Yet another commentator recently boasted about the superiority of the American integration experience for new immigrants. The point they made is that, theoretically at least, immigrants come to a better life, and are therefore delighted to be integrated. Strangely I remember reading similar comments by European commentators writing 60 years ago, and we can all see where that led. So is it a genuine claim?
One of the presentations my company does for school groups is called 'Three Medieval Cultures', and compares the Medieval experiences of the Latin’s (Western Europe), the Muslims, and the Japanese. Theoretically this is pretty easy, because they all have easily defined Classical, Medieval, and Modern periods in their cultures. In practice direct comparison is almost impossible, because the Medieval periods are at such different times that they hardly overlap at all.
For the Latin’s, the Medieval period of their history goes approximately from the fall of Rome in 476 AD, to the rise of the printing press that turbocharged the Renaissance in the 1440’s – about a thousand years. For the Japanese, it is probably from the rise of the Shogunate in 1192 to the Meiji restoration in 1867 – about 700 years. For the Muslims it is possibly from end of the Sultanate in 998 to the ‘retirement’ of the feudal Sipahi class of cavalrymen in 1828 – though it would be fair to argue that large parts of the Muslim world may well still be feudal.
The affect of these disparate dates is a serious of lovely quotes that reveal very little. In the mid C9th for instance, Arab geographer Ibn Khordadbeh referred to Europe as a source of: “eunuchs, slave girls and boys, brocade, beaver skins, glue, sables and swords” and not much more. He was a classical Muslim scholar - at the peak of their cultural attainments - looking at the Dark Ages in the West. Nine hundred years later Western traders – well into their Modern period - were making similar comments about the Medieval Muslim cultures they were passing on their way to Medieval Japan.
Which just goes to show that comparisons between national outlooks should probably pay a little attention to where they are in their national, and nationalistic, cycles.
I am a proponent of the idea that modern Empires have not so much ‘collapsed’ as been abandoned by voters unwilling to pay their costs. For all that the British Empire was weakened by the Great War, careful modern assessments reveal that it was making major economic comebacks in the interwar period. In which case the argument of the economic historians that it was too weakened by the Second World War to hold on to Empire seems a bit hindsight driven. (I will do a more detailed post on this later.)
In fact the postwar British Labour government was intent on abandoning Empire ASAP, and was heartily supported by the majority of the voters. (Which led to the indecent haste of abandoning not only cultures more or less ready for independence in the ongoing pattern of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Ireland, India, Ceylon, Malaya, Singapore, Malta, etc; but also cultures not nearly ready for it like Burma, Zimbabwe, Aden, Palestine, and many other violent and repressive states that have spent their time since as nasty dictatorships indulging in ethnic cleansing.) Despite what bad economic historians might think, this was at least as much political preference as it was economic necessity.
The comparison is easy to see. The United States left Korea half occupied largely because the cost of a full liberation was too high - economically and politically. A few years later the United States walked out on a war it probably could have won in Vietnam, because the voters would no longer stand for it. More recently it has taken lies about ‘weapons of mass destruction’ to get the voters to allow the removal of some of the nastier dictators and repressive regimes of human history in Afghanistan and Iraq. In fact the voter apathy is so great that there is virtually no chance of an intervention even to stop the bloodbaths of ethnic cleansing throughout Africa. (The Balkans may have been a last gasp of American willingness to do something just because it was ‘right’.)
Western Imperialism certainly had it’s faults, but it did stomp pretty firmly on Thuggee and Slavery and Headhunting asd Sati. Pity that the moral superiority that allowed the average voter to support such measures has evolved into a squeamish-ness that argues that people should be allowed to repress women and indulge in genital mutilation, child rape and ethnic cleansing if that is a traditional part of their - obviously equally valuable - culture.
So I can see very clear parallels between the attitudes towards ‘imperial adventures’ amongst modern Americans as there were amongst postwar (or even interwar) Briton’s. Which makes me suspect that the United States might be due for a rude awakening on it’s approach to ‘integration’ as well.
Europe has spent the last sixty years decrying its traditions. Nationalism is out. Patriotism is out. Duty to help the less fortunate is way out… if they are foreign at least. Instead there is a namby-pamby pastiche of feel-good phrases about multicultural futures and all-inclusive societies. The end effect of which appears to be that new Immigrant children can’t find anything of their new host society to be proud of, or even interested in. Instead they turn back to their cultures of origin for inspiration, with the effect that second and third generation Muslims in Europe are far more radical, and far less integrated, than their parents who have actually experienced the systems they were escaping. The results do not look good for social cohesion in the future.
