Saturday, May 15, 2010

Barbarian invasions

World media did not talk about it, but France was recently shaken by another polemic about the Islamic veil. A woman was caught driving while wearing a veil almost completely hiding her face and fined – rightly so, in my opinion – for dangerous driving. The government, who had just lost the regional elections by the largest margin ever, escalated, threatened to revoke the woman's husband's citizenship because because he had several wives, then, discovering it was not legally possible announced it would vote a law to make it so, retroactively. The whole thing degenerated into political bickering out of which, we can be pretty sure, nothing will come out. This polemic may sound quite absurd, especially in a time when most governments in Europe are struggling to avoid bankruptcy. In many way it is. It highlights, however, an important aspect of the energy descent : migration, culture shift, and the reaction of locals to both.

Many authors have predicted the energy descent will result in mass migrations, leading to large scale population replacement. John Michael Greer has thus stated he considered an Arab conquest of Europe a distinct possibility, and his e-novel Star' Reach describes the Old World as the place “where the Arabs live now”. There is certainly an American bias here. America experienced a large scale population replacement in the last three centuries, with natives being progressively swamped out by immigrants from the other side of the sea. This hasn't happened in Europe for five millenniums.

Of course, there have been a lot of invasions and culture shifts, but the population has remained the same as it was during the neolithic. In the area I live, people first spoke some kind of pre-indoeuropean language, then shifted to Celtic, then to Latin, then to another brand of Celtic, then to a romance local dialect, then to standard French. They will probably shift to something else at some point of the future. Most of them, however, directly descend from the mesolithic hunter-gatherers who claimed this land after the end of the last ice age.

The invasions which marked the end of the Western Roman Empire have had a surprisingly small impact. Germanic warlords seized political power and set up often short-lived kingdoms but they and their men were too few in number to really influence the genetic make up of the population or do more than introduce a few specialized loanwords in their language. As a rule, immigrants, even high-status sword wielding immigrants, quickly assimilate, not because they have a moral obligation to do so but because it is the best way to advance in society. Of course, in the long run, it means forsaking the web of ethnic solidarity which helped them to survive when they first arrived, but most of the time it is a price worth paying.

There are exceptions, however. Transplanted peasant communities, settling en masse on a relatively virgin land can resist assimilation a very long time, even if they are completely surrounded by natives. This is what happened to the Arvanites of Greece or to the, now gone, German speaking populations of Russia or Romania. This has, of course, little relevance for the energy descent age.

The second exception – the English – is, however, far more interesting. Far right ideologues and anti-immigrations activists don't like to talk about it, but the English are the one example in reasonably recent history of an immigrant – not conqueror – group who managed to take over their host country. Indeed, when the Roman Empire left – or was expelled from – Britain in 410, the bulk of the population was Christian and spoke Latin or what would become Welsh, Cornish or Breton. Two centuries later Latin was gone as a spoken language, Celtic tongues and Christianity were restricted to the western highlands while the remainder of the country was held by pagan Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, a rather unusual fate, one must say, for a former Roman land.

The traditional interpretation of this rather troublesome turn of event, based upon the contemporary but biased account of Gildas, holds that the soft and decadent Britons were obliged to hire Saxon mercenaries to defend themselves. Those mercenaries revolted, slaughtered the natives and seized their lands. This is a very compelling story, one which fits very well the apocalyptic mindset so common in some sections of the Peak Oil movement. The only problem is that it doesn't fit the facts.

To begin with, many early “Anglo-Saxon” rulers wore unmistakably Celtic names. Most of the battles they fought took place, not on the shores, as would have been expected but on the old tribal borders. It was on these very same tribal borders or around major cities that their earliest settlement were first located. Moreover both British and old English borrowed very little from each other which suggests they had, at least at first, a reasonably equivalent status. Sub-Roman Britons doesn't not seem to have been weak and decadent either : the picture modern archeology reveals is one of powerful tribal militias, fortified hilltops and hundreds of kilometers long defense dikes.

This has led a new generation of searchers, such as Stuart Laycock, to suggest another scenario : after the Romans left, the old British tribes recovered their freedom and fought among themselves. Following late Roman practice they imported Germanic mercenaries they settled in strategic locations, not necessarily because they lacked trained manpower, but because hired swords, not being embroiled in local politics are generally more reliable in the short term.

The end result was that the culture and language of the newcomers prevailed, albeit not necessarily their dynasties. After all, the kings of Wessex, who ultimately unified England had an obvious, even if not very much publicized, Celtic ancestry.

