events archive

Immigration and diversity politics: a challenge to liberal democracy?

6:30pm, Thursday 6 December 2018, Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square, London, WC1R 4RL

Immigration and ethnic diversity are rising in many Western democracies. While some people welcome these changes, others argue that they are producing major challenges to liberal democracy by driving polarisation, value conflicts and support for populists like Donald Trump, Matteo Salvini in Italy and the Alternative for Germany. At this event, co-sponsored by the Academy of Ideas and UnHerd, a leading panel of academics and writers will debate whether immigration and rising ethnic diversity really do challenge liberal democracy, if so in what way, and how democracies and the ‘moderate middle’ might respond to the coming years.

Many nations are witnessing considerable change. As populations are getting older, Europe and North America are attracting an unprecedented flow of migrants from the still-youthful Global South. In North America, the share of the population that is white is expected to drop below 50 per cent by 2050. In Western Europe, this will likely happen by the end of the century. Whatever your politics, most would agree that these shifts are already producing strong reactions.

Some, like psychologist Karen Stenner, argue that large numbers of people are wired to view these changes as loss and to see rising ethnic diversity as a challenge to values, nations and way of life. Some of these voters are turning to national populists, who now hold power in democracies like Austria, Hungary, Italy and the United States, while others are withdrawing from political life altogether, hunkering down and becoming less trusting of those around them. Others contend that this is merely a passing moment, a ‘last howl’ as old whites are gradually replaced by more liberal generations. Meanwhile, other movements like the post-Obama Democrats and radical left or Green parties in Europe are staking out a more pro-immigration position, making the case for immigration, refugees, multiculturalism and, in some cases, open borders. This has often been accompanied by a ‘diversity agenda’ or ‘identity politics’, which some people argue has sought to shut down debate.

These changes point to a deepening and worrying polarisation. On the left, partisans view open immigration as a moral issue, vowing to defend ‘openness’ against nativism and racism. On the right, national populists view immigration as an elite-led threat against their collective existence. But many crucial questions remain unanswered. Do immigration and rising ethnic diversity challenge liberal democracy? If so, in what way? Who, exactly, is abandoning the mainstream for populists? Are they really old white men? What might be done to fend off populism and polarisation? And how can we all better support the ‘moderate middle’?

At this event, produced by Eric Kaufmann and Matthew Goodwin and co-sponsored by the Academy of Ideas and UnHerd, a panel of prominent academics and writers will explore these questions and engage direct. Doors will open at 6.30pm, with the debate beginning at 7pm and ending 9pm sharp. Eric Kaufmann and Matthew Goodwin will be signing copies of their new books after the event and these will be available for purchase.


David Aaronovitch
columnist, The Times; author; presenter, The Briefing Room

Claire Fox
director, Academy of Ideas; author, I STILL Find That Offensive

Matthew Goodwin
professor of politics and international relations, University of Kent; author, National Populism: the revolt against liberal democracy

Eric Kaufmann
professor of politics, Birkbeck College, University of London; author, Whiteshift: populism, immigration and the future of white majorities

Trevor Phillips OBE
writer and businessman; former chair, Equality and Human Rights Commission