Integration—or Coexistence?

THERE IS A CERTAIN RESISTANCE to the idea of immigrant integration which has been gaining some traction in late years. The Young Muslims of Italy, organization whose website can be found here, announced in 2015 a most suggestive congress entitled Integrazione? No grazie! Convivenza pacifica! (“Integration? No, thanks! Peaceful coexistence!”)—hardly a new idea even then, and one which has since been echoed in many sentiments of many commentators throughout Italy, both immigrant and native-born. A growing number of people, it seems, are recoiling from the idea that immigrants to Italy or to any other European country must accommodate themselves to European ways of life. To my eyes this is but the latest meter of territory willingly ceded to individuals who have no desire nor intention of following European ways, but who wish to populate our lands nonetheless.
      But before we go genuflecting at the feet of this demand on the part of foreigners, it would be well to reflect a moment on just what is being asked of us.
      The rejection of “integration” indicates that integration is in some way unpalatable for those who must integrate—that it is unjust toward them, or that it takes from them something precious that they are unwilling to surrender. Yet just what precisely might this be? For integration does not mean that these people must dress in accord with European fashions. It does not mean that they must worship in Christian churches, nor even cease to worship in mosques. It does not mean they must eat Italian food or frequent French cafes or marry into German families. It does not mean that they must change any single feature of their ways of life—save those features which contradict European laws or inhibit the right functioning of European societies.
      He who coexists but does not integrate presumably does not have to learn the language of his host country. He presumably does not have to bow to the legal precepts of his host country, but may establish his own system of laws beside them. He presumably does not have to adopt the moral or social code of his host country, but may retain his own. He has the right to form a state within the state, to speak exclusively a language unknown to European ears or tongues, to abide by laws which contradict European justice, and to live by customs abhorrent to European sensibilities. Else I do not know what this “coexistence” could possibly mean, in contradistinction to the concept of “integration.”
      Now, we must of course be just: the title of the Young Muslim’s congress, for example, calls for peaceful coexistence. What then does it matter what laws or what languages these people might speak, if they abide by the central point of order in any civil society, and refrain from doing harm or violence to their neighbors?
      But here is the fundamental problem. Integration in Europe is premised on the notion of tolerance: one must allow other ways of life, other opinions, other faiths, than one own. The basic element which any individual must accept in order to integrate into Europe is then this: such an individual must agree to be tolerant, with all the legal and moral ramifications which attend to this agreement. “Coexistence” suggests that even this is no longer obligatory. Tolerance, being a purely European standard, should certainly not be imposed on any “coexisting” newcomer. Such a one should be permitted to make up his own mind with regard to tolerance, in accordance with his original traditions and customs.
      But the Occident is the only part of the world, now or ever, to premise its society on the virtue of tolerance: no one who comes to Europe’s shores from a non-Westernized country will bring tolerant views with him, nor will he gain such views here unless he is integrated into the European way of life. These foreigners would live peacefully with us? That is well and good—so long as we tolerant Europeans remain the majority. But what of fifty years from now, when, given present trends in immigration and demographics, Muslims will form a sizable portion (no one even has any idea how sizable!) of European population? And what of one-hundred years from now, when they will almost certainly be the majority? What will guide their treatment of us then? The gentle interest in peaceful coexistence with individuals who live in starkly different ways than those taught by Mohammed? Or is it not rather to be expected that they will ignore the principles of a “tolerance” which they have never bothered to adopt, and will rather fall back on those preachments of Islam which are anything but inclusive, anything but peacable?
      Though dearly I pray I am mistaken, I do not know how to read these matters otherwise than this: those who call for coexistence with Muslim ways today, will call for the oppression of European ways tomorrow.

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The Hand that Wields the Gun

AS AN AMERICAN in Italy, I am often asked by dumbfounded Italians how it is possible my countrymen should possess so many guns. They want to know all manner of things—as, did I grow up with firearms? Is it permitted for Americans to take guns wherever they please—airplanes, buses, banks? Is it not appalling that such deadly weapons should be permitted in so many private houses? Am I not ashamed, when I look at the statistics of gun-related crimes, when I hear of this or that accident or school shooting, that my country permits such barbarities?
      And thus I risk being drawn into the debate which rages in my own country over the status of its gun laws. Yet I would dearly like to avoid this debate—but because I think it insoluble, but because I think it is in all cases premised badly, and in such a way that it really does become insoluble.
      For the debate over gun laws is a prime instance of what I have called in a different essay Procrustean statecraft. This is in its way a disease of modernity: this idea that with but the right institutions, all our social problems can be happily eradicated, and we dwell in prosperity and contentment ever after. Beyond that fact that I perceive such a notion as this to be at the root of a large portion of our more unjustifiable contemporary carping and disaffection, I also think it fundamentally absurd. May be one could have easily enough believed it even twenty years ago: but since the war in Iraq, and all our ruinous meddling in the affairs of nations which do not accept and evidently are incapable of accepting democratic institutions, it seems to me that we are no longer justified in taking this view so naively.
      Anyone who has looked into the question of gun ownership and the laws surrounding gun ownership will certainly be familiar with the basic difficulty. One will find oneself perhaps pulled this way and that by the debate, now falling on this side, now on that, and with no means of reconciling the contradictions. The conversation, and with it one’s loyalties, will proceed something like this:

