MONDE & VIE: Can we still reasonably talk about immigration? What is your position on this subject?
ALAIN DE BENOIST: Let’s first take stock of the situation. For more than half a century, most Western European countries have been subjected to massive immigration that is poorly controlled or not controlled at all. Over time, and with the introduction of family reunification, these arrivals have taken the form of settlement immigration. In 2020, almost a third of children born in France had at least one parent of non-European origin. In a few decades, France has thus become not so much a multicultural as a multiracial society.
Paradoxically, immigration today brings people together even more than it divides them. All available opinion polls show that between two-thirds and three-quarters of French people are hostile to immigration. This is not because of racism (French society is much less racist than it was thirty or forty years ago) but because of the social pathologies associated with the phenomenon of immigration, notably delinquency and insecurity (the vast majority of immigrants are not delinquents, but the vast majority of delinquents are from an immigrant background), and because the ‘tolerance threshold’ has long since been crossed. This means that more and more French people feel that they have become strangers in their own country because they see the disappearance of the social patterns that were theirs, and they can no longer recognise themselves in most of the people they meet.
Well aware of this development, few political parties now want more immigration. However, at least three circles are in favour: firstly, the majority of liberals, who practice the religion of free trade and traditionally advocate the free movement of people and goods, and therefore the abolition of borders. Liberalism sees communities only as groupings of individuals, and immigration is defined in its eyes only as the entry into a given territory of a certain number of individuals who choose to join other individuals. This allows the liberals to assert that all immigration is the same, whether it be sub-Saharan Africans, Italians or Poles. The employers, who know that immigration has always been the reserve army of capital, support this position. In their eyes, immigration simply means an increase in the number of consumers and the arrival of a labour force with few demands, favouring a downward pressure on wages.
The second pro-immigration milieu is that of the ‘humanitarians’, who believe there are no problems that ‘generosity’ and disembodied love cannot solve. Aspiring to the ‘universal communion’ capable of ‘overcoming all historical and cultural barriers’ of which the encyclical Fratelli tutti speaks, their favourite weapons are moral intimidation, the call to repentance, the definition of unconditional welcome as a sacred duty, and compassionate and tearful victimology. This allows them to affirm that they embody the empire of the Good. Finally, there is a more radical minority, which holds to a ‘redemptive’ conception of immigration, which is supposed to bring ‘new blood’ to a society that needs more ‘diversity’, i.e. more miscegenation, and which counts on immigrants to subvert and regenerate a historical France that abhors it.
What all these circles have in common is an unconditional adherence to the idea of an ‘open’ (or ‘inclusive’) society, whose ultimate goal is to replace a diverse world of relatively homogeneous peoples and cultures with a homogeneous world of radically ‘creolised’ societies.
My position is simple: like the majority of French people, I am resolutely hostile to immigration. To immigration but not to immigrants. I have no moral hostility towards them, any more than I have towards their cultures of origin or the countries from which they come. I do not consider them interchangeable, and I am not one who rejoices to see a number of them drown in the Mediterranean. Pierre Manent recently told me that he believed neither in secularism, assimilation, nor remigration. This is also my position.
MONDE & VIE: Stephen Smith, referring to the abundance of the migratory flow from sub-Saharan Africa, has been able to speak, without being contradicted by anyone, of a ‘rush to Europe’. Is it poverty that explains and justifies immigration? Who in the countries of origin can leave for Europe?
ALAIN DE BENOIST: Initially, the motivation is purely economic: it is a question of finding better-paid work in the West, even if it means taking risks to one’s life. Added to this is the persistent illusion, fostered by television, that the West is an El Dorado. On the spot, of course, one is disappointed – but one stays. However, more and more immigrants nowadays cite family rather than work as the reason for their migration.
Contrary to popular belief, it is not the poorest who emigrate, but rather men belonging to the lower petty bourgeoisie, often educated and sometimes with a degree. In addition to the dangers of the journey, which it would be wrong to overlook, the ‘rush to Europe’ is expensive (several thousand euros to satisfy the demands of the smugglers alone). It is not uncommon for a whole village to contribute to helping the candidates for departure. It is a kind of investment.
MONDE & VIE: What should we think of those who invoke the ‘rule of law’ or the Declaration of Human Rights to defend unlimited immigration?
ALAIN DE BENOIST: First of all, there is a certain irony in wanting to support, in the name of human rights, populations that we are told violate these same rights on a daily basis. That said, it is surprising to see so many ‘right-wing’ people taking up without hesitation these criticisms, directly inherited from the Enlightenment, of ‘archaic’ or ‘medieval’ morals, which are precisely the same as those directed at traditional societies and Catholicism.
But there is also a real fundamental problem here. When Michèle Tribalat says that ‘we have moved from labour immigration to rights-based immigration’, she makes an observation that goes a long way, although many people do not realise it. In the past, people sought to settle in another country for all sorts of reasons. You applied and hoped to be accepted, but you didn’t make immigration a ‘right’. They didn’t say, ‘I want to go home because I have a right to.’ This shift is also of liberal origin: if there are only individuals and ‘territories’, each interchangeable, the free movement of people implies that anyone can settle anywhere they want.
This also touches on another essential aspect of the issue. Many people think that more willpower is all that is needed to solve the problem of migration flows. This is to forget that politicians’ hands are tied by judges and that ultimately the latter are the ones who decide and therefore rule. Here again, liberalism is at fault since it has never ceased to want to subject national and popular sovereignty to the ‘over-sovereignty’ of the legal authorities. It was a decision of the Court of Justice of the European Union, for example, that made illegal residence no longer an offence. Similarly, it was the Council of State which, in December 1978, enshrined the right to family reunification that the public authorities wanted to limit. There is no doubt, to take two simple examples, that if it were decided to abolish the right to land or if it were decided that no more asylum applications would be accepted on French territory (applications would have to be made to the consulates in the countries of origin), the judges would also veto them.
