Sam Francis, the Prophet
Gregory Hood, American Renaissance, September 27, 2019
A Russian friend once told me that just before the Soviet Union’s collapse, news articles would mostly maintain the party line but slip real information into the middle. To get the truth, you just ignored the conclusion.
This method works well with Matthew Rose’s recent piece on Sam Francis, “The Outsider.” Mr. Rose does not like Francis, who died in 2005. Yet he also describes Francis’s thought without major distortions. He admits Francis’s prescience. But he concludes by dramatically excommunicating Francis from Western Civilization. Mr. Rose’s reasons for doing so are so weak they prove Francis’s worldview.
Mr. Rose’s piece is occasionally self-refuting. “Francis’s writing earned him many critics, few sympathizers, and no influence,” he says. He was “purged and marginalized in life.” Yet Mr. Rose credits Francis with inspiring Pat Buchanan’s powerful and prophetic 1992 Culture War speech, and he quotes Jared Taylor’s salute to the “premier philosopher of white racial consciousness.” Once again, a critic can’t decide whether white advocates are losers or powerful.
Francis was never “marginal.” Even Francis’s enemies called him the “philosopher king” of his movement. Francis helped edit Patrick Buchanan’s The Death of the West, a hugely influential book. (On a personal note, I’ll never forget discovering Sam Francis at Townhall.com, and The Death of the West changed my life.) The Washington Post noted Francis’s death, and Peter Brimelow, Tom Fleming, Paul Gottfried, Pat Buchanan, Jared Taylor and Joseph Sobran all eulogized him.
Mr. Rose concedes Francis has attained “extraordinary prominence since his death.” He recalls Rush Limbaugh reading Sam Francis’s prescient “From Household to Nation” on air during the 2016 campaign. Decades before Donald Trump, Francis described the national populism that could transform American politics.
Mr. Rose accurately notes that Francis’s political outlook was modern, scorning the “proclivity to abstraction” typical of most conservatives. “It accepted the materialism and secularism of modern thinking,” he writes of Francis’s “counter-modernist” method, “rejecting the primacy of metaphysics and theology.” Francis drew on the “Machiavellian” political tradition, especially its most prominent modern advocate, James Burnham. “This body of thought saw politics not as a sphere in which human beings can order their common life through rational deliberation,” Mr. Rose says, “but as an arena in which they seek to dominate one another or escape domination by others.”
Though Mr. Rose doesn’t like this and makes this approach sound harsh, he’s not misrepresenting Francis. In The Other Side of Modernism, Francis explicitly argued that “among contemporary conservatives only James Burnham offered a theoretical framework and a practical application of modernist political ideas that challenge the conventional modernist categories as defined by the Left.” Francis said “Burnham’s modernism threatened to remove the philosophical ground from under the Left’s feet and leave it with no basis for its political ideology.”
In The Machiavellians, Burnham argues political rhetoric has both a “formal” and “real” meaning. He mocks “formal” arguments that assert metaphysical claims, unproven moral imperatives, or arbitrary appeals to authority. “The myths, the ghosts, the idealistic abstractions change name and form,” he wrote of political rhetoric, “but the method persistently remains.” What matters is the “real” meaning of political discourse, a person’s goals in the “real world of space, and time and history.”
Mr. Rose accurately describes this method and Francis’s use of it to explain the conservative movement’s failures. American conservatives took “liberalism at face value” and “ignored the relationship between [conservatism’s] own ideology and its disintegrating social basis.”
Decades ago, Francis was also right to note that conservative voters didn’t believe in Conservatism Inc. orthodoxy. In the 2016 Republican primary, the base rejected its self-proclaimed leaders and rallied to a man who attacked Beltway Right platitudes on immigration, trade, foreign policy, and social programs. “Market Skeptical Republicans,” who distrust Big Business and support higher taxes on the rich, formed a major part of President Trump’s coalition.
In Leviathan, Francis outlines the ways liberalism, like all ideologies, “rationalizes and justifies the rule of an elite minority,” in Mr. Rose’s words. Mr. Rose argues Francis’s real target in this book was American conservatism, which he called “the obsolete ideology of a vanquished class, an anachronism whose only function is to provide a veneer of ideological diversity to American public life.” This is beautifully put.
Mr. Rose also cites Francis’s identification of Middle American Radicals as a “revolutionary class” that could challenge the managerial regime. In 2016, they did just that.
Mr. Rose is critical of Francis’s turn to “white racial consciousness,” but accurately reports how this affected his political views. Francis argued that the GOP’s attempt to win minority voters was “the road to political suicide” and that Republicans should instead focus on white turnout. He was right. In 2016, President Trump turned out white working class voters in Rust Belt states that most pundits thought were part of the “Blue Wall.” This was what ensured victory, not fanciful gains among blacks or Hispanics.
