The Franciscan Way
Take Back America, its polity, its economy its culture, its old and formerly cherished freedoms and property rights, from the Left/Liberal/Neocon/Official Con elites.
Editors Note: The following is a review of Sam Francis’s book Beautiful Losers, published in July 1993. While Murray mentions the book being blacklisted by traditional conservative media, it has been rediscovered by members of the modern Right, as has the work of James Burnham who he compares it to. In Francis, Rothbard sees a Machiavellian in defense of the American nation, in Burnham a potential threat to civilization.
The result is a thorough Rothbardian analysis of two of the most important intellectuals in contemporary political discourse. Topics include how the Right was captured by neoconservatives, populist strategy, the virtues and flaws of Caesarism, and the lessons of Gramsci.
Shortly after Rothbard's death in 1995, Dinesh D'Souza described a talk Francis delivered at an American Renaissance event with the following in the Washington Post:
‘A lively controversialist, Francis began with some largely valid complaints about how the Southern heritage is demonized in mainstream culture. He went on, however, to attack the liberal principles of humanism and universalism for facilitating "the war against the white race."
Francis was fired from his most prominent positions after the article was published. He died in 2005.
The following is almost 8,000 words, and worth reading more than once.
In the Introduction to this brilliant collection of essays, Dr. Samuel Francis crystallizes one of his unique contributions to modern conservative thought. Since World War II, he points out, conservative intellectuals and theorists (and this would be true in spades for libertarians) have concentrated on what ideas should be adopted in society. In the famous phrase of Old Rightist Richard Weaver, “Ideas Have Consequences.” Of course, Sam Francis concedes, but what they have all neglected are the crucial questions: what and who decides which ideas get adopted, to generate those consequences? As Francis puts it, with his typical blend of powerful reasoning and mordant wit: “Ideas do have consequences, but some ideas have more consequences than others, and which consequences ensue from which ideas is settled not simply because the ideas serve human reason through their logical implications but also because some ideas serve human interests and emotions though their attachment to drives for political, economic, and social power, while other ideas do not.”
Realistic Analysis First
Which ideas get adopted, in short, is not simply a matter of pure reason in behalf of moral principle or of what system of laws or institutions will best serve society. It is more often a matter of whose interests will be best served in a drive for political power. As the late Max Lerner put it in the title of a book written during his overtly Leftist period: Ideas Are Weapons.
Thus, whereas most conservative and libertarian intellectuals, including his two fellow paleo syndicated columnists, Joe Sobran and Pat Buchanan, are grounded in a moralistic tradition of political philosophy, Sam Francis brings to us the fruits of a quite different tradition in Western thought: realistic, hard-boiled political analysis. This is the tradition pioneered by the notorious Machiavelli, developed by the great turn-of-the-twentieth-century Italian political theorists Vilfredo Pareto and Gaetano Mosca, and brought to modern conservatism by James Burnham, on whose political thought Sam Francis has written a previous volume. It is a tradition crystallized in by far the best thing Vladimir Lenin ever wrote: the title to one of his numerous essays: Who? Whom? In other words: in analyzing politics or any actions of the State, the crucial question to ask is who is shafting whom? Or, to put it in the language of modern game theory, politics is a “zero-sum game,” and so all State action is a process by which winners can only benefit at the expense of losers. As a result, while moralistic political philosophers think or write in terms of moral principle, natural law, that common good, or the public interest, realistic analysts are concentrating on the quarter of who are the winners and who the losers, and very often, planning and scheming how to join the ranks of the winners and avoid falling into the category of losers.
The Necessity for Strategy
In short, whereas moralists concentrate on developing and spreading the proper ideas and trying to convince people of their truth and merit, analysts are rather trying to figure out what's really happening in the world and to develop a strategy to put proper ideas into effect and embody them in institutions.
Sam Francis brings to us the fruits of a quite different tradition in Western thought: realistic, hard-boiled political analysis.
One of the frustrating a conservative or libertarian over the years is the lack of strategic thinking endemic in these movements. After these intellectuals and activists go to the trouble of arriving at their convictions of what ideas to adopt and carry forward, their "strategy" invariably becomes the simple me of spreading the gospel to whoever will listen, of spreading the word without bothering to develop a strategy of how to develop a movement that will carry those ideas to victory. And the result of any movement that stresses ideas without strategy is inevitably a movement, as Sam Francis emphasizes in the title to this scintillating collection, of Beautiful Losers.
By "winners" and "losers", it must be emphasized, Sam Francis is talking about long-run triumph or loss for a movement's basic principles, not about short-run tactics. Indeed, he makes clear that one of the main reasons for the disastrous decline of American conservatism in the midst of its alleged triumph of the 1980s was precisely a total forgetting of its own principles in the midst of its overwhelming absorption in the minutiae of tactics, of the "process" of achieving such paltry and short-sighted goals as winning the next presidential election and securing government jobs and favors. By this shortening of range, the "Official" conservatives and their ideological and political leadership succumbed to the basic premises and the "culture" of Left-liberalism. In this fatal transformation, the conservatives were led by the "neo-conservatives.' As Francis puts it, "much of what neo-conservatives are concerned with is merely process…and not with the ultimate goals themselves, about which there is little debate with those parts of the Left that also lie within the permissible range of ‘pluralistic’ dialogue.” And Francis goes on, “Given the persistent cultural dominance of the Left, a conservatism that limits itself merely to procedural problems tacitly concedes the goals of public action to its enemies and quietly comes to share the premises on which the goals of the Left rest.”