MONDE & VIE: Mr Dupond-Moretti recently explained on television that he favoured immigration because he could employ a cleaning lady at an affordable price and easily find a taxi. What do you think this kind of argument is a symptom of?
ALAIN DE BENOIST: A typically postmodern form of neo-colonialism. Yesterday, we had ‘boys’; today we have pizza delivery men and nannies at home. The evolution of city centres bears witness to this: in the long term, we will only find bobos and servants of immigrant origin suitably exploited in all good conscience in the name of the laws of the market.
This is also a clear form of class racism. In peripheral France, things are different. The working classes, which represent almost one in two French people, are the most hostile to immigration because, unlike the inhabitants of the upper classes, they are the ones who suffer the full consequences. The stigmatised working classes and the disaffiliated middle classes are now experiencing a triple insecurity: cultural, political and social. French-style sociability is often their only cultural reference, but they also need a social and protective state. This is why the social and the cultural are strictly inseparable in their hierarchy of expectations. It is for not having understood this that Éric Zemmour lost his bet, which aimed to reactivate the left-right divide, by abandoning the social to the Left.
MONDE & VIE: What do you think of those who intend to use this demographic rush by defending selective immigration (by the host countries) rather than uncontrolled immigration? Is there any other solution than selective immigration to put an end to the migratory chaos represented by the 500,000 legal and illegal immigrants who settle in France every year?
ALAIN DE BENOIST: Selected immigration is undoubtedly preferable to totally uncontrolled immigration. But selective according to what criteria? It is only too evident that it will be economic criteria since, in the eyes of the ruling class, immigration is first and foremost an economic problem and even more so a ‘technical’ problem, given that for liberals political problems are in the final analysis only technical problems. To put it plainly, immigrants will be selected whose contribution will maximise the profits of liberal capitalism. And at the same time, by skimming off the ‘best’, i.e. the most successful, the countries of origin will be deprived of a certain number of elites they would need the most.
MONDE & VIE: Do you think that the phenomenon of migration can be controlled by an immigration law, i.e. by a certain number of measures resulting from state technocracy?
ALAIN DE BENOIST: Let me remind you that there has been an average of one ‘immigration law’ every two years for more than half a century without the problem being resolved. This shows that the public authorities have always acted on an ad hoc basis, according to economic circumstances and electoral deadlines, and have merely repeated pious wishes and mantras. As the sociologist Smaïn Laacher recently noted, the truth is that there has never been a French doctrine on immigration from which principles and rules of action could have been deduced.
The problem is that the development of such a doctrine would require a fundamental transformation of minds. There can be no migration doctrine without a clear idea of what a people is (and not an aggregate of individuals), what a country is (and not a ‘territory’), what a culture, a civilisation, a specific sociability, shared values, etc. are. We are further away than ever.
MONDE & VIE: Europe shows us a decomposed Christianity after a long period of prosperity, particularly missionary, and a recomposed Islam after a long lethargy. What is the place of religion in the anxiety-inducing nature of migratory flows today?
ALAIN DE BENOIST: An undeniable place, but not free of fantasies. The fact that many immigrants are Muslim obviously complicates matters, especially when we are witnessing the reawakening of an aggressive Islamism, of which the news provides us with daily examples. Many people interpret this Islamism as synonymous with Islam, which remains to be proven, and see it as a fundamentally religious phenomenon, whereas in my opinion it is a political phenomenon in a religious guise.
You are probably among those who believe that the immigration problem would be much easier to solve if the newcomers were Catholic, not Muslim. There is some truth to this view, but it should not be overstated either. The United States has an immigration problem of frightening proportions, yet the vast majority of its immigrants are Latino Catholics. Focusing on religion is like saying that a Christian would always prefer to see a Catholic Malian settle in France rather than a Norwegian atheist, and that a pagan would always prefer to see a Congolese animist settle here rather than a Polish Catholic! It is clear that this kind of consideration does not lead very far. It only shows that the problem of immigration cannot be reduced exclusively to questions of belief or religion.
MONDE & VIE: You have given a lot of thought to the problem of identity and are republishing your book Nous et les autres (We and the Others), published by Editions du Rocher. Do you think that in this migratory crisis Europe has values to defend? What are they? How can we say ‘we’ again, and on what criteria do we designate ‘the others’?
ALAIN DE BENOIST: In order to answer this question, we would already have to expand on the perimeter of ‘ourness’. Who is ‘we’ that you are talking about? Catholics? The French? The Europeans? Westerners? Europe certainly has values to defend, but above all it has a history and a personality to be loved. Unfortunately, the debate on immigration today is locked in a confrontation between assimilation and integration, universalism and ‘communitarianism’, which is a dead end. The ‘communitarianism’ that is criticised in the name of the ‘values of the Republic’ is only a caricature of the communitarian spirit, an unavowed way of seceding in order to set up a counter-society. Real communities do not pose this kind of problem, starting with the Jewish community, the Asian, Armenian, Tamil communities, etc., which have been able to reconcile their particularities and acceptance of a necessary common law.
My book on identity addresses this vast subject in all its dimensions. It shows that identity is never a simple subject and that, on the question of immigration, the assertion of identity by newcomers contrasts singularly with the impoverishment of the sense of identity in Europe. It is often said that immigrants hate France. This is indeed sometimes the case (not always!). But doesn’t the dominant ideology have its share of responsibility in this detestation? Let’s listen to Christophe Guilluy: ‘When you arrive from the other side of the world, and you are told that your neighbour is a racist, a half-wit, a consumerist, whose life goal is to eat and watch TV, you are not going to adopt his values!’