Populism, immigration and white majorities

2.1 children per woman is the replacement rate.  Click to enlarge.

I recently read WHITESHIFT: Populism, Immigration and the Future of White Majorities by Eric Kaufmann (2018, 2019)

It’s about the response of white people in North America, western Europe and Australasia to the fact that their birth rates are below the replacement rate, and that the likely sources of immigration are all from non-white countries with higher birth rates.

Kaufmann, a professor of political science at the University of London, said white fears of immigration are the driving force behind the election of Donald Trump, the exit of the United Kingdom from the European Community and the rise of right-wing populist parties throughout western Europe.

He sees four white responses to population shifts:

  • Fight.  Reduce or eliminate immigration from non-white countries.
  • Repress.  Avoid thinking about the issue and suppress discussion in the name of anti-racism.
  • Flee.  Retreat to white enclaves and avoid diverse neighborhoods, schools and social networks.
  • Join.   Assimilate and inter-marry with non-whites to form a new beige majority.

I wrote about the fourth possibility in a 2012 blog post.  I noted how, in the USA, the white Anglo-Saxon Protestant majority evolved into a white majority that includes Catholics and Jews.  I speculated on the possibility of a further evolution into a new “non-black” majority including white Hispanics, mixed-race people who identify as white and possibly Asian-Americans.

The great danger, as I saw it,  is that the new majority would be as much, or maybe even more, prejudiced against black people as the old majority..

Kaufmann, who grew up in Vancouver, hopes for a more benign evolution—a inclusive majority based not on ancestry, color or facial features, but on loyalty to the nations’ original European cultural roots, but also tolerant of minorities who reject that culture.

He’s an example of what he advocates.  He is by ancestry one-fourth Latino and one-fourth Chinese, but identifies as white.  (The fact that he “identifies” rather than “passes” as white shows progress that has occurred in my lifetime.)

I have long believed that American patriotism should be based not on race, religion or national origin, but on loyalty to the Constitution and the ideals of equal rights contained in the Declaration of Independence.

Kaufmann thinks such civic ideals are too thin to command strong loyalty.  A nation can and should have principles of good citizenship, but real national identity requires a sense of being part of a community with a shared history, whether defined by language, religion, ancestry or culture and customs.


The politics of the USA, the UK and many other countries are defined by a revolt of an anti-immigration Populist Right  against what Kaufmann calls a Left-Modernist cultural and political elite, which defines opposition to immigration as racist.

Exceptions include the English-speaking parts of Canada, where no Populist Right has emerged, and nationalistic countries of Eastern Europe, where Left Modernism has never gained a foothold.  In Quebec and Scotland also, the cultural elite is on the side of French Canadian and Scottish ethnic nationalism.

Left-Modernism, as Kaufmann sees it, originated among bohemian intellectuals of a century or so ago, who rejected the conventions of the conformist middle-class majority.  In the USA, this was a revolt against the Puritan heritage and an embrace of everything anti-Puritan, from sexual freedom to  jazz music.

Over time these values came to dominate academia, the news and entertainment media and the political elite.  Along the way, though, the Left Modernists ceased to value radical individualism and self-expression and developed a kind of reverse Puritanism, based on conformity and guilt.  Nowadays it is the Populist Right that is transgressive and provocative.

Interestingly, surveys indicate a wider difference between Clinton voters and Trump voters on what constitutes racism than between white Americans as a whole and black Americans as a whole.  This shows the power of the Left Modernist and Populist Right ideologies.


The rise of Left Modernism has changed the “Overton window”—the range of what’s considered reasonable to debate. When I was a boy, interracial marriage was a taboo topic for Americans.  Now interracial marriage is accepted, but the only way it is acceptable to refer to the “N-word” is by using the term “N-word.”

I think this is a change for the better, both ways, as does Kaufmann.  But, like him, I would like to see the Overton window open wider than it is.

Kaufmann wrote that it is important for majority groups, such as the English in the United Kingdom, to recognize that they are an ethnic group like any other, and that the practices of their particular sub-culture do not necessarily define the nation as a whole.

Eric Kaufmann

At the same time, he wrote, white ethnic groups have the same right as any other ethnic group to stick up for their own interests.  In other words, he thinks there’s a difference between white identity, which is acceptable, and white racism, which is wrong.

He does not think it is necessarily racist for anyone to favor immigration by members of their own ethnic group nor to want to limit immigration by members of other ethnic groups.  He does think it would be racist to deny equal rights to different groups that have already come.

If native-born citizens can discuss their cultural anxieties about immigration without fear (and it’s not just whites who have these anxieties), he wrote, it may be possible to allay these anxieties—for example, by pointing out that Hispanic or Muslim immigration is not increasing as fast as many natives assume, or that Hispanics historically have learned English and assimilated to the national culture.

If cultural concerns are out-of-bounds to discuss, Kaufmann wrote, then the native-born will express their anxieties in terms of crime, welfare dependency and terrorism.

