Whiteshift Book Summary
Populism, Immigration, and the Future of white majorities (or, how to explain Trump/Brexit/etc.)
Note: this was an entry for the 2022 AstralCodexTen book review contest
Imagine going back to 2016, to tell every thinkpiece writer to take it easy, because the definitive Answer to why Trump/Brexit/[populist-right] had won was answered.
This is basically Whiteshift.
Whiteshift is several books in one:
a data-driven explanation for the rise of right-wing populism in the United States and Europe;
a long-term prediction about their demographic and cultural future;
an intellectual history of “left-modernism,” Kaufmann's term for Western elite aesthetics and ideology.
Kaufmann's model is that anti-immigration sentiment grows in proportion to the quantity and cultural divide, as well as the rate of influx of immigrants. This sentiment is initially locally rooted, but as it builds, and national media and politicians begin noticing its concerns, it gets amplified into a national movement. Though I’m wary of binning a continuum into categories, he makes a convincing case that separating out opponents to immigration into conservative and authoritarian subgroups makes sense, since the former will moderate on this issue as immigration flows subside and they are acclimated to the “new normal.” If discourse norms and elite consensus prohibit political elites from channeling the overall anti-immigrant sentiment, new political entrepreneurs will rush to fill this niche over time.
The three themes of the book interact. First, right-wing populism gains in strength because of the concerns of ethnic majorities but is blocked from expression due to media and institutional norms (derived from left-modernism) against discussion of national identity or race. Then, as sentiment grows and media monopolies erode, political entrepreneurs eventually arise to serve that unmet demand. Finally, extrapolating from intermarriage rates and historical examples, non-white immigrants will mostly assimilate into a multiethnic “whiteness.”
My main critique of the book is that these three arguments are jumbled together at times, and the book might have benefitted by more clearly separating those three arguments, or simply leaning into a more chronological style. For that reason, my review may be somewhat jumbled in turn.
Establishing His Definitions
Since he thinks left-modernism is an important part of the story and dominant in “Western Europe and the US”, the book mostly ignores Hungary, Russia, and other Eastern European countries. Those countries tend to have lower inward migrant flows1 and a weaker elite culture of left-modernism, which Kaufmann attributes to the Iron Curtain serving as a cultural barrier of sorts. East Asian countries have similarly low rates of immigration, as they emphasize guest worker programmes and burdensome citizenship requirements, with Japan and South Korea having a foreign-born share of 1.5% and 3.4%, respectively, compared to 1-20% in the West. Kaufmann predicts that the ethnic homogeneity of these countries largely rules out right-wing populism. Some could argue with how he draws his definitions: Japan elected Shinzo Abe, who was praised effusively by Steve Bannon and South Korea elected Yoon Suk-yeol, who wants to abolish the ministry of gender equality. Those certainly seem right-wing populist to me, but Kaufmann largely ignores them.
Ethnicity Versus Nationhood
Kaufmann’s academic specialty is “political demography,” so it's fitting that he begins with a lucid explanation of ethnicity and its social construction:
Many people desire roots, value tradition and wish to maintain continuity with ancestry who have occupied a historic territory...most people will airbrush thor polyglot lineage...we see this process of selective forgetting and remembering time and time again among ethnic groups in history.
Ethnic groups, apart from claiming a real or imagined kinship with each other, distinguish themselves through “cultural markers: language, racial appearance or religion.” But nations are geographically bound political communities, which can have ambiguous relationships to one or more ethnicities. In countries with very dominant ethnic majorities, “their sense of ethnicity and nationhood is blurred...[it] doesn’t confer much distinctiveness”. He thinks that norms against expressing white identity in the US and Western Europe, which gained strength in the middle of the 20th century, suppressed the ethnic consciousness of the white majority. A clever way of foregrounding this is a “reversal test” he proposes to a hypothetical British reader:
As a thought experiment, imagine how your British identity might change if the country had been founded and inhabited by black people until the first major wave of whites arrived 65 years ago.
Per Kaufmann, ethnic minorities are generally more conscious of “where their ethno symbols end and nationals ones begin”, and so previously national symbols, who have less ethnic overtones in a more homogenous society, take on a white connotation. Civic nationalism would seem like the logical solution to this problem, because it elides the tricky knot of ethnicity and unifies through professed political beliefs, but Kaufmann doesn’t think this is politically tractable:
Limiting nationhood to ‘British values...American creed...French Republican tradition doesn’t address the anxieties of conservative voters...’
