merely in the multiplicity but in the incommensurability of the values of different cultures and societies and also the incompatibility of equally valid ideals, together with the implied corollary that the classical notions of an ideal man and of an ideal society are intrinsically incoherent and meaningless.
Herder believed in patriotism to one’s culture rather than to one’s state.
Like Aristotle (384-322 BC), John of Salisbury (1120-1180), Richard Hooker (1554-1600), Blaise Pascal ((1623-1662) and Edmund Burke (1729-1797), he espoused the age-old notion of society as an organism.
Common cultural traditions, realized in the unique language of each community, are the basis of that community (the nation). Compare the organic community of the past championed by English critic F. R. Leavis (1895-1978).
“…Wildly differing societies and their ideals are not commensurable. Such questions as which of them is the best, or even which one would prefer, which one would judge to be nearer to the universal human ideal….are, therefore, for a thinker of this type, meaningless,“ says Berlin.
The ideas of different societies are often incompatible. This is as true of the past as it is of the present. Thus, “if we choose to emulate the Greeks, we cannot also emulate the Hebrews….”
There is a property, not capable of being abstracted and articulated – that which is German in the Germans – which permeates the heterogeneous activities of the Nation’s life. Moreover, “the specific quality which each type of activity will show forth, will have more in common with generically different activities of the same culture than with specifically similar actions of another culture…In other words, what German epic poetry has in common with German family life or German legislation or German grammar… runs through them more deeply…than that which German poetry has in common with Hindu or Hebrew poetry.”
“A German exiled from the milieu of his fellow Germans, perhaps a Saxon or a Prussian forced to live elsewhere, will not feel at home there; and whoever does not feel at home, cannot create naturally, freely, generously, unselfconsciously.” Herder believes that you have to be where you belong. For Herder, the individual is inescapably a member of some group; consequently, all that he does must express, consciously or unconsciously, the aspirations of his group.”
We must seek to be true to ourselves.
“Let us be characteristic of our nation, language, scene…[We must] find our own centre of gravity…or that of the group – nation, region, community – to which we belong. Without such belonging there is no true creation, no true realisation of human goals. Hence, to foist alien values on a Nation (as missionaries were doing, for example, in India) is both ineffective and harmful. Worst of all are those who have no group, because they are exiled or self-exiled, physically or spiritually…and so doomed to sterility. As a social psychologist, Herder rose above his generation; more clearly than any other writer, he conceived and cast light upon the crucially important social function of ‘belonging’ – on what it is to belong to a group, culture, a movement, a form of life.”
You might perhaps care to view some of our earlier posts. For instance:
- Why? or How? That is the question (3 Jan 2012)
- Partitocracy v. Democracy (20 July 2012)
- The shoddiest possible goods at the highest possible prices (2 Feb 2012)
- Capitalism in practice (4 July 2012)
- 5.Ladder (21 June 2012)
- A tale of two cities (1) (6 June 2012)
- A tale of two cities (2) (7 June 2012)
- Where’s the beef? Ontology and tinned meat (31 Jan 2012)
Every so often we shall change this sample of previously published posts.