At last count, 22 percent of Canadian residents and nearly 30 percent of Australian residents are immigrants. In just the last twenty years, the relative size of the foreign-born population in the United Kingdom has doubled. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that sometime before 2030, the United States will have its largest relative number of immigrants in nearly three hundred years.
In a bold if overlong new book, Eric Kaufmann, a political scientist at the University of London, argues that demographic change is at the heart of contemporary politics across the West. In Kaufmann’s view, demography is not exactly destiny, but it nonetheless makes up the slow-moving, yet unstoppable tectonic plates upon which the political architecture of nations and states is built. Following his adviser Anthony D. Smith, the eminent late scholar of nationalism, Kaufmann argues that every national society has an “ethnic core” defined by markers such as language, religion, and race. This group defines its wider society politically, socially, and culturally. If it is powerful and self-confident, it welcomes newcomers and assimilates them into itself much as American WASPs did with European immigrants in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. If it is weak or governed by a self-abnegating elite, the ethnic core is wracked by “existential insecurity channeled by the lightning rod of immigration.” The result is right-wing populism.