Cultural anxieties about migration

by Chris Bertram on October 19, 2015

This is more of a bleg than a post, I’m looking for contradiction. One of the often-claimed worries about immigration is of cultural loss, that the incomers will overwhelm the natives who will then lose the distinctive identity that they value. Supposedly, open borders would lead to the erosion of difference, people would lose their countries, and be bereft. But thinking about it, I’m struggling to think of *any* cases of cultural extinction due to the kind of immigration that results from individuals and families simply choosing to move to another country for a better or different life. Open borders within Europe haven’t caused the Germans and French to disappear. Open borders within the UK (and with Ireland) haven’t led to the demise of the Scots, the English, the Welsh or the Irish. And such immigrants as have come, have just turned into regular folks with slightly unusual names or atypical appearance within a generation. Not that there haven’t been historical cases of some peoples chasing out or killing other peoples, of course there have. But all the instances — at least all the modern ones — I can think of are *state-sponsored projects* of colonialism, genocide, forced relocation and the like. In the absence of deliberate state action and political mobilization, peoples of ethnic, cultural, religious, or linguistic distinctiveness seem to be pretty robust entities. Though Henry Sidgwick and Michael Walzer seemed to think they needed borders and border control to preserve themselves, mostly they don’t.



lemmycaution 10.19.15 at 5:12 pm

USA is pretty different after European immigration right?


Chris Bertram 10.19.15 at 5:15 pm

@lemmycaution please read the post. The displacement of native peoples was clearly a state-sponsored project.


Scott P. 10.19.15 at 5:20 pm

The right-wingers I interact with always use European colonization of the US as their touchstone. The phrase they use is ‘demographic replacement’. So while it’s not a reasonable comparison it is the one they explicitly make.


lemmycaution 10.19.15 at 5:24 pm

I guess that does not count.


Stephen 10.19.15 at 5:24 pm

“Open borders within the UK (and with Ireland) haven’t led to the demise of the Scots, the English, the Welsh or the Irish.”
Umm, you may have noticed that most Irish and Welsh don’t actually speak Irish or Welsh any more (ditto in spades for Manx and Cornish), and no Scots speak Pictish or Goidelic, and very few speak Gaelic. Isn’t that a rather important form of cultural extinction?


efcdons 10.19.15 at 5:26 pm

Does it have to be in the modern era? Isn’t history filled with examples of cultural groups migrating to new areas and displacing the inhabitants that were already there? For example (and I’m really, really not an expert) the Bantu migrations from central to southern Africa? According to wikipedia (great source, I know) “The hypothesized Bantu expansion pushed out or assimilated the hunter-forager proto-Khoisan, who formerly inhabited Southern Africa.”


josh jasper 10.19.15 at 5:26 pm

Cultural change in most places tends to come from other cultures outside that your internal culture adopts because it’s “cool” and happens in youth, and often in small groups, like anime, which goes both ways, or the influence of American culture abroad, etc.

Chris, can you point to some specific “often-claimed worries about immigration is of cultural loss”? I’m curious to see exactly what they’re talking about.


Jozxqk 10.19.15 at 5:31 pm

Are you only looking for a situation where literally an entire nation’s culture disappeared because immigrants moved there?


Chris Bertram 10.19.15 at 5:32 pm

@josh – well the worries that get voiced are often rather incoherent, but a lot of UKIPpers in the UK (and certainly those to their right) will claim that their country is about to disappear because of immigration.

@Stephen “Umm, you may have noticed that most Irish and Welsh don’t actually speak Irish or Welsh any more”. And a big part of the reason for that is *the British state* pursued very aggressive policies of trying to get everyone to speak English. It wasn’t because lots of English people moved to Wales in search of jobs, was it? Perhaps think before you adopt the sarcastic tone next.


lemmycaution 10.19.15 at 5:37 pm

Anglo immigrants to Texas and California?


Soullite 10.19.15 at 5:44 pm

Let’s all be honest here, there just isn’t any argument you can make about Merkel’s policies that would be accepted by the bloggers here. For academics, they are generally very close-minded, ideologically-centric individuals. There is no point in trying to convince anyone of something they will never accept. It is a waste of time, like arguing with Belle about feminism. There will always be some reason why ‘that’s different’.


Sebastian H 10.19.15 at 5:44 pm

In a true open borders situation how do you distinguish between whatever you’re looking for here and “state sponsored projects”? For any of the trickier political compromises 5% here or there could easily upset the balance. (Say on gay rights or the death penalty). You seem to be asking for a weird bloodless genocide, but I’m pretty sure that isn’t the actual worry.


BenK 10.19.15 at 5:48 pm

Understanding that this is a very different take on the question; speaking as an ecologist, the expansion of spatial scale probably DOES cause significant erosion of local culture, customs, institutions, and networks of trust. However, most of those expansions have occurred within nations; such that people from villages across Italy now move around, etc. Some questions are; which scales impact people the most; which have the most remaining structure; whether, with such rapid communication and transportation, multi-decade place of residence and generation-temporal-scale are the relevant concerns…


Trader Joe 10.19.15 at 5:54 pm

I’m stuggling to understand the distinction between government sponsored colonialism and non-state sponsored migration. Is the fact that the U.S. opened its doors to decades of imigrants somehow distinct from trying to keep them out but having the culutre mutate and/or incorporate over time somehow different.

As possible examples: the gradual inhabitation of Alaska has gradually driven out most semblences of orgininal Aleutians. Is this “colonialism” or simply the passage of time.

In the same way one might say the retirement of thousands of north-easterners has irreperably damaged the culture of Florida.


David 10.19.15 at 6:10 pm

If anyone is actually saying they are afraid of “cultural extinction”, they are an idiot and not worth debating with. But in most cases the anxieties are smaller and more local, and relate to how ordinary people actually experience daily life. There are areas of cities in France, for example, which were entirely European until about 25-30 years ago, but which now have a majority population from the Maghreb. Unlike the Algerian immigrants of the 1960s, this population has largely not assimilated, and is in general prevented by poverty and economic obstacles from moving out of these areas. So, there’s no church any more but there’s a mosque, the butchers are all halal, and the majority of women in the street are veiled. I suspect that any such fundamental change in the cultural environment over a relatively brief period of time, would leave most readers of this site feeling a little stranded if they happened to be from the longer-established community.


Igor Belanov 10.19.15 at 6:14 pm

The whole problem is defining ‘culture’. The social life, economic practices, traditions and philosophy of Europeans and Native Americans or Aboriginal Australians were clearly radically different and led to tragedy. In the case of modern-day English compared with Poles or even Syrians, the differences are pretty small and often less than the differences between individual English people.

I’m really struggling to define what British or English culture actually is in an exclusive sense, or why if it does exist it should make it problematic at all for me to work with Sikhs, Muslims and second generation Irish or Caribbean immigrants.


Chris Bertram 10.19.15 at 6:19 pm

Yes, I realise that the distinction between state-sponsored projects and what just happens may not be completely clear-cut, but what I have in mind by the former are deliberate state policies of forcibly displacing As by Bs, murdering all the As, forcing all the As to lose their identities by aggressive re-educational policies, and even deliberately moving lots of Bs into A territory in order to numerically overwhelm them. Of course spontaneous migration changes people and peoples over time, but usually identities continue to be available in some recognizable form. To take an example from the last comment (when I last looked) no doubt north-easterners have changed the culture of Florida, but I bet you don’t have to travel far inland to find something continuous from local the past (even if different from it by the usual processes of incremental change).


Chris Bertram 10.19.15 at 6:23 pm

David: “areas of cities”. How small? I think you’d struggle to find an area of a city in France larger than a single block where “the majority of women in the street are veiled”.


Trader Joe 10.19.15 at 6:26 pm

Thank you for the clarification. I think I understand the question better and would mostly agree there are few real modern examples. One place to look might be within the former Soviet Union where there was signficant forced migration as a means of stamping out prior indigenous culture – obviously not wholly successful, but a program as you describe nonetheless.

Currently perhaps the forced migration of Russians into Eastern Ukraine with the apparent intent to destabilize the population and forment internal discord together with the concurrent seizure of the already largely-culturally Russian Crimea might qualify (the Russians of course claiming that the indigeneous Crimea population was being held captive against their will within Ukraine).


Ronan(rf) 10.19.15 at 6:28 pm

I wouldn’t normally agree with Stephen, but I think he has a point. The “anglicisation ” of ireland (and i assume other parts of the UK, including parts of england) did lead to the decline of a quite distinctive culture , and was a pretty traumatic experience for some (but also welcomed by others) of those who lived through it, and those who came immediately after. But it was more a process of modernisation and capitalist development, which is not really what we’re talking about here. Israel/palestine is the other often used example, but that’s not really a comparable process to what we’re talking about here, either .
Obviously, at current rates of immigration, and in institutionally developed wealthy states ,the idea of the native “culture” being overwhelmed by an outside one is unlikely, to say the least . (1) Immigrants have no real collective power, (2) there is no homogenous culture to replace the native one, (3) there is no plausible mechanism that could make it happen, all the real incentives push towards integration.
But people don’t judge risk well, they tend to view things locally rather than on a larger scale, and they tend to overstate things . So we have to take into consideration where perception differs from reality , and why. Also what is meant by “cultural loss.” Perceptions exist on a spectrum, not just at two poles. What’s unnoticed by one is mourned by another. What’s worthy of loss by one is valued by another. So on and so forth. And of course different people have different levels of engagement with new immigrants, and with different categories of new immigrants. So the evidence says people will “integrate” fully eventually (probably the second or third generation) but it takes time, and people live in the present.
All of that is obvious, I guess, but that’s my input.


Sebastian H 10.19.15 at 6:32 pm

I guess a lot of it depends on what you count as essential culture. If enough Middle Easterners immigrated and voted for the return of the death penalty, would you count that as a significant shift? (You should realize that in many European countries the number wouldn’t need to be that large, as support for the death penalty is already at or above 50%). A reversal of gay rights in some countries seems very plausible, would that count?


Pat 10.19.15 at 6:33 pm

The English experiment of inedible cuisine did seem rather doomed after all those South Asians moved there. And what made South Asia think England wanted anything to do with them, anyway?


Stephen 10.19.15 at 6:36 pm

CB@9: “*the British state* pursued very aggressive policies of trying to get everyone to speak English”. If you could give references for that happening in Wales, Ireland, Cornwall or Man I would be very interested. Even more so for the Scottish state pursuing very aggressive policies of trying to get everyone to stop speaking Pictish, Goidelic, Gaelic.

As for the decline of Welsh not being ” because lots of English people moved to Wales in search of jobs, was it?”: well yes, if you were fully familiar with the history of the South Welsh coalfields (or of Pembrokeshire), you might see that was exactly what it was. Consider the English-speaking Welsh politician Kinnock, descended from an (English-speaking) Scots miner who, er, moved to Wales in search of a job.

I do think before I post, an activity I would thoroughly recommend. Do you suppose you are less sarcastic than those who disagree with you?


Chris Bertram 10.19.15 at 6:50 pm

Stephen, you may have a point re Welsh. My belief was based on what I remembered about the “Welsh not”.