Mr. Rose says Francis’s “racism” was an open secret and writes distastefully of his “vehement opposition to affirmative action and a holiday for Martin Luther King Jr.” Does opposing racial preferences makes you a “racist?”
Regarding Martin Luther King Jr., First Things’s Richard John Neuhaus outlined Martin Luther King Jr.’s sexual sins in a 2002 essay, even before we learned that MLK was a quasi-rapist. Like Mr. Rose’s essay, this article is worth reading except for the conclusion, where Neuhaus burns a pinch of incense and ritualistically praises King’s “Christian witness.” If being Christian means believing Jesus Christ is the Son of God, King was not a Christian.
In one passage Mr. Rose is just plain wrong. He accuses Francis of writing a “biblical defense of slavery” when he criticized the Southern Baptists’ apology in his 1995 column “All Those Things to Apologize For.” However, Francis simply observed that the Bible did not condemn slavery. “Neither Jesus nor the apostles nor the early church condemned slavery,” wrote Francis, “despite countless opportunities to do so, and there is no indication that slavery is contrary to Christian ethics or that any serious theologian before modern times ever thought it was.” The Bible explicitly commands slaves to obey masters “just as you would obey Christ.” (Ephesians 6:5) If Mr. Rose finds this offensive, he should take it up with St. Paul.
Francis’s point was that was once the Southern Baptists subordinated Scripture to liberal morality, the church would drift leftward until they were no different from progressives. Again, he was right: Most mainline Protestants have done exactly what Francis predicted 24 years ago.
Today, the Southern Baptist Convention condemns “white supremacy,” denounces its own founding, and preaches about the importance of “integrated churches” while ensuring non-whites get their own events. The head of its Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Russell Moore, celebrates the church’s shift from whites to “African Anglicans and Asian Calvinists and Latin American Pentacostals,” and condemns President Donald Trump in The New York Times.
The Roman Catholic Church, wracked by talk of schism, is on a similar path. Popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis have all apologized in the name of the Church for misdeeds including but not limited to the Crusades, colonialism, slavery, the Inquisition, and mistreating gypsies.
“[Sam Francis] denied the transcendent horizon that is the greatest enemy of the managerial ideology,” writes Mr. Rose. What victories has “the transcendent horizon” won? Who (other than Mr. Rose himself presumably) represents this “transcendent horizon?”
If the churches do, most are hardly an obstacle to the managerial elite. The federal government pays many churches and religious groups to help settle immigrants. The clergy’s interest in filling pews and bank accounts explains their immigration policies more than any ideological excuse. Many church leaders, particularly the mainline Protestant pastors and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have views no different from those of a typical campus progressive — except perhaps on abortion.
Unless God changed His mind or no true Christians existed until the late 1960s, we must analyze church politics in secular terms. The churches’ obsession with newly invented sins such as “sexism” and “racism,” their institutional decline, the collapse of religious faith and “family values” are temporal events. Analyzing power relations in this world is the best way to explain them. It’s also the best way to develop strategies to reverse them, assuming Mr. Rose cares to do so.
Mr. Rose does not like Francis’s “racial biopolitics” and cites his assertion that “the civilization that we as whites created in Europe and America could not have developed apart from the genetic endowments of the creating people.” He decries Francis’s “theories of racial biology” as “speculative.”
Yet unlike Mr. Rose’s syrupy appeals to the “highest good” or “transcendence,” “racial theories” can be proven true or false. White advocates believe race is a biological reality. It has social, economic, and political consequences. It is an important part of individual and group identity. Mr. Rose may dispute these claims with evidence, but evoking a “transcendent horizon” only he can see doesn’t count.
“The nationalist and populist movements that Francis anticipated will succeed in challenging liberalism only to the extent that they abjure Francis’s racial resentments and assert the common goods and transcendent horizon his materialist thinking denies,” writes Mr. Rose. What evidence is there of this? The American Left is practically defined by racial resentments and it’s winning. The list of symbols, institutions, and people tarnished by “white privilege” is growing. A simple glance at Twitter, television, or election returns shows that race is the dominant undercurrent in American politics and culture. Moreover, race is central to most non-whites’ identity. As the author of a recent book on identity politics notes, “Americans today remain more polarized around issues of race than ever.” They are in a power struggle, not a philosophical debate over “common goods.” As Burnham wrote in The Machiavellians, “Political analysis becomes, like other dreams, the expression of human wish or the admission of practical failure.”
After a lengthy essay essentially proving Sam Francis’s prescience and his analytical power, Mr. Rose calls him “an outsider to his civilization” precisely because Francis didn’t substitute abstract longings for objective analysis. Mr. Rose accuses Francis of discarding one of the “central beliefs of the civilization he claimed to defend: that man is a rational being, capable of knowledge and love, who bears the image of God.”
