Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Does immigration threaten local culture?

Amit Ghate addresses in Forbes magazine the oft-heard argument that foreign immigrants will threaten or even overwhelm our culture—or American culture—or European culture—that the combined forces of demographics mean open, or even increased, immigration should be abandoned everywhere.

This argument has a fundamental flaw however:

Consider, to begin, the definition of culture, viz.: “the ideas, customs, skills, arts, etc. of a people or group, that are transferred, communicated, or passed along, as in or to succeeding generations.” Observe that our culture rests on the ideas that we adopt, as these determine the other values, skills and customs we uphold.
Yet not a single one of us inherits our ideas…

That simple point explodes the whole case.

But what about the empirical evidence? Well, which country more than any other was built on  immigration other than America herself:

It’s no accident that—while she retained her intellectual self-confidence—America was the land of the immigrant. And what dividends that policy paid! Economically America prospered due to the increase in producers and the inherent benefits of specialization and trade. Intellectually she blossomed thanks to the abundance of new ideas and views which could be carefully weighed and winnowed.
    Yet culturally she was never threatened. America was understood to be, and lauded for being, the land of freedom and opportunity, both by those already here, and those arriving. As a result, 19th century America was perhaps the most intellectually active and economically dynamic culture the world has ever seen.

Yes, immigration in a culture of intellectual self-confidence works.

But guess what: “When a nation is no longer willing or capable of defending its culture as morally desirable,” “it works the other way too.”

 See what other great points Ghate makes.

[Hat tip Thrutch]


  1. "That simple point explodes the whole case"

    Somehow I doubt that. In the extreme. This supposed lack of ideological inheritance would give rise to cultures changing so as to be unrecognisable within a generation, without a corresponding change in demographics. And then changing again within another generation. Whilst managing to remain viable as a society. If you would be so kind as to point one out. (Key word - viable)

    And if, as stated, the ideas are so overwhelmingly prominent in the success of a society, well there's good news. Those ideas aren't secret. An ambitious society can take them and use them, free of charge.

    Of course, if it turned out that you could feed the same idea (or any other condition) to different groups of people and receive quie different results, well, that would put a slight cramp on things wouldn't it.

    Bottom line, if a country received 100 million immigrant Indians (random example)(or enough to ensure a majority population of Indians) what would they end up with. India. To suggest anything else is ludicrous, and I'm slightly amazed to see how a different conclusion could be arrived at.

  2. It depends on why people are immigrating and where they are going.

    The US has received 100m plus immigrants over time. THe US is not Russia, Britain, Germany, Mexico or India.

    Those immigrating to the US tend to want to be Americans or want the advantages of being Americans not invaders transplanting their culture (a bit different in 1492 granted).


  3. @tspoon: I think the truth lies somewhere between what Amir Ghate says and your dire perpective, but closer to Amir Ghate. Yes, immigrants do bring their native culture with them to varying degrees, for between or worse. However the scenario of 100M Indians turning up on America's shore is an unreal one. If Indians want India, they will stay in India, so they firstly have to make a conscious choice to choose another culture. Secondly Indians just don't come from India, but from every other nation on the planet, with a variety of native cultures. What results is a 'melting pot' of different cultures. Usually this gives you the best of both worlds - a variety of food choices for instance, immigrants that are generally hard workers, and acceptance of the laws and manners of the country they've come to.


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