Essay: The Camp of the Saints, Jean Raspail, trans. Norman Shapiro, 1973, 2018.
Would you kill to preserve civilization? Specifically, would you kill defenseless children, women, and men to preserve civilization?
That is the question posed by Raspail’s novel, surely the most significant science fiction novel written in 1973 and certainly still the most talked about.
The novel’s theme is encapsulated by a remark of the French president in a radio address as Easter Sunday becomes Easter Monday:
cowardice towards the weak is cowardice at its most subtle, and, indeed, its most deadly.
We’ll return to that radio address later.
Reading this book, to say nothing of liking it and agreeing with its message, is enough to get you denounced and used as a weapon against you if you are a politician. In the month since I read this, that indeed happened to one American politician. You can do the experiment yourself. Do a Google search using “The Camp of the Saints” and “Raspail” and look at the first 12 pages. Three quarters of the entries will use words like “hateful”, “lurid”, “despicable”, and, of course, “racist” to describe the book.
Originally, I was going to do a three-part series on this book: the story, reactions to it, and the validity of its projections. Frankly, I didn’t think most people would want to read that nor would I change any minds in the related moral and political arguments.
So, I’ll mostly describe the book and conclude with some brief thoughts on its relevancy and place in science fiction.
You’ll get a better sense of the book here that any other place online I think.
The theme of cultural extinction may have come to Raspail two decades before he started writing the novel and on the adventure that would become his first travel book Tierra del Fuego to Alaska.
In 1951, during a trip to Tierra del Fuego, in crossing the Strait of Magellan, I found, in the space of an hour, under the snow, in the wind, one of the last boats of the Alakalufs. I will never forget it.
The Camp of the Saints was not a planned novel, not even outlined. As Raspail explained in his foreword to the 2011 French edition, in 1971 he went to a villa called Le Castelet on the edge of the Mediterranean.
From the library where I was working, all you saw for 180 degrees was the endless expanse of the sea, such that one morning, my gaze lost in the distance, I said to myself, ‘What if they came?’ I didn’t know who these they were, but to me it seemed bound to happen that the innumerable poor from the south, in the manner of a tidal wave, were one day going to set out for this opulent shore, the open border of our blessed lands.
In the next ten months, he would set his pen down for the night having no idea where the story was going the next day.
The novel’s story was broadly summed up by Raspail in that same foreword:
In the night, on our country’s Mediterranean coast, a hundred dilapidated ships run aground, loaded with a million emigrants. Poor folks stalked by misery, whole families with wives and children, swarms coming from the south of our world, drawn by the Promised Land. They yearn. They inspire immense pity. They’re weak. They’re unarmed. They have strength of numbers. They’re the subject of our self-reproach and of the mushy angelism of our consciences. They are the Other, that is to say the Multitude, the Multitude’s vanguard. And now that they’re here, are we going to take them into our home, into France, ‘land of asylum and welcome,’ at the risk of encouraging the launching other fleets of unfortunates who are getting ready, out there? It’s the West, in its entirety, that finds itself threatened. Threatened with submersion. But what to do? Send them back home, but how? Pen them up in camps, behind barbed wire? Not very pretty, and then what? Use strength against weakness? Send our sailors and soldiers at them? Fire? Fire into the crowd? Who would follow orders like that? At all levels – universal conscience, governments, comity of civilizations, and above all each in himself – we ask ourselves these questions, but too late….
Raspail called his book an “anti-crusade”, an “anti-epic”, a fable and not a “futurological” work.
There are, in fact, lots of references to Crusaders and crusading orders in the book, but he mostly refers to the religious nature of those refugees, a horde from the Ganges, what is cleverly dubbed the “Last Chance Armada”, being on a religious quest to a Paradise, a richer land (as the Levant was in the time of the Crusades). They even have their version of Peter the Hermit, the “turd man”.
