Remembering Jean Raspail (July 5, 1925–June 13, 2020)Michael Walker
On June 13, 2020, the French explorer and novelist Jean Raspail died in Paris at the age of 94. Many were the nationalists, identitarians, and traditional Catholics who paid tribute at his passing. Former European MP and co-founder of the European identity movement Iliade, Jean-Yves Gallou, stated that Raspail was “the man who foretold the destructive impact of blame culture and anti-racism on our civilization back in 1973.”
Marine Le Pen tweeted: “Jean Raspail has left us. An immense loss for the national family. Le Camp des Saints should be (re)read. Apart from its skilled depiction of the dangers of migration, it pitilessly portrays the submissiveness of our elites.”
Writers for the mainstream media were reserved in their judgments: “Adored by some, cursed by others,” wrote Michael Naulin on June 16, 2020, in Le Figaro, referring to Raspail as a “royalist ecologist,” and noting that “his world has left its mark on French literature.” Naulin continued: “Raspail wrote as a means of escape. A defender of lost causes, he published Qui se souvient des hommes (Recalling men) in 1986, after spending time among the last of the Alacalufes, a people living at the tip of Tierra del Fuego, menaced with extinction. With its power, its obstinacy, Raspail’s work is still very seductive and new readers come with each new generation; but Raspail’s writing is also divisive.”
The piece concludes by citing three “must-read” Raspail:
- Moi, Antoine de Torunais, roi de Patagonie (I, Antonine de Turunais, king of Patagonia)
- Le Camp des Saints (The Camp of the Saints)
- Qui se souvient des hommes (Recalling Men)
Jean Raspail was born into an upper-class family on July 5, 1925, in the little town of Chemillé-sur-Dême in the department of Indre-et-Loire. His father, Octave Raspail, was president of the Grands Moulins de Corbeil (a large flour mill near Paris, still in operation) and director-general of the Sarre mines. He attended private school at the Roman Catholic Lycée Saint-Jean-de Passay in the wealthy 16th arrondissement of Paris. One of his teachers there was the French Catholic writer Marcel Jouhandeau. He subsequently attended L’Institution Sainte-Marie and lastly the Ecole de Roches in Normandy. An early experience while he was still in the Scouts made a permanent impression on the young Raspail: a voyage by canoe over the rivers and lakes of Canada and the United States.
Jean Raspail was a copious travel writer and novelist with some forty titles to his name. The plots of his novels vary widely, but certain tropes recur and act as signposts to his idiosyncratic, singular vision of the world, a vision that includes paradox and contradiction. Perhaps it was a certain aura of purity, almost saintliness, about him which disarmed many potential critics. His eccentricity was evidently endearing, the genuineness of his loyalty to suffering and lost causes is undeniable. The same can be said of his insistence on the primordial importance of cultural and ethnic integrity.
I am not aware that Jean Raspail ever joined a political party and he rarely engaged in public debates. He eschewed polemics, preferring to argue his causes through fiction, satire, and display, mostly through his fiction and his travel accounts, but sometimes with the help of publicity stunts. On June 1, 1984, for example, he organized and participated in an “invasion” of the Minquiers Islands, a small group of islands in the Channel Islands group between Jersey and Saint-Malo, in retaliation for the recapture of the Falklands/Malvinas by the British. In fact, Raspail considered that the islands belonged neither to Britain nor the Argentine, but to the fictional Kingdom of Patagonia, of which he declared himself to be Honorary Consul-General! A plaque establishing the sovereignty of King Orléle-Antonine was mounted on the island, and the British flag was lowered, the Patagonian flag hoisted in its place. In 1998, a second landing took place and the Patagonian flag again replaced the Union Jack for a short time. The events caused considerable commotion and publicity.
Patagonia as a land of dreams, a lost domain, is comparable to Drieu la Rochelle’s Bolivia in L’Homme à Cheval or the idealized Middle Ages of Hermann Hesse’s Narziss und Goldmund and even the Illyria of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. These are fantasy lands very close to reality, yet behind or beyond our lived experience, remain in force somewhere between our lived reality and our dreams, a country or a time which might exist if there were a slight adjustment to the world, a slight adjustment for the better, or for the worse. Many of Raspail’s novels answer to this description. The Kingdom of Patagonia embodies Raspail’s idealized South America, the land that is and never was: a utopia in contrast to the dystopia of Le Camp des Saints.
Raspail’s travel adventures and his love for South America inspired him to write the part-fictional, part-historical, part-biographical prize-winning Moi Antoine de Tounens roi de Patagonie, which was later filmed and starred Omar Sharif. It is characteristic of Raspail’s “fictional” writing that he interweaves his narrative with historical events and characters, often himself, so that it is not always easy for the reader to discern where history ends and fiction begins. There was a King Orélie-Antoine the First, whose tomb is in Pèrigord in France, who “reigned” for twenty-eight years over Patagonia, an area of land that stretches across Chile and Argentina. Needless to relate, neither Chile nor the Argentine have ever recognized a nation called Patagonia. King Antoine’s flag was white, blue, and green, and it was that flag that Raspail hoisted during Patagonia’s occupation of the Minquiers Islands.
Raspail’s Patagonia is not only the land of heart’s desire, it is also a kingdom. Jean Raspail consistently expressed contempt for republicanism and that cherished mascot of republicanism, parliamentary democracy. Many of his works bear witness to his devotion to the French monarchy along with his rejection of the French Revolution and everything it stood for. In his novel Sire, published in 1991, Raspail focuses on the legitimacy of the Bourbon claim. His tale recounts the crowning of a French King, Philippe Charles Francois Louis Henri Jean Robert Hugues Pharamond de Bourbon (!), in Reims Cathedral on February 3, 1999 (!). In his preface to this work, Raspail happily dispenses with the customary usage of, as he puts it, “certain facetious or cautious writers” to include the customary waiver that “any resemblance to any person living or dead is purely coincidental.” He readily concedes that such a waiver could not be applied to the entirety of his own book, although the heir to the throne and hero of the novel in Sire is indeed fictional. “The young prince Philippe Pharamond de Bourbon, the hero of this book,” concedes Raspail, “does not exist. But he could exist” (p. 5).