I admire Mr. Rose’s boldness in defining the West’s “central beliefs,” but does this mean Asians, Africans, or Middle Easterners aren’t rational or “capable of knowledge and love?” Or will they become Westerners if we translate enough copies of First Things into Mandarin or Swahili? Or are they all Westerners already? Should those who think men have irrational urges join Francis’s exile?
Declaring everyone is in the “image of God” sounds fine, but it’s only a poetic assertion. When they’re not pooh-poohing the idea, leftists usually use it to cow whites into silence about their own interests. Recently, Nancy Pelosi spoke of the “spark of divinity” in MS-13 gangbangers. Is she scanning the “transcendent horizon” or just advancing political ends?
Defining a civilization or a country in ideological terms leads precisely to Mr. Rose’s conclusion. It ends in purging people for not holding certain values. Many people within a civilization don’t share these supposedly essential values. Even worse, despite claims that such values or beliefs are eternal, they shift according to earthly power structures.
National Review, for example, went from comparing homosexuality to necrophilia in 1995 to endorsing same-sex marriage by 2015. Many churches adjusted their teachings on homosexuality, just as they did with race, just as they are doing now with transgenders, just as they will do with whatever the “transcendent horizon” requires next.
Mr. Rose seems oblivious to churches’ status as a plaything for the managerial elite. Religious traditionalists “offer a more fundamental challenge than [Francis] ever did,” writes Mr. Rose, “by seeking to unite people in a shared love, a common covenant ordered to the highest good.”
Which religious traditionalists? Traditionalists of different denominations often believe everyone else is damned, so we can hardly consider them united. Are Julius Evola and René Guénon included among these “traditionalists?” Baron Evola was certainly more “traditionalist” than Pope Francis.
And a “shared love” of what? Who drafts this “common covenant?” Who determines the “highest good?”
People with power answer these questions. Without answers, Mr. Rose’s statement is meaningless. It’s bad enough to define a civilization by abstractions. It’s worse to do it with orotund phrases that mean nothing.
Sam Francis’s political analysis was materialist, yet it doesn’t follow that he denied the transcendent. He wrote thoughtfully about the ancient spiritual customs of our people, identifying common links between pre-Christian religious concepts and contemporary Christian theology. Francis showed our people had a singular sense of the “transcendent horizon” that was manifest throughout our entire history, even before Christianity. His fight to defend our people and its unique genius was an intellectual holy war, and he sacrificed much for his crusade. Yet anyone who wants to understand the actions of American politicians, Renaissance popes, or today’s timid princes of the Church must study power, interest, and identity.
Mr. Rose ends his essay with a crude insult. “[Francis] displayed no feeling for literature, art, music, philosophy, or theology.” Really? Pat Buchanan wrote in his Francis obituary that “he loved Southern and American literature, history and heroes, and few men of his time were so widely read.”
Jared Taylor writes:
Sam Francis was a deeply cultured man. As one would expect from a history PhD, he had an intimate knowledge of the past. Whether it was the Greco-Persian wars or an obscure insurrection against British rule in East Africa, he could tell you the causes, the details, and the strategic consequences. For Francis, the present was intimately and organically connected to what went before; he delighted in analyzing the forces that had given birth to our times, and could always offer incisive historical parallels to contemporary events.
More surprisingly, Francis was equally at home with literature. There was hardly a novel of Dickens or Sinclair Lewis, or a major poem by Alexander Pope with which he was unfamiliar. His reading was broad: He also had a practically encyclopedic knowledge of the work of H.P. Lovecraft. Francis made the most of the National Gallery and particularly loved the National Portrait Gallery for its record of historic Americans, but he had nothing but scorn for special exhibitions of ‘marginalized’ artists.
This captures the essential point. Francis knew his culture because its roots are in our people. Our symbols, values, and yes, our sense of the transcendent come from within us. They cannot simply be transferred to others, because, like Jared Taylor says, “Only we can be us.”
Mr. Rose mocks Francis for “studying management theory and the history of corporate government in the basement of his Maryland home” while “other conservatives were debating the roots of Western culture.” First, this ignores Francis’s years at the Heritage Foundation, his service on Senator East’s staff, his role as a political adviser to Patrick Buchanan, and his countless editorials for The Washington Times. Second, if you have to “debate” the roots of your own culture, you either don’t know much about it or it’s dying. That’s why the managerial elite is content to let the collaborators build castles in the sky, cultures in the ether, and movements that never move. Meanwhile, it silences those who pose a threat.
While conservatives were debating what they should already know, the roots of Western culture were ripped out from under them. Sam Francis, along with his Machiavellian predecessors, developed a method that allows us to understand what’s happening and fight back effectively. He was taken from us before he could complete his work. Yet he is still, in Pat Buchanan’s phrase, “the Clausewitz of the Right.” He is the prophet of our time and the guide for our future. Maybe he was an “outsider” to this sick social order. If so, that alone deserves our respect — and justifies its destruction.