Stephen 10.19.15 at 6:52 pm

Try another couple of examples. 400 AD, nobody in the present Slovenia/Croatia/Serbia/Montenegro/Macedonia/Bulgaria/Slovakia/Czechia was culturally or linguistically Slavic. A few hundred years later, they were. No state compulsion involved, only migration.

A hundred years or so ago, Kosovo was culturally and linguistically Serbian and Orthodox Christian. Now, it’s Albanian and Muslim. No compulsion by the Albanian State involved, only migration and outbreeding.


Brett Bellmore 10.19.15 at 6:54 pm

[aeiou] I would think it isn’t just cultural extinction, but also cultural conflict, that would be a concern. Like when there’s something your own culture takes almost for granted is objectionable, even heinous, that the incoming culture regards as almost obligatory. Or visa versa. Where a conflict such as that exists, peaceful coexistance is much easier at a distance.

At the risk of offending, actual data:

Cultural diversity doesn’t just mean new combinations of spices. Sometimes one culture views as a crime what another culture feels honor-bound to do.


Chris Bertram 10.19.15 at 6:57 pm

That’s enough from you Brett Bellmore.


Stephen 10.19.15 at 6:59 pm

CB@23: from what I know of the Welsh Not (from my Welsh grandparents), it did happen in some schools, but it wasn’t a matter of “‘the British state’ pursu[ing] very aggressive policies of trying to get everyone to speak English”. It was Welsh teachers trying to get Welsh children to learn English, for their long-term advantage. If you can come up with any kind of British state regulation enforcing it, I would be very interested indeed.


steven johnson 10.19.15 at 7:06 pm

The cure for non-white people moving in and outbreeding the whites is simple: White women lie down and do their part. Cf. the Duggars et al.

No need to feed the statist monster, is there?


Paul C 10.19.15 at 7:06 pm

Stephen @26:

“A hundred years or so ago, Kosovo was culturally and linguistically Serbian and Orthodox Christian. Now, it’s Albanian and Muslim. No compulsion by the Albanian State involved, only migration and outbreeding.”

I really hope that you’re joking here, because a very large element of compulsion – first on one side, then on the other – has lead us to the current situation. However it remains relevant: in the view of many Serbs, they would absolutely agree that Albanian immigration has lead to the extinction of Serbian orthodox culture in Kosovo.


Bloix 10.19.15 at 7:09 pm

Chris, the clearest example of non-state-sponsored immigration that destroyed the local culture is Hawaii, an independent kingdom until 1893. Okay, there’s still a Hawaiian culture. But it was overwhelmed by Anglo and Japanese immigration while it was an independent state.

There may be other examples, but they must be few and unusual, precisely because no state that is strong enough to control its borders has ever permitted the kind of immigration experiment you propose.

It seems to me, in fact, that your question is designed to be answerable in the way that you want it to be answered. It is meant to include only immigration to stable states which have had, until very recent times, restrictive immigration policies, and which continue to have substantial control within a larger unrestrictive area.

From the 19th c onward, every country of immigration – the US, Canada, Australia, NZ, Argentina, Britain, France, and a few others – has had strict border controls which are periodically liberalized and then made more restrictive, depending on the economy, the number of immigrants seeking entry, and the ease of assimilation of the new immigrants.

A good example is Australia. I believe it’s generally accepted that without its “White Australia Policy,” in force until the 1970’s, Australia today would be an ethnically Asian state. Current policy restricts immigration to easily assimilable people of any race as long as they have skills and money, and to a small number of asylum-seekers.

Chris, you say that “open borders within the UK” haven’t led to the demise of the Scots, Welsh, and Irish. This is a ridiculous example, because Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales are not countries of immigration.

A better example of this sort is Canada. Canada as a whole restricts most immigration to people with money, education, and business skills. But Quebec, which controls its own immigration policy, will generally keep you out unless you speak French. Other Canadians can move there, but provincial policies on education and employment make Quebec distinctly unwelcoming. If Scotland were a country of immigration, it likely would demand the same sort of immigration controls that Quebec demanded and received as condition for remaining in a federal system.

So what you are saying is that no one can find an example of cultural loss to a strong state with control of its borders, without conceding that every such state takes steps to assure that it won’t happen.


Paul C 10.19.15 at 7:10 pm

Also: I don’t think cultural *extinction* is the fear that most natives have; the fear is that the culture will change sufficiently as to alienate those that remember the culture prior to the beginning of the process. Culture changes for many reasons, but if immigration is a big factor, it seems reasonable for those natives to strongly associate the two processes.


Bloix 10.19.15 at 7:14 pm

PS- to be clear, I’m not contending that the White Australia Policy was a good thing. I’m pointing out as a fact that without it, Australia would not be culturally European and predominantly British – “an outpost of the British race,” as one former prime minister put it.


DDOwen 10.19.15 at 7:16 pm

Regarding official attitudes to Welsh in the 19th century: there’s the whole Blue Books thing that might imply that official attitudes towards Welsh speakers weren’t positive ( but as for actual legislation, I’m not sure there was any. You’d have to go back to the Act of Union for that, from what I remember. (The relevent provisions there — again, going from memory — are that English should be the official and religious language of Wales. The latter bit was subverted by Elizabeth I on the grounds that it might lead to the Welsh going over to Rome, but it took until the 20th century for the former bit to be overturned.)


David 10.19.15 at 7:31 pm

@Chris, yes, these places exist, it’s just that most people don’t go there unless they have to. And no, we’re not talking about very large areas. But that’s the point. As Ronan has also pointed out, people generalise from their own experiences, among the people they live with and see every day, the shops they patronise and the schools their children go to. Whether they are therefore “wrong” is a matter of perspective and scale. Culture, as others have remarked, is a complex thing, and means different things to different people. Cultural exchanges (where on earth would British cooking be without them?) are often positive. If you stretch the definition of culture to include political and ethical ideas, the issue is much more complex. Then, a problem arises when groups have antithetical views on a cultural issue which are not reconcilable or capable of compromise. Many ethical/cultural issues are binary rather than a question of degree – the death penalty has already been mentioned. Support for that is likely to increase mathematically, as migrants arrive from countries where it is the norm, as it was in the West fifty years ago, and settle in countries where it is no longer the norm. Likewise, the Right in France is hoovering up votes from within parts of the immigrant community at the moment, because their views on social issues tend to be more conservative than the average French voter. It’s not impossible that a government of the Right in 2017 could decide to repeal the laws on homosexual marriage, for example.
In it’s pure form, the phenomenon you are describing is almost always a product of conflict, if not actual war and forced displacement. (The example of Kosovo before 1989 is an interesting exception, as far as I know). But what is much more common is fundamental cultural change – an obvious case is the slow Islamisation of East Africa because of trade contacts and immigration from the Gulf, and the later influence of Indian culture when the British settled Indian traders there. Unlike the Arabisation of North Africa (which was violent, ask any Berber) this was basically peaceful, but over time did fundamentally change the culture of the area, and has political repercussions to this day.


Njnnja 10.19.15 at 8:21 pm

Isn’t the response you are looking for the argument against gentrification and the homogenizing effects of suburbs and strip malls?


P O'Neill 10.19.15 at 8:26 pm

It’s not going to fit your bleg as stated (and indeed maybe nothing will), but Brussels from a linguistic perspective has some elements of it: the people moving there for jobs linked to the international bureaucracies speak their own language … and French, which is not the language of the Flemish suburbs. A local issue, not a national one, but a real issue for the Flanders areas around the capital.


djw 10.19.15 at 8:27 pm

A tangential observation: Among defenders of restrictionist immigration policies, David Miller, at least, seems to making a slightly different claim than the one you’re targeting here; namely, that attempting to control cultural change is a democratic right that peoples hold, independent of how plausible their efforts are going to be. They get to try, just as a parent can try to institute a policy of no dating musicians with tattoos, not because it’s particularly likely to be effective but because it’s a kind of thing that particular agent is entitled to try to do, even if it’s not particularly effective or even necessary.

(I think that’s a weak argument for other reasons, but that’s how I read it.)


L2P 10.19.15 at 8:34 pm

“Cultural extinction” doesn’t seem like a helpful standard, does it? Few cultures become “extinct,” they simply grow less and less distinct from a dominant one. The Creek aren’t “culturally extinct,” but few would say their culture isn’t substantially diminished by Anglo-European culture. Aztec culture still exists, it’s just very diminished.

If that’s the standard, I think we can safely say that NO level of immigration will lead to cultural extension, at least not on a human time scale. Maybe in 400 years things will be different, but that’s a huge time line. If it takes longer than America has existed for something to change, maybe it’s not worth worrying about?

I’d look at American ethnography. There’s research on American relocation from state to state (bringing Southern culture to California, for instance. California was a very racist state for a while). And the initial impact of immigration into the US and how various different communities changed in different ways. German immigration into Pennsylvania and Ohio created a different culture than Norwegian immigraton into the Dakotas and Minnesota. And the Irish into Massachusetts. And etc.

What about White South Africa? Are the Afrikaans very different since Great Britain took over and started immigration?


Just An Australian 10.19.15 at 9:06 pm

Agree with @Bloix: because you’ve excluded state control, the only cases to talk about are those with no state. The Mori-Oris in NZ before the arrival of Europeans, that kind of thing.

Here in Australia, there’s a long history of lawless behaviour at the cultural interface. Over the last few generations, what the cultural interface is has changed over time, as assimilation has happened in the next generation. I think that’s why we limit immigration – to keep a lid on the lawless behaviour (btw, the lawless behaviour comes from both sides), and to allow time for assimilation to overcome that without overwhelming the forces of law and order (police, sex, money). If we were to have an open borders policy experiment, it would be an open question as to whether the forces of law and order would be overwhelmed, and what would happen after that. I vote for some other country to be the experiment


Bartholomew 10.19.15 at 9:25 pm

9: ‘It wasn’t because lots of English people moved to Wales in search of jobs, was it?’

Yes, it was (partly). About 100,000 English people migrated to the Welsh valleys in the first decade of the 20th century. This caused a sharp change in language use there and began a rapid decline in Welsh. Until then, the mining towns had grown rapidly through migration from Welsh-speaking areas, resulting in a major boost for Welsh. The English migration was entirely economic, not state-sponsored. (Source: Brinley Thomas, The Industrial Revolution and the Atantic Economy, Routledge 1993)


K.R. 10.19.15 at 9:30 pm

It does appear that there are some hyperbolic people who think that Muslim immigrants (the “problematic young Muslim males,” mostly) are going to supplant European states with some form of Shariah, but I think a lot are thinking on a much smaller scale, and will generalize on the basis of personal experience (like if the local butcher is halaal, but not kosher).

If you have very little experience with practicing muslims, it’s not difficult to get some bizarre ideas about what they’re like, to begin with. Honor is a different thing to different cultures and religions, for one example, and its reasonable to suppose that after a large influx of immigrants, parents will have to explain to their children they don’t think it’s appropriate to act in the way their child’s friend is behaving. And if that friend is muslim, and says that they’re slut-shaming, or harassing homosexuals because of religious creed, that’s going to strain things.

