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Sundry Reflections on the Immigrant Experience in the EU and the US
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2009-09-07 09:55:30
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There are some rather disturbing statistics from recent studies of demographics rates in the EU. The EU population, as in the US also, is in serious decline and fast aging. There are concerns that health insurance and adequate pensions will not be able to be guaranteed for the next generation. According to those demographic rates the EU will need some 80 million new immigrants between now and the year 2015 to man its industries. That makes up a whopping total 20% of the total population of the EU.

The concern is that if that quota of 80 million new immigrants is not reached the EU runs the serious risk of losing half of the share of its total global income, which is now considerable, and going from 24% to 12%. While one cannot argue with mathematical and statistical data on demographics, one can take issues with the way they are interpreted or misread and the misleading conclusions issuing from such misreading.

What is astonishing in all of this is the sheer myopia of the ongoing and growing xenophobia of current right wing European parties, such as the Lega in Italy, and the phenomenon of the “ronde” already explored in my last piece, but also present in supposedly progressive countries such as the Netherlands and Denmark, and elsewhere. The shrinking population of Europeans does not worry those parties as long as the “purity” of the race is preserved. It appears that racism trumps even the economy.

The shrinking population does not worry either the growing number of Epicureans and hedonists in Western civilization. They seem to value fast cars and expensive trips and soccer games much more than children and numerous families, considered medieval and retrograde. In Italy the current rate is one and half children per couple; in the rest of Europe it is not much better. That phenomenon is misguided and pernicious not only on an ethical level but also on a purely economic level of self-interest. As the saying goes it’s like cutting one’s nose to spite one’s face.

Comparisons are odious, no doubt, especially when conducted for the purpose of bragging and sounding one’s horn and asserting one’s superiority, but they can also be enlightening and insightful if done dispassionately keeping orange and apples separate and with no bias and hidden agenda. Let us therefore attempt one between the EU and the US immigrant experience. Since that experience is much older in the US let’s begin there.

I think that there is little doubt that one of the recognized strengths of the Federation comprising the United States of America is that, despite a lamentable imposition of quotas and restrictions from time to time, it has never completely shut its doors to immigration. The benefits deriving from that policy are innumerable The US has become a nation of nations and has shown the world that it is possible for people of different cultures to live together with a modicum of harmony and tolerance as long as there are some overarching ideals spelled out in its constitution to which most of its inhabitants adhere.

Of course the term immigrant cannot be applied to the native American nor to the slaves brought from Africa as mere property. Many will argue that such being the case, it trumps the argument of the harmony of different cultures and nations. And so it does in a way, but not completely, for one can envision the time, still unthinkable now, when a native American will run for and become president of this nation. Indeed, even a Black president was unthinkable only ten years ago.

Bur let’s come to the EU. Those who misguidedly suggest that poor third world countries ought to start implementing and practicing birth control so that there would be no need to invade prosperous Europe, should perhaps revisit that misguided position, for as the present Pope has suggested in his first social encyclical, it is the privileging of “life style” and luxury at the expense of life itself that has contributed to the present social economic impasse. Selfishness is never self-enlightened even when it looks after one’s self-interest.

To conceive of borders as protection, the way the Italian leghista does as well as all the assorted xenophobes of Europe, is ultimately to have created fortress Europe. An iron armor is what one puts on when one is ready to fight and die, even when it is rationalized as mere protection. And indeed, it may be sweet and glorious to die for one’s country, it is even sweeter and more glorious to live and work for it. In fact, it is divine to put the truth above patriotism and to die for it.  Socrates is exemplary here. He had already proven his physical courage when he fought as a soldier, but if he taught us anything, it is that one can also be a hero in the ethical and spiritual realm. I dare say that in neglecting that exemplary lesson Europe has forgotten its glorious heritage and cultural identity. There is another way of conceiving borders, however. If one conceives them as organically, as porous skin that divides the inside of an organism from the outside while permitting it to live because the organism breathes through them, one arrives at a stance which is much more enlightening because it allows for more inclusion and less exclusion.

Taking to heart the lesson of the US, one can safely say that the EU will be true to its heritage when it becomes not only a hyper-nation of nations, aping that other hyper-nation across the Atlantic, but a nation of immigrants respectful of the inalienable human rights of all its inhabitants, not excluding its non-citizen immigrant aliens. It has in fact no choice, if it wishes to compete on a global scale and survive as a polity on both economic and political spehere.

There are in fact lessons to be gathered from that ex colony named the United States of America which has painfully gone through that kind of experience via a civil war, and as imperfect as it remains, has achieved a modicum of unity in diversity best expressed by the motto under the eagle on the dollar bill: “e pluribus unum.”

So the admonition and the warning to the assorted xenophobes of Europe is this: twenty per cent of one’s population with non Western heritages cannot all be culturally assimilated (as the French continue to delude themselves oblivious of the lessons of Algeria); that kind of assimilation is a neo-colonialism of sort. The European immigrants will need to be integrated, not assimilated. Which ultimately means that their particular cultures, religions and languages need to be protected and respected, and not sacrificed to the idol of modernity and technology. For genuine integration those immigrants will need to swear allegiance to something less ephemeral than euros and soccer games, for a union around a bank and a stadium never a people made.

As I see it, the only hope of forming a union of “e pluribus unum” is an adherence to universal principles and ideals as spelled out in a visionary constitution that enshrines them in a Constitution and declares them inalienable, not given by the state, not to be taken away by any state and accruing to all, even the non-citizens by the mere fact that they are human beings. Purely geographical, ethnic, regional, provincial consideration simply will not do.