The Inevitability and Clash of Elites
Sam Francis is the paleo right's foremost political analyst and strategic thinker. To understand his strategic counsel, we must first understand the essence of his political analysis. From the great Italian political theorists Pareto and Mosca, as well as from their Swiss contemporary Robert Michels, Francis absorbed the "Iron Law of Oligarchy": that is, that regardless of any egalitarian or "democratic" pretense, every organization, whatever its nature, from a central government down to the local chess club, will inevitably be run by a small elite of its most able, interested, and energetic members. That is simply a law of nature, and any claim otherwise is simply propaganda for suckers. Similarly, in government, there is always and inevitably, as Mosca put it, a “ruling class.” Pareto, the most brilliant of the three and the only one who was a knowledgeable and excellent political economist, then developed the insight that the important thing for social prosperity and progress is that the ruling elites “circulate,” that they not get frozen into a domination that is increasingly out of step, retrogressive, and counterproductive. Pareto realized that the only way in which elites can truly circulate is in the free market economy, which encourages and reflects innovations and adaptations of dynamic entrepreneurs. Government, on the other hand, tends to become the haven of coercive, stagnant, and frozen elites. Therefore, for both Pareto and Mosca, the governmental or political ruling class should be kept as limited and as powerless as possible, to allow maximum scope for freedom and entrepreneurial change.
The “Revolution” of the Managerial Elites
Francis’s immediate intellectual though not actual mentor, James Burnham, brought the analysis of circulating and clashing elites up to date with his once-famous thesis of the “Managerial Revolution”-that previous middle-class, property owning, or “bourgeois” elites have, in the twentieth century been replaced by a new, rising ”revolutionary” elite consisting of the technocratic-and-managerial class, a congenial interlocking network of corporate managers, government bureaucrats, and technocratic experts on all sorts of modern “technologies from engineering to ”public administration” to the politics and administration as well as the actual provision of ”health care,” and on and on. Nowadays, this network especially features “therapists,” shrinks, counselors, and sensitivity trainers of all sorts, in what Paul Gottfried has well called “the therapeutic state.’’ And through it all and above all, there is the host of “intellectuals” provided by the mass public education system, who are eager to acquire cushy jobs and prestige in both staffing the technocratic and therapeutic state, and in holding posts of education, media, and public relations, in and out of formal government, to apologize for the burgeoning statism and collectivism, and to call for ever more of the same. Burnham, writing his The Managerial Revolution after leaving the Trotskyite movement in 1941, brilliantly saw the rising collectivism of the age: Communism, Nazism, Fascism, and the New Deal, as different manifestations of the same phenomenon: the takeover of power from private property owners by the new managerial elite.
In his critique of Irving Kristol’s concept of the “New Class” (in his 1986 essay in this volume, “Neoconservatism and the Managerial Revolution”), Francis (who, by the way, is subtly nuanced and remarkably perceptive in his discussions of such conservative thinkers and writers as Kristol, Burnham, Kendall, and Chambers) points out that (a) Kristol and the neoconservatives do not want to abolish or limit the power of the New Class but rather to become the New Class themselves; and (b) Kristol leaves out the corporate management from the governing New Class of intellectuals, therapists, social scientists, and bureaucrats. Francis might also have pointed out that Burnham, as well as his neo-Marxist follower C. Wright Mills, in his The Power Elite, in contrast, neglect the important role of the intellectuals and social scientists in this broad new ruling class coalition. Francis, of course, does not follow Burnham in downplaying the crucial role of social scientists and intellectuals.
There is a flaw in this class analysis, however, that Sam Francis shares with Burnham, who in turn was obviously heavily influenced by the erroneous thesis of Berle and Means, in their highly influential work of 1932, The Modern Corporation and Private Property. This thesis, used by the New Deal as an excuse for government intervention ranging from regulation to actual government takeover, held that while business firms in the nineteenth century were privately owned and therefore accountable to consumers in making profits and avoiding losses, and while earlier smaller corporations were similarly run by their property-owning stockholders, in the modern large corporation effective rule has been seized by the operating, technocratic managers. Managers who are accountable neither to shareholders nor consumers, and who therefore should be subject to governmental control.