In this account of what could happen, a group of loyal subjects ensure that after a hundred and seventy-five years a French King is again crowned in Rheims Cathedral, anointed with the precious chrism with which all the kings of France had been — and of which a small quantity has been saved from the pillaging and destruction of the sans-culottes. In Raspail’s account, which is a political declaration of faith, a thriller, a fairy tale, humorous fiction, the young prince is shadowed by the Minister of the Interior, a devoted latter-day democratic politician called Pierre Rotz. Rotz becomes obsessed with the Pharamond case, which is about the rumor that there is a plot to crown a prince of the ancient and royal House of Bourbon King of France.
In Raspail’s novels, both Good and Evil have an occult power to penetrate the hearts of men. In one scene, Raspail describes how Rotz, the democratic foe of the monarchy, is “touched” by a beneficent force. The sudden qualm of goodness which the Minister of the Interior feels early in Sire recalls the sudden pang of regret that another minister feels in Le Camp des Saints at the realization that because the French government is surrendering to the emotional blackmail of the Asian migrants, his beautiful Provencal villa will soon be occupied and despoiled by them. In the course of the novel, out of the influence which he has felt early in the story, Rotz comes to realize that he has fought on the wrong side. Rotz’s “temptation” is an example of Raspail’s mischievousness: Christian writing traditionally examines the saint tempted by maleficent thoughts. Here we have a bad man “tempted” by the good.
Pierre Rotz was still contemplating the silence of his office in Place Beaveau. He was trembling. Just a slight contraction of the heart. . . For the second time in the day in the maze of his unconscious mind a secret, unknown door had opened, almost imperceptibly, letting in a kind of mute sympathy to flow in, impalpable, rapidly petering out, something akin to a new sound, difficult to perceive lucidly, astonishing for a man who had always been quite insensible, something which he realized with alarm was beneficent. “No! Not me!” he cried out loud, furious with himself. (p. 31)
Raspail is a writer who is remembered, cherished and read by those who feel themselves to be outsiders in the world as it is today, who feel as though they are akin to the last members of a doomed tribe, guardians of an outpost in the face of a rising tide of a force stronger than they and alien to them. Common to novels and travel accounts is the writer’s pronounced disdain for the sacred cows of our times: feminism, anti-racism, republicanism, democracy, socialism, egalitarianism, living “just for today,” rationalism, utilitarianism, indifference to the past, and an agitated insistence that speed and progress are indisputably good in their own right.
Raspail believed in hierarchy. As the world insisted ever more shrilly that everyone is equal and entitled to the same rights, whoever they are, Raspail held to the discipline of tradition. At a time when people insisted that “you cannot halt progress,” Raspail was a royalist in a world where everyone from far-Right to far-Left believed in the desirability of some kind of “rule by the people.” As a matter of course, he upheld style and maintained reserve when the order of the day for decades had been “let your feelings all hang out” and “do your own thing.” Has ever a highly successful writer (and Raspail was very successful writer indeed) been so entirely out of kilter with the spirit of the times in which he lived?
Raspail’s respect is towards those who are guardians of a past and forerunners of a future. He provides no answers to the destructive forces that seek to overthrow everything he holds dear. Consequently, his works are — at least superficially — very pessimistic, pervaded with melancholy, regret, and frequently a sense of foreboding and even doom. Many of his novels end in misery, destruction, failure, betrayal, and death. Failure? Whether one fails in Raspail’s world is not intrinsically decisive. What matters is how one fails: with dignity and courage or with no dignity and ignobly. Again, this reflects an attitude that is as alien to the spirit of our times as it is possible to be.
During the first twenty years of his adult life, Raspail was not a professional writer. He was an explorer and world tourist, albeit “tourist” in a different sense to the comfort-wrapped cosmopolitan of the modern travel agency. In this respect, Raspail had a relativist approach to different races and cultures which runs counter to the widely-touted interpretation of the word “racist.” In the sense that he was acutely aware of racial and cultural differences and wrote about them without concealment or euphemism, Raspail was indeed every inch a “racist.” On the other hand, his writings bear witness to an intense sympathy for the less technically advanced races, for all peoples doomed by technical progress to integration or extermination. In this sense, his writing is more in line with a tolerant cultural relativism than any creed that embraces a natural process of selection and the imperatives of socio-biology.
Raspail was not a modern “realist” with a scale of values that considers a more technically accomplished civilization morally superior to less technically advanced social orders.
This is shown clearly in his harrowing account of the decline of the Alakufes, an aboriginal tribe that had been hounded and pursued to the brink of extinction in his grim and strangely titled “novel” Qui se suvient des Hommes. By whom were the Alakufes hunted down and killed? Not by racist whites, the predictable villains in every “anti-racist” historical narrative, but by the Asian invaders of the continent, first called “Indians,” later misleadingly, according to Raspail’s narrative, “native Americans.” The tree-hugging “native American” as the perpetrator of genocide! Raspail strips away the “anti-racist” myth of the “native American” as the always-innocent victim. He describes how the red-skinned and technically superior invaders from Asia pursued the Lafko mercilessly over many centuries down to the icy tip of South America and left the wretched people only in peace when they were cornered amid the barren and freezing rocks of the extreme South. This tale abounds with the deepest sympathy for the Lafko underdog, a race with a primitive religion, a primitive language, and no technical achievements more advanced than those of Neanderthal man. At the same time, Raspail acknowledges that there is a relentless law of life that dictates that those too weak — either materially or spiritually, or both — to believe in themselves are doomed by nature to extinction. A people must be physically strong enough to repel invasion and spiritually robust enough to resist the annihilation which comes with assimilation. But even if this is so, it does not — should not, the writer insists — exclude a religious respect for every human ethnic group and for the human individual.
