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The Conservative Right's Undying Fascination With an Obscene Anti-Immigration Novel
Now NatCons are touting Camp of Saints at their Miami confab
Shutterstock Images. Andrey Popov
The third annual conference of National Conservatives, a coalition of right-wingers of different strains, is currently underway in Miami. Conceived during the heyday of the Trump presidency, it consisted of conservatives disaffected with liberal democracy . Their rap against liberalism was that it was simultaneously allowing woke lefties to push for all kinds of rights that threatened the existing social order while also curbing their own use of state power to advance their socially conservative, nationalistic agenda. Trump’s unabashed call to MAGAism, however, cracked open many interesting political possibilities and the NatCons, as they are now called, were determined to seize them. Unsurprisingly, what began as a semi-intellectual effort has now morphed into a full-blown political movement pressing a slew of rightwing causes including opposition to immigration, particularly of the non-Western variety.
This issue has made Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has been crusading against Middle Eastern immigration to his country, the darling of the NatCons. A self-described champion of “illiberal democracy,” he earned a coveted speaking spot at the last CPAC, the conservative gathering that workshops political ideas and vets candidates for political office, where he touted as “outstanding” French writer Jean Raspail’s anti-immigration novel, Camp of Saints. And now in Miami, evidently, this book made an immediate appearance at a session on Nationalism and Catholicism, my former Reason colleague Stephanie Slade tweeted from the conference.
I am an advocate of open immigration policies because I think immigration is good for natives and immigrants alike. But I get that not everyone will see things the same way and the amount—and composition—of immigration will always be disputed. However, in a review of this book six years ago when it started gaining traction in respectable rightwing circles, I counseled anti-immigration conservatives to advocate their cause without relying on it.
Clearly, I am losing that battle. But was I wrong to make that plea?
Read the review and judge for yourself.
It was inevitable that the waves of Syrian refugees fleeing a civil war that has submerged their nation for five long years would also create nativist sentiment in Europe and America. Indeed, the rise of Donald Trump is nothing if not one big nativist spasm.
What’s really disturbing isn’t that this nativism exists, but that this spasm is increasingly spreading beyond the fringe into respectable conservative circles. Exhibit A is the rising interest among conservatives in The Camp of the Saints, a sick dystopian book penned by French novelist Jean Raspail in 1973 that predicts the demise of the West by unfettered Third World migration.
Raspail, a staunch Catholic, had long been on an obsessive quest to defend the West’s racial and cultural purity. And The Camp of the Saint’s main objective is to jawbone the West into confronting how liberalism, progressive humanism and Christian meekness are destroying this sacred goal. He sets up a denouement so cartoonish that even Mad Max writers would cringe.
The central plot line of the book involves an armada of “kinky-haired, swarthy-skinned, long-despised” Indians who, exhorted by a “turd eating” god-man to get a piece of the “white man’s comfort,” board a fleet of rickety ships to France, the land of “milk and honey,” to escape poverty and illness.
The sojourners are hungry and diseased. But that evidently does nothing to dull their satyr-like sexual appetite since these are people who, in Raspail’s telling, “never found sex to be a sin.” So their journey becomes one long orgiastic ride as they hump everything in sight. Here’s Raspail in his own words. (And be advised, it’s not for the faint of heart.)
“Everywhere, rivers of sperm. Streaming over bodies, oozing between breasts, and buttocks, and thighs, and lips, and fingers. … [E]verywhere, a mass of hands and mounts, of phalluses and rumps. … Young boys, passed from hand to hand. Young girls, barely ripe … waking to the silent play of eager lips. … Men with women, men with men, women with women, men with children, children with each other. …”
About a quarter of these “Ganges people” succumb in this journey of “dung and debauch,” but the rest arrive on the shores of the beautiful French Riviera on Easter Sunday. Unfortunately, mowing them down (Raspail’s preferred response) is not an option for the “fragile Western World” reeling from the Holocaust and wracked with liberal guilt over colonization. Instead, the lily-white French, seeking redemption, dispatch rescue crews to bring these grotesque masses to safety like “a million Christs.”
Among the few dissenters willing to do what it takes to defend their race and civilization is a Mozart-listening French professor, the book’s hero. He lives in his gorgeous ancestral villa, overlooking the shore where the armada is landing. His villa is filled with beautiful artifacts and heirlooms that he can’t bear the thought of having sullied by the leprous hands of this lecherous people. He takes it upon himself to personally shoot a few—and assist a ragtag French vigilante group, led by a former French colonel, to kill a few more in a futile resistance effort.
A French bomb destroys these patriotic martyrs while they are standing on the terrace, reducing the villa to rubble, an unsubtle metaphor for the collapse of Western civilization and the white race. But the colonel, who sees his fate coming, has no regrets. “I’d rather be killed by our own,” he says just before being blown to smithereens. “It’s much cleaner that way.”
France’s fecklessness encourages more waves of swarthy hordes from over-populated China, Pakistan and elsewhere to other parts of the West, including America and England, until the white race and its culture is entirely obliterated. Even the queen of England, horror of horrors, is forced to marry her son to a Pakistani woman (clearly prefiguring the seduction of Lady Di by Egyptian magnate Dodi Fayed!).