While superficially attractive, the Berle-Means thesis does not hold water, for many reasons, ranging from the powerful weapon that shareholders have in selling their stock, lowering its price and thereby depriving managers of needed capital, to the modern weapons of takeover bids, proxy battles, and leveraged buyouts by which the stockholders can rise up and oust inefficient managers whose rule is not sufficiently profitable. More important for the Burnham thesis is the failure to realize that even if the small shareholder has little or no say in running the corporation, the large stockholders have always continued to play a dominant role in management, public policy, and in political affairs of the corporation. Corporate presidents only last for a few years in office; whereas the large owners and financiers, the Rockefellers, the Wall Street investment bankers, etc. are forever. The idea that the transient managers really run, for example, the various Standard Oil corporations rather than the Rockefeller family and its permanent familial allies, is akin to going up to view the gardens at the Rockefeller family compound at Pocantico Hills and concluding that the head gardener has seized the power of determining the choreography of the garden, the type of flowers, etc. from the impotent hands of the nominal estate owners, the Rockefeller family. But this of course is ultimately nonsense. Sure, the Rockefeller family is willing to turn over the operation of the garden to expert gardeners, indeed they are even “forced” by scale and division of labor to do so; but let Ma Rockefeller develop an allergy to some of the flowers, and those flowers disappear posthaste, else the family will pronto find itself another willing and eager head gardener.
Kissinger has been an almost life-long vassal of Governor Nelson Aldrich Rockwefeller and of the Rockefeller World Empire.
In short, the managers, the intellectuals, the PR men, are hired hands; often, of course, they are extremely influential. But they are only influential so long as their advice suits Big Daddy, the large corporate owners and financiers-the Rockefellers, the Goldman, Sachses, etc. No one has played a larger role in formulating modern American foreign policy than the almost universally venerated “Doctor” Henry Kissinger, but he played such a role not because he has a Ph.D., wrote a doctoral dissertation on Metternich, or once had a relatively minor post teaching at Harvard. He played that role because he has been an almost lifelong vassal of Governor Nelson Aldrich Rockefeller and of the Rockefeller World Empire. The real and decisive power is in the hands, not of the hirelings, but of those who sign their checks. What Burnham and Francis see as a successful revolution of the “managerial” classes has really been a successful coalition of those classes with certain “Eastern Establishment” sectors of Big Owners and Big Finance (i.e., Big stock and bond holders). Of course, anything can happen and it is certainly possible that, if collectivism keeps advancing, that eventually the bureaucratic-therapeutic-intellectual class will be powerful enough to use government power to literally confiscate the Rockefeller-Wall Street crowd and seize total power. I am sure -that some of the extreme Marxoid types, in their cups, cherish such designs. But that hasn't happened yet; and so far, we have to judge that the dominant, though less visible, partners in the coalition are still the Big Capitalists, not all of them, but those Eastern Establishment types who have long been playing the statist game.
In short, even though I am a moralist myself, one of my few criticisms of Sam Francis is not that he is a hard-boiled political analyst, but that, in this case, his analysis is not hard-boiled enough, that he doesn't penetrate beneath the facade of the Kissingers and the Brzezinskis to the underlying reality of their Rockefeller masters. One more example out of numerous possibilities will have to suffice: the foreign policy of the Eisenhower Administration (a man, by the way, whose nomination was engineered by the corporate-owning elite) was almost totally in the hands of three men: the brothers Dulles (John Foster as Secretary of State and Allen Welsh as head of a then almost totally unchecked Central Intelligence Agency) and, to a lesser extent, Undersecretary of State Christian Herter (the very model of a liberal Republican who was particularly beloved by the New York Times). So what are we to make of the striking but highly neglected fact that the brothers Dulles, in their private lives before assuming State power, were longtime top attorneys for Standard Oil and hence for the Rockefeller World Empire? Or that the beloved Herter was married to a Pratt, a family that has associated and invested closely with the Rockefellers since the beginnings of Big Oil in the late 19th century? Are these only coincidences? To believe that strains credulity and can only be endorsed by what my old friend George Resch calls "believers in the accidental theory of history."
This view of political affairs has long been derided by Big Intellectuals and Big Media as a "conspiracy theory of history." There is no "theory" involved here, however; it is simply a willingness to see patterns that should be starting people in the face.
Facts and Morals
In theory and in strict logic, there need not be a clash between realistic political analysis and moral philosophy between facts and ethics. In two ways: first, because moral and political philosophy can be solidly grounded in the hard underlying facts of human existence, which have long been called the body of "natural law." And then, the political theorist can engage in hard-boiled realistic analysis of the facts of the political world, of interests and clashing elites and ideas as weapons, in order to figure out the proper strategy, given the existing context, to change the laws or institutions so as to bring about the reign of sound moral principles. But while a conservative or a libertarian movement can theoretically proceed to integrate analysis and moral principles in this way in practice it doesn't usually work that way. For one thing, most of us are not all-encompassing geniuses who can carry out this harmonious integration either in theory or in practice. The best we can usually do is to remember to keep both of these critical areas in mind.
In practice, too, tensions develop even within the writings of individual theorists between realistic analysis and desired goals, between facts and morality, and the theorists often separate themselves into different, or even warring, camps. Each side tends to irritate the other. Among the moralists, as noted above, there has been a tendency to ignore the facts of power, and the clashes of the interests of elites, while intoning the importance of "values." The analysts, for their part, often tend to lose the sense, or at least to convey the sense, of whether they have any values or ethical goals at all. As a corollary, they tend to lapse into historical determinism, such that certain ideas are "obsolete" because they are not in tune with the realities of interest or power. Probably the worst offender among the analysts was Jim Burnham; in his writings, it is very difficult to figure out whether he was in favor of, or opposed to, the Managerial Revolution, or still worse, whether he believed that the very raising of such a question was senseless in view of that revolution's alleged historical inevitability. One even gets the impression that sometimes Burnham himself didn't know whether he was for or against his Managerial Revolution. In his obituary essay on Burnham, "The Other Side of Modernism" (1987) Sam Francis notes that Burnham, aloof from the conservative movement even though long a top editor of National Review was known in the movement not at all for the Managerial Revolution, for his hard-boiled analysis of elites and power, but for his hard, strategic anti-Communism and anti-Soviet foreign policy, which he wrote about in a column he significantly entitled "The Third World War."