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The French Election and the Dream of Europe

IT WOULD SEEM that the European and American political establishments are breathing an immense sigh of relief over the results of the French election. In some circles, it would appear there has even been rejoicing. It is not difficult to imagine that this has far less to do with the triumph of Emmanuel Macron, than with the defeat of Marine Le Pen.
      Vox, the day after the election, had this to say:

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The Populist Catch-all

MOST APROPROS of my recent essay on populism, I find word in the news (alas—exclusively the Italian news) of the recent visit to the Harvard campus, by one Luigi Di Maio.
      A word to my American readers, who cannot necessarily be expected to know this name. Luigi Di Maio is one of the foremost spokespersons for the Italian Movimento Cinque Stelle, the Five Star Movement, by most estimates the strongest political party in Italy today. Mr. Di Maio is also Vice President of the Italian Chamber. His political office, and his special role in the Movimento Cinque Stelle, position him as the likely Movimento candidate come the elections for Italian Prime Minister. Italian politics being what it is, one can neither guess when the devil these elections will be, nor what will issue from them; but it is clear at least that this man has as good of a chance as anyone of soon becoming the most visible Italian in world politics. On all counts, his visitation to the United States, to say nothing of Harvard, is hardly an occasion to be shrugged at.
      It would be both impractical for me and tedious for my readers, were I to attempt to explain the Movimento Cinque Stelle here. Suffice to say that it is a kind of internet-propelled grass-roots movement of recent origin, and that it unites a wide variety of diverse political strands—calling for everything from free internet for all citizens, to reduced wages for Italian parliamentarians, to reduced taxes for Italians, to the establishment of a number of pro-environment policies. To locate it solidly on the traditional political right or the left is difficult if not impossible—reason for which confusion I consider in another of my entries—but so far as the two touchstones of contemporary far-right European populism go, namely, anti-European Union nationalism and anti-immigration, the Movimento Cinque Stelle is rather tepid in comparison with other Italian parties, like Casa Pound, I Fratelli d’Italia, and even the Lega Nord. That Mr. Di Maio is a “populist” seems evident enough—but he is hardly a populist in the same vein as, say, Marine Le Pen in France or Geert Wilders in the Netherlands.
      I marvel—though really I should cease marveling at such Americana—to discover that Mr. Di Maio’s presence on Harvard campus was actually protested, apparently due to the anti-Europe stance that the Movimento Cinque Stelle has recently somewhat squeamishly adopted. This protest limited itself to a number of indignant letters to the moderator, Professor Archon Fung, criticizing the invitation (!) of Mr. Di Maio—but I am not much comforted by this evident lack of vigor, as it seems to me to indicate, rather than a general moderation on part of our contemporary Harvard students, a general diffusion of their ignorance instead. I am afraid that if a goodly number of the campus’ students had ever heard of Mr. Di Maio before this event, they might have pressed somewhat more strenuously to hold him at bay. For Mr. Di Maio himself is considered, I am amazed to find, a figure of the “populist right.” This phrase comes, not from some random student, but from the moderator’s own mouth.
      The moderator noted that Mr. Di Maio would resist this description, but he did not pause to ask why this might be so, nor did he extend to his guest the benefit of the doubt, by reflecting that perhaps Mr. Di Maio might have sound reasons for his resistance. He did not ask himself if Mr. Di Maio perhaps understands his own Movimento better than a given professor of an American university. Although Professor Fung made it clear in his introductory remarks that he is aware both of certain complexities of the populist phenomenon (he referred as well to “populism of the left”) and of the possible inadequacy of the entire idea of the “left-right” axis in contemporary politics, still he saw fit to characterize Mr. Di Maio and Mr. Di Maio’s party with a term which that party rejects, and which is sure to instill an inaccurate image of what Mr. Di Maio and the Movimento are about.
      I ignore for the moment the offensive, although unsurprising, parochialism of this all-too American reception. I want to know only this. Is it not remarkable, that this little word “populist” has so far gotten the upper hand of our sense and our senses, that it now goes about painting the world for us in false colors everywhere we turn? Is it not startling, that merely by having this word applied to oneself, one suddenly risks all manner of unpleasant and hostile reactions, no matter what one actually believes about this or that issue? And is it not embarrassing that a school of the status of the Kennedy Harvard School, should evidently be affected precisely by these misperceptions?
      I would like to suggest—though I am perfectly aware that this suggestion will result in precisely nothing—a moratorium on this word “populism,” which has become a spur to adversarial passions and a mystifier of our reason. It would behoove us to attempt to look at the contemporary political world without the distorting lens of this concept “populism,” which means so many things by now that it hardly means anything at all any longer. We might learn something about the real political conditions of the day, if we only begin to extract them once again from this populist catch-all into which we have begun so injudiciously to toss them.

