Remembering Sam Francis
Gilbert Cavanaugh, American Renaissance, February 14, 2014
Today, February 14, is the ninth anniversary of the death of Samuel T. Francis. Perhaps it is a quirk of the mind, but I associate Francis with Flannery O’Connor. There are parallels that go beyond the obvious — that they were both Southerners and were attacked by professional anti-racists. O’Connor stood strong as a Catholic despite living in the Bible Belt and Francis stayed a Presbyterian despite immersion in increasingly Catholic paleoconservative circles.
Many titles of O’Connor’s short stories could have served as titles for Francis’s columns: “Good Country People,” “A Late Encounter with the Enemy,” “Everything that Rises Must Converge,” etc. If someone were to find a collection of lost O’Connor short stories an appropriate title for the collection would be Beautiful Losers, one of Francis’s major titles. Race and the American Prospect, another Francis book, could serve as the title of an analysis of O’Connor’s work. O’Connor wrote fiction, and Francis wrote political commentary, but they shared themes on dispossession, betrayal, changing eras, the South, and the family. They also struck a similar tone of romantic fatalism.
Both died young: O’Connor at 39 and Francis at 57. And although early death is always tragic, in both cases I wonder if it were not good fortune for them. In a few years O’Connor would have had to witness the purposeful political and cultural destruction of the South. Francis would have had to see the election of Barack Obama, the forced cancellation of two American Renaissance conferences, and the official news of white deaths outnumbering white births.
Sam Francis died before I even started high school, but the respect and reverence in which people I admire hold him is unlike anyone else I know of. The list of affectionate and heartbreaking obituaries written for Sam Francis by the best and the brightest of the alternative/dissident right included tributes by Paul Gottfried, Sam Dickson, Joe Sobran, Jared Taylor, Peter Brimelow, Patrick Buchanan, and many others. One thing they all made clear: a good man is hard to find. It makes me wish desperately that he had held on just a few more years so I could have had known him.
The long list of obituary authors parallels the great breadth of Mr. Francis’s writings. He wrote for a huge variety of publications — even when their editors fought and even libeled each other. Francis had such stature that he emerged from all infighting not only unscathed but esteemed. I can’t decide whether it is more amusing or depressing that when a gathering was held in Washington, DC, to promote a posthumous collection of Mr. Francis’s writing, those who showed up got into a quarrel.
There is a different kind of acknowledgment of Francis’s brilliance. The exact nature of his legacy and even interpretations of book reviews Francis wrote over a decade ago are still debated. Well after his death, people are still writing pieces about him that are half obituary, half ode. This James Kirkpatrick essay published on the eighth anniversary of his death is an example, as is Fran Griffin’s talk at the 2012 H.L. Mencken Club meeting. And leftists calling people “racist” try to tie their new victim to the name of Sam Francis, as Salon did most recently with Jack Hunter.
When I was at the last H.L. Mencken Club conference, I began chatting with an older attendee about the early days of the John Randolph Club and American Renaissance conferences. When I asked him what he thought it was about Sam Francis that made him so universally respected, he began to answer, then said it was hard to answer, and then paused to think. During the pause, a friend of his walked up and asked what we were talking about, to which I said, “I was just asking him about the early days of conferences like these.” Without missing a beat, he said, “Oh, son, it’s a pity you never got to see Sam Francis in action, boy was he brilliant.”
Although seeing Francis live is a pleasure I will never have, when I read his work I understand the reverence in which he is held. There are of course his unashamed writings on race: “As long as whites continue to avoid and deny their own racial identity . . . [they] will have no chance to resist their dispossession and their eventual and possible physical destruction.” And his unapologetic writings on culture, “. . . the United States of America is a Christian country . . . its people are a Christian people, and . . . its government and public leaders at all levels must reflect Christian beliefs and values.” But he was also a razor-tongued polemicist. He wrote this about Ronald Reagan: “. . . he may well have been the first chief executive since Herbert Hoover who did not deserve a prison term for his crimes . . . [but] his enduring legacy as a conservative statesman is pretty thin.”
He also had an uncanny ability to foresee the next turn in American politics. Shortly after the 2000 presidential election, Francis chastised Republican strategists who were trying to gain non-white votes at the expense of their white base. He wrote bluntly that this was “the road to political suicide,” and indeed, since then the Republicans have only eked out one presidential victory (largely due to the overwhelmingly white state of Ohio), and have been the minority in the Senate since 2006.
Four years later, reporting on the Democratic National Convention, he wrote about a rising star named Barack Obama. Though Francis never lived to see Mr. Obama win a senate seat, much less the presidency, his analysis was spot on:
His racial identity or supposed lack of it enables him to be both black and non-racial, white and multiracial, at the same time . . . which is useful when he’s presenting himself as “above” race and appealing to the white voters he’ll need if he’s going to be elected or when he’s denouncing his critics and opponents for playing race cards as he himself of course would never do.
During the controversy over the Confederate battle flag at South Carolina’s state capitol, Francis accurately predicted that once all things Southern were gone, there would come, “the eradication of all symbols from pre-1960s America that suggest a white-based or ‘Eurocentric’ public identity.” Over a decade later, even peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are said to have inherent racism — not because they are Confederate or Southern, but because they are “white.”
Sam Francis’s wisdom was not limited to racial matters. Many of his 1994 “Principalities and Powers” columns in Chronicles were about the horrific consequences NAFTA would soon have on American workers, of which that act’s 20th anniversary leaves little doubt. The Iraq War, too, was another folly he denounced early on. In April 2003, when so many pundits were cheering America’s victory in Iraq, he wrote that Americans had better “sober up.” The war was started over an outright lie, had killed tens of thousands of people, and had opened a can of worms that would be crawling over us for years.
The minister at Francis’s grave-side service noted that the deceased very much agreed with Flannery O’Connor: “Truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.” The bedrock of Francis’s legacy was his pursuit of the truth and the clear-eyed conclusions he drew when he found it. Men such as him are rare gifts from our race to our race.
[Editor’s Note: A collection of Sam Francis’s most incisive writing about race is available here.]