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The Great White Decline

A review of Eric Kaufmann’s Whiteshift: Populism, Immigration, and the Future of White Majorities

New York: Abrams Press, 2019, 624 pp. $35. ISBN: 13: 978-1468316971

What is reshaping the political landscape in the West? In a provocative new book, Whiteshift: Populism, Immigration, and the Future of White Majorities, Eric Kaufmann, a Canadian professor of politics at Birkbeck College, University of London, argues that the populist surge is fueled not so much by economic factors, but rather by a nascent white identity politics.

Immigration, demography, and cultural and ethnic change are central to understanding the current wave of populism. Previously, populist movements in America and the West have been ephemeral and episodic; but Kaufmann predicts that this emergent incarnation will principally define politics for the foreseeable future. For him, the big question of our times is not so much “What does it mean to be an American,” but instead “What does it mean to be white American” in an age of substantial racial and ethnic change. He sees a period of severe cultural instability on the horizon. Kaufmann’s book is organized around four broad white responses to ethnic change that he charts. First, whites can fight ethnic change by voting for populist parties or committing terrorist acts. Second, whites may repress their anxieties under pressure from political correctness and the anti-racism taboo.

Third, whites may opt to flee by avoiding diverse neighborhoods, schools, and social networks. And finally, whites may choose to joinminorities, first in friendship and later in marriage, thus resulting in a new racial amalgamation he designates “Whiteshift.” Whites have periodically fought against ethnic change throughout American history. In the late 19th century, Nativism emerged as a reaction by rural Protestants to the new immigrants who settled in urban areas. This movement culminated in the Johnson– Reed Act of 1924, which substantially curtailed immigration. A provision known as the National Origins formula mandated immigration quotas that were designed to maintain the ethnic composition of the population at the time when the law was enacted. Inasmuch as the United States had absorbed many immigrants at the turn of the century from diverse backgrounds, including Southern and Eastern Europe, it was believed that this measure would give time for assimilation to prove effective.

It was largely white Anglo-Saxon Protestants who settled the American nation, shaping its culture and major institutions. The WASP ideal served as a kind of default or natural identity to which white Americans aspired. Up until around the end of World War II, for many WASPS in the United States their ethnicity and national identity seemed coterminous. This was reflected in a dialogue Kaufmann mentions from the 2006 film The Good Shepherd, set in the 1940s when an Italian Mafioso played by Joe Pesci tells a WASP CIA operative played by Matt Damon: “We Italians, we got our families and we got the church. This Irish, they have their homeland. The Jews, their traditions. Even the Niggers, they got their music. What about you people, Mr. Watson, what do you have?” Damon’s character replies, “the United States of America, the rest of you are just visiting.” But by the 1950s, the concept of the melting pot had gained much salience in American public discourse.

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About Skeptic

PINKER ON POST-TRUTH & REASON Steven Pinker on “Why We Are Not Living in a Post-Truth Era: An (Unnecessary) Defense of Reason and a (Necessary) Defense of Universities’ Role in Advancing it” COLUMNS The SkepDoc: Coconut Oil: Health Food or Health Hazard? by Harriet Hall, M.D. • The Gadfly: The Persistence of Memory… and of the Memory Wars, by Carol Tavris ARTICLES The “Lost” Tribes of Israel • The Pentagon’s UFOs How a Multimedia Entertainment Company Created a UFO News Story • The Problem with the Walking Dead And How They Flummoxed Science for Centuries • The Enigma of Stephen Jay Gould • Why the Human Brain Did Not Evolve to Accurately Represent the True Nature of Reality • Homeopathy’s New Clothes: Release Active Drugs • Pressured Apologies, False Confessions, and Witch Hunts • Two Kinds of Progressive Atheism • Surfing for Truth in All the Right Places: An Empirical Test of the Backfire Effect and How the Internet Can Reduce Anti-vaccination Attitudes REVIEWS Reviews of “A review of Whiteshift: Populism, Immigration, and the Future of White Majorities” • “Spectacle of Illusion: Deception Magic and the Paranormal” • “The Apparitionists: A Tale of Phantoms, Fraud, Photography and the Man Who Captured Lincoln’s Ghost” • “Supernatural Entertainments: Victorian Spiritualism and the Rise of Modern Media Culture” JUNIOR SKEPTIC The Chilling, Changeling Chupacabra!