The Rumors of Multiculturalism’s death Are Exaggerated (Against Merkel)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel over the weekend declared “multiculturalism” dead in her country and demanded that labor immigrants be assimilated, through German language and German culture.

Russia Today has video:

This sort of discourse has a long and ugly history in Germany and it derives from a set of mistaken premises. An important strand of modern German political philosophy has tended to see the state as weak and fragile, and as easily toppled by criticism, dissent, and difference. The opposite has tended to be true in the past two hundred years–governments most often are much stronger than society and are hard to challenge.

That the state must assert itself and must ensure a broad cultural consensus among its subjects lay behind the Kulturkampf or ‘cultural struggle’ of the 1870s, when the state in newly united Germany persecuted Catholic institutions seen as too different and too autonomous. Monks and nuns were forced out of the country, monasteries were closed, congregations deprived of priests, and half of the country’s bishops were jailed. (A Roman Catholic account is here). There was an emphasis on clothing as an unwelcome mark of difference, as with clerical garb. Some historians suggest that a concern with unassimilated Polish laborers was linked to the campaign.

In the end it was not difference, religion, Catholicism or Polish workers that threatened the state but rather the overweening military ambition of political leaders themselves.

(Nativist Protestants in the US also attacked Polish immigrants in the early 20th century, alleging that their first loyalty was to the Pope, and that they were too unintelligent and decadent ever to be proper Americans. It was all just bigotry, not well-founded social scientific analysis).

Just as Catholics and Catholic institutions were not the enemy of society in Germany during the 1870s, so Muslims are not today. Muslim laborers in Germany more resemble Mexican-Americans or Central American immigrants than Muslims in the US, who tend to be better off and better educated than most other Americans.

Assimilating immigrant labor tends to be key to free market societies in recent decades. Most Europeans now have low birth rates. They therefore face a choice of allowing their populations to shrink and risking poorly supported retirees and deflationary pressures on the one hand, and on the other importing labor on a significant scale. As it is, Germany may shrink from over 80 million to about 70 million by 2060. Some prominent economists believe that the country is not bringing in nearly enough immigrant workers to meet society’s needs in coming decades. There is already a shortfall of 400,000 skilled laborers.

Merkel’s emphasis on ensuring that immigrant children have the opportunity to learn good German (she wants to hire more teachers of minority background) would be admirable if not for two objections. First, the main impediment to linguistic assimilation is neighborhood segregation. There are informal mechanisms that create immigrant labor slums, including the reluctance of realtors to show houses to minority members in neighborhoods dominated by the majority. Is she ready to push for a German equivalent to the Fair Housing Act? Second, one has the sinking feeling that her notion of assimilation involves, like that of Bismarck, the undermining of immigrant culture and institutions.

Posted in Islamophobia | 26 Responses | Print |

26 Responses

  1. There is just one reason for this utterly disgusting discussion in Germany. The ‘conservative’ parties are at an all time low in the polls. People are hopping mad about the government giving billions to criminal bankers (big bail out), simply undoing the decision to shut down nuclear power plants in a deeply undemocratic way (refusing a parlamentary debate and simply making a deal with the energy coorporations), screwing the millions who have lost there jobs over and over, refusing to create minimum wage and in general being nothing but lackeys of big business.

    When it was uncovered in Hessia, few years back, that the conservatives had been financing their campaign with money (from unknown sources) from bankaccounts in switzerland. What helped them win the election in this land anyways, was a shameful campaign against ‘the criminal turkish youth’. Obviously they hope this trick will work again.

    The coorporate media in Germany are trying very, very hard to shift peoples attention away from this scandalous government. They want everybody to concentrate on bulliyng a helpless minority (muslims).

    I’m just seething about this. Hopefully the ‘conservatives’ will loose even more votes.

    • Thanks for your input, astras! Does the mass media in Germany regularly cover news stories about immigrant Turks (and their descendants) as crimminals, and, therefore, reinforce commonly held stereotypes? You seem to be arguing that the theme of immigrant integration is code for “the crimminal” Turk?

