The most important dystopian novels of the first half of the twentieth century are Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and George Orwell’s 1984. Huxley and Orwell captured the two sides of modern despotism, one soft and seductive, the other hard and punitive. The most important dystopian novel of the second half of the century is Jean Raspail’s Le Camp des Saints (The Camp of the Saints, 1973). Its central plotline concerns an armada that transports one million migrants from India to the shores of France. It’s an invasion, an occupation of the Global North by the Global South. As the migrants land, France is thrown into chaos, along with the rest of Europe, and Western civilization dies.
Yet The Camp of the Saints is not a disaster novel. The book’s significance does not hinge on whether Raspail was correct to predict mass immigration or describe it in catastrophic terms. Rather, the novel’s genius lies in the depiction of an apocalypse in the original sense of that term. Properly translated, apocalypse is rendered as revelation, disclosure, literally an “uncovering.” The Camp of the Saints unveils the perverse logic that pervades late Western civilization, and throws into sharp relief the nihilism of guilt whereby the West welcomes its own destruction.
The Camp of the Saints was one of Raspail’s first novels, and he went on to have a distinguished literary career. His best books are an unusual kind of historical fiction, encompassing counterfactuals and tales of the sudden resurfacing of long-lost dynasties or extinct peoples. In some works, Raspail expressed what might be called a literary royalism. He imagined a quasi-fictional kingdom, Patagonia, as a transcendent poetic refuge from the prosaisms of modern politics. This outlook earned him many admirers in traditionalist Catholic circles.
A Catholic himself, Raspail sympathized with Catholic traditionalism. Before he died in 2020, he had become a vocal defender of the Tridentine Mass. At the same time, he maintained friendly relations with people across the political spectrum. He corresponded with liberal and left-wing intellectuals, as well as some socialist politicians, including President François Mitterrand and Prime Minister Lionel Jospin. In 2000, Raspail was nearly admitted into the Académie Française but lost a close vote. In 2003, he received the Grand prix de littérature de l’Académie française, a prize for lifetime achievement.
Unlike Huxley and Orwell, Raspail lacks international name recognition. He possesses his little fame, especially in the United States, more as a presumptive racist than as an accomplished writer. A 2019 New York Times article called The Camp of the Saints “a must-read within white supremacist circles.” The publishing house that owns the rights to the English translation has suppressed the book, making it almost impossible to find.
When interpreted by careless critics—and they are legion—The Camp of the Saints is framed as a fictional race war that stokes fears about genocide against whites. This is the standard reading by liberals and progressives. On the American right, The Camp of the Saints has few defenders; some conservatives are ready to punish those who invoke it. These readers fix on passages in which Raspail describes the migrants as primitive and barbaric, in order to condemn the book as a racist polemic against mass immigration. But this reading misses the point of the novel. Raspail wishes to hold a mirror up to our own society: He is concerned with “us,” not “them.”
It was not Raspail but Jean-Paul Sartre who first envisioned the Global South invading the Global North. In his 1961 preface to Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth, written as Charles de Gaulle was preparing to lower France’s flags in Algeria, Sartre argued that decolonization was not enough to settle the score. France and the French deserved punitive subjugation. “Our soil must be occupied by a formerly colonized people and we must starve of hunger,” he wrote.
In the early 1970s, many people in positions of cultural influence shared Sartre’s sentiments, even if they shrank from his violent terms. None believed that the events Raspail imagined—a million Indian migrants abruptly arriving on French soil—were remotely possible. Sartre may have desired reverse colonization, but he didn’t see it as a real possibility: “This won’t happen,” he complained. Raspail’s chief purpose, therefore, was not to predict an imminent future. He sought to take seriously the sentiments of self-loathing and the desire for reverse colonization that were gaining strength in Europe. The Camp of the Saints is best read as a long thought experiment, a fictional depiction of the civilizational consequences of this way of thinking.
In Raspail’s novel, the migrants represent an almost metaphysical menace, a collage of real cultures. It is not that Raspail was incapable of describing non-Western societies accurately. He had made his reputation with travel books that are rich in detail about foreign cultures. And his other novels give the lie to the insinuation that he was a white supremacist, for he recounts the plight of aboriginal tribes in the New World, lamenting their destruction and the loss of their cultural particularities. But this is not his subject matter in The Camp of the Saints. Here he concentrates on the nihilism that Sartre’s self-loathing worldview brings.
