The Enoch Powell Question

The Enoch Powell Question, by Scott McConnell.

“Like the Roman, I seem to see the River Tiber foaming with much blood.” So spoke British politician Enoch Powell 50 years ago in his famous speech delivered to a small audience of Birmingham constituents. Those words were an allusion to the forebodings of a soothsayer in Virgil’s Aeneid, so Powell was not literally predicting “rivers of blood.” But he did assert in stark terms that the transformation of Britain’s historic demography through mass immigration was a danger requiring the loudest possible alarm. …

The Left faction, contained within the Democratic Party and now its most dynamic contingent, is driven primarily by multicultural identity politics. Having seemingly made peace with growing inequality and capitalism, the Left has become an updated version of Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition — people of color and “progressive” whites, plus the recent addition of exotic new varieties of gender-identity activists. The animating belief here is that the United States is a toxic bastion of white male heterosexual privilege, and the country can be redeemed only by that regime’s dismantlement.

This political sensibility gets vehement opposition from a party of “nativism,” defined not by the defense of white male privilege (whose existence in any meaningful sense is denied by most nativists) but by opposition to the Left’s effort to discredit the Western heritage and dismantle the traditional America. …

The Powell question is whether these splits eventually will threaten American democracy and civil peace. … Duke’s Timur Kuran, whose depiction of the two factions roughly corresponds to those noted above, stated that a growing intolerance characterizes political communities of both left and right. At the core of these ideological communities he sees mutually reinforcing intolerances. They depend upon each other for the political outrage that increasingly defines them.

“Each of the two intolerant communities wants to wipe out the other,” concludes Kuran, who mitigates his blunt language by observing that this “wiping out” entails merely “making the rival community accept, if only tacitly, its world view and favored policies.” Currently, he says, the two sides are in rough equilibrium in terms of political power, but Kuran foresees many sorts of extraneous events that could upend the equilibrium in favor of one faction or the other.

Kuran clearly is correct when he says that the degree of political polarization is now striking. Americans in 1960 nearly unanimously told pollsters they were indifferent to whether their child married someone from another political party, but now they care a lot about it. …

Some will argue, of course, that hunkering down, ignoring neighbors, watching more TV, and diminished car-pooling are a far cry from civic breakdown. True. The fraying of community ties isn’t in the same category with actual intrastate violence. But it is undeniable that talk of American democratic failure is in the air today in ways unheard of 10 or 20 years ago. …

American politics are more polarized and full of hatred today than at any time in the postwar era. Demographic diversity is advancing rapidly, a circumstance that social scientists correlate empirically with, at best, a loss of social cohesion and often with civil strife. Average wages have been stagnating. Competition for good positions at elite levels is more intense.

hat-tip Stephen Neil