July 18, 2005: The Vindication of Enoch Powell By George Jonas
The vindication of Enoch Powell
Monday, July 18, 2005
Some 37 years before British-born Muslim suicide bombers exploded their lethal devices in London's transportation system, a Tory parliamentarian gave a brief address to the annual meeting of the West Midlands Conservative Political Centre. The member for Wolverhampton S.W. happened to be a classical scholar. In his critique of Britain's immigration policies, delivered in Birmingham on April 20, 1968, Enoch Powell couldn't resist quoting a line of Latin poetry. “Like the Roman,” he said, “I seem to see the River Tiber foaming with much blood.”
This reference to Virgil's epic, The Aeneid, caused Powell's remarks to become known as his “Rivers of Blood” speech. It effectively ended the one-time Greek professor's political career. The next day, opposition leader Edward Heath dropped him from his shadow cabinet. In hastening to dismiss the maverick scholar (who during the war had also become the youngest brigadier in the British army) Heath unwittingly illustrated what in his Birmingham speech Powell had called “the besetting temptation of all politics to concern itself with the immediate present at the expense of the future.”
At the time of Powell's remarks, the “immediate present,” in Britain and elsewhere, was dominated by youth culture, the sexual revolution, recreational drugs, Western guilt, the New Left, opposition to the war in Vietnam, anti-colonialism, feminism, environmentalism and the resumption of a fling with Marx, this time resplendent in his Mao jacket. The Zeitgeist was in full flight, with the Red Menace of the 1950s setting in the west and the Red Romance of the 1960s rising in the east. In this intellectual and moral climate, most politicians saw nothing wrong with changing the demographic and cultural makeup of their nations by large-scale immigration from non-traditional sources. Questioning such policies seemed ethnocentric to Western elites, if not downright racist.
Even expecting a degree of integration from newcomers — some adaptation to the host country's customs, languages or mores — was viewed as a form of cultural imperialism. The American-style melting pot was being replaced by a multicultural model. Not only was there a preference for immigrants who were distant from the host country's religion, ethnicity and political culture, but a preference for perpetuating the distinction. Assimilation was a Stone Age ideal. State-of-the-art blueprints of multiculturalism called for immigrants to be encouraged — perhaps even pressured and subsidized — to maintain their separate identities.
In Birmingham, Powell voiced a concern that such policies would lead to friction and fragmentation. “Numbers are of the essence,” he said. “The significance and consequences of an alien element introduced into a country or population are profoundly different according to whether that element is one per cent or 10%.” And even more importantly: “We are seeing the growth of positive forces acting against integration, of vested interests in the preservation and sharpening of racial and religious differences.”
This was key, as the next 37 years demonstrated. The problem wasn't immigration or even “non-traditional” immigration. Immigrants build some of the greatest societies on earth. But just as dosage makes the difference between medicine and poison, there's a difference between assimilable and unassimilable numbers. Also between immigrants who come to fit in and those who come to stand apart; immigrants who come to settle and those who come to conquer. It isn't where the immigrants are from but where they're going: Are they here to escape the Third World or to recreate it?
Last week, the question was whether Britain's policies fostered the first kind of immigrant or the second. As the investigation into the London bombings continued, state subsidies to multicultural organizations indoctrinating home-grown suicide bombers seemed no longer a Monty Python skit.
Powell might have been grimly amused. For the remainder of his life (he died at the age of 85), he was reviled or ridiculed by the mainstream media and many fellow politicians, on the political right no less than on the political left. “In the wake of Powell's racist foray, no one had the guts to talk about Britishness,” lamented Spectator editor Boris Johnson last week, proving Powell's prescience when he said in 1968: “People are disposed to mistake predicting troubles for causing troubles.” The Greek scholar's error was to see the obvious before it became obvious to a sufficient number of his confreres.
Powell was the victim of a classical education. Had he never read The Aeneid, presumably he wouldn't have talked about the Tiber foaming with blood. Conversely, had he been even more of an academic by temper, he might have quoted Virgil in Latin (he was tempted, according to his biographer, Simon Heffer). Powell saying Et thybrim multo spumantem sanguine cerno to a handful of Birmingham Tories would hardly have caused headlines in Britain.
But he spoke in plain English; the press had a field day and Powell never held a political post again. Last week, though, 37 years after his “Rivers of Blood” speech, as the first news footage appeared on the TV screen showing an oblong stain on the pavement spreading from a demolished London bus to the gutter, it was hard not to think of the prophetic member for Wolverhampton S.W.
National Post 2005