Mass Migration and the Failure of Civilizational Nerve

The fatal incoherence of globalism.

Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.

The people spoke on election day, and they decided that they like divided government, handing the House to the Democrats and strengthening the Republican hold on the Senate. This means that many pressing issues needing attention will languish in political limbo for another two years, even as the nation’s dysfunctions worsen. One of the longest and more serious is our broken immigration system, at a time when mass movements of peoples into Europe and the U.S. threaten the identity and core principles of Western Civilization.

Seven thousand migrants from Central America are still making their way through Mexico on their way to the U.S. These “caravans” appear to be organized and funded by the international left. In recent years such vast movements of people have become more common in Europe, which has been enduring such exoduses from the Middle East and North Africa for years.  They accelerated in 2015 after German Chancellor Angela Merkel issued an open invitation to migrants. More recently they have been coming not on foot, but mainly on boats sailing across the Mediterranean. So far this year, nearly 100,000 have reached Spain, Italy, and Greece from North Africa and the Middle East. Both here and in Europe, these migrations have created logistical nightmares and increased security threats, and more importantly have empowered nationalist and patriotic political movements with a potent weapon to use against globalist establishments.

This is an existential crisis the West should have seen coming, because it was predicted by French travel-writer Jean Raspail’s 1973 novel The Camp of the Saints. The book’s danger to the transnational progressive assault on national identity is suggested by its inclusion on the hard-left Southern Poverty Law Center’s index librorum prohibitorum, and the knee-jerk dismissal of the novel as “racist” by bad readers. For Raspail doesn’t just tell a compelling story. He also lays out the West’s fashionable self-loathing and failure of civilizational nerve that create this disaster.

Raspail’s novel begins when millions of Third World peoples simultaneously start hijacking ships and sailing for Europe. Once there, the migrants swarm the villas and resorts of the Côte d’Azur while the French flee in panic to the north. One reason for the failure of the French to resist the invaders is the fashionable civilizational guilt over alleged Western crimes like racism, colonialism, and imperialism. This weakness emboldens the invaders. In India, where the mass migration starts, the French consul scolds a Catholic bishop who approves of the migration and is proud to be “bearing witness” to it. The consul retorts,

Bearing witness to what? To your faith? Your religion? To your Christian civilization? Oh no, none of that! Bearing witness against yourselves, like the anti-Western cynics you’ve become. Do you think the poor devils that flock to your side aren’t any the wiser? Nonsense! They see right through you. For them, white skin means weak convictions. They know how weak yours are, they know you’ve given in.

Raspail also links this failure of nerve in the face of existential assault to the increasing secularization of European culture, the abandonment of the Judeo-Christian creed upon which its civilization and cherished principles––political freedom, human rights, rule by law––were in part founded. At novel’s end, after Europe is lost to the hordes streaming northward, the narrator wonders: “Who knows how things might have worked out if the peoples of the West, in similar straits, had put their faith in God.” For in the struggle between different cultures with conflicting religions and mores, “One still believes. One doesn’t. The one that still has faith will move mountains. That’s the side that will win. Deadly doubt has destroyed all incentive in the other. That’s the side that will lose.”

Our own times obviously reflect the same self-loathing and fashionable cynicism about our civilization that has created historically unprecedented levels of freedom and prosperity for billions of people. The Leninist demonization of imperialism and colonialism, an idea communism weaponized in order to undermine the free West, still functions to justify the criticism of the West on the part of its sleek beneficiaries. So too the Marxist denigration of free-market capitalism and bourgeois virtues, another charge in the indictment of the West. Critics like today’s millennial champions of socialism, their existence possible only in a liberal democratic, free market society that produces surplus wealth, have turned biting the hand that feeds them into a status symbol signifying their greater sophistication and cosmopolitanism.

These attitudes are decades old, appearing earlier in Edwardian England and persisting during the twenty-year armistice between the World Wars. In 1933 Churchill called it a “mood of unwarrantable self-abasement” and “the acceptance of defeatist doctrine.”  The obvious wages of such ideas in the disastrous appeasement of Nazism were not enough to school the West on the corrosive power of despising one’s own country.

Other cultural developments added bad ideas that encouraged sacrificing the national interest to transient emotions. Cheap sentimentalism and the therapeutic sensibility that privilege feeling over practical wisdom and principle have become the filters through which we understand the non-West. Poverty and squalor beamed into our homes 247 turn the tragic constants of human existence––the suffering, exploitation, irrational superstitions, cruelty, and tribal hatreds that have ever marked much of the world and its peoples––into entertainment commodities. Like fictional images of death and suffering, we consume global poverty as we do our favorite Netflix shows, enjoying the superficial feelings of compassion, pity, and sympathy just as we do the suspense and fear of thrillers. Of course, this reduction of human beings to the market value of their suffering is dehumanizing. As social critic Christopher Lasch said, it reduces compassion to the “human face of contempt.”

