On June 13, Jean Raspail passed away as he was about to celebrate his 95th birthday. This exceptional man had led so many different lives that it would be difficult to pay tribute to him without omitting whole sections of his life. That is why, for now, I would like to only remember the writer and the fighter that he was.
I know how unfair it is for me to ignore his first ‘profession’ — as an explorer and inventor of lost worlds. Nor should I forget that mythical and ghostly kingdom of Patagonia that he so beautifully brought to life — and which so many ‘citizens’ and so many ‘diplomats’ still represent with dignity in our old country of France. But others will do better than me to relive these facets of his life and character. For my part, I have only known — usually from afar — the writer and the fighter.
My first meeting with Jean Raspail dates back to 1993. When I say “encounter,” I mean that I was one of the countless French people present in the huge crowd that swarmed onto the Place de la Concorde on that beautiful day of January 21 to commemorate the assassination of Louis XVI. Raspail was speaking from the rostrum — the very place where, 200 years earlier, the Son of Saint Louis had given his soul back to God.
On that occasion, the writer had managed — as few others have — to fill one of the largest squares in Paris for this magnificent tribute. And I still vividly recall the incredible atmosphere of remembrance that reigned as we listened to the poignant testament of the martyred king. It had taken a lot of energy (and, to be honest, great faith) to embark on the organizational adventure that had led to that day — especially since that no political authority, not even ecclesiastical, had given any support to the undertaking. But given the size of the crowds, it was obvious that it was the deep wish of many, many people to see it succeed.
A few months later, having joined the team of my old comrade Daniel Hamiche, I was quickly put in charge of the editorial staff of Légitimiste, which had become the only remaining post-war royalist weekly. It was there, in the editorial department of the Duke of Anjou — who embodied and continues to embody the principles of the counter-revolution — that I had the opportunity to enter into occasional epistolary relations with the great writer.
At the time, Raspail had just published L’anneau du pêcheur, a magnificent novel about the end of the Avignon Papacy — and my dear friend, Father Chanut, a tireless supporter of Legitimacy, had greatly helped him in his historical research. In reviewing the work, I had been struck by the author’s deep pessimism: as in Sire, which had enchanted me a few years earlier, legitimacy and authority were separated, almost opposed. So, at the tender age of 20, I took the liberty of ‘lecturing’ Raspail and saying that such a separation — alas, at present, all too real — could not be the natural situation of man or of society. To my great surprise, he had readily agreed with me — but clarifying that one should not see political reflection where there was only romantic reverie.
He was too humble: his romantic reverie did indeed give rise to political thought. In this matter it is, of course, Le Camp des saints above all that we should mention. As early as 1973 (the year I was born!), Raspail had predicted that France would die from immigration — from a strange invasion that today hardly anyone dares to criticize, that many even take pride in longing for. Few politicians have had the same foresight. His most prescient prediction in that superb, desperate novel was that a mixture of devious Christian humanitarianism and anti-Christian nihilism would be invented which, together, would help kill the nation. At the time, such a nightmare seemed absurd. But now, almost 50 years later, it no longer seems so.
The fact remains that, as a lover of vanished worlds, Raspail admitted — all too easily, in my opinion — that our great civilization could also disappear like so many other wonders. It is a certainty that Christian civilization, French civilization, are both fragile and are by no means guaranteed to last until the end of time. But today they are doubly threatened — by the post-modern nihilism of the “culture of death” and the LGBT lobbies, on the one hand, and by an archaic form of Islam, on the other. Christian and Latin North Africa was also a marvel of civilization and refinement; but it was swallowed up by the Islamic invasions and has never recovered its way of life. Why should the same not be true of France, which, after all, has already known a much longer life than Saint Cyprian’s Christian Carthage? To this nagging question, I have only two answers, neither of which is really satisfactory.
The first is faith. As Raspail had so magnificently expressed in so many of his novels, France and Europe have a very specific link with the sacred, a unique way of building “the city of man.” I cannot believe that God would allow this grandiose originality disappear. The second is the emergence of magnificent Christian youth. No, I do not believe that our old Christian nations are destined to be superseded by the “meaning of history.” Not only because I do not believe in that meaning of history (I am not “progressive” enough for that!); but also because we have seen that the ’68 generation of hedonists, individualists, and materialists — those who ravaged France, Europe, and the West as a whole — no longer have any wind in their sails. A large part of Western youth has now entered into rebellion against the force-feeding of this tired counterculture’s values. While it is true that too many rootless young people are now turning to Islamism to satisfy their thirst for ideals, young Christians are not giving in to such foolishness. Look at the ‘March for Life’ in Paris and you will be struck by the youthfulness of the demonstrators. Even the leftist daily Libération is obliged to acknowledge this. Or look at one of the great pilgrimages of Christianity, from Paris to Chartres, at Pentecost.
The treasures of Christian civilization, so beautifully eulogized by Raspail, are still very much alive. And I believe that Charles Péguy’s “little girl Hope” [from his 1912 poem] — who we sometimes come across at the turn of one of Raspail’s dark pages (where he describes contemporary materialistic Hell) — does indeed have a future ahead of her.
In the meantime, Raspail — who I had often chanced upon, in one place or another, always with the same pleasure, in such and such a dedication or such and such a “moderately social-democratic” gathering — met the Father of this little girl named Hope. The old lion can finally rest in the company of the saints of France and all those heroes, those kings, those peasants, that brave band of our forefathers whom the present oligarchs despise but who continue to speak powerfully to the people of France. I pray for the eternal rest of this great predecessor. Requiescat in pace!
Guillaume de Thieulloy is a political scientist and a publisher in Paris. He is also the founder of the Renaissance Institute.
This article appears with the headline “Jean Raspail (1925-2020)” in the Summer/Fall 2020 edition of The European Conservative, Number 17: 86-88.