The book’s aim is to “make migration normal” by problematizing the native/immigrant distinction while convincing “native” Europeans to stop thinking of themselves as long-settled folk and more as mobile folk who reside in nations of migrants. It’s a ruse that only works because the book is a story-driven account that allows statistical reality to fade into the background. Such an analysis would show that western Europe’s foreign-born share was only around 2 percent in 1900, compared to 10-15 percent today. Globally, about 3 percent of the world was born in another country, but in the West, the share jumped from 7 to 12 percent between 1990 and 2017, with a big rise in long-distance North-South migration. This is new.
Even at the height of Britain’s short period of Jewish immigration at the turn of the twentieth century, no more than 5-10,000 arrived, compared to 200-300,000 net migrants per year in the 2000s. In short, Western Europe’s history from the Dark Ages to the 1950s is overwhelmingly that of long-settled populations, punctuated by a few migration events, and with a steady but low level of long-distance migration. Migration of diverse peoples is the crust on the loaf of Europe’s contemporary history, not the loaf itself.
In addition, while the “unmixing” of Europe through co-ethnic in-migration after both world wars involved large numbers of people, this had a qualitatively different cumulative effect due to ethnic assimilation in destination countries. It is thus far less consequential than recent “mixing” inflows which have had persistent population-level effects in the form of large-scale ethnic change. Only a few inter-ethnic domestic migrations, such as that of the Irish to mainland Britain or Andalusians to Catalonia, are comparable—and these had profound political repercussions.
Assimilation, national solidarity, and the longue durée are conspicuously absent from a book whose author is focused on the human rights of migrants and ethnic diasporas in the present. While the book rightly points out that co-ethnic, rural-urban and inter-regional migrants were othered, it obstinately refuses to point out how successful their ethnic assimilation has been compared to groups which have, to use sociologist Ernest Gellner’s terms, ‘counter-entropic’ traits such as a different religion, which slows down the assimilation process. Only in France, for instance, is there a high rate of intermarriage between Muslim minorities and the ethnic majority. Pew’s projections, which are the most sophisticated we have, show that current migration levels will see Sweden’s Muslim share rise from 8 percent in 2016 to 21 percent in 2050. Britain’s will increase from 6 percent to 17 percent, France’s from 9 to 17 percent. The ethnic majority share will drop below half the population by the end of this century in many of the main immigrant-receiving western countries.
Like other liberal observers, the author’s sympathy for the power of ethnic attachment and community seems to disappear when he switches his focus from dislocated migrants to unsettled natives. Migration events like that of the 2015 Migrant Crisis (yes, it was a crisis) symbolize a loss of identity, which is why they tend to catalyze support for Europe’s surging populist right. When Jean-Marie Le Pen defeated Lionel Jospin in 2002 with 18 percent of the vote, a million people came out on the streets in protest. When Jörg Haider’s Freedom Party won 27 percent of the vote and went into coalition with the mainstream right in 2000, the EU censured Austria. Some 15 years later, the numbers had nearly doubled: Norbert Höfer of the Freedom Party came within a hair of winning the presidency in 2016 with 48 percent of the vote and entered a coalition government soon after. Marine Le Pen won the first round with 34 percent in 2017. Both events were greeted with silence and fear as Anywheres wondered what happened. Since then, they have merely doubled down on their biases, learning nothing. To deride the nation-state and cry ‘xenophobia’ when barriers are erected is to fail to reckon with the possibility that “unsettling” societies, which Gatrell applauds, might not be such a hot idea.
There is also a failure to consider the arguments of liberal nationalist thinkers like David Miller, who point to the way national attachments underpin democracy and the welfare state. By comparison, when a supranational organization without a common identity like the European Union tries to redistribute more than a paltry 2.5 percent of Europe’s wealth, this founders because it lacks the unity that underpins democratic legitimacy. Gatrell also acts as if ethnic identity is completely detached from homeland nationhood. Thus barely a word is spoken about the umbilical connection between migrant diasporas and nationalist movements in their ethnic homelands, from the Irish to the Serbs and Hindus.
The academic field of migration studies is essentially a monoculture when it comes to pro-immigration sentiment. The few who dare to report findings that contravene the pro-migration narrative, like George Borjas of Harvard, David Coleman of Oxford, or Gary Freeman of the University of Texas, largely operate as pariahs whose work is the subject of derision from the open-borders mainstream. In such a milieu, Gatrell’s unevidenced claims that migration is a major driver of prosperity “needed” by countries (as distinct from employers), and which adds nothing but spice to boring societies, goes unchallenged. His belief that if there were better routes for formal migration then border fences, detention, and offshoring wouldn’t be required is gospel in his world but isn’t backed by systematic quantitative analysis.