The middle road, between explicit ethnonationalism and civic nationalism, is ethno-traditional nationhood, “which values the ethnic majority as an important component of the nation alongside other groups” – a bit like the impulse to preserve historic buildings, applied to a particular demographic and cultural balance. This is Kaufmann’s desired solution, as it neutralizes right-wing populism by hopefully allaying some of their voters’ concerns.
Explaining Right-wing Populism
Kaufmann's explanation for right-wing populism basically centers race and culture, rather than economics. In other words, Trump and other right-wing populists win elections because their voters dislike the racial and cultural change that large-scale immigration causes.
The fundamental driver of right-wing populism is large-scale between-country migration. Specific episodes of migration have causes like war or environmental catastrophe. Better transportation technology, large gradients of economic opportunity between countries, and “the unevenness of the demographic transition between groups... ”are the underlying enablers. A rapidly aging Europe, with a Total Fertility Rate (or how many children can be expected of parents) below replacement since the 1950’s, has a shrinking workforce, as well as high wages and a strong safety net that attract immigrant labor. While global fertility rates are rapidly converging “the population growth gradient between the global North and South will remain steep into the 2050’s. ” Thus, the fundamental driver of right-wing populism does not seem close to exhaustion, and projections show substantial ethnic change is baked in:
“In America, half of babies are Latino, Asian, or Black, and the nation as a whole is slated to become ‘majority minority’ in the 2040’s...England is projected to be 73% white in 2050, precisely where the US was in the year 2000...America half a century ahead...on the racial transformation curve.”
Kaufmann also experimentally primed Conservative Americans with short passages on immigration and found evidence that the topic has not reached salience saturation:
The fact that reading a short immigration passage can significantly boost the ranking of immigration as a concern among anti-immigration Whites suggests it has not reached the same saturation point in the American conservative consciousness [relative to Europe]...immigration has room to become even more important.
A lack of other highly salient issues also clears the way for political conflicts over immigration: “the decline of inter-state warfare since 1945, of organized religion since the 1960’s and of communism since 1989 is opening more space for ethnic politics to emerge”. This is similar to what David Shor says, that as people get wealthier, non-materialist concerns dominate economic issues. Kaufmann does an excellent job puncturing the myth that populist Conservative voters are especially motivated by inequality or anti-elite sentiment in general. Per exit polling and survey data, it is liberal elites that are a target of populist rage, not right-wing elites or elites per se.
This is in contrast to the "Economic Anxiety" hypothesis that was in vogue shortly after Trump's election, which posited that lower-class whites who felt economically left behind were voting for Trump out of support for his anti free trade rhetoric. Kaufmann has empirical support for this alternative vision: for instance, less educated but economically well-off Whites vote for Trump at much higher rates than well-educated but poor Whites; higher rates of immigration into specific areas precede populist-support in those specific areas; and Trump primary voters generally placed immigration as one of their highest concerns, over the economy.
Kaufmann brings a cross-national perspective to the populist question and demonstrates how practically every country in Europe that has experienced large-scale immigration in the last few decades has seen a rise in the populist-right. As the populist-right gains in power, mainstream parties initially shut it out, then co-opt its policy demands or include it in coalitions. In different countries with different norms and institutions this process occured at different rates and different degrees, but the overall pattern is remarkably similar. I summarize only his history of US anti-immigration politics in detail below, but he provides similarly granular narratives about the UK and Continental Europe.
Apart from a national political response (“fight”), white majorities have characteristic individual-level responses. A large chunk in both the US and Europe choose white flight (“flee”), and self-segregate into more homogenous exurban and rural areas, away from the cities that immigrants tend to first arrive in. Others remain in more diverse urban areas, and intermarriage rates (“join”) are rising.
How We Got Trump-ed
In the US, restrictionist attitudes towards immigration were successfully kept from national party platforms after the 1960’s for longer than most of Europe, even as fringe candidates like Pat Buchanan managed to break briefly into the mainstream. The elite consensus against hardline immigration restriction held mostly firm until Trump. In contrast to Europe's parliamentary system, where third parties can and do gain power, the US's two-party system meant that until Trump successfully transformed the GOP into a restrictionist party, the populist right was mostly shut out of national politics.
