Europe is more than a year into the largest migrant crisis since the Second World War. More than a million have made their way to Germany alone over the past year. Some are refugees and asylum-seekers from Syria and Iraq, but it now appears that a significant number, as much as 60 percent, are economic migrants from North Africa, Afghanistan, and the Middle East, simply seeking better prospects in Europe.
The European Union, thanks to its common border policy, is overwhelmed and paralyzed—that border union has proven to be only as strong as its weakest member. Once inside the EU, migrants can travel to whichever country seems most welcoming inside the 26-state Schengen area. Some countries, in defiance of EU rules, have imposed unilateral border controls and asylum caps as thousands more arrive daily from Turkey and elsewhere. EU leaders recently agreed to an emergency measure that allows Great Britain to restrict welfare benefits for EU migrants even as a so-called “Brexit,” or a British exit from the EU, looms as a real possibility.
Europeans leaders are of course trying to downplay the severity of the crisis even as its disruptive effects become impossible to ignore. On New Year’s Eve in cities across Germany, gangs of Arab and North African men, some of whom were later discovered to be asylum-seekers, robbed and sexually assaulted scores of women. Before police had completed their investigation, the European Commission declared there was “no link” between the migrant crisis and the attacks, the incidents were merely “a matter of public order.” Fearing a xenophobic backlash, the commission proclaimed itself “the voice of reason.”
Late Measures Are Cold Comfort
Such talk has been common in Europe over the past year. But it’s cold comfort for a growing number of Europeans who have waning confidence that their governments are able or willing to stop the flow of migrants. One February poll found 58 percent of Germans want border controls to keep out migrants even if it hurts the economy, and more than half don’t believe it will be possible to integrate migrants into German society. Across the continent, political leaders are losing popular support.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s approval rate is at a four-year low, with only 46 percent of Germans supporting her (from a high of 75 percent in April 2015). François Hollande could become the first sitting French president to face a primary challenge from within his own party as it becomes clear he could lose a 2017 contest to the right-wing National Front’s Marine Le Pen over the migrant crisis.
The problem for Europe’s leaders, as Douglas Murray wrote recently in The Spectator, is that voters simply don’t believe they will do anything:
Now there are the usual attempts to crowd-please from certain politicians and officials who are talking about how they might have to deport these people. But they won’t, will they? Does anybody honestly believe that the Swedish authorities are currently preparing to deport 80,000 fake asylum seekers from their country?
[…] Given that it has taken in more than a million people in the last twelve months, is Germany now going to deport as many as three quarters of a million fake asylum seekers from its territory? Of course not. They will not even attempt it. Everybody in Europe knows that. And everybody following events and weighing up their chances from outside Europe knows that.
A Prophetic, Apocalyptic Tale
All of this calls to mind a 1973 novel by French writer Jean Raspail—The Camp of the Saints, an apocalyptic tale about the collapse of European civilization. Much of it could be lifted from the news coming out of Europe. In the book, one million impoverished Indians make their way by boat from the Ganges to the shores of southern France with no intention of adopting French ways; they come simply to claim for themselves what Europeans have and they do not.
Unwilling to turn away the Ganges fleet for what they claim is universal brotherhood and compassion—but is in fact Western guilt—the government and all the country’s major institutions agree the migrants must be welcomed as a matter of moral duty and penance for France’s past sins. When the armada finally makes landfall, French society breaks down, exhausted and acquiescent, passively colonized by an unarmed army of castaways.
At the heart of the novel is a moral question: Is the West willing to defend itself? Denounced upon publication four decades ago as a racist, xenophobic fantasy, Raspail’s book now seems vaguely prophetic—not because of what it tells us about refugees from the Third World but because of what it reveals about European civilization.
The circumstances of today’s migrants are certainly different than Raspail’s Indians, but the feckless response of European leaders are eerily similar to those in the novel. When news of the Ganges fleet—a hundred derelict ships each with a thousand wretched passengers—reaches France, government officials call a press conference to express their solidarity.
