Before & After the Camp of the Saints:
The Untranslated Writings of Jean Raspail
It is rather more pathetic than contemptible, the desperate struggle of William Buckley’s National Review coterie of tame Tories to win acceptance by the Establishment as “responsible” conservatives. In the magazine’s endorsement of George Ball’s (incorrectly identified as George Will’s) proposal to “send an armada of rescue boats” to save the Southeast Asian refugees, Ball is quoted as asking:
What could more elevate our national spirit than participation in a great human enterprise? What could more lift our hearts—and evoke world admiration—than the spectacle of a flotilla of our own ships embarked on the most spacious operation of mercy ever undertaken?
Armada? A “Last-chance Armada” perhaps? Reality overtakes fiction and becomes a grotesque parody of itself. The mocking laughter in the background is that of Camp of the Saints author Jean Raspail. The boat people, the demographic equivalent of an oil slick, lap at our shores today, ready to foul our already murky gene pool tomorrow. Raspail saw it all yesterday. But even Raspail, plumbing the depths of Western weakness and degeneration, did not imagine that the West, far from being paralyzed by such a spectacle, would in fact send out its own vessels to speed the Asiatic invasion.
English-speaking readers know Raspail only as the author of the brilliant tragicomic novel Camp of the Saints. Though unquestionably the most remarkable of Raspail’s works, he had already won an Académie Française prize for his writings. The main corpus of his literary output, however, has not been translated.
To read Camp of the Saints and then go back and read Raspail’s other works in the order they were written is a fascinating and exhilarating experience. The themes which came to fruition in the author’s literary masterpiece are present from the beginning, ripening with time and becoming more complex and more profound in the mind of a man gifted with both a most acute perceptiveness and the ability to communicate and share his understanding.
In 1949 Raspail and a small group of companions paddled the route of the 17th-century explorer La Salle, from Montreal to New Orleans by canoe. For almost anyone else this would have been the adventure of a lifetime, but for Raspail it was only one episode in a succession of fascinating travelogues. He and his French companions (he voyaged with no multiethnic crews like Thor Heyerdahl) next set themselves the task of being the first to motor from the tip of South America to the terminus of the Pan-American Highway in Alaska. Like good French patriots, they used only French equipment. The story of this trip is told in Terre de Feu—Alaska (René Julliard, Paris, 1952).
Raspail’s scathing and very French satire is in evidence from the beginning as he describes the advice he received from a local on his arrival in Juan Peron’s Buenos Aires:
Put a photo of Evita in your windshield and the government will give you gasoline for free . . . say that the government of Peron and the Señora is the best ever created for the poor . . . you will be received as kings.
Raspail mixes his acrid comments on contemporary Argentina with historical anecdotes, such as the story of a 19th-century French adventurer who ruled Patagonia as a self-proclaimed emperor.
From time to time, white women being rare, the aforenamed emperor and his henchmen would rape all the Indian women in a village, to assure, they said, the future of the empire.
Or the account of the modern “King of Patagonia,” a ruthless landowner who, faced by the problem of recalcitrant Indians, invited them all to a feast in their honor: “The menu consisted of poisoned whale meat from which none recovered and the lands changed hands.”
Raspail tells of getting “well and truly lost” in the grim Chilean desert, of churning through the mud of an equatorial rain forest when “the life of the expedition depended strictly on the strength of the chains” on the rear wheel of their vehicles. Many of the images, as the banana republics roll by, are familiar to the point of being clichés: an Ecuadorian settlement where “our arrival doubled the traffic in the village”; a Colombian town out of a John Ford Western with twenty-three saloons on the main street and the priest and the school teacher the only men without guns; the Costa Rican navy, consisting of “two picket boats which had their days of glory during World War I”; the Nicaraguan war on illiteracy promoted by Managua placards saying “Learn to read.” At a Honduran border post a sergeant had to talk personally to the Minister of War before allowing the expedition to leave. At the Mexican frontier, a Mexican customs official “glances at the vehicles and without preliminaries asks, ‘how much will you pay for fast work?’” Raspail’s keener remarks indicate the direction he will take in future writings. Discoursing on Costa Rica, he admits:
Our greatest surprise was to find that this strong country has few mulattoes, Indians or blacks. The Costa Rican population is over 75% pure white and the nation tries to preserve the homogeneity of the race by all means.