What is particularly interesting for the fate of our own society during the energy descent is that the immigrants, despite being relatively few in numbers, assimilated the natives rather than the other way around. Outright military conquest certainly played a role in this process but certainly not everywhere and certainly not in the West Country. My own guess is that mercenaries Germanic war bands were more open that the British aristocracy. Ambitious but low status youths, such as perhaps Cerdic of Wessex, had therefore every reason to join them, learn their language and worship their gods – after all, if Paris has been worth a mass, Venta Belgarum and Old Sarum may very well have been worth a sacrifice to Woden.

The result was that when rubble stopped bouncing and warlordships coalesced into reasonably sized kingdoms, the ruling elite of what had been the core of Roman Britain had become pagan and Anglo-Saxon speaking, even though a significant part of it was probably of British ancestry.

Could such a thing happen in today's Europe ? If present conditions continue to prevail, certainly not. There is absolutely no way an immigrant culture, associated with poverty and marginality can win over the elite or even the middle class. In fact, immigrants have every incentive to abandon it, with the possible exception of religion, provided it is practiced the European way, that is privately.

Peak energy makes things more complex, however. As the net energy available to society decreases, so will its capacity to support complex hierarchies. We can count on the ruling elites to pressure everyone and his dog to stay at the top, but ultimately they will fall. In the meantime, however, it will be the lower and middle classes which will be hit the hardest. What that means for immigrants is that they will no longer be able, except for a few lucky individuals, to advance in society and will be permanently locked in underclass status. They will then have no reason to abandon the very real advantages of community solidarity for a more and more empty promise of integration.

Impoverished natives may and will then join immigrant culture – or rather what it will have become since it will quickly grow quite different of what it was at home – for protection and some form of advancement. This process is clearly at work in French society, even if it is marginal – racism and scapegoating is still the most common reaction.

As the crisis deepens and the middle class slips into permanent poverty, we may have a rather interesting “culture war” between whatever emerges from urban ghettos and a racism which in France may put on the mask of secularism – those who read French and will have look at this supposedly left wing blog will understand what I mean.

At some point in the process of decline, this is bound to generate a deep fracture in European societies, fracture which may take a territorial form, as it did in Britain, with an immigrant-based cultures prevailing in some areas and more native ones holding on in some others. Islamic polities may very well emerge in some French regions and large parts of Germany may very well become Turkish-speaking after the ultimate collapse of today's European states and of the elites which draw their power from them.

This is not necessarily a bad outcome. These futures societies and polities can become as rich and cultured as England did despite its rather troubled origin. The problem is that this process, probably inevitable at this point, will meet with a lot of resistance from natives, and more specifically from those authorities who will draw their legitimacy from today's polities. Racism and ethnic cleansing are bound to show their ugly head and make the unraveling of our civilization far messier and bloodier than it needs to be.

Ironically, it is the very refusal of the native majority to make place to immigrants and to integrate a part of their culture into their own which make this outcome all the more likely. This means, of course that ethnic regions – the Celtic Fringe for instance, but that is only an example – may be less vulnerable. Whatever polity emerge from them will likely draw its legitimacy from a supposed – even if often more fantasized than real – resistance to the state it is a part today. This may enable them to integrate large section of immigrant culture, as a part of a necessary culture change, without endangering themselves. An emirate of Britanny may exist in the future and, even if I'd prefer a Wiccan democracy, it would be as Breton as today's French region.

Even here, however, it is far from a forgone conclusion. In an atmosphere of nationalist ranting and stigmatization, it seems that the likes of Gildas will have a field day, paving the way for those of Cerdic and Creoda.


  1. What has happened in post-war western Europe with respect to immigration would, in any previous age, be considered an invasion and be resisted with force of arms. Yet in this very bizarre age which is now ending, which has no historical precedent that I’m aware of, the elites of Europe apparently decided that ethnicity was a relic of an unenlightened past, that economics trumps tribe and culture, and that immigrants could be allowed into your continent en masse without consequences. You’re about to find out just how delusional and destructive this idea was.

    What I find so strange about modern Europeans like yourself is how resigned you seem to be to your own demise. You have allowed immigrant ghettos to arise in your own capitals, which as you say will not assimilate and will become powder kegs for future social upheavals. Why are you not hanging your elites from fence posts for creating such a mess? I’ve been all over Europe, west to east, spoken to ordinary people, and not one of them wanted immigrants. I can also tell you that eastern Europe, which did not allow itself to be invaded by non-Europeans, will weather collapse much better than places like France. You’ve made a bloody mess of old Europe, and now you’re going to reap the bitter harvest. Good luck!