Raspail freely admitted that parts of his novel were bound to offend. He also called it a rant. I imagine prissy indignation, gasps, and slack-jawed horror at passages like this, the introduction of the turd man:
. . . a giant of a man stood stripped to the waist, holding something over his head and waving it like a flag. Untouchable pariah, this dealer in droppings, dung roller by trade, molder of manure briquettes, turd eater in time of famine, and holding high in his stinking hands a mass of human flesh. At the bottom, two stumps; then an enormous trunk, all hunched and twisted and bent out of shape; no neck, but a kind of extra stump, a third one in place of a head, and a bald little skull, with two holes for eyes and a hole for a mouth, but a mouth that was no mouth at all – no throat, no teeth – just a flap of skin over his gullet. The monster’s eyes were alive, and they stared straight ahead . . .
The “anti-epic” description is because of its structure. The action starts in media res with a Professor of French literature, Calguès, waiting at a seaside villa, much like La Castelet, for an announcement by the French President at midnight as Easter Sunday turns to Monday. On the shore, a multitude of rickety ships have beached themselves. Aboard are 900,000 people. They are waiting their own resurrection of a sort. The thousands of corpses, bulldozed into piles, are burning. Like Joseph, their bones will be in the Promised Land.
Raspail claimed there were “three unities of time, place, and action” in the book, “everything unfolds in 24 hours”. That’s not strictly true.
The first five chapters of fifty-one chapters are set on Easter Sunday. Then chapters six through thirty-eight lead up to that announcement by the French President.
There are those who, while agreeing with Raspail’s observations, don’t think much of this book’s literary values.
Raspail’s style takes some getting used to. By conventional standards, there isn’t much characterization. With the exception of Calguès, all the characters are described in political terms. But it’s a compelling narrative. On its American release, many critics agreed even though they disagreed with Raspail’s point of view.
In the second chapter, Calguès, setting an elegant table, listening to Mozart (“what is there in the world more Western than Mozart”?), is confronted by an intruder, a hippie, a young man whose first words are “Pretty cool, man, huh!”
He is the first of many traitors to Western civilization we will meet. Later in the book, the story shifts to India where the Belgian Consul is meeting with some churchmen when Belgium announces the end of resettlement of poor Indian children in its borders. Now, the desperate Indians will seek other means of saving themselves.
The Consul blasts the clergymen’s destruction of the West in the name of universal brotherhood:
You’ve been ‘bearing witness.’ Isn’t that what you call it? Bearing witness to what? To your faith? Your religion? To your Christian civilization? Oh no, none of that! Bearing witness against yourselves, like the anti-Western cynics you’ve all become. Do you think the poor devils that flock to your side aren’t any the wiser? Nonsense! They see right through you. From them, white skin means weak convictions. They know how weak yours are, they know you’ve given in. You can thank yourselves for that. The only thing your struggle for their souls has left them is the knowledge that the West – your West – is rich. To them, you’re the symbols of abundance.
. . . You know … there’s a very old word that describes the kind of men you are. It’s ‘traitor.’ That’s all, you’re nothing new. There have been all kinds. We’ve had bishop traitors, knight traitors, general traitors, statesman traitors, scholar traitors, and just plain traitors. It’s a species the West abounds in, and it seems to get richer and richer the smaller it grows. Funny, you would think it should be the other way around. But the mind decays, the spirit warps. And traitors keep coming. Since that day in 1522, the twelfth of October, when that noble knight Andréa d’Amaral, your patron saint, threw open the gates of Rhodes to the Turks.”
Raspail goes on to skillfully delineate the amount of naivete, gullibility, and hatred that motivates each traitor and the cumulative damage they do. This is not a novel of political propaganda meant to mold the reader’s mind. It’s a diagnostic fable of what ails the Western mind. The verisimilitude of Raspail’s portraits backs up his claim that many statements in his book are from “editorials, speeches, pastoral letters, laws, news stories”.
Many scenes in the novel end with a variation of “Could that be an explanation?” as to how one of the world’s richest countries simply let hundreds of refugees barge through their front door with no resistance.
Calguès is disgusted when the man tells him he will bring the refugees to Calguès’s house to destroy it. Why, asks the professor, does the hippie want to smash civilization to bits. The refugees do it out of ignorance, but why does he, a native, want to? “Because I’ve learned to hate all this.” The Professor tells him that he’s going to kill him and has a long speech about how he has never killed anyone but always fantasized about being a noble Frenchman fighting the Moslems, in the Crusades, at the Fall of Constantinople. He even wishes he could have fought in more squalid, modern battles including joining the Ku Klux Klan to kill some blacks after the South’s fall.