He engaged in a good bit of hair-splitting as to what kinds of opinions and thoughts are racist and which are acceptable.  Actual racial discrimination, in Kaufmann’s opinion, is no longer an important justice issue.  His concern is how different groups get along with each other.

He’s dead wrong there, in my opinion, at least as regards the USA.  Being black can seriously affect your changes of getting hired, getting a new home or getting arrested or killed by police.  Maybe this is less of a problem in Canada or the UK.


Demographers think population trends are guided by what they call the demographic transition.  Poor people close to the margin of survival have lots of children, but only a few live to become child-bearing adults.   As they become less poor, more children survive and population increases.  Over time, they see a benefit in having fewer children and population levels off.

United Nations experts think that all nations will undergo the demographic transition, and world population will level off at about 20 billion by the end of this century.

However, as Kaufmann pointed out, certain strict religious groups, now small in number and all of them white, are increasing in numbers and show no sign of leveling off.

In the USA, they include 6.1 million Mormons, 600,000 ultra-Orthodox Haredi Jews, 300,000 Old Order Amish, 50,000 Quiverfull Protestants and tens of thousands of Hutterites and other traditionalist Mennonite sects.  All will be larger percentages of the U.S. population by the end of the century than they are today.

Old Order Amish double in number every 20 or so years.  They numbered only 5,000 in 1900.  If they continue to increase at the present rate, they will number 4.8 million in a century, 76.8 million in two centuries and 307.2 million 50 years after that.

In Israel, the Haredi Jews are already a majority in Jerusalem and are on track to become a majority in Israel by the end of the century.

These demographic changes are not the result of immigration, but they could change the culture of the United States and other white-majority countries much more than non-white immigration could.


From my standpoint, Whiteshift is bad news.  If Kaufmann is right, there is no room for a politics that can deal with the current economic, international and environmental crises or can advance the common good.

But I recommend his book.  He compiled a lot of interesting data about public opinion, voting patterns and the relations of ethnic groups in many different countries, including countries in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean.

If you don’t have time to read the whole book, you can get a snapshot of his thinking from the introduction or by going to his website.


Eric Kaufmann’s home page.  Also Whiteshift: a story in data.

White Privilege Is Real, But Well-Meaning White Liberals Are Helping to Perpetuate It by Eric Kaufmann for Quillette.

White majorities feel threatened in an age of mass migration—and calling them racist won’t help by Eric Kaufmann for New Statesman.

How Can We Manage the Process of Western ‘Whiteshift’? by Eric Kaufmann for Quintette.  [Added 5/25/2019]

[Video added 2/28/2019]

Main Factors Driving Population Growth by the Pew Research Foundation.

A Different Way to Think About White Identity Politics by Park MacDougald for New York magazine [Added 3/2/2019]

Identity Politics in an Era of Demographic Change by Theodore Kupper for National Review. [Added 4/16/2019]

Fear of a Nonwhite America by Robert Verbruggen for National Review.  [Added 5/3/2019]

Demography and the Populists’ Destiny by W. James Antle III for The American Conservative.  [Added 7/29/2019]

Immigration, Building a Wall and Hispanic Crime by Ron Unz for The Unz Review [Added 2/26/2019]

The Myth of White Genocide by James Pogue for Harper’s magazine.  About white nationalism in South Africa.  [Added 2/26/2019]

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8 Responses to “Populism, immigration and white majorities”

  1. Vincent Says:

    I don’t know if I’ve said this before but I certainly don’t think the exit of the United Kingdom from the European Community (Brexit) is driven by white fears of immigration.

    There are very few Brits left, I suspect, who hold prejudice based on skin colour or ethnic background. My parents’ generation had the colonial prejudice against mixed marriage, but they would be in their nineties and above. These days it’s to do with economics, the threat of terrorism and the difficulties of providing enough housing and schools. We certainly need immigrants for the smooth running of public services and all kinds of amenities. Some kinds of workers already struggling to make a living or get somewhere they can afford to live, fear an uncontrolled influx from Europe. whether white or otherwise.

    Uncontrolled immigration, especially of refugees with no papers, is already chaotic enough over here, with people-smugglers endangering the lives of their customers.

    UK is a desirable place to live, for many reasons. We don’t want the EU to dictate.


    • philebersole Says:

      Vincent, I recall your first communication with me was in response to a rather flippant post in which I said the Brexit vote was a response of those who were economic losers in the globalization process.

      Eric Kaufmann’s analysis of public opinion indicates that I was wrong. The driving force behind the Leave vote was a desire to “take back control” of immigration.

      Some Leave voters worried about the European Community’s lack of control of refugees and asylum seekers from the Middle East.

      Only 23 percent of Leave voters wanted to stop immigration altogether. Most of the others wanted a reduction from current leaves. Some were anti-immigration and pro-immigrant; that is, they were not hostile to immigrants already in the UK, but they wanted limits on the number of new immigrants, especially from non-white countries.