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The Sword of Damocles

I AM INTERRUPTING my essay on philosophy and science in order to deliver these present thoughts at what seems to me a pertinent moment. For, given the proximity of the French elections, it is surely appropriate to dedicate some immediate attention to a question which is hanging over those elections like the veritable sword of Damocles.
      The term “populism” has been cropping up more and more in our discourse, to the point that it finally begins in subtle and noteworthy ways to define it. As a word, it has been with us for better than a century now, but, if memory does not deceive me, it first began to make its appearance widely in our everyday speech but recently—in the United States, more or less with the advent of Trump, in Britain with the question of Brexit, here in Italy with the rise of the Movimento Cinque Stelle, and in other countries following similar historical occurrences. This word is all the more interesting for a certain inconsistency of its use: by some it is meant as a pejorative, by others as praise—but it is taken by all as a force to be reckoned with.
      To begin from the superficial, we might ask what we would expect this word to mean, if we were encountering it here for the first time? It derives clearly from the word “populace,” originally from the Latin populus, which means variously a people, a group of human beings unified by common customs and laws, or, more rarely, a crowd, a mass, an undifferentiated group of individuals united by this or that accidental cause. And taking this etymology also at face value, one might assume that “populism” means only the simple concern for the people, either for their welfare or their desires. Populism would thus appear to be essentially and fundamentally democratic.
      Yet this is precisely one of the qualities of populism that seems to be most hotly disputed. I heard an Italian journalist not a week ago refer to populism as the concern, not with the people as a whole, but with a fragment of the people—the desire to elevate this fragment and its exclusive concerns to unjustified precedence over the remainder of society. Populism thus understood is in fact nothing but a modern-day synonym for factionalism, that force so dreaded by the earliest practical theoreticians of republican government. Or again: some weeks ago, I attended a round-table discussion at Cagliari University on the prospects of the French election; the interlocutors, despite their vocal and unequivocal support for democratic institutions, were unanimously opposed to the phenomenon of populism. Or yet again: considering the general mood now reigning throughout our Occident, it is certainly clear that populism is rising someway like a specter, a real and pressing menace to the current institutions of nearly all the governments of the Western world. The mainstream press often enough takes this tone when speaking of populism, inquiring for instance how the “populist wave” in such and such a country is to be stemmed or dampened. Yet it is indubitable that this same mainstream press would praise democracy to the heavens if it ever felt the need, and only a partisan of some populist cause could suspect such praise of being merely rhetorical. Meanwhile others, those within populist movements, speak of populism as though it were the last best hope for reclaiming a dying democracy.
      Compounding the problem of the relation of democracy to populism, we find that “populism” everywhere expresses different ideologies. The populism of Marine Le Pen takes its force from its anti-immigration and nationalist policies; the populism of the Movimento Cinque Stelle here in Italy gains the better part of its popularity rather from its proclaimed intention of combating the systematic corruption and disastrous over-spending of the Italian bureaucracy. Populists of the left want to augment the bounds of the welfare state to sometimes absurd extent; populists of the right want as dramatically to reduce the same. Some populists are libertarian; others communist; others yet fascist. There is a wide variety of often contradictory concerns motivating populism in different nations, thus making it apparently impossible to give this word a singular definition or to arrive at a unitary understanding of it. It is like a vessel which one might fill now with this, now with that, vintage. What remains identical in all cases, however, is not the contents, but the form.
      A simple observation might help us begin to navigate these complexities. Populism can be seen from two perspectives. On the one hand, a politician or candidate might be considered “populist” insofar as he is supported by the people; on the other hand, he might be considered “populist” insofar as he panders to the people. Now, “the people” here cannot be taken as synonymous with the populace, the sum-total of persons of a nation, nor necessarily even with the majority of the same. Donald Trump, while indubitably a populist figure, was certainly not elected nor even supported by the majority of Americans. “The people” here is rather intended in contradistinction to what we today tend to call the “elites,” which means in short the moneyed powers. These powers include both the more or less corrupt politicians or bureaucrats who perpetuate the present system primarily to maintain their position within it, as well as the rich private individuals who act upon that system to realize some personal agenda. The interpenetration of these two groups is often referred to by its enemies and critics as “the establishment.” Populism thus indicates concern with the welfare or desires of some generally poor segment of the populace which is not favored by this establishment, which is excluded from it, which is actively spurned by it, or which for ideological reasons believes it to be immoral or unsustainable.
