The Impossibility of Immigrants Refusing to Integrate into British Society
by Hasko Von Kriegstein
Brexit continues to make international headlines. The desire to leave the EU appears to be, in large part, driven by a desire to limit immigration. This brings many questions about immigration to the forefront, among them the question whether immigrants have a duty to integrate into the receiving society. Many in Britain seem to think that there is. In 2016, for example, then communities secretary Sajid Javid stated: “for too long, too many people in this country have been living parallel lives, refusing to integrate failing to embrace the shared values that make Britain great.” 2.5 years later, former prime minister Tony Blair concurred: “ [Government] has to be a passionate advocate and, where necessary, an enforcer of the duty to integrate while protecting the proper space for diversity. Integration is not a choice; it is a necessity.”
I do not hold strong views, one way or the other, on the question whether there is a duty to integrate. What I argue here is that, in the case of Britain, the question is moot. That is because it is impossible for immigrants to Britain to refuse to integrate into British society. Consider the following argument.
(1) Any immigrant into British society either does, or does not, make an effort to adopt the local lifestyle.
(2) An immigrant who makes an active effort to adopt the local lifestyle is not refusing to integrate.
(3) An immigrant who adopts an essential characteristic of the receiving society is not refusing to integrate.
(4) Moving to a foreign country without making any effort to adopt the local lifestyle is an essential British characteristic.
(5) An immigrant to Britain who makes no effort to adopt the local lifestyle is not refusing to integrate. (from (3) and (4))
(6) Any immigrant to Britain is not refusing to integrate. (from (1), (2), and (5)).
The argument is valid. Is it sound? Claim 1 is a logical truth. Claim 2 strikes me as uncontroversial. Claim 4 is strongly supported by the history of British colonialism. Claims 5 and 6 follow from the other claims. That leaves claim 3. One might be tempted to think that an immigrant’s adopting a single essential characteristic of the receiving society is not sufficient to rule out the possibility that they are refusing to integrate. This objection may come in two forms.
On the one hand, it might be thought that an immigrant needs to adopt all, or most, or at least more than one, essential characteristic of the receiving society. That this is an unreasonably high standard becomes clear once we recognize that many native members of an even moderately diverse society will not possess many essential characteristics of that society. This is certainly true in Britain today. And while we might expect immigrants to integrate, we cannot in good conscience require immigrants to Britain to become more British than the British.
On the other hand, it might be argued that the immigrant to Britain who makes no effort to adopt the local lifestyle, while thereby adopting an essential British characteristic, is doing so merely by accident. Such accidental adoption of an essential characteristic, it might be thought, is not enough to defuse the charge of refusal to integrate. We can spell this requirement out either de re or de dicto. Under the de dicto interpretation, we would require an immigrant to adopt an essential characteristic explicitly so that they fulfil their duty to integrate. This is unreasonable. There are surely many well-integrated immigrants who never adopted any part of their lifestyle explicitly as a means to fulfilling their duty to integrate. Under the de re interpretation, we would require that the immigrant adopted the characteristic in question consciously and on their own accord. For this condition to fail, in the case of the essentially British characteristic under consideration, the immigrant would have to be prevented from adopting the local lifestyle, either by outside forces or by their own incompetence. In either case, it would be false to say that they are refusing to integrate.
I conclude that, while the question whether immigrants may rightfully refuse to integrate into a receiving society might be a difficult one, Britain may rest easy. For, in the case of Britain, refusal to integrate is a logical impossibility.