      Kaufmann further found that anti-immigration sentiment was based on cultural concerns, not economic concerns. Leave voters didn’t want to be in the minority.

      The Remain campaign might have done better, according to him, if it had tried to allay concerns about immigration. Instead the Remain campaign ignored the immigration issue, and based its campaign on fear of economic consequences of leaving the European Community.

      Polls indicated that many Remain voters also wanted to limit immigration, but economic concerns topped cultural concerns.

      None of this implies, either in Kaufmann’s opinion or my own opinion, that Leave voters were racist. If a majority of white people are of one opinion on an issue, and the majority of black people or some other non-white group are of another opinion, that is not evidence of anything except a difference of opinion.

      When I was growing up, there was a joke about a white Southern boy who reached the age of 21 before he realized that “damn Yankee” was two words. Much of the burden of Whiteshift is to point out that “white racist” is two words.

      This reply is not intended as an argument against your comment. I don’t see any contradiction between what I have written and what you wrote.


      • Vincent Says:

        My comment was not intended as an argument against your post, either! I just wanted to say how things seem over here, from personal observation and general sympathies with all concerned. Perhaps I was prompted to respond by your second paragraph, which appears at first sight to ascribe three different phenomena to a single cause: white fear of immigration, and suggest that a further linking factor is “the rise of right-wing populist parties throughout western Europe”—the UK being part of Western Europe!


      • philebersole Says:

        Vincent, I was very interested in your comment, and didn’t regard it as argumentative.

        It is true that Kaufmann thinks that opposition to immigration, especially non-white immigration, is the common thread linking Donald Trump’s election, the UK vote to leave the European community and the rise of right-wing populism in Europe, including the United Kingdom Independence Party.

        Of course these movements are also very different in many respects.


    • con Says:

      The population of the U.K. is about 67 million, most living in England. Take a look at a world map. The British Isles is tiny and Southern Ireland is a different country. Most of Scotland is mountains and lochs and anyway remote. Wales likewise. Northern Ireland also remote. And not all of England is habitable including mountains, coastal areas undergoing erosion, and flood plains. I would suggest most people think the country is over crowded and don’t want to live at Singapore or Hong Kong density. Take another look at that world map. USA occupies the major part of a continent, with a
      population of about 330 million.


  2. silverapplequeen Says:

    I don’t “identify” as white. If I have any kind of ethnic identification, it’s as a Celt. I’m not Italian or any of the other “white” races. & I am certainly not southern white. I come from a very distinct culture & I really hate how all the “white” cultures are now all one homogenized culture here in the States … really a nasty toxic brew of McNothingness. That’s not my culture or my family or ME.

    This whole idea that white people are dying out is not a new idea, I’ve been hearing it at least since the late 70’s & it’s been a constant since the mid-80’s. My advice to white folks is GET OVER YOURSELVES. The world is changing & that’s the way it is.

    I love immigrants. I went to UB Dental School yesterday for dental work … I took the bus, as I always do. I must have heard five languages other than English before 9 a.m. I love diversity & change. I’m not a young woman by any means but I am not like many of my peers.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Len Fortiman Says:

    Indeed, if you have not had at least three kids, you have no right to complain about immigration or automation.


  4. Benjamin David Steele Says:

    Here in the US, people have been complaining about immigrants and non-whites (or whatever equivalent label) since the colonial era.

    Benjamin Franklin disliked the Palatine Germans and described them as short and swarthy, which is to say they didn’t look white to him. Even worse still, the Palatine Germans were the majority in Pennsylvania and they refused to assimilate. This might played into why the British government refused to give the full rights of Englishmen to the colonists, since a large part of the colonists weren’t English (several colonies were non-English majority).

    Whiteness as we now know it took a long time to be established. In the early 20th century, official records often kept separate data for US citizens who were ethnically Jew, Italian, Irish, etc. In the North, the Irish were often hated more than blacks, as even blacks would leave a neighborhood when the Irish showed up. Also, some of these ethnic groups experienced redlining like blacks. Racial slurs were also used against these ethnics, including sometimes the N-word.

    It required the destruction, often intentional (e.g., language laws), during the world war era to create the new assimilated ‘white’. German language and culture used to be common in the US, as German-Americans were the single largest ethnic population. They often formed majorities in major Midwestern cities, in which public schools would sometimes be taught in German. Newspapers and books were also published in German. The world wars changed this as this made German-Americans targets. Along with the Japanese-Americans and Italian-Americans, German-Americans were also put into internment camps.

    German culture was erased form American society, going so far as to change the names of streets, buildings, and food items. For a time, sauerkraut was called freedom cabbage — I kid you not. It was cultural genocide, enforced by a combination of bigoted laws and threats of violence. Don’t forget that the Second Klan in the North was more focused on ethnics and immigrants than on blacks.

    Liked by 1 person

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