By the time of Secouons le Cocotier (Let’s Shake the Coconut Tree) in 1966, Raspail was a veteran author, having written several travel books dealing with the Old and New Worlds as well as two novels, Le Vent des Pins (The Wind of the Pines) and Les Veuves de Santiago (The Widows of Santiago). Secouons le Cocotier, his observations on the Caribbean and its inhabitants, is the produce of a more mature and developed writer. The sardonic tone which makes Camp of the Saints so enjoyable is almost fully developed.
A true world traveler and a man with considerable powers of insight, Raspail despises the facile superficiality of tourism and tourist literature of the “sun-filled days, fun-filled nights” genre. His own descriptions of and conclusions about the tropical paradises he has visited are of a different nature. In the opening to Secouons le Cocotier as he tells how he is being tormented by mosquitoes he recalls that in Léopoldville every night spraying machines would lay down insecticide, making it possible to sleep peacefully with the windows open. “That was before independence, under the rule of the infamous colonialists, the Belgians. In Léopoldville, the mosquitoes have come back. Pointe-à-Pitre (Guadeloupe) they never left.”
As in Terre de Feu, Raspail cannot resist sharing with his readers some of the more conventional images. He roars at the absurdity of the divided island of St. Martin, an “illogical island” shared by France and the Netherlands. The 7,600 inhabitants are divided by an undefended border into two colonies with separate laws, courts, currency, educational systems, police forces, and civil services. One side is governed by a French sous-préfet, the other by a Dutch lieutenant governor. Telephone service from one side to the other is routed through Paris and Amsterdam. There are two road systems (with different surfaces) and two power systems—the Dutch half is 220 volt; the French half 110. Raspail imagines the situation of a French business group constructing a luxury hotel in the Dutch sector with American capital, crossing the border in trucks with Dutch license plates, but French spare parts, with French workers being paid in Florins at French union rates, enjoying Dutch social security benefits and French hours of work. The inhabitants of the island, Raspail adds, are all English-speaking.
In a more serious vein Raspail writes of Americans “stuffed up to their throats with dollars.” Tourist dollars, he insists, do nothing for the poor of the Third World, only for their elites. “Don’t forget Haiti, there the population starves beneath the banners which proclaim, across the avenues of Port-au-Prince, ‘Prosperity through Tourism!’” Cuba under Batista he characterizes as “the brothel of America.” He advises the French Caribbean tourist industry to forget the Americans and welcome French Canadians “without forgetting the lonely French Canadian woman, hungry for black lovers.”
One of the most delightful stories in Secouons le Cocotier explains why the Third World will be coming beggar bowls in hand to Westerners until we have beggared ourselves trying to fill them. The fishing industry on St. Martin, a modern, efficient operation entirely out of place in the Caribbean, is worked by Japanese labor. The sous-préfet who is showing Raspail the operation asks him, “Do you know where they take the thousands of tons of fish?” Raspail replies, “To Japan, I suppose. A nation of cat people who eat nothing but fish. One hundred and twenty million mouths to feed . . .” “No, they sell their catch to Italians.” The title of the chapter describing this incident is “Alas, the Japanese Aren’t Black.” Raspail then goes on to demolish the myth of the “rich idle planter,” with a drink in one hand, a cigar in the other, and yet a third on the bottom of a Negress. The fact is, Raspail notes, the planters keep the economy, such as it is, going. They work harder than any of their black employees, often as much as seventeen hours a day, Sundays and holidays included.
Hilarity of Camp of the Saints intensity bubbles up in Raspail’s fanciful advice to the few remaining pure-blooded Carib Indians. To impress the tourists, Raspail tells an old chief, you must have a wooden idol of a horrible-looking god. The chief objects that his people don’t know how to make an idol. They are all Catholics and the priest would not permit it. Tell the priest it is a joke, says Raspail, and he promises to send photographs of totemic figures from other cultures. “Give your god a long red throat, two black holes for nostrils and big pointy teeth. Place a couple of fearsome-looking savage warriors in front of the idol to sell tickets.” The chief denies that his people are savages. Raspail advises him to let them be savages for eight hours a day, instead of going to the factory, fields or whatever. Then in the evening, thanks to the tourist dollars, they will be able to live in fine homes hidden behind a hill, eating steaks and watching television. For the tourists, however, there must be primitive huts occupied by naked children, scantily clad young girls and old women smoking pipes. At night, as drums beat, Indian men should stand immobile, arms raised to the sky, while their bare-breasted women move in a circle with small rhythmic steps and prostrate themselves before the great god Caiman, whom no tribal member has worshipped for generations. In gratitude for all this counsel, the chief offers Raspail his niece, a virgin of marriageable age. The girl is fourteen, slight, graceful, golden-skinned, with long black hair and almond-shaped eyes. Why not, Raspail wonders, after a thorough medical examination?