The United States might like to think it is different, but the reality is that although it was a century behind the rest of the trends in the West at the start of last century, it is catching up rapidly. The US was one of the last Western states to abandon slavery. The US was the last (non-Nazi) Western State to try and claim a right to conquor land from its neighbours – both ‘natives’, and European imports like Canada and Mexico. (I will discount those states fighting over historical border disputes like France and Germany over Alsace-Lorraine in the Great War). The US was also a late starter in overseas imperialism, only getting seriously into it with the occupation of Hawaii, the forced treaties on Japan and China, and the conquest of Spanish possessions Central America’s and Asia. The US was one of the very last to give all citizens the vote (as long as you don’t count Puerto-Ricans as citizens in which case it still hasn’t).
All these things came well behind the patterns of Western states in Europe, or even of other planted Western colonies like Canada and Australia. But each time gap has been shorter. And the psychological component of the ‘Imperial Overstretch’ gap has been shortest of all. It lasted only a few decades between the triumphalism of America making the world safe for democracy in 1945, and it’s first failure at the fall of Saigon. By Gulf-War 1 in 1991, the Americans wanted other people to pay for them to fight. A decade later they were unwilling to go at all without a ‘coalition of the willing’. By now, the names Zimbabwe, Somalia and Darfur are carefully avoided in Congress.
How far behind these developments can a social integration problem be? All the European nations were excellent social integrators when they were in their colonial frontier periods. Look at the lovely fusion of Norman nobles with Anglo-Saxon and then Welsh and Scottish peoples in Britain. (It would be fair to say the Irish never integrated into Britain properly… Signs don’t look too promising for Irish integration in Europe just at the moment either…) Look at the disparate tribes and settlers who now make up the French, German, Spanish and even Polish states. Lots of land and lots of opportunity leads to lots of integration. But the stresses of population density and lack of opportunity have the same affect on modern Europe as they did in the time of overpopulation before the Great Famine and Black Death that halved the European population in the fourteenth century. (Allowing another round of ‘integration’ to be achieved.) Then look at the nationalism and violence and ethnic cleansing that follows many a financial crisis brought on by overpopulation and lack of opportunity. (Consider the timing of the various Pogroms against the Jews in parts of Europe.)
The United States still has a few frontiers in places like Alaska, but pretty much only in the way that Britain could export the restless younger sons to the Empire in the 1800’s. Places like California are not far behind New York in their path to European density and lack of opportunity for unskilled newcomers. The days of the average illiterate refugee making their fortunes, are a long way behind the US in states like New Hampshire or Pennsylvania. Lack of opportunity alone will cramp the integration dream.
More importantly though, the US has been advancing along the path to an ideal small ‘s’ socialist state quite quickly. (See Obama’s Healthcare plan.) With that has come the whole baggage of an intellectual and educational class more disparaging of American culture than supportive of it. They have not yet achieved the dominance they have in more ‘advanced’ cultures like Europe and the other Dominions, but they are not far off it. Inevitably the new immigrants are going to start getting the same educational experience of ‘what is there to be proud of’ as those in Europe. It may not be common in the US yet, but it is already the dominant position in certain Democrat voting states.
Fortunately the vast majority of new immigrants are apparently arriving in non-Democrat voting states. (Or perhaps there is a cause and effect here… consider voting patterns over time and look which states have moved from Democrat to Republican… hmm…) Places like Texas are moving forward precisely because they still consider themselves to be frontier economies, and are acting as though such ‘integrate by opportunity’ rules are still applicable. By contrast to the states who are trying to legislate an ‘equality’ based on fanciful ideas (and in a way that emphasises the advantages of NOT integrating), there is a chance that states like Texas can hold the dysfunctional integration tide back a bit longer.
On the other hand I heard just today a very good and entertaining talk by a Marxist (yes there are still people who call themselves that!) called Terry Eagleton (a Professor, naturally... of English Literature, unsuprisingly...) on radio. He made the delightful comment that listening to Americans go on about ‘God and Country’ (in their best impersonation of a pompous Victorian middle class English twat) just makes jaded Europeans stare at their shoes and hope it will stop soon.
If historical patterns are anything to go by, it probably will.