The prevailing passion of Raspail’s life was not writing novels but setting sail on voyages of exploration and discovery. That sounds childlike, and it was. Something of the ragamuffin lurks in Raspail, in the explorer, in the quirky novelist and the mischievous player of pranks. With his fascination for adventure, heroism, ceremony, and his affection for lost causes, Raspail maintains a puckish sense of humor.
Everything is in the gesture, the beauty of an illusion, loyalty to people, to a land, to a code. This is how Raspail himself describes his highly autobiographical novel L’Ile Blue (The Blue Island):
To leave childhood is to pass through a wall. Something one manages more or less skillfully, the head passes through the wall. There is a totally different landscape and one passes through because there is nothing else one can do. Some manage it better than others, some manage it very badly and injure themselves. Others can almost die in the process, literally or figuratively. Our special story was that we passed into adolescence plunging straight into a real war. We found ourselves as we were but playing a game that all at once was in earnest. On the Blue Island. We were the very proud Bertrand, the very beautiful Maité, our twin sovereigns, and Pierrot, Zigomar, Zazanne and the narrator, who might also be the author of this book, for there is nothing to a novel but truth.
The Blue Island: our magic kingdom. A small island between two arms of the river in the depths of Tourraine. The kingdom was caught up in the torment of June 1940: the defeat of the French armed forces, the invasion, the collapse of the country up to the day when a young German officer twenty years old arrives before the island.
Phantasms in the wind: love, honor, pride. . . the tribe, the clan, the kingdom. . . The mystery of life, of death. . . The insolence of soul and heart, the theater of grand emotions. . . Physical devotion, beauty. . . Dreams shredded to pieces, reality. . . That is how we were, adolescents of that time, adolescents of all time. That is how we wanted to be, at least we thought so. Thank God that until the end of the world the time of adolescence will remain the time of illusions.
The expression “There is nothing to a novel but truth” — in French, il n’y a de roman que de verité — may be coining the same expression made by Nathalie Sarrault on the secondary role of plot in the roman nouveau, the new novel, that “there is nothing to the novel but the human being.” The novelist can only write from experience. If alien to experience, the writer is not writing as a novelist. Taken to its extreme, this point of view denies the existence of the truly fictional in so-called fiction. Certainly, Raspail’s novels are very subjective; they abound with real citations and real historical figures. Raspail’s novels are modern in the sense that they frequently cross between open biography and fantasy, and the distinction is often unclear. His novels are not modern at all in their religious belief in the very real presence of beings or elements that are among us, the overpowering forces (illusions? elements?) that drive us onwards and which we honor or abandon. The unspoken but ever-sensed question in Raspail’s novels is this: after the end of each short life, is there still the Great Good and still his Adversary, or are they too the illusions of adolescents?
There is humor in Raspail’s self-deprecatory description of himself in L’Ile Bleu, which relates events in the depths of the French countryside in 1940 when Raspail was fourteen years old and France capitulated. He and his friends are too young to join the resistance, but old enough to feel the shame of surrender. France’s collapse in 1940 ensued with a swiftness that nobody had anticipated followed by a surrender that was extremely “realistic” and had nothing about it of heroic gestures or holding fast. Raspail and his friends belong to a gang led by the characteristic Bertrand Carré, a figure reminiscent of the eponymous Grand Meulnes in Alain Fournier’s famous novel. Bertrand is determined, in the face of the shameful surrender of the adults, to organize resistance himself. In the obscure part of the country where his gang lives, he prepares a military ambush for the first German tanks when they attempt to capture the Blue Island. Bertrand organizes his group of subordinates to lay a trap for the approaching German panzers. Raspail, in his own account, is a cowardly wretch who knows he will never have Bertrand’s courage. Raspail is nearly paralyzed with self-pity and terror, especially when he realizes that Bertrand is serious about his plan to attack German tanks. The narrator is pitiful, yet he prays and prayer is the expression of hope, even for someone as cowardly as this:
I remained for a long time in the darkness, my eyes opened, listening to the noises of the night. I divided up my prayers. God save me from Bertrand, the Germans, from girls, from myself. I was frightened, frightened of being frightened, frightened of showing that I was frightened frightening to agree to follow Bertrand, because I knew that at the moment I agreed I would be frightened, frightened to refuse because I was frightened. Fear battered on my temples and my heart like the gigantic waves of a hurricane. Outside the wind was high. A branch fell from a tree making a noise like a detonation. Then in order not to break down altogether, I had no alternative but to recite the cowards’ prayer. I recited with relish, hands joined. I had made it up myself. Retrieving the words of the litany and flushing out unedited parts which crept in each time I said the prayer kept me occupied: “Of God, pity the cowards because they are the most miserable of all. Oh God have pity on poltroons etc, the frightened, the wets, the scared, the runaways, the terrified, the deserters, the funkers, the yellow-bellies, the deflated, the timorous. . . (p. 182)
The only access to the Blue Island over a bridge is blocked on Bertrand’s instructions with a barrier. The barrier consists of “trunks of three felled poplar trees, which serves as the anti-tank emplacements, supported by two pairs of posts fixed into the ground and somewhat loose.” Raspail arrives at the “military post” which Bertrand has set up guarded by Zigomar, a member of the “battalion”:
We were both a head higher than the barrier.
“That,” he is said with a determined voice “is an anti-tank installation.” We had never seen an anti-tank installation. . . . but we knew of them was not very different from the thing which Bertrand had constructed on the Blue Island. In this respect the French army labored under the same delusions as we did. This huge barrier could not be breached. “Superb”, I declared, “and what’s that?”