Many is the time, when reading articles of Sam Francis, that I both gasp and laugh aloud at the audacious turn of phrase.
But small wonder that this was Burnham's fate, for Burnham had really nothing to say to a political and ideological movement such as conservatism. Who can rouse the masses in behalf of hard-boiled power analysis? What are they supposed to do, what goals and principles are they supposed to achieve, to commit their lives to? Thus, Francis writes that "in one of the last columns he wrote prior to his stroke, he again eschewed the moralism and ideology that characterized both the Left and the Right," and then he quotes Burnham, the primary goals at which I aim in this column, as in most of the books and articles I have written, are fact and analysis.'' Well, fine and dandy but so what? How are fact and analysis supposed to inspire, invigorate, or guide a movement? Small wonder, then, that Burnham's anti-Communism, which had nothing to do with his political analysis, was known to the conservative movement. That they could understand and was relevant to their present and future actions; but what else in Burnham could be?
What the realistic analysts often tend to overlook is that people, of course, act on their "interests," but that those “interests” cannot be narrowly defined as economic gain or gain of political power. If People hold morals theories and principles passionately enough, and they are often more passionate about their moral convictions than they are about their economic interests, then these moral principles become passionately held "interests" in their scale of values and in determining motivations for their actions.
The Franciscan Wit
I don't mean to tar Sam Francis with the Burnham brush, however. Even though Francis does not have a moral philosophy grounded in natural law, he is scarcely a soulless political analyst. Indeed, one of the fascinating aspects of "Franciscan" writing and of the Franciscan style is the moral passion that clearly animates his fervently held goals for fundamental social change. Out of the tension between his underlying moral passion and the hardboiled analysis emerges his sparkling and pungent wit. For the junction of Sam Francis's moral seriousness, passionately held goals, and cold realistic analysis gives rise to some of the funniest - and at the same time most perceptive - writing mind. Many is the time, when reading articles of Sam Francis, that I both gasp and laugh aloud at the audacious turn of phrase. True wit, of course, is highly serious, in the best sense.
Take for example, some of the marvelous passages in Francis's "The Cult of Dr. King." He begins by saying that King Day, even though only established as a federal public holiday in 1986, has already become “part of the cycle of mass indulgence through which the national economy annually revolves.” Christmas itself has long been notorious for commercialism, Christmas "commemorating an event almost as important as the nativity of Dr. King." He goes on to note that, in contrast to the other nine national holidays, the King birthday is celebrated in "ways that are pretty much in keeping with its original purpose." Thus:
"While the other nine festivities are merely excuses for protracted buying and selling, three-day weekends with an attractive compadre, or orgies of eat-and-swill punctuated by football games, only the second Monday in January is the regular subject of solemn expatiations by the brahmins of the Republic as to what the day really means. Newspaper columnists, television commentators, and public-school teachers, the nearest thing we have to a priesthood, devote at least a week to discussing Dr. King's life and achievements and their place in our national consciousness. Certainly, they do not explore the lives of Jesus, George Washington, or Christopher Columbus with such piety, nor do they usually dedicate much time to reflecting on the less anthropomorphized occasions that celebrate national independence, public thanksgiving, or remembrance of Americans fallen in war for the fatherland. Only Dr. King seem to elicit effusions from the guardians of the public tongue, and, as in the rituals of the heathen gods of eld, woe to the blasphemous wretch who fails to bend the knee or touch the brow."
What can I say but, Magnificent! And Wow!
Only Dr. King elicits "effusions from the guardians of the public tongue, and, as in the rituals of the heathen gods of eld, woe to the blasphemous wretch who fails to bend the knee.
But there are enormous differences between Francis and Burnham, not only in Francis's passionate moral principles and high mordant wit, but more importantly because while Burnham had nothing to offer to the movement except geopolitical anti-Sovietism, Sam Francis has a tremendous amount to offer -in particular his strategic vision, a vision in the service of highly principled paleoconservative goals. And of course, with Francis, in contrast to Burnham, there is never any doubt which side he is on. There is a charming moment in the Introduction when Francis has been describing the recent battles between the paleos, grouped around Chronicles magazine and the John Randolph Club, and the neoconservatives over the body and soul of the conservative movement. He then appends a footnote: “Lest there be any question as to where the author's sympathies lie in the Old Right-neo-conservative conflict, it should be noted that he is a contributing editor of Chronicles and a charter member of the John Randolph Club.” It is honorable of Sam to mention this, and reflects his sterling integrity, but it really wasn't necessary; it's gilding the lily.