      • Hi,

        well, stories in the coorporate media, the ones supportive of the ‘conservative’ parties, do indeed sometimes concentrate on ‘forced marriage’ among ‘muslim immigrants’, ‘honour murders’, youth crime and stuff like that. The situation of the utmost majority of migrants (mostly badly payed workers) is ignored. You can say some media outlets do indeed reenforce stereotypes.

        One particularly awful (and quite clever) way to do this, is to offer a podest for so called ‘hardliners’ to spew there poison. One such guy is a fellow named Thilo Sarrazin, formerly a member of the SPD (labour party) and in some position at the federal bank. This nutcase wrote a book, argueing, people are predestined to be succesful in life, or unseccesful, by their genes. In his book, he rambles about ‘bad muslim’ genes, east germans (who he thinks areby birth more stupid than the people in economically more wealthy regions in Germany) and, for a change, the good jewish genes. The book has become a bestseller and conservative politicians and some important business people have lauded Sarrazin for his ‘courage’ to speak the ‘uncomfortable truth’.
        The biggest german tabloid published Sarrazins hatemongering and then prodly announced, if Sarrazin was to create a political party, he was to get 18% of the votes (according to a poll by this neswpaper).

        I just think this is all part of a campaign to steer voters to the right, in the arms of the conservative party (CDU) and to make people forget what a lousy job this party is doing.

  2. This article seems correct. One cautionary observation, though.

    Unless the world is to have a steadily increasing human population forever, there must be a model (and, later, a reality) of either a steady-state or a decreasing world human population. And the same, I suppose, goes for particular countries, especially “western” or “industrialized” or “global-warming-contributing-more-than-their-share” countries.

    So, even as politicians (who all seem to have short-term time horizons) try to increase the tax-base which pays for the retirement of their elderly-who-will-be-subsidized by bringing in more young workers (by birth or immigration or both), this is not a “solution” to all the world’s ills which will “fly” forever.

  3. Sorry, Prof. Cole, with all due respect, you are quite wrong about this one.

    I’ve lived in Germany and can attest to the fact that there are many immigrants who have lived there for many, many years and have yet to learn German. They depend on their children to get along.

    As well, their mentality doesn’t lend itself to integration into a Western society. They insist on having their children live as though they were still in the old country.

    A friend of mine, who is Arab but who has lived many years in France and now in Germany, is astounded at the amount of Turks who are businessmen and drive around in expensive Mercedes. This is unheard of in France, where Arabs really make up an underclass, but to the perfectionist Germans, it is still not good enough.

    I don’t think it’s a good sign to see ghettoes of Turkish speaking people in the middle of Germany. And, Germany’s history has nothing to do with how they are accepted. They really need to integrate by getting off their butts and learning. It’s the least they could do to be accepted in this education-mad country.

    • It is normally the women who don’t learn the language; the men have to, in order to work.

      It has always been like that in Britain; Bangla Deshi women don’t learn English and depend on their children. Even true of my ex-wife’s grandmother, who was Latvian, and came after WW2.

      It didn’t mean that the British Prime Minister made racist remarks about the end of multi-culturalism. Though lesser politicians did.

    • What if they educated themselves by going to some Green Party seminars and learned that the Western way of life is ecologically unsustainable?

      Meanwhile, how much are you checking to make sure that every white carpetbagger who moves to Tokyo or Shanghai is “assimilating” into the local culture? Or do I still smell the faint stench of extraterritoriality?

  4. It will be disastrous if Europe, Japan, and the US reject immigration and instead attempt to increase their birth rates. A 1999 Cornell University study found that the optimal population of the earth would be about 2 billion:

    ‘Democratically determined population-control practices and sound resource-management policies could have the planet’s 2 billion people thriving in harmony with the environment. Lacking these approaches … 12 billon miserable humans will suffer a difficult life on Earth by the year 2100.’ link to

  5. This sort of discourse has a long and ugly history in Germany

    John, you just won the internet understatement prize for October 18, 2010.

    Srsly, German chancellors should not be allowed to play the race card. It didn’t work out very well last time.

  6. I find your article, and others like it, dismissing serious questions all to flippantly.

    I think the situation in Germany, as well as France, the US and many, many other countries today raises questions that can not be so easily dismissed. How DO we create multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-lingual societies? What rights does a nation have to demand certain changes in those who chose (are not forced) to live in a country other than their own, e.g., language, clothing, customs?