  2. If an emirate were set up in Britanny, would it be as Breton as today's French region? It need be any more than Istanbul is not pre-1453 "Roman" Constantinople.

    It is interesting that converts to Islam include former BNP members. Arianism, which is quite silly, but often used a trump card to discredit the Right, seems to be percolating among the Islamic elite in Europe, for example Tariq Ramadan. It would be nice if others than just Paul Berman and Terry Glavin (Canadian) would speak up.

    The elite in London is already quite Islamized - the burqa-clad women are as likely to be very wealthy as poor. Manchester United and Harrod's are have Middle Eastern owners.

    The death-threats to academics now commonplace is largely ignored, by those hoping transition will be smoother, if chunks of the post-Enlightenment culture are toned down. If free speech and free-thinking are abandoned now, how much of the host culture will remain? It will surely not return for centuries - and France would surely not be France. And while pining for a bloodless transition, a bloody totalitarianism will grip, not unlike the regime in Iran.

  3. Doctor Doomlove, why do you think there were German speaking communities in Russia ? In previous ages, migrations were not only accepted but encouraged, provided that the immigrants acknowledged the power of the local lord, that is.Ethnicity has basically been a non-issue until the nineteenth century.

    As for hanging our elites... that is exactly the kind of unconstructive scapegoating which is likely to make the coming decline far messier than in it needs to be.

    Anonymous, do you know that Mehmet II claimed to be the rightful successor of the Roman Empire, not an absurd claim, by the way when one remembers Constantinople did not speak the same language nor worship the same god as the original Roman Empire. By the way, Persia did not cease to be Persia after it converted to Islam, and neither did Bengal or the Malay states.

    As for France no longer being France, well it is pretty much inevitable at this point. What matters is to know what will arise from the ruins and it will certainly not be modern day fundamentalism which is far too dependent from modernity to continue to exist in the post-collapse world.

    As an aside, arianism is a Christian heresy

  4. Damien, is Brittany being influenced to revive its Celtic heritage the way the other Celtic lands (e.g., Wales) have been? Is Brezhoneg being spoken more frequently? (Do you speak it?) How do you think it and the other minority language enclaves in France (e.g., the Basque, Català, Flemish, German, and Provençal regions) will fare in the coming years?

  5. Immigration, once established as public policy, is unstoppable while the local economy grows, or at least appears to grow. As a nation of perpetual emmigrants, the Irish have benefitted vastly in the past. One wonders, though, just what lessons we've learnt. We are certainly tolerant of immigration for the most part, but there is also a sense of futility about the overall economic implications that benefit the established money makers versus the ordinary worker.

    Today our Irish elites benefit vastly from the importation of cheap immigrant labour while using emmigration to force young Irish people (both native and new native), often highly educated, to flee the economic meltdown the elites created through their housing ponzy scheme. Some sources put emmigration of natives up towards 100,000 over the last couple of years. However, our population remains fairly steady due to new immigration (mostly from non-EU areas)as factory owners used the recession to lay off entire working populations to replace them with newer and even cheaper labour immigrant populations. We also have one of Europes highest birth rates.

    Meanwhile, our highly class stratified education system actively teaches all native children (new and old natives) that they cannot expect to earn a living from manual and service labour; that such work is beneath them and reserved for each new wave of immigration. As a result we end up with a school leaving population that is at one end either highly educated or at the other end utterly without the requisite qualifications to survive in our new "knowledge" economy. The utter gullability and skill deficit in some new grads is breath taking.

    Personally, I'm too old to give a damn, and I do see a bright spot in the whole mess created by the elites to serve their purses and egos. Many East European immigrants have real skills such a tailoring, shoe repair, and the ability to circumnavigate the absurd mirochip invasion attached to every bit of electronics and machinery produced these days. I'd much rather pay my money to a craftswoman or man, whatever their origin, than to throw good money at new mass produced goods with built-in finite life spans.

    In the end, I do not care if I join another culture or if someone joins in the existing culture. It is irrelevant to me. Once one decides the main economy is a crock of shite inducing one to virtual wage slavery and endless and meaningless consumption, one is only concerned with meeting people whom you can benefit and can benefit you. Language, colour, and food habits becone irrelevant. Skills, communication ability and the desire to trade locally become paramount. My only fear is that these people with real skills are being economically marginalised (and are starting to leave) by even newer waves of immigrants that may not have useful skills.