I did not recognize the home made flag which hung down as there was no wind, attached to a hazel-wood flagpole roped to the top of the barrier. During our games on the blue island we usually chose the blue and red banner of the Cross of St. Andrew of the Confederate Army, which went well with our caps and came out of our usual general supply of materials. This flag was made of blue white and green horizontal stripes.
“It’s Bertrand’s idea” said Zigomar.
“You have to salute it.”
“What am I saluting?”
“I don’t know.” (pp. 190-191)
An elaborate trip wire to detonate fireworks at various distances is carefully set up to fool the enemy into believing that have encountered armed resistance from a sizable military force. Bertrand’s group have summoned “reinforcements” consisting of “eight would-be soldiers equipped with quarter-staffs topped with old caps, the soldiers wearing helmets from the 14-18 war and antique hunting rifles for arms, maintaining guard on the northern ‘front’ of the island” (p. 191).
Bertrand has invented his own flag which he expects his comrades to salute. The French flag has disgraced itself.
The German tanks do come and Bertrand dies, deeply respected by the German tank commander. After the war, a plaque is erected on the order of Bernard’s democratic cousin, who had detested him but who seized on the political capital to made out of honoring the spot where he was killed:
“Here fell Bertrand Carré the first member of the resistance in Tourraine. He died for France at the age of fourteen years, assassinated by the nazis on 21 June 1940.”
The narrator comments wryly: “With the exception of the name, the age and the date, not a word was true” (p. 245).
Thus ends L’Ile Blue.
Raspail recognized the coward in himself, but embraced hazardous adventure. In 1949 he traveled by canoe from Quebec to New Orleans, following the line of the Pere Marquette railway. With Raspail, details and symbols matter. The Pere Marquette had merged with C&O in 1947, thus losing its individual identity. The railway was named after the Jesuit priest who founded the settlement of the City of Sault Sainte Marie on the US/Canadian border in Michigan. Raspail undertook his trip as adventure and voyage of discovery but also in memory of the priest who was one of the French founders of Canada, for in his travel accounts no less than in his novels, Raspail combined a zest for life with a deep sense of respect for those who had gone before him.
After his canoeing expedition, Raspail’s subsequent major exploit was a motoring trip from La Tierra del Fuego to Alaska, from September 25, 1951 to May 8, 1952, a trip then considerably more hazardous than today. The adventure led to the publication of his first book in 1952, an account of his voyage, Terre du Feu-Alaska. In 1954 he led a French exploration to find remains of the Incan Empire in Peru. He spent a year in Japan in 1956, memories of which inspired his first novel, published in 1958, Le Vent des Pins (The Wind of the Pines).
From his earliest accounts, it was clear that Raspail was a writer with very pronounced and unfashionable views. He was never an optimist. He did not believe that society was improving. He did not even share the relative optimism of an Oswald Spengler or any other theorist, political or religious, of historical cycles. During the decades of the Cold War, he sided with neither East nor West. Both lauded a vision of inexorable progress and endless material betterment and the interests of “Mister Average,” all of which was alien to Raspail’s nature.
Throughout his life, Raspail unwaveringly and unapologetically maintained a fundamental religious and political belief in the crucial role of hierarchy in maintaining order and harmony. In this, he neither wavered nor compromised. He was reactionary in the original sense of the word: acting in reaction to the slogans and ambitions of the French revolution, and to the secular globalist and egalitarian creeds of the post-war era which are indebted to that revolution. All his life he voiced his belief in the exclusive legitimacy of a monarchical system of government and was contemptuous of republicanism and democracy in all its many forms. He believed in the divine right of French kings and queens exclusively to embody the entire French nation. He looked down upon democratic politicians and the revolutionary tricolor flag, also waved by French nationalists, as expressions of illegitimate irreligious mob rule. In his strange novel Les Yeux d’Irene, (Irene’s Eyes), whose principal theme is the angelic and diabolic forces within the eternal feminine, modern architecture, motorways, and the mobs of the democratic world are described with a revulsion close to horror.
In 1992 Raspail founded Le Comité pour la Commémoration de la Mort de Louis XVI (Committee in Commemoration of the death of Louis XVI). His undying faith in the French monarchy offered new generations a vision of the monarchy as a promise and a debt of honor, and not simply “history.” History in Raspail’s understanding of the world and of time is not a collection of data about those who are dead and buried, but a perpetual call to duty and to arms. In the world in which Raspail lived and into which he invites us to enter, history is never dead, it is ever-living.
On January 21, 1993, he organized a rally in Paris at the Place de la Concorde in homage to the man he called the “Martyr King,” Louis XVII, executed on exactly the same spot two centuries previously. It would be quite wrong to imagine that Raspail was a lonely crank crying in the wilderness. His writings and his actions resonated. According to Karl Heinz Weissman, writing in the German weekly journal Junge Freiheit, sixty thousand persons, including the American Ambassador, Walter Curley, came to the Place de la Concorde in response to Raspail’s call to honor the martyred king.
Jean Raspail the nationalist “had France in his blood.” He felt bound to his country by ties of blood, of religion, and not least by ties of language. Despite or because of these positions, Jean Raspail was a cultural relativist, in the sense that he had evinced a profound respect for other nations and cultures, did not judge them from the position of a superior Christian, Westerner, white man, liberal, progressive, socialist, man of the Enlightenment, “democrat,” promoter of “European values,” or any other system which preaches loudly its claim to moral superiority while seeking quietly to advance its own material ends. On the contrary, this sage, knowledgeable, and tolerant man recognized and admired different nations and cultures as works of God in much the same way as one may admire the diversity of natural life as proof of the wonders of divine creation. He deplored and inveighed against, in his travel writings and in his fiction, every development that weakened or subverted cultural, tribal, or racial identity whatever the culture and whatever the race.
Raspail was tolerant of human differences, especially group differences; he was disdainful of surrender in the face of whatever poses an existential threat to that identity. He nevertheless, and this is not unproblematic, avoids notions of what is fair or not fair in the face of the relentless challenge of nature. He recognizes that the strong destroy the weak.
