Great Books The great Paul Johnson, a very good friend and in my opinion the brainiest and nicest man in England, has started a dangerous trend. In a recent Spectator column he admitted he had never been able to read Marcel Proust's A la Recherche from start to finish. "I have digested quite large chunks of it, many times, in both French and English, but I would never claim to have read it." He goes on to admit that he has poked through Gibbon's Decline and Fall, but, again, does not claim to have read it.
"Does that imply frivolity on my part?" asks the sage. Certainly not where Joyce's Ulysses and Finnegans Wake are concerned, both of which he finds huge bores and shockingly overrated. Paul advises us to never be ashamed to "dip and pass on," and not to worry if you find great books dull.
Hear, hear! What a relief. Johnson is among the best-read men ever, so here's to dipping and passing on.
The trouble is that young people today might just get the wrong message. William Boyd and Alain de Botton have subsequently confessed that War and Peace was an Everest neither has been able to climb. Julian Barnes had problems with Dickens, while John Lanchester threw in the towel where The Brothers Karamazov was concerned. Oh dear! Does this mean there are great books but few read them? Well, let's see.
The only good thing about being 63 is the fact that I grew up reading books, rather than watching videos. These days few read anything voluntarily; they prefer the idiot box. And people wonder why there is so much violence, so little understanding and such ignorance. Yet we persist in shrinking our library shelves in order to make place for videos. As a child I read slimmed-down versions of Greek mythology. As a teenager and into my early 20s I devoured literature, mainly American and Russian novelists and a few Brits. Nothing very highbrow?Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Dickens. Having excelled only in sports at school, I felt as though I had so much to learn, and that somewhere in between the covers of some book I would discover the meaning of life. I read Orwell, Stendhal (The Red and the Black is probably the most perfect novel ever written) and Stefan Zweig.
Then one day something happened. I was told I had to read John Fowles and began to read The Magus. (Or I think it was The Magus.) I was bored stiff and threw it down. Catch-22 ditto. Norman Mailer's An American Dream brought me back to fiction for a while, but it didn't last. What had happened was modernism. I would read a book and couldn't remember a thing about it afterward. So I switched to historical biographies, but regret continued to nag me. I should have been reading novels but was much too bored with them.
Needless to say, the writers were doing their best to make one word-weary. Literature had lost its meaning. The Satanic Verses was a perfect example. I couldn't get through a single page. It is simply a badly written opus full of pretentious musings. I know it sold millions, but I wonder how many people who bought it actually read it. I would think 1 or 2 percent. The last novel I read through and through was Harlot's Ghost, a beautifully written book panned by the critics.
I remember meeting with James Jones in Paris and interviewing him for the National Review. He was disgusted with the direction fiction had taken, and was unable to understand the signs and secret codes of popular culture. All he knew about were standards. As did Irwin Shaw, another storyteller. Jones was lucky to miss the real excesses of postmodernism.
Today, our pictorial culture has led us to a state where most people have difficulty expressing themselves verbally. All one has to do is look at those morons who appear in popular television programs, whose comments are dominated by "ah"s and "you know"s. The fact is we are regressing. Soon we will be like the baboons we descended from, giving body-language signals to each other, and it's all due to lack of reading. What we need is less television and more books. My young son is severely dyslexic and obviously prefers videos. It breaks my heart to watch him try to read. The last thing I wish to tell him is what wonders of the imagination he's missing.
Is there anything as good as "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again..."? The magic begins to work straight off the bat. Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca is an underrated work. It is a masterpiece, full of mystery and outstanding characterization. The formidable Mrs. Danvers is utterly convincing as well as fearsome, and Rebecca tortures the De Winters from beyond the grave. Now that's what I call writing. Or what about "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man, in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife." Jane Austen knew her world well, wrote stories about the world she knew even better; Pride and Prejudice was probably her best, along with Emma.