And then the Professor shoots the man dead.
We get a brief scene in New York City with a prominent sociologist talking with the mayor about black unrest. That, and a few scenes with the Russians failing to stop, failing to even fire on, a starving horde of Chinese coming across their border, are the only real scenes not set on Indian or French soil.
The next traitor we meet is Ballan, an “atheist philosopher”. It is him who puts the idea of taking ships to Europe in the minds of the Ganges mob. Raspail delights telling us how he, like most of the traitors we’ll meet, comes to a bad end. When the mob takes over the India Star, he is trampled and beaten in the rush to board it. He realizes he’s no longer some special white. He’s just a white for them to spurn.
. . .he realized how much he loved and missed the West. And that last awareness, that utter rejection of all he had stood for, so pained and distressed him, that he opened a willing mouth and took himself a healthy gulp of death.
We then meet an Algerian living in France, “Cadi One-Eye”. He is a leader of a political movement of Arab immigrants that has been violent, but he senses that he can reach their goals by stopping the violence, that the Last Chance Armada provides new opportunities. His wife Ėlise is white, a schoolteacher. She will come to symbolize (by murdering, eventually, a radio personality who speaks out against the Armada), the type of women who hates her own kind, who fetishizes the other, becomes as violent as them, but who is hated by the ghetto Arab colleagues of her husband.
Raspail describes the Ganges’ refugees in disgusting terms.
There is a long description of the sexual orgies the refugees get up to in their voyage:
But, in time, very slowly, the flesh began to seethe. Perhaps it was the heat, the inertia. Perhaps the sun, pouring druglike against the skin and into the brain, or that tide of mystical fervor it swam in. Most of all, the natural drive of a people who never found sex to be sin. And, little by little, the mass began to move. Imperceptibly at first. Then more and more in every direction . . . Soon the decks came to look like those temple friezes so highly prized by tourists, prurient or prudish, but rarely touched by the beauty of the sculpture and the grace of the pose. And everywhere, a mass of hands and mouths, of phalluses and rumps. White tunics billowing over fondling, exploring fingers. Young boys, passed from hand to hand. Young girls, barely ripe, lying together cheek to thigh, asleep in a languid maze of arms, and legs, and flowing hair, waking to the silent languid maze of arms, and legs, and flowing hair, waking to the silent play of eager lips. Male organs mouthed to the hilt, tongues pointing their way into scabbards of flesh, men shooting their sperm into women’s nimble hands. Everywhere, rivers of sperm. Streaming over bodies, oozing between breasts, and buttocks, and thighs, and lips, and fingers. Bodies together, not in twos, but in threes, in fours, whole families of flesh gripped in gentle frenzies and subtle raptures. Men with women, men with men, women with women, men with children, children with each other, their slender fingers playing the eternal games of carnal pleasure. Fleshless old men reliving their long-lost vigor. And on every face, eyes closed, the same smile, calm and blissful. No sounds but the ocean breezes, the panting breaths, and, from time to time, a cry, a groan, a call to waken other sprawling figures and bring them into the communion of the flesh …
. . . and so, in a welter of dung and debauch – and hope as well – the Last Chance Armada pushed on toward the West.
That passage seems to show up a lot in hostile criticisms of the book. They see it as dehumanizing the Indian refugees. But Raspail, as he said, is writing a fable. The refugees represent the power of life, their fertility another element of their confidence and the spirit that will take them to victory. After all, Raspail didn’t have to present such a scene if he just wanted to write a sober novel extrapolating population growth.
