In last night’s bedtime reading of The Camp of the Saints, I had to wade through the muck of Chapter 20, which was pretty much a matter of racialist pornography, describing life aboard the migrant flotilla as nothing more than eating, defecating, and screwing, like an undifferentiated mass of animals. It was repugnant. But then, with the remains of that steaming cowpile fresh on my shoes, I ran across this diamond:
Two opposing camps. One still believes. One doesn’t. The one that still has faith will move mountains. That’s the side that will win. Deadly doubt has destroyed all incentive in the other. That’s the side that will lose.
The next few chapters describe nations that took firm action to protect themselves from being colonized by the migrants. Australia made it clear that they would not be allowed to make landfall. Egypt fired warning shots off the bow of the lead ship, which caused the flotilla to turn from Suez and take the long way around Africa. The South African government — remember, this is set in the era of apartheid — announced that it would be prepared to sink the flotilla before letting it land. This gave the world the opportunity to pile on the condemnation of the Afrikaners, which it took.
The fleet steams on toward Europe.
Last night’s reading is a perfect example of why this novel is both appalling and riveting. (I keep making that point because I’ve never read anything like it, with the possible exception of Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer, and it’s an unusual experience). Raspail, it seems to me, is deadly accurate in his diagnosis of the sentimental humanitarianism of the Europeans, and how their loss of faith in their own civilization compels them to behave in ways that guarantee its destruction by an invading force. The novel also implicitly raises a disturbing question: What cruelties, if any, are justified for the sake of a nation’s defense?
These are extremely complex, morally harrowing questions, and we are seeing them on display now as Europe faces its refugee crisis. The very best thing I’ve read yet about the potential Christian response to this crisis comes from Alastair Roberts, a British Christian. His piece is somewhat long, but it’s well worth your time and consideration. Excerpts:
The response to the refugee crisis has been troubling, exposing the depth of the rot of Europe’s psyche. Both in European societies and governments and within the Church it has also revealed just how impoverished our moral and political discourse actually is. For the difficult tasks of patient deliberation and discriminating political wisdom, a cult of sentimental humanitarianism–Neoliberalism’s good cop to its bad cop of foreign military interventionism–substitutes the self-congratulatory ease of kneejerk emotional judgments, assuming that the ‘right’–what ought to be done–is immediately apparent from some instinctive apprehension of the ‘good’.
In the febrile environment of social media, this cult of sentimental humanitarianism frequently manifests in virtue-signalling and policing and in immense waves of collective emotion. Declaring definitively, yet thoughtlessly, upon issues of labyrinthine complexity, it regularly appears to involve a narcissistic preoccupation with our own caring, not least relative to the supposedly inadequate caring of others. The simplistic vision that would cast fiendishly knotty social and political problems as if they were parable scenes for us to re-enact for our moral self-validation is bankrupt. As Daniel Hannan and Matthew Parris both observe, our fetishization of sentiment has an obfuscating effect, and neglects the actual task of prudence that lies before us. It leaves us ill-equipped to recognize how involved matters are, runs the risk of encouraging counterproductive responses, and can produce cynical and opportunistic political leadership. Melanie McDonagh also draws attention to the capriciousness and irresponsibility of sentimentalist politics, driven as it is by unpredictable surges of common public feeling in reaction to emotionally affecting images. The images that enflame our sentimentalism are shorn of the sort of historical and political context that might prevent them from functioning as screens upon which Europe projects the theatre of its own tortured psyche.
Pascal Bruckner and others have commented upon Europe’s self-reproaching tendencies, our perverse urge to blame the West for all of the wrongs of the world, to project upon the poor and disenfranchised the character of innocent victims, and to view alignment with them as our one chance at psychic redemption. Many of these groups are all too happy opportunistically to play the part of the wronged party to whom we are morally indebted.