    True, politicians all too often use such issues for political advantage rather than trying to discover ways to create meaningful societies in a more global and mobile world. We all too often play on the fear of the other, but how do we first tolerate and then embrace and celebrate other-ness?

    I am excited by the experiment to create unity in diversity that is the stated goal of the Union European. We’re feeling our way and have a LONG way to go, but we are moving in positive directions. Our ability to go farther will depend on serious dialog not fear mongering on the one hand or flippant dismissal on the other.

  7. You are inventing things in order to make your argument. All realtors in Germany won’t show an apartment to a Turk?

    And this supposed persecution of Catholics when 50% of the population of Germany is Catholic!!!

    Germans have one thing in common with each other and that is their language and culture. Until relatively recently, Germany didn’t even exist. It was a collection of small princely states with a common language and culture and that is why Germans hold on so tightly to these.

    Turks who spend decades in the country without learning German are a threat to this.
    Anyone would react the same way, and “Germany’s ugly history” has nothing to do with it.

    Sometimes, Muslims can be wrong Dr. Cole

    • Germans in heavily German-settled parts of the United States in the 19th century didn’t learn good English for decades, one of the reasons Pennsylvania legislated German-medium schools out of existence. There is nothing ‘Muslim’ about immigration issues, which are remarkably similar throughout modern history. And the key similarity is the undue alarm of nativists about immigrants not assimilating or even being assimilable, and the obvious fact that all of them do make a place for themselves over time and make enormous contributions. People are historically naive. Go back and read some US newspaper articles about Italians and Poles in 1900, and they sound just like what bigotted Europeans now write about Turks and Arabs. It is a crock.

  8. Post-WWII Europeans put themselves in a bind. They didn’t have many children, but they still wanted to keep labour costs down. So they imported large quantities of non-European labour.

    Labour might be treated as a commodity. But labour comes from people. People are not commodities. People come with languages, religions and cultures.

    When you import large numbers of people to live and work among you, you are modifying your culture, whether you are aware of it or not, whether you want it or not, and whether you like it or not.

    But Europeans never really had an above-board public discussion about the demographic and cultural ramifications of the mass importation of non-European labour. Focusing too much on the cost of the labour commodity, they forgot to consider whether or not a more ethnically homogeneous state was valuable to them.

    In Canada, ethnic homogeneity is not considered to be very valuable. But I can understand why in some of the long-established states in Europe, that it may be valued differently.

    The problem is that Europeans, belatedly coming to understand that they did not want to permanently and rapidly modify the ethnic and cultural composition of their countries, react with plain stupidity, ignorance, and bigotry against the people whose labur they have imported.

    The migrants have nothing to deserve this reaction. They have wronged no one. They did not invade, they were invited. It is perfectly normal for first-generation migrants to not assimilate. It is perfectly normal for migrants to form enclaves in their new country. These are routine features of peaceful mass migration. These migrants are doing nothing wrong.

    The whole notion of “guest” status for those who live and work for many years in one’s midst is completely wrongheaded. True citizenship is more than anything else about working and participating in the community. The migrants are in this true sense citizens. Imposing any other subordinate status is absurd and immoral.

    If you don’t want new citizens, and cannot accept that new citizens change a country, then don’t import labour.

    Since it’s now too late, Europeans will have to accept the reality which their leaders have created for them. If there is anger, let it be directed at those who orchestrated major demographic changes simply to avoid a rise in labour costs.

    There are other choices. Japan has chosen, whether deliberately or simply through inertia, to cope with an aging population while only accepting limited numbers of migrants. Whether they will continue this way is unclear.

    But the spectacle of childless early-retiring Euros sneering at those migrants whose work helps to make their retirement possible, is more than any intelligent person can stomach.

    Pabelmont made a good point. Unless population rises without end, many countries will have to learn to cope with an aging population as a transition to a more columnar population “pyramid.” There will be a period of several decades with an unavoidably high dependency ratio. That transition is painful and inefficient. It cannot be helped. Bite the bullet.

