In the wake of the unexpected Brexit and Trump votes in 2016, academics and commentators have been scratching their heads trying to work out what these extraordinary events represent. The dominant narrative is that in the wake of recession and financial crisis, those doing it tough have punished the political élites, leading to all manner of populist insurgencies. Compelling though such an account may be at an intuitive level, another explanation has been put forward by a number of influential voices such as David Goodhart in The Road to Somewhere (2017), Matthew Goodwin in National Populism (2018), and Douglas Murray in The Strange Death of Europe (2018). This explanation is that what we have been witnessing is a backlash by those alienated by globalisation, open borders, and migration on a scale threatening the culture and identity of the majority community. It is a compelling argument, one often heard in Australia.
Eric Kaufmann’s Whiteshift provides more grist to the cultural backlash story, but does so with some interesting twists and turns in what is otherwise a dense, data-packed text. It is also noticeable that he has succeeded in irritating both the right and the left, which is a welcome sign of someone actually trying to say something interesting as opposed to feeding pre-existing positions. Two arguments in particular catch the eye.