I had a Pakistani muslim friend in HS (Texas) whose parents were really really strict immigrants. Needless to say it was really difficult for their daughter born in America and was your typical American teenager (and her boyfriend, Hispanic descent, who converted) to navigate a culturally mixed life. I can’t imagine how it would have been if they lived in my neighborhood because the parents were apparently nose-in-everyone’s business busybodies prone to indignation. There are plenty of holier-than-thou characters as it is, but if I’m lectured about the virtues of Jesus, or what Paul said, I’ve got enough cultural heritage through osmosis to at least know to process that.

All this is about assimilation, and I think it’s fair to say that things will iron themselves out pretty well in one or two generations, but I think it’s the growing pains of the assimilation process that people will find onerous, and some then extend the difficulties therein as if they would last forever. Having a wildly inaccurate view of foreign cultures and religions doesn’t help.

Clearly, if Hungary opened their borders, they would not be at risk of becoming a nation where a widow is supposed to marry their late husband’s brother, but it’s equally wrong to assume that everyone is equally willing to undertake the interpersonal conflicts (however necessary, and however good) that come with extending experience with a foreign culture. All it takes is a few people moving into your neighbjrhood and all of a sudden people (wrongly) feel affronted at having to navigate a new culture.


K.R. 10.19.15 at 9:47 pm

Another thing to share: As as somebody mostly raised and is living in Houston Texas (spent a large part of time all over the south, as my dad was in the army), I know very many people who take a dim view of Californians who move here. The idea is that Texas has managed itself pretty well, and when people move here, they tend to it for economic reasons e.g. job growth, without altering their political views, and people see it as a recipe for disaster. Even if it’s something as simple as wanting people to stop using plastic bags at the grocery store (which, at least some Europeans do, so that’s socialist and not allowed), some people resent that a liberal family from California have an equal vote as someone who’s lived here for decades and voted (contrary to the Californian majority) against many of the political decisions that lead to (and reinforced) many of the political differences between California and Texas in the first place.


Stephen 10.19.15 at 10:04 pm

Ronan@20: it would be very tedious if everybody always agreed with everybody else. I hope that when we do disagree, we can continue to do so courteously.


Stephen 10.19.15 at 10:07 pm

Igor Belanov@16:”I’m really struggling to define what British or English culture actually is”. Query does that apply to, say, Russian, Jewish, French, Italian, Japanese, Chinese culture? If not, why not?


Stephen 10.19.15 at 10:16 pm

Paul C@31: please enlighten me as to the compulsion enforced by the Albanian State in Kosovar.


Stephen 10.19.15 at 10:19 pm

David@36: “Cultural exchanges (where on earth would British cooking be without them?) are often positive”. Indeed. Look at those wonderful examples of French cooking, le biftek (aux pommel frites) et le rosbif.


hix 10.19.15 at 11:22 pm

Maybe in some cases people really believe such hyperbolic stuff and spend a large part of the day being scared about it. In thos eextreme cases, its probably best seen as a mental health issue. That should be a small minority of UKIP or even BNP voters. With the hyperbole removed the basic argument that cultural adaption can also be stressfull for members of the majority culture is not really all that surprising.


Just An Australian 10.19.15 at 11:28 pm

@hix – my observation here in Australia is that people with grandchildren of marriageable age are most scared of this


ozajh 10.19.15 at 11:39 pm


some people resent that a liberal family from California have an equal vote as someone who’s lived here for decades

Would those people have an equal problem with an arch-conservative family moving to Texas from (for example) the Appalachians?


Adam 10.20.15 at 12:06 am

The character and culture of the United States have been dramatically changed by immigration. The arrival of Irish, Eastern Europeans, Italians, etc. changed a country that had previously been almost uniformly English and Scots-Irish Protestant. Political movements like the know-nothings, the temperance movement, and various manifestations of the rural / urban split – that continue to this vary day – reflect and embody the cultural divisions between this older America and the newer, immigrant America.

And the immigrants won in the end. The traditional white Democratic voters were Catholics and Jews in the big city, the children of these immigrants. Given that the Democratic party has championed massive cultural changes at the cultural expense of the remnant Protestant ethnie, I think it is safe to say that the US is a great counterexample.

You and I might not care, but that is purely because our side won.


Peter T 10.20.15 at 12:30 am

There’s a parallel argument about human impacts on the environment: species go extinct all the time, so why worry about this extinction? This isn’t a matter of broad principle, but of timing, degree, local impacts, rates of change. It runs against arguing from principle: if 100,000 immigrants is a blessing and 10,000,000 a curse, there is nothing that distinguishes between number 120,001 and 200,003. And that’s before taking any other qualities into account. It’s a political judgement call, like the minimum wage or the balance between trade and environment.


A H 10.20.15 at 1:38 am

Han migration into Manchuria during the Qing Dynasty is the closest to what you are looking for. After the Manchu Qing conquered Han China, they set up laws restricting Han migration to Manchuria. However because of various demographic and economic reasons, lots of Han migrated to Manchuria in the 1800s, so that today the area is overwhelmingly Han and the ethnic Manchus have been largely assimilated into Han culture.

Wikipedia has a nice article on it.

Chinese immigration to parts of southeast Asia might work as examples as well.


koreyel 10.20.15 at 1:39 am



Mitch Guthman 10.20.15 at 2:49 am


I think if you look at the three main cultural displacements being discussed here (California, Texas, and Hawaii), one common thread is that in each case there was a point at which the locals could see power slipping away and then everything was all downhill from there.

Texas is an excellent example. By the time the Mexicans became really worried about the growing numbers and strength of the incomers, it was too late to do anything about it. The incoming settlers gradually came to outnumber the Mexicans and ultimately the anglos took power and declared independence from Mexico, in part over the question of slavery.

California was a similar story. The early anglo immigrants to my home state were always more respectful of the Mexican and Spanish cultures and weren’t interested in slavery but the end result was the same from a Mexican perspective. The land was no longer theirs; Mexicans became second class citizens in the place of their birth—and over time the position of their descendants has worsened in every respect.

Hawaii was a similar story. The trickle of incomers became a flood and the anglos became powerful enough to overthrow the Hawaiian monarchy and install themselves as rulers. And, perhaps borrowing from the example of the Normans, a handful of white families gained control over nearly every square inch of the islands. Now, you could argue that Hawaiian culture wasn’t displaced because the natives could still dress up in their colorful costumes, have luaus and do the hula but basically the Hawaiians and their culture are now subordinate to American culture. From a Hawaiian perspective, it’s clear that they lost everything they had—including their culture.

I don’t feel comfortable talking about some of the other examples such as AH’s discussion of the Han migration to Manchuria or the example of Wales but it seems to me that ff one thinks about mass migrations in general (whether because a people are conquered by invaders or are displaced en mass and go looking for a new home), I can’t think of any instance in which the people on the receiving end of a mass migration got the better of the deal.


Peter T 10.20.15 at 4:41 am

“I can’t think of any instance in which the people on the receiving end of a mass migration got the better of the deal”

Depends what you mean by “mass”. Australia took in some hundreds of thousands of migrants after World War II, and then some 100,000 plus Vietnamese after 1975. Worked well for both sides – better food (and much more) for Australia, better living for them. For Aborigines, not so good. So it is, to reiterate, a numbers thing.


maidhc 10.20.15 at 5:54 am

The British government ran a centuries-long persecution campaign against the Irish and Scottish Gaelic languages, Gaelic culture and Gaelic-speaking Catholics. This included the infamous Penal Laws in Ireland, genocide by starvation and the forced depopulation of much of the Scottish Gaidhealtachd. As late as the 20th century the GPO refused to deliver letters addressed in Gaelic.

In the late 20th century Cornwall was inundated by a mass emigration of English, to the extent that they now out-number the native population, and show few signs of being willing to assimilate. Coupled with the death of traditional Cornish industries such as fishing and mining, what remains of traditional Cornish culture (the language already having been lost) is endangered.


Chris Bertram 10.20.15 at 6:24 am

@Adam Yes, I’d thought about the US. All countries change over time and few of them persist in any meaningful way beyond a few hundred years. I guess a key point for me is that the Irish and Italians didn’t arrive in the US and perpetuate Irish or Italian culture there, but that the whole evolved into something new. There are Italian Americans, of course, but they don’t resemble Italians.


John Quiggin 10.20.15 at 6:56 am

As of today, 28 per cent of Australians (6.6 million people) were born overseas. Of those, 1.8 million came from the UK and NZ, but the next four source countries were all in Asia.

In the most recent Census, 43 per cent of Australians had at least one overseas born parent


Ronan(rf) 10.20.15 at 7:23 am

Re languages, even though it might be off topic a little. My understanding of the causes of the decline of Irish specifically (from the book “an Irish speaking island “, which is apparently the latest research on it) is you could make a case that it declined by coercion and choice. Just before the famine, because of population growth, the country had the largest amount of speakers of the language ever, and the state had began to make concessions and to accommodate Irish speakers. Part of what led to its decline was explicit modernising forces (including from domestic sources such as the church and catholic bourgeoise ) but also decisions people made to (1) discard old cultural ways that were in part blamed for, and killed off by, the famine (2) people adapting to a future of increased emigration to English speaking countries, and domestically to english becoming the language of the elite (and if “progress”) So a bit of both, and it’s complicated (it seems)
This is a pretty good narrative snapshot, though perhaps long and tedious for someone not interested in the specifics , on the complex changes that immigration and emigration can have'them-poor-irish-lads'-in-pennsylvania


Chris Bertram 10.20.15 at 7:31 am

My sense of many of the putative examples, is less of incomers overwhelming local culture and more of local elites hitching their wagon to the more successful modernising project next door. Later inventions of tradition might tell a story about the imperialistic and colonizing ambition of the neighbours, but that’s often a retrospective rationalisation from a neo-nationalist perpective. I think this fits parts of the story for various constituent and ex-constituent bits of the UK, for example.


Z 10.20.15 at 8:04 am

The social norms of a normally functioning society have proved to be extremely powerful forces, so that the typical outcome of immigration is the dominant culture crushing (or, more neutrally, replacing extremely quickly) the culture of the immigrants, not the other way round, within a few years, not generations. (This empirical point is to me the strongest one in favor of the conception of naturalization that I favor and that I think you favor as well, Chris, namely that people should be full citizen of the society in which they participate.)

Insofar as islets of cultural defiance remain (like the hypothetical French neighborhoods where all butchers are halal and the majority of women are veiled; I really doubt a neighborhood satisfying the second terms of the conjunction exists, by the way, but examples satisfying the first term abound), it is overwhelmingly the outcome of prejudices of the host society: if it considers some of its members as alien, some of those will (in a perverse illustration of the power of the social norms of the host society) adopt alien behaviors (usually weakly correlated with the actual cultural practices of their culture of origins). Typical historical examples showing that this has nothing to do with immigration but everything with the inclusive or exclusive nature of the host society are jewish people in Europe or Black Americans. For an amusing recent example, for a time in the 90s, children of Turkish immigrants in Germany (who, at the time, were Turkish but not German) were more religious than Turkish people in Turkey.

Outside of genuine racism and xenophobia, which of course exists, what does happen is 1) societies evolving 2) migrations and 3) some people upset by the first falling for post hoc ergo propter hoc.


