Thursday, August 18, 2016

Bob Rowthorn on National Identity and Neoliberal Capitalism

Bob Rowthorn, a former Marxist and left heterodox economist, puts his finger on one of the most important issues in the world today, even though he wrote this in 2003:
“In both scale and speed, the transformation [sc. by mass immigration into Europe] that is now underway is without precedent. Britain is not alone in this respect. Many countries in Western Europe are undergoing a similar change in their ethnic and cultural composition through immigration and differential fertility, and in many of them the subject is forcing itself up the political agenda.

There are various reactions to these developments. At one end of the spectrum are the extreme cosmopolitans, who view nation states and national identities as a dangerous anachronism. At the other end are the ethnic nationalists who wish to defend the purity of their own nation against all comers. My own position lies between these extremes. Immigration on a modest scale brings benefits in the form of diversity and new ideas, but the pace of the present transformation in Europe worries me. I believe it is a recipe for conflict. I also believe that nations are historical communities that have the right to shape their own collective future as they see fit, and to resist developments that undermine their identity and sense of continuity. I do not believe that national identity can, or should, be refashioned at will by a cosmopolitan elite to accord with its own vision of how the world should be. Many nations, especially in Europe, have deep roots and their existence promotes the global diversity that cosmopolitans claim to value. Many cosmopolitans accept the right of ‘oppressed peoples,’ such as the Palestinians, to a homeland and identity, but they regard such aspirations as illegitimate when expressed by the historic majorities of western Europe. ....

Most European countries lie between the two extremes. They are not as homogeneous as Iceland, but they are also not countries of recent settlement. Although some have significant immigrant groups, they still have long-standing ethnic majorities that form the core of the nation. It is unrealistic to expect that the population of European countries will knowingly accept immigration on a scale that would transform them out of recognition. Yet this is what will happen if their governments continue to be persuaded by the claim that continued economic prosperity requires mass immigration.”
Rowthorn, R. 2003. “Migration Limits,” Prospect Magazine (February 20).
This is profoundly correct, and, given that it was written over 10 years ago, very prescient indeed.

Most leftists would have no difficulty in being sympathetic to the Tibetan people, who are being subject to a flood of economically, culturally and demographically destructive Chinese mass immigration into their country.

But, for some bizarre reason, the expression even of tame, mild and reasonable cultural nationalism in a European country by native people who would like to maintain their nation as a majority homeland for their own culture and people provokes screams of “racism” and “fascism.”

At the same time, the notion that nations or nation-states are somehow doomed in the face of transnational neoliberal capitalism is a ridiculous myth, being shattered on a daily basis, as we see rising economic nationalist populism, hostility to globalisation and neoliberalism, and the emergence of nationalism in many Western countries.

In particular, the cosmopolitan neoliberal elites, many of whom are managers and owners of multinational corporations, hate the nation state and have become – for want of a better word – unpatriotic people happy to see their nations destroyed in a free trade race to the bottom and deindustrialisation, and then transformed by radical demographic and cultural change owing to open borders.

This will not work, and if not stopped soon will provoke a horrendous backlash and political disaster towards the middle of this century. Western Europe is already showing how much of a catastrophe it is.

As I have pointed out here, mass immigration is the last fraud of neoliberalism, and very much part of the neoliberal program that has been savagely forced on the West since the 1970s.

The difference now is that large parts of the Left, because of the cultural leftist obsession with multiculturalism and refugee rights, are almost fully on-board with this catastrophic aspect of neoliberalism.

But those people on the left not indoctrinated by cultural leftism and more sympathetic, broadly speaking, to an Old Left vision of social democracy should totally reject this neoliberal and open borders transformation of the world.

By contrast, the Old Left vision is based on the powerful national government taming capitalism and a liberal cultural and civic nationalism, not destructive transnational capitalism and utopian and disastrous multiculturalism.


  1. An excellent summary by Rowthorn.

    " It is unrealistic to expect that the population of European countries will knowingly accept immigration on a scale that would transform them out of recognition. "

    Indeed. We are seeing the start of that rejection. I think polls are lagging in measuring this effect. The smear tactics of the "cosmopolitan" side, the pro-immigration side, which calls everyone and anyone who expresses even a doubt a racist or a nazi, discourages honest answers in polls.

    1. Even Brexit was undoubtedly seen by many voters as a referendum on mass immigration. Hence the vote to leave -- mainly a working class and lower middle class phenomenon of people harmed by mass immigration.

    2. Yes.
      And again that was a smear campaign through and through wasn't it? The key word from Rowthorn is "knowingly". The pro mass immigration side want to stifle debate and discussion for that very reason.