The debates that arose these last few months about the possible publishing of Mein Kampf during the course of the year following its entry in the public domain were always going to be deeply divisive. Adolf Hitler’s foul manifesto is, after all, an unequivocally vile collection of self-righteous bigotry and hateful drivel the likes of which have rarely been equalled since, if ever.

But it is not the book that we should be worrying about. Because it is, frankly, terribly written. Because no one doubts for a second that it is racist. Because it was the symbol of a political movement that utterly failed in its mission and is now reviled by most of the world. Because no matter how infamous it is, no matter how big a mark it has left on an era, we quite simply do not respect it as a literary work.

The books we should be worried about are the others - those with genuine literary credentials, written by famous authors, sometimes with admirable prose, those that are sometimes studied in schools, those that have even for some ascended to the rank of “classic”, and yet actively advocate dangerous stances, or promote ideals that we should have frankly abandoned by now.

Last week, those with access to French TV were given the chance to observe an excellent documentary from France 2’s lead investigative program, Envoyé Spécial, on the differences, or lack thereof, between Marine Le Pen’s Front National and her father’s, and how a skilful rebranding allows her to get away with presenting near-identical ideas while seeming almost reasonable. Amongst the points made to illustrate that a lack of overt hate speech on camera did not tolerance make was the mention of one of Marine Le Pen’s favourite books, which she proudly referenced a few times throughout her career : The Camp of Saints, by Jean Raspail.

This brought back to the forefront of actuality what was, in the eyes of many of the FN’s unashamedly controversial old guard, the book : the story of a mass influx of immigrants arriving on the shores of France, and the ensuing chaos as they gradually take over the country, despoil our culture and steal our heritage. The difference between it and a Daily Express front page, however, is that it was written by a celebrated author, one with multiple prestigious prizes under his belt. Which, one would imagine, is the reason people are willing to turn a blind eye to its contents, despite the fact that, were I to propose half of the ideas contained in it, I would undoubtedly face legal consequences. The author himself recognises that there are within it it could be charged with 87 breaches of hate speech law were it published today.

The “saints” in the book are the “true French” : white, Catholic, proud of their heritage, and willing to do what is necessary for the land of their fathers.  They are also the ones who decide that the only solution is to shoot hose migrants down : “It is the duty of any citizen conscious of his culture, his race, his traditional religion and his past to spontaneously take arms”. One of the characters even declares that “it is hunting rifle in hand that I will await the ragged army of the Antichrist”. After all, they are not quite the equivalent to us fine, cultured western folk : “they will cover your terraces with excrement and wipe their hands with your libraries’ books” Raspail helpfully points out.

These are only a handful of extracts from a book that easily available in libraries across the country, and you just need to read the internet reviews to see readers hailing a man who dared to speak the truth, and which today’s Islamophilic, politically-correct censors would never dare allow for publication. It’s not an object of worship for a fringe neo-Nazi group. It’s not the incoherent ramblings of a bitter, vengeful man as he wasted away in his cell. It’s a book that is, loathe as I am to admit it, well written, my own tastes put aside. And that is what bolsters its message.

While The Camp of Saints is a fairly extreme example, it is far from the only one, nor even close to the most famous. In fact, here in England we regularly study one of them, oft cited as one of the best short stories of all the time : Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Rather than expand on all the issues in that particular work, I will simply redirect readers to Chinua Achebe’s (of Things Fall Apart fame) famous lecture “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness”, which will do a much more thorough job than I would of explaining it. The reason I am including such a long-criticised work in this is because, despite all the arguments going against it, there are still some who say that it’s not really racist - just an excellently-written product of its time. And had I not studied it with a more impartial teacher, I might very well think the ideas it conveys alright by me.

It is the insidious way in which these works ingratiate ideas which most of the time barely have any logical ground to stand on to us that we need to watch out for. Publish Mein Kampf,  or don’t publish it - our perception of it is unlikely to change. Instead, let’s try and make sure the above works and others like them don’t join it in infamy as the vectors through which hate was spread yet again.

Form over content