DDOwen 10.20.15 at 8:26 am

CB@62: The local elites wanting to modernise take seems to be consistent with John Davies’ take on the Blue Books affair and its fallout in his ‘Hanes Cymru’, at least when it comes to middle class Nonconformist types [1] (working class ones are a different matter). The primary driver of the Anglicisation of the Valleys would probably just be good old capitalism, I’d guess, though I doubt that the low status that Welsh had aquired particularly helped there. As Ronan says, it’s complicated. I can certainly see why someone who’s been on the wrong end of linguistic prejudice might see it in colonial terms, though, or why one might start thinking along those lines, because there are some odd attitudes to peripheral regions in some quarters. (An introduction to a story in a horror anthology I have somewhere has the author saying soemthing like ‘it’s hard to get over how strange Wales is’; ‘oh,’ I thought, ‘*that’s* what being exoticised feels like…’)

[1] Seimon Brooks has apparently made a similar point from an explicitly Welsh Nationalist perspective in his ‘Pam na fu Cymru?’ [‘Why wasn’t there a Wales?’], which seems to have poked at some sacred cows. I’ve not read it yet, mind.


Paul C 10.20.15 at 8:44 am

Stephen@47: “please enlighten me as to the compulsion enforced by the Albanian State in Kosovar.”

The *Albanian* state had nothing to do with it. The compulsion was applied / encouraged / permitted by the newly formed Kosovar political elite, who certainly saw themselves as the state at the time, and later became the state after they took over day-to-day running of ministries from UNMIK.

My personal belief is that the compulsion was encouraged/permitted rather than applied, so you may not agree that the compulsion was “enforced”, but that seems to me a distinction with limited difference. Kosovo did not become Albanian and Muslim solely through migration and outbreeding.


DDOwen 10.20.15 at 8:59 am

Before I head off to work: Another contributing factor to the impression of colonialism (though it may not be formally such) in Wales is probably the Capel Celyn incident (; that’s probably the formative moment for both Welsh devolutionism and Welsh nationalism proper.


David 10.20.15 at 9:34 am

@L2P, 40
The Afrikaner/English example is actually a very good one. English immigration into South Africa started after the takeover of the Cape Colony , but increased sharply at the end of the nineteenth century with the discovery of gold and diamonds. The newcomers came to make money. They were better educated and more modern in their views than the Afrikaners (who were still basically farmers) and, whist they were never a majority of the white population, they were urban, became rapidly wealthier and soon came to dominate the country. The Afrikaners (who had been moving not and east for generations away from the English) eventually began to organise politically after WW1 and eventually re-took power, as the Nationalist Party, in 1948. The rest, as they say, is history and not very nice history. Thus an example of the effects of immigration.


K.R. 10.20.15 at 9:50 am


Would those people have an equal problem with an arch-conservative family moving to Texas from (for example) the Appalachians?

If this type of person were politically liberal and from the city, I can see there being tension if a white-trash family who used to live in trailer park moved into the suburbs. But I think overall, since strict border enforcement is largely a conservative platform, it’s difficult find perfectly analogous situations that would go both ways. I chose California and Texas because they’re often used as political contrasts for the propoganda of both states, and are likely to butt heads on political issues as a proxy for cultural values, rather than just seeing culture or class as the defining feature.

conservative appalachia will probably have a pro-gun stance for example, and a major distrust of anything the government does, will likely be against gay marriage, against policy changes regarding climate change, will be for the death penalty, etc. They’ll be looked down on for those views in the city, and by liberals, but more likely as uncultured swine as bigots than as an affront to local popular sovereignty.

The phenomenon, as I see it, has to do with how more and more people are “voting with their feet” in order to live in communities that have agreeable political views (rather than, say, looking for a community with schools that don’t push unethically sourced history textbooks). The result of this political balkinization is that when you do move for (putatively) politically neutral reasons like a job opportunity, you end up de fact I doing this “voting with your feet” thing anyway, and not in the direction residents want.

I’d say at root, it’s similar to the conversation Europe is having about economic migrants being far inferior immigrants than refugees, with the understanding that each state’s population is to blame for relative success, and this success is largely a matter of policy. So when people do move for economic reasons it can seem like you jumped ship, on a mess you helped create, are coming over here to gain the benefits of a system you didn’t help, but if your political views match that of your previous state, you’re now part of he problem. State patriotism and loyalty probably plays some role.

Laws take a very long time (generations) to do their business (Solon, and the Torah, make a big deal about this, that the law should be written on men’s hearts, and not just followed in deed) and in the presence of a large “othered” population, I can see how one’s personal contribution to the multigenerational project of writing good laws can feel threatened by so much as increased support for the opposing party, especially if the entire set of incoming political beliefs is generally at odds with yours.


Vanya 10.20.15 at 10:24 am

The displacement and destruction of Native Americans was a state sponsored project in the Western United States. The disappearance of Native Americans in the North East was almost entirely the result of immigration of Europeans. It is striking how quickly Native Americans in New England and New York went from being a small but still viable cultural force at the end of the 18th century to being almost entirely assimilated by the end of the 19th. Canada is also an interesting example – in 1900 French was still widely spoken across Canada with significant French speaking minorities in the Maritimes, Ontario and even Manitoba. Certainly government pressure helped shift Canada to overwhelmingly Anglophone, but the government needed the numbers to do it.

Mass immigration to Europe is not going to turn Germany into an Arabic or Turkish speaking nation. However, smaller nations like Slovenia, the Czech Republic and even the Netherlands will find their native languages under pressure. Why should an ambitious immigrant studying medicine or IT and living in Prague learn Czech instead of English? What immigration will probably do is create greater homogenization of the EU over time, an even greater reliance on English and a shift to new more broadly shared “European” cultural mores, which may be a welcome long term trend, but will probably end up ironically in Europe being far less culturally diverse in a hundred years then it is today.


Igor Belanov 10.20.15 at 11:13 am

@ Vanya

What your second paragraph is describing are the effects of economic and cultural imperialism, and affect the host population almost as much as any immigrants.

We should really be discussing immigration as a symptom, not a cause.


Number 10.20.15 at 12:05 pm

It takes time for institutions to respond to cultural changes and challenges of large immigration. There are always boyfriends killing girlfriends in western countries (and less frequently the other way around). But with the influx of refugees, suddenly these killings get labeled as “honour killings” and moral panic ensues. I’ve been impressed how restrained the Canadian press has been on the latest one here, but if this had happened in the States, it would change the presidential election, not least because the killer had avoided being sent out of the country prior to the killing despite a prior sexual assault conviction:


Niall McAuley 10.20.15 at 3:19 pm

L2P writes: If it takes longer than America has existed for something to change, maybe it’s not worth worrying about?

On the contrary, anything that’s as recent and ephemeral as this flash-in-the-pan gimcrack United States is not worth worrying about – only things that last much longer than that are culturally significant, like Irish resentment of the English.


Fuzzy Dunlop 10.20.15 at 3:40 pm

If we’re going to compare such different cases as Hawai’i, the US, Texas, Australia, and France, we must ask: Do the immigrants to a given country tend to share a language, religion, and culture, or do they speak different languages, etc.? What is the relationship between a country’s rate of immigration and its tendency to assimilate immigrants? What is the discourse on immigration like (what do people think is at stake)?

If the main examples of a country’s local culture even having the potential to be overwhelmed by immigrants are Australia and Hawai’i, what stands out is that these are places with very small populations relative to (one or more of) available land, resources, and surrounding populations. So they’re not very relevant to the question of what would happen if Morocco or South Africa or South Korea had open borders policies.

I would expect the factors I mentioned above to balance each other in some cases. If people are immigrating somewhere for better employment opportunities and standard of living, then wouldn’t they be more likely to assimilate?–all the more so if immigrants don’t mostly share a common language or religion, such that the place with open borders is not essentially being assimilated into a larger cultural space? Wouldn’t an Australia that had not had the white Australia policy have likely ended up much more culturally similar to Singapore, and politically about the same?


Z 10.20.15 at 3:57 pm

You’ll need to acknowledge and address all that mysterious metaphysical stuff. And how are you gonna do it?

The exact same way we investigate rationally and act upon other products of the human mind. There are different ways to go at it, I guess, but my favored one is to show that the mysterious metaphysical stuff actually stems from very often quite concrete phenomena-often the nature of familial arrangements (e.g the relative status of men and women, the strength of parental involvement in education…) and the organization of the daily social institutions individuals interact with (schools, businesses, healthcare centers…)-and hence are in fact eminently amenable to rational discourse and political action.


William Young 10.20.15 at 4:40 pm

The scenario to worry about goes as follows: a faction of the host country invite or acquiesce to immigration because they hope the immigrants can be useful and are too small to become a threat. As time passes, the immigrants grow stronger and more numerous, the host loses power to stop further immigration. Conflict breaks out whenever the two cultures mix. Things polarize. Fingers are pointed, each side blames the other. War breaks out. One side wins. If the immigrants win, the host culture all but disappears. At worst, there is genocide.

There are many examples of this from history:

1) European colonization of North America. The first wave was peaceful and done by individual actors. The natives either did not worry about the settlers or enlisted their help to settle scores locally. As the numbers swelled, conflict broke out. Sides polarized and blamed the other for starting the conflict. Wars were fought. Peaceful coexistence became impossible. Bailyn’s The Barbarous Years: The Peopling of British North America–The Conflict of Civilizations, 1600-1675 is an excellent account of this process.

2) Meso-American tribes allying with Cortes against the Aztec power is another example.

3) The Roman Emperor Valens agreeing to allow the Goths to settle inside the borders of Rome. The whole situation has strong similarities to the contemporary refugee influx in Europe: “But they applauded the liberality of fortune, which had conducted, from the most distant countries of the globe, a numerous and invincible army of strangers, to defend the throne of Valens; who might now add to the royal treasures the immense sums of gold supplied by the provincials to compensate their annual proportion of recruits.” We know how that turned out.

4) More recently, “white-flight” in the American cities is an example. The migration was internal to a country, but had the same dynamic. The WASP elite of the northern cities were happy to have the black vote from the great migration in order to help break the power of the Irish and Italian political machines. The result was extreme conflict. Read Canarsie: The Jews and Italians of Brooklyn Against Liberalism by the liberal Jonathan Rieder, who did a multi-year ethnography in Brooklyn and wrote up his findings. Slaughter of the Cities is a corresponding account of the politics of “urban renewal” at the time. As a result, nearly all the European ethnic communities in the northern cities are gone.

5) Jewish immigration into Palestine from the late 1800’s to 1948. This was a peaceful migration that was generally supported by the ruling British. Then the British went away, and immediately conflict broke out between the two groups. Both sides blamed the other for starting the conflict. The Jews mostly won and took over, with many Palestinians exiled to the territories.

The book that really changed my mind about immigration was Amy Chua’s World on Fire. She recounts a long history of majority groups that are less wealthy scapegoating and attacking a minority group that is more wealthy. The trendline is that ethnic Europeans will be such a minority in a matter of decades. The immigration is peaceful — until it is not, but by then it is too late to do anything.