Anyone who ceases to remain loyal to the chain of ancestors or tradition or church which has molded them and created their identity ceases to carry the torch within them which is their will to survive. There is no overarching moral element here. (It might be argued that Raspail is more Nietzschean than Catholic in this respect.) Nature does not understand the morality of the triumph of force. Is there an absolute right? Are some actions more “god-like” for all cultures or should we consider that different behavior in terms of right and wrong is relative? This is an old dilemma and Raspail is aware of it, yet makes no attempt to resolve it.
More characteristic of anyone with strong religious beliefs is the certainty, in contrast to the moral relativism of writers like Nietzsche, that Good and Evil are absolute and timeless forces. Evil is an intangible but very real force in Raspail’s novels. It is characterized by its lust to overthrow all ceremony, custom, tradition, and respect. Evil is the spirit of disharmony. It rages against and assaults and violates beauty, hierarchy, control, and distance. Evil in Raspail’s works is characterized by a dissolution of the sacred and idolization of the profane and base. The opposite of man as a being attempting to mirror his God through the symbols of his culture is the being abandoned to the compulsion of the immediate act, committed without aspirations beyond the instinctive, destructive impulses of the moment. If evil can be summarized for Raspail, it would be in this way: evil seeks to spoil and destroy whatever is harmonious. It seeks to flatten.
In his majestic and deeply disturbing novel Sept cavaliers (beautifully captured for comic strip editions of the work by the artist and friend of the writer’s, Jacques Terpant) the reader is taken to a city that is not quite real in a country that is close to reality but also not quite real. Once prosperous and happy, the people have been overcome by a strange inscrutable cynicism, a destructive instinct. A malevolent inexplicable sentiment of resentment against all which is higher than oneself has crept inscrutably over the houses and into the hearts of men and women and most especially and horribly, children. When the novel begins, most of the city’s inhabitants have fled (to where, we are not told). No more trains arrive at the station. A gray evil, a despoiling force (readers may be reminded of Lovecraft here), has overtaken everything and nearly everyone. Seven riders leave the city to seek, to seek what? Answers? Assistance? At least to seek an alternative in the world beyond the city walls. The opening lines of this novel can be cited by heart by Raspail enthusiasts and are probably his most famous lines:
Seven knights left the City at dawn, facing the setting sun, by the Western Gate which was no longer guarded. Heads held high, not hiding, unlike those who had already fled the city. They were not fleeing and they were not betraying, still less were they hoping and they did not try to imagine. (p. 7)
These opening lines would have been familiar to faithful readers of Raspail’s novels who bought them as they were published, for the opening pages of Les Yeux d’Irène (The Eyes of Irene), published nearly a decade earlier in 1984, had opened with almost exactly the same three pages as Sept cavaliers, published in 1993. This is Raspail’s humor. In Les Yeux d’Irene, the narrator of the story, Frederick Pons, is trying to write a novel. After a few pages of what will later become Sept Cavaliers, he pushes his typewriter aside and another strange adventure begins which is the romance called Les Yeux d’Irène. Years later Raspail’s readers are given the novel that Frederick Pons had abandoned. So it is that in Raspail’s world biography and fiction are all but inseparable.
Sept Cavaliers describes an evil that is made manifest through events and actions but which is never defined or understood. Once there was harmony and order in the city. Then something changed, controlled or uncontrolled? A particularly memorable and unsettling scene is where Raspail describes how the children have been infected with the spirit of the spoiling force.
One a year at Christmas, the Margrave gave a reception in the castle to the top pupils of all the classes in the city, a hundred children aged between seven and thirteen for a puppet show, followed by a sumptuous meal. That is how it all began, at the time of that last Christmas. The children were installed in their usual places and the Margrave, as was the custom, made a short speech of welcome, which in contrast to all the previous years was received with only sporadic applause. Then came the moment for the puppet show to begin. It was about a poor clumsy and unfortunate baron who was persecuted because he had dared to set eyes upon a beautiful and noble lady coveted by a powerful lord. In the second act, metamorphosed by a good fairy, he overcomes all obstacles, escapes from all the traps, confounds his enemies and the Margrave consents to his marrying the beautiful lady, who falls into his arms, accompanied by the benediction of the cardinal and the acclamation of the people. The costumes were superb, the movements of the characters carried out perfectly, the story-line was appropriately edifying and well conceived, the dialogue powerful, abounding with humor and good sense, nevertheless the performance fell flat. The young audience remained deadly still throughout and any member of the audience who seemed to enjoy the show quickly ceased when they noticed how still their school mates were, as though something threatened them. When the curtain fell, uproar broke out. First of all there were whistles, then insults were hurled and expletives. Stamping their feet on the chairs, the boys began to hurl obscenities which nobody had imagined they could ever have uttered. The stage castle was attacked, smashed to pieces, reduced to a pile of planks and tissue by the enraged children. They took the puppets, removed the puppets’ clothes, dismembered them, crushed them with their heels. After the entire puppet show had been destroyed, they attacked the buffet which had been laid out for them. A valet was hurled out of the window. The others escaped just in time. . . . The guards had to be called. The boys leaped onto the guards’ shoulders and tried to gouge their eyes out with forks and knives. They bit to the bone any hands which tried to restrain them. . . (pp. 25-26)
How to explain this extraordinary outbreak which ceases as suddenly as it began?
A sage Jewish doctor of the city spoke of subconscious significations of a conduct which cannot be explained in terms of consciousness, the transfer of the conflict and nervous symptoms due to an excess of suppression in the face of social and moral demands. (p. 27)
So, “in the face of this irrevocable judgment,” nothing is done. Nothing seems to have changed, but everything has changed. For the city, it is the beginning of the end.