    • Spot on. A couple of centuries of absorbing immigrants has taught us Canadians that most complaints about immigrants not assimilating are idiotic. People arrive here, and some can quickly pick up a new language, while others can’t. Kids absorb things quickly, adults with more difficulty. Granny, dragged along by the family, can’t seriously be expected to learn a lifetime’s worth of new stuff. Whatever they chose, it’s their own business. It doesn’t bother me if somebody prefers cricket to hockey, or if they walk around in sari. Why should it? Only a meddling nosy-parker would concern themself with such things. We don’t have any Canadian ideology that demands conformity in “culture”. Instead, we prefer to believe that the freedom of the individual to live as they please IS the defining characteristic of our culture. And on that basis, we have built a pretty nice society. As the recently elected mayor of Calgary, Naheed Nenshi, has written: “We want to live in cities that are intersections of the world. Immigrant and ethnic presence in city neighbourhoods does not threaten our identity; rather, it encourages us to engage in new experiences and creates a healthy tension that challenges us, forces us to re-examine ourselves and helps foster innovation.” This view is pretty much the consensus. Attempts by crackpots to drum up anti-immigrant sentiment invariably fizzle out quickly. Until European nations learn this lesson, they will always be skirting the edge of barbarism.

  9. Dear Professr Cole

    Backing up Astras point about political tensions in the CDU.

    link to

    The point you make about the shortfall in skilled labout that makes immigration a necessity is a Europe wide problem.

    The demographics of the situation make the need for a modus vivendi with our minorities a necessity.

    The interesting thing will be to watch the German election results in a couple of years time.

  10. It is not the State’s proper business to make people “assimilate” to anything. Any society that allows the State to tell people what they can wear, for example, is a society of primitive savagery.

  11. Findings of a new study on right-wing attitudes in Germany, presented last week in Berlin by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation:

    A new study has revealed that far-right attitudes are deeply rooted in German society. One-third of Germans would send foreigners home if there weren’t enough jobs, while one-sixth think Jews have too much influence.

    “Germany is in serious danger of being overrun by foreigners.” It’s a sentence one would expect to find on an election poster for Germany’s far-right NPD party. As it happens, it’s a view that is held by over one-third of the German population — a new survey has revealed that 35.6 percent of Germans agree with the statement. […]

    For the first time, the pollsters asked whether the practice of Islam should be significantly restricted in Germany. A total of 58.4 percent of respondents said that it should be, even though such a restriction would violate Germany’s constitution, which guarantees freedom of religion. There was a difference between responses from the east and west of Germany. In western Germany, 53.9 percent thought Muslim religious practice should be restricted, while in the east, 75.7 percent felt it should be — even though there are far fewer Muslims living in the states of the former East Germany.

    What is particularly pertinent is that 55.5 percent of respondents who tended to otherwise reject right-wing extremist statements agreed with the statement on the practice of Islam. The study’s authors characterized this as a “modern racism,” which is based on cultural differences rather than on supposed genetic differences.

    Just over 55 percent of respondents agreed with the statement “I can fully understand why some people find Arabs unpleasant,” a result that was about the same in the east and the west. Again, over half of respondents that agreed with that statement tended to disagree with traditional right-wing extremist views. The researchers warn that right-wing extremist parties or right-wing populists could exploit this kind of resentment for political gains. […]

    COMMENT: As would Chancellor Angela Merkel, judging by her recent remarks.

  12. You´re projecting a problem that every Western European country has upon Germany because it´s making headlines in Germany at the moment. WHY it´s making headlines has correctly been explained by Astras already.

    Every German city deals differently with the problem of “Ghetto formation”. Munich´s strategy to avoid it has worked very well so far, the Turkish population lives if not everywhere in the city to the same extent, still in areas of the city that are respectable and attractive to Germans as well (I live in one of them). Other cities have different backgrounds and different strategies (interestlingly, it seems like having had a very liberal government for long periods of the past is somewhat of a risk factor. Symptom for something else or cause, whatever?).
    With all due respect, if you compare the “Ghetto” situation in Germany to the one in the US, no urban American from whichever city is in any position to point a finger anywhere. Come and see for yourself, instead on solely relying on our written self-accusations please.