But the emotions elicited from news reports and video footage of the suffering and squalor from the undeveloped world come with a bonus: they are signs of our moral superiority and heightened sensitivity, as well as compensating for our wealth and comfort. They locate us in the hierarchy of status far above the insensitive, callous, crude, unfeeling people, the progressive caricature of conservatives. The misery of migrants becomes a political cudgel used to batter anyone who challenges the practicality, common sense, or dangers to national sovereignty and identity that follow from admitting millions of poorly vetted, culturally different peoples whose customs and mores may conflict with our own.

Of course, at one level, the globalist progressives claim not to recognize that cultures and peoples can be divided by deep-seated, dysfunctional beliefs irreconcilable with the political-social order of the West. With remarkable ethnocentric arrogance, they see the world’s peoples as prototypical Westerners who desire prosperity, political freedom, unalienable human rights, tolerance, and peaceful coexistence with their neighbors. Only the evils of religion, custom, Western historical crimes, and tradition continue to impede this development. Admitting large numbers of migrants becomes a mechanism for advancing this noble goal, as is agitating for open borders, or abolishing ICE, or nullifying immigration law to create “sanctuary” cities that are nothing of the sort for legal citizens.

But this brings us to the fatal incoherence of the globalist project. We have also embraced “diversity” and “multiculturalism,” the unquestioning acceptance and idealization of those who live differently than we do. But at home, those differences remain at the superficial level––physical appearance, quaint customs and costumes, entertaining folkways, exotic foods. Yet these modern diverse “others” are at the same time bestowed with all the specifically Western political and social preferences like sex equality, tolerance of homosexuality, equality before the law, and separation of religion from government. Nowhere is this incoherence more obvious than in the idealization of Islamic cultures whose sharia law admits none of these Western boons, and indeed sees them as mortal enemies of the faithful.

In the U.S., this contradiction once had been resolved by the assimilation of immigrants who had been admitted on the basis of criteria reflecting the interests and safety of this country. Over time the subsequent generations gradually became Americans, their mores and values from the old country weakened, the old ways leached from their identities, leaving behind recipes, family folklore, and a few holiday customs. That process of assimilation, however, has for decades now been demonized as an assault on the superior identity of the “other,” a cultural imperialism designed to reduce the immigrant “of color” into a subaltern who serves the economic and political needs of the ruling caste.

Abetting all these problems is our dysfunctional immigration system. We have allowed perhaps as many as 20 million illegal aliens, without vetting or selection criteria based on our assessment of need and suitability, to swamp that old assimilationist model. And this fecklessness has been a bipartisan affair. Progressive identity politics serves the Democrats’ coalition of tribes by adding more clients for redistributionist policies that grow government ever bigger. And some Republicans didn’t mind enabling the Dems as long as labor is available to do the jobs that either Americans didn’t want to do, or businesses didn’t want to pay Americans to do.

The mass-migration from Central America still unfolding has created bad optics and worse political choices for reformers of immigration policy. Lax asylum policies and thoughtless laws forbidding separation of families have long created a de facto catch-and-release program. The administration’s threats to stop migrants from penetrating the border, which to work will require shutting the border, may lead to a public relations nightmare as children and families are certain to be highlighted by an open-borders media, clouding with cheap compassion and pity the reality of young males seeking economic or criminal opportunity, not to mention more nefarious purposes like terrorism.

Our failed immigration policies are yet another manifestation of our willingness to demonize our own culture for its alleged colonial sins, and demand that some form of reparation be paid to the alleged victims. Our preference for the exotic and a superficial diversity makes the narrative a fashion marker displaying a superficial cosmopolitanism and sophistication. Reinforcing these motives is our culture-wide therapeutic privileging of feelings like sympathy, compassion, and pity for those same victims, which become mechanisms of virtue-signaling and moral preening. They are low-cost status markers since such people rarely live among the chaos and disorder and crime produced by indiscriminately admitting peoples from different cultures and mores.

Finally, predicating policies on flabby sentimentalism rather than the realist calculation of cost and benefits, and the tragic acceptance that we cannot be the world’s social welfare agency, lead inevitably to polices that damage our interests and security, and further erode our confidence in our right to determine our national identity and to affirm our certainty in the goodness and justice of our political order.

We are witnessing this process in Europe, which is much farther down the road to cultural suicide. But we have shown no will to address the problems of immigration, and divided government has simply confirmed that we will continue to bluster and threaten, and in the end do nothing substantial. And this appears to suit a critical mass of voters just fine.