The French ideologist who inspires white supremacism

Brenton Tarrant, the accused of killing more than 50 people in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand last March.

The French author Renaud Camus coined the concept of the great substitution, a theory cited in the manifests of the terrorists of El Paso and Christchurch

He lives at the top of the hill, in Plieux, a picturesque town in Gascony, the land of D’Artagnan. From the tower, in the distance, you can see the Pyrenees. It could be the refuge of a dandy aristocrat. Or the castle of Count Dracula.

Renaud Camus, 73, has long been a prolific cult writer, author of dozens of volumes of minute diaries, and he was initially boosted by popes of the French intelligentsia like Roland Barthes. Now he is almost a marginal in the cultural world: he publishes the books himself because he no longer has an editorial and it is difficult to find his work in bookstores. But his ideas are not marginal. Camus has become “an ideologist of the extreme right, an oracle of identity environments,” as his former friend, the writer Emmanuel Carrère, has described. And a reference for global white supremacism, including the most violent. His theory of “the great substitution” – “le grand remplacement”, in French – has inspired terrorists as the author of the massacre in two mosques in Christchurch (New Zealand) on March 15 or in a shopping center in El Paso ( United States) on Saturday.

“The great substitution is not a theory,” he told  during an interview in May in the immense hall that serves as a library and office in his castle in Plieux. “It’s the name for a phenomenon like the Great Depression, the French Revolution or the Great War.”

The writer Renaud Camus.

In his book The Great Substitution, published in 2012, Camus defined in a few words his theory, which he doesn’t call theory: “Oh, it’s very simple. There is a town and almost suddenly, in a generation, in its place there are another or several other towns. ” Camus has in mind the population of Arab-Muslim origin in Europe, but, as seen in El Paso, for those who allude to theories can be used for all kinds of situations.

The fear of the natives to invasion by foreigners is neither new nor original. And in France, exporting country of all kinds of intellectual theories, including ultra-right ideologies, the tradition is long. The anti-Semitic Charles Maurras, theorist of the so-called integral nationalism and sentenced to life imprisonment for collaboration in the end of World War II, was the most influential in the first half of the twentieth century.

But also novelists like Jean Raspail, who in 1973 imagined, in the novel The Camp of the Saints, the arrival of a million homeless people on the Mediterranean coast of France. “Unintentionally, for a kind of mystery, I foresaw something that is happening,” Raspail said in 2017. Steve Bannon – former president of the US president, Donald Trump, and aspiring warden of the nationalist and populist international in Europe – cited both him and Maurras as sources of inspiration.

Camus’s theories are found, more or less diffuse, in some National Regrouping (RN) speeches, although their leader, Marine Le Pen, stands out from him. And there is an echo of them in the literature of Michel Houellebecq, considered one of the great contemporary French novelists. The great substitution has crossed borders to the point of appearing in the manifests of the Christchurch and El Paso terrorists.


The author of the Christchurch massacre, in which Muslims died, published a text entitled, precisely, The Great Substitution, identical to that of Camus, although he did not quote his name or his book. He did mention the impression that he caused, during a trip to France, to perceive that “in every French city, in every French town, the invaders were there” and that “the French were often a minority and that on the street they were often alone, they had no children and were elderly. ” The author of the El Paso massacre, where 22 people were killed, stated in his manifesto: “In fact, the Hispanic community was not my goal until I read The Great Substitution.” He was apparently referring to the manifesto of the author of the Christchurch massacre, not Camus’s book.

During the interview at his castle in Plieux, after the Christchurch massacre, he insisted on getting rid of any violence. “If someone inspires me, it’s Gandhi,” he said. He advocates ending the great substitution peacefully, although the details are vague.

It links the great substitution with another theory that it calls “the great global substitutionism.” “The very essence of modernity is the gesture of replacing everything,” he says. “The most extremists treat me as a neo-Nazi, but Nazism horrifies me,” he defends. “Substitutionism belongs to the same genealogy as Nazism: the industrialization of man, the fact that man is interchangeable.”

To end the reality, he defends that Europe is colonized as the European colonies were until the mid-twentieth century, and draws a parallel between the Nazi occupation and what he perceives as the occupation of his country.

And all this explains it with a reflexive tone and without stridency, among thousands of books and on the island of peace and prosperity that is this part of France, far from the shooting and the blood of the terrorists intoxicated by these speeches. “The world that is approaching seems like an atrocious world,” he says.


“It saddens me. Annoys me. Why would it bother me? ”Renaud Camus said by email yesterday in response to the question about whether it bothers him that racist terrorists cite in his manifests the great substitution, a term promoted by him. “It’s what I’ve always planned and announced. The great substitution can only contribute to desolation and death, ”he continues. “The people who reproach me for the consequences of The Great Substitution, which I denounce forever, are like little savers who reproach a historian or a sociologist for having ruined them for having written a book entitled The Great Depression.” Camus, who condemns “without reservation” the massacres of Christchurch and El Paso, coined the term of great substitution in 2012, but it was in 2000 when, being accused of anti-Semitism in the so-called Camus case, his turn began to become visible. At that time, Emmanuel Carrère writes in an essay included in the book It is convenient to have a place to go (Anagrama), “new friends arose around him, who love him for what he is reproached for.” “Suddenly,” added Carrère, already distanced from Camus, “this man was only very close.” In the European elections of May, Camus headed an electoral list, which he resigned when some images of one of the candidates on his list were disseminated by drawing a swastika on a beach.

Before the case Camus had been a little known but appreciated writer in literary circles, author among others of Tricks, a cult book in the seventies homosexual literature. Condemned in 2014 for provoking hatred and violence against Muslims, his progressive ostracism in France parallels the international dissemination of his ideas and his adoption by sectors of white supremacism in the US and other countries. It is not the only influence of these groups, nor the main one, and in reality many supremacists arrive second or fourth hand. Camus’s books are difficult to access and even more in English. He claims against all violence. “The authors of the massacres,” he defends himself, “do not make any reference to me, from whom they do not even know the existence and from whom, probably, nothing they have read and from whom they have no influence. If it were not so, they would not commit murders, because it is diametrically opposed to everything I recommend. “

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments