The End of the West
Science fiction is full of stories about the end of the world. I've never cared much for this kind of story. Their only value (it seems to me) is the warning they offer against disasters that may yet be averted; and the disasters they suppose are usually so far-fetched that one can't seriously worry about them.
The Camp of the Saints, by Jean Raspail, is about the end of the world -- the only world that matters: the Western world. Western civilization is not destroyed by a meteor, nor some new plague, nor pollution, nor nuclear war. It is destroyed by an alien invasion: not aliens from outer space, but from the Third World.
(Of course, with the breakdown of the "Second World" as originally conceived -- i.e., the Soviet bloc -- it is no longer the "Third" World. Perhaps the modernized East Asian countries may be taken as replacing the original Second World.)
This is the most harrowing book I've ever read. It didn't age me quite as badly as the man who wrote it, who said afterwards: "I came out of those eighteen months of work unrecognizable ... my face exhausted, older by ten years than my age today, and with the look of someone tormented by too many visions." I am still relatively young and basically optimistic; somehow, deep inside, I cannot believe that my world, the only world that matters, will ever end. But the thought that it could end -- that's profoundly disturbing and depressing.
The plot is very simple, and the quasi-documentary style is riveting. A million starving, filthy, disease-ridden Hindus set sail for the south of France, expecting to find Paradise. The French are struck by a paralyzing "social conscience," unwilling to defend themselves from this pacifistic invasion. France is overrun, followed by the whole Western world, as all the alien, inferior, and envious peoples of the Earth take their revenge upon our superiority. A brave and clear-eyed handful of Westerners (including a Frenchified Indian named Hamadura, ex-deputy from Pondicherry) go down fighting -- killed, in the end, not by the Hindus but by the French government. In a triumph of altruism, Europe and America are dragged down into the rest of the world's squalor and wretchedness.
This book is a classic, a masterpiece, from a purely literary point of view. It is deep and rich, full of comedy as well as tragedy, impressing unforgettable scenes and characters into one's imagination, and having an unparalleled insight into the morbid psychology of altruism, of the "social conscience."
No doubt every anti-Westerner in the world will denounce this book as "racist," probably without bothering to read it. They would still call it "racist" if they actually looked at every page from beginning to end, since that sort of person is incapable of allowing their minds to grasp what a book like this actually says, and take it seriously. Moreover, the same sort of person subscribes to the noxious double standard according to which non-white and anti-white racism are inconceivable, or impossible, or excusable, or acceptable, or laudable; so their moral judgment isn't worth a damn.
Raspail casts about for a way of making "the West" a vivid and coherent ideal. In the process, he identifies it alternatively with both Christendom and the white race -- but always ambivalently, using them only as symbols, always aware that Christianity and racism are inconsistent with each other and with reality. (Religion, race, and civilization have never been coterminous; this should be obvious to anyone who knows anything about history and geography.) He tacitly regards such Western institutions as science, industry, and democracy -- the real sources of our wealth and power -- as epiphenomena. He fails to conceive of the West as a quasi-organic cultural unit, a family of nations, subsuming and transcending the various parochial nations and nationalisms within the West. Within his limits, however, he does a superb job of evoking the grandeur of our civilization and the horror of its downfall.
As for the enemies of the West, he shows them all -- white and non-white, Christian and non-Christian -- pinning them down on the page like an entomologist's collection of bugs. Behind them, he posits a supernatural force he calls "the beast" (as in Revelation): a powerful symbol of nihilism, perhaps more effective than his symbols of the West. At the same time, Raspail casts about for reasons why the West would allow itself to be overrun and destroyed, each time echoing the haunting refrain: "Could that be one explanation?" In the end, he leaves us with no conclusive answer; but after all, he is a novelist, not an historian or philosopher.
The Camp of the Saints is an allegory, compressing a long-drawn-out historical process into three days. This process is well underway, but far from over. If the moral and intellectual poison of nihilism is ever purged from the Western soul, and if the alien invaders are ever purged from the Western body politic (or assimilated into it), it will surely be remembered as both a great book in its own right, and an historic rallying-cry against our enemies; if not, it and all other Western literature will be obliterated and forgotten.
© 2001 by Karl Jahn