This national-level elite consensus was challenged on the local level as far back as 1978, beginning with the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). Its founder, John Tanton, consciously tried to position FAIR as a centrist organization that kept out racists2. He reached out to “anti-sprawl environmentalists, unions...and African-Americans”, but while unions had historically been anti-immigrant, he did not succeed in pulling away liberal groups. Tanton then tried a more cultural tack, and spearheaded the US English-only movement that succeeded in getting 32 state-level popular initiatives passed that made English the official language.
Tanton’s efforts to make English the official language were very popular, even though elites in both parties rejected it:
Proposition 63, California's Official English vote...passed 73-27 in 1986...67% of California blacks and 58% of Asian voters backed the measures...three years on, in 1989, support among Hispanics had risen to 63%....[But] both...George H. W. Bush and his Democratic adversary, Michael Dukakis, opposed the English Only position.
The conservative intellectuals in the US that were ascendant in the 1970’s and 1980’s reached their apotheosis under Reagan. They were the neoconservatives, many of them former left-wing intellectuals that wrote for Commentary, and were reacting against the “excesses of the 1960’s campus revolts”. This conservatism had a “missionary nationalism” to it, as Kaufmann describes the multiethnic outreach they offered. In contrast, immigration-skeptical conservatives were called paleoconservatives, and included figures like Lawrence Auster, who wrote The Path to National Suicide and Peter Brimelow, who wrote Alien Nation. These writers were friendly to white nationalists on their right, like Jared Taylor of American Renaissance. Pat Buchanan, who ran for president in 1992 and 1996,, combined immigration opposition with religious conservatism and some anti-globalization economic messages for respectable electoral showings in this time.
Town, city, and eventually state-level GOP activists were much more hardline on immigration than national-level officials, and in the 80’s and 90’s passed a variety of referendums and laws that were aimed at symbolically or actually restricting immigration, even as high-level bipartisan elites spoke out against these initiatives. The success of these initiatives, and Pete Wilson’s unexpected governorship win in California, did succeed in raising immigration’s salience, and Bill Clinton signed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigration Responsiblity Act into law in 1996. Per Kaufmann, “though border enforcement was beefed up, employer sanctions were never properly enforced...inflows remained at record levels.”
The late 90’s and early 2000’s saw a reduction in the national salience of immigration, perhaps as a result of Clinton’s IIRIRA. However, on the local level, “latinos increasingly left their initial settlement areas…[and] dispersed more widely.” Per Kaufmann’s model, in which “local opposition to immigration...tends to increase in places which experience rapid ethnic change... especially...[for]towns which have not had historically large immigrant populations”, this led to many local-level anti-immigration initiatives beginning in 2006, such as Arizona’s “Show Me Your Papers” SB 1070. Blue cities did the opposite, which is difficult to explain with a simple model of immigrant proximity causing right-wing backlash, unless ideology is invoked as well.
The local anti-immigration laws often ran into legal trouble, but by “2015, only a handful of states...had failed to pass a measure on immigration enforcement.” Multiple attempts at a grand bargain on immigration were defeated from 2005 to 2014, perhaps contributing to its growing national salience as well. George W. Bush tried to pass immigration reform in 2007, but failed, and Barack Obama failed in 2010 (and 2013) as well. From this longitudinal perspective, Trump is merely the first successful national-level politician of a long-standing popular sentiment. New York Magazine offered a concise summary of how Trump successfully did the opposite of what the institutional GOP assumed it had to do to win after the 2012 election.
Norms and their Consequences
Kaufmann claims that norms against directly criticizing foreign immigration per se will transmute this sentiment into more polite fictions: "it's about excessive public service use or high crime or lack of manufacturing jobs." These dog whistles, however, give way to fuller expression of anti-immigrant sentiment in media and policy as conservatives win elections and gradually widen the Overton Window. Countries with more competitive media environments and looser discourse norms, like the UK, will have this more open debate sooner. Scandals that damage political incumbents or immigrants’ reputations will accelerate those trends, but are not themselves the primary driver.