Bruckner writes of Europe: ‘Ruminating on its past abominations–wars, religious persecutions, slavery, imperialism, fascism, communism–it views its history as nothing more than a long series of massacres and sackings that led to two world wars, that is, to an enthusiastic suicide.’ The exhaustion of Europe’s cultural spirit is seen in such phenomena as the bland narcissistic hedonism of our liberal utopias and in our inability to reproduce ourselves. The looming demographic crisis that faces Europe’s greying populations produces a need for cheap foreign labour that needs to be seen as part of the story behind differing responses to the refugee crisis (why are we so welcoming of mass asylum when we cannot even welcome our own offspring into the world?). One of the reasons why Islamophobia is a real phenomenon in Europe is because it is so unsettlingly apparent that, as Michael Houellebecq intimates, the young Muslim immigrants entering Europe have a vitality and virility of cultural spirit that is alien to native Europeans.
Raspail: Two opposing camps. One still believes. One doesn’t. The one that still has faith will move mountains. That’s the side that will win. Deadly doubt has destroyed all incentive in the other. That’s the side that will lose.
One more clip from Roberts, who says that as Christians, we certainly have an obligation to show charity to refugees, but that does not mean that we are morally obligated to allow them to settle among us:
Liberalism’s undervaluation of particularity encourages it to think in terms of abstract right-bearers and of mere space. The paradigmatic person of liberalism is a displaced one: the universal human subject. As one might expect, the result of the liberal vision has often been the breaking down of particular communities and places into interchangeable territories, rendering all increasingly ‘placeless’, both in the social, historical, and material order.
The indiscriminate welcoming of migrant populations can attenuate place for everyone. Although this may serve the interests of capitalists and governments who stand to benefit from a mobile, dependent, and biddable workforce and a population with little internal solidarity, this is at heavy cost to the wellbeing of the people within such groups. The persons who bear the heaviest burden of this loss of place are typically the poorest within society.
As Paul Kahn has argued, the liberal vision of political community as founded upon the formality of social contract and around universal human values and rights, neglects the reality that every such community must be bound together by the forces of sacrifice, of faith, love, and identity, forces that are inescapably particular. Peoples and places are forged around shared customs, values, religions, languages, histories, cultural canons, symbols, and sacrifices and it is only thus that universal human goods are realized.
The biblical vision of charity ‘begins at home’, with those who are our immediate neighbours, and with the principled extension of our places to others–or the creation of new shared places–in a manner that preserves and develops their character as specific refractions of universal human goods. Although this extension is and should be transformative, the particular is never abandoned for the universal, however.
To welcome masses of migrants is to run the risk of sinning against the neighbor one already has. It is also to run the extreme risk of sacrificing the community itself by dissipating the non-rational forces — sacrifice, faith, love, identity — that bind a community together.
Read the whole thing. Roberts offers his own suggestions for how European Christians should respond faithfully to the refugee crisis. Raspail would probably think him too soft, but I think he’s on to something. Nevertheless, Roberts grasps Raspail’s essential point: that Europe’s self-loathing, faithlessness (in God, in itself), and its sentimental humanitarianism, which substitutes emoting for the difficult task of thinking, are going to destroy it.
So, again: Raspail can be repulsive, but he wrote about something real, something that’s happening right now. People like the prominent left-wing Anglican priest Giles Fraser could have come straight out of The Camp of the Saints. Fraser writes, in (where else?) The Guardian:
For years our politicians have piggy-backed upon Christian morality for electoral advantage. We should “feel proud that this is a Christian country”, said Cameron earlier this year (pre-election, of course), in what some might uncharitably see as a call to maintain a Muslim-free view from his Cotswold village. But there is no respectable Christian argument for fortress Europe, surrounded by a new iron curtain of razor wire to keep poor, dark-skinned people out. Indeed, the moral framework that our prime minister so frequently references – and to which he claims some sort of vague allegiance – is crystal clear about the absolute priority of our obligation to refugees.
It’s easy to say that Fraser is full of it. It’s much more difficult to say what seemingly hard-hearted actions Europeans should be prepared to take, or have taken in their name, to prevent the colonization of their countries and the long-term destruction of their way of life. One of the most unsettling thoughts provoked by Raspail’s novel is that the kind of people who will do whatever is necessary to preserve their civilization are the kind of people who regard people from the Third World as Raspail does in Chapter 20: as an undifferentiated mass of people who are barely human. In which case one wonders whether one has preserved civilization at all.
Hard, hard questions…