Mass migrations, or more specifically mass culture replacement, is one of the more troubling aspects of peak energy. Doubtlessly the perspective of witnessing one’s civilization slowly declining is nothing to be relished. It is not without its charms, however. Even though it has been largely dethroned by the instant apocalypse meme, the theme of decline was at the core of romanticism, the first modern revolt against the industrial world and its disenchanted conception of reality. It infuses, for instance, the work of Tolkien. Indeed, The Lord of the Rings can be read as a long elegy upon the passing of the old glories. It has always been a minority taste and I suspect the rise of apocalyptic thinking has made it more so, but it has always been present and it is likely that a significant part of those, who care about Peak Oil share it. I surely do.
Envisioning the complete erasure of one’s culture is another thing altogether. As social primates with a regrettable tendency to die before our hundredth birthday, we often take some kind of collective as a projection of our self toward eternity. The two most likely candidates for this role are of course culture / nation and family. We are aware that both can be changed beyond recognition by the advent of peak energy, but as long as they survive, even if nobody remembers us, the trace of our contribution to the history of humanity lingers on.
We know that culture replacement happens, and this knowledge has fed apocalyptic fears of the Camps des Saints variety, especially but not only in the far right. Most of the time, they are the consequence of a rise in societal complexity, whether it manifest through naked imperialism or through the growth of trade networks. Periods of decreasing societal complexity, however, often result in cultural fragmentation, with previously well integrated areas developing their own autonomous culture and identity, and the replacement of Roman political authority by Germanic warlords during the fifth century did not result in local versions of Latin dying out.
In fact, it was the invaders’ languages and cultures, which disappeared, sometimes very early. Gothic, Burgondian and Old Frankish are all dead languages, while the inhabitants of what used to be their kingdoms speak some form of (admittedly evolved) Latin. It is easy to see why. The invaders did not move into a vacuum. Even though the Empire was collapsing, at the provincial and local level, Roman institutions, and notably the Church, retained a lot of strength. Even those barbarians which were not Catholic (the Goths, Vandals and Sueves, who followed a different brand of Christianity) were forced to fit within post-Roman society to control it (and harvesting its not inconsiderable wealth). This doomed their cultures and languages to extinction. Even the Franks, whose empire included Germanic speaking populations, ultimately merged with their Romance speaking subjects in what was to become France, probably during the ninth century.
The main exception, of course, was Britain. There, the invaders (who were not really invaders as they had been hired) found not a still functional post-Roman society but a collection of tribal states ruled by warlords. Roman institutions, including the Church, were weak and the tribal conflicts frozen by the Roman occupation had flared up again, leading to endemic warfare.
Of those wars we know little but the hill-forts and the defensive dykes, which dot the West country and testify of their violence. This was the perfect environment for upwardly mobile warlords and for foreign mercenaries, who, from the point of view of said warlords, had the not so negligible advantage of not caring about local politics – well, at least in theory.
A few mercenaries became warlords themselves, setting up petty kingdoms – Hengist, for instance. Others remained loyal to whatever polity they served – it seems this was the case of Aella, who according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle never assumed the title of king. Ethnicity appears to have been pretty irrelevant to the politics of the time, however. It was mostly a matter of tribal post-Roman polities fighting each other over old grudges and of powerful individual using the chaos to become “kings by their own hands”.
Not all of them were immigrants, by the way, and the early history of the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms is replete with Welsh Kings. This was the case of Wessex, the Kingdom which would later unify England (Cerdic, Cynric, Ceawlin, Ceadwalla) and of Mercia (Pybba, Penda, Peada). On the other hands, Irish and Germanic warlords ruled what would later become Celtic kingdoms. Stuart Laycock once suggested that the legendary Arthur was in fact a Germanic mercenary called Earðhere, son of another Germanic mercenary named Uthere. Se non è vero è bene trovato, as they say in Italian.
More interesting is the case of Tewdrig ap Teithfallt. Tewdrig, whose story is related in the Book of Llandaff, was king of Glywysing, a petty kingdom in South Wales during the sixth century. He had abdicated in favour of his son Meurig and retired to live a hermitical life, but came back to fight Saxon invaders. He was victorious but died a short while after from his wound.