The Franciscan Goals
What does Sam Francis want? Shining through the hard-headed analysis, the answer is clear: he is fervently opposed to the rule of the existing Left Liberal-neoconservative-Official Conservative managerial elite, and aims to replace that elite by a mass movement of working-class and middle-class Americans who would, as far as possible, return to leadership by the bourgeois elite. As far as possible, Francis wishes to return to the limited government, the checks and balances, the decentralized polity, the sanctity of private property, and the free market economy of the Old Republic although given his historical perspective, he is pessimistic about the chance of going the full way down that road. He would like to abolish the welfare state and the therapeutic state, and to return America to a foreign policy devoted strictly to the American national interest, abandoning any form of global crusade.
Populist Strategy: The Problem of Willmoore Kendall
The postwar conservative movement was marked by a continuing debate on what amounts to the following problem: Taken all in all, which group tends to be more dangerous to the survival and the flourishing of liberty, decentralization and strictly limited government: the masses or the elites? While no group on the Old Right or on the newer Right of the 1960s or 1970s was worshipful of "democracy" or thought of it as any more than a process far less important than the content of public policy, the older "traditionalist" conservatives (or "trads") tended to trust the elites and to fear the masses. To the "populist" wing of the movement, however, the hearts and the instincts of the masses are generally sound, and the masses almost always suffer from being duped by the propaganda of the ruling elites who exploit and loot them. The major source of statism and loss of liberty, then, is the elite rather than the mass. To those who trust the mass and see the elites as the major danger, the obvious path to victory is to enlist the support of the masses, often by short-circuiting the malevolent elites.
Of all the leaders of conservative thought after World War II, the most decidedly populist was Willmoore Kendall, an early National Review editor and Bill Buckley's first mentor at Yale. Since Sam Francis is our outstanding current right-wing populist, it is not surprising that his essay on Kendall is particularly subtle, perceptive, and rewarding ("Prophet of the Heartland," 1986). The galloping trend of conservatism in the 1980s, a "seeming preoccupation with 'respectability' and 'credibility' and an inclination to dilute the expression of its commitments in return for acceptance by the establishment," "would surely have angered Kendall, who unfortunately had died early in 1967. Kendall, adds Francis, "called himself an 'Appalachians-to-the-Rockies patriot,' and he was both temperamentally and philosophically incapable of living in peace with the dominant structures of the Northeast.''). The basic problem with Kendall, however, and the reason that he provides no strategic guide to the current movement, was (apart from being an erratic loner) his fundamental and unrealistic short-run optimism. Sure that the heart and the ways of life of the masses were sound, Kendall, who grounded all conservatism on the persistence of those old American ways of life, failed to see that the Liberal enemy had taken over and had deeply encroached upon and altered the old ways. Having no abstract principles beyond those American mass folkways on which to base his conservatism, Kendall was in a sense forced to remain optimistic and to believe that Liberal rule was only evanescent and superficial.
Hence, instead of realizing or proclaiming that the Liberals had affected a revolution and that a populist counter-revolution was desperately necessary Kendall was forced by his own theoretical framework to insist that everything was really fine and dandy. As a result, while Kendall, as a dedicated populist, should have been the first to sound the alarm and call for counter-revolution, he instead joined the other trads in only wishing to "conserve" existing institutions against potential menacing changes that might be instituted by the Left. Instead of becoming a radical "reactionary," Kendall was content, like his fellow conservatives, to continue as a stodgy "conservative,'' thereby getting trapped into trying to conserve a regime that was increasingly inimical to all the cherished principles of the Right-wing.
Thus, Francis points out that Kendall "emphasized the resistance of the mainstream to the forces of liberalism, and he did not dwell on the institutional entrenchments of liberalism in bureaucracy, universities, media, and corporations.’’ “There is little suggestion” in Kendall, therefore, “that there was any great need to reverse what liberals had, by the 1960s succeeded in imposing.” Indeed, “Kendall leaves the impression that liberals had succeeded in very little of its crusade.” As a result, Kendall saw no need for the American heartland to adopt strategies to take back an America which he didn’t see they had lost. And indeed, in view of Kendall’s entrenchment in a conservatism as existing-ways-of-life, he would have had to change his entire conservative orientation to cope with such a drastic loss of power and of the culture to the liberal revolutionaries.
Populist Strategy: The Revolution Was
The crucial difference between Francis and Kendall is that Francis, independently of the great Old Rightist Garet Garrett, increasingly and piercingly realized, during the 1980s, that the typical conservative stance was obsolete and tragically counterproductive. For he saw that the Liberal Revolution was not a distant menace to be guarded against. The Revolution had already succeeded; Liberalism was in control of the institutions of power in America, and, more importantly, of its culture. As Garet Garrett, one of the most brilliant and one of the most gifted writers of the Old Right, of the Right of the 1930s through the 1950s, put it in the title of his startling essay of 1938: The Revolution Was. Garrett announced this truth to his uncomprehending conservative readers in his powerful opening paragraph: “There are those who still think they are holding the pass against a revolution that may be coming up the road. Rut they are gazing in the wrong direction. The revolution is behind them. It went by in the Night of Depression, singing songs to freedom.”
