The Crisis of White Identity. Book Review

“We need to talk about white identity. Not as a fabrication designed to maintain power, but as a set of myths and symbols to which people are attached: an ethnic identity like any other.” These are the opening words of Eric Kaufmann’s Whiteshift. The book is as timely as it is politically taboo. Kaufmann argues—over the course of 540 pages encompassing reams of data and an almost obsessive level of detail—that the seismic demographic shifts in the make-up of western nations and the ensuing crisis of white identity are the root causes of the rise in far-right populism and the increasing political polarization over the past few years.

By virtually all accounts, most white majority countries in the Anglosphere are set to become majority minority through immigration and interracial marriage by 2050 and the rest will follow suit shortly thereafter. The declining white share of the population has caused much identity-based insecurity and existential terror at the prospect of losing a connection to white heritage, Kaufmann argues. Managing the cultural and political fallout of these changes is one of the most urgent undertakings of our age. If the reviews are any indication, the message of Whiteshift has been misunderstood by the media and academics as an excuse for oppression and a lamentable ode to whiteness. But maybe that is why the book is needed more than ever.

Vox’s Zack Beauchamp pays the book a backhanded compliment:

the book’s fundamental conclusion—that the only way to defeat the far right is to appease its voters—is both wrong and, as I’ll explain, morally repulsive. Understanding how such a careful analyst ended up here can help explain another kind of modern reactionary movement: the “classical liberals” who wage war on political correctness.

It is entirely unsurprising that Kaufmann, whose views neither fit snugly into the prevailing progressive narrative or the anti-immigration pro-Trump camp, has been categorized as a rabble-rousing reactionary—before his arguments have been grappled with.

Whiteshift poses a direct challenge to the political narratives of both the left—who often dwell on historical grievances—and the right, who cling to an idealized past. Kaufmann is one of a very small group of public figures who recognize the inconvenient truth that the problems of the present cannot—in fact must not—be approached through a lens of victimization. Instead, we must accept a moral trade-off, since these problems have no easy solution.

We are living through a transition period. The deepest divide in our culture, Kaufmann explains, is no longer between different racial groups but between nationalists and globalists. Survey data shows that the current wave of right-wing populism is primarily the result of attitudes toward immigration, rather than fears of economic stagnation. One of the most reliable predictors of a Trump vote was feeling that white people are under attack in the United States (a statement with which 70% of Asian and Latino Trump voters agreed, as a series of polls conducted after the Charlottesville riots demonstrates). Dubbing particular policy positions racist actually increases support for those policies; attacking supporters for being politically incorrect makes them more likely to vote for Trump. The share of white Americans who identify with their race has nearly doubled over the past thirty years. We are highly sensitive to issues of identity, in ways that are not always obvious.

The book is divided into four sections, each of which deals with a specific reaction on the part of whites (and those who cherish white cultural symbols) to the demographic transformation of the west: Fight, Repress, Flee and Join. Whites can fight ethnic change by voting for right-wing populists and pushing back against the prevailing multicultural narrative. They may repress their anxieties in the name of politically correct anti-racism. Many opt to flee by avoiding ethnically diverse neighborhoods, schools and social networks. And others may join the newcomers through intermarriage. The first two reactions are the most relevant and the most indicative of a crisis of white identity. Many choose to breach anti-racist taboos by openly embracing their whiteness; at the same time, many others—especially liberal whites—virtue signal by censuring the first group for what they see as retrograde and histrionic behaviour:

The loss of white ethno-cultural confidence manifests itself in other ways. Among the most important is a growing unwillingness to indulge the anti-white ideology of the cultural left. Ethno-cultural change is occurring at a rapid rate at precisely the time the dominant ideology celebrates a multicultural vision of ever-increasing diversity. To hanker after homogeneity and stability is perceived as narrow-minded and racist by liberals. Yet diversity falls flat for many because we’re not all wired the same way. This is leading to a polarization between those who accept, and those who reject, the ideology of diversity.