How wonderful some opening lines are. "Call me Ishmael..."; "Scarlett O'Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were..." And my favorite from Barnaby Conrad's The Death of Manolete: "On the 28th of August 1947, in Linares, Spain, a multimillionaire and a bull killed each other, and plunged a nation into mourning." Barnaby Conrad is a friend of mine and we often correspond. He now lives quietly in San Francisco, a lion in winter, looking back at a life that included bullfighting, boxing, writing and womanizing. And, of course, reading. Barnaby lived the life Papa Hemingway wrote about, the artist as a man of action. Long live good books and men like Hemingway and Conrad.
Peter Eavis Feature
Hype Tech We all know politicians are careless with other people's money. But the four major presidential contenders, along with Hillary Clinton in her Senate bid, are taking this trait to a ludicrous extreme. In their campaigns, McCain, Bush, Bradley, Gore and Clinton have all promised big tax breaks and other types of stimuli for the technology sector of the economy. But tech needs extra money about as much as Elvis needed more hamburgers. You can bet your entire 401(k) that most tech companies are soon going to meet a Presley-like demise after years of gorging themselves on easy money.
For now, however, technology has huge appeal for the candidates, with each making it almost as prominent on their platforms as taxes and health care. We've long known that each of the five candidates is well short of RAM up top, but this love affair with tech gives frightening insight into their intellectual shortcomings. As well as betraying their feeble grasp of what's actually going on in the economy, it shows the candidates' worrying willingness to believe in the capitalist-Utopian schemes of today's tech entrepreneurs.
Certainly, you can see why Hillary and the presidential wannabes have adopted tech. Unoriginal politicians crave anything new, dynamic and successful. Moreover, pols of all stripes can use it?kind of like a CK One campaign, the unisex scent with a supposedly modern, edgy aroma.
Christopher Booker saw technology's allure and useful ambiguity in the 60s, when the British Prime Minister Harold Wilson spoke breathlessly about the "jet-age." Booker wrote: "The cult of technology, although primarily a right-wing fantasy with its roots in the excitement of power, similarly displays all the symptoms of a [left-wing] vitality fantasy in the worship of change, movement and the future."
Nothing's changed since then. This, from Bradley's website: "Bill Bradley believes in the power and potential of new technology to drive economic growth and productivity, to create new communities and improve the lives of people from all racial, cultural and economic groups."
Equally out-there is Hillary. "How do we change from the 'Rust Belt' to the 'Byte Belt?'" she asked during a recent speech, referring to economically stagnant areas of upstate New York. Her magic-wand solutions included special technology bonds to fund spending on Internet infrastructure, and something called "entrepreneurial incubators" (don't ask).
Meanwhile, McCain and Gore are very vocal in their support of a continuation of the tax moratorium on Internet commerce. Sounds very daring, almost libertarian. But what about a tax break for the guys who run your local deli? Sorry, Old Economy doesn't qualify. But, if anything, it should be the other way round. The imposition of an Internet tax may just stem the huge flows of money into companies that then throw it away in staggering losses. The dollars evaporating into cyberspace could feed Russia. In 1999, online bookseller Amazon.com lost $720 million, which is equivalent to the combined annual income of 300,000 Russians.
And many mini-Amazons, racking up bigger and bigger losses, are spawned every month. One particularly eccentric example you might've come across is AskJeeves.com, the website that answers your questions by, er, referring you to other websites. This ingenious outfit's stock market value is about the same as Nicaragua's economy. Yet it had a $53 million loss last year on sales of just $22 million.
It hasn't taken long for word to spread that real money comes free in the virtual world. In fact, as any honest person working in the Valley or the Alley will tell you, it's now almost impossible to hire competent people. Throughout history, a labor drought has always been a bad sign. Imperial Spain, after it was flooded with silver from the New World, ran out of workers. Historian J.H. Elliott describes what happened to Spain's young textile industry in the 17th century: "Failing to find sufficient labor among the urban artisans, it turned first to the peasants, and then to the army of vagabonds and beggars which tramped the Castilian roads." Okay, things haven't quite got that bad here, but the tech sector is for certain being invaded by an army of opportunists and slackers.