Almost as amusing is Raspail’s account of the French dialect spoken by the Caribbean blacks. While Guadeloupe has been French longer than Nice, Savoy, Corsica, or Lorraine, Raspail observes, the language of the Guadeloupeans remains incomprehensible. Other Francophones, such as backwoods French Canadians, are almost impossible to understand, but “no one arms them with a microphone” and gives them hundreds of thousands of listeners. While radio broadcasts contribute to a standard French of some quality elsewhere, the inhabitants of the Antilles encourage their miserable dialect for pseudonationalistic reasons. “Creole,” Raspail asserts, “isn’t a language; Creole is noxious.” When the French headmaster of the Pointe-à-Pitre lycée tries to have his students speak proper French, he is accused of wanting “to disfigure the black soul.”
Raspail defines Black French as child’s language in its simplifications, abbreviations, absence of number or gender, suppression of propositions and conjunctions—all of which, it might be noted, are more important in French than English. To render atomic bomb in Creole, which independence-seeking forces want to make the official language of the Antilles, one would probably have to say bom un pile zombies.
The black elite never speak Creole, except to the common people. Among themselves they speak “in waves of florid eloquence, lyrical torrents . . . in French bristling with the imperfect subjunctive, adjectives ending in ism, abstract nouns ending in ion or ism with at least five syllables that one must look for in the dictionary.” The black and mulatto upper class consists of dentists, lawyers, doctors, notaries, pharmacists, and businessmen. “I always ask myself why the black upper crust has so few engineers, physicists, architects, pilots, or master mechanics, but that’s another story.”
The serious and pensive Raspail comes to the fore as he expresses his concern over a few hundred desperately poor and oppressed white Guadeloupeans, descendants of refugees from the French Revolution. Raspail composed “two useless letters” on their behalf, one to the French Ministry of Overseas Departments and Territories suggesting they be repatriated. The other was to Prince Rainier of Monaco. Rainier, according to Raspail, has historical grounds for claiming to be Lord of Matignon (the white region of Guadeloupe), and is urged to take some action to ameliorate the condition of his subjects. “It is somewhat heroic, the racism of 300 isolated people which hasn’t been compromised in two centuries.”
Secouons le Cocotier contained other Raspail musings:
I don’t know if I like or dislike the art of the Antilles, for one very simple reason—it doesn’t exist . . . I like those who preserve the purity of their race, one beside the other, for everyone has the right to favor his own skin and to pass it on unmixed.
In 1971, five years later and five years closer to Camp of the Saints, Éditions Robert Laffont published a collection of five Raspail novelettes under the general title Le Tam-Tam de Jonathan. If Camp of the Saints had not been written these short works would have been sufficient to establish the author as one of France’s most able satirists. Significantly, all of the novelettes are on racial themes.
The first work in the collection, L’Ascenseur du President Césette (President Césette’s Elevator), deals with a black Caribbean dictator, an Idi Amin type with intellectual pretensions, “a philosopher and theoretician of Transcendent Blackness, whose works completely fill two rows in the library under the general title of Essential Works of President Césette: discourses, laws, memoirs, essays, theses, studies, etc.”
Césette’s aide-de-camp describes himself as “a humble servant of the greatest thinker of our times, finest head of state in the world, and the incarnation of Transcendent Blackness.”
As the tale begins, President Césette’s ridiculous excuse for a nation is falling apart. For fifteen long hot days there has been no electricity in the capital “because of the traitorous and illiterate imbeciles” of the National Power Company. Earlier, similar problems with the National Telephone Company had resulted in the execution of its officials and technical personnel, and their replacement by Japanese. Césette orders the execution of the National Power Company officials and promises each member of the firing squad three cups of rum, a cigar, and a signed portrait of the President.
