The idea that liberalism is dead has recently received a boost from Russian President Vladimir Putin who has been quoted as saying:
“The liberal idea… has come into conflict with the interests of the overwhelming majority of the population,” … Putin said in an interview with the Financial Times Friday that the “liberal idea has become obsolete,” and referred to Germany’s decision to welcome more than one million refugees — many fleeing savage urban warfare in Syria — as a “cardinal mistake.”Russia’s Vladimir Putin: Liberalism in Europe is ‘obsolete’ By Patrick Smith, NBC News, 29 June 2019
Putin’s claim received a great deal of comment in terms of the idea that his comment was mostly about the West’s supposed imposition of LGBT values onto a largely unwilling majority or an attack on civil freedoms (see Putin has Always Opposed Liberalism, Moscow Commentators Say, by Paul Goble). While it apparent from Putin’s and the Russian government’s pronouncements on LGBT rights that they are not in favour of the enthusiastic promotion of LGBT rights, Putin has also stated that LGBT persons are free to live how they wish. Additionally, the Russian government under Putin has made great strides in introducing laws that enhance civil freedoms, counter official corruption and promote the rule of law.
However, when talking of the issue of migration into Europe, we are talking about a different construction of liberal. We stray from the common live and let live concept of the liberal (lower case) into the use of the term Liberalism (upper case) as a political and social movement. This latter sense of the word is more formally associated with the Western globalisation project which seeks to eliminate national borders and homogenise both culture and society. This Liberalism is also associated with a promotion of the primacy of Western values and cultural norms and the loss of national sovereignty in favour of an imposed order dictated by the Western elites and enforced through the military power of the USA and NATO. As has become apparent in the Trump era especially this order is not so much a “rule of law” freely agreed among peers through international bodies such as the UN, as a rule of power based on laws passed in the USA and imposed on allies and foes alike.
In this sense, the mass immigration that has been experienced in Europe across the last decade is indeed somewhat related to Liberalism as a project of the Western elites in its crashing of national boundaries and movement of masses of people. Ordinary liberals, as in people who adopt a live and let live view on life, are confronted in this situation by a conflict between humanitarian concern for the afflicted refugees and sheer impossibility of asking their societies to cope with and assimilate such an influx of culturally divergent and financially desperate people. It is not liberalism in the live and let live sense of the word or some humanitarian concern that has certain elites of Europe and the USA supporting these mass movements of people, but rather their desire to drive down national wages and degrade labour conditions while addressing problems of ageing populations and low birth rates by importing younger people from cultures where large families are the norm.
But, Putin’s reading of the situation omits that fact that hundreds of thousands of people did not somehow miraculously arrive one day and had to be assimilated. In fact, the recent waves of immigrants into Europe were a direct result of the USA’s proxy wars in Iraq, Libya and Syria which then combined with the USA’s ongoing destabilisation of sub-Saharan Africa to launch masses of people across borders—much as the USA’s regime change and management efforts in Central America have cast waves of people onto the USA’s own southern borders.
To this degree, the drive to “liberal multi-culturalism” recognises that it is both inhumane to rebuff these people and also impossible to adequately assimilate them. Even if it were possible within a single generation, assimilation (ie making them largely indistinguishable from the existing inhabitants) poses a direct afront to their cultural and linguistic birthrights—something few people would willingly concede, at least in the first generation.
In the event, their presence understandably results in resistance from existing citizens who feel the results in the degraded living conditions that the elites have forced on them by setting up this situation. This gives rise to tension between those negatively affected citizens and the new arrivals, which further reduces the ability of the newcomers to assimilate. The newcomers finding it hard earn a living and become functioning members of the wider society due to language, discrimination, low wages, lack of qualifications and lack of social networks in the new society. As a result, the society sees rising rates crimes of poverty—such as theft, violence and rape. Organised crime flourishes as the isolated and disaffected (from both existing communities and newcomers) opt out and look to their own welfare outside the mainstream civil society, which is capable of supplying neither the means to prosper nor safety and security.
This is not a new phenomenon, colonial nations like the USA and Australia have experienced these issues in numerous waves over the last 200 years. For instance, in the USA influxes of Irish and Italian immigrant communities saw huge assimilation issues, such as the Irish domination of the union movement and the Italian mafia. In Australia, the experience was very similar with the waves of Irish, Italian and Lebanese immigrants through the 20th century, all of whom took at least two generations to assimilate. This effect was felt even in these nations that were essentially built on immigration.
What seems to set the present situation apart is that it casts these immigrants back on a Europe comprised of nations that were not built on immigration, nations that often have many hundreds of years of shared history, culture and racial homogeneity. Not used to having to make such adjustments, the cultural shock is surely immense. But it is not liberal multi-culturalism that is to blame, this is merely one way of trying to cope with the impossibility of assimilating such a large number of people in one generation—the effort to help people from different cultures live alongside and among each other while they try to find a way to adapt to a situation that was not of their making. In the end, with so many newcomers it will not be assimilation that results—the existing citizens and newcomers will need to forge something new.