Unsurprisingly, this book is a perennial cult classic among white supremacists in America and Europe. Every time a refugee crisis, big or small, emerges, they start chattering in dark, apocalyptic tones about the prescience of the book—never mind that countries have been absorbing refugees of famine and war since time immemorial. The National Vanguard Magazine, founded by the notorious neo-Nazi William Pierce (whose novel The Turner Diaries called for a white-led violent revolution in America) routinely whips out characters and scenes from Raspail’s magnum opus to explain current events. VDare, a restrictionist website that has long been peddling racist nonsense against immigrants, has a tag named after the book to archive posts. And then there is the race-baiting Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), whose quasi-white-nationalist founder John Tanton, a Michigan-based ophthalmologist, republished the book in America in 1994. He gushed in his introduction that the book would perform the vital function of evoking “different feelings” toward immigrants from those evoked by bathetic Ellis Island stories that “exalt the immigrant experience.”
FAIR’s imprimatur likely aborted conservative interest in the book, despite a neutral Atlantic piece examining its Malthusian premise that came out just when it was republished. Indeed, apart from National Review’s Bill Buckley who, in a 2004 piece titled “No Irish Need Apply,” to his eternal shame, called the book a “great novel,” few prominent conservatives rushed to praise it.
Until now, that is.
In the last few years, this vile tract has slowly risen out of the white supremacist ghetto into conservative gutter sites such as American Thinker and Breitbart (which has been running long features every few months drawing ominous parallels between the book and the Western response to the Syrian refugee crisis)—and then to more respectable and mainstream outfits such as the thoughtful, if quirky, American Conservative and the lively and ecumenical The Federalist.
This Federalist piece by John Daniel Davidson is particularly perplexing because, unlike the American Conservative, whose founding editor Pat Buchanan is a known immigration opponent, The Federalist has no restrictionist agenda. To the contrary, in fact.
American Conservative’s recent pieces by Rod Dreher don’t soft peddle the book’s racism or its “moral ugliness.” Davidson’s glowing portrait, by contrast, dismisses concerns about the book’s racism and fascism as so much “handwringing.” “Only a reader looking for an easy way to dismiss [Raspail’s] larger thesis would find the racism or fascism at the heart of the novel,” Davidson declares.
But the fact of the matter is that Raspail’s “larger thesis” is just that: racist and fascist.
Davidson believes that Raspail’s main concern is about the impossibility of truly assimilating immigrants, not anything intrinsic about their race. In fact, it’s the opposite. Raspail isn’t worried that immigrants won’t assimilate but that they will. Davidson frets that Muslims in Europe don’t marry native Europeans (as if white Europeans are waiting in line, rings in hand, to marry Muslims). But Raspail worries that they will, as his scenario about the pedigreed English queen’s son marrying a Pakistani suggests. Raspail is a big opponent of miscegenation, and the whole project of The Camp of the Saints is to evoke horror at it.
Assimilation is, of course, a two-way street. I believe that it generally produces a higher synthesis, just as interracial marriage produces healthier progeny. But the process is neither easy nor without its downsides. It is totally natural that its pros and cons will always be fiercely debated along with the appropriate levels of immigration.
But Raspail is not interested in earnest debate, only sensationalistic propaganda. His book goes to elaborate lengths to present us with a scenario in which immigration could only result in the destruction of everything good and noble. He depicts Indians as so subhuman that even the mildest contact with them would risk pollution.
And why does he choose Indians in the first place?
Because, avers Raspail, using “nearby North Africans or Arabs” would have meant getting involved in a “false debate about racism and anti-racism in French daily life.” That’s laughable. The real reason he chose Indians is that they served a convenient purpose for him: The French are familiar enough with them to make his lurid depiction of them plausible, but not so familiar as to question it.
Thus he can strip Indians of their seven-millennia-old civilization—with its high culture of dance, music, architecture, silks and spices—and present them as an invasive species worthy of mass slaughter, without straining reader credulity or offending their humanity.
Raspail also attributes to them values that are the exact opposite of Indian culture. India is an extremely prudish country. Chastity and virginity are prized virtues. Even married couples holding hands in public is widely considered a taboo. Hindu nationalists, in fact, constantly rail against the West’s sexual debauchery. Depicting Indian people as horny beasts would be hilariously dumb if it weren’t so offensive.
Raspail wrote his book more than 40 years ago to exploit Malthusian fears that the global population explosion would threaten the West and its inhabitants. It is now clear that the societies more in jeopardy are those confronting demographic decline, not demographic explosion. Just ask Japan and Italy. Historically, insulated societies have become less innovative and perished more quickly. Purity comes with a huge price tag. My friend and British author Matt Ridley likes to tell the story of Tasmania, whose technology regressed to Neanderthal times after rising sea levels isolated it from the world 10,000 years ago. In small isolated populations that Raspail covets, good ideas die faster than new ones are born. Cuba, North Korea, anyone?
Far from being prophetic, The Camp of the Saints is spectacularly wrong at nearly every level.
So here’s my cri de couer to my conservative friends: Banish this book from your library. Purge it from your consciousness. This book should never have been admitted into civilized company, but especially not now, when America is a polyglot, multiethnic—and, yes—multicultural country where Indian folks like us are likely to be your friends and family.
You can still stand athwart the Statue of Liberty and yell stop to the huddled masses. Just don’t do it while waving this scatological screed—lest it besmirch you.
This column was originally published on March 18, 2016, in The Week.
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