Mitch Guthman 10.20.15 at 4:57 pm

Fuzzy Donlop at 73,

Australia and Hawaii aren’t actually the main examples of a local culture being wiped out by immigrants. There were a number of others discussed, including California and Texas where immigrants largely refused to be assimilated into the Mexican culture and ultimately replaced it with their own. Another highly relevant example of cultural usurpation would be the Han migration into Manchuria that was discussed by AH at 54.

I think the small number of examples being discussed here is more the result of the way Chris has framed the question because it excludes nearly all of the many historical examples of cultures being swamped because they were the product of some kind of collective or state action on the part of the incomers. If that limitation were removed, the most obvious example of cultural obliteration that would be very familiar to most of us would be that of England

Also, in the examples of Hawaii, Texas and California, the locals weren’t simply overwhelmed by the raw numbers of immigrants but rather by the immigrants tendency to retain their identities as Americans and to strongly resist assimilation by the native cultures. Indeed, in each of these examples, the incomers seized power even though they were still only a small (but powerful) minority and justified their actions by the “moral imperative” of “civilizing” (i.e., eradicating) the local culture.

Similarly, as Vanya at 69 points out, the earliest displacements of Native Americans should indeed be on the table for discussion since those displacements were the result of immigration and not the product of deliberate choices by England. I think it’s worth noting that even when the settlers were dwarfed by the native population, they utterly rejected the culture and languages of the Native Americans. The immigrants retained their own language and largely refused to learn the languages of their new homeland. They kept manner of dress in preference to that of the natives and even kept the architectural styles of their English homeland. In short, the incomers strongly resisted assimilation.

The incomers overwhelmed and displaced the natives very quickly. But this wasn’t the result of any policy emanating from London. It was entirely the product of the settlers voracious appetite for land and their development of towns and cities that mirrored those of their country of origin.
It wasn’t until the Jackson administration that there was any significant state involvement in removing the natives from their land and eradicating their culture.

Another point worth elaboration is the one made by Ze K at 74. Their are some significant implication in your assumption that, in the absence of the “white Australia” policy, it is likely that Australia would today be ethnically, politically and culturally similar to Singapore. Even though this is something which you dismiss as a triviality, it seems clear that a very significant percentage of Australians would rather live in Australia instead of Singapore. Just as the Aboriginals almost certainly wanted to live in their version of Australia rather than in the white European one.

But, in a way, I think you have inadvertently highlighted the basic disagreement that is running through this comment thread. You seem to be making the rather breezy assumption that if being Singapore is okay with you then it ought to be okay with everybody. Essentially, I understand you to be saying that’s it irrational for people in the traditional countries of immigration to like things as they are and that it is unnecessary for the people who are the unwilling hosts for to have a say in their future since the result of immigration is always beneficial for everyone as long as being Singapore is okay with you. I think that’s the nub of many of the differences here and it’s something that isn’t being discussed buts need to be.


NickS 10.20.15 at 5:12 pm

The social norms of a normally functioning society have proved to be extremely powerful forces . . .

I’ve been thinking about how it is that both this statement and the idea that immigration will significant change local culture have strong intuitive and emotional appeal (which I think they both do).

I think it has something to do with “survivor bias” — we can easily think of examples for both in our day to day lives, and it’s difficult to weigh them and decide which examples are more representative without making some assumption about the baseline rate of change.

On one hand there are all sorts of examples of long-lasting cultures and institutions. On the other hand, whenever we’re involved with a community (be it a book group, a hobbyist sub-culture, a local community organization, or anything else) which is starting to fail, that failure usually manifests itself in one of two ways — either a bunch of new people join who don’t have the sense of shared history, and the group identity isn’t strong enough to impart that history or people leave and are never replaced and the group shrinks below critical mass.

The first case is something that most of us have experienced and reinforces the idea that immigration can disrupt the local community. But, of course, it’s difficult to tell if that’s a symptom or a cause — did the group get diluted and lose focus, or had the group lost focus/meaning and that caused the feeling of dilution.


Lupita 10.20.15 at 5:46 pm

I think it is also worth exploring the consequences of lack of immigration to wealthy countries. What is the possibility that, without an open immigration policy, population growth would stall or collapse? GDP growth stall? Debt to GDP ratio rise even more? Interest rates rise? Bubbles burst? Hedge funds go under? Wall Street crash? Why exactly is immigration so important to rich and powerful nations?

It could be that actively importing workers or just letting them in is easier in the short run than figuring out the contradiction of non-expansionary capitalism.


Nick 10.20.15 at 6:16 pm

This is a frustrating question, because large groups of people naturally form a state. The OP is basically asking for examples of cultures that have been destroyed or marginalized by immigration, when the immigrants refuse to band together and take advantage of higher levels of organization. Obviously, pretty much every example in European history is going to involve some level of state action; and as assimilation progresses, there will be more, as supporting the indigenous language or culture in schools become obviously problematic. Maybe that’s the point he’s making . . . That said, here are some possibilities, most of them within nations:

– the replacement of Irish monks in Iceland by Norse
– the replacement of Flemish speakers around Brussels by French speakers
– the replacement of Frisian speakers by Dutch speakers
– the replacement of Arab speakers by Hebrew/Yiddish speakers in Palestine
– the replacement of Saami speakers by Finnish/Swedish/Norwegian speakers
– the replacement of Scots speakers by English speakers

Just some suggestions.


Igor Belanov 10.20.15 at 6:45 pm

@ 80

‘Replacement’ isn’t really the best word, it suggests some form of ethnic cleansing which clearly isn’t the case with many of those examples. In the case of Dutch/Frisian, Saami/other Scandinavian and Scots/English the majority of people have made a conscious decision over a period of time to use more widely spoken languages in public life that offer greater prospects, social mobility or cultural opportunities. Eventually the ‘stronger’ language comes to dominate private life as well. That’s not to say that they made a free choice, just that socio-economic and political trends were propelling them in a certain direction.

Flemish and French is perhaps not the best example either, as the status of Flemish has been increasing over the past 50 years and the international status of Brussels is something of a special case.


Nick 10.20.15 at 7:01 pm

Right — that’s what cultural replacement is. If you’re not interested in state-sponsored replacement, and you’re not interested in replacement by cultural change (for whatever reason) caused by new people, and if you’re not interested in the ‘special cases’ that are examples of the latter, then what are you interested in? Flemish/French is an excellent example, since there are villages around Brussels that have changed from one to the other (i.e. cultural change) because of immigration. The international status of Brussels has nothing to do with this, it is a product of the Belgian state.

The question is about people who feel that their culture is in danger from other people moving in. All of the examples I give are arguably cases where a culture has been completely lost, or there has been an important shift, caused by outsiders who become locals (i.e. immigration).


parse 10.20.15 at 7:08 pm

I guess a key point for me is that the Irish and Italians didn’t arrive in the US and perpetuate Irish or Italian culture there, but that the whole evolved into something new. There are Italian Americans, of course, but they don’t resemble Italians.

If the issue is the loss of culture familiar to the current residents due to the influence of significant numbers of immigrants, what difference does it make if the the new culture is the same as the traditional culture of the immigrants?


Soho 10.20.15 at 7:21 pm

Non-state sponsored cultural extinction hasn’t happened within states because no state has ever allowed levels of immigration sufficiently high for it to occur. The evidence is a long way from saying that it wouldn’t happen. There’s clearly some level at which it would. If America had open borders and 3 billion people from the third world moved in over ten years America would be a very, very different place. I’m not saying that many people would actually take the opportunity to move, but all open borders arguments that I’ve heard are predicated on the assumption that only a limited number of people would actually take advantage of them.


Fuzzy Dunlop 10.20.15 at 7:42 pm

Mitch @76, I wrote that last sentence badly, I meant that Australia would be just as it is *now* politically (a multi-party democracy), and would look like Singapore culturally in the sense that people have many different ethnolinguistic origins–in Singapore, Chinese (especially southern Chinese with various native languages), Tamil, Malay, and Australia in this scenario keeps large numbers of British, Irish, and various Europeans. On the other hand, there might have been considerable white flight without the White Australia policy, with many white Australians being unwilling to live alongside Asians without a guarantee of political and social dominance. The fact that there was a White Australia policy in the first place suggests that there would have been at least some white flight without it, but surely not so much that Australia would resemble Singapore demographically. That’s why I included the discourse of immigration among the factors that need to be considered. An extreme white flight scenario might, strictly speaking, fit Chris’ definition, but it wouldn’t make sense to call this the destruction of a local culture/polity due to immigration–more like the dissolution/disestablishment of a diasporic colony b/c white supremacy was an essential part of its social contract, and couldn’t be maintained.

I did kind of skip over Texas and California (though I did acknowledge them) as cases where a native culture was overwhelmed by immigrants, and didn’t explain my reasoning for that, which is that I think they actually don’t fit the ‘not state-supported’ criteria as well as people have assumed. Even without the US government organizing immigrants to Texas and California, ongoing US westward expansion and the idea of Manifest Destiny (even if not by that name) surely had at least an indirect role. So I think these fit the bill much less well than Hawai’i, where there was an indigenous polity that was wholly supplanted/overtaken by immigrants.


Fuzzy Dunlop 10.20.15 at 8:14 pm

Also, if we’re going to talk about European colonization of northeastern North America as an example of immigrants taking over, we have to take into account demographic collapse due to disease.

More generally, I would say that instead of or in addition to talking about state-sponsored vs not state-sponsored, an important criterion is whether immigration was conceived of by the migrants as part of a program of conquest (e.g. a crusade, or jihad–or like the Israelites going to Canaan). For the early modern period (up to, say, 1800), there is a lot of overlap between diasporic colonies and imperialism (IIRC Philip Curtin calls the latter an outgrowth of the former), and even if English and Dutch settlers in the Americas weren’t supported by a state program of colonization, that doesn’t mean they didn’t see themselves as involved in a process similar to the formation of the Portuguese Empire in Asia. Ottoman colonization of Eastern Europe was similar, in that there is a lot of blurring or overlap between state-sponsored and voluntary colonization. In the 1500s, the Ottoman state would punish (or try to render politically harmless) Anatolian Turkmen clans that were seen as disloyal (having e.g. pro-Safavid sympathies) by settling them in the Balkans. But lots of Turkmen went to the Balkans on their own initiative, and many cases of state-sponsored colonization were actually just the state giving formal recognition to ‘facts on the ground’. This is the context I would put Puritan settlement of New England in–the Puritans basically resettled/exiled themselves by going across the Atlantic. Basically, asking whether the state is involved or not is less useful for times and places where states were less like Weberian bureaucracies, and had fuzzy boundaries (i.e. it’s harder to define who is working for the state & who isn’t).


jgtheok 10.20.15 at 11:47 pm

The OP seems founded on assumptions about a distinction between voluntary versus state-sponsored migration (axiomatically good versus evil, apparently). Yet various ethnic groups somehow disappeared from places they once frequented, long before anything remotely resembling a modern “state” existed. I rather suspect that how subscribers choose to classify historical examples reflects their moral judgment of outcomes more than any actual difference in mechanism.