The euphemisms for anti-immigrant sentiment allow it to be discussed in “politically correct” contexts, but also have off-target effects. Kaufmann reads Brexit as an incidental casualty of anti-immigration sentiment, where dislike of immigrants is transmuted into anti-EU sentiment by cunning politicians. Instead of a straightforward discussion about levels of legal immigration being too high, norms favor discussion of empirically dubious claims about immigrants– that they consume too many public services or commit crimes at exceptionally high rates– which are only sometimes true. Just as political correctness bars criticism of some minority groups, right wing populism eventually develops a political correctness norm of its own, usually centered around the white working class. In many countries, right-wing populists like openly gay Pim Fortuyn (a Dutch politician), also appeal to arguments around security (from Islamic terrorism) and freedom (from Islamic fundamentalism), to widen their electoral appeal and to cloak demographic concerns with more reputable motivations.
Especially in the US, an important development was the increasing ideological diversity of media:
Elite cues are important in shaping public opinion....an according them importance...one of the liberalizing forces in American life after 1960 had been the expanding New York and HOllywood-based TV media....by the 1990’s, cable television began to chip away at the primary of ABC, NBC, and CBS...market segmentation...fragmented the media landscape. In addition, in 1987, the FCC stopped enforcing the ‘fairness doctrine’...so began the erosion of one of the institutional cornerstones of the country’s post-1960’s attitude liberalization.
The kinds of people who are first willing to embrace politically popular but unfashionable-among-elite positions are not a random selection of the average political elite, which affects how populist right political preferences are eventually translated into policy. My own thinking on this is that in countries with strong protections for civil servants and a tradition of apolitical bureaucrats, populist-right politicians will struggle to enact policy if elected. Politicians from especially inexperienced parties, lacking an “administration in waiting”, may have trouble governing, at least initially. Finding examples of these in recent times is left as an exercise to the reader...
Early American xenophobia
The fusion of survey data with a historical perspective is another strength of this book. With it, he places the current GOP as merely the latest manifestation of nativist American sentiment, the 21st century Know-Nothing party, which was America's most successful third-party ever. Early American xenophobia arose as a reaction to high levels of non-WASP immigration (from Catholics and Jews) into the US in the mid-1800’s through early 1920’s, combined with “waning of the optimistic belief that...Protestants could assimilate Catholic immigrants”. The ethnic divisions that this influx of people created was eventually resolved through a decline in immigration and, importantly, intermarriage across White ethnic lines.
The Know-Nothing case also neatly illustrates how events can (temporarily) supplant this political fight. The Know-Nothing movement effectively dissolved amidst the Civil War and resulting post-war politics, though anti-immigrant sentiment did eventually result in the Immigration Act of 1917. Similarly, the post 9/11 GOP turn in politics probably weakened national-level anti-immigration politicians for about a decade, as security and foreign policy rose in salience. Kaufmann thinks COVID had a similar effect, as it reduced the salience of immigration and made other concerns more salient.
As unifying forces like organized religion decline, ethnicity endures and rises in relative importance, so the conflict can also be analogized as “a battle between the ‘tribal’ populist right and the ‘religious’ anti-racist left”. As American religion declined in the 2000’s, even Southern states saw an electoral backlash to the Religious Right, the Religious Right receded in power, and the populist Right surged to fill the gap.
Who is an “American”?
In contrast to the late-20th century notion of America as a land of immigrants, 18th century American elites, exemplified by the Founding Fathers, had more particularistic notions:
Many of the Founders believed they were the actual descendants of the Anglo-Saxons...[the] myth of Anglo-Saxon origins became the dominant interpretation of American in the 19th century, ...in 1889...in his sprawling history of American entitled “the Winning of the West”...Theodore Roosevelt drew a direct line between the Anglo-Saxon conquest of Britain...and the American Revolution
Like many countries, American political identity was “constructed around....an ethnic core” which consisted of “W-AS-P...white appearance, unaccented English, British, or Dutch surnames, and Protestant religion” though it always had a strong assimilationist tendency. Catholicism represented a counter-entropic force, since adherents took many generations to shed their religion and become Protestant, and was thus feared. When Catholic immigration from Ireland and Germany began in earnest in the 1840’s, anti-Catholicism surged, and coalesced in the Know-Nothing Party.