[For an appreciative resurrection of the notable work of Garrett, see the passionately written tribute to the Old Right in the new book by the paleolibertarian Justin Raimondo, Reclaiming the American Right]
If Garrett was right in 1938 that the Revolution had already been, and he was, how much more true is his analysis and warning now, as the Liberal Revolution has accelerated in several Great Leap Forwards, notably in the 1960s and in the 1980s-90s! Sam Francis came independently to this insight; and with that realization came the inevitable conclusion: that the necessary strategy for the conservative movement is not to wheedle and genuflect at the altar of the Liberal-dominated Inside-the-Beltway culture; not as Official Conservatives and Libertarians have both tried desperately to do, to win applause for respectability and credibility by the ruling elites. On the contrary, the proper strategy must be to rouse the benumbed and befuddled masses, exploited and virtually brainwashed by the Big Media and Big Opinion-Molding elites, to cast off their chains and their blinders, to rise up and take their country back. In short, to adopt a fierce and determined strategy, both for the short and long runs, of a right-wing populist “counterrevolution.’’
Sam Francis’s realization of this truth has intensified over the 1980s. Beautiful Losers is a collection of essays written over the decade 1981-1991; in the early years, upon the advent of the Reagan Administration, Francis was more optimistic about the immediate American scene and about the possibilities of the Reagan regime. In his most substantial essay from that early period, “Message from the MARS Middle American Radicals],” published in the New Fight Papers (1982), by a short-lived “New Right,” Francis toys with the idea that a “Caesarist” President [e.g., Reagan] might be able to affect a rapid counter-revolution by using his power to aid the middle-class masses by destroying the bureaucratic-managerial elites of the executive branch. But by the end of the Reagan era, Reagan had proved a weak reed, and Official Conservatives, led by the neocons, had surrendered to the Liberal Culture and therefore advanced the entrenched rule of the Liberal elites. Learning from that hard-won experience, Sam Francis returned to his Burnhamite roots, and, in "Imperial Conservatives?" (1989) he recalled the importance of the Old Right's overriding emphasis on the dangers of Caesarism and of the Imperial Presidency. Congress, in contrast to current conservative propaganda, as flawed as it is, is a crucial check upon a runaway and dictatorial President. The Founding Fathers realized, for that reason, that Congress should be more powerful than the executive. In this essay, Sam Francis recalls that this was the burden of the Old Right's last great swan song in the Bricker Amendment to restrict the treaty-making power and the presidential role in foreign policy. Burnham had pointed this out in his Congress and the American Tradition (1959).
There was another problem with this Caesarist strategy. The President serves as head of the executive bureaucracy, and even a more determined President than the somnolent rhetorician Reagan will end up becoming absorbed by, and therefore a figurehead for, the mighty bureaucratic and statist machine. For a head of state to really overthrow and decimate the existing administrative power structure would require the steely determination and the cadre organization of a Lenin or a Pol Pot. Not only does Ronald Reagan not fit the bill; there is no likely candidate looming on the horizon.
By the middle and later 1980s then, from which most of the essays in this book derive, the body of developed Franciscan thought had emerged: as analyst and strategist for a right-wing populist counter-revolution. A more subtle shift has also occurred within this basic paradigm, one that has developed even further in the three years since the last of these essays was written. More and more, Sam Francis has been shifting his emphasis from Paretian elite analysis, toward advocacy of the counter-revolutionary strategy of coping with these hard realities. Well, of course, this progression makes logical sense: first comes the analysis of what's been going on in the world; and then the counseling of a strategy of what to do about it. Or, if we may paraphrase Marx: first, Franciscan philosophy undertook to understand the world; but now, its task is to change it.
The Power of Right-Wing Populism: Joe McCarthy
The Left (here including all variety of Marxists and neocons) understands strategy. In contrast to conservatives and libertarians, who seem to think that focus on strategy is somehow unclean, Marxist groups spend almost none of their substantial time and energy discussing principles or ultimate goals, and almost all of it on strategy. Certainly, considering the absurdity, monstrousness, and unworkability of the ideas that they have had to work with, they have been remarkably successful: after all, the Stalinist branch ran half the world for the good part of a century.
Since the Left, then, tends to be far shrewder and more knowledgeable strategists than the Right, it behooves us to pay attention to which Right-wing strategy most frightens and agitates Leftists and Liberals; what sends them up the wall? Sober nuts-and-bolts appeals to Beltway elites for marginal reform? Or passionate, emotional appeals to the masses for radical change? Exclusive concentration on marginal tax cuts, or narrow changes in health proposals? Or, calls to "take back our culture"? Technical marginalia, or raising the standard of ferocious opposition on basic morals and culture? To ask these questions is to answer them.
What really presses the hot buttons of the Left, then, is not the latest tome from the American Enterprise Institute, but the rousing speeches of a Pat Buchanan. When they call you "fascist," "neofascist," "xenophobe," "racist," and all the rest of the smear litany, then you know that you've struck a nerve; if they call you "respectable," a “genuine conservative,” etc., then you know that they’re welcoming anther lapdog. Pressing those hot buttons is when you know that your counterrevolutionary strategy is striking paydirt.
