Populism and identity crisis in the West

Demography is the science of studying population trends in a group, society or country. It also acts as a graphical method to represent the population density in a state.

My colleague Umar Waqar had done an interesting study on demographics, which was published in the Nation on 19 Nov 2009, some of the ideas in that article may be worthy of putting in this article:

Post World War-II, the West went through consequential changes in psychosocial and philosophical domains, challenging and altering basic premises of human relationship and behaviour. This included the rise of feminism, assault on church and religion to achieve requisite breathing cultural space, creating chinks in the armour of family system and curbing women’s desire for bearing children by declaring it burdensome. This was done so consistently that free culture became the new religion of the West and any deviation from or rebuttal of this new religion was considered antitheses of progress.

Whereas the freedom enjoyed by men and women temporarily unleashed tremendous physical and intellectual energy, and the West experienced unprecedented growth in four decades following World War II, it destroyed the institution of marriage and started atomising the families into individual households and concept of single living gained currency.

Patrick J Buchanan, the author of ‘The Death of the West’, described the demographic catastrophe in the following words: “The West is dying. Its nations have ceased to reproduce, and their populations have stopped growing and begun to shrink. Not since the Black Death carried off a third of Europe in the fourteenth century has there been a graver threat to the survival of Western civilisation. Today, in 17 European countries, there are more burials than births, more coffins than cradles. As a growing population has long been a mark of healthy nations and rising civilisations, falling populations have been a sign of nations and civilisations in decline. If that’s true, Western civilisation, power and wealth aside, is in critical condition. For, like the Cheshire Cat, the people of the West have begun to fade away.”

This paper tries to link what Umar Waqar had projected in 2009, with the current trend of Demographics, Populism and Identity crises.

Assistant Professor of history at Texas A&M, Trent MacNamara published an article on 26 March in The Atlantic with the title ‘Liberal Societies Have Dangerously Low Birth Rates’. The main arguments extracted from the document are appended below:

As fertility rates in the US declined from 7 to 3.5% within a hundred years after 1800, President Theodore Roosevelt in the start of the 20th century was excoriating his people for committing “race suicide” a “sin for which the penalty is national death, race death; a sin for which there is no atonement.”

Low birth rates also threaten welfare states with bankruptcy and nations with the destabilising politics of cultural extinction. Children’s costs and benefits were bound up in fundamental moral questions about self, society, transcendence, and cosmic time. Is birth control selfish, serving irresponsible adults, or altruistic, assisting vulnerable children?

For Americans asking themselves whether to have two children or three or any children at all, modernity was a bleeding reality, not an academic abstraction. Americans disagreed passionately about whether birth control was part of the good or the bad in modern life, but they agreed that history seemed to demand ever-tighter control over fertility. The best-adapted people always seemed to have the smallest families.

As below-replacement fertility spreads around the world, however, this association could become less mutually advantageous. Particularly if modern standard-bearers such as Japan or Germany continue recording the decade upon decade of ultralow fertility, birth control and modernity could begin to seem more like interconnected problems than obvious developmental goals.

While describing the reasons for rising Populism, McNamara goes on to point out that, in countries with the longest records of low fertility, new fears of race suicide are fueling popular populist and ethnic-nationalist movements.

Demographics has now become a significant debate in the western capitals. One such discussion was held in Policy Exchange, a popular and influential British Centre-Right think tank, in February this year. Eric Kaufman, the author of the book, ‘White Shift: Populism, Immigration, and the Future of White Majorities’, and one of the participants of the discussion highlighted that although the demographics were a real factor, it was the perception about demographics which was driving Populism and the ideas like Brexit and Trump. He asserted that there was a need to start an intelligent discourse on White Shift and Populism.

The ethnic-traditional nationalism is also part of the debate; however, there is a need to differentiate between traditional ethnonationalism and the Civic Nationalism based on a constitution and democratic principles and the ensuing immigration debate should be taken in the same spirit as on taxes and may not be considered toxic. Elaborating on the issue of White Shift, Kaufman eluded to two significant factors, one that the west was now getting into the start of the process of decline of White majority; giving the example of Canada, he projected that Canada will shift from current 80% Whites and 20% immigrants to a complete reverse in a hindered years, where it will be 20% Whites and 80% non-whites. Even in Britain, the White population will fall to less than 50%. As a result of this shift, cultural economics will become a more pronounced debate than the debate between conservatives and liberals. Two, the identity question will be a key driver of trends in the West, including the US. Thus concern about protecting White identity is the primary driver in the rise of Populism in the west.

In response, the progressive left has come up with counter-argument about immigration and progressive cosmopolitism, this factor has hardened the stance of Populist leaders and their followers and will result in a further polarisation of the politics.

Other participants of the debate highlighted that there is an element of frustration and anger, even the intellectuals and opinion makers in White communities have become exponents of ‘White Space’ and ‘White Survival’. Populism, nationalism and xenophobia are being considered a natural outcome of dwindling white population, the rise of populist leaders like Trump in the US, Matteo Salvini in Italy, Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, Marine Le Pen in France and a host of others in Europe points to this emerging trend.

Populism has displayed its wrath in the form of anti- Semitism and Islamophobia, the recent attack on the Muslim community in New Zealand is a case in point. There is a need for the debate to address these rising trends and arrive at a new social contract where the increasing immigrant population in the West can be accommodated within the sliding White community, without resorting to violence and civil unrest.

The writer is a freelance columnists. Email: yalla_umar@yahoo.com

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