Obviously, you'd hope the people running for office would be distancing themselves from this sort of Ponzi scheme. But you have to remember that Hillary and McCain were duped by a hot sector once before?the savings and loan industry in the 80s. Everyone laughs at them now, but the S&Ls were once considered the best investments in the country, the tech stocks of their day. McCain was friends with, and took donations from, S&L magnate Charles Keating, whose financial empire collapsed and cost the government some $2 billion. Hillary and Bill showed equally poor judgment by joining Jim McDougal, the now-deceased Arkansas S&L operator, in what became known as the Whitewater development. McDougal claims in his autobiography Arkansas Mischief that Hillary was easily sucked into his scheme. "She clutched Bill's arm, remarking that the investment sounded like a terrific idea. Her eyes brightened with excitement over the prospect of getting a piece of the action in the development."
Despite ostensibly coming from the opposite ends of the political spectrum, both McCain and Hillary seem to have made the mistake of believing men were capable of miraculous things. What's worse, they now appear to believe that about themselves. Witness Hillary's failed health care plan and McCain's belief that the U.S. could simply bomb the Balkans into order, making him by far the more Utopian of the two.
Yes, as the economy gets even more unreal, so do our politicians.
Petra Dickenson Feature
Racist Food? Were it not for pollution, profit-seeking food conglomerates forcing us to eat stuff that is bad for us and government's failure to protect us from all harm, we humans could live forever. At the very least we could realize our full human potential, coexist in planetary harmony with all of Nature's creations and live a lot longer than we do now.
Sure, life expectancy in the U.S. may have doubled in the last 100 years?for blacks, from 33 years in 1900 to the current 74; from 46 to 80 years for whites. But death and sickness are still with us. That cannot be right: our legal system guarantees each one of us perfect health, always. So if we are still getting sick it must be somebody's fault. And if a particular disease strikes one ethnic group more than the others, then somebody is racist. The cure, naturally, is to sue someone.
This is pretty much the point behind a recent federal lawsuit filed by a group of vegans against Dan Glickman, secretary of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) and Donna Shalala, secretary of the Dept. of Health and Human Services (DHHS). The lawsuit is designed to block the release of a report by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee because, it is alleged, the advisory panel is in thrall to meat, dairy and egg industries and, since more non-whites than whites are lactose intolerant, its proposed dietary guidelines are nothing but a "form of rationalized racism."
The guidelines?the four food groups, milk, meat, fruits and vegetables, breads and cereals, arranged in a pyramid?provide nutritional advice to the public and form the basis for all federal food programs such as food stamps, school nutritional programs and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children. The plaintiff, a nonprofit organization established in 1985, refers to itself somewhat ambitiously as Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, even though fewer than 5 percent of its members ever went to medical school. That 5 percent in turn represents less than two thirds of 1 percent of the licensed U.S. doctors, but numbers don't prove anything, do they?
The suit claims that the 11-member panel, established by the USDA and the DHHS in 1995, currently contains only one African-American and one Latino, and thus does not adequately represent minority populations. Equally disturbing, from the plaintiff's point of view, is the fact that six of the panelists had accepted research grants or served on the boards of meat, dairy or egg producers. Now it is possible that a scientist who sits on the board of directors of Dannon Research Institute, Inc. may be inclined to see some merit in eating Dannon yogurt, but human behavior is hardly so simply deterministic that no other motivating factors, such as desire for respect of one's peers, pleasure in figuring out how nature works, etc., can be at play.
But suppose that human motivation is indeed transparent and straightforward: a panelist who's had a grant from the National Dairy Council cannot think independently and will always conclude that milk is good. What, one might then ask, exempts a group that agitates against animal testing and objects to the eating of any animal products, as the plaintiff does, from its own prejudices and inability to see beyond its own narrow interests? Why should a vegan's assertion, and supporting research, that an all-plant diet is superior to one containing dairy and meat be more believable and "pure" than the opposite conclusion reached by someone who enjoys a good steak?
Is it because narrow interests always belong to someone else and one's own motivations can never be suspect, particularly if they are clothed in the sanctimonious language of identity politics?
