The West's Last Stand -- a Review of The Camp of the Saints
All those engaged in the debate over illegal immigration should find Jean Raispail’s The Camp of the Saints a challenging summer read. Otto Scott calls it "one of the most famous of the underground books." Lionel Shriver believes it is a "novel both prescient and appalling." The book became so notorious that the December 1994 issue of the Atlantic Monthly investigated many of the questions it raised.
The Camp of the Saints was published first in 1973 in France as Le Camp des Saints. An English translation by Norman Shapiro was published by Scribner in 1975. Since then, the book has been republished and described as a "controversial and politically incorrect novel," and "a Fascist fantasy."
It is not unusual that The Camp of the Saints would originate in France. Much of what we experience today in the United States in regard to the political justification for illegal immigration also originated there. In fact, waves from the French Revolution are still washing up on shores all around the world. Blood from the Reign of Terror's guillotine simply turned into the red flag of Communism.
Jean Raspail was born in France in 1925. He is a traveler, explorer and prize winning author. He has been described as "a tall man of soldierly bearing and... a traditionalist. While he is courtesy and gentleness itself in his manner... he dislikes the incursions that Anglo-Americanisms have made into the French culture.''
The Camp of the Saints presents a reader with an alternate apocalypse from the one found in the Biblical book of Revelation. Even though Raspail's title is taken from Revelation 20:9, "And they came up on the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints," the book has very little to do with a biblical interpretation of events.
Instead, the title is a sarcastic reference that shows to the Western reader the end of the world in secular terms. In Raspail's book, liberalism marches steadfastly to its demographic doom. Harvard Professor Samuel P. Huntington, author of The Clash of Civilizations, says, 'Mexican immigration is a unique, disturbing, and looming challenge to our cultural integrity, our national identity, and potentially to our future as a country.'"
"'If over one million Mexican soldiers crossed the border," Huntington argues, "Americans would treat it as a major threat to their national security and react accordingly. Why then do we not react as vigorously to the invasion of one million Mexican civilians?"
When Katharine Betts asked Jean Raspail in an interview about where his vision of the West and its future had come, he said this was a difficult question. "In one sense the West is more than ever triumphant, but it has a conception of the rights of man. In its original form this was an excellent idea, but it has now been misapplied and it is being used against France..."
The country that supposedly values clear thinking, is now undermined by its own theories. So, in the novel, old professor Clagues, who confronts with his shotgun one of the invaders says, " I too have stopped thinking and just want to tell you where I stand." The professor fires, and then turns his back on the corpse and goes inside.
Few people get up in the morning and wonder if what they do during the day may advance or destroy Western Civilization. They simply have private concerns and interests. Likewise, politicians want to satisfy those who contribute to their campaigns: the unions, the business executives, and the transnational corporations.
Nevertheless, the world assembles our collective actions and makes a whole out of various parts. That is why we need to consider the possible future imagined in The Camp of the Saints.
We may have sympathy for one of the characters in the novel, even though his ultimate values are not ours. Colonel Dragases sets out with a band of like-minded French patriots to stop the Third World invaders. Regrettably, these patriots are killed by the French air force on a bombing run.
"I'd rather be killed by our own. It's much cleaner that way. There's something more final," are the last words of Colonel Dragases as he waits for the planes on a terrace where he stands with his friends. Then, the bombs fall and the villa is a heap of rubble. This is how the world ends, with a bang and the stench of latrines.
The Camp of the Saints will remain a controversial book for some time to come. This book reminds us that there are forces at work in history we may not control, but do not expect this book to be required reading in public high schools any time soon. Multiculturalism erases the past for the sake of a gray conformity.
Nevertheless, if "comprehensive immigration reform" passes the U. S. Senate and House of Representatives and is signed into law, an urban transformation probably will come to your neighborhood, too. The Camp of the Saints might be your secular future. It might be good to spend part of your summer reading about that future.
Conversion was needed to maintain the Church in the West, and its secular equivalent, assimilation, is needed to maintain the nation state today. In The Camp of the Saints, the shear number of invaders made assimilation to French culture impossible. In the end, France disappears. And what was France in the grand scheme of things, anyway? Nothing but a moment between ancient Rome and Eurabia.
Assimilation is not happening nor is it needed in a world that is globalized. The global city with its need for a disciplined and low-paid workforce functions best as a segregated city. Thus it is possible for uncontrolled immigration to make a nation that was once a river of hope into a sewer of despair.
The Camp of the Saints helps us understand, too, how over time the meaning of a culture is lost. This is how we go from Patrick Henry saying, "Give me liberty or give me death," to Senator Harry Reid saying 12 million illegal aliens are really "undocumented Americans."
In the two hundred years that span the death of Patrick Henry and the life of Senator Harry Reid, the darkness of forgetting grows deep. Nevertheless, a person of faith believes there is a moral purpose to events. He sees this purpose, however, through a glass darkly. If the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans in 1453 is part of God's plan, then it is difficult to reason out the details of that plan. We wait on the fullness of time.
The secular apocalypse Jean Raspail imagines includes the futility of moral action. For the person of faith, such futility is itself immoral. The person of faith is expected to do what is right, even if he does not grasp the complete implications of his actions. At the very least, he bears witness.
To that end, a person of faith recognizes that nations are an essential part of organized human life. Nations play a role in making us fully human and are therefore defensible.
Jean Raspail's vision in The Camp of the Saints is an imaginary one of how the secular order in the West may end. It is a vision seen through the right eye. According to Raspail, the West "has no soul left" and "it is always the soul that wins the decisive battles."
The secular world truly is in need of salvation, a salvation Jean Raspail believes Christian charity will prove itself powerless to effect. So, he warns us during our summer of immigration discontent, "The times will be cruel."
Robert Klein Engler lives in Omaha, Nebraska. He is a graduate of the University of Chicago Divinity School. His book, A Winter of Words, about the turmoil at Daley College, is available from amazon.com.