Moreover, the best guarantee of issuing a Constitution that is more than a banal commercial treaty and that honors inalienable human rights is to be ever mindful of the Judeo-Christian ethos and its ideals and ideas, for if truth be told, neither Greeks nor Romans has such a universal concept as inalienable rights. Those ideals are the very foundation of Western Civilization and they did not spring ex nihilo in the age of Enlightenment in the head of Locke and Jefferson. The Romans used to declare “corruptio optima pessima,” the rottenness of the best is the worst, by which they meant I suppose that to forget the origins of one’s ideals and cultural identity is to run the risk of becoming worse than the barbarians, for the barbarian destroys what he does not understand, the civilized man on the other hand burns books and people too by destroying what he understands only too well but does not like. In the process he becomes a fascist and a Nazi anew.

The incovenient truth is that Machiavellian paradigms of “real politik” have ill served Western Civilization in the last four hundred years or so, and the sooner we admit it the better it will be for everybody concerned. Power has become the last aphrodisiac of tired old men, barely mitigated by responsibility. New paradigms are urgently needed as new wine in the new wineskins. To fail to do so will sadly result in the very same mistake of Italian unification: having made Europe by aping super-power status, the European (now called “Newropean”) will still have to be made, for in effect by privileging raw military power and Machiavellian tactics, rather than soft cultural power, the cart will have been put before the horse.   

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Emanuel Paparella2009-09-07 15:42:23
Footnote: since it is the polity European Union vis a vis its immigration policies that is under focus in the above article, the retrieval of its origins demands at a minimum the knowledge and understanding of the political ideals of its founding fathers and the ideas of various philosophers who, since Virgil and Dante, have laid the foundations for the idea of Europe; for Europe is indeed an idea and will either live as one or it will die from its oblivion, as it has repeatedly happened in history.

There is no need to bring forth disagreeable and all too often odious comparisons. Comparisons are most useful when they have as their purpose and goal the avoidance of historical cultural pitfalls.

Marco Andreacchio2009-09-07 16:02:48
Dr. Paparella,

At first glance, the integration you invite seems to entail a conversion of the EU into the US. But such a conversion would require the necessarily violent founding of one confederation with one (official) language under one (official) God. By appealing to "the Judeo-Christian ethos and its ideals" as key ingredient for the founding of a New Europe, you show yourself to be aware of at least one obstacle to current integration--namely the Biblical "ethos," which happens NOT to be shared by many recent immigrates, or that is often merely accidentally shared on a most rarified or abstract plane of existence, where it comes to serve merely economic agendas (and with them, the rise of the homunculus oeconomicus).

On the other hand, if Europeans DID already recognize the "ethos" you invoke, would there even be need for integration? Would there not be healthier families and sufficient population growth "from within"? Thereupon, what need or space would there be for massive influxes of immigrants (often desperate, barbaric opportunists)?

The problem you advert is that national boundaries are ill conceived, today. But when well understood, national boundaries are natural to man as man. Integration too has its limits, presupposing as it does, not merely allegiance to one set of universal ideals uprooted/abstracted from their natural source, but a national tongue and custom/ethos commensurate (though irreducible) with the common sense of a people. We see this to have been the case even in the US: wherever the official Ethos resulted incompatible with the imagination of a group of people, this group had to be sacrificed (expelled, annihilated or neutralized)--for the sake of the Union.

Ultimately, you seem to be proposing the rise of a Global Society/State beyond national boundaries--a Society held together by a Universal Constitution accepted by the majority (of the World?). Do you really believe such a Society to be possible or even hoped for? The US itself was not founded as you would like Europe to be re-founded. Nor is the US today immune to the possibility of a relapse into barbarism. Suffice it to mention that the freedom of religion spoken of by the Founding Fathers presupposed One Biblical God, whereas today it tends to be appealed to as if it meant religious anarchy (civil religion is frowned upon by many contemporary Americans, who see it threatening their neo-Marxist ideal of a global community beyond religious oppositions). This is where the problem of Islamic Caesarism sets in.

Emanuel Paparella2009-09-07 16:54:42

Dr. Andreacchio,

I will let another article on a Jew via link above in this same magazine (Professor Weiler of NYU) provide the answers to your queries. Coming from a non-Christian and non-Catholic and a philosopher to boot you may perhaps find them more persuasive than mine.

Emanuel Paparella2009-09-07 17:08:46
By the way, since when has the speaking of different languages been an impediment to the union of nations? To wit Switzerland, and Canada. In the same US forty million people speak Spanish every day and the vast majority of those people consider themselves good Americans not because they speak Spanish but because they adhere to the ideals and aspirtations of the US constitution.

Emanuel Paparella2009-09-07 18:53:03
"...what need or space would there be for massive influxes of immigrants (often desperate, barbaric opportunists)?"

The above epithet is a gem. It was probably hurled at my grandfather when he arrived in America in 1903 and probably yours too Dr. Andreacchio. One would have thought that somebody who has a modicum of knowledge of what it means to be an immigrant and his descendant would know better. I suppose the new arrivers in America believe that they are, nobles oblige, giving the opportunity to America to be guests and residents of the country. The Romans had a word for it: hubris.

Emanuel Paparella2009-09-07 18:58:36
In any case, numbers don't lie. To keep those "barbarians" out of Europe will mean that one cuts one's nose to spite one's face and ends up with half of the economic global income that obtains now. Not very intelligent, but then since when has economic considerations, never mind ethical ones. stopped xenophobes from protecting the "purity" of the race. I think Guicciardini had it on target when he contronted Machiavelli's (and late il Duce and the Leghistaa')misguided idea of the descendance from the Romans.

Emanuel Paparella2009-09-07 18:59:52
Errata: confronted

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