Curiously for a Welsh saint, he had a fully Germanic name: Theodoric. So did his father, Theodebald. Some people suggested he was a Goth, the leader of a Visigoth fleet stranded in Britain after the fall of the Kingdom of Tolouse in 507. Nothing proves it, or disproves it for that matter. The only thing we can say for sure is that he was some kind of Germanic warlord, who had set himself up as the petty king of the Cardiff region.
Yet the area was not germanized – no more than the neighboring Dyfed and Brycheinog were gaelicized despite having been founded by Irish warlords. The kingdom of Glywysing endured until the Norman conquest.
The reason for that was probably that Wales had only superficially romanized and was still a closely knit tribal society in which any warlord had to fit if he wanted to last. In the more romanized East, however, the eroded tribal solidarity and the localized nature of the warlord’s power meant that a culture shift could happen in a mere couple of generations. There simply was no strong institution the native culture could anchor itself on. Besides, the Saxons were mercenaries, often of mixed tribal origins, which means they were quite welcoming to any native boy able and willing to wield a sword., provided he accepted the values of the band. That is probably what Cerdic and his likely numerous imitators did.
Immigrants, even armed, powerful immigrants, are not conquering armies. They are rather destructured groups of families and individual trying to better their lot. In a healthy society, that means fitting in socially and culturally. Of course, some amount of culture loyalty has to be expected in the first or even the second generation, but on the long run, assimilation is the norm. Tewdrig ap Teithfallt is, of course, a case in point.
In a collapsing society, however, the best way to rise in ranks is to use one’s community of family relationship as a leverage. This is what the barbarian leaders of the fifth century, Ricimer for instance, did. They tried to use their position in tribal societies to get changes within the imperial power structure. Of course, in such a situation, playing down one’s ethnic or tribal ties is counterproductive.
What that means for us, fifteen centuries after the fall of the Western Empire, is that culture shift is less dependent upon the number of immigrants than upon the health of our society. Mass migrations are pretty much unavoidable during the long descent which will follow peak energy. As the USA and its vassals lose the power to prop them up, the African and Middle-Eastern governments dependent on them will collapse, or at the very least lose the control of a great part of their territory. At the same time European countries will be less and less able to stop the flow of refugees from the south.
The goal of those immigrants will not be to create some kind of Islamic Republic, but to better their lot. Of course, this will become more and more difficult as the economy contracts and the way to power and wealth becomes narrower and narrower for those not born in them. It will result in immigrants choosing unpopular careers (which, in France, includes the military) and in sharpened competition between natives and immigrants (and their children) for low-paying jobs.
Naturally, this will feed extremism on both sides, weakening the very fabric of the society. In fact it already does: we have had riots near Paris after the police checked a veiled woman, probably in not so gentle a way. Needless to say, our elites’ behavior, combining contempt for the lower class’ concerns, self-righteous promotion of mostly irrelevant societal issues, and ambivalent attitudes toward the immigrants’ religiosity, doesn’t help.
We may have Islamic (if not downright Islamist) warlords somewhere down the road. We may also have anti-muslim pogroms or quasi-apartheid policy. We may even have both, depending from the time or the area, and both would be equally disastrous from the point of view of cultural continuity.
Opening wide the gates of immigration in this age of decline is pretty stupid – it makes the upper-middle classes feel good and lowers wages, which explains why the idea is so popular among societal leftists and laissez-faire right-wingers are so fond of this idea. Now, if you want to preserve some kind of cultural continuity – and it certainly is a worthy goal – you should make it easier for immigrants and their descendants to fit within your community. Their chances of being ultimately absorbed will be greatly improved and the skills they’ll bring will certainly help. Tewdrig’s certainly did.
So next time you see an immigrant of North-African descent in a European street, remember King Tewdrig… sorry, King Þeodoreiks Þeobaldsunus, in the hills of Glamorgan, defending, sword in hand, his Welsh fellow countrymen against the Saxon hordes.
And while you are at it remember that the leader of those Saxon hordes may very well have been a native.