Césette’s black Caribbean republic only exists because the Belgians are running the postal service, Americans are in charge of public works, Germans operate the bus lines, the French supervise the mills, Cubans work in the sugar factory, and Canadians are responsible for the water purification facility. In short, the country is the deformed, helpless progeny of black nationalism, kept alive in an iron lung of white expertise. For Césette the situation is intolerable. He calls the foreign technicians to his office to tell them, “Gentlemen, you are my friends, but I wish with all my heart that you will leave as soon as possible.” He orders all top posts to be filled by blacks within three weeks—in time for the national anniversary. The technicians tell him it is impossible, out of the question. But there is a ray of hope. One “technical” position in this nation-sized chronic care unit is filled by a black man. He operates the one elevator in the country, a creaky four-occupant Otis in the three-story National Hotel (the highest structure in the land). During the last six months, however, it has broken down five times.
The President announces the founding of the National Elevator Company, appointing the hotel elevator man the Director General. Two weeks later the elevator breaks down. Césette cancels all appointments and heads for the National Hotel with three jeeploads of soldiers as an escort. Wonder of wonders, the elevator is repaired and the President proposes to eliminate one more vestige of colonialism by changing the name of the elevator from Otis to that of the operator/repair man, Agenor. Six days later, with the anniversary of the republic imminent, the elevator fails once more, this time killing Agenor. Césette slips over the edge into outright madness and calls out the presidential guard for a general massacre of whites. A difficulty presents itself, what do they use for transport? The last three jeeps and the presidential limousine have broken down, so off they go on horseback. The novelette ends with the occupation of the shambles of Césette’s republic by an international military expedition.
When Papua New Guinea became independent on September 16, 1975, only those whose minds had been totally rotted out by liberalism could suppress a cynical grin. The situation was absurd—178,000 square miles of jungle, 750 languages spoken by the mutually hostile, semi-cannibalistic tribes, an illiterate education minister, and other political, social and economic horrors too numerous to mention. It was anti-imperialism gone crazy. Written years before the event and once again proving that reality follows Raspail’s art, the second of the author’s novelettes, La Lettre de Papou (The Letter from Papua) took a Papuan request for nationhood as a comic excuse to slip a mocking stiletto into the gut of the U.N. He tells of two white diplomats greeting each other in a black-packed U.N. headquarters bar with the classic, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” Raspail also takes a casual but well-aimed swipe at “sentimental exhibitionists who adopt orphans in every corner of the world, taking care to vary the colors.”
Papua’s demand for independence, written by a retired French diplomat as a practical joke, purportedly came from a primitive New Guinea chief and was addressed to the U.N. Secretary-General, who read it aloud to the General Assembly. To allay any fears about his character, the chief gives the formal assurance, “It has been over twenty years since I ate anyone.” The head of the Indonesian delegation becomes apoplectic at the chief’s suggestion that Indonesians taste funny. As Raspail puts it:
Everyone at the U.N. knew, down to the last idiot in the Yemen delegation, that the Papuans are the most backward savages in the world and they would need another hundred years of colonization by civilized people. But in the name of the dignity of man, national self-determination, racial equality and respect for the culture and genius of each nation, this truth would never be spoken.
Nowhere did Raspail come closer to Camp of the Saints than in his third novelette, Sur la Ligne No 7 Bis (Louis-Blanc—Pré-Saint-Gervais) Noirs Sont les Tunnels du Metro (On Line No. 7A, Louis-Blanc—Pre-Saint-Gervais, the Metro Tunnels are Black). He presents the problem of migrant workers from French Africa in the Paris subway system in the form of a rhapsody:
Blacks of all countries, blacks of all tribes, blacks and blacks, in such numbers that the Prefecture of Police hesitates to publicize the statistics for fear of waking people up.
The story concerns an Africanized Paris subway line of the 1980s, staffed 80% by black “guest workers.” The tunnel is as black as an African river, the train is a dug-out canoe, the stations are riparian villages. At the end of July, in prime Parisian holiday time, the white employees go on vacation and the line reverts to Africa, replete with improvised jungle drums. “A hundred years of Westernization is wiped out in ten seconds.” A black stationmaster cum witch-doctor couples with a black ticket-seller in an orgiastic initiation ceremony. White passengers, observing the goings on, think it is publicity for a visiting African folklore troupe. In the end, on the demands of the African diplomatic corps, the whole affair and its accompanying carnage is covered up by the media.