Much of the destabilizing polarization that is taking place in western countries is a result of fundamental differences in how white people are responding to the crisis of their collective identity. Some argue that ethnic minorities are more heavily represented on the political left, therefore this is not so much a battle within the white population as a conflict of interests between whites and other groups. This would be true if the far left were made up mostly of minorities—but, in fact, the progressive activist camp identified in the extensive Hidden Tribes study was found to be the whitest, wealthiest and most educated subgroup. Woke rhetoric is primarily a white phenomenon.

Consider the general tone of public discourse on the most contentious political issues. Donald Trump was one of very few candidates to make immigration reform a major part of his platform. He even made the symbolic promise to build a wall to safeguard the country against outsiders. White progressives generally want the exact opposite of social and cultural preservation: they want to deconstruct the patriarchy, decolonize the racist white hegemony, introduce greater diversity into society, etc. The fundamental disagreement between liberals and conservatives has always been over whether to conserve culture or change it: but this divide is especially clear today.

Kaufmann’s central thesis is that attitudes towards immigration and its salience as an issue—rather than economic factors or anti-elitism—explain why people vote for right-wing populists. However, I believe that the situation is exacerbated by economic stagnation. America lost four million manufacturing jobs to automation between 2000 and 2015; the labor force participation rate is exceptionally low in relation to GDP; fewer businesses are being launched; and 57% of Americans do not have enough savings to pay an unexpected $500 bill. However, economic factors alone cannot explain our political divide. I am inclined to agree with Kaufmann that economic factors are peripheral to the issue, given how compelling his data is, especially with regard to people’s voting choices. Had the economy been in recession as these cultural conflicts unfolded, that would suggest economics as a primary cause. But, as Whiteshift illustrates, demographics matter.

Kaufmann’s solution involves what he calls ethno-traditional nationalism, which values the ethnic majority as an important component of the nation, alongside other groups:

Ethno-traditional nationalists favour slower immigration in order to permit enough immigrants to voluntarily assimilate into the ethnic majority, maintaining the white ethno-tradition. The point is not to assimilate all diversity, but to strike a balance between vibrant minorities and an enduring white-Christian tradition. This is the view of many conservative white voters, even if there is an important (if tiny) tranche of exclusionists on the far right who dream of repatriating minorities.

An important distinction is made here between an ethnic identity and a national identity. Ethnic identity involves mythology derived from a person’s cultural heritage, while national identity involves our relationship to our country as a political unit. The latter cannot fill the space of the former. We need to rein back the predominant cultural orthodoxy—which regards the celebration of white identity as a form of implicit bias or a justification for historical oppression—in order to develop a healthy relationship between nationhood and ethnicity. This means moving beyond the pride/shame binary of the past and recognizing that neither white guilt nor white race pride are going to help us solve the problems of an ever-changing world.

Some might regard the book’s attempt to bridge the political divide as futile. A cynic might say that we are not going to convince the other side to see things our way, and that compromising on our principles is just another form of surrender. This attitude, held by both sides, is a toxic adaptation to our polarized times. People change their minds all the time: they just usually do so quietly, in the privacy of their own minds. The loudest and most inflammatory voices do not represent the silent majority. Moreover, it is not necessary to convince everyone—and the attempt to do so often backfires. We need only present our views in such a way that our positions become normalized. If we remain steadfast in our convictions and continue to engage those who disagree, there is a decent chance that our efforts will not be in vain. It is worth attempting to bridge the political divide—even if it makes us look weak. We should cultivate intellectual resilience and accept the price of dissent, as Kaufmann does—otherwise we’ll be merely chasing a chimera because we can’t force reality to conform to our wishes.

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  1. Unfortunately, the prevailing mantra is that there is no such animal as “white culture.” Of course, anyone who says this with a straight face has a fundamental misunderstanding of “culture,” but that doesn’t change the zeitgeist.

  2. The left wing whites have no identity beyond their social status. They are consumerbots disconnected from their heritage, their history and any sense of place and time. All they have is their social status, and so they build an identity on this.

