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Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Final Thoughts (For Now) on Europe and Migration

Robert Jubb has posted a reply to my post on "Migration, Perception, and History", and so in the end we seem to have reached a point of agreement, so in this post I'm just going to jot down a few final throughts on the subject before I move on to something else. Having said that, I will undoubtedly be returning to this general field before long, as I find it too fascinating to keep away from for long.

Earlier, I mentioned the issue of populat perceptions, and how out of sync with reality they can be. Partly this is a result of historical ignorance, of the history of migration (although where Robert and I depart is on the degree to which pre-WWII migrations can be compared to those of the post-War period) as well as a habit of overestimating the numbers of foreigners present. A perfect illustration of this is a chart published last week in Time Magazine that my mother kindly scanned and emailed to me. It's pretty self-explanatory:

I think the most important part of Robert's reply was the final paragraph, at least in explaining how the two of us have such different approaches to the subject:

"I've just been thinking, looking at the comments on Pearsall's post, that part of the disagreement might actually stem from ideas of national identity. Perhaps, because part of American national identity is the escape from the corrupt, tradition- and history-bound old world - all the city on the hill stuff - the explicit role that history does play in European national identities seems rather worrying for Americans. Equally, for some Europeans, because of the way in which they see their national identity bounded by contingency, by historical accident, and so see national identities as malleable, changing things, the certainty of American national identity, what can seem like a blindness to its historical roots, makes it seem very odd. Maybe. I might have been captivated solely by the rather pleasing symmetry of the idea, but..."

I think this is quite accurate, as it goes.

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