Une Étrange Exploration dans la Forêt Africaine en l’an 2081 (A Strange Exploration in the African Jungle in the Year 2081), the fourth novelette, continues the attack on one-world internationalism. It imagines a situation a hundred years hence, in which the earth is ruled by the U.N., and the white population is 50% mongrelized. Though all is peaceful and things are not too bad, life is rather dull. In a moment of boredom, it is agreed to mount an expedition to a hitherto unexplored region of Africa, perhaps the last terra incognita. What the multinational safari stumbles upon is a comical black military despotism boasting such political dignitaries as the Ministers of the Bananas, of the Moon, of Birds, Hunters, Plants and Rivers. The story ends in what is by now almost Raspail’s literary trademark—a general massacre of whites, with the “civilized” blacks of the expedition lending a helping hand.
The final short novel has the telegraphic title Suis au Cœur du Combat dans Japon Païen et Lubrique Stop Christ Vaincre Stop Angelica (Am in the Thick of Battle in Heathen and lustful Japan Stop Christ Conquers Stop Angelica) deals with a cultural clash of a different sort. Angelica Burke-Simson, the principal character, is a stupid, bigoted but very wealthy American spinster, the pillar of her Baptist Church. She has just been hustled for $5 million by an impoverished rajah who claims he has converted all his Hindus to the Baptist creed. When Angelica arrives in Japan to conquer for Christ like a modern St. Francis Xavier, the American ambassador dispatches an embassy staffer to meet this “vice-president of the DAR, honorary president of the South Dakota Democratic party, etc.” Her misadventures are humorous if predictable. Angelica explains to her Japanese interpreter that the Word of God is as necessary to man as bread and pure water. The Japanese, who drinks only tea and eats only rice, politely agrees.
Raspail calls the writing of Camp of the Saints “fifteen months of creative exaltation.” Much could, indeed much should, be said about this extraordinary work. But since it is available in English it lies outside the scope of this article. Following its publication, Raspail returned to nonfiction. Drawing upon his tremendous store of travel experiences, he produced in 1974 La Hache des Steppes (The Ax of the Steppes), a collection of essays on forgotten peoples, “peoples of the shadows.” It is an intensely personal and often moving work. The ax is a magnificent artifact of black stone given to Raspail by his father, a symbol of the physical link with the rich heritage of European man. In the book’s first chapter, “The Broken Thread,” the alienation and shallowness of contemporary man are identified with lack of awareness of his cultural inheritance. Raspail counts back through his ancestors, “in only fifty generations we have rejoined Charlemagne and his immediate successors . . . and we are no longer French.” In his daily life the average person is likely to come in contact with fifty people whom he knows by name, yet he knows perhaps but two or three of the fifty ancestors.
La Hache des Steppes deals with such peoples as the allegedly Caucasian Ainus of Japan, “our white brothers the Ainus from whom we have been separated since the Neolithic gloom.” A veteran of the LVF, the French volunteer force which fought on the Axis side on the Russian front in World War II, tells Raspail of coming across a village of the French descendants of Napoleon’s invasion of Russia. On the basis of this discovery, the veteran asserts, “I would like to be able to explain to the Marxists that it is not economics but race which is the master of history.”
As shown by both his early and more recent literary output, Raspail’s world view is complex. He decries the impact of the white world on the nonwhite. “The Christian missionaries have always cut off native peoples from their origins.” Then again, when discussing the Caribs, he explains he “learned the unbreakable law: every Indian woman who marries a black must leave the tribe.” In this manner
the Carib people assure their survival. Rejecting any alteration of their blood, which is impermissible, they are saved by their faith in race . . . One comes down to the conclusion that the will to survive, hatred and blood consciousness will serve as a similar defense for other races in peril, the white race especially.
To term Raspail a racist a white supremacist does not agree with the literary evidence. More accurately, Raspail is a man convinced of the importance of the concept of race in human affairs. In championing diversity of types and rejecting the notion that mankind is united or should be united, he has placed himself squarely within the circle of the growing and intellectually vigorous New Right in France. While he sympathizes with other peoples who have lost their roots, he is more concerned about the future of his own race. It has often been remarked in the pages of Instauration that the 20th century is witnessing the decline and possible fall of the white race. Raspail stands in the great tradition of Lothrop Stoddard and Madison Grant as one of its prophets and chroniclers of this looming tragedy.
Source: Instauration, January 1980, pp. 6–10.
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