  13. a few figures might help: last year 721 000 persons came to Germany and 734 000 left. It’s now 3 years that this kind of balance goes on. Most immigrants came last year from Poland: 123 000.Not EU immigrants were a mere 20 000. Most muslim and exotic immigrants enter because they’re part of family already in Germany or are refugees. Both groups have a constitutional right to do so. Copied from the SZ.

  14. The situation in Germany is not worse. than in France. All of Europe is full of immigrants

  15. Maybe this has nothing to do with the Turks, but everything to do with the character of the German people. I mean Ben Franklin was a brilliant and perceptive man.

    “Those who come hither are generally of the most ignorant Stupid Sort of their own Nation…and as few of the English understand the German Language, and so cannot address them either from the Press or Pulpit, ’tis almost impossible to remove any prejudices they once entertain…Not being used to Liberty, they know not how to make a modest use of it…I remember when they modestly declined intermeddling in our Elections, but now they come in droves, and carry all before them, except in one or two Counties…In short unless the stream of their importation could be turned from this to other colonies, as you very judiciously propose, they will soon so out number us, that all the advantages we have will not in My Opinion be able to preserve our language, and even our Government will become precarious.”

    • Benjamin Franklin sound like just Merkel, only worse. So it has nothing to do with Germans, and anti-German racism is no better than other kinds of racism. And you now, he was wrong. The Germans in the USA have become pretty well integrated.

  16. Do second-generation immigrants assimilate, or do they create a new synthesis?

    Consider the vast unrecorded revolution that Jews, Italians, and Irishmen helped bring about from the rural, reactionary WASP America of 1870 to the urban, progressive America of 1932, first cultural, then political. Before 1900 most Americans were rural, their favorite entertainment was minstrel shows (!), they only had a few novelists and artists of note, most children were essentially taught using the Protestant Bible, and all manner of bigotry, casteism, and class abuse went unresisted. By 1929 everything had changed because of immigrant-infested New York and Hollywood.

    America became a world cultural leader via new art and communication forms – Hollywood built by Jews, jazz created by Blacks unleashed on Chicago and St. Louis, mass newspapers designed by Hearst to sell in the ghettoes. While white longhairs like Ives bemoaned the lack of authentically American art forms, George Gershwin was listening to the music of a dozen peoples in the streets and creating synthesis. Immigrant kids were learning English all right – from Black jazz musicians and Communist newspapers.

    Prohibition was actually a WASP attempt to crush the “differentness” of supposedly alcoholic European ethnics. So was the execution of Saccho and Vanzetti, and the deranged extolling of unlimited capitalism via WASPy Wall Street. When it all collapsed in 1929, a new American polity formed around ethnics and union labor. The new culture already had already won in the streets; it was time to accept the new America in the halls of power as the solution for problems, not the cause.

    America needs it to happen again. And Europe does too.

  17. Just saw this posting by Juan. Great comments by Roland and super390, though as others have remarked, those in the U.S. with their own “Tea Party” backlash are in no position to point fingers at West Europeans’ insecurities. It is true that there are few places in Europe where an East Asian such as myself can walk around and feel truly, anonymously “local” (of all the European cities I’ve been to, only Moscow!) But there are plenty of places in the States where the majority simply will not accept second-, third-, or fourth-generation Americans of the “wrong” kind, whether me or President Obama. So should I really be surprised that some of my German colleagues don’t get it either??

    I’m very amused by all the Nazi war stereotyping from commentators whose knowledge of German history seems not to go much farther back than 1929 (or who’ve been watching too many reruns of “Hogan’s Heroes”). A particularly awful example, which got me to Juan’s posting, can be found at link to I read over Merkel’s comments carefully and found them far less problematic than anything coming out of Geert Wilders and the PVV in the Netherlands, or H.-C. Strache and the FPÖ in Austria, or Sarkozy and his followers in France…or plenty of right-wing populist politicians in the UK, Denmark, Spain, and just about every other West European country. We in Poland and the rest of Eastern Europe have enough problems, but fortunately this kind of open targeting of the few visible non-Roma minorities hasn’t yet risen to the level of mainstream political discourse.

    As I often tell my colleagues, those in “the West” can often be much more openly racist than East Europeans, with their honest, gaping stares at anyone who doesn’t quite fit in. Maybe now they’ll finally start believing me! :D

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