Of course, America’s history as a refuge for religious zealots (like the Puritans) meant that pro-immigration advocates always had a strong symbolic history to draw on, as Jefferson did in 1817, saying “a sanctuary for those whom the misrule of Europe may compel to seek happiness...will be received as brothers” and many pro-immigration advocates do today.
The late 19th century, while not renowned for enlightened values on race, did have flexible view of ethnicity that Kaufmann thinks we should perhaps emulate: “the concept of ethnicity was relatively malleable....Anglo-American thinkers believed that the Anglo-Saxon tended to overwhelm other strains and would thereby prevail in the assimilation process.” Apart from these quasi-racialistic notions of dominant strains, a tried-and-true method of assimilation for immigrants was rallying against further immigration, as the Irish did in the 1880’s against Chinese immigrants.
The “browning” of America
After he's done explaining the most electorally significant events in the West of the last 30 years, he jumps to another important subject: its demographic future. While may progressives fervently anticipate a highly diverse “Minority-Majority” future, Kaufmann argues that realistic assumptions about interracial marriage and ethnic identification yield a different future– where multi-racial Americans and Europeans become the largest ethnic group in their countries and yet assimilate into a more inclusive notion of Whiteness. Kaufmann, who is 1/4 Latino, 1/4 Chinese, and 1/2 white, himself illustrates this trend.
Kaufmann has as his model the assimilation of white ethnics and Jews into the American WASP elite that took place in the 20th century: while the ideal of the WASP lives on in the iconic preppy image of a Harvard or Andover student, there was substantial intermarriage between Catholic, Jewish, WASP, and other European Americans in the 20th century, which produced the Generic White American of today. The prototypical example of this assimilation is Barry Goldwater-- half-Jewish and half WASP, he almost won the Presidency in 1964. A striking illustration of the decline of WASP power is the Supreme Court. Once entirely WASP, it is now mostly comprised of Catholic and Jewish Americans– as of 2021, it has 6 Catholic Justices!
This is "Whiteshift" –the gradual widening of "white" to include many multiracial Americans and Europeans, which is anathema to both racialist conservatives (who value "racial purity") and left modernists, who decry the melting-pot style assimilation of minorities. This intermixing might be expected to produce existential anxiety among some temperamentally conservative Whites, but in Kaufmann's view, since cultural continuity, as opposed to racial continuity, is what they really value, it likely won't:
I contend that today’s white majorities are likely to successfully absorb minority populations while their core myths and boundary symbols endure.
This multiracial ethnicity will look different than contemporary Whites, but will likely harken back to American history and culture and construct its identity from it. Kaufmann sees the beginnings of this phenomena in the surprisingly high rates of minorities who are nostalgic about American conservative values. Minority Trump supporters, for instance, are nearly as in favor of retaining Confederate statues as White Trump supporters, and even when they're not Christian themselves, will answer favorably to surveys asking their opinion on retaining a kind of public Christianity. The surprising levels of support across minority groups for making English the official language, detailed above, are another example, and Trump’s relatively strong 2020 showing among minority groups is another.
He also draws analogies with historic episodes of assimilation in other countries, such as Turkey, where a unifying national identity of Central Asian origin encompasses groups descended from Byzantine Christians and later waves of immigration. Some exceptions to this trend will likely persist in “fundamentalist religious sects I call ‘time capsules’ of whiteness”, which, to varying degrees, have resisted secularization so far.
Apart from its effects on discourse norms, left-modernism has pushed American institutions away from a "melting pot" model of assimilation towards multiculturalism. He provides evidence that reassuring immigration-skeptical voters that immigrants will assimilate into traditional national values lowers anti-immigrant sentiment and so this left modernist policy is self-defeating. Given those findings, his suggested solution to rising populist right support is the following: reducing immigration flows, pushing for assimilation over multiculturalism, and facilitating the development of a self-confident, racially inclusive, and culturally rooted national identity. This will reduce the anxiety felt by temperamentally conservative voters, who will view the future generations of multi-racial Americans/Europeans as inheritors of their cultural legacy.