    Thus they need to avoid being mistaken for low status whites. The left has carefully connected any embrace of ethnic pride and nationalism for whites with low status. In order to avoid being mistaken for low status whites, the white left has to double down on social justice. Their embrace of ‘wokeness’ is based on fears of class contamination by low status whites.

  3. “This is leading to a polarization between those who accept, and those who reject, the ideology of diversity.”

    DIVERSITY is indeed an IDEOLOGY, which we should ALL reject as Orwellian newspeak for melting pot, into which genuine human diversity (a product of past, pre-modern “natural segregation”) will, over time, dissolve & disappear. It is a deceit which is only a strength for Big Brother & his minions:

    1. I can think of thousands! The history of western civilisation is the history of Europeans, i.e. of white people, the first &, thus far only, race ever to have stood on the Moon. Problem is, in overreaction to Nazism (& its undeniably European roots) our academic elite (including many traumatised Jews) embraced & disseminated an ideology of white racial self-denial, self-contempt & self-hatred, which now threatens to bring down our entire civilisation.

  4. I’ve not read the book, so I’m wondering what evidence there is that any significant portion of white people actively engage in this “white identity”. Maybe I am projecting, but I don’t identify with any particular person based on the color of their skin and I think most white people feel the same way. I generally identify with another person based on their ideas. I like Thomas Sowell because he is an excellent orator of conservative values. I dislike Bernie because he’s a socialist.

    Zack Beauchamp, who you quote, once cited a study that supposedly showed Obama voters switched to Trump because of White identity politics. The data allegedly showing this was laughable:

    All data I’ve come across that make a similar claim are similarly bogus from what I’ve seen, so what data does Kaufmann present that is any better?

  5. It’s been posted before but it needs to be posted again: the epochal essay “I can tolerate anything but the outgroup.”

    It quite nicely explains why the far (i.e. progressive) left is white as a KKK rally and yet hates the middle and working class whites.

    1. TLDR; our enemy is the close outgroup of people living next to us (eg. Dem vs Rep) and not vague enemies far away like ISIS and such. Critics say “white people” to say “those idiot Reps or people who disagree with us”… And are often written by white people themselves.

  6. Framing a local culture as white makes it an issue. If it isn’t ‘white’ then migrants can adopt it and the culture itself stays alive and active.

    Christianity is declining in Occident but growing in South America and Asia (cf. Pope Francis). Its values and practices perpetuate via these new members.

  7. If you tell large numbers of people, their only appropriate political response is to be silent, to stare at their naval and accept their skin colour/ethnic identity not only matters but makes them part of the ‘oppressor’ class, it’s hardly any surprise if they not only reject the people excepting of them a kind of narcissistic self loathing, but they’ll embrace people saying the exact opposite.
    It’s easy for an over educated middle class to embrace guilt and self loathing as the primary means of expressing virtue as they’ll remain comfortably off, and culturally central. Those struggling or feeling marginalised don’t have that luxury.
    The irony is that in the UK at least general attitudes towards immigrants are as positive as they’ve ever been.
    There’s no reason why the anti immigrant reactionary populists need be controlling the agenda.
    If the left can ever get round to embracing a programme that addresses the wellbeing concerns of those who know they’re not ‘privileged’, in a way that doesn’t root it in some regressive idea of race or ethnicity, the frauds like Trump and Farage will be defeated.
    The first thing that has to be done is marginalise everyone selling the critical race theory bs and everything associated with it.
    The white working class will never embrace it, and there’s plenty of evidence most ordinary non white people think it’s a load of crap as well.

    1. Let’s start with the basics. Are you ready to marginalise those who sell the theory of “white supremacy” or “patriarchy” theory?

      Because Trump and Farage are the reaction of ordinary people to this bullshit. They both just say out loud what ordinary people who are not infected with hypocrisy think.
      And keep in mind that these idiotic theories create much more racial tensions than all alt-rights together.

      I ‘m ready to see a lot of dislikes under my comment. The truth is so inconvenient…


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