Jean Raspail is best known for his second published novel, the hugely successful dystopian Le Camp des Saints (The Camp of the Saints) published in 1973. The story recounts with the concentration and simple language of a thriller the day-to-day developments which ensue as the West learns that a huge Armada of famished refugees soon to be called “the last hope Armada” is making its way to Europe. The non-white world has stood up and is tramping and sailing to the white homelands.
Lacking spiritual robustness, lacking belief or any pride at all in itself, having lost its soul, the West and with it the white race, succumbs to annihilation in this futuristic (today how futuristic?) novel.
This ominously prescient tale of non-white invasion was a “one-off” inspiration, Raspail explained. He got the idea, he said, from gazing from Southern France onto the Mediterranean and asking himself “what if the masses of the non-white world just stood up in their millions and decided to come here? What then?”
What then indeed? would be the likely reaction of the liberal West. What if there was a mass migration which had grown tired of the qualifications and quotas and rights according to nationality, tired of borders erected to keep them out, and simply asserted the right of numbers, knowing that the West was hollowed out from within by humanism, sentimentality, and globalism. Would it have the natural instinct needed to organize physical resistance?
Like the Alakufe, the Caucasian of Le Camp des Saints is doomed to extinction, but unlike the Alakufe, the Caucasian does not have the excuse that physical resistance on his part is utterly futile. The challenger to the white man’s hegemony is not technically superior at all. The invaders of Le Camp des Saints arrive on the coast of France unarmed. The argument in this case that “resistance is futile” is a lie, it is the sophistry and deception of treachery. The invading migrants sense intuitively the self-doubt and self-hatred of the white man and that is the means by which the white race is exterminated.
This account of a non-white unarmed invasion of Europe is uncannily prophetic. The book abounds with scenes that then seemed inventive and are now disconcertingly familiar. The “no alternative” sophistry of Germany’s simpering Angela Merkel, the waving of hands of approaching immigrant ships, the exploitation of the international obligation to assist those struggling at sea, the exhortations to “embrace Christian values,” the repeated whine “it’s not their fault,” the propaganda in the classroom, the “refugees welcome” campaign, and exploitation of the natural generosity of the young, the treacherous prelates crooning and drooling for empathy for the non-white, non-Christian world, declaring it was a Christian duty to be “good Samaritans.”
It is a familiar tale of today. Raspail nailed them all. They are all there: the liberal schoolteacher, the pusillanimous and hypocritical politician, the subversive white-hating cleric, the violent Leftist, the business which strives to keep up with fashionable egalitarian ideas while hypocritically promoting a dream of exclusive luxury through public relations campaigns, the propaganda of media and education. Raspail knew it all and included it all. His insight into the mentality of the self-doubting white has never been portrayed with more vividness, more surety, accuracy by anyone. Writing in September 2015 in Le Figaro, André Bercoff noted that the book had become a chronicle of current affairs.
Le Camp des Saints was hugely successful. The first edition was published by Robert Laffont, a highly regarded and well-established publisher. The English translation was published by Sphere Books (sold to Penguin in 1985), then a highly successful paperback publisher. It is a sobering thought that had Jean Raspail attempted to publish Le Camp des Saints in 2020 he would almost certainly not have found a mainline publisher. That fact is itself further evidence of the accuracy of his vision.
In addition to its prescience, the novel is remarkable in being offensive and not defensive in its argumentation. It is the pro-immigrant who is put in the dock and called upon to justify his beliefs, not the reverse. It does not argue a case for ethnic exclusivity. Rather it demands: how could it be that people act against the interests of their own kind? From reading this novel, it is the globalist who has to justify his policies, not the white separatist who has to justify ethnic separatism. The English language edition published by Sphere Books printed a statement made by the late President Boumedine of Algeria two years after the publication of Le Camp des Saints:
Together we may be able to seek a new style of life which will make it possible to feed the over seven billion people who will be living on the earth in the year 2000. [At the time writing this review, February 2021, the world’s population is 7.8 billion.] If not, no quantity of atomic bombs will be able to stem the human tidal wave which will depart from the poorer quarters of the world and break into the relatively open spaces of the rich temperate zone, in search of survival.
In Raspail’s novel, the dam has broken. A million refugees from famine on the Indian sub-continent have seized a fleet of boats and set sail for the West. Theirs is seen as a test case. What will the West do? The novel is more than a prophecy of the Great Replacement, it is a merciless exposé of the contradictions inherent in any society preaching global benevolence. The novel makes for compulsive reading, with its fast pace, poignant scenes, and unerring citations, all overshadowed with a disquieting premonition that this is the tale of every white man’s tomorrow. When the refugees land, they realize that they can take more than just the south of France:
. . . the mob had developed a morale. A spirit of steel. A conquering spirit. The result was that more than three-quarters of the horde-the strongest and most adventurous-decided not to stop, but to push on still further. Later, historians would turn this spontaneous migration into an epic, dubbed “The Winning of the North”, a term we agree with, but only by comparison. One can’t help thinking of the first panel of the diptych: the flight to the north, the pathetic exodus of the country’s rightful owners, their self-willed downfall, their odious surrender. (p. 288)
The non-white world realizes that the will has gone to resist it. The non-white world simply takes over. National borders count for nothing. There are no more national walls.
In the Philippines, in the all stifling third World ports, Jakarta, Karachi, Conakry and again in Calcutta, other huge armadas were ready to weigh anchor, bound for Australia, New Zealand, Europe. Carpet like, the great migration was beginning to unroll. Not for the first time either, if we pore over history. Many a civilization, victim of the self same fate, sits tucked in our museums, under glass neatly labeled. But man seldom learns from the lessons of the past. . . (p. 301)
The author’s very brief preface is utterly chilling. Here it is in full:
I had wanted to write a lengthy preface to explain my position and show that this is no wild-eyed dream; that even if the specific action, symbolic as it is, may seem far-fetched, the fact remains that we are inevitably heading for something of the sort. We need only glance at the awesome population figures predicted for the year 20000 ie twenty-eight years from now: seven billion people, only nine hundred million of whom will be white.