Because of his analytic and strategic framework, Sam Francis is virtually the only conservative since the mid1950s to understand and appreciate the phenomenon that was Joe McCarthy. Why was Joe McCarthy so Universally hated and reviled by the entire Left (from Communist to Trotskyite to Menshevik to Liberal to Neoconservative to Official Republican)? So hated that his very name has become a generic word for social and political evil? [“McCarthyism”] Why? Because he was anti-Communist? Of course not; so were most of the above groups. Because he made a few numerical mistakes? Please. He was so hated and reviled that he had to be brought down and smashed because, more than any other American political figure of the twentieth century, he, even though confusedly and inchoately and with no organization, was effectively rousing the masses to condemn and perhaps to overthrow the Liberal Establishment elite. The New York Times once attacked McCarthy because he was “destroying the morale of the executive branch” of government. But suppose you think that that is one of the best things that you can do? “Destroying the morale” of the executive branch is the first step to destroying its power over our economy, our culture, and our very lives.
In his passionate, perceptive, and altogether remarkable essay on McCarthy (“The Evil that Men Do: Joe McCarthy and the American Right” (1986), Francis points out the oddity of such a massive and persistent hatred of McCarthy “when it is recalled that the senator was never accused or convicted of any crime, never betrayed his country, caused no wars, perpetrated no atrocities, and after 1946 never lost an election.” Francis then contrasts this “evil that McCarthy didn’t do,” with the atrocities and evil actually committed by men whom Americans then and still revere (FDR, Eisenhower, Truman, Kennedy, et al.).
These deeds, adds Francis, were “among the most evil things in our history, and most of us have forgotten them and even wonder if they really happened or if anyone really did them.” This “evil that never happened, that other men didn’t do,” Francis writes powerfully and movingly, “died with them and lies interred with the bones of its victims-not hundreds or thousands but millions-whose ghosts are never invoked and who have largely disappeared from human memory.” Francis concludes with this marvelous passage: “but if there is a Bar of Justice beyond this world and beyond human memory, I would rather stand before it and answer for the evil that Joe McCarthy did than for the evil that he didn’t do.”
Sam Francis is virtually the only conservative since the mid-1950s to understand and appreciate the phenomenon that was Joe McCarthy.
So why specifically did the Establishment work with might and main to destroy Joe McCarthy? Precisely because McCarthy was primarily concerned not with communism in government but “with the relationship between communism and the elite ... and because his concern necessarily involved a militant challenge to and a rejection of the elite ...” And because the great virtue of McCarthy” was his “ability to communicate to the average American what the[se] bonds were...” In consequence, “it was McCarthy’s accomplishment to infuse into the American Right the militancy of a counterrevolutionary movement…” Hence, the elite “launched a massive political and verbal counterattack upon him, crushed him and the movement he created, and transformed him into the demonic embodiment of evil that moves among us even today.” For McCarthy’s “very existence was a threat to their intents and power and was ultimately incompatible with their dominance in the United States”
In his Introduction, Francis thoughtfully adds that “Lacking a more accurate conceptual framework for his instinctual understanding of the elite and its apparatus of power, McCarthy relied on the charge of ‘communism’ as a label by which to challenge the legitimacy of the elite. Hence, his constant invocation of populist and anti-establishment imagery in his rhetoric, and hence his actual success in mobilizing for a time a mass movement that perceived the revolutionary imperatives that lay at the heart of the American power structure in the postwar era.”
Francis doesn’t detail the shameful way in which McCarthy’s supporters, the Buckleys and the Schlamms, dropped him like a hot potato as soon as they saw the dimensions of his defeat. It was the first of many occasions when the quest for respectability by the Official Right was to triumph over their sense of honor or justice. No movement can succeed or deserves to succeed that does not rescue and succor its wounded.
Ideas as Weapons: The Path of Gramsci
In his scintillating essay on egalitarianism, first published by the Mises Institute (“Equality as a Political Weapon,” 1991), Sam Francis gently chides the rest of us on the Right who have been patiently and thoroughly demolishing the idea of egalitarianism, using arguments from philosophy, history, sociobiology, and anthropology. Effectively quoting a passage from Pareto, Francis points out that the doctrine of equality is so manifestly absurd that no one really believes it. As Francis puts it, “no one, save perhaps Pol Pot and Ben Wattenberg, really believes in it, and no one, least of all those who profess it most loudly, is seriously motivated by it.” What does motivate its champions? As Pareto and Orwell both realized, the yen to replace one set of inequalities by another set biased in their own favor. “The real meaning of the doctrine of equality,” Francis maintains, “is that it serves as a political weapon, to be unsheathed whenever it is useful for cutting down barriers, human or institutional, to the power of those pups that wear it on their belts….”