  6. Don Plummer, there is indeed an effort, in some part of the population, to revive the Breton culture - or rather, to be fair, to promote a modernized culture based upon the vision the urban intelligentsia has of the traditional Breton culture. Some parts of it has become fairly mainstream, others are still marginal. As always, it is a continuum.

    The Breton language is spoken byaging rurals, a group which is soon to die out, and by neo-speakers relying upon a network of schools some of them private (ironically probably what Brittany has closest from community school). The second group is growing in number, so the decline of the language might be stopped.

    Of course the coming collapse will somewhat complixify the situation and a language relying upon schools for transmission is definitely at risk.

    As for the other languages, the global pattern is the same. Catalan and Basque might fare better because there is a sizeable body of speakers on the other side of the border. Flemish is nearly gone and Occitan is likely to go the same way : it simply has not enough territorial and social cohesion

  7. Blagroll, the situation of Brittany is not that different. Most educated people - and the proportion is higher here than in France proper - have to leave to get decent wages, as for those who leave the school system... they don't even have the basic survival skills our grand-fathers relied upon in hard times.

    I aggree that immigrants often do masters those skills. In my home city, and in many others, the only grocery shops open on sunday evening are held by arabs - which does not keep right winger to call said arabs lazy. The problem comes from rich retirees who have bought house on the coast, inflating prices and destabilizing local societies. On the long run it won't matter very much as they will die out and won't be replaced but on the short terms it creates all sort of difficulties for natives - but of course right winger never talk about it.

    You have the right not to care about culture and it is certainly better than fetishizing it, but culture - or more specifically shared culture - is what glue communities together. It can, and must, evolve, often beyond recognition, but it must exist in some form and command some form of loyalty, else what you have is not a community but a bunch of individuals moved by self interests

  8. One major aspect of immigration was the desire of elite community to reduce social cohesion and increase social alienation. This was a classic Imperial Roman technique and has also been very successful in USA, see Robert Putnam.

    However, drawback is that societies with low social cohesion have huge difficulty defending themselves. Whilst they are prosperous they can recruit well paid professional soldiers. But when the money runs out they need conscription.

    And without social cohesion there cannot be an effective conscript army. Imagine a French conscript army mobilised to fight a possible invasion by a North African / Middle Eastern alliance. This was the real reason why France was forced to end conscription. Only nation states - 95% or more of population belonging to ethnic nation - can have willing mass armies. The Soviet Union had to execute around 10% - 2000,000 - of front line Red Army soldiers during WW2. The US army fought their first war as integrated army in Vietnam, and disintegrated under pressure. Nationalism is the underlying "strong" glue that holds a country together. Men will fight to defend communities that look, act, talk and think much like themselves. An alternative glue is money, favourite of Imperial elites. But that is a "weak" glue, it only works whilst it exists. And it can disappear very rapidly.

    I could also mention English immigration. In pre-modern world, society is mostly downwardly mobile. That is the very poor have too low a birth rate - from disease and malnutrition - to wholly replace themselves and are continuously replaced by class above them. The class with the highest effective birth rate are the richest. However, their "surplus" children have to trade down to find a niche. Imagine now that the Celts / Welsh labourers were at the bottom half of the social heap and the English at the top. A few generations later, the Welsh culture would be largely gone.

  9. Anonymous, elites almost never willingly weaken the social cohesion of their own society and for very good reasons. They rely on this very social cohesion and on the intermediate bodies which back it for control. Should they fail, elites would have to use brute force instead, which is both costlier and less efficient.

    Roman did settle barbarian tribes in their territories, but not to control their own population. The whole point was to have a reasonably large body of cheap, reliable and efficient troops readily available, something native populations could no longer provide after 378. Of course, this plan went wildly out of hand, but that's another matter.

    In France, immigrants were brought in to work, end of the story (and until 1962, most of them were not technically immigrants), and their impact on the overall cohesion of the French population is small.

    If conscription was abandoned in France, it was because it had become costly, very unpopular and quite inefficient. In fact Muslims were overrepresented in it then and are still more today and for obvious reasons : they tend to linger at the bottom of the social ladder and were less likely to escape service through a legal technicality. They are today more likely to enlist. This did not prevent France to fight in the Middle-East in 1991 and in Chad regularly since the early seventies.

    The cohesion of a professional army depends upon internal factors - unit patriotism, solidarity between comrades in arms, esprit de corps - and that's why the best force in the French army is the Legion, entirely populated by underpaid foreigners.

    A citizenry in arm, however, remains a citizenry. It will fight for a just cause, but not for a dubious one. In 1961, the French people decided holding on to Algeria was not worth the cost. When the army tried to stage a coup to push another option, conscripted troops refused to follow and the coup collapsed. That is, by the way, the main point of a conscription army.