Raspail also has some sympathy for those refugees. When the Belgian Consul discusses the mob with an Indian official, asks why India isn’t stopping the migrant invasion, he is asked what the Western world did to relieve the plight of the starving:
You say we didn’t do a thing? And what about you? God knows, we begged you for help, but that wasn’t enough! You wanted to see us fall at your feet, you wanted to make us grovel. Besides, you couldn’t have stopped it. The world had plenty of warning…. Your part of the world, that is. The only part that mattered…. All those times, wherever they had me stationed – London, Paris – those times I’d be sitting over a drink with friends, and have to watch your television screens and see my own people dying! Or open your high-class papers and read the reporters who knew what was going on, but didn’t let it spoil their dinner or keep them up at night. With headlines like ‘Affluent Nations’ Conscience Unmoved by Third World Plight . . . Western and UN Aid Falling Far Short . . . Future of Third World Seen at Stake . . . ‘ You people all know how to read. You’re not deaf. You’ve heard the same tune for ten years now, in every key. But only from all your bleeding hearts, and plenty of them at that. So what did you do? You treated your conscience to a dose of guilt and then prayed to someone or other that things would stay the way they were as long as they could. That’s where you went wrong. You should have held fast to your Western contempt. It might have steeled you against disaster. Because that’s what’s brewing for you now, my friend, and you can’t do a thing about it.
Like the professor, the Consul is willing to kill for civilization. He goes to the docks to try single-handedly stop the mob from boarding ships. He gets off one shot and is trampled to death.
Another traitor is Jean Orelle, official spokesman of the French Republic, master of high sounding phrases whose practical consequences he doesn’t think about. He trots the old “thy brother’s keeper” cliché and says France must live up to its noble ideals. It can prove its virtues by welcoming the Armada. From the beginning, the President lets Orelle speak for France though “within the bounds of common sense” so it can “share the burden of a generosity which, frankly, I fear we would come to regret”.
As time goes on, Orelle begins to have doubts as it becomes more possible that the Armada may actually make it to Europe, when it is no longer just not a political prop for propaganda. He fears what it what will become of his beloved south of France. On the eve of the Presidential announcement, he’ll blow his brains out after realizing he has enabled the tragedy to come.
Perhaps the most loathsome traitor is the entirely self-aware Clémente Dio. One of his ancestors was a North African whore sold to a French officer. He is filled with racial hatred. His newspaper is full of tales of injustices, “battering rams” of shame and remorse to smash civilizational resolve. He’ll end up killed by the turd man, perhaps, notes the narrator – because even the turd man loathes Dio’s appearance, because he is so repulsive in moral terms.
Dio’s Chinese wife will kill herself after being gang-raped by a bunch of convicts released in the chaos of the Armada’s coming, a release Dio celebrated.
A hero is the irascible Machefer, publisher of a small newspaper secretly funded by the President has secretly funded him to swing the tide of public opinion. An important theme of the novel is how the political elite of various countries know the disaster to come if the Last Chance Armada makes it to Europe and how social and political pressures, cultural indoctrination, keep people from voicing what needs to be done. They are like abused sailors contemplating mutiny against a tyrannical captain. They know it’s necessary, but no one wants to be the first to suggest mutiny, to act on it. Likewise, the elite of this novel fear political and social scorn, do not want to be the first to break the West’s self-destructive taboo against self-interest violently asserted.
Machefer literally urinates each day on the doormat of the far more popular socialist newspaper that takes up most of the space in the building that Machefer’s newspaper rents. Machefer knows his pissing is known and tolerated because the leftist paper needs his paper as something to rail against. The day they do actually evict him from the building he’ll know the game is up, the political and social forces Raspail calls the “monster” will have consolidated their power.
But socialism is not Raspail’s only enemy. He also shows how capitalistic forces pay for the corrosive voices via their sponsorship. That’s true in Durfort’s case. He’s described as do-gooder broadcaster, a “Zorro of the airwaves”. Popular, he imagines himself an objective, independent thinker. In reality, he’s just
a captive of fashion, bound by all the new taboos, conditioned by thirty years of intellectual terrorism.
He thinks the Armada should be generously welcomed.
We hear Durfort’s broadcast many times in the accompaniment of Marcel and his wife, representatives of the general public. Raspail uses them to touch on the power of unions and envy of the rich, an envy which deracinates French culture and means that the middle and lower classes of France won’t fight for their country because they think it belongs to the rich.