But what good would it do?
I should at least point out, however, that many of the texts I have put into my characters’ mouths or pens: editorials, speeches, pastoral letters, laws, news stories, statements of every description, are, in fact authentic. Perhaps the reader will spot them as they go by. In terms of the fictional statement I have presented, they become all the more revealing.
The traditional author’s disclaimer in reverse! Raspail is calmly assuring the reader that his dystopian novel draws from real life and extrapolates to paint a picture of the collapse of the white world.
Despite the warnings of the President of Algeria, it is likely that had Western nations swept the beaches with machine gun fire when a wave of invaders lands on the beaches, other invaders will have second thoughts about migrating to the promised white man’s land. But it was not to be in Raspail’s story. White nations had lost the will to live, the inexpressible but immediately recognizable determination to nurture and propagate an image of oneself in the world and the flow of time. The white world in Le Camp des Saints having lost the will to maintain itself, firstly physically and secondly in its symbols, traditions, and ceremonies, including music and prayer, is propelled naturally into extinction. Prayer or the failure to pray plays a key role in Raspail’s novels. Prayer is the expression of undying hope. The lost whites of Le Camp des Saints do not pray. All those who believe in themselves, so Raspail, pray in their hearts. Prayer is the grace-given expression of hope and the inability to pray, or worse still, a rejection of prayer as superstition or no longer effective, is a sure sign that a group a tribe, a religion, a race, a nation, is standing before the abyss.
The title The Camp of the Saints is taken from the Book of Revelations 20:9. “And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about and the beloved city.”
Raspail likes playing games with his readers. The citation from Le Camp des Saints is incomplete. The verse continues: “and fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them.”
The extreme darkness of the novel therefore contains the thin ray of hope, the voice in Pandora’s box, and for a devout Catholic, one of the ever-living three virtues.
How can this disinterested attitude to the tides of human history and the inevitable decline and disappearance of those who have lost the will to live be reconciled with a morality laid down by a unique, omniscient, and universal divinity? It may be seen as a weakness or as a blessing, but despite his religious faith or because of it, Raspail persistently evaded theological speculation and dilemma. Religious faith for Raspail seems not to be a matter of theological thought or arriving at a universal eternal truth so much as a question of loyalty, symbol, and soul. A writer less persuasive, less sincere, would be accused of adopting a pose. However, Raspail’s sincerity weighs heavier than the dandyism.
L’Anneau du pêcheur, (The Fisher’s Ring) which swings, sometimes dizzily, from the present day to the fourteenth century and back again, half-thriller and half-historical treatise, is the work in which Raspail makes his clearest statement of fundamentalist Roman Catholic faith, but L’Anneau du pêcheur is not principally about religious doctrine. It deals with the wholly unfashionable and largely forgotten “Great Schism” in which Raspail upholds the cause of the “anti-pope” Benedict XIII on the grounds that he was the only Pope (the Church had three competing Popes at the time) to be chosen as cardinal by the last legitimate Pope.
The reader is confronted with the issue of the legitimacy of the Papacy. Far from attempting, as practically every Catholic writer would do, to explain misdeeds by Popes as sins of the past — we are all human, etc. — Raspail sinks himself into the past and takes sides in the Great Schism. He sides with the Spaniard Pedro Martinez de Luna, elected by conclave in Avignon to become Pope Benedict XIII (1394-1417 or 1423, depending on which side one is on). Benedict insisted that he was legitimate Pope against a rival’s claims in Rome on the grounds that he was the only living cardinal created by Gregory XI, (1370-1378) the last Pope before the Schism.
The official Roman Catholic account is that the first Benedict XIII whom Raspail regards as the true and legitimate pope was an “antipope,” and as happens in the case of embarrassing popes, another pope with the same name was later elected by conclave. Having two popes with the same name has been used several times in the history of the popes when the need is felt to obscure the memory of a scandalous earlier pope (there has twice been a Pope John XXIII for example) and the second Pope Benedict XIII was pope in the seventeenth century.
The Great Schism was closed by the Council of Constance in 1418, but Raspail — “the passionate champion of lost causes” — disputes that council’s legitimacy.
His novel mixes the mystery of the past with the present. In the town of Rodez in 1993, an old man arrives on foot, carrying with him a scrip in which is laid the Fisher’s Ring, emblem of the line of popes which can be traced back to Benedict XIII. All this will seem obscure and irrelevant to many readers, but Raspail is insisting on the necessity for hope in any cause, however obscure, in which a man has undying faith. It is for Raspail literally a religious duty to hold to faith and what is legitimate in one’s own eyes. He is too intelligent a writer not to realize that what concerns him deeply will not concern, even need not concern, others. He is able as a writer to maintain a complete seriousness on the issues to which he is committed, while at the same time he is able to regard himself and his concerns with a certain compassion, a remarkable and striking quality of the man and the writer. It is best apprehended by actually reading his books.
Despite its great difference to Le Camp des Saints (in some respects it resembles a thriller by Dan Brown), L’Anneau du pêcheur shares many characteristics: a passionate devotion to what is right despite all persecution and suffering, an awareness of the significance and strength of symbols and gestures, a belief in the good, and hope somehow and somewhere enduring and persisting. In Le Camp des Saints, a small group of paratroopers accepts the foredoomed assignment of offering armed resistance to the human tsunami. It is a gesture of faith in their race and their nation in what they are as beings accountable to a divinity that shapes all our ends. Resistance is a religious act of faith and a redemption from failure and sin. Similarly, in L’Anneau et le Pecheur, the symbol of the ring transferred from one generation to the next of those popes who for Raspail are legitimate, is a pure act, a symbolic act, an act of fulfillment and grace. These purifying acts are the essence of Raspail’s profound and guiding religious faith.
