Wednesday, September 06, 2006

European Immigrants, Painted As Parasites

The philosopher Roger Scruton has written a piece in the current edition of The New Criterion in which he outlines Europe's and especially Britain's grim future as they are overcome by an avalanche of immigrants from other societies, some of them collapsing. In it, he takes a new anti-immigrant tack. Massive immigration from the Third World is immoral not because they destroy the culture but because the immigrants are entitled to benefits from the welfare state to which they have not contributed. In doing so, they are in some sense robbing the "indigenous" poor and working class for whose benefit the welfare state was originally created:

The destructive effects of liberalism are not usually felt by the liberals themselves—not immediately, at least. The first victim of liberal immigration policies is the indigenous working class. When the welfare state was first conceived, it was in order to provide insurance for poorer members of the indigenous community, by taxing their income in exchange for the benefits which they may one day need. The rights involved were quasi-contractual: a right of the state to levy contributions in exchange for a right of the citizen to receive support. The very term used to describe the deal in Britain — “national insurance”— expresses the old understanding, that the welfare system is part of being together as a nation, of belonging with one’s neighbors, as mutual beneficiaries of an ancestral right. The liberal view of rights, as universal possessions which make no reference to history, community, or obedience, has changed all that. Indigenous people can claim no precedence, not even in this matter in which they have sacrificed a lifetime of income for the sake of their own future security. Immigrants are given welfare benefits as of right, and on the basis of their need, whether or not they have paid or ever will pay taxes. And since their need is invariably great—why else have they come here?—they take precedence over existing residents in the grant of housing and income support. Those with a handful of wives are even more fortunate, since only one of their marriages is recognized in European systems of law: the remaining wives are “single mothers,” with all the fiscal advantages which attach to that label. All this has entailed that the stock of “social housing” once reserved for the indigenous poor is now almost entirely occupied by people whose language, customs, and culture mark them out as foreigners.

For a long time, the growing anti-immigrant sentiment in Europe has been mired in charges of being racist, as some of it in fact is. Indeed, the ability of the European left to simultaneously pose as stalwart defenders of the welfare state and as the only political players in the game who are not racists has been a very deft political achievement. In societies like Sweden they are able to maintain power despite what is apparently growing disenchantment with immigration and multiculturalism. (In Denmark and the Netherlands defense of the welfare state without reference to immigration has not been enough.) The attempt to cleave away welfare-states supporters to the anti-immigrant cause is as far as I know novel, and one likely to have unusual appeal in Europe, where a far higher percentage of immigrants are on various forms of welfare, where intrinsic discomfort with immigration is also greater, and where the welfare state elicits an almost holy devotion. Professor Scruton, who is the very example of the mossbacked traditionalist intellectual (his vita includes works such as Xanthippic Dialogues and The Aesthetic Understanding) is unlikely to be a formidable force in European politics on his own. But perhaps this argument will gain steam in the coming years. It bears watching.


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