The French Origins of “You Will Not Replace Us” | The New Yorker

Good long read:

The Château de Plieux, a fortified castle on a hilltop in the Gascony region of southwestern France, overlooks rolling fields speckled with copses and farmhouses. A tricolor flag snaps above the worn beige stone. The northwest tower, which was built in the fourteenth century, offers an ideal position from which to survey invading hordes. Inside the château’s cavernous second-story study, at a desk heavy with books, the seventy-one-year-old owner of the property, Renaud Camus, sits at an iMac and tweets dire warnings about Europe’s demographic doom.

On the sweltering June afternoon that I visited the castle, Camus—no relation to Albert—wore a tan summer suit and a tie. Several painted self-portraits hung in the study, multiplying his blue-eyed gaze. Camus has spent most of his career as a critic, novelist, diarist, and travel essayist. The only one of his hundred or so books to be translated into English, “Tricks” (1979), announces itself as “a sexual odyssey—man-to-man,” and includes a foreword by Roland Barthes. The book describes polyglot assignations from Milan to the Bronx. Allen Ginsberg said of it, “Camus’s world is completely that of a new urban homosexual; at ease in half a dozen countries.”

In recent years, though, Camus’s name has been associated less with erotica than with a single poignant phrase, le grand remplacement. In 2012, he made this the title of an alarmist book. Native “white” Europeans, he argues, are being reverse-colonized by black and brown immigrants, who are flooding the Continent in what amounts to an extinction-level event. “The great replacement is very simple,” he has said. “You have one people, and in the space of a generation you have a different people.” The specific identity of the replacement population, he suggests, is of less importance than the act of replacement itself. “Individuals, yes, can join a people, integrate with it, assimilate to it,” he writes in the book. “But peoples, civilizations, religions—and especially when these religions are themselves civilizations, types of society, almost States—cannot and cannot even want to . . . blend into other peoples, other civilizations.”

Camus believes that all Western countries are faced with varying degrees of “ethnic and civilizational substitution.” He points to the increasing prevalence of Spanish, and other foreign languages, in the United States as evidence of the same phenomenon. Although his arguments are scarcely available in translation, they have been picked up by right-wing and white-nationalist circles throughout the English-speaking world. In July, Lauren Southern, the Canadian alt-right Internet personality, posted, on YouTube, a video titled “The Great Replacement”; it has received more than a quarter of a million views. On great-replacement.com, a Web site maintained anonymously, the introductory text declares, “The same term can be applied to many other European peoples both in Europe and abroad . . . where the same policy of mass immigration of non-European people poses a demographic threat. Of all the different races of people on this planet, only the European races are facing the possibility of extinction in a relatively near future.” The site announces its mission as “spreading awareness” of Camus’s term, which, the site’s author concludes, is more palatable than a similar concept, “white genocide.” (A search for that phrase on YouTube yields more than fifty thousand videos.)

“I don’t have any genetic conception of races,” Camus told me. “I don’t use the word ‘superior.’ ” He insisted that he would feel equally sad if Japanese culture or “African culture” were to disappear because of immigration. On Twitter, he has quipped, “The only race I hate is the one knocking on the door.”

…Such revolutionary right-wing talk has now migrated to America. In 2013, Steve Bannon, while he was turning Breitbart into the far right’s dominant media outlet, described himself as “a Leninist.” The reference didn’t seem like something a Republican voter would say, but it made sense to his intended audience: Bannon was signalling that the alt-right movement was prepared to hijack, or even raze, the state in pursuit of nationalist ends. (Bannon declined my request for an interview.) Richard Spencer told me, “I would say that the alt-right in the United States is radically un-conservative.” Whereas the American conservative movement celebrates “the eternal value of freedom and capitalism and the Constitution,” Spencer said, he and his followers were “willing to use socialism in order to protect our identity.” He added, “Many of the countries that lived under Soviet hegemony are actually far better off, in terms of having a protected identity, than Western Europe or the United States.”

Spencer said that “clearly racialist” writers such as Benoist and Faye were “central influences” on his own thinking as an identitarian. He first discovered the work of Nouvelle Droite figures in the pages of Telos, an American journal of political theory. Most identitarians have a less scholarly bent. In 2002, a right-wing French insurrectionary, Maxime Brunerie, shot at President Jacques Chirac as he rode down the Champs-Élysées; the political group that Brunerie was affiliated with, Unité Radicale, became known as part of the identitairemovement. In 2004, a group known as the Bloc Identitaire became notorious for distributing soup containing pork to the homeless, in order to exclude Muslims and Jews. It was the sort of puerile joke now associated with alt-right pranksters in America such as Milo Yiannopoulos.

…The United States is not Western Europe. Not only is America full of immigrants; they are seen as part of what makes America American. Unlike France, the United States has only ever been a nation in the legal sense, even if immigration was long restricted to Europeans, and even if the Founding Fathers organized their country along the bloody basis of what we now tend to understand as white supremacy. The fact remains that, unless you are Native American, it is ludicrous for a resident of the United States to talk about “blood and soil.” And yet the country has nonetheless arrived at a moment when once unmentionable ideas have gone mainstream, and the most important political division is no longer between left and right but between globalist and nationalist.

“The so-called New Right never claimed to change the world,” Alain de Benoist wrote to me. Its goal, he said, “was, rather, to contribute to the intellectual debate, to make known certain themes of reflection and thought.” On that count, it has proved a smashing success. Glucksmann summed up the Nouvelle Droite’s thinking as follows: “Let’s just win the cultural war, and then a leader will come out of it.” The belief that a multicultural society is tantamount to an anti-white society has crept out of French salons and all the way into the Oval Office. The apotheosis of right-wing Gramscism is Donald Trump.

On August 11th, the Unite the Right procession marched through the campus of the University of Virginia. White-supremacist protesters mashed together Nazi and Confederate iconography while chanting variations of Renaud Camus’s grand remplacement credo: “You will not replace us”; “Jews will not replace us.” Few, if any, of these khaki-clad young men had likely heard of Guillaume Faye, Renaud Camus, or Alain de Benoist. They didn’t know that their rhetoric had been imported from France, like some dusty wine. But they didn’t need to. All they had to do was pick up the tiki torches and light them. ♦ 

via The French Origins of “You Will Not Replace Us” | The New Yorker

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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