“Far be it from us to pass judgment,” one choked up minister says. “Far better to think of these poor, homeless souls as citizens of the world, in search of their promised land.” Calling for an international commission to provide the fleet with food and supplies, the minister cautions that, “Whatever qualms some of us may have about the outcome of an affair unparalleled in its desperation, we are duty-bound to keep them to ourselves, and to say for all to hear: ‘These men are my brothers!’”
How Civilizations Die
When The Camp of the Saints first appeared in English in 1975, a review for The New York Times declared that “reading Jean Raspail’s novel The Camp of the Saints is like being trapped at a cocktail party with a normal-looking fellow who suddenly starts a perfervid racist diatribe.”
Time magazine ran a review under the headline, “Poor White Trash,” and said it read like it had “come off a mimeograph machine in some dank cellar.” Others called it a “fascist fantasy,” a “jerry-built nightmare,” and a “flood of bilious exacerbation from France.” As recently as September of last year, Rod Dreher echoed these sentiments, calling it “a repulsive book” that endorses “white supremacy.”
But in fact, Raspail has nothing much to say about race. Only a reader looking for an easy way to dismiss his larger thesis would find racism or fascism at the heart of the novel. The Indians of the Ganges fleet are a rather obvious stand-in for impoverished migrants from what is today politely called the “developing” world, and Raspail is not primarily concerned with them but with France and European civilization at large. In the introduction to a 1985 reprint, Raspail explains that he chose as his migrant antagonists Indians, and not the nearby North Africans and Arabs, because of a “refusal to enter the false debate about racism and anti-racism in French daily life.”
Careful readers have understood this. When National Review covered The Camp of the Saints upon its first publication in English, in 1975, reviewer Jeffery Hart argued the racism label was inapt. “Raspail is not really writing about race—he is writing about civilization, and in particular the civilization of the West,” wrote Hart. “He is stating an obvious but outrageous truth. Civilization involves particular forms of being. It is not an amorphous mass.”
Raspail’s story, that is, is not about white supremacy but about how civilizations die. His argument is that they die of neglect. To properly speak of culture is to describe something alive, but the French society sketched out in The Camp of the Saints has lost its will to live, and therefore its ability to defend itself from those who seek to conquer it. No one cares enough to water the garden, and it withers.
What Migrants Believe Matters
To use a contemporary term, we might say that Raspail rejects multiculturalism—not as a preference, but as a possibility. In the long term, Europe can either prefer its own civilization and culture, and defend it, or capitulate to another. But it cannot, as the novel tells it, absorb masses of unassimilated members of another culture and expect to survive. It will be changed forever, and the change will be in the direction of the immigrants’ way of life, and away from that of the native-born. This is a difficult truth to accept in our egalitarian age.
But Raspail demands an answer. Even Dreher, though repulsed, admits that the novel poses serious questions, “even if Raspail answers them in a way that provokes disgust, and that Christians, at least, will find unacceptable.” Perhaps not all Christians. After all, much of what Christianity has bequeathed to the West is clarity about human nature. The fragile thing the American Founders built is based after all on a rigorous acceptance of a Christian view of human nature: All men are created equal. But we know from hard experience that this is not a “universal value.” It is not indigenous to all the world’s cultures.
European leaders don’t want to admit this, but it can’t be denied: What migrants believe has a great deal to do with whether and how they will assimilate. Europe, of all places, should know this. The EU has decades of experience with unassimilated Muslim migrants—entire communities and neighborhoods spanning two and three generations, the most recent of which are arguably less assimilated than their parents. In most EU countries they form an isolated underclass with very few ties or allegiance to their host country.
The Immigration Marriage Problem
In 2009, Christopher Caldwell wrote a brilliant, disquieting book about what this seething Muslim population portends for Europe. The marital behavior of Muslim immigrants gets special attention, in part because it demonstrates the depth of the cultural problem. Caldwell puts it bluntly: “In a lot of European countries, marriage is not just an aspect of the immigration problem; it is the immigration problem.”
