Is The Great Replacement Theory Replacing Down-Home Xenophobia?

British nationalists traditionally regard themselves as citizens of the world’s top nation and often fear the lawless and uncivilised behaviour of uncultured foreigners who they believe are flooding the country. I remember hearing two middle-aged women in my local supermarket, discussing the alarming number of fatal accidents on local roads. One of them said, “It’s these foreign lorry drivers, you see. They don’t adhere to the same standards as we do.” As far as I am aware, there is no evidence that accidents are caused disproportionately by foreign drivers, or that their driving regulations are of a lower standard. In fact, the British right has always been in favour of cutting legislation (itself seen as a foreign intrusion) to ease trade and promote freedom. Brexit was sold to us not just because it would block immigration, but because we could remove EU “red tape”, which really means abolishing the laws that protect workers and consumers from exploitation. British coastal waters are far more polluted than those of Europe, due to lack of regulation.

White British identity politics has tended to be territorial rather than racist by systematic principle or theory. British nationalists often “humbly” accept that the superiority they take for granted is the result of unearned advantages conferred by what they assume are better education and civic institutions. They are protecting their own privilege. Only a very few neo-Nazis used to claim a biological racial superiority, and they seemed driven more by a punkish desire to shock than by sincere belief, which suggests the general population believed in equality.

So, ironically, both the patriots and the antagonistic neo-Nazis accepted that egalitarianism is (supposed to be) a central “British Value” – a horrible, jingoistic phrase! They believed Britain was a very welcoming country and saw no reason why they should be resented by immigrants of colour. In fact, ingratitude is one of the accusations still levelled at Social Justice activists.

As a result, in the past, Brits have felt comparatively unthreatened by revolutionary racial violence. Few felt they faced an organised and intentional racial coup. 

Unfortunately, the US right seems far more prone to that paranoid delusion. Are theories of racial superiority more widespread in the United States? Certainly, it would help to excuse their history. Theories such as “The Great Replacement” and “White Genocide”, even if they originate elsewhere[1] have found their most fertile ground in the United States, and are now espoused by (formerly) mainstream Republicans. Tucker Carlson has, apparently, mentioned this idea on his Fox News show over 400 times. (see “A deadly ideology: how the great replacement theory went mainstream” in The Guardian, 08/06/22.)

Inevitably, these phrases and ideas are now creeping into the fringes of British political discourse, although it’s only the mad conspiracists who hold them, at the moment. Who has infected us with this sickness? The internet, of course, the great organ of American Cultural Imperialism.

[1] The Great Replacement theory was apparently given its modern form and title by the French author Renaud Camus, in books published in 2010 and 2011, according to Wikipedia.

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