This part of the book is, in my opinion, the shakiest. The “assimilation into WASP”3 that Kaufmann uses as his model has several key differences: It occured in a more self-confident America that pushed for integration. It also had exogenous shocks that involved hard coercion to force assimilation– like the German-American identity being all but erased during WWI and the threat of an external ideological enemy in the Cold War. And– not to put too fine a point on it– there was no counter-assimilationist ideology of multiculturalism with substantial elite cachet4 in the 20th century. Religion has declined substantially in the US, bringing it closer to convergence with already-secular Europe, and since religion can cut across ethnicities, we might expect increased persistence of ethnicity in the absence of religion.
On the other hand, there are some signs that integration may happen even easier in today’s America– English has become the world’s default second language, reducing language barriers; American pop culture has wormed its way practically everywhere, ensuring some cultural familiarity in far-flung places; and in a hard-to-express way, the differences between American culture and everywhere else seem to be decreasing5. Intermarriage is a costly signal of intergroup amicability and it seems to be on the rise as well.
These factors make me substantially more uncertain than Kaufmann seems to be about what America’s self identity will look like 50 or 100 years hence.
His demographic projections on Europe, the US, and Canada’s white and non-white populations do match what I’ve read from other sources, like Empty Planet, so I think he’s correct on the ethnic composition, but I’m not sure about his cultural/identity predictions.
Left-Modernism and the origins of wokeness
Interspersed with demographic modeling and a history of populist-right parties is an excellent intellectual history of left-modernism. With a nod to Daniel Bell, he traces its origins to the "lyrical left" of the late 19th century, when criticism of one's own country became intellectually fashionable. This combined with an aesthetic preference for the exotic, and a counterculture that preferred cosmopolitanism over localism was borne among Western intellectuals. In the 60’s, through mass television and expanded university education, this counterculture became elite culture, with some important effects on discourse and politics:
But what happens when the critics become dominant? In softer form, left-modernist ideology penetrated widely within the high culture and political institutions of Western society after the 1960s. This produced norms which prevented democratic discussion of questions of national identity and immigration. (Location 78) The deviantization of these issues in the name of anti-racism introduced a blockage in the democratic process, preventing the normal adjustment of political supply to political demand. (Location 80)Instead of reasonable tradeoffs between those who, for example, wanted higher or lower levels of immigration, the subject was forced underground, building up pressure from those whose grievances were ignored by the main parties. This created a market opportunity which populist right entrepreneurs rushed in to fill. (Location 81)
Apart from its direct effects on politics, Kaufmann thinks left-modernism has a lot to do with “wokeness.” While Richard Hanania and others locate it more directly in the Civil Rights bureaucracy, Kaufmann focuses on its pedigree. In his view, wokeness is a descendant of left-modernism, with campus protests in the mid 1960’s, early 1990’s, and late 2010’s-present representing “upsurges of left-modernist fundamentalism”.
The earliest antecedents of left-modernism started sometime in the late 1800’s. One important group is the “Liberal Progressives'', who were individualists, Progressive (in their belief society could be reformed), and ecumenical. William James, who wrote and spoke publicly for Pluralism, as well as Felix Adler, who started the Ethical Culture movement that later became secular humanism, were important early figures. This movement was initially in favor of a kind of gentle assimilation, in which WASP culture would lead the way but gradually “universalize itself out of existence”. At the same time, others like Jane Addams introduced the idea that immigrants ought to maintain their culture, and her Hull House encouraged multiculturalism.
Mainline Protestant theologians, who had been anti-immigration for anti-Catholic reasons, were influenced by these ideals, and by 1919, the Federal Council of Churches and Protestant clergy in general were publicly opposed to nativist groups like the KKK, and by 1924, opposed to immigration restriction. In an eerie parallel to the schism in Evangelical churches over Trump, these church leaders turned out to be too far ahead of their parishioners' opinions, and conservative churches left to form an evangelical association. This pattern of elite-led institutions being out of sync with their base on immigration-adjacent issues would recur many times.
A dose of romanticism and bohemianism was added to the previously more staid left-modernism by Randolph Bourne and the Young Intellectuals of Greenwich Village:
Bourne...combines rebellion against his own culture and Liberal Progressive cosmopolitanism with an endorsement– for minorities only– of Kallen’s ethnic conservatism. In other words, ethnic minorities should preserve themselves while the majority should dissolve itself.
This attitude was carried forward by the Beat Generation, who found jazz or Mexican culture more “lively” than Middle America, and the 1960’s saw this attitude spread further.
