Friday, September 22, 2017

Exorcising the history of conservatism, Part 1,727

Sam Francis, untitled painting 1962, Jacobson Gallery, via WideWalls.

David Brooks discusses the reactionary, anti-immigrant and (at least theologically) pro-slavery, Machiavellian writer Samuel T. Francis (1947-2005) , not to be confused with Sam Francis (1923-94), the wonderful abstract expressionist colorist ("The Coming War on Business"):
The only time I saw Sam Francis face-to-face — in the Washington Times cafeteria sometime in the late 1980s or early 1990s — I thought he was a crank, but it’s clear now that he was at that moment becoming one of the most prescient writers of the past 50 years. There’s very little Donald Trump has done or said that Francis didn’t champion a quarter century ago.
OK, I'm going to stick my neck out and say it was probably 1986, the year David Brooks left his first adult job, at the Moonie Times as we call it, to move on to the more respectable Wall Street Journal, and Samuel T. Francis, then 39, joined the Times as a columnist. It seems easier to imagine them being in the paper's cafeteria at the same time during however many months it was both of them worked there than at any other time. "Prescient" is a really peculiar word choice: Francis wasn't foreseeing the advent of Trumpery on the basis of interesting theoretical labors, or a prophetic gift, he was actively working for it, in the form of what Pat Buchanan called "paleoconservatism".

This is going to be one of those efforts to show how completely unexpected and foreign Trumpery is to the Republican Party and the conservative movement, waltzing into the Washington Times cafeteria one day out of nowhere. The thesis is that it was Francis, "wickedly brilliant" but sadly "infected with racism"—

His friends and allies counseled him not to express his racist views openly, but people like that always go there, sooner or later.
—getting him fired by the Washington Times and chided by old Mr. Buckley, that it was Francis who invented the whole Trumpery thing, in eight paragraphs not citing a source:
In a series of essays for conservative magazines like Chronicles, Francis hammered home three key insights.
Make that one essay, in Chronicles, March 1996, "From Household to NationThe Middle American Populism of Pat Buchanan ", as he finally notes in paragraph 9, I mean that's the only one Brooks quotes from and clearly the only one he's looked at. The key insights are that (1) "globalization was screwing America" as "the service economy was ruining small farms and taking jobs from the working class"; that (2)
the Republican and conservative establishment did not understand what was happening. He railed against the pro-business “Economic Men” who thought G.D.P. growth could solve the nation’s problems, and the Washington Republicans, who he thought were infected with the values of the educated elites
and that (3)
politics was no longer about left versus right. Instead, a series of smaller conflicts — religious versus secular, nationalist versus globalist, white versus nonwhite — were all merging into a larger polarity, ruling class versus Middle America.
That last bit may be the first time anybody formally constructed the logic by which nonwhite people first got incorporated into the ruling elite, in the conservative mind. It goes without saying that the advance-guard of Francis's ruling elite ("a lot of modern corporate capitalists—the managerial class basically—has no loyalty to any country anymore, or any particular values other than the bottom line") are rootless cosmopolitans, if you know what I mean.

And you know who else, almost completely unmentioned, is not in this conception of the ruling class? People who own stuff—property owners and farmers, shopkeepers, rentiers. These too are subject to the tyranny of the managers, their own ungrateful employees. (What Brooks fears will be a "war on business" is a Trumpy or post-Trumpy attack on those managers, though I don't think he really needs to worry about that. This schema isn't meant to arouse a revolution against the ruling class, but to disguise who the ruling class is.)

Anyway the upshot was that in 1991, preparing Buchanan for his first presidential run, Francis advised Buchanan not to use the word "conservative" at all:
"These people are defunct," I told him. "You don't need them, and you're better off without them. Go to New Hampshire and call yourself a patriot, a nationalist, an America Firster, but don't even use the word 'conservative.' It doesn't mean anything any more." 
Which proves effectively, for Brooks, that he and Buchanan weren't conservatives, even though Buchanan didn't take the advice. And then because Francis unfortunately turned out to be a racist, in spite of his "wicked brilliance", he was unable to influence the Republican party at all, of course.