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is alleging that since minorities have higher rates of diabetes, prostate cancer and other diseases than whites, the inclusion of milk and dairy products in the federal dietary guidelines is racist. Without bothering to show how the existence of federal guidelines causes illness, the group shamelessly exploits a racial conflict to advance its animal rights agenda and to force-feed an unwilling public an all-plant diet.
The lawsuit also, regardless of whether or not it has been endorsed by some minority organizations, insults minorities by assuming that they are too ignorant or powerless to choose the foods that are right for them. For better or worse, most people enjoy variety in their meals and do not have the time or the technical background to micromanage their menus to figure out that by eating eight servings of broccoli (organically grown, naturally) they will get the same amount of calcium as they would in one glass of milk. And, frankly, only very few among us have the moral fortitude to swallow all of that.
Which is the problem. Left to our own devices, we would continue to indulge ourselves in the stuff we like to eat, oblivious to the danger and ethical hazards lurking in our food. Groups like the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine exist to remind us how imperfect we still are and that virtue can be ours only if we eat what they eat, in the same correct combinations and quantities.
Still, it is one thing to pressure us by an example, quite another to waste our tax money by trying to enforce its mindset through federal courts. But such is the way of the imperfect world.
"In an ideal world," wrote the counsel for the plaintiff, "we would all...adopt a vegan (meat and dairy free) diet, and lace up our walking shoes every day or so for some rigorous exercise." Thank God for small favors then: Utopia is not yet at hand. Pass the goose liver pate, please!
George Szamuely The Bunker
Al the Coward America's elite is fortunate in having a buffoon like the Rev. Al Sharpton as its chief adversary. Thanks to him, it can go on enjoying its riches undisturbed. Sharpton's racial tomfoolery serves to reinforce the most cherished dogma of our media pundits: America's economy has delivered riches beyond the dreams of avarice. Therefore, the only problem left to be solved is the perennial one of the blacks. But since we have already rehashed that one umpteen times, why not enjoy some harmless tv-sized antics?
Last week at the Apollo Theater debate, Sharpton?whose endorsement today is as critical as Mayor Daley's once was?had the honor of asking the first question. "Many in our community have to live in fear of both the cops and the robbers," he intoned. "What concrete steps would you make if you were elected President to deal with police brutality and racial profiling?" Since policing is a local matter, there is nothing that Gore or Bradley will be able to do about it. It was a wasted question. But Gore and Bradley do not need to be asked twice to indulge in sententious moralizing. Bradley spouted some drivel about how "a wallet in the hand of a white man" is a wallet, but "in the hand of a black man" it will look like a gun. It made no sense. But he felt good. Sharpton seemed happy. And the audience wandered off contentedly afterward.
Now imagine what Sharpton could have asked but did not. He could have asked about America's growing inequality. How come America's apparently inexorable economy and booming stock market rewards a tiny minority but leaves everyone else, at best, no better off than they were decades ago? From 1977 to 1999 the income of the poorest fifth of households fell by 9 percent. The income of the top 1 percent, on the other hand, more than doubled. During the same period the income of the top 20 percent of households increased by 43 percent. In 1998 the wealthiest 5 percent of Americans earned 21.4 percent of the nation's aggregate income?considerably up on the 16.6 percent they earned in 1973. Higher profits mean higher stock prices and more money in the pockets of shareholders. The incomes of CEOs, however, have more than doubled between 1989 and 1997. They earn now more than 116 times what the average worker makes with U.S. CEOs earning, on average, more than twice as much as CEOs in other advanced economies.
That's very nice for them. But what about everyone else? Sharpton could have talked about falling incomes and growing poverty. As I've noted berfore, in 1973 the mean income of the poorest fifth of black households was $5684. In 1998 it had actually declined to $5194. More than a quarter of blacks?26.1 percent?live in poverty. The poverty rate of black families with children in 1998 was 30.5 percent. This is a small improvement on 1973 when it had been 33.4 percent. According to the Economic Policy Institute, the real wage of the median worker was 4 percent lower in 1998 than in 1979. Wages for the bottom 80 percent of men were lower in 1997 than in 1989. Over the same period, real hourly wages stagnated or fell for the bottom 60 percent of workers.
