I have been in Sweden now for a year. I have watched the immigration crisis unfold. I have read different viewpoints. I have seen the crisis steal an hour from my day several times a week. Like the election in the US which may spell the end of neoliberalism for better or worse, this is an amazing crisis, and I feel privileged to watch history in the making.
So Zizek has written an interesting piece about the social and political dynamics of the refugee crisis. It is a piece which reaffirms the need of culture and identity, and a piece which confronts obliquely the nature of modernism. It is worth a read. Myself, I am both the first to defend refugees as people, and also to defend the fact that there are real concerns about the demographics of this crisis, and that it is unjust to expect Europe to pick up the tab of the human cost the US has been busy accruing.
This being said, as a lover of history, there are some things that are left out of the dimensions of his analysis, dimensions which add answers and more questions to the reason Europe tends to be so fixated on the crisis. These problems demand solutions and the questions demand further searches for answers. But Europe's very survival, I think, rests on recognizing two truths, that Europe must embrace far more the refugees Europe does accept, but also that Europe must accept fewer refugees. My grim assessment is that unless Europe does both these things -- seeking to recover from the refugees what Europe has lost and also limit the flow, that the only future Europe can look forward to is one where the refugees have by force of number dramatically reshaped the political and social order. We can decide to learn or we can be schooled. It is our choice.
The story of the rise of Europe is the story of the rise of poverty. In England, in France, in Germany, as in the US, early industrialization was dependent on the rise of destitution sufficient to get people to give up on anything better than subsistence wages in the factory. The less industrialized portion of Europe, for example in the Balkans and in Scandinavia, tried to industrialize in less unequal ways with only modest success (usually with appropriately proportional rises in poverty and industrialization -- see Scandinavia's efforts to industrialize the fishing industry which caused many small fishermen to lose their businesses in the face of crushing debt).
The way out of poverty becomes a social safety net, a way of ensuring that people do not fear for security for being out of work, but this too becomes something that one has to work beforehand to qualify for, and often (particularly in Scandinavia) banking policies favor the employed to the self-employed. In this way the chains that bind people to corporate employment in the name of liberating them from family are forged strong. With this employment-centric economy, the family is no longer productive, and so children are no longer the future of one's own economic endeavors. Women have fewer children and the population declines. Capitalism (like state socialism for the same reasons) is cultural suicide. This is something people intrinsically understand which is the answer to why so many Europeans cling to their sense of identity through hostility to the immigrants. They know something is wrong. They know their culture is declining. They know immigration is connected. They know the elites are calling the shots. The hatred and fear they feel regarding immigrants is therefore a proxy for the hatred and fear they feel regarding the bankers, the politicians, the bureaucrats, who claim to do good but instead enslave them. But this is counterproductive.
When I walk down the street in Landskrona, I see restaurant after restaurant. I see small corner store after small corner store. These all fall into one of two categories: They are either businesses with a few employees (maybe 5-10) or they are very small family businesses run by first-generation immigrants. Those who are self-employed are very usually immigrants. They are not used to the chains that are there to bind them to corporate employment and so they blithely walk around as if those are not there. They are the free smallholders who have more or less vanished elsewhere. So the immigrants come to do the jobs that Swedes won't do: running very small businesses. And yet it is considered a great success that their children will join the corporate work force. That fact alone gives me more reason to be pessimistic about Europe's future than everything else. It is a "victory" for the engines of assimilation to liberate the children of the smallholding class into the corporate workforce.
I think that the European elites believe that this system can be sustained indefinitely through immigration, that there is nothing inevitably damaging about outsourcing the process of having and raising children. Why not let Africa and the Middle East bear the costs and Europe reap the benefits? Moreover if the masses are divided between nativists and immigrationists, then nobody will challenge the power structures at the top. It is a nearly perfect strategy and one which seems likely to win at least for the short term. But it is becoming more clear that the system cannot sustain itself on immigration, that falling birth rates present a problem for the whole structure and that trying to bring in refugees can be dangerously unpredictable. Sweden promised to welcome all refugees that wanted to come, and quickly found out that there were a lot of refugees in line.... That mistake has lead to the reintroduction of border measures that have cascaded across Europe.
The problem is not just that immigration is a problem. The problem is that immigration is the solution to an economic problem. If cultural nationalists want to win, they have to help a just economic and social order arise, one which supports families, and leads to a sustainable birth rate. What we have now is not. That means starting with those immigrants who have not yet been assimilated and learning from them. It means learning what economic realities need to change from their point of view. It means making room at least in the short-run for parallel cultural societies. And it means working on building an economic order where family and community once again matter.
This is the promise of multiculturalism but multiculturalism never lives up to this promise because it is peddled by people openly hostile to culture, who see culture as an obstacle to rights.. Multiculturalism has great promise but it cannot be fulfilled unless culture is seen as innately valuable, as a matter of function and humanity not mere self-esteem in a commodity marketplace. The most multicultural places I have lived have also been the most conservative.
Of course the right will have trouble doing this. The political right is funded by the same elites that are causing the problem on the left. You won't get careful introspection from any political side because they are not in the business of making policies but selling policies. And that is the real problem.