How to classify, say, historical immigration to Taiwan? Yes, an ethnic group can become a demographic minority in its own homeland. Yes, cases where this happens likely correlate with nasty geopolitics (after all, why were the original residents unable to make territorial claims stick?). No official program of assimilation or extermination required – enough warm bodies without all that much respect for minority rights will render the original residents politically irrelevant.

Yes, conservative rhetoric about immigration is a load of fetid dingo’s kidneys. But let’s not pretend that demographic changes have no social repercussions. Lines like “Open borders within Europe haven’t caused the Germans and French to disappear” (wow, open borders did not obliterate ethnic identities within one generation!) do not convince me that OP is fully baked.


Tom Hurka 10.20.15 at 11:54 pm

What Adam says @52 about the US has a parallel in Canada. As a result of very large-scale immigration, first from Europe and then from Asia and the Caribbean, Canada went from being a nation that thought of itself as essentially British — and was at times more British than the British — to being one that defines itself largely in terms of multiculturalism. I think that’s a good thing, but it’s a large cultural change brought about by immigration.


eric titus 10.21.15 at 12:21 am

There are plenty of cases from throughout history–I’d also throw the Italian/German migrations to Latin America as a case of dramatic cultural changes. But what is just as common is that a lack of integration results in a majority/minority dynamic results from both groups attempting to preserve their own cultures. I’m thinking of places like Sri Lanka or East Africa where ethnic distinctions have proved incredibly resilient. The Gulf States are an extreme example where rights given to new migrants are fairly minimal and one can imagine ethnic distinctions surviving long term. The worst case scenario is that these differences result in violence, often by the group in power. But minority groups can “revolt” as well, especially if they have difficulty adapting culturally or economically. But looking historically it’s surprising how common it is for states to step in to help maintain distinctions between groups.


js. 10.21.15 at 12:32 am

I’m struggling to think of any cases of cultural extinction due to the kind of immigration that results from individuals and families simply choosing to move to another country for a better or different life.

I see the point of the question you’re asking, but I think you’re setting the bar too low. The people who are opposed to immigration to Europe or the US from—oh, I don’t know, places where (certain kinds of) brown people live—these people presumably aren’t clamoring to curtail New Yorkers moving to Florida or whoever it is that moves to Colorado moving there, etc., even though “cultural loss” is a live possibility in these cases—and if some of the comments are to be believed, an actuality. So if the cultural loss argument is to work, by their own lights, the loss involved has to be categorically worse than that suffered in the Florida, Colorado, etc. cases.


hist 10.21.15 at 1:16 am

The late Roman Empire is the obvious analogy for the weak and bureaucratic EU.
EU = Roman Empire
refugees from middle east = barbarians
ISIS = Dshinghis Khan


js. 10.21.15 at 1:33 am

The nice thing about this thread (in one sense of “nice”) is that cultural anxieties about immigration are oh so fully in display.

(Maybe this was CB’s point?)


Bloix 10.21.15 at 1:54 am

#91 – “you’re setting the bar too low.”
Too low? Chris has set the bar at “cultural extinction.” As long as “identities continue to be available in some recognizable form,” no one has a right to complain. And by implication, anyone who does complain or even worry is a racist.


js. 10.21.15 at 2:31 am

Look, all I want is a bit of consistency. As far as I can tell, motherfuckers aren’t getting up in arms about retirees moving to Florida—nary a peep about it, it seems to me. So whatever the brown hordes are going to do to Europe has to be categorically worse than all the other kinds of migrations that plausibly lead to cultural loss but aren’t ones that these people find all that troubling, if their pronouncements or lack thereof are to be believed. And I just think it would help all of us if they spelled out why the brown hordes would be so much worse. Is all I’m saying.

(In case this isn’t blindingly obvious, the retirees thing is half in jest.)


The Temporary Name 10.21.15 at 2:40 am

I think Bloix is concerned that Israel isn’t doing its part to take in Syrian refugees.


Sebastian H 10.21.15 at 3:46 am

“As far as I can tell, motherfuckers aren’t getting up in arms about retirees moving to Florida—nary a peep about it, it seems to me.”

Oh really? Its only anecdata, but my friends in Florida are constantly complaining about how NY and NJ retirees are ruining their neighborhoods.


js. 10.21.15 at 4:00 am

I was thinking about the sort of people CB references—Sidgwick/Walzer types. But really, if migration across state* borders is on a par with retirees moving Florida, as far as cultural loss is concerned, then I’ll happily concede the argument. (Presumably, opposition to one implies opposition to the other, again as far as grounds of cultural loss are concerned?)

*”State” as in nation-state.


Chris Bertram 10.21.15 at 5:16 am

Thanks to all those who have contributed useful examples to think about. Less thanks to those who are determined to attribute views and ulterior motives. Of course countries change because of immigration, and it was no part of my thought that they don’t. But even without immigration, if you leave a country for, say, 30 years, and come back, you’ll find that it is not recognizable as the one you left.


John Quiggin 10.21.15 at 5:38 am

Wouldn’t an Australia that had not had the white Australia policy have likely ended up much more culturally similar to Singapore, and politically about the same*?

The White Australia policy was abolished nearly 50 years ago (in practice, technically it was scrapped earlier). From 1901, when it came in, to WWII, migration was relatively limited anyway. The big postwar migration, while almost entirely European, brought in people very different from the “98 per cent British” prewar population (Aborigines were literally not counted).

We’ve had millions of migrants since the end of White Australia, with non-racial entry criteria. In political terms, they’ve made no obvious difference. Some groups (mostly from countries with rightwing governments) have supported the leftish parties, and vice versa.

With unrestricted migration, as opposed to large scale but controlled migration, things might be different. But I don’t think that the White Australia policy as such made a big difference.

* If I read your clarification correctly, “the same as it actually is”


lurker 10.21.15 at 5:39 am

@82, Igor Belanov
In case of the Sami, it depends on the time scale you choose.
The Sami in Finland have historically mainly lost ground as a result of Finns moving in and outnumbering and assimilating them. ‘Finland’ was originally just the bit in the southwest that’s still called ‘Finland Proper’. Present-day ‘Lappland’ is where there were still Sami left after the wave of settlement in the 16th and 17th centuries.


John Quiggin 10.21.15 at 5:42 am

Tom Hurka @89 It’s self-evident that, if your cultural identity includes the requirement that you live in an ethnically homogeneous community, it will be challenged by the arrival of people who are different. I don’t think it’s raising the bar to exclude this as an example.


Tabasco 10.21.15 at 7:08 am

Russian migration to Israel in the 1990s cemented Likud domination, and snuffed out the last vestiges of socialist kibbutz culture.


Vanya 10.21.15 at 7:35 am

” But even without immigration, if you leave a country for, say, 30 years, and come back, you’ll find that it is not recognizable as the one you left.”

I went back to Japan after a 2o year break (1989 to 2009) and it was shocking how almost nothing had changed, at least superficially. Even the prices in restaurants had barely moved.


Ronan(rf) 10.21.15 at 7:59 am

“Europe has to be categorically worse than all the other kinds of migrations that plausibly lead to cultural loss but aren’t ones that these people find all that troubling”

Immigration from Eastern Europe has been one of the main factors driving the hostility to migrants over the past decade , and EU membership is absolutely seen by some as diluting and undermining local cultures. Obviously migration from more culturally distinct regions (with racial , religious differences etc) is going to be more prone to exaggerated concerns of “cultural loss”, it’s pretty much built into it definitionally, but it’s not the only factor . You absolutely *do* even hear of “blow ins” and people moving i n country upsetting local circumstances (again obviously not at the same scale )
People are entitled to their concerns, and to voice them. If we want a global economy and cosmopolitan society that locks out a significant amount if people, and that is driving change at a fast pace then we have to expect there will be reactions to that. People reacting to change isn’t exactly historically unprecedented , and within historical context has actually been quite limited so far


Stephen 10.21.15 at 8:40 am

CB@6L: if you include the eclipse of the Welsh and Irish languages among your examples of “local elites hitching their wagon to the more successful modernising project next door” then you are partly correct, though massive immigration also had something to do with it, as Bartholomew@42 pointed out. May I point out, as non-sarcastically as possible, that the process you mention is remarkably different from your original claim of *the British state* pursu[ing] very aggressive policies of trying to get everyone to speak English.


Stephen 10.21.15 at 12:01 pm

One other example that I don’t think anyone has mentioned: around at the beginning of the fifth century AD, the peoples of lowland Britain were mostly Christian, spoke British or Latin, and had an economy centred on cities and villas. A few generations later, they were none of these things. Would that count as an example of cultural extinction as a result of immigration?


Eric titus 10.21.15 at 1:12 pm

@99 Chris
You could make this argument about any policy! Now you seem to be calling for a study with “controls” rather than throwing around anecdotes.

Suffice to say there’s historical evidence for cultural change–not that this justifies anti-immigrant rhetoric! And my reading is that cultural integration is the exception rather than the rule.


Nate 10.21.15 at 1:14 pm

People fear change. They fear people and things they do not understand. I think that is the root of it. The thing is – once they actually meet someone who is an immigrant, they usually tend to like them as a person. People are confusing.


mb 10.21.15 at 5:36 pm

The concern is not so much “erosion of difference” as multiplication of difference within a given political space, leading to social fragmentation, reduced communication and trust, less civic and class solidarity and less willingness to pay for public goods, as per the well known Putnam study

This discussion on countries as providers of club goods is a bit abstract but also mildly relevant:


Bill Hamlin 10.21.15 at 10:28 pm

I have one. Consider you’re an Indian living in Massachusetts in 1619…


notsneaky 10.21.15 at 10:48 pm

(I haven’t read any comments above)

Lithuania/Lithuanian maybe comes close. Between roughly end of 15th century until end of 18th century Lithuania was united with Poland (sometimes more, sometimes less). While it wasn’t primarily immigration that was responsible, it played a role in voluntary Polonization that occurred, up to a point where the Lithuanian language was close to dying out (local customs much less so) .

That’s sort of an exception though.


Bloix 10.22.15 at 12:57 am

#100 – “I don’t think that the White Australia policy as such made a big difference.”
If a majority of people living in Australia today were ethnic Han Chinese, and most of the rest were ethnic Malay, you don’t think that would make a big difference?

“We’ve had millions of migrants since the end of White Australia, with non-racial entry criteria.”
Right. The criteria nowadays are having desired skills and speaking English. Quotas are applied. Over 90% of Australians are of white, European descent. Only 8% are Asian. The UK is still by far the largest source of immigrants to Australia, followed by New Zealand. Until last year, Australian immigration officials went on TV to tell refugees:

“No Way: You Will Not Make Australia Home”


Fuzzy Dunlop 10.22.15 at 2:16 am

Bloix @113, I think the key words in JQ’s comment @100 are “as such”, so as you observed, while the entry criteria are not racial, they have a (surely intended) effect of making immigration much easier for white people.


Bloix 10.22.15 at 2:59 am

#100 – “From 1901, when [the White Australia policy] came in, to WWII, migration was relatively limited anyway.”