That’s because many Muslim immigrants don’t marry Europeans or even European-born “westernized” Muslims; they import spouses, often underage girls, from their ethnic homelands. In Germany, half of ethnically Turkish Germans seek spouses in Turkey. In Denmark, a large majority of Turks and Pakistanis do the same—and not just immigrants, but also second and third-generation descendants of immigrants. In France, family-related immigration makes up 78 percent of permanent legal immigration. Perhaps this wouldn’t be a problem if all these spouses were assimilating, but they’re not.
Such trends refute the empty platitudes of European leaders such as former president of the Italian Senate Marcello Pera, who said that any migration from place A to place B showed the superiority of B. That Muslims are migrating to Europe en masse but rejecting Europeans as suitable spouses, “shows that you can migrate to a place while being hostile to it, or at least while holding it in no special regard,” writes Caldwell. “Yes, immigrants ‘just want a better life,’ as the cliché goes. But they don’t necessarily want a European life. They may want a Third World life at a European standard of living.”
A Fundamental Clash of Cultures
In the face of such a large-scale choice not to assimilate, European governments have found themselves powerless to act without compromising the rights of the entire populations. Consider the Danish marriage law. In the wake of the 2004 murder of Theo Van Gogh, the Netherlands passed a law requiring civics examinations and language tests on anyone seeking to marry a Dutch citizen. Germany passed a similar law. “What makes the measure defensible against EU human rights laws is that it is race, religion, and ethnicity-blind,” writes Caldwell. “It achieves this race blindness by stripping rights wantonly from all citizens, rather than targeting the problem it seeks to address.”
Because Europeans believe, or at least claim to believe, their values are universal and not tied to any particular culture, they are forced to be disingenuous about the need for such laws in the first place. Caldwell quotes former British cabinet member George Walden musing on what he’d do about Islam in Britain were he still in office. His lines could have come verbatim from a character in The Camp of the Saints:
I’d be so alarmed by the situation I’d do everything possible to suggest it was under control. It’s up to politicians to play mood music in a crisis, and up to the people to understand that there’s little else governments can do. The last thing they can say is that we face a threat to which we can see no end because it’s based on a fundamental clash of cultures. On the IRA we told the truth; on the Islamic problem, we lie.
Raspail, who today is 90 years old, would likely not be surprised at this because he understands the problem is not a matter of policy or politics. It’s something deeper. “The West is empty,” he wrote in that 1985 introduction, “even if it has not yet become really aware of it. An extraordinarily inventive civilization, surely the only one capable of meeting the challenges of the third millennium, the West has no soul left.”
Lose Your Culture, Lose Your Soul
Once you get beyond the handwringing about racism and fascism, Raspail’s polemical—at times frantic—novel is really about this collective loss of soul. A culture is in the end a way of life, even an identity. When one grows to love all the particular customs and traditions of one’s culture, it can be very much like loving a person. It is something unique in the world, and it belongs to you.
The Camp of the Saints opens with a portrait of someone like this, an old professor who dearly loves his country and his culture. He is the last person in his village the night before the Ganges fleet makes landfall. Everyone else has long since fled, but he will not go. He lives in a house built by his ancestors in 1673 and occupied by his family in an unbroken line since then. On that last night, he prepares for himself a great feast, carefully laying it all out on a massive table.
While the old man sat there, eating and drinking, savoring swallow after swallow, he set his eyes wandering over the spacious room. A time-consuming task, since his glance stopped to linger on everything it touched, and since every confrontation was a new act of love. Now and then his eyes would fill with tears, but they were tears of joy. Each object in this house proclaimed the dignity of those who had lived here—their discretion, their propriety, their reserve, their taste for those solid traditions that one generation can pass on to the next, so long as it still takes pride in itself. And the old man’s soul was in everything, too. In the fine old bindings, the rustic benches, the Virgin carved in wood, the big cane chairs, the hexagonal tiles, the beams in the ceiling, the ivory crucifix with its sprig of dried boxwood, and a hundred other things as well.
The book ends as it begins, with a sense of deep personal loss. The narrator is writing from Switzerland, the last European country to capitulate to the migrant invaders. He sits alone, the night before the borders are to be opened, “slowly repeating, over and over, the melancholy words of an old prince Bibesco, trying to drum them into my head: ‘The fall of Constantinople is a personal misfortune that happened to all of us only last week.’”