I continue to make my way through Jean Raspail’s dystopic 1973 novel, The Camp of the Saints, and I continue to be appalled at times by its racialism, but more than that, astonished by the prescience with which Raspail diagnosed the cultural malaise that prevents the Europeans from defending their civilization. Reading this thing — available here in English translation on PDF — is like reading the newspaper today.
The novel is about a mass exodus of Third Worlders to Europe, seeking not the culture of the West, but its wealth and opportunity. In this passage, Raspail fictionalizes how the professional classes in France prepare the masses to accept the imminent arrival of one million immigrants from India, traveling in a giant boat convoy. “Vilsberg” is an influential commenter on French radio; “Machefer” is a reactionary old journalist listening to Vilsberg’s broadcast. Here’s the passage:
Out of the radio, slow and calm, came Vilsberg’s voice:
“As I read and listen to the first reports and comments on the Ganges armada, and its staggering exodus westward, I’m struck by the depth of human feeling that seems to pervade them all, and the candid appeals for a wholehearted welcome. Indeed, have we time for a choice? But through it all, one thing appalls me: the fact that nobody yet has pointed to the danger, the risk inherent in the white man’s meager numbers, and his utter vulnerability as a result.
“I’m white. White and Western. So are you. But what do we amount to in the
aggregate? Some seven hundred million souls, most of us packed into Europe, as against the billions and billions of nonwhites, so many we can’t even keep up the count. In the past we could manage some kind of a balance, more precarious daily. But now, as this fleet heads toward our shores, it seems to be saying that, like it or not, the time for ignoring the Third World is past. How will we answer?
What will we do? Are these the questions you’re asking yourselves? I hope so. It’s high time you did!”
“There, the work’s cut out!” Machefer broke in, over Vilsberg’s voice. “The usual bear hug! Nice and clear. Right up close. Enough to scare their pants off. Now, if only he’d go the next step, and tell them to shoot, tell them to blast the crowd to hell! But no! Not our Vilsberg!”
“I can tell,” Vilsberg continued, “that you really don’t believe how serious the situation is. After all, we lived side by side with the Third World, convinced that our hermetic coexistence, our global segregation, would last forever. What a deadly illusion! Now we see that the Third World is a great unbridled mass, obeying only those impulsive urges that well up when millions of hapless wills come together in the grip of despair. More than once in the past, from Bandung to Addis Ababa, attempts to organize and mobilize that mass had failed.
“But today, since morning, we’re witnessing a mighty surge, seeing it take shape, for once, and roll on. And nothing — nothing, take my word — is going to stop it! We’re going to have to come to terms … But again, I can tell, you don’t really believe me. You’d rather not think. It’s a long, long way from the Ganges to Europe. Maybe our country won’t get involved. Maybe the Western nations will come up with a miracle just in time. … Well, you’re welcome to close your eyes and hope. But later, when you open them up, if you find a million dark-skinned refugees swarming ashore, tell me, what will you do? Of course, we’re merely supposing, granted. All right then, let’s suppose some more.”
“Now watch, kiddies,” Machefer interjected, “here comes the pirouette!”
“As long as we’re at it, let’s assume that we’re going to take in these wanderers. Yes, like it or not, cordial or begrudging, we’re going to take them in. We have no choice. Unless, that is, we want to kill them all, or put them away in camps. Perhaps we have forty days left, perhaps two months at best, before their peaceful and bloodless invasion. That’s why I want to suggest, in this time for conjecture, that we all do our utmost to accept the idea, to grow used to the thought of living side by side with human beings who seem to be so different from ourselves.
“And so, I’m inviting you all to join us here on RTZ, beginning tomorrow, at this same time each day, for our new, forty-five-minute feature, ‘Armada Special.’ We’ll try to answer your questions frankly, all the questions you’ll be asking yourselves — and us — about how a million refugees, fresh from the Ganges, can live together, in harmony and understanding, with fifty-two million Frenchmen. I say ‘we,’ because, happily, Rosemonde Real has agreed to join me in this staggering task. You know her well for her perceptive thinking, her passion for life, her trust in mankind, her profound awareness of the human soul and its innermost workings …”
“Good God, not her again!” Machefer exclaimed. “Isn’t there anything that hag won’t do to get on the air?”
“Needless to say, we won’t be alone. Rosemonde and I have spared no effort to bring in specialists from every field to answer your questions: doctors, sociologists, teachers, economists, anthropologists, priests, historians, journalists, industrialists, administrators … Of course, I don’t claim that we’ll have all the answers. Certain more delicate problems—perhaps in the sexual or psychological realms — certain problems that strike at the heart of that lingering racism present in us all, may demand more thought and more specialized experts. But we promise to strive for the truth, as the sensible, clearheaded people we hope we are, and we trust that we’ll find the truth worthy of you, and of us.
“Later, when all is said and done, at the end of the gripping adventure begun this morning on the banks of the Ganges, if not one single hopeless wretch has come our way, then we, the public, will simply have played in the greatest radio game in history: the antiracism game. And believe me, we won’t have been playing in vain! At least we’ll have played for the honor of mankind.