Indeed, the first shots fired are white-on-white violence. As the novel begins, the armada of migrants arrives on the French shore. A retired professor in his seaside cottage looks on. He is accosted by a young white miscreant who mouths a version of Sartre’s declaration. The other villagers have fled, but the professor, a representative of high culture who is determined to defend his home and his way of life, stands his ground. The youth vows to lead a band of migrants to pillage the professor’s home. The professor collects his rifle, never before used in anger, and shoots him.
From this startling beginning, the novel jumps back in time to recount the armada’s origins and its embarkment from India, then presents a series of snapshots of the confusion and strife that reigned in the West before the migrants’ arrival. Westerners are fascinated by the incoming hordes. They are encouraged by churchmen and left-wing intelligentsia to see the influx as the Second Coming, a final triumph of the weak over the strong that will atone for the West’s sins. It will be a blessing. Raspail repeats this interpretation of the threat in various forms, to show how it paralyzes civil authorities and prevents them from addressing the crisis.
Raspail will not allow the migrants to be idealized. Throughout the novel, he emphasizes their vulgarity by providing lengthy descriptions of their crudeness, sexual promiscuity, and repellent hygiene. (In parts of India, human feces are used to generate heat. The boats rely on this kind of fuel.) These descriptions may be excessive, but they are not gratuitous. Raspail is challenging the fantasy of the sauvage pure, which underwrites Sartre’s anti-Western polemics and, to a lesser extent, Fanon’s. “You will be convinced,” wrote Sartre, “that it would be better for you to be a native at the uttermost depths of his misery than to be a former settler.” Raspail wishes to convince you of the opposite. Whatever their virtues, the migrants are materially and culturally destitute. That is why they find the West attractive. They do not have a mission to redeem sinful Europe; they are seeking deliverance from poverty and from the sometimes-brutal oppression and inequalities of non-Western cultures.
They will not obtain what they seek. In discussing what to do about the armada, the French authorities persuade themselves of their own illegitimacy. At the climax of the novel, the French president delivers an emergency speech meant to authorize the use of military force against the migrants and prevent them from landing. But he cannot bring himself to deliver the order. France will not defend itself. When the migrants alight from their boats and wade ashore, the West has already capitulated.
European governments fall as the migrants arrive, and European citizens withdraw from public life. Civil society collapses; as a result, the migrants enjoy no real improvement in their condition. They bring their bad rulers with them, replacing European regimes with the very regimes they have fled. Dictator-generals and Brahmins take up positions in French government, ruling as they did in their own lands. The migrants and their supporters do not “include” the Rest into the West. They expand the scope of the Third World, and wretchedness goes global. The purported blessing of the arrival of the wretched, so cherished by progressive voices in the novel, does not come about. What emerges is not a particularly harsh despotism—there is only the occasional boot stomping on the human face—but the pain of the survivors is great, because of their vivid memories of what they have lost.
The West’s brand of moral universalism, Raspail’s novel suggests, causes its demise. Westerners have made a categorical imperative out of Mrs. Jellyby’s comically flawed humanitarianism—“do-gooderism” unto a distant other, while one’s own are neglected. In this moral climate, the piety required to love one’s community and the fortitude required to defend it become vices.
To dramatize the turning of communal self-love into a moral crime, Raspail depicts older moral intuitions at work. To prevent the migrants from landing in their territory, the Egyptian navy threatens to sink their convoy. This tactic is crude but effective. The armada turns away from Egypt and toward South Africa. The white apartheid regime there (still in power in the novel) makes the same threat. But unlike the Egyptians, the South Africans attempt to provide the convoy with vital medical and food supplies. The migrants reject these and travel on.
When the armada turns toward Europe, French naval officers realize that they cannot rely on their crews—or even themselves—to threaten the migrants with destruction. The armada steams into the Mediterranean unchallenged. As the migrants approach the shore, the French government turns to the country’s last reliable institution, the army, which deploys to the coast. The French president’s emergency speech focuses on the justice of a civilization’s defending itself, by military means if necessary. But whatever intuitions he has about the requirements of loving one’s own are overwhelmed by the ascendant moralism and its imperative. The president falters mid-speech, departing from his prepared remarks. He changes his mind, and says it is up to each person’s conscience to determine how to act.
This formulation—each must decide—is fatal. It dissolves the nation into atomized individuals. Henceforth, no authority exists to act on the French people’s behalf, to enact and enforce laws and ultimately to defend them. This moment, and not the subsequent takeover of civic functions by the invaders, marks the death of France and the death of Europe.