      When we speak of populism as the movement of this segment of the populace, it is clear we are speaking of something which has real democratic purport. We are speaking of persons who simply “want their voices to be heard,” we are speaking of a “grass-roots movement.” The success of such a movement means the inclusion of ever greater portions of the citizenry in the workings and aims of the state, which must be considered as a great boon by any truly democratic standard. This is the meaning of populism intended by its supporters and partisans, or by anyone who speaks of a populist movement as being democratic, or as an attempt at the reclamation of democracy.
      Now, that segment of the populace which is generally involved in any populist movement is, as we have indicated, poor, or at least not exceptionally wealthy. This means that the members of this segment will tend to be less educated than the “elites” the struggle against; they will in the main not have enjoyed the opportunities for study and instruction that the affluent part has enjoyed. They will pertain by and large to the working class, which means they will generally not have much leisure to ponder the events or issues of the day at any great depth or to any degree of complexity. They will derive their information, as well as their views on events and issues, from authorities whose opinions they have neither the time nor the ability to evaluate. For these reasons, they will be, if not ignorant, than certainly in danger of succumbing to ignorance. The critics of populism perceive that certain politicians, candidates, and policies appeal consciously to this ignorance of the masses. Such politicians and candidates seek to manipulate the masses by means of promises which cannot be delivered, and which in many cases they have no intention of attempting to deliver. This kind of populist politician was once called a demagogue, one who deceives that portion of the populace incapable of seeing through such deceptions, in order to attain power. A movement headed by such a demagogue, far from being democratic, is in fact among the greatest threats to democracy, for it may provide the catapult by which a tyrant or one with a non-democratic mindset might propel himself to power.
      More: the critics of populism perceive as well that the ignorance, be it real or potential, which animates the supporters of any populist agenda, can often lead populist movements to oppose in part or in whole the very democratic order which permits them to exist. Hence the anti-populist proponent of democracy is forced to make a distinction between liberal democracy, and democracy as such: between that liberalism which necessarily presupposes specific institutions and specific ideals on the one hand, and the untrammeled will of the people to establish the government it desires, even at the expense of these liberal institutions and ideals, on the other. The anti-populist proponent of democracy, whatever he may think of the establishment, must therefore become the temporary advocate of the establishment, whenever he sees it forcibly challenged by populist movements. This is the stringent logic which led Bill Kristol recently to exhort, “Obviously strongly prefer normal democratic and constitutional politics. But if it comes to it, prefer the deep state to the Trump state.” The establishment, whatever form it might take, whatever its failings and vices might be, is preferable to untamed populism.
      But this stance, to an educated proponent of populism, to say nothing of the average member of a populist movement, has every appearance of being the byproduct of entrenched and anti-democratic establishmentarianism; and the expression of such opinions can only convince the proponent of populism the more ardently that his position is not only right, but urgently requisite, as the unique acid for dissolving an utterly corrupt and compromised system. The anti-populist response drives the populist to become yet more zealously populist, which in turn forces even those moderate individuals who might be in some ways sympathetic to the populist cause, to oppose themselves to it wholesale; and the rift in society between the establishment and that portion of the population which feels excluded from the establishment thus both deepens and widens.
      From which we may conclude that liberal democracy, in order to be preserved, must atimes become radically undemocratic; while populism, in order to triumph, must await that moment in which the establishment has made itself so generally despised that populism may succeed, either from the widespread discouragement of the populace, or thanks to its cynical lassitude. The concern for purity in both the one case and in the other leads to necessary conflict between the establishment and populism, which conflict will be more and more likely in coming years to erupt in divisiveness and open violence.