The average hourly wage in 1973 of someone with less than a high school diploma was $11.21. By 1997 it had gone down to $8.22. Doubtless, Bradley or Gore would have droned on about how our high-tech-information-superhighway-cyber-wired world requires our getting college degrees. The trouble is, university graduates are not doing so well either. In 1973 the average hourly wage for someone with a college degree was $18.60. By 1997 it had declined to $18.38. In 1973 the entry-level wage of a man with a college degree was $14.82. By 1997 it was down to $13.65. The hourly wages of entry-level college graduates fell about 7 percent from 1989 to 1997.
Since hourly compensation has been falling, the only way families have been able to make ends meet is by working longer hours. The annual hours worked by all family members in the typical married-couple family with children grew 326 hours per year (more than nine weeks of full-time work), from 3278 hours per year in 1979 to 3604 hours per year in 1996. American workers, unlike their counterparts in any other industrialized country, are working longer and longer hours. In 1997 Americans worked 1966 hours?an increase of 4 percent since 1980 when they worked 1883 hours. In France workers put in 1656 hours in 1997 as against 1810 in the 1980s. In Germany workers put in 1560 hours in 1996 as against 1742 in 1980.
Then there is America's staggering prison population, an issue Sharpton should have some thoughts on. It has been growing at an annual rate of 7 percent over the last decade. In an economy in which almost all of the benefits go to a tiny minority while everyone else is scarcely better off than they were three decades ago, the likelihood of social disturbance is high. Hence the need to maintain a permanent threat of imprisonment. During the past 12 years the incarceration rate has more than doubled. In 1998, the United States had 668 prison inmates per 100,000 residents (it was 313 in 1985)?a rate 10 times higher than most other industrialized countries. The percentage of black adults under some form of correctional supervision is 9 percent.
This is why Europeans practice social democracy. Americans think they can skip the egalitarianism, and simply use fear to keep everyone in line.
Sharpton would never raise any of these issues. He knows that if he did, he would no longer be welcome in the tv studios. The economy grew by 5.8 percent in the last quarter. That means we are all 5.8 percent better off. That is what we are told. And that is what we must believe however much it flies in the face of common sense.
Charles Glass Tthe London Desk
Noise Pollution Life in Notting Hill is becoming unbearable. It's not our nouveau neighbor Peter Mandelson, the house price rises or the tourist fallout from the movie. It's the noise, indoors and out. There has been no peace since last summer, when work began on a vast housing project in the mews behind my attic flat. At 8 o'clock on my first morning back on the Hill, following a few years' absence in Tuscany and Chelsea, I heard drilling. Rather, the drilling made my house tremble like a California 6.8 on the Richter. Once shaken awake, I heard the drilling. Downstairs, large cranes, earth movers, jackhammers and sundry power tools bashed away 50 feet from my study window. They made sleep and work impossible.
There are two stages to this unwelcome scheme: one, tearing down a mews; second, replacing it with a new mews. Someone could have refurbished the old one quietly in a few months. Knocking it down and creating a new one means more than a year of double decibels from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day but Sunday. The builders are relentless. They are never ill. They are never late. They pause for neither rain nor storm, while other workers, like our local postman, seem to take every other day off.
I tried double-glazing the study. The noise is the same, and there is no longer any air. The only solution was outside help. Not a sniper. Nor a shrink. Nor a ghost writer, who could do my work for me. What I needed is what nearly every writer in Paris has: a cafe. In Italy, I had my caffe. In Vienna, I used to frequent an ancient kaffeehaus. These are sanctuaries in which to sit to enjoy real coffee, maybe a croissant, and the newspapers, before writing or receiving friends. Hemingway had the Deux Magots, Simone de Beauvoir the Flor and Antoine de Saint Exupery the Brasserie Lipp.
