Immigration – What principles apply?

immigrationIn recent years, many people in Britain and elsewhere in Europe have been outraged by the mass poverty of the bottom billion inhabitants of the world. A policy of reducing immigration is often seen as mean spirited or even racist, discriminating against poor people who happen to be of a different culture and ethnicity. Alongside this there is an idealism of celebrating cultural diversity and embracing multiculturalism.

In contrast there is the widely held view that the Government should impose controls on immigration.

Left to itself, migration will keep accelerating , so that it is liable to become excessive.“ (Paul Collier, economist)

Some argue Britain is losing a degree of common trust and shared belonging. They want to hold on to what remains of national identity and social cohesion.

After many years of silence from the main stream political parties an acrimonious and toxic debate has started voicing these opposing views.  So what principles should apply to deciding immigration policy?


Prominent economist Paul Collier has written a book Exodus: Immigration and Multiculturalism in the 21t Century.

He reports research that indicates, with increased immigration into Europe, the children of immigrants are more resistant to adopting the national culture than their parents. Many have not been keen to assimilate, preferring instead to cluster together to preserve their parents’ culture of origin. Related to this is  development of the idea of multiculturalism.

It seems that a high rate of immigration can be both good and bad for the host country.

immigrationNotting Hill carnival

The Notting Hill carnival exemplifies the variety and stimulus of multiculturalism.  It has become the largest annual street party in Europe. The carnival was created by the Afro-Caribbean community and huge numbers of people from the indigenous population now also take part in it. It’s popularity indicates it has made a positive contribution to the quality of life.

Ethnic communities and immigration

Immigrants to Britain have become steadily more concentrated over time in a few English cities. Distinct migrant cultures have formed. The 2011 census revealed that the indigenous British had become a minority in their own capital. The reluctance to learn English by some immigrants has damaged communication as has the increasing adoption of the full veil e.g. by some women from the Bangla-deshi community.

Judgmentalism or wise assessment?

One ethical principle is not to be judgmental about the behaviour of others. On the other hand it may be unwise to turn a blind eye to any negative effects of separate cultural networks within society as a whole.

Does multiculturalism threaten what is valued in the main stream culture? Does it lead merely to people keeping a respectful distance from others? Is it compatible with a fusion of trust and concern within the larger society? And with a common purpose across the country as a whole?

Nationalism and immigration

One factor that needs to be addressed is that of national identity. Some argue that the situation of ethnic minorities living among their own in cultural networks reduce the common sense of national identity in the wider society.

Over many years in Britain there has been a deafening silence from the main stream parties in relation to immigration. This taboo has not prevented nationalistic extremists voicing concerns in racist and bigoted ways.  Consequently, nationalism has got a bad name.

The idea of nationhood has become less desirable. In part this is due to the growth of individualism. Margaret Thatcher once famously remarked that there is no such thing as society. But it is also a result of seeing nationalism as the cause of violence. Angela Merkel in Germany has voiced fears that a revival of nationalism would risk a return to war. If true the argument about loss of national identity due to high rates of immigration loses its force.

I would suggest that patriotism can be an extension of self-glory. So the thoughts come ‘I love my country because it is my country.’ ‘If it is great and powerful, that enhances my self-image as a citizen.’ ‘If it is a major power, I can feel like a superior being.’

Patriotism and national identity

On the other hand cannot loving one’s country in a right way be extending our concerns beyond ourselves and our immediate families? Cannot it be counting the needs and concerns of others as equal to our own?

One ought out of love for one’s country to do good to it according to its needs, which have regard primarily to its sustenance, its public life, and its spiritual life.” (Emanuel Swedenborg, spiritual philosopher)

Without all voters with a common national identity and mutual concern, how can we hope for a growth of consensus behind all the major policy issues facing national government e.g. taxation and foreign policy?

Summary about immigration policy

According to the ‘golden rule’, one should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself. The obvious consequence of this obliges rich countries to help the poor immigrants.

Another principle, however, is that every unified whole is formed from the harmony of the variety in its many constituent parts, and the whole depends on this harmony. An example of this is the human body. One inference from this is that diversity of cultures is good. However, disharmony for the wider society, will result from any clash between its parts, such as about central values.

Should the British government decrease immigration, even temporarily because of the already high numbers of immigrants? Would this enable better integration thereby lowering discrimination, reducing cultural barriers, and enhancing communication between ethnic groups? Integration requires flexibility in both the immigrants and indigenous population.

What is the right balance between helping more poor people from overseas and supporting the poor people already resident whose low wage jobs and social housing are threatened by immigration?

Copyright 2017 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

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Multiculturalism — good or bad?

Refugees – How many to take in?

Just how tolerant should I try to be?

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