      I may suppose that most of my readers would wish to avoid such an end as that. The means for avoiding it is deceptively simple: simple, because in truth its attainment would cost the purveyors of both sides of the issue little; deceptively simple, because the psychological forces involved, to say nothing of the social and ideological forces, are powerful enough to utterly disband any attempt in such a direction from the start. It would be necessary simply for the populists to move ideologically toward the establishment they loathe, thus taking the edge off the sword they wield, or else for the defenders of the establishment to permit the populists some partial success, thus dampening the ardor of the movement and quarantining those feelings of indignation, resentment, and exclusion which give it momentum. But the establishment as establishment is generally too entrenched to permit itself such a maneuver, the common members as well as the core of populist movements are generally too monomaniacal in their ideals to even flirt with compromise, and the leaders of the same perceive too clearly that they owe their support mainly to an appearance of incorruptibility, which means, speaking popularly, unyielding and unflagging insistence on the original populist claims in their entirety. For these reasons, it is unlikely for either side in this conflict to defuse the combustible materials standing between them. And even if some member of one or the other side makes some occasional attempt toward peacemaking, it is likely in the end only to exacerbate the tensions further, as the purists react to what they perceive as betrayal on the part of one of their own.
      We thus find ourselves in a position of having to choose between two sides in an undeclared war, or else of going quietly and peaceably our own way until such a time as we can no longer do so.
      Within populism itself, we must make distinction between three strata of its supporters. In the first and heaviest stratum, the wide base, we find that disgruntled portion of the populace which has already been discussed, either the people or the crowd. In the second are those whom one might term the educated friends of populism; these are individuals who support populism, not as such, but rather in some concrete case, and who see in this particular populist ideology, either a vehicle for furthering their specific political ideal, or a means of rebuking or injuring the establishment. In the third and lightest stratum are the profiteers and commandeers of populism, who hope to ride the whirlwind to fortune or apotheosis. The first are usually driven by passion to the exclusion of reason, and the third are commonly unyielding in their ambitions and easily bought. It is the role of the core of any populist movement to seek to forge its members into a whole, unified by common customs and laws; that is the great challenge of any populist movement, supposing it would be something more than a mere faction or a glorified interest group.
      We have called populism a democratic movement, but we have not specified the meaning of this phrase. Democracy taken in its widest possible sense is that regime according to which the populace determines both the form and the matter of politics. This populace need not be the majority, and it need not be the people; atimes, for the confusion or the indifference of a wide swath of the population, a fragment thereof can gain power over the remainder. Democracy as a regime is inherently unstable—as unstable, say, as a fallow field; for it is anything but a given that those who take power in democracy, will desire its perpetuation rather than its destruction or transformation. The historical solution to the problem of democracy’s instability has been classic liberalism—the establishment of a state whose institutions would permit it to withstand the faults of democracy. But classic liberalism desired, not democracy, but republic, the mixed regime; the very fact that we today speak exclusively of “democracy” where the original founding generation of classic liberals spoke exclusively of “republic,” reveals that the classic solution has failed. For in attempting to weed out the vices of democracy while harvesting the virtues, the founders had of necessity to sow the seeds of that plant they at once despised and desired.
      That contradiction leads us to our present moment, and to the very conflict we now consider, whose sharper edge is called populism. We may now risk a definition of populism: populism is the birth of democracy in our day—a birth which, as any birth, cannot be stopped, evaded, or avoided once it has reached a certain point. If it comes not now and peacefully, it will come later and with a fury. This is not to recommend resignation: for everything depends on the form and the matter of the populism which finally makes its bid for power. But we must understand the quality of the day if we are to live it rightly.

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In the Shadow Vaguely

IT IS SOMEHOW depressingly predictable to see that a French election here and now, and one of such importance to the future of France and Europe (to say nothing of the mere European Union), should hinge somehow on historical events in a different nation, which transpired seventy years ago. It has recently come to light that Jean-François Jalkh, interim head of Marine Le Pen’s National Front, made a remark in an interview, some seventeen years ago, expressing skepticism as to the practical possibilities of mass murder via Zyklon B, the agent used in Nazi concentration camps.
      I would ask a question of all of this, whether such a question on my part is licit or not. My question is a simple one: is there any other kind of comment in all the world which could rise from the grave twenty years after the fact, to instantaneously ruin a man’s present and future reputation in the minds of hundreds of thousands of individuals who hitherto have never even heard of him before? Is there not something patently absurd about this?
      But Mr. Jalkh’s fate is likely to be decided on the basis of this single remark—and not only his fate. For he has dared touch upon the untouchable: he has dared dispute the conventional history surrounding the Holocaust.
      An artice of Vox submits these most interesting comments:

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