    The English - or rather Anglo-Saxon - migration as you describe it is a myth. Genetics showed Germanic populations came in small number in Britain and did not change the genetic make up of the population. Moreover, Celtic names are common places in the royal families of early Wessex and Mercia - and that includes kings, so we can be sure there was no ethnic cleansing or even apartheid. What happened was that natives became acculturated. My opinion is that it happened because it was easier to become a warlord inside the mixed culture of the Germanic warbands than inside the stratified structure of the British polities, and that was why anybody with ambition but no powerful family was more likely to choose the former rather than the latter.

    Cerdic is described as an ealdorman - a local civil servant - remember, and his name is fully Celtic

    1. "In France, immigrants were brought in to work, end of the story"
      Then what is the point of keeping such a high flow of immigrants (for lets say at least 30 years) when the french society is crippled by mass unemployment ?

      "and their impact on the overall cohesion of the French population is small."
      Do you Remenber the 2005 civil unrest ?

  10. This may or may not be relevant to your comments about the Anglo-Saxons versus the Celts in Britain.

    Recently, the Linguist John McWhorter wrote a book aimed at the lay reader titled "Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue." The thesis of the book is that the Celtic languages spoken in Britain had a major impact on the development of the English language, a thesis which is at variance with the "received wisdom" on the subject. He discusses various reasons why his thesis has generally been rejected, e.g., most specialists in the English language don't know any Celtic languages.

    In any event, I found the book interesting.

  11. Anonymous, thanks for the reference. Speaking both English and a Celtic language, I have always been surprised to see both languages handle present progressive the same highly unusual way : by using a verbal noun instead of a present participle like everybody else.

    'I am doing' is structured the same way as 'Me a zo oc'h ober', but not at all like estoy hacendo

  12. Apologies for omitting links re English settlement of post Roman Britain. See:

    BBC: Anglo Saxon Britain 'had apartheid society'

    BBC: English and Welsh are races apart

    However, this subject is not really so important for our future.

    What is really important is collapse dynamics and role of multi-culturalism within coming social collapse. Based on frequent discussions with members of elite community here in England, I have to disagree that they want social cohesion. What they really want is what they have achieved, atomised society with sub critical social alienation. And this is important part of dynamics of collapse.

    When severe downturn occurs, what was previously sub critical will rapidly become critical. Here in England, we are facing at least decade of austerity, plus additional economic problems being of post peak oil. All in tiny island that can support - on long term sustainable basis of post fossil fuel and post phosphate - perhaps maximum of 20 million at very most. Likely closer to 12 million.

    Roman Britain was probably more multi-cultural than modern Britain, and virtually none survived the collapse when population fell from nearly six million to nearer 600,000 over only 50 or 60 years:

    Similarly in Rome, which went from 1.5 million to around 15,000 but over longer period.


  13. Anonymous, the east-west genetic divide you talk about exists also in Scotland... and among wild rodents, which means it is far older than the Dark Ages. The genetics gradient is also far less abrupt than it is often believed. To quote Openheimer (2006) :

    "By far the majority of male gene types in Britain and Ireland derive from Iberia (modern Spain and Portugal), ranging from a low of 59% in Fakenham, Norfolk to highs of 96% in Llangefni, north Wales and 93% Castlerea, Ireland. On average 30% of gene types in England derive from north-west Europe. Even without dating the earlier waves of north-west European immigration, this invalidates the Anglo-Saxon wipeout theory …

    … 75-95% of Britain and Ireland (genetic) matches derive from Iberia … Ireland, coastal Wales, and central and west-coast Scotland are almost entirely made up from Iberian founders, while the rest of the non-English parts of Britain and Ireland have similarly high rates. England does have lower rates of Iberian types with marked heterogeneity, but no English sample has less than 58% of Iberian samples …"

    I am also wary of "discussions with elite community", mostly because elites are plural, diverse and fragmented. They want to retain their privileged position, but are at the same time in competition for the same positions. Some may claim to want an atomized society... but are they really in position of power. The mayor I work for - and he is prime minister material - certainly doesn't want an atomized society : he couldn't control it.

    By the way, the population of Britain was around 6 millions in 1700 and most probably lower during the Middle Age (maybe 2-3 millions), so it will probably return to that level, but this will be quite gradual. Increased mortality will do the job within two generation, without any need for massive die off. Just look at what is happening in Russia or in Eastern Germany.