France is now paying the price for a stagnant economy that fails to create jobs, an inability to assimilate mostly North African migrants, and an expensive social safety net that inhibits growth. The one glimmer of hope amid the wreckage is that the rioting could become the trigger that finally convinces the French that economic change is a necessity, not a luxury.

“The social model is one of the reasons for the riots,” said Johnny Munkhammar, a director of the Swedish research organization Timbro in Stockholm, and the author of a new book on Europe’s social security systems, in a telephone interview. “It worsens the problem because it creates so much unemployment. It shuts the door on these people, and locks them up in ghettos where they aren’t able to do anything apart from live on contributions from the state.” ~Matthew Lynn, Bloomberg

The latest buzz online about the French riots has been some variant on the theme that it is France’s integration policy that has been tested and found wanting. This is true in the sense that there has been no real cultural integration for many immigrants and their children, but it is simply ridiculous if we mean either that the French have been too assimilationist, as some of our libertarian friends seem to think, or that the French government actively bars the way for immigrants and their children out of some “racist” repression. France’s integration policy has not failed, because there has never been a serious drive for cultural integration in French society. This is not because of some endemic racism attributed to the French by the hateful Ralph Peters, but because whole generations that have now grown up with the lunatic notion that all men are basically the same and all cultures are equally valuable and also perfectly fungible and thus irrelevant.

Here the government elites alone cannot really be blamed–legally and politically, all French citizens possess the same protections, and these immigrants and their children receive social services and subsidies from the state just like anyone else. If there is widespread discrimination, it falls to immigrant communities to engage in self-help. To this extent the social model of France, where everyone grows up with the expectation of being taken care of, is a significant part of the problem, as it apparently instills an expectation that the problems of the immigrant communities in France are the government’s problem to solve.

Certainly French economic stagnation is an aggravating factor to the lack of integration, but there is more serious poverty, economic inequality and conscious communalism and non-integration in many other parts of the world without explosions of urban unrest such as we have seen over the past two weeks. It cannot help that these immigrants come from cultures that have evidently not inculcated the peculiar habits needed to create flourishing economic life, especially when they are coming to a country such as France where economic life is extensively regulated and controlled, but what cannot be forgotten is that the burden of becoming integrated into a host country is on the immigrants.

The American experience is testimony to this: there were no policies or programs or conscious efforts to integrate foreigners, but as a matter of course and practicality immigrants did assimilate to the native culture to the extent that it was necessary to function and to be accepted, over time, as legitimate Americans. To the extent that being American was taught to them, this was accomplished somewhat through public education, but the efficacy of this presupposed a willingness to accept, at least as far as public life was concerned, essentially all the trappings and habits of Americans (regardless of whether one prayed and spoke in another language at home).

This ready integration was historically much easier for those communities that had a great deal in common with the people already here, and here the radically different ethnicity and religion of immigrants in France are decisive in preventing integration. This is not simply because, as French nationalists maintain, these people are genuinely unassimilable, but because they are unassimilable because they do not wish to assimilate. Official encouragement of maintaining cultural differences, represented by such absurdities as the celebration of the diversity of the 1998 champion soccer team as a symbol of the ‘new France’, has removed the necessary pressure from the native French to force that assimilation.

If the immigrant’s native culture is integral to who he is, being French cannot very well also be integral to who he is. There might be any number of superficial levels of assimilation available to him, but so long as he is intent on preserving his culture as an entire way of life, as something far beyond the American ethnic preservation of ethnic foods and the occasional customary festival, he cannot become part of the French to his own satisfaction. He will always feel as if he is on the outside, because he is and because a part of him always desires to be just outside. Fundamentally, however, aliens cannot be alienated from that which was never theirs.

Immigrant groups that are generally renowned for their enterprise, commercial acumen and success, such as minority Chinese, Armenians or Indians, are also typically very good at integrating themselves into the host country to the extent that it is necessary to succeed. Immigrant groups, or minority groups more generally, that fail to integrate do so, all other things being equal, because they do not desire to become integrated, because they fear losing an identity that they prize more than the benefits of integration. That this has a self-limiting and ghettoising effect is not in doubt, but we should remember that some people, indeed some entire nations, prefer a ghetto to the risk of losing who they are.

Entrepreneurial spirit is not something that simply goes with the territory of being an immigrant, so it is not something that should necessarily be expected. Immigrants may all desire better lives, but that does not mean they know how to go about achieving them–if they did, they might very well have stayed at home.