“Then too, who knows but what, in some dim, distant future, we may have to play it again, and for keeps? … And now, until tomorrow, good night …”
One of the most disturbing things about this novel is that the only people (so far) who have any instinct to object are people like Machefer, who are crude and more or less racist. Later, there is a caller to Vilsberg’s radio show, a Monsieur Hamadura, a native-born Indian who once served as a French colonial official. The hosts think he will be calling to support the armada, but in fact he phones as a defender of Western values to tell the French that they’re making a big mistake. Vilsberg and Rosamonde cut him off, and tell their listeners that Hamadura is a sad case of a self-hater who has allowed his mind to be colonized.
The Camp of the Saints, as you will have heard, has been embraced by white nationalists, and even worse. The reason I never read it was precisely because of that fact. It’s a mistake not to read this book, though. It is easy enough to sift out the nasty aspects of Raspail’s book. Louis-Ferdinand Céline was a vicious anti-Semite, but he also wrote important books. Look at this from the New Yorker:
“Céline is my Proust!” Philip Roth once said. “Even if his anti-Semitism made him an abject, intolerable person. To read him, I have to suspend my Jewish conscience, but I do it, because anti-Semitism isn’t at the heart of his books… . Céline is a great liberator.” Louis-Ferdinand Céline was born on this day in 1894. He was a French writer largely remembered for his first novel “Journey to the End of the Night,” a loosely biographical work teeming with disease, misanthropy, and dark comedy. He was decorated for bravery in the First World War, and wrote anti-Semitic pamphlets in the run-up to the Second, after which he was declared a national disgrace and imprisoned for collaborationist sympathies. Céline, in short, is one of the great problems in twentieth-century literature: you find yourself irresistibly drawn in by the fearless singularity of his vision, even while aware of the appalling place to which it led him. What’s striking is how absent his grievous opinions are from his great novels where one can occasionally glimpse a gentle humanist buried beneath a bitterly stung idealism.
I cite that to underline the point that we shouldn’t reflexively dismiss The Camp of the Saints because we may find Raspail’s views objectionable in part. Racism is not at the heart of this book, at least I haven’t found it to be so yet (I’m one-third of the way through it). It is a book about the West, and the limits of humanitarianism. Is liberalism a suicide pact? Raspail’s point of view is that post-Christian liberalism has convinced contemporary Europeans that theirs is not a civilization worth defending.
To me, one of the most disturbing things about the book is that the only people who seem to believe in defending France, and in French civilization, are characters most of us would find distasteful at best. As I go through the novel, I see more clearly why, in our own time, the only people who dare to talk about these things are people who often hold unpleasant or outright offensive views. By demonizing all discourse critical of multiculturalism, though, elites and mainstream enforcers of elite opinion risk empowering the kind of far-right people who aren’t interested in the niceties of democratic pluralism.
What brought this passage from the novel to mind was this report, from The Guardian, posted by James C.:
The first 200 refugees arrived in France from Munich today, as France prepares to bus 1,000 Syrians, Iraqis and Eritreans from Germany this week, writes our Paris correspondent Angelique Chrisafis.
But there has been controversy after some French town-halls said they would take only Christian refugees.
This week, the mayor of Roanne, who belongs to Nicolas Sarkozy’s right-wing party Les Républicains, said he would only accept Christian Syrians so he could “be absolutely certan that they aren’t terrorists in disguise.” Then the mayor of Belfort, from the same party, responded to the government’s appeal for towns to house refugees saying his town would take only Christian Iraqi or Christian Syrian families “because they are the most persecuted.”
Last night, the town council of Charvieu-Chavagneux near Lyon said it would only take a Christian family because Christians “don’t put people’s security in danger.”
The government reacted furiously. The Socialist prime minister Manuel Valls said: “We don’t select on the basis of religion. The right to asylum is a universal right.” The interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve said it would be “macabre” to make a distinction by religion. The French Bishops’ Conference said distinguishing a person’s faith would be “totally contrary to the spirit of religions”.
In his speech today EU president Jean-Claude Juncker urged Europe not to make religious distinctions about refugees. He said: “Europe has made make the mistake in the past of distinguishing between Jews, Christians, Muslims. There is no religion, no belief, no philosophy when it comes to refugees.”
And this also from the same source:
But there is debate in France about public opposition to taking more refugees. A poll conducted by Odoxa for Le Parisien, after the images of the drowned 3-year-old boy Alan Kurdi had shocked the world, found that a majority of French people, 55%, were opposed to France acting in the same way as Germany by loosening its conditions for refugee status. A total of 62% of French people felt those fleeing Syria should be treated as migrants like any others. Only 36% felt Syrians should be given a better welcome as refugees from war.
The historian Benjamin Stora, who heads the board of France’s Museum of the History of Immigration, warned that the reasons for French public reticence went beyond France’s current economic crisis and millions of unemployed. Writing in Le Monde, he argued that far-right ideology had permeated debate in the country and more must be done to reverse negative stereotypes in France, which was historically a country that had welcomed asylum-seekers.
Why is it unreasonable for a country traumatized by the Charlie Hebdo attacks, a country that just awarded the Legion d’Honneur to three Americans who thwarted Islamist mass murder on a TGV last month, to have extreme doubts about mass resettlement of Muslim refugees? The instant demonization of that point of view by politicians, academics, bishops, and others, rendering it inadmissible for public discussion, is Vilsbergism, tout court.
Should French voters — who plainly do not want what the elites are foisting upon them in this crisis — one day elect a Front National government, Vilsbergism will have played a role in bringing about that unhappy result.