Nearly two-thirds of French citizens say they fear that Muslim immigrants threaten white Christians with “extinction.” That bodes well for Éric Zemmour, France’s ubiquitous right-wing polemicist, candidate for its presidency — and prominent popularizer of the concept of le grand remplacement, the conspiracy theory that a cabal of Jews and globalist elites are conniving to “replace” Europe’s native population with Africans and Arabs.
This paranoid thesis has inspired white supremacists across the world, and is an increasingly popular import on the American right. The man who coined le grand remplacement is the seventy-five-year-old novelist and travel writer Renaud Camus — no relation to Albert, but a kind of philosopher nevertheless. Renaud’s response to Charlottesville was a screed called You Will Not Replace Us! He was already exiled from polite society: in 2000, he claimed that there were too many Jews on French public radio. More recently, he has been fending off criticism about his participation in an infamous 1997 magazine symposium in which he appeared to justify pedophilia. “My sexuality is probably the most documented of any man’s in France,” he defiantly announced in November in a video filmed in the fourteenth-century chateau he shares with his partner, Pierre.
Renaud Camus writes in the usual French intellectual style — inscrutably — so it is hard to know what to make of the pedophilia charge. As to his claim of having the most thoroughly documented sex life of any Frenchman — no small feat — there is little doubt. To call Tricks, Camus’ diary of twenty-five gay encounters over seven months in 1978, “revealing” is like saying Donald Trump has a penchant for exaggeration.
“We kissed each other, licked each other’s nipples, sucked each other’s cocks, thrust our tongues into each other’s assholes,” Camus writes of one such tryst at a Los Angeles bathhouse. Oh là là! Published in the heady days between the apex of gay liberation and the scourge of AIDS, Tricks describes a lost world of uninhibited homosexual adventure, from the bushes near Notre-Dame cathedral to the grimy sex shops that crowded Times Square to the restroom of an old movie house in Milan.
Camus’ assignations run the gamut from rough to affectionate, indifferent to passionate, anonymous to the seed of lasting friendship. Social and political issues rarely factor in these encounters, understandably, though when they do, Camus evinces the sort of bourgeois bohemianism that Camus the blood-and-soil nationalist now decries. When his hanky-panky with a German fellow in a forest along the Riviera sparks a quarrel between the trick and his boyfriend, Camus articulates the classically gay preference for the city over the country. “They must live in some tiny town,” he dismisses the pair. “They’re too ill-matched. In big cities, there’s always a kind of equivalence of merit between the members of a couple, tit for tat. It’s only in godforsaken holes, because of the poor choices, that couples like that get put together.”
Elsewhere, Camus is righteously angry about the threat of violence that once overshadowed gay life: “For the police, the homosexuals are the shame of the Côte d’Azur, a plague to be eliminated by any means.” Returning to his car after one al fresco excursion, he finds that “fag bashers” have removed the accelerator and placed it on the seat, le pédale a physical symbol for le pédé, the pederast, and a threat too.
Camus visits San Francisco a few months before Californians determine the fate of Proposition 6, which would have banned gay people from teaching in public schools. Asked about his position on the matter upon his return from a long trip shooting a movie abroad, Warren Beatty caused much amusement when he confused it with Proposition 5, a measure to prohibit smoking in public places. “I’m against it,” Beatty indignantly replied. “I do it all the time in elevators.”
Other than typical generalizations — the Dutch are “a little too buttery,” the Italians physically attractive but “psychologically or socially, they’re a pain in the ass” — there is no trace in Tricks of the racism that now defines Camus. Au contraire: his biggest turn-on is body hair, a common trait among the swarthy foreigners he now accuses of perpetrating a reverse colonization of France. One of his favorite trysts is with an illiterate, albeit hirsute, Gypsy. Perhaps the tenderest is with Terence, a young African American he meets in Washington DC. The only “pure prejudice” to which Camus confesses is against Mexican cooking, with its “connotations of Montezuma’s revenge.”
How did the libertine who wrote Tricks become the bigot of the “great replacement”? We find a clue when Camus enviously watches his American-born lover and a well-endowed San Franciscan called “the Horse” converse animatedly about the favorite television shows of their youth: “I listened, excluded yet fascinated, amazed all over again by America’s power to elaborate a complete and modern mythological fabric… I realized with a certain fascination that in France we had nothing so richly nostalgic in the same realm.” In time, Camus’ appetite and envy curdled into resentment and a yearning for permanence. “The very essence of modernity is the fact that everything — and really everything — can be replaced by something else, which is absolutely monstrous,” Camus griped to the New Yorker in 2017. This from a man who consumed sexual partners like so many croissants.
Maybe if Camus had devoted a smidgen of his prodigious procreative capacities to reproduction, he wouldn’t feel so much terror about being “replaced.” It’s another question how Camus’ more recent admirers — the nutcases, natalists and neofascists of the stridently straight hard right — feel about their hero’s gay past.
This article was originally published in The Spectator’s February 2022 World edition.