Raspail’s many digressions document the climate of opinion that overwhelms the president’s sound intuitions about the necessity of defending one’s way of life. The left-wing intelligentsia herald the coming of the migrants as the dawn of a new age of multiculturalism, but they stoke a media frenzy and deploy the tools of cancel culture against those who demur, ostracizing or punishing them. The intelligentsia shrinks the Overton window, portraying mass immigration as both morally obligatory and inevitable. On the eve of the landing, the only publication that sounds the alarm about the migrants is a right-wing journal run by an eccentric.
This is not to say that left-wing intellectuals are pacifists. They endorse the use of force for their own cause. To speed France along to the golden age of multiculturalism, they muster militias to attack the regular army when it is deployed to Southern France. Terrorist tactics used in the 1950s against those who resisted the end of French Algeria are now used against those who resist the end of France.
Raspail is unsparing in his depiction of the betrayals urged by left-wing intellectuals, but he reserves his most scathing passages for the treason of the Catholic Church. In the novel, the previous pope has sold the treasures of the Vatican in a failed bid to win the approval of the Third World. The sitting pope, a Latin American, spends his time flying around on humanitarian missions and selling off whatever Vatican assets remain. He sees himself as a champion of the Third World. As the migrants arrive and the native French abandon their lands, priests go down to the beaches to cry, “Thank God!” They turn their backs on their countrymen, imagining they see Christ in the migrants.
In Raspail’s telling, Catholic Christianity has for some time been in thrall to humanitarian universalism. The novel satirizes a left-liberal Catholicism that disdains national and civilizational particularity and renders the faith indistinguishable from the moral universalism of non-believers. Under the banner of “charity, solidarity, and universal conscience,” progressive clerics abandon their neighbors for the sake of the stranger. They practice the religion of humanity, a Christian heresy.
Alternating between tragedy and black humor, the novel’s final segment recounts the fate of those who defy the humanitarian creed. Before the migrants land, most of the French army has deserted or been picked off by the militias. One brave colonel leads a small band. Fewer than two dozen men remain; the rest have fled or submitted. The resisters set up their own government and lead a comfortable bourgeois life for a few days. But they know the bell tolls for them. The logic that led to France’s destruction has no place for those attached to the old regime.
For a short while, the cohort holds out, even rescuing a few black Frenchmen. (In the tragedy of decolonization, particular fury is elicited by the non-native Europeans, the “race traitors” who have qualms about the new regime.) But this cannot last. The new French government orders that the village be bombed out of existence. The air force completes its mission, and there are no survivors.
The Europeans who collaborate with the migrants are also killed. An atheist philosopher with a penchant for ironic quotations of Scripture helps prepare the armada for its voyage. Yet he is trampled by a mob of migrants as they rush to take their place on the boat he has opened up. “Father, Forgive them,” he cries, “for they know not what they do.” A bishop who accompanies the migrants on their journey “goes native” in Raspail’s sense. Yet he is left to die on the sinking ship after all the migrants have gone ashore. When the migrants land, the French intellectuals who prepared the way for them are assassinated. And those in the left-wing militias who welcome the migrants are killed or become servants, peasants, and prostitutes.
The frequency with which the migrants execute or enslave their Western benefactors in the final sections of The Camp of the Saints is not intended as a commentary on Third World culture. Raspail is simply pursuing the logic of Sartre and Fanon to its dark conclusion. According to Fanon, the evil of colonization is something the native does to himself. He persuades himself of his own worthlessness. He accepts European dominion because he acknowledges European superiority, not just in military terms but in cultural and moral terms. According to Fanon, freedom cannot be regained by negotiation; still less can it be regained by accepting help from the former oppressor, in the form of medical supplies or of moral support, what today is called “allyship.” True decolonization is existential, and it requires redemptive acts of violence. The colonized must assert himself in order to destroy old beliefs and relationships. Only in a blow to destroy the colonizer does the native become a free agent, capable of making his own history. Without violence toward the former oppressor, Fanon argued (and Sartre agreed), freedom is impossible.
Raspail is alive to the full implications of Fanon’s analysis, which so many progressives accepted but few followed to its logical end. “The will of the Third World is to owe nothing to anyone,” writes Raspail, “and not to weaken the radical significance of its own victory by sharing it with renegades.” As Sartre states, to be free, the colonized must conquer—colonize—their former oppressors. The Camp of the Saints illustrates the implications of the anti-colonialist rhetoric that is lauded throughout Europe.
A different novel about mass migration might be utopian. It could depict a huge wave of migrants warmly welcomed. The impoverished migrants would be indebted to their hosts, who help them on their journey toward global unity and prosperity. Everyone conforms to the West’s political, moral, and cultural standards. Human rights become the world’s Magna Carta, and a new, post-national global culture emerges, one that “celebrates difference.” The trouble with this scenario is that it does not imagine non-Westerners as free agents, capable of determining their own destiny. That’s why the twenty-first-century multiculturalists have a whiff of cultural, even racial imperialism about them: Their global utopia may not evoke Rudyard Kipling, but it still conforms to symbols determined by the (white) First World.
Western multiculturalists are aware of this dynamic, which is why their activism increasingly tends toward the nihilism depicted by Raspail. The First World must be taught to be ashamed of itself, to believe that its death will be its greatest gift to the future of humanity. The new civic liturgy of Western nations must express submission to the morally superior non-Western “other.” Those in the West need to be trained to take the knee, though they are expected to rise from time to time to fight fascist phantoms.
Raspail was not a proponent of colonization. The discerning reader recognizes that The Camp of the Saints accords with the goal of self-determination for former colonies. Raspail assumes the irreducible particularity of civilizations. The world cannot be fitted to one Western model. By contrast, modern Western imperialism was justified by the notion of a “civilizing mission” that sought to put other cultures and civilizations on the same economic and cultural track of development. The white man’s burden was to ensure that the entire world came to resemble the modernized West, which represented the fulfillment of humanity.
This imperialist outlook endures in veiled form in the assumption of a unipolar world, wherein particular countries (Great Britain a century ago, or the United States today) or alliance structures (the League of Nations or NATO) are unquestioned enforcers of international law. In the novel, this project has failed. Colonial governors discover that they no longer preside over a world in which they are the masters and sovereigns. Their sepoys no longer obey Western authorities. For the same reason, Raspail implies, multicultural progressivism cannot succeed. It is a disguised version of the same imperialist narrative. It assumes that everyone in the world can be incorporated into a single rainbow regime.
Moreover, the universalism underlying multicultural progressivism masks a coercive dimension, which Raspail unveils. Multicultural progressivism demands the subjugation and destruction of traditional forms of life everywhere, eventually, but first and foremost in the West. The only contemporary event referred to in The Camp of the Saints that is historically real rather than imagined is the Pleven Law, passed in 1972. This law banned racist speech. Characters in the novel ponder how this law quickly extended to restrict speech that is unfavorable to multicultural progressivism. In practice, it bans any speech about race, except that which is anti-white.
Again and again in the novel, cowardice and self-hatred are masked and moderated by the conviction that mass immigration into Europe and the deconstruction of European identity will somehow take away the sins of the West. But Raspail knows the truth: Third World immigrants do not have the power to deliver Europeans from their sense of worthlessness. Once one embraces the logic of civilizational repudiation, the endpoint is nihilism and cultural death. The Alpha is white guilt. The Omega is Francocide.
The plot of The Camp of the Saints is fantasy, but it is not frivolous. By the 1980s, those with an understanding of the trajectory of French society saw that the novel could not be dismissed. Mitterrand thanked Raspail for sending him the book, which he promised to read “with much interest.” Jospin thanked Raspail for writing the book, “which describes a future that is not,” a future that was in the process of happening. As the shadow of political correctness descended upon French intellectual life, leftists who could never praise the book in public did so in private. In 2004, Denis Olivennes, who managed the French left-wing daily Libération, wrote Raspail: “Thirty years ago, I would have undoubtedly considered The Camp of the Saints as a despicable polemic.” But since reading it, “Not only do I no longer hate those who do not think like me, I’m interested in them!” Robert Badinter, the Jewish socialist Minister of Justice, a champion of international human rights law who abolished the death penalty in France, thanked Raspail for the 1985 edition. “Ten years ago I read it with great interest,” he wrote. “With the flow of time the problem has become more pressing. . . . The civilization which is ours is only threatened from the inside, more by losing its soul than by yielding to external demographic pressures.”