There is also traitor Vilsberg (fate unknown at novel’s end) who sells doubt – “dogmatic, relentless doubt, these days, has the strength of assertion”.
Day by day, month by month, doubt by doubt, law and order became fascism; education, constraint; work, alienation; revolution, mere sport; leisure, a privilege of class; marijuana, a harmless weed; family, a stifling hothouse; affluence, oppression; success, a social disease; sex, an innocent pastime; youth, a permanent tribunal; maturity, the new senility; discipline, an attack on personality . . . Vilsberg doubted. For years on end. And he heaped at his feet, an ancient country, lying in rubble.
The world hopes the problem of the Armada will go away. Perhaps it will sink. An idea is proposed to make it a permanent floating refugee camp.
Shipping countries route their vessels around this fleet of a million souls. One event that fixes minds in the wrong direction is Captain Notaras (namesake of the commander of the Byzantine Fleet at the fall of Constantinople) who refuses to stop his freighter to pick up survivors of the one ship of the Last Chance Armada that sinks at sea. The world is horrified as he orders his ships to plow through people in the water.
Word gets out. He is jailed, becomes “the white race incarnated”. Dio wants the death penalty for him though he generally argues against capital punishment. The notion that the fleet is an invasion leaves the European mind in the face of its weakness, its pathos promoted by the press, and stopping the invasion before it arrives becomes “even less acceptable to Western opinion, bound up in its complexes”.
The Armada tries to sail into the Gulf of Aden and to the Suez Canal, but it is stopped by an Egyptian Admiral who is willing to fire on the fleet. Islam, unlike Christianity, has not lost its confidence.
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.
As the fleet passes South Africa, that pariah nation’s leader says frankly that he will order women and children to be shot, to kill en masse as Europeans did to each other in WWII. This resolve doesn’t last long though. Unaccountably, South Africa agrees to drop aid to the fleet.
The refugees reject it. The press spins this ingratitude as justifiable pride or fear of being poisoned.
Raspail details the suicidal subversion wrought by the World Council of Churches and the Catholic Church and entertainers in weakening French resolve to do what is necessary.
Disturbed as the Fleet approaches the Azores, the President orders the French fleet out. This is really a nervous and secret effort by France and the international community to see if sailors will really fire on the refugees. They won’t
Most, but not all of France, flees north to escape the approaching Armada. But the most enthusiastic traitors, like that hippie at the beginning, go south to greet the fleet.
Raspail doesn’t treat all these with contempt. Panama Ranger is a leftist who wants to welcome the fleet (and doubts whether it was all worth it in the end) and conducts a courageous duel against a French officer, Molotov cocktails versus a tank.
The pivot of the book, the point of suspense, is that Presidential address. What will France do? We know the President saw the danger of the Armada early, but his steps against it were covert. He has ordered the army south
Chapter 38, with that address, is relatively short.
. . . we are perfectly able to repulse the invasion and destroy the invader. Assuming, that is, that we are willing to murder – with or without regret – a million helpless wretches. Past wars have abounded in just such crimes, but conscience back then hadn’t yet learned to waver. Survival was all, and it condoned the carnage. Besides, those were wars of rich against rich. Today it’s the poor who are on the attack, with their ultimate weapon. And if we respond with the same kind of crime, not a soul will condone our action. Our integrity as a nation will have been preserved, but we will surely bear the mark of our deed forever. Certain forces abroad in the world today know this only too well: those dark forces bent on destroying our Western society, ready to plunge forward in the wake of the invader, behind the convenient shield that our guilty conscience provides them. My friends and fellow countrymen, I have, therefore, ordered the army to open fire, if need be, to prevent the refugees from effecting a landing. But if I have decided, after sober consideration, to deny the armada its one last chance, I do so only to save you yours. And, so, I am asking every soldier . . .
And then the President goes silent for third seconds. He returns, his voice quieter, his resolve faltering,
. . . each word heavy with meaning, like handfuls of earth thrown in to the grave and onto the coffin, words of farewell:
‘ …. And so, I am asking very soldier and officer, every member of our police – asking them from the depths of my conscience and my soul – to weigh this monstrous mission for themselves, and to feel free either to accept or reject it. To kill is hard. Even harder to know why. Myself, I think I know. But I don’t have my finger on the trigger, and my gun isn’t aimed point blank at some poor soul’s flesh. My friends, whatever happens, may God help us … or forgive us.’
And most of the army and police, all except about 20, reject that order. They are the men who will kill to protect civilization. They are, of course, not enough.
Raspail said, in an afterword to the 1982 French edition, that he felt the novel was
dictated by an otherworldy force
. . . the ending of the book was not at all what I originally had in mind. My pen simply disobeyed my muse, who urged the use of force against these unhappy people, who wanted me to throw them back into the sea by every possibly means and to massacre them to save ourselves. Instead, giving up all pretense of resistance, I disarmed the arm that was opposing them, for I myself in such circumstances would not have had the courage to fire one shot when brought face to face with those hordes of living, breathing misery. And so it was, for lack of what might be called literary courage, I denied to the white Occident, at least in my novel, its last chance of salvation.
Upon finishing the book Raspail described himself as again “a somewhat degenerate and overly sensitive Westerner.”
It is here that a couple of things change in the novel. We become aware that we are reading the work of some historian detailing how the Western world vanished. The novel also becomes somewhat funny in its final third.
That final band of killers for civilization goes about their futile business, keeping score of the refugees (most simply swarm past) and traitors they kill.
As Colonel Dragasès, their leader, says,
In war, the real enemy is always behind the lines. Never in front of you, never among you. Always at your back. That’s something every soldier knows.
The soldiers are joined by Calugés, Captain Notaras, Machefer, and Hamadura. The latter is a very dark-skinned Indian living in France who called Vilsberg’s radio show once about the Last Chance Armada and said
You don’t know my people, the squalor, the superstitions, the fatalistic sloth they’ve wallowed in for generations. You don’t know what you’re in for if that fleet of brutes ever lands in your lap. Everything will change in this country of yours.
He is cut off.
The Colonel welcomes him (and his two elephant rifles)
being white isn’t really a question of color. It’s a whole mental outlook. Every white supremacist cause – no matter where or when – has had blacks on its side.
The group spends a lot of time eating well between missions, listening to Mozart, and giving themselves formal positions in their pocket government. Significantly, before planes from the new French regime bomb them into annihilation on the Thursday after Easter, their last act is to repeal a French hate speech law passed on June 9, 1972. That law, quoted in the book, as Raspail noted in the introduction to the 2011 edition was a real one, he only changed the date as sort of a private joke to indicate that, had the law been passed a few months earlier, this novel could not have been published without being “gutted”.
The final few chapters note the passing of white civilization. We learn in the final chapter that this book has been written in Geneva on the eve of Switzerland admitting refugees. The fleets came for Australia. It is implied that what we call “visible minorities” will shame the white West into submission.
After a chapter on the violent uprising on the evening of Easter among the immigrants of France, we learn about economic dislocation, miscegenation, brothels “to demystify” white women. Marcel and his wife will give up their apartment to an Arab family. The mayor’s advisor in New York City will give his apartment up to blacks.
There will be people in France, but they won’t be French.
I’ll deal briefly with a couple of criticisms of this novel.
Why the refugees from the Ganges? Population growth in India and other parts of Asia was a larger concern in 1972 than now.
In the introduction to the French 1985 edition, Raspail said he did not have immigrants from a more obvious source – Africa – because of prudence and not wanting to be drawn into “the false debate about racism and anti-racism in French daily life”. Even then, North African immigrants to France were a problem, and Raspail seems not to have wanted his fable blunted by other issues.
How prescient was Raspail if he didn’t deal with Moslem immigration? Raspail says he completely missed its significance. He imagined, in 2011, a France of 2050 having perhaps only 20 million white, Christian inhabitants living in isolated islands. The question is, how long will a dominant Moslem majority tolerate that? Or will the Christians mount a Reconquista? Such questions, he said, await another novelist. He does not see the issue as hopeless because, as The Camp of the Saints emphasizes again and again, this battle of civilizations and cultures is won by spirit and faith, not material resources.
