Review: ‘Whiteshift’ by Eric Kaufmann

(November 2021)

Across much of the developed world, immigration is one of the most sensitive topics in public debate.

All the evidence suggests that this will continue to be the case for the foreseeable future, which is why it is vital to explore the issues involved in greater detail.

An ideal opportunity to do this arose when the Canadian professor of politics Eric Kaufmann published ‘Whiteshift: Populism, Immigration, and the Future of White Majorities’ in 2019.

In 2010, Kaufmann came to prominence thanks to his book on religious demographics – ‘Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth?’ – in which he argued that the higher fertility rates of religious conservatives would lead to a reversal of secularisation in the long-term.

His latest book is even more provocative, as it examines how Western societies are gradually becoming mixed race as newly-arrived groups are absorbed through intermarriage, and as the white share of the population falls.

While the speed of the change taking place varies significantly between different countries, there is no mistaking its significance.

Kaufmann notes the unfolding situation from a global perspective, where fertility rates have collapsed in the West while remaining very high in the developing world. As richer societies age, their population levels will fall, and both immigration and the difference in fertility rates will ensure that the ethnic make-up of countries is transformed.

Not only is major change happening, it could not be stopped even if immigration were to be drastically curtailed.

As an example of this, Kaufmann includes population projections for England and Wales which show that the white population will fall significantly over the next century regardless of whether the high-immigration scenario or low-immigration scenario turns out to be accurate.

Kaufmann argues that the populist revolt which has taken place across the West has little to do with economics, and has a lot to do with the racial and cultural change which is gathering pace.

He further contends that there are four main white responses to this ethnic change: fight, repress, flee and join, and he takes the reader through a detailed examination of how each response is unfolding internationally.

In particular, he examines the United States, where rates of immigration and attitudes towards it have varied sharply in different eras, and Britain, where the large-scale immigration which began under Prime Minister Tony Blair played a major role in convincing voters to back Brexit.

Kaufmann’s measured approach to the subject allows him to carefully and even-handedly explore sensitive topics, from the curious contrast between how whites and non-whites in Britain value neighbourhood and religion in terms of their self-identity, to how ethnic diversity affects public support for the welfare state.

Along the way, the reader is treated to many surprising insights, such as the difference in how immigration is perceived in English-speaking Canada (which has moved decisively away from the old Anglo-Protestant identity towards embracing a dogmatic multiculturalism) and how it is perceived in French-speaking Quebec, where the shared ethnic, cultural and linguistic heritage of the original French settlers has resulted in a more sceptical attitude being taken towards inward migration.

Kaufmann’s native homeland plays an important role in this book for many reasons, as early on he identifies the rise of the “anti-majority adversary culture” throughout the West as being an important component of current unease.

Up until the mid-20th century, Canada was still strongly British in its culture and the Orange Order played an important role in national life.

The disintegration of the British Empire weakened those links, however, as did the drying up of the flow of British immigrants. In 1971, the country was declared officially multicultural, setting in motion a process which has been accelerated by Justin Trudeau’s government.

Trudeau has called his country a “post-national state” which has “no core identity [and] no mainstream,” and the pro-immigration Kaufmann rightly identifies how Trudeau-style multicultural liberalism forms a sort of new belief system intended as a building block of a new national identity.

While Canada stands out among its more sceptical peers in this regard, the dominance of this sort of left-modernism in the West’s college campuses is important given the symbiotic relationship which exists between it and radical right-wing politics; one piece of data which Kaufmann includes shows how references to ‘white privilege’ on Google show a similar growth pattern to references to ‘white genocide,’ with the first type of discourse feeding the rise of the latter.

In Canada, calls for a reduction in immigration remain a political taboo, but this is no longer the case elsewhere in the West, where differing views on cultural change have radicalised politics.

When addressing the most contentious issues – Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech in 1968, for example – the author is careful to explain his own viewpoint while explaining how he arrived at it: for instance, he considers Powell’s views to have been racist given that the conception of British ethnicity which Powell referred to was closed to others, and based on a desire to preserve purity.

Given the title of the book, we should not be surprised by the focus on race, but this can sometimes result in a shallower approach to issues of culture.

Kaufmann appears somewhat reluctant to explore concerns about Islam, in spite of the fact that much of the debate over immigration in essence boils down to the inability of Western societies to integrate large numbers of Muslim arrivals, while successfully integrating other groups.

While the conflating of ‘white’ and ‘Christian’ in some parts of the book is unfortunate, Kaufmann does draw on his previous work while offering some interesting insights about the future of Christianity in rapidly-changing countries.

The (fast growing) ultra-religious groups which he wrote about in his previous book like Mormons and ultra-Orthodox Jews could, in his view, be relatively untouched by the process of ‘Whiteshift’ due to how socially isolated these communities are.

More importantly, while Kaufmann does not see a major revival in religious participation among Western natives in the short-term, he does suggest that “Christian identity is more likely to revive – indeed, whites in parts of Britain with a higher share of Muslims are significantly more likely to say they are Christian.”

Many conservative-minded Christians would welcome this, although the risk which it carries should not be underestimated. As the French writer Olivier Roy has noted, anti-immigration politicians have increasingly focused on the symbols of Christianity like the Cross and used them as “identity markers in the face of Islam,” which can drain them of their spiritual significance.

Crucially, Kaufmann’s overall assessment is upbeat. Although we are currently in a turbulent period when it comes to ethnic and cultural change, he is hopeful that we are heading towards a melting pot in which a new mixed identity emerges.

He does not have the utopian views of many liberal-minded commentators about large-scale immigration, and suggests that immigration levels may need to be reduced to respond to concerns.

He also criticises the sort of “‘asymmetrical multiculturalism,’ whereby minority identities are lauded while white majority ones are denigrated.”

White majorities, he suggests, will have to learn not to think of themselves as the only true natives, but at the same time they will need to be able to celebrate their own ethnicity and cultural identity, all of which will help to create a new order “in which today’s white majorities evolve seamlessly and gradually into mixed-race majorities that take on white myths and symbols,” just as other groups have assimilated in the past.

Kaufmann’s vision of a more diverse future is a positive one, and his arguments about the path to achieving it while preserving social cohesion are highly convincing.

When considering these questions in the coming years, this book and its author should have a central role in the discussion.