I first came across the conspiracy theory I want to discuss today in a highschool Geography class. While talking about Europe, my teacher brought up the declining birth rates of the European population, and the increasing numbers of muslim immigrants. Then he showed me a map where the names of European countries had been changed to “Islamic” versions: “Emirates of France”, “Emirates of Spain”, “Sheikh of England” and so on. As a young teenager my reaction was of disbelief and relief, partly because I didn’t believe it could ever happen, and partly because my teacher at least let me know this odd map wouldn’t appear on the exam.
Thankfully, the map was never brought up in class again, though the conspiracy theory which inspired it has shown up many times since, including playing a role as one of the key narratives during the referendum on the UK’s separation from the EU. Most notoriously, the campaign saw the use of propaganda urging British citizens to take control of their own borders to stop the “massive flow” of immigrants that threatened to change the fabric of the country forever. According to the propaganda proudly presented by far right politician Nigel Farage, Britain was at “Breaking Point”.
There were other reasons and factors which led to the vote to leave the EU, of course, and this isn’t the place to touch on the causes of Brexit in any major detail. However, that narrative of a country being overrun by migrants is a fear that is derived from the conspiracy theory I do want to discuss today.
What is important is to understand how mainstream this theory has become, and how normal it is to claim to believe in it. Far right parties in Europe routinely reference this conspiracy theory on their platforms, promoting a fear that swarms of migrants are coming to steal and rob people of their belongings and their countries.
I first encountered this theory under the name Eurabia, but it also goes by another name: The Great Replacement. The aim of the Great Replacement narrative is always the same: to evoke this fear of the predminantly white areas of the world being overrun by brown people. For Europe, the end goal, it claims, is to create a new Arabia, or to see all the white people being replaced by Arabs, North Africans or any other predominantly non-white group.
According to believers in the theory, world leaders – or a secretive group behind the world leaders (you won’t be surprised to hear that the secret group is often claimed to be Jewish in origin) – want to replace the population of Europe with Muslims/Arabs (obviously, while Muslims are not an ethnic group, the conspiracy language treats them as a unified block with heavy focus on the religion as a defining part of the race).
First, you might wonder, why would They want this replacement? To answer this, some conspiracy theorists point to Richard von Coudenhove-Kalergi, one of the founding fathers of the Europe Union, and will cite him out of context to claim that the plan for the EU since its very inception was to have a group that would be easier to control. In particular, they’ll point to a passage in his book Praktischer Idealismus, in which he states:
The European man of the future will be of mixed race. Today’s races and classes will disappear owing to the disappearing of nations, time, and prejudice. The Eurasian-Negroid race of the future, similar in its outward appearance to the Ancient Egyptians, will replace the diversity of peoples with a diversity of individuals
However, when put into proper context, Karlergi’s talk about the mixed race future of Europe isn’t particularly a reference to white people mixing with people from other racial groups; he was writing in 1920, when people considered “Teutonics” and “Irish” to be different racial classes. Karlergi’s references to a future belonging to mixed races is as much a reference to a mix of those predominently-white ‘races’. What’s more, according to Kalergi this process would happen naturally over time as borders and barriers lessened – it was never a plan he proposed should be enacted via force. Kalergi was a European nationalist through and through: he believed that unless people from across all Europeans nations banded together, Europe would be surpassed by other major powers.
The Kalergi Plan is worth more analysis, because it encapsulates everything about the Great Reset theory. It has the underlying antisemitism – Kalergi is often referred to as a “Judeophile” by conspiracy theorists. It enables the hatred of the EU, based on the myth that one of it’s founding fathers was literally plotting the destruction of Europe from the start, through the destruction of European ‘whiteness’.
Somewhat ironically, the European ‘whiteness’ believers fear is at risk of destruction is actually a concept that was created very recently in history. For a large period of history, Irish people were not considered white, while Portuguese and Spanish people were (and still are) considered to be a lower form of whiteness in the eyes of racist groups. ‘Whiteness’ is a fluid and not very well established concept that has been adapted and twisted to suit its use. When it comes to this conspiracy theory, the concept is used to separate ‘us’ and ‘them’: with ‘us’ being ‘white people’ and ‘them’ being the brown, black and otherwise non-white brought in to destroy white societies.
While talk of the Kalergi Plan often takes place in niche and covert channels of communication, its themes have cropped up in more mainstream places, such as in the dystopian fiction novel The Camp of the Saints. First published in 1973, the book posits a France overrun by mass migration from India and the developing world. In the novel, migrants take over Europe and the ‘white’ world, who are too morally weak to resist the advances, leaving Europe to its destruction.
The book embodies and illustrates all the themes of the Great Replacement theory, depicting a First World too accepting of immigrants, unable to see that they are the authors of own their doom; that the developing world simply pillages and destroys everything in its path, whose migrants are impossible to contain if given an inch. Crucially, the book paints a paranoid picture of a leftist political movement keen to join with the migrant forces in order to take down the west.
The Camp of the Saints was published fifty years ago, one illustration of the fear of loss of home and culture, particularly by a foreign entity that is culturally and physically different from the natives. This fear of the foreigner recurs throughout history, providing societies with a perfect scapegoat when times are unstable and situations look bleak. Its release in 1970 coincided with the end of decolonisation and the economic crisis; in 2010 we saw an even stronger economic crisis take hold. It may be little surprise, then, that in March 2011 The Camp of the Saints returned to the bestseller list in France. Conspiracy theories always repeat.
If you’re keen to understand more about this conspiracy theory, I highly recommend this Youtube video from Shaun about the Great Replacement and this Three Arrows video about the Kalergi plan. These videos helped me in the research for this article, and delve deeper into topics I touch on only briefly.