The Novel’s Place in Science Fiction
Before we look at the novel itself, its effects, its validity as prediction or description, let me back up the claim that this is a science fiction tale of sorts.
I read the novel in its original 1975 American edition in a library copy. After finishing it, I found out that Social Contract Press put out a new edition with much ancillary material including a section of the favorable reviews.
One was by Alfred Coppel, a science fiction writer, in Peninsula Living in August 9, 1975.
The opening and closing of his review reads as follows:
I cannot recall when, if ever, I have read a book of such stunning force and disturbing content as Jean Raspail’s The Camp of the Saints. I am no stranger to the apocalyptic novel but this work has invaded my consciousness and disturbed my conventional wisdom in a remarkable way.
More remarkable still is the fact that it is being published here in the United States, for it raises questions of morality and survival that few liberals, or even moderates, have any intention of confronting. . . .
To call this novel frightening is an understatement . . . To call it the world of the future (if the developed world cannot come to terms with its own guilt) is certainly prophetic . . . This is a bitter, brilliant work. Read it and consider.
Coppel has his own entry in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. So does Rasapil. It’s a short one, revised by John Clute on September 8, 2018:
(1925- ) French author, much of whose nonfiction controversially treats the kind of issue explored in the inflammatory Le camp des saints (1973; trans Norman Shapiro as The Camp of the Saints 1975), set in a Near-Future world in the coils of Overpopulation. When the non-white Third World lays siege to Europe, which should have been armed against the onslaught, civilization (that is, white civilization) perishes. . . .
I will note that, that the earliest entry from January 1, 2005 omitted “(that is, white civilization)”.
Neil Barron’s third edition of Anatomy of Wonder: A Critical Guide to Science Fiction only mentions the book at the end of the entry for Christopher Priest’s 1972 novel Fugue for a Darkening Island:
Compare Jean Raspail’s polemical account of a collapse of western civilization provoked by Third World refugees, The Camp of the Saints.
John J. Pierce’s Odd Genre: A Study in Imagination and Evolution mentions the novel in connection with works by Nevil Shute and Hans Helmut Kirst:
Jean Raspail stirred controversy in his native France and elsewhere with The Camp of the Saints (1973), in which the West is inundated by a wave of immigration from the Third World. ‘Progressive’ writers, evidently, do not enjoy a monopoly of polemical fiction.
Steve Sailer has suggested that Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash owes something to Raspail’s novel.
For a look at how Harry Harrison’s earlier Make Room! Make Room! imagined how refugees would be dealt with, see this blog post which also has a review of The Snakehead. That book deals extensively with the immigrant smuggling vessel Golden Venture — which is the same vessel depicted on the photo of the Social Contract edition of Raspail’s novel.
Incidentally, that blurb “one of the most disturbing novels of the late twentieth century” on the cover of the new edition comes from a 1994 Atlantic article on the novel.
Raspail’s question is still relevant, still needs to be answered. Look at the “world’s most important graph“. If you live in the West, you will have to decide whether to kill the defenseless to preserve civilization.
More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.
I agree with the Alfred Coppel comment that it is amazing such a book would be published in the US. The story mocks the carefully curated narrative that publishers prefer—the one that praises, indeed sanctifies, denial of truth to justify cowardly inaction.
A pretentious oversimplification dominates our politics: for every good (divine) decision there is only one bad (Satanic) decision opposing it. The media showcase this duality as Liberal vs Conservative. However most difficult decisions are between either good and better, or bad and worse. Weak actors will/can not make a bad decision even when it is the best option. They are the mice that stare at the shadow of the hawk and are unwilling to leave the comfort of the trash heap.
The reaction to the book in the US was fairly favorable from the start as compared to slow sales at first in France. Time magazine and a few other prestigious outlets didn’t like it, but, as the Social Contract Press edition shows, there were a lot of favorable reviews of it.
Norman Shapiro, even though he doesn’t seem to have agreed with Raspail’s views, defended the book and said it was meant to be provocative, and Shapiro’s translation is very skillful, and Raspail was pleased with it.