There are few subjects more delicate than immigration. No person of goodwill could deny that that no subject is more likely to arouse base emotion, or act as better grist to the mill of crude demagoguery. But the fear of being labelled a precursor or apologist of the next Hitler has paralysed almost all thought on the subject among civilised people other than a blanket and uncritical celebration, largely insincere, of virtually unlimited entry into the country of which they are a citizen. The consequent ‘diversity’ is held by all right-thinking people to be an unmitigated blessing, as if life were nothing but a choice of cuisines.
Oddly enough, this way of thinking — or rather of feeling — is dehumanising, for it implies that an immigrant is just an immigrant, and it doesn’t matter much where he comes from or what he brings with him. The fact of his immigration outweighs all his other characteristics: his culture, his education, his skills or lack of them, his political and religious beliefs, even his personality or character. At most he will bring few quaint folkloric customs with him which will add to the gaiety of the anthropological muse- um that some countries, or at least cities, are in the process of becoming. This doesn’t matter because all cultures are fundamentally compatible: are we not all equal in the sight of God, the same God whom we all worship?
And the fact is that many of us have migrants in our ancestry at most a few generations back. My wife’s grand- father was a Greek from Smyrna, but she is French. My mother was German, but I am English. Movement and assimilation of people have been more or less continual, even in countries that do not consider themselves lands of immigration: but the nature of migration has changed, at least in Europe, for numerical, cultural and ideological reasons.
It is unprecedented that a third of Londoners, for example, should have been born outside Britain; Par- is is slightly less denationalised, as only a quarter of its population was born outside France. At the Gare du Nord you wouldn’t know, if you didn’t know already, what continent you were in — people of European extraction are a distinct and even small minority there — except for the fact that such an admixture is to be found only in the modern western world. There are plenty of foreigners in Bangkok, say, or even in Bangui, but in neither city would you have any difficulty in knowing what continent you were in.
For many, this admixture is a cause for celebration, even for self-congratulation. After all, most people rub along together without too much conflict, at least if you don’t look too carefully, and no disaster, give or take a bit of terrorism, has so far happened as a consequence. The admixture is proclaimed to be the triumph of tolerant cosmopolitanism over narrow nationalism, of enlightenment over bigotry. But is it really, or is it rather the triumph of exhibitionistic self-hatred and moral superiority? And is not tolerance only required if you disapprove of the someone or something to be tolerated?
True cosmopolitanism, it seems to me, is not merely the presence of a lot of people of different origins living cheek by jowl, generally in the less attractive areas of cities, but of a relatively small number of nationalities subsisting together in a city whose individual members take an inter- est in, and have a real knowledge of, one another’s customs, cultures, languages and religions. I suppose that pre-Nasserian Alexandria is my model; there, deep separation and mutual sympathy were not inimical.
Sweden is often held up as a moral example to the world, but it is not a cosmopolitan country despite having taken in migrants who now form at least 10% of the population. Its moral superiority is really an example of spiritual pride, of moral grandiosity; it was under no obligation, either practical or moral, to transform itself in this fashion. If I have understood correctly — I speak in generalisations, of course, to which there must be exceptions — the Swedes take very little interest in the strangers in their midst beyond paying their taxes to secure them a standard of living considered the minimum in their country. And once the migrants get the vote, there are no prizes for guessing who and what they will vote for.
The madness is far from confined to Sweden. I used in my medical practice in Britain to meet a large number of asylum-seekers, more young men than women. At the very least they were enterprising and determined, as one must be to cross, say, from Iraq to the far west of Europe in a container or on the underside of a truck, passing through distinctly hostile territory en route. How far they were fleeing political or economic conditions I could not tell, and I suspect that our distinguished bureaucrats charged with the task could not tell either.
The asylum-seekers, the vast majority of whom would never be deported, were granted leave temporarily to stay, on condition that they did not work. They were expected to live in a hostel, often in the kind of place (in which En- gland abounds) so horrible that, I surmised, it was hoped by officialdom that they would soon apply to be repatriated, regardless of the danger. Those who obeyed the rules soon sunk into a state of querulous lethargy, complaining that they could not go to the English lessons provided for them a few hundred yards away because of the rain. These were people, be it remembered, who had recently traversed thousands of miles in hazardous conditions. Those of them who disobeyed the rules were generally in much better condition, psychologically and spiritually. They had purpose in their lives and some hope of betterment. But it must be a bad law that demands of people that they should sink into querulous lethargy and that the only way for them to live decently is to break it.
We then come to the knotty question of whether im- migration in large numbers lowers the wage or employment rate, especially among natives at the lower end of the social and economic scale. Certainly, those at this end of the scale believe so; but I do not think that this is the sole reason why Britain, for example, found it expedient to import hundreds of thousands of Poles while millions of its own people remained inactive at taxpayers’ expense.
There were three main factors at work. The first is that the Poles had a better attitude to work, were better trained and educated, and in general had a better manner, than the natives. The second is that, at the lower end of the scale, the economic difference between working and not working was not great enough to make work attractive, let alone imperative, to the natives. And finally there was the rigidity and inadequacy of the British housing market. Immigrants were willing to put up with housing conditions that Britons were not prepared to put up with, merely to find work.
In other words, our welfare state, educational system and regulations have has so distorted our society that it makes the importation of labour necessary while at the same time permitting and even requiring at least some migrants either to become dependents of the state or to break the law.
Finally, I think it is far from a reprehensible desire to give asylum to people who are fleeing war or persecution, indeed it is an honourable one. The problem arises when the state is involved. I would suggest that private individuals who felt strongly about these matters, or associations of such individuals, should be allowed to sponsor refugees, provided that they accepted strict financial responsibility for their upkeep and welfare for at least twenty years.
This would have several benefits. Sponsors would select the refugees they sponsored carefully. The refugees would then not just be refugees to them, but individuals, so that they, the refugees, would not feel the correct but cold welcome of the Swedish state, for example. And people would not be able to pass on the costs of their moral enthusiasms to others. They would be obliged to put their money where their heart was, or where they claimed that it was.
The main problem with my proposal is that it would not be adhered to for long. Those who feel that the state should have a monopoly of human solidarity, as it has of violence, would soon seek to overturn it, and probably succeed. To be good at other people’s expense is, after all, the summum bonum of modern morality.