What in the world is the word “anyway” doing in that sentence? In the 1920’s, over 300,000 Britons emigrated to Australia, most of them subsidized by the Australian government. At the same time, strict quotas were placed on immigration of southern Europeans, including Italians, and Asian immigration was flatly prohibited. How many displaced Chinese would have migrated to Australia during the period of more or less unceasing war from 1911 to 1950, if they could have?


John Quiggin 10.22.15 at 4:25 am

The UK is still by far the largest source of immigrants to Australia, followed by New Zealand.

This isn’t true of current migration flows (as opposed to the entire overseas-born population) . China and India have recently been the two biggest sources, though the numbers bounce about quite a bit.


Ragweed 10.22.15 at 5:27 am

The European settlement of North America has been grossly misrepresented up-thread, particularly in regards to English colonization (with Fuzzy Dunlop a notable exception). In particular the claim that the colonies were some sort of natural immigration and not part of state action.

From the very beginning, the settlements in North America were done under royal authority, and within the framework of European claims of conquest. The establishment of a colony in Virginia was directly in response to Spanish, French and Dutch claims, to exploit the wealth and labor they saw as being present in the colonies, and to create a protestant world power. When Sir Walter Ralegh and Richard Hakluyt proposed the establishment of a colony, they petitioned to Queen Elizabeth for Royal Charter. The ships may have been ostensibly “private”, but they acted in the name of the queen.

The first settlers, particularly in Jamestown, were aware of the precariousness of their situation and were diplomatic about their aims and relations with the Powhatan’s, but also clearly had in mind a conquest, not an immigration (at least the leadership did – there were a lot of complaints about colonists deserting the colony and “going native”, so not everyone was convinced of English superiority). From the beginning they tried to get Wahunsonacock, the Powhatan Sachem, to accept the authority of King James I as “his father”.

Likewise the Plymouth colonists went after first obtaining Royal warrant. The very first treaty with the Wampanoag, made after the disastrous winter of 1621, said “King James would esteem of him [Massasoit, leader of the Wampanoag] as his friend and ally…” which the colonists described as an agreement to become a subject of the King, not an equal. And as FD points out upthread, the Native populations where both colonies started had been devastated by European diseases with as much as 75% mortality rates. (which at least the boosters of the colony were aware of).

Those first English colonies were a far cry from anything we think of as immigration. They were and clearly saw themselves the forefront of the conquest of the America’s, land that had been claimed by European powers who claimed authority over the entire population and intended to “civilize” the “savage” and bring the “heathen” to Christianity. And they came with military leaders and weaponry to help secure their claims.

So, yea, if Mexico and Brazil started making sovereign claims over portions of the US and Canada, or Syria and Eqypt, with their superior military technology, started talking about settling the “wilde and empte lands” of Dover, I might get concerned. But that’s not at all what we are talking about.


Abbe Faria 10.22.15 at 7:16 am

“I’m struggling to think of any cases of cultural extinction due to the kind of immigration that results from individuals and families simply choosing to move to another country for a better or different life… In the absence of deliberate state action and political mobilization, peoples of ethnic, cultural, religious, or linguistic distinctiveness seem to be pretty robust entities.”

“@josh – well the worries that get voiced are often rather incoherent, but a lot of UKIPpers in the UK (and certainly those to their right) will claim that their country is about to disappear because of immigration.”

That’s because unlike you the UKIPers correctly see the entire project of political union and harmonisation across Europe as state sponsored. And the refugee housing and resettlement programs. And the mosque building programs. And the EU cultural exchange, and multicultural and anti-racist education programs. And the Arabic teaching programs. And so on… It’s all deliberate state action and political mobilization.

What’s incoherent is viewing the UK teaching English to its citizens as “very aggressive policies”, while portraying the elephant in the room as merely “individuals and families simply choosing to move to another country for a better or different life”.


David 10.22.15 at 9:26 am

There’s an assumption in some of these posts, as elsewhere, that migrant communities are homogeneous with themselves and over time. This is not necessarily true. Some problems in Europe arise from a change in the nature of the community that already exists, others from a change in those who arrive.
In France, to repeat, the nature of immigration from the Maghreb has changed fundamentally over the last twenty years. Many immigrants are now from the deeply traditional Tunisian countryside, but even second-generation immigrants, for reasons we can discuss elsewhere, have tended to become more traditional and radicalised. That’s why, to repeat, there are parts of the French suburbs where young women can’t go out without their heads uncovered (though their mothers might have done) for fear of verbal and even physical abuse.
What we’re often dealing with is less immigration itself than the resultant strain on immigrant communities, and the tension between those who wish to assimilate and the others. And immigrant communities can be victims their own members, especially organised crime, which often hitches a ride; This happened when the Albanian mafia come to London in the late 1990s with Albanian Kosovar refugees and took over the drugs trade. It happened more recently in Syria, where Syrian organised crime controls much of the country. No intelligent organised crime group is going to pass up a business opportunity like that in richer country. The first victims, of course, are the other immigrants, even if the image of the whole community suffers.


Chris Bertram 10.22.15 at 11:30 am

One of the benefits of threads such as this is that people out themselves as raving bigots by writing about “state sponsored” “Mosque building programs”. @AbbeFaria, go away and don’t come back.


Walt 10.22.15 at 12:01 pm

What does “state-sponsored mosque-building program” mean?

I find myself thinking that these anti-immigrant freak-outs are like an autonomic reflex. The freak-out happens, and then people invent transparent bullshit after the fact to rationalize the freakout. It’s such a powerful reflex that if we want to have a humane politics in the future, we need to articulate some strategy to cope with the reflex. Shaming people into repressing it doesn’t seem enough. Maybe we can wait it out and it will go back into abeyance when the economy normalizes, but it’s an impulse that seems like it will always be with us.


SamChevre 10.22.15 at 12:22 pm

What does “state-sponsored mosque-building program” mean?

There are a range of possibilities.

In this thread’s context, it doesn’t seem that “state-sponsored” is clearly defined–I’d say mosque (and church, and shopping center) building in most parts of the US is state-sponsored in the same way that the Puritan settlement in Massachusetts was state-sponsored–it’s done with state permission but not state funds.


Nick 10.22.15 at 12:23 pm

I think that what’s interesting also about the ‘cultural death’ fear is what it shows about the person’s assumptions. Compare it to how one thinks about one’s children — is it OK for them to do something I haven’t? Is it OK for them to change their religion? Perhaps move to another country? Is it OK if, 100 years after I’m dead, my grandchildren speak a different language and live very differently than I did? If not, how about 200? 300? How long is my lineage going to cling to the things that I favour?

Same with the culture — in 50 years, I’ll be dead. Do I insist that the people who I live with continue to care about the things I care about today? Live like I do? When you’re trying to preserve your ‘culture’ you are basically answering ‘YES!’ to this question.

For myself, the abstract idea of ‘wanting to preserve your culture’ sounds normal; but when I actually look at what it implies, not so much. My kids, and the people around me, can go ahead and change all they want and live how they wish, and it’s OK if I wouldn’t recognize their lives, 100 years from now. I think at its heart, the debate about immigration is a debate about how much we try to control things that I, at least, feel are outside the range of normal concerns, and a bit silly. As for the fact that this seems silliest of all when done by a group that is the powerful majority of a country, and somewhat less silly when done by minorities, that requires more unpacking than a comment thread warrants.


Fuzzy Dunlop 10.22.15 at 1:56 pm

Bloix @111 How many displaced Chinese would have migrated to Australia during the period of more or less unceasing war from 1911 to 1950, if they could have?

Maybe not as many as you think. As I understand it, one thing people have consistently found studying immigration is that very few people who could migrate do migrate, and then where they do go is determined a lot by what places they know about, often through previous migrants from their area (i.e. chain migration), and of course how much money they have. So it might actually have taken a lot more than just an open borders policy to drastically increase the number of Chinese migrants to Australia from 1911-1950 (or rather, it might have taken a very long time for an open borders policy to result in vastly higher levels of migration, especially in the 1st half of the 20th century when motorized transportation wasn’t ubiquitous).

Nick @123 For myself, the abstract idea of ‘wanting to preserve your culture’ sounds normal; but when I actually look at what it implies, not so much. My kids, and the people around me, can go ahead and change all they want and live how they wish, and it’s OK if I wouldn’t recognize their lives, 100 years from now.

Besides which, pretty much nobody I’ve ever heard defend “Western Civilization” actually likes Western Civilization as it is. What they actually like, when you get down to brass tacks, is what Western Civilization would have been like, according to some bizarre theory of theirs, if not for ‘multiculturalism’, ‘decadence’, or whatever the most current term of abuse is.

Same with other people who claim to want to preserve their culture. An extreme case is all of the language reform projects in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern nations in the 20th century, and related cultural reform projects. (Not that these projects were motivated by a fear of immigrants–it was more like ‘we would not have fallen behind Europe if only it weren’t for the corruption of our culture by Arab/Persian/Turkish/whatever culture.’) Apparently even Greek cooking was ‘reformed’ to make it more ‘European’ by introducing/increasing use of heavy cream sauces such as are used in French cooking (which I presume hadn’t ever been used to that extent in Greek cooking), because Greece was ‘really’ a European country, which I guess meant it should be more like France, and was held back in this respect by the 400-year Turkish occupation. (All of this fits Corey Robin’s ‘Reactionary Mind’ theory quite well I think.)


Igor Belanov 10.22.15 at 3:24 pm

To be fair, mosque-building programmes in Western Europe are state-sponsored. By the Saudi Arabian state.


Sebastian H 10.22.15 at 3:50 pm

A huge number of the explanations above about why immigration shouldn’t be so scary are precisely the same as the creative destruction arguments used in support of capitalism. (Economy/culture is an emergent property from the actions of lots of people doing their own thing. Economy/culture isn’t hurt overall by the change caused by new people/industries overtaking old ones. Economy/culture shouldn’t be considered a static object. The damage to economy/culture really comes from state meddling not the ‘natural’ process)

It is odd how many on the right seem to whole heartedly embrace the capitalism argument but reject the open borders argument, and how many on the left seem to reject or want to significantly problematize the creative destruction in capitalism argument but embrace the open borders argument. It seems as if Quiggin might be the only person who is consistent on the issue. (And I include myself in the criticism).

In the absence of deliberate state action and state sponsored projects, has capitalism ever led to the complete extinction of a people?


Bloix 10.22.15 at 5:30 pm

#124 –
it’s been estimated that six and half million people starved to death in the 1927-1936 phase of the Chinese Civil War. During the following Japanese invasion and occupation, 20 million were killed and 100 million were made homeless.

Presumably that level of disruption would have led to some number of people emigrating if there had been welcoming places to go.

During WWII, Australia did accept a few Chinese refugees, mainly from Hong Kong – and then expelled them after the war. In absolute terms, not just percentage terms, the ethnic Chinese population in 1947 was lower than it had been 1901.

I’m not trying to turn this thread into a discussion of Australia per se. My point is that Australia is an example of a state that has consistently adopted a strong border control policy for the purpose of maintaining its existing culture (the right-wing position), or allowing slow change at a level that the residents are comfortable with (the left-wing position). And this is what states do.