Badinter discerns that we are imperiled above all by Western civilization’s spiritual crisis. This insight is what now makes The Camp of the Saints so disturbing to read. The desire to make oneself culturally prostrate has come into the open. In France, Raspail’s speculations about how the logic of hate speech laws would extend to any speech critical of progressive multiculturalism have been completely vindicated. In 2023, they are being used not just to prosecute politicians like Marine Le Pen or Éric Zemmour, but to pursue the novelist Michel Houellebecq. Throughout Western Europe and especially in Great Britain, multiculturalism no longer entails moral impartiality toward the mixing of diverse ethnicities. It means the ghoulish celebration of white demographic decline. (There has been a 10-percent drop in the white British population since 2001.) In response to a still-unconfirmed report of a mass grave for indigenous children at a residential school, the Canadian government kept the Canadian flag lowered for 161 days in 2021, raising it only to immediately lower it again for Indigenous Veterans Day. Meanwhile, the government plans to increase immigration to unprecedented levels, so that over the next decade, Canada will bring in enough immigrants to equal the population of six provinces. Efforts to stoke the engines of shame are prevalent in the United States, as well. Elite bastions of progressivism champion initiatives designed to deconstruct the nation, such as the 1619 Project and an open southern border. Their multicultural pedagogy promotes racial hierarchies at school and work. And the practice of criminalizing non-multicultural discourse and singling out whites for special scrutiny is rendered explicit in a 2023 bill before Congress, H.R. 61, which makes “hate speech that vilifies or is otherwise directed against any non-White person or group, and such published material” a special criminal category.
Prominent intellectuals who are critical of progressive excesses often sell a reassuring story to people of my age, who have no memory of the 1980s and only a child’s memories of the 1990s and 2000s. It was much better then, we are told. Everyone was committed to the neutrality of the public sphere. Politics and culture were kinder and gentler. Policy discussions around fraught topics such as immigration were more reasonable. The excesses of the past few years are just that, exceptional moments best explained by recent events: the invention of the iPhone, which has turbocharged partisanship and provoked a mental health crisis; the coming of age of snowflake millennials after their coddling in school and college; the onset of fanaticism among leftists due to the sweeping triumph of Obergefell, or their derangement due to Trump.
Raspail helps us see otherwise. Contemporary excesses have their origins not in recent events, but in a much older and deeper spiritual sickness. Raspail’s poetic millenarianism illuminates what Badinter feared. Sometime during those seemingly good years after World War II—Les Trente Glorieuses, as the French call this period, which still prevailed when The Camp of the Saints was published—the West lost its soul. In a sense, the apocalypse has already happened. That’s why Westerners in Raspail’s novel lack the fortitude to defend their civilization and why so many find reverse colonization desirable. We live in a civilization that is already damned.
Raspail was concerned to do more than unveil that spiritual death of the West. The Camp of the Saints gives guidance to those of us who hope to save our spiritual integrity as we seek to preserve and honor our patrimony. It shows us how not to act. The novel’s band of resisters are very much part of Raspail’s satire. They lack ethical refinement and display a rough, schoolboy Nietzscheanism. They are either lovers of violence or lovers of sensual pleasures. They have only the fragments of the real religion. They are Last Men.
In his later, better novels, Raspail does more to outline a positive vision. Like The Camp of the Saints, Septentrion, L’Anneau du pêcheur (The Ring of the Fisherman), and Qui se souvient des hommes . . . (Who Will Remember the People . . .) chart the demise of a culture or civilization. They, too, are novels of cultural destruction, exploring what survivors and resisters must do after the catastrophe has occurred. And just as The Camp of the Saints does, these novels describe little platoons of resisters who try to save a culture threatened with extinction. Yet, in these later novels, as patrons of a cause and creed assaulted by the Great and the Good, these bands practice an ethic of friendship and cultivate genuine fortitude. Their doing so does not guarantee success. Their numbers diminish and their historic territories are lost. But in these later novels, resistance with spiritual integrity means that the survival of what is worthy and honorable is assured, even if those who endure must go underground for centuries.
The disparagement of Raspail as a racist stands as one sign among many that we live in a mendacious age, one that veils its nihilism with endless demonstrations of its politically correct virtues. In truth, the French writer sought to give spiritual counsel.
In an interesting twist, the armada that transfixes the West in The Camp of the Saints receives a kind of providential protection. The “experts” predict that no action against the migrant armada is required, because a single storm will sink the overcrowded boats. Civil authorities embrace these predictions, which allow them to keep their hands clean and avoid hard decisions. But no such storm arises. The armada journeys halfway around the world without the slightest disruption. Only a day after all the migrants have disembarked does the storm come, sinking all their ships. Providence refuses to prevent the death of Europe. The West is responsible for its own fate. Raspail is right. God will not deliver us from the consequences of our guilty self-hatred. It is up to us to decide whether we will reject Sartre’s false liturgy of atonement through occupation and turn instead to the Lord.
Nathan Pinkoski is director of academic programs at the Zephyr Institute and a senior fellow at the Edmund Burke Foundation.