Christopher Caldwell is a white crow among American journalists today, to use a Russian expression. Not merely is his cultural range perhaps without equal – more than just fluent in the major European languages, he is conversant with what is written in them. But in the cast of his intelligence, he is quite unlike most reporters or commentators. Although his background is in literature, it is a philosophical turn of mind that most distinguishes his writing from his peers. What typically attracts his interest are dilemmas – conceptual, moral, social – obscured or passed over in standard discourse about leading, or even marginal, issues of the day. About these, his conclusions are nearly always unconventional – in one way or another, quizzical or unsettling. A senior editor of the Weekly Standard, flag-bearer of American neo-conservatism, his columns in the Financial Times make much liberal opinion look the dreary mainstream pabulum it too often is.
It is thus no surprise to find that he has produced the most striking single book to have appeared, in any language, on immigration in Western Europe. In scope and argument, Reflections on the Revolution in Europe has a predecessor in Walter Laqueur’s Last Days of Europe (2007); each book disserved by an overblown title borrowed from a too illustrious author – Edmund Burke and Karl Kraus. But Caldwell’s is a much cooler and more penetrating work. Its empirical range is also considerably wider. Indeed, no study of contemporary European immigration has the same breadth of coverage, including not just Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain, but Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands, Belgium and Ireland too. Analytical, statistical and reportorial strands of the account are integrated in a crisp, vivid prose that is a pleasure to read, even when a strain to accept. The book well deserves the wide discussion it will provoke.
Central to its strengths is Caldwell’s comparative angle of vision. Post-war immigration to Europe is contrasted throughout with immigration to the United States, to bring into focus what has been most historically specific about it.