Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Book Review: "A Nation of Immigrants?"

David Conway's short book produced by Civitas, made a small splash when it was published a few weeks ago. What is said in it is hardly contentious, despite what some of those who govern us might say. Essentially it is a brief historical overview on migration t o Britain over the ages, in the light of the discovery that all four of those responsible for the London bombings were born and brought up in the UK. Starting with the post Ice Age arrival of a few thousand hunter gathers it rapidly brings us up to date with a discussion of recent mass migration from the sub continent and the Eastern European countries of the EU.
His basic thesis is that indeed we are not a nation of immigrants as many in the multicultural industry would have it, but a clearly defined, and until recently pretty homogenous lot.

As he points out, for Britain to be in reality a nation of immigrants the statement would have to be either philosophically empty (of course before the ice age there was nobody here at all therefore in that sense it is true) or disingenuous, as since just before the Norman invasion we have been pretty much ethnically stable.
Yes he will admit that we have been culturally more effected by ripples of immigration (Norman French, Jewish, Hugenot etc), but hardly touched ethnically.

The evidence he cites for his thesis largely comes from the new science of 'genetic archaeology' which has discovered through paternal DNA that a significant majority of those who live in the UK today are descended directly from the Ice Age hunters who first came here it seems from the Iberian peninsula. The figures are 88% of the Irish, 81% of the Welsh, 79% of the Cornish, 70% of the Scots and 68%of the remainder of England (over 2/3rds). (figures from 'The Origins of the British' by Stephen Oppenhiemer). So despite invasion s of Romans, Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Norse and whoever the ethnic makeup of the UK has hardly been altered.
Of course one of the side effects of this research is to massively undermine ideas of Celtic difference. It suggests that there is precious little such thing, if anything any difference predates and Celtic retreat from Anglo Saxons by 5,000 years.

Of course there is political import in these findings. The current wave of mass immigration created in part by our membership of the EU and our government's application of rules of access to all those from the former eastern block is and will continue to upset this stability. If when we think of Britain as a place which has been "for a long time, been both stable as well as liberal and tolerant, comparatively speaking", then this is in part because that nation was comprised of a people who were, by and large, homogenous. "Then, its ability to retain that character could well be under a far more severe threat from current levels of immigration than is made out by those who maintain that substantial immigration has always been a constant feature of Britain's demographic history from time immemorial".
In the conclusion he quotes Sir Arthur Bryant,
"The legal and spiritual association of men of different creeds, callings and classes in a nation, though often taken for granted, is a more wonderful miracle of cumulative human effort and wisdom than even the greatest achievement of science. For it enables millions who have never set eyes on one another to act together in peace and mutual trust. There can be no truer service than to preserve such a union, and prevent those millions from dissolving into antagonistic and destructive groups".
Conway's essential fear is that if we as a nation continue with our current policies vis-a.vis immigration then we will cease to be a nation at all in any meaningful fashion, merely a geographical entity. Those who value the country should and must recognise this and set public policy accordingly.

4 comments:

The Aunt said...

Oh. My. God. Not only am I Hugenot, French, Swiss and Mexican, it also turns out my ultimate ancestors, upon whom I was relying for my ethnic credibility, may have immigrated from the Iberian peninsula. No wonder the UK government has chosen to deprive me of my vote. I'm a bloody foreigner.

Nationhood is a question of culture, not a genetic bond. I'll give credit where it's due, the Americans understand that, and have forged a strong super-culture to bind their fairly diverse mix of subcultures together. Fairly successfully, I'd say.

verification word m"brit"uhy. How odd.

Elaib said...

The UK Government has chosen to deprive you of your vote because under the previous system a large majority of expat votes went to the Conservatives. But you do have a point, I shall have to cut you next time we meet (tonight methinks)

Of course it is a question of culture, the Americans, lucky people that they were, on the whole inherited British culture, and added some republican/democratic theory. However how does a culture arise? More often than not throughthe melding of ethnicity and society to create a vigerous and resilient whole. To pretend otherwise is madness. Do tell me a succesful culture that has not, at its root an ethnic base.
That is the point made by Bryant and Conway in the book.

The Aunt said...

Revolutionary Americans defined themselves as a reaction to British culture. The whole point of Liberty was to boot out the British monarchy along with ancient concepts of the social duties inherent in property rights, so that they could carve their own lands from the New World, without owing anything to anyone.

The USA was a culture defining itself in opposition to its parent culture. I suppose Bryant and Conway would say that it nevertheless can be traced back to the ethnicity from which it was birthed. And unto them I would say, what about the French?

Elaib said...

I take issue with your definition of the American revolutionary position. If anything it was about the colonists wanting the same rights as there Englsih relatives.
It was not created in opposition, far from it, yes they lopped the top of the tree off (in the case of the monarchy) but they put in place a presidential system that replicated much of the monarchic culture.
From my reading of the federalist papers etc, it would appear ifthey were taking the English system and improving upion it. In many ways it was not radical at all.
The French - not doubt to their chagrin - are mostly Germans.

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