The insight that ideas are weapons and the understanding of the importance of those ideas to the domination by some groups over others, enables Francis to complete his strategic vision for rightwing counterrevolution by invoking in this same paper on equality the lessons of the noted Italian Communist of the 1920s, Antonio Gramsci. Marxists and left-liberals in the West, steeped in dialogue over strategy, over how to achieve power, have long been fascinated by the teachings of Gramsci, and of the Gramscian route to power. Gramsci early realized that the route to Communist power in the nations of Western Europe and the United States would have to be different from that in less advanced counties. In such countries, where the State was already dominant in the lives of the citizenry, Marxists could rely on the forces of the proletariat or of the peasantry to seize state power and to use the State to transform society from the top. But in the West, not so much because of democratic forms but because of economic advance, there is a rich texture of “civil society,” of non-state institutions that are in many ways more influential and determining than the State itself. This important set of institutions is the “culture,” the set of opinion-forming and opinion-molding ideas and institutions such as the media, the schools, institutes, the arts and various intellectual suppliers that establish “cultural hegemony” over the society and ultimately over the State. Gramsci counselled that, in the Western countries, the only sure route to power by the Left is to attain “cultural hegemony” by means of, in the famous phrase, “a long march through the institutions.”
This is precisely the path, whether conscious of Gramsci or not, that Left-liberals have used in their long but highly successful route to power. Capture elite universities, foundations, respectable media, organs of influential opinion, mold social attitudes by means of art, fiction, and movies, and State power will flow easily after that. And even when state power has not been achieved, opponents of the Left can do nothing when they succumb, as they did so easily in the Reagan years, to the cajoleries and seductive temptations of attaining respectability and credibility in American culture. And after the defeat of the New Left in the late 1960s because of its infantile use of violence, the New Leftists consciously determined to engage on the “long march,” to “work within the system.” This kind of “long march,” of course, is far more pleasant and profit-able than that engaged in by Mao Tse-Tung in the 1930s. Instead of hardship and starvation, there pour forth cushy perks of law school, top law positions, and professorships in elite departments of social science, to say nothing of federal grants subsidizing plays and paintings that no one in his right mind would wish to patronize.
We must Take Back America from the Left/Liberal Neocon/Official Con elites.
We come around, then, to the realization that Sam Francis does not really dismiss the importance and the power of ideas. He sees, indeed, that ideas have consequences and that some ideas have more consequences than others. Especially those ideas that get adopted, and those ideas that will get adopted are those that can serve as mighty and powerful weapons in social struggle. What Sam Francis is interested in is forging and spreading ideas that can serve effectively the human interests and emotions of the great body of the American working and middle classes to serve the heartland in the vital struggle to throw off the malignant elites who dominate and loot them. To serve them, in short, in the great requisite struggle of our time: to Take Back America, its polity, its economy its culture, its old and formerly cherished freedoms and property rights, from the Left/Liberal/ Neocon/Official Con elites that have lied and cozened their way to power.
Fight the Blackout!
Beautiful Losers is a remarkable volume that itself can serve as one of those crucial weapons. It is a profound book that can and should be read and cherished on many levels. It can be read quickly for its sparkling turn of phrase and incisive, mordant wit. It can and should be read and pondered again, mulled over and savored, for this book is so illuminating of underlying realities and strategic insights that it, almost single-handed, can be the tinderbox that will light the spark to rouse the American people against their masters, and show them how to affect the long march through the institutions that will bring about the right-wing populist counterrevolution. Except that I would add that the ideas of the Right, of the Old Republic, not only can appeal to the interests and emotions of the American people, but that being true, good, and just, they will also appeal to their sense of justice and honor and virtue and rational insight into the nature of the world. Hence, in contrast to the very long march of the Left, the countermarch of the Right through the institutions can be a great deal shorter.
But the march of the genuine Right can only be short if we are allowed to discover Beautiful Losers. Naturally the shrewd and cunning cultural hegemonists, the masters of the magazines, steeped in strategy, realize this all too well. As a result as in the case of Paul Gottfried’s The Conservative Movement, even though his book is published by a respected press, a nearly total blackout has been imposed upon it.
Beautiful Losers came out last August (93), and as far as I know only one periodical has deigned to notice or to review this book. Here is a shameful blot on the American media who are always trumpeting their devotion to “freedom of inquiry” and the “right to know.” The one review was in the Washington Times (October 24), an organ that could hardly ignore the book since it serves as the home base for Francis’s syndicated column. But how did the reviewer, Professor Robert L. Spaeth, treat this volume? While recognizing its power, Spaeth simply denounces the author in emotive adjectives: “hasty,” “cruel and unusual,” with a “rage” that is “less refreshing than acidic.” It’s the old elite ploy: if you can’t refute the message, attack the messenger.
In summing up the battle between the paleocons and the neocons, Sam Francis writes correctly that “On the whole, the Old Right generally had the brains, but the neocons had the money. ...” As a result, by the end of the 1980s, the neocons had become dominant on the Right.
Beautiful Losers is itself a striking example of who indeed has the brains. We must not let the money power suppress brain power! It is essential to combat that money power, to battle against the ruling elites, and the best way to do so is to buy, read, ponder, and savor this book. Read the book, buy it for your friends, for Sam Francis is our Pareto, our Gramsci, and we must not allow him to be suppressed. For if this book is read and disseminated and understood, Sam Francis can be the Thomas Paine, the Patrick Henry of the next American Revolution that will at last redeem the glorious promise of the first.