What do I have? In Notting Hill, brother, not a damn thing. My quest for a coffeeshop that resembled those I'd known in Paris and Italy, or even something close to the music-free Cafe Picasso down on the King's Road in Chelsea, began around the corner. Tom's Delicatessan should have been perfect: decent coffee, good breakfasts and chairs sturdy enough to spend a few hours upon. Sometimes, its waitresses are as pretty as those I remember from the Picasso, sometimes not. That doesn't matter much, any more than does the chirping of the women fresh out of their aerobics classes at the Lambton Health Club across Westbourne Grove. (They can teach a great deal to an eavesdropping man about gynecology and extramaritalism.) Tom's, alas, plays awful, loud, pointless music. My appeals to waitresses over months did little but lower the volume a tad, so I moved on. I tried 206, a brighter Italian place down the road, but its music, too, is relentless. Bad rock without interruption. Shame, because I like their espresso.
I ventured down to Kensington Church Street one morning to Clarke's, where both pastries and coffee were excellent. And there was no, repeat no, piped music. Say hallelujah, brother. Well, nearly. The cafe corner of the shop is tiny, with only three tables. It is so quiet that the conversations at the other two tables are distracting. I failed to write while two housewives up from Brook Green interminably discussed house prices. Marnie's in Portobello Road is great, as is Marnie herself, yet she also lets the music vibrate all morning. I tried Felicitous in Kensington Park Road, but its tables are all outdoors, usually in the rain.
I convinced my Lebanese friends, who run the Argile Gallery and Cafe in Blenheim Crescent, that all the Hill's writers needed a place that opened by 8 a.m., without music. Being kind, they tried it for a few weeks. I was the only customer. Whey they resumed their normal 11 o'clock opening, I searched the working men's cafes. They were music-free, but their coffee was just dark water. One morning last week, I found a big, noisy, raucous joint with beautiful and flirtatious waitresses in Talbot Road. It was muzak-free territory. Almost Paris. I loved the espresso. All was, at last, well. I was so happy that I wrote a letter to my True Love to tell her what was, for me, good news: "Eureka: I have found it. It's called Coin's." The loveliest waitress, an American named Zephyr who moved here from Idaho to be with her British husband, called me "sweetie" and delivered cup after cup of espresso. The coffee, waitresses and quiet let me finish a couple of long-overdue articles. At last, I had an office.
On my third visit, Coin's was packed as usual with down and outs, up and ins, children of my friends, suspicious-looking businessmen, pretty girls and unshaven guys who looked like they had something to sell. Yet something was wrong. No more than a rattle, like death, in the air. What was it that hung there like a bad smell? The body snatchers had turned on the music. Zut, alors! When I asked Zephyr about it, she said that someone had probably forgotten to switch it on earlier in the week. Could she, I asked hesitantly, perhaps turn it down? "Sure," she said, "I'll go do it now." Then, somehow, other customers distracted her. A while later, at the end of her shift, she slipped out. The rhythm-less music was the only sound left. And it was awful.
Reluctantly and defeated, I left. I made my way around the neighborhood, trying a place called The Cafe, where the coffee was undrinkable, and a few more, all with bad music. In anger, I resolved to expose the scandal of Notting Hill cafe society. My True Love asked me whether anyone else in London minded music in cafes. She thought not. (Being a woman, she can work or read or paint anywhere?like Jane Austen in the family drawing room.) London, do you give a damn? Is there no one else who needs a clean, quiet place to talk or read or write or draw or think? Urban life is hard with building noise everywhere and no cafe to work in. Won't someone around here please open a proper place for drinking coffee? Or, better yet, turn off the damn music?
Melik Kaylan The Spy
Immigrant Love Now let us praise Jorg Haider. Hmmm. Come to think of it, many readers will not recognize the old Anglican hymn I quote from, "Now Let Us Praise Famous Men." But it was worth it just to hear the roar of gasps around the neighborhood.
Let us also adapt Marc Antony and say, "I have come not to praise Haider, nor to bury him." Nor to demonize nor glamorize?and he is a glamorous looker?but to try to see things from his point of view. Why? Because that is supposed to be our function in the press. We give you a 360-degree horizon, you choose your political geography.