In all of Raspail’s fictional works, two great forces are evident and described. The first is fate, invoked by sometimes occult but nevertheless omnipotent natural laws; for example, the survival of the strongest, the fatal consequences of physical or spiritual weakness. The second is resistance, the demand that love places on the faithful, even to the point of heroic sacrifice, agony, death. Martyrs are witnesses down through time to their truth.
The last lines of L’Anneau du Pêcheur highlight the dry cynicism and a certain world-weary humor that cheerily accompany this earnest faith. It is characteristic of Raspail the Catholic, the royalist, the patriot, the explorer, the anthropologist, the man for whom tradition and spiritual commitments were living injunctions, not pious oaths alone, to never abandon humor.
Any visitor today finding his way among the holy Vatican grottoes under the basilisk, among the tombs of the popes, and a fair number of princes and saints too, will probably not have his or her attention drawn by a modest sarcophagus of marble white, of recent date placed along the wall, behind to tomb of Saint Christina of Sweden. A solitary inscription on the side BENEDICTUS. The nearest neighbor is John XXIII. Not Baldassare X Cosa, the Pope from Pisa who was perhaps the real pope with that name but certainly a false pope deposed by the Council of Constance which he himself convoked, but Angelo Roncalli, Pope John XXIII b as it were, who was also unwise enough to convoke a council. It was called Vatican II, and it buried him. (p. 309)
Raspail’s funeral took place in the stately Eglise Saint Roche in the Rue Saint Honoré in Paris on June 16, 2020. Among other dignitaries, including the Count of Paris, the heir-apparent to the Kingdom of Araucania and Patagonia was in attendance.
The coffin of the deceased was draped not in the French tricolor, as would be customary at funerals of French dignitaries and celebrities, but in a flag of blue, white, and green horizontal stripes: the flag of the Kingdom of Patagonia.
* * *
I would like to draw your attention to the following works on this site.
- Anonymous, “Before & After the Camp of the Saints“
- Interview with Jean Raspail (German translation here)
Making substantial reference to Raspail:
- Fenek Solère, “Apocalypse Now,” Part 1, Part 2, Part 3
- Michael Walker reviews Derek Turner’s Sea Changes
See also articles tagged Jean Raspail.
All translations are the author’s own.
The Gentleman Rogue: George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman
Western Civilization Is Destroying Its Historical Heritage, Part II
Anti-Racism Comes for the Church: The Case of Thomas Achord
Sexual Utopia in Stockholm
Football’s Race War
The Honorable Cause: A Review
George Friedman’s The Next 100 Years
Remembering Oswald Spengler (May 29, 1880-May 8, 1936)
In “Camp of the Saints”, (1973), Raspail wrote a futurist satire of the most-frightening issue of our time: the massive Third World overpopulation crisis that is threatening the downfall of Western Civilization through unbridled illegal immigration throughout the West. He narrows it down to tracking a small flotilla of broken-down boats leaving India, the poster-child of the crisis, headed to France –the narrator’s home — and within this personal microcosm, illustrates the enormity of the threat worldwide.
Raspail is one of our finest and most prescient prophets, and deserving of our bent knee.
IMO, COTS was the last and arguably greatest of the five most perceptive dystopias of 20th century literature, the others being Zamyatin, We; Huxley, Brave New World; Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four; and perhaps somewhat idiosyncratically on my part, Burgess, A Clockwork Orange. COTS was the most prophetic; most psychologically realistic; and, I argue, best written (in literary terms).
A masterpiece which I bought ‘used’ over 30 years ago, finding it in nearly new physical condition in a university sale book bin for $.50. What a treasure! I had actually gone to the university that pre-internet day to buy some academic books from the campus book store. But COTS, with its blurb about “a chilling depiction of the end of the white world”, was my ‘marquee’ find of that day. I had heard of it, I think via references in Instauration, to which I was then a subscriber, but I’d never seen a copy and really didn’t know anything about it. Once I started reading a few pages into the first chapter, I was hooked.
I’ve read COTS twice, as well as at least one essay in the magazine Chronicles written by Raspail (and perhaps a few others which dealt with his work). Beyond that, however, I knew little about the man and his other work until reading this excellent biographical overview and literary analysis. I hadn’t realized that Raspail was so much more than a “one hit wonder”. What a shining exemplar he was of true (non-classical/non-neoliberal) conservatism! This remembrance makes me want to try to relearn (and improve) my old high school French literacy.
As a Vice-Consul of the Kingdom of Patagonia, the flag of blue, white and green stripes flies in front of my house.
“Evil is an intangible but very real force in Raspail’s novels. It is characterized by its lust to overthrow all ceremony, custom, tradition, and respect.”
We sure live in Evil times!
I really wish that more of his books were available in English. After reading this article I went for a search on some of his works and see that only really Camp of the Saints is available in English!
Really wish I could remember the French I learned in my public school days!
Thanks for the article.
I’ve been thinking about this article all day. I think that this man, along with Nicolas Gomez Davila (another Catholic traditionalist), urgently need to have their works translated into English.
Great to have Mr Walker back. Superb article as always. I was aware of the book because I also read Instauration while at Penn but didn’t realise that there was so much more to Raspail than COTS. Unfortunately, I never found a copy in the bargain bin but back then The Dispossessed Majority did make the shelves of the two campus bookstores. Hard to imagine these days. Probably because Banfield was on the staff at the time and had just published the Unheavenly City. It sparked outrage as it was Phillie to a “T”. Shortly after he moved on to Yale I think. So never got a copy and just checked Via Libri. Second-hand copies retail for around $2-300 and first editions for $Ks. This is something I’ve observed with other heretical texts. I suspect it’s more about politics than scarcity: make the unorthodox practically unavailable. A re-print could be a good business venture as well as both necessary and welcome.
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