But Francis certainly didn't come to the Washington Times out of nowhere: he came out of the office of Senator John East (R-NC), a Jesse Helms protégé who had just died (a suicide, despondent over horrible health issues), where he'd been working since 1981; and before that from the Heritage Foundation, and a PhD from UNC Chapel Hill, where, Metapedia says,
he was part of a campus clique that Walker Percy called "the Chapel Hill conspiracy." The group was fascinated by antebellum culture and the Southern Agrarians.
And intellectually from the school of James Burnham, the former Trotskyist who turned conservative in the early 1940s (his masterpicce, The Managerial Revolution: What is Happening in the World, treating fascism, Stalinism, and the New Deal as hardly distinguishable manifestations of a single phenomenon, came out in 1941), and a founding editor of the National Review from 1955 until the end of his working life—William F.Buckley, Jr. called him "the number one intellectual influence on National Review since the day of its founding", and David Brooks recalled
“When I joined National Review at age 24 I joined a very self-conscious tradition,” Brooks fondly reminisced in March [2016]. “I was connected to a history of insight and belief; to Edmund Burke and Whittaker Chambers and James Burnham.” 
That last from a terrific piece from last Halloween by Jeet Heer (drawing on a possibly even more terrific piece from Timothy Shenk in The Guardian the previous August), detailing the line that connects the thinking of James Burnham to Donald Trump, of
ultra-nationalism as evinced by a unilateralist foreign policy, protectionist trade policy, and support for immigration restriction.... deployed in the service of a submerged white working class in revolt against a managerial over-class
and the general theme of white supremacy:
Burnham was also a white supremacist. As Samuel Francis noted in the magazine Chronicles Magazine in 2002, “in the 1960’s, Burnham defended segregation on pragmatic and constitutional (though not explicitly racial) grounds and, by the 70’s, was suggesting actual racial separation of blacks in a ‘non-contiguous’ area accorded ‘limited sovereignty.’ He also defended both Rhodesia and South Africa, as well as other right-wing states.” In fact, Burnham thought that South Africa’s Apartheid system could be a model for America, with blacks confined to Bantustans. 
Samuel Francis was all about Burnham; his most important books—including the first, Power and History, The Political Thought of James Burnham, 1984, and last, Leviathan and its Enemies, published posthumously in 2016—were about Burnham's thought. But the name of Burnham and the term "paleoconservative" appear nowhere in Brooks's column.

Nor does one other thing: when Brooks writes, "The Buchanan campaign was the first run at what we now know as Trumpian populism," he's forgetting the 1968 presidential campaign of Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew, in which Buchanan made his bones as a speechwriter, and which covered a lot of this space of Middle America against the intellectuals and their welfare-addicted dark-skinned allies. Nixon even spoke of America's international obligations in a Trumpy tone when he accepted the nomination (perhaps in words Buchanan had written):
Now we are a rich country. We are a strong nation. We are a populous nation. But there are two hundred million Americans and there are two billion people that live in the Free World.
And I say the time has come for other nations in the Free World to bear their fair share of the burden of defending peace and freedom around this world.
What I call for is not a new isolationism. It is a new internationalism in which America enlists its allies and its friends around the world in those struggles in which their interest is as great as ours.
Not all Republicans, and not all American conservatives, agree with Francis about anything; it would be amazing if they did, since they never agree about anything else other than the general horror of paying taxes. But Francis's thinking is as conservative, and Republican, as anything ever was, right in the party's bones; it's even particularly Burkean, in its tenderness toward the squirearchy of small farms and the petite bourgeoisie of small towns and gingerly monoculturalism—not toward the mixed races and disorderly lives of the working people it affects to care about. It's a huge part of the conservatism Brooks himself was inducted into in old Mr. Buckley's East Side apartment and aboard the yacht in the early 1980s. Samuel Francis didn't invent a thing.

What's that lower-case L up to floating in the third line from the bottom? 

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