Chris’s question has no answer because there is no state that has permitted the mass immigration that could result in the sort of cultural loss he is looking for. It’s a pure “no true Scotsman” situation. Any state so weak that it allows massive, uncontrolled immigration is not, in Chris’s view, allowing immigration at all – it is suffering displacement of native peoples or some other phenomenon that defines away its relevance.


LFC 10.22.15 at 6:04 pm

Ten years ago an article appeared with the interesting title “When States Prefer Non-Citizens Over Citizens: Conflict Over Illegal Immigration into Malaysia”, Int’l Studies Quarterly v.49 n.1. Author is Kamal Sadiq. Had to do with why, for various reasons, Malaysia was encouraging illegal immigration by Filipinos and Indonesians. Beyond that I don’t remember the details, but thought it might be worth mentioning as a presumably unusual case.


Map Maker 10.22.15 at 7:00 pm

Many of these arguments echo concerns over gentrification. Cultural extinction is a high bar, and I would think many of the nativists protesting immigration and gentrification are not really worried about extermination, but rather a cultural loss.


Bloix 10.22.15 at 7:38 pm

#129 – yes, of course. Chris’s use of the two terms interchangeably makes the discussion quite a bit less focused than it could be.


Stephen 10.22.15 at 8:11 pm

Bloix@127: what I’m not clear about is whether Chris is in fact arguing that states should allow massive, uncontrolled immigration. I think that some advocates of states without borders do actually want that: but Chris can no doubt speak for himself. Chris: if so, why? If not, why not?


Bloix 10.22.15 at 10:53 pm

Stephen, I don’t mean to imply that Chris is arguing in favor of massive, uncontrolled immigration. In past posts he’s made his concerns clear. But look at the conclusion of this OP – he can’t think of a case in which a culture was driven to extinction by immigration, THEREFORE. although some people may think that national groups “needed borders and border control to preserve themselves, mostly they don’t.”

The examples he gives of open borders that, he says, prove his case, aren’t open borders at all – they’re restricted to people who are culturally similar to the country of immigration, and who are not in the sort of desperate straits that would lead them to emigrate from their home countries in the millions.


Dave Heasman 10.22.15 at 11:20 pm

What does “state-sponsored mosque-building program” mean?

Well, in England I assume it means the Saudi-sponsored mosques and madrassas. No?


Layman 10.22.15 at 11:30 pm

“Many of these arguments echo concerns over gentrification. Cultural extinction is a high bar, and I would think many of the nativists protesting immigration and gentrification are not really worried about extermination, but rather a cultural loss.”

How does a cultural loss occur? No one can take away my culture. Concerns about ‘cultural loss’ are concerns about others exercising freedom in a way one doesn’t like. Even if there is some real concern there, the problem is that complaining about how others could adversely impact the culture if we let them be free has historically been the most common form of dog whistle politics.


Mitch Guthman 10.22.15 at 11:57 pm

Layman at 134,

Interesting point of view. You might want to ask your local druid about this. Of course, if he’s too busy engaging in the vibrant Celtic culture that’s thriving everywhere in England and France, you could try asking an Anglo-Saxon. Let me know what you find out.


Adam 10.23.15 at 3:19 am

The demographically driven rise of the Shia in Lebanon is another good example.

Because, really, the question here is whether an increase in the number of people in one group within a state can affect the dominant culture within that state. Whether from immigration or higher birth rates, the question is whether the dominant culture is able to assimilate groups faster than those groups can otherwise grow.


The Temporary Name 10.23.15 at 4:43 am

One of the issues on which the Tories lost the Canadian election was openness to refugees, and there’s a pretty well-handled discussion of some of that (mostly about niqab bans) here:


HoosierPoli 10.23.15 at 12:01 pm

Personally I struggle to think of any time in history where a large amounts of normal, garden-variety immigration made the target country worse, and there are a lot of examples to the contrary, where immigration was a crucial and important phenomenon. The opposition to it probably comes from the same part of the reptilian brain as mercantalism, that imagines that every time you gain something, I must lose something equivalent.


Layman 10.23.15 at 1:07 pm

Mitch Guthman @ 135, I rather think the Celts make my point. If you think not – if you think their culture was ‘lost’ because of ‘immigration’ – please do explain further.


Map Maker 10.23.15 at 6:21 pm

Hoosier, Ironically I was just in South Africa where I heard that exact argument made many times, but not about their more recent immigration crisis (Zimbabwe), but rather the prior immigration crisis (English settlers).


hix 10.23.15 at 6:35 pm

One reason why a medicine student the czech Republik would lern Czech is that it woulds save him 20k in tuition fees a year since locallanguage programs ate tuition free while the English ones are rather for rich western Europeans that did not make the gpa cut at home. Another one would be that czech courses could be mandatory for english language program attendants, or maybe one would just like to be able to talk with the adminstrative staff at the student accomodation to give one rather crucial example for a group that is very unlikely to speak English among many. At least for me with my horrible czech my impression was that foreign med students in the english language program spoke quite well czech after some time there :-).


Layman 10.23.15 at 8:09 pm

Map Maker @ 140, I’m tempted to say that there’s a difference between immigration and colonialism, but it’s been said many times before already, and if it hasn’t registered by now, I doubt repetition will do the trick.


Mitch Guthman 10.23.15 at 8:59 pm

Layman at 142,

You’re right that repetition won’t help but straightforward explanation and argument might be helpful. From the perspective of the Hawaiian, how is what has happened to him and his culture preferable or even different (except perhaps in degree) from what happened to the Celts or the Anglo-Saxons?


Layman 10.23.15 at 10:01 pm

@ Mitch Guthman, I’d say that’s the wrong question. The right question is, is immigration the cause of the plight of any of those groups, or is it something else which is the cause?


Watson Ladd 10.23.15 at 10:57 pm

Neo-Assyrian Empire became Aramaic speaking as a result of mass settlement of Aramaic speaking tribespeople. The Roman Empire was mentioned upthread. Also large areas of what used to be Slavic became German because of immigration by German speakers, which then lead to several centuries of back and forth.


Mitch Guthman 10.24.15 at 2:45 am


I’m certainly no historian but I do have a pretty strong feeling that if the Angles, Jutes and Saxons hadn’t emigrated to England they wouldn’t have slaughtered huge number of Celts before finally subjugating them and obliterating their language and culture. So, yes, I think it’s fair to say that immigration was the root of their problem. Certainly it wasn’t “something else” from a Celtic perspective.


Peter T 10.24.15 at 6:28 am

Pedantically correcting Watson

Aramaic was a West Semitic language which spread through trade and contact to become the lingua franca of the Near East. Its adoption as the working language of the Achaemenid Empire probably hastened this. There is no evidence that Babylonian and Assyrian (themselves forms of the older Akkadian), Hebrew or the various other West Semitic languages were replaced by migration – it was more an evolution.

Slavs seem to have sort of oozed slowly into areas that were previously Germanic-speaking, but had lost population due to migration into what had been the West Roman Empire.


Stephen 10.24.15 at 9:21 am

Were the lands which are now Bulgaria, and the former Jugoslavia, ever Germanic-speaking?

And is not “sort of oozing slowly” exactly the kind of non-state-driven migration that CB thinks does not lead to cultural extinction?


tony 10.24.15 at 12:05 pm


Ronan(rf) 10.24.15 at 1:28 pm

“and how many on the left seem to reject or want to significantly problematize the creative destruction in capitalism argument but embrace the open borders argument”

This is a strange claim to make, especially considering most people here appear to disagree with CB. I think a more convincing case could be made for social issues (particularly drugs, where I think people consistently understate the negatives associated with legalisation ) but it isn’t unusual that both “left and right ” would have institutions and norms and policies they want to maintain, and ones they don’t find value in.
Personally, I think our politics these days is too concerned with morality and ethics, and too little on the much aligned “technocratic” aims of problem solving and controlled progress. There is something from the left and right these days of the 1950 irish elites ideal citizen; religious, austere, nationalist, pious, willing to sacrifice material interest for abstract notions of the greater good. An overabundance of ethics and lack of pragmatism. Of course when this runs into people, in all their messiness , as they really are, the results aren’t exactly as expected.


Layman 10.24.15 at 3:39 pm

Mitch Guthman @ 146:

I’m certainly no historian but I do have a pretty strong feeling that if the Angles, Jutes and Saxons hadn’t emigrated to England they wouldn’t have slaughtered huge number of Celts before finally subjugating them and obliterating their language and culture. So, yes, I think it’s fair to say that immigration was the root of their problem. Certainly it wasn’t “something else” from a Celtic perspective.

Yes. In a similar vein, many Germans immigrated to Russia starting in 1941, but Russian culture survived because, surprisingly, many more Russians immigrated to Germany in 1945. The latter immigration had profound consequences for the German culture of the time. It reminds me of the time many Americans immigrated to Japan, too.


Kenny Easwaran 10.24.15 at 3:52 pm

I’m surprised that out of 150 posts, only three or four have mentioned gentrification and neighborhood replacement. What ever happened to the Irish working class community of the Castro in San Francisco? And the various waves of ethnic replacement in Manhattan’s Lower East Side? And while I suppose the old Jewish community of Los Angeles’ MacArthur Park neighborhood has still left Langer’s Deli as a remnant, the question now is how long will the Salvadoran culture hold out against the inevitable wave of speakeasy cocktail joints and indie music venues that are certainly on their way.


Kenny Easwaran 10.24.15 at 3:57 pm

Also, Texas is an interesting case – it never had a very large Spanish population – Moses Austin (and then his son Stephen F. Austin) was invited to bring a bunch of immigrants from Missouri to bring European culture to the frontier region that was still dominated by native peoples. After the Mexican revolution, there was still an uneasy acceptance of an Anglo-dominated state, until a change in the constitution triggered a further independence movement by this population. San Antonio, and more likely Galveston and Nacogdoches, probably had significant replacement of Spanish/Mexican culture by Anglo culture. But my understanding is that in the Rio Grande Valley that culture managed to persist, and in the region between Dallas, Austin, and Houston, the Anglos didn’t have many Spanish/Mexicans to replace (though replacing the Hueco Indians with the town of Waco may be symptomatic of various other things that went on).


A H 10.25.15 at 12:33 am

@ 147 Peter T

And don’t forget that original peaceful cultural replacement, the shift from Sumerian to Akkadian speaking elite in Mesopotamia in about 2000BC.


Peter T 10.25.15 at 12:39 am

@150 and @146

I’m a bit out of date, but the archaeology and texts point to Saxon migration into Britannia before the Romans left (late Roman official in charge of North Sea frontier defence was the “Count of the Saxon Shore”) – part peaceful, part not. The pace stepped up after the Romans left, and the records are so few that it’s hard to really know. But the genetics point to fairly small numbers of immigrants. In a world with many fewer people, more empty spaces, weak and fragmented government, lots of routine local violence, it was easier for immigrants to filter in, establish enclaves and then merge or dominate by purely local processes.

IIRC, Bulgaria was Greek-speaking, Yugoslavia Latin, both with older languages underneath and large pockets of Sarmatian or Germanic-speaking settlement (often under Roman auspices). The whole volker-wanderung narrative of massed barbarians moving in has come in for major revision in the last decade or so.

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