Austria, like Germany, hosts a large Turkish immigrant community, and Haider has recently made remarks to the effect that Turks should either assimilate to Austrian/European culture or consider themselves outsiders. (I am Turkish by birth. This means that half of you will regard me as exempt from the standard rules of p.c., meaning I can now utter truths that other commentators may not. The other half will regard me as self-hating if I condone Haider's position in any way.)
It should be clear to one and all by now that every country harbors its own home-grown varieties of Haiderism. We are encouraged often to dismiss them as bogeymen, as local permutations of the universal sin of fascism or racism. Many forget that these isms are not irreducible elements in the periodic table or immutably evil tocsins found in varied cultures since the beginning of time. We use the terms both indiscriminately and selectively. We don't, for instance, look back on the Hittite civilization and view it as fascist or racist, though it was undoubtedly both. Same applies to old African or Amazonian cultures. What about nationalism, once considered liberating, enlightened and even antifascist?
In the 19th-century poets from Byron to D'Annunzio led world opinion as brave freethinkers for their position as ideologues of nationalism?even and especially for other countries. Napoleon marketed himself as a liberator in that guise, and Beethoven loved him for it, for a while. The universal enemy then was the ancien regime, multiethnic transnational entities like the Hapsburg, Ottoman and Czarist empires.
These days they'd be applauded for their religious and ethnic multiplicity. At the time, high priests of freedom such as poets and patriots preached the largely uni-ethnic ideal of the nation-state as the noble antidote.
Now when Jorg Haider says he wants Austria's Turks to be more Austrian, he could be a racist, or a mere nationalist. He probably doesn't wish to kill them all. But he probably loves Austria just the way it is and hates the idea of too much change. We are often told that people who hate change are doomed to extinction. That's the Darwinian argument. They will lose anyway, so why support them? Or there's the moral argument. You want to preserve or conserve, therefore you support existing privilege, therefore you are not egalitarian, therefore fascist. Is Haider a bad man for wanting to keep the Austria he knows and loves as is? What if that means asking immigrants to be more like him?or get out? And if they won't assimilate, should Austrians just live with it, be tolerant and love diversity like us, even at the expense of losing the Austria they now have?
American culture is built on immigration, one always hears. Trouble is, it did require the extermination of the indigenous folk who were here before us. They probably didn't want a multiethnic state radiant with gay culture, ruled from the center, forcibly holding them all together. Europe is a space with already existing indigenous nations. They may regard the mass integration of populations antithetical to their traditions as a severe blow to their own identity. So if they try to prevent it, suddenly it may involve repatriation or ethnic purging.
So what's to be done? I'm not sure yet, but I do know this: we are utterly hypocritical and disastrously soggy-headed on the issue. Here's the hypocrisy part: Do we look at endangered Amazonian Indian cultures and tell them they must accept multiethnic, multiracial human invasions of their terrain? No, we try to protect and preserve them. We believe their societies should be saved as is and was. Why not view European countries and cultures as worth preserving in the same way? And here's the disastrous part: sure, multi-everything societies can and do abide?but for how long?
Africa's continuing difficulties derive largely from postcolonial boundary lines that yoke together mutually hostile tribes and religions. We can keep making peace and banging their heads together in a paternalistic way, or we can help separate them into nation-states, as we have de facto done with Yugoslavia. And for those who don't want to hurtle their country in the direction of that disaster by absorbing different populations, we should show some understanding. Countries used to fight wars to oppose invasions on their culture. Now they're asked to cheer it on.
Enough consideration, you might say, for the overdog. Let us look from the other side then. No country as a whole benefits from mass exodus of its population, though its elites may breathe a sigh of relief and go on as before. The Irish and Italians started coming west more than a century ago. Ireland and Italy have only just achieved a measure of political and economic equilibrium. In general, emigration allows the old country to remain corrupt and unreformed, because it offers a safety valve for brewing trouble. Result: they don't need to put their house in order.
All told, the outcome of this global mass transhumance still needs proving. Yet we've made it a litmus test of political morality: You love immigration or you're an ogre. Meantime, we're headed for a world with no distinct site-specific cultures, only a pole-to-pole pseudo-America of ethnic intergroupings looking for the best deal. The Amazonian Indians should be delighted.