While 1924 America had passed draconian immigration quotas based on the 1890’s census, and was in the grips of eugenicist ideals, Kaufmann thinks that under the surface, “pluralism was making inroads...WWII helped binds Protestants, Catholic and Jews together”, a development aided along by Progressive educators who pushed a pro-immigration and pluralist textbook6 in the school system, starting in the 1930’s. Popular wartime novels, such as Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead had characters of multiple faiths fighting together, reflecting growing religious pluralism.
During the Cold War, two important shifts in rhetoric strengthened universalism in the US: first the US sought to portray itself as a “color-blind universalist power”, in contrast to Soviet rhetoric that did the opposite; and second, the anti-communist crusade by Joseph Mccarthy pushed out many old-stock WASP federal bureacrats, and patriotic immigrants could surge in. More basic changes, like rising educational attainment, helped as well:
The average length of time in full-time education increased from under 9 years to over 12 between 1940 and 1960...attending college grew from 15% in 1950 to a third in 1970
These softening attitudes were probably helped along by the previous decades of immigration restriction, “proportion of foreign-born...had fallen from over 13% in 1920 to less than 5% by 1965”, which eventually resulted in the 1965 Hart-Cellar Act. Here, it’s worth pausing for a moment to understand American demographics in the 1960’s.
As more evidence of liberalization, the 1960’s to the 80’s marked a rapid period of attitudinal change on inter-faith marriages:
In the early [1960’s]...3/4 of Protestants opposed marriage between Protestants and Catholics. By the 1980’s, over 3/4 of Americans approved of both Protestant-Catholic and Jewish-Christian marriage....90% [of marriages] were intra-religious prior to 1970...half of Jews married outside their faith.
This era (60’s to 80’s) marked the formation of the generic white American, in contrast to the 1940’s-era dominance of WASPs, exemplified in this scene.
And yet, though America underwent profound demographic and cultural change, even in the 2010’s, Kaufmann found that a politically and ethnically diverse survey sample said Anglo surnames were the most representative of American identity, which ties back to his claim that future multi-racial Americans will retain an ethno-traditional symbolic core.
There is long-running polling that shows Americans had wanted less immigration for a while, though this moderated since 1995, counter to Kaufmann’s predictions, since you’d expect anti-immigration sentiment to monotonically rise as immigration flows stayed high.
He explains this by saying that Americans as a whole just became more socially liberal, for a bunch of reasons:
Attitudes on race, religion, sexuality and women’s roles shifted markedly between the 1950’s and 1970’s....rising share of university-educated liberal Americans....sexual revolution, anti-Vietnam protests...the sixties brought....individualism....the emergence of what Robert Bellah terms ‘lifestyle enclaves’....which displace those [identity narratives] of ethnic group and nation.
I find this explanation compelling, but some might view this as something of a political epicycle. He also thinks that elite agenda-setting in the media and politics succeeded in mostly keeping immigration out of the public’s attention, reducing its salience.
Also, I find his explanation of the chief exception to the right-wing populism trend, Canada, somewhat less satisfying. Canada has very high levels of immigration and little sign of a resurgent anti-immigration Right. He explains it through Canada’s weak national identity, which is unsatisfying. The converse example, of New Zealand (an Anglo settler country with very low levels of immigration and very little Conservatism) is also unsatisfying.
I also want to register moderate skepticism to some of the priming work he cites, since I don’t think priming has fared well in the replication crisis and I don’t have the time or expertise to read them in detail. Still, his core arguments hang together just fine without the priming studies.
Overall, Whiteshift explains a recurring and chronically misunderstood political phenomena, along with the intellectual and historical context that has produced this dynamic. In contrast to the usual narrative-rich explanations of long-term political trends, Whiteshift is data-focused and empirical, while still being highly readable. The interweaving narratives can be somewhat difficult to keep straight, but the wealth of data and history makes this a very rewarding book.
A friend notes that the black nationalist movement (like the Black Panthers and the Nation of Islam) are possible counter-examples, though neither were quite elite ideologies.
Though see this Tyler Cowen post contra this idea, pointing out within-country diversity has probably increased.
American History by David Muzzey, which spoke to the anxieties of immigration, eg, “some...think that the process has injured our country by introducing a base alloy”