Friday, May 27, 2016

Beautiful Losers. The Intellectual Triumvirate.



Firstly, I think it is important to fix Sam Francis to a particular point in the Political spectrum in order to fully appreciate his ideas. Whilst Francis wrote for many publications, he did not agree with the editorial tone of some of them, even those who popularised his ideas. Francis's writing  offended a lot of people and he advocated positions which struck the sacred cows of political correctness at their very heart. As a result, he became persona non grata amongst "Respectable" publishing  and he ended up being banished amongst the the extreme. The practical effect of this exile was that his opinion have been associated with their and thus his reputation has been besmirched. I think this is unfair.

Had Francis been born in 1920's America he probably would have been considered a moderate, even a liberal, but the passage of time has seen society culturally so shifted to the Left that by the time of his death he was considered a member of the lunatic right. Yet this was not his natural intellectual home.  While he would of applauded Trump--and not for the reasons that most expect--I think he would have found the Stormfront Right abhorrent. He was a serious thinker and most of them are clowns.

Francis's proper positioning in the political spectrum is not within the Aryan Nation but within the Paleoconservative tradition, what Francis would call the Old Right.  He was fiercely opposed to Neoconservatism and regarded most of the "official right" with some disdain. For him, the United States was a "concrete" thing; a geography, a nation, a people, a history. It most emphatically was not a "proposition".  However unlike most of the traditionalists, Francis understood that many of the changes wrought to U.S. society were very unlikely to be undone:
If the Old Right stood for anything, it stood for the conservation of the "Old Republic" that flourished in the United States between the American War for Independence and the Great Depression and the civilizational antecedents of the American republic in the history and thought of Europe, and it is precisely that political construct that the managerial revolution overthrew and rendered all but impossible to restore. The Old Republic cannot be restored today because few Americans even remember it, let alone want it back, and even a realistic description of it would frighten and alienate most citizens. The essence of a republic, articulated by almost every theorist of republicanism from Cicero to Montesquieu, is the independence of the citizens who compose it and their commitment to a sustained active participation in its public affairs, the res publica. The very nature of the managerial revolution and the regime that developed from it promotes not independence, but dependency and not civic participation, but civic passivity. Today, almost the whole of American society encourages dependency and passivity—in the economy, through the continuing absorption of independent farms and businesses by multinational corporations, through ever more minute regulation by the state and through the dragooning of mass work forces in office and factory and mass consumption through advertising and public relations; in the culture, through the regimented and centralized manufacture and manipulation of thought taste, opinion, and emotion itself by the mass media and educational organizations; and in the state, through its management of more and more dimensions of private and social existence under the color of "therapy" that does not cure, "voluntary service" that is really mandatory, and periodic "wars," against poverty, illiteracy, drugs, or other fashionable monsters, that no one ever wins. The result is an economy that does not work, a democracy that does not vote, families without fathers, classes without property, a government that passes more and more laws, a people that is more and more lawless, and a culture that neither thinks nor feels except when and what it is told or tricked to think and feel.

To be sure, there are many Americans who resent and fear these trends, and sometimes they flex enough political muscle to gain a few more tax breaks, a handful of increased federal entitlements, or a tenuous and temporary relief from strangulation by the managerial octopus. Their discontents and fears, if properly mobilized, may revive an American Right and may eventually succeed in achieving some of its projects. But almost no one wants a republic or even knows what a republic is, and there can be no possibility of a republic in the United States again until Americans are willing to assume the burdens of civic responsibility and independence that republican life demands. The American Right—Old or New, Paleo or Neo—failed to persuade Americans to take up those burdens, as their ancestors took them up in Williamsburg and Boston, at Fort Sumter and Gettysburg, and those who identified with its cause are only a few of the Americans who will eventually pay the price of that failure. No matter how beautiful its ideas and theories, no matter how compelling a chart of the currents of history's river it drew, American conservatism was not enough to channel those currents into other courses. It is as a chronicle and an explanation of these beautiful losers in our history that these essays may serve.
Francis thought that many of the conservative intellectuals were too abstract and concerned with ideas more than the practical application of them. For Francis the most damning indictment of the conservative intellectuals was their ineffectiveness, and his aim in writing this book was too analyse this failure in order not to repeat the mistakes of the past.  For Francis, a large part of the Traditionalist failure stemmed from a failure to understand that the material, social and economic conditions bought about by progress were likely to be irreversible and that nostalgic efforts to turn the clock back were a waste of time.
But even if it has a future, the Right will not be riding in a conservative vehicle, at least not one that would be recognizable to most of those who have regarded themselves as conservatives since World War II [Ed]. That vehicle has pretty much ended up on the junk heap of history, and in retrospect it is hard to see where else it could have landed. The meaning of the world-historical change that Burnham called the managerial revolution is that what the Old Right, in any of its philosophical or political forms, represented and championed is defunct.
This something I want to dwell on a bit more in a later post, but what Francis is saying here is the changes wrought on society by impersonal forces such a capitalism, population growth, affluence and technology are in themselves transformative of society.  Traditional society wasn't just killed by choice, it was also killed by technology, specialisation and population growth. What Francis[and this blog] is saying is that traditionalists have failed to factor these "impersonal factors" into account in their visions of restoration. Reading the book, one gets the impression that while Francis values some of the thought of the old Right, he is dismissive of most of it because of it because it was ineffectual. Francis was extraordinarily well read and what I found interesting was his list of intellectuals who he felt offered a path to success for the conservative movement.
While the mainstream of Old Right thought continued to dwell on philosophical esoterica, the three Old Right conservatives considered in these essays—Burnham, Willmoore Kendall, and Whittaker Chambers—actually departed from the mainstream in formulating ideas by which a popularly based Right could mount effective challenges to managerialism and its liberal formulas. The thrust of Kendall's thought was toward what today would be called a populist strategy, and Burnham, though he seems in the 1950s to have advocated cooperation with what he regarded as the historically irreversible managerial revolution, followed a similar path from the late 1960s and 1970s. Chambers never showed any sympathy for the new managerial regime and recognized in it a domesticated form of communism that was less violent, but no less revolutionary, than its Soviet cousin. Unlike Burnham and Kendall, however, Chambers's response to the revolution was one of intensely personal religious withdrawal. Yet throughout Chambers's work, from his earliest essays and short stories, written in his communist period, through his last letters and articles, he dwelled on the material and psychic suffering of the common man, what he called in Witness "the plain men and women of the nation." Despite their differences, these three Old Rightists are perhaps the only major theorists of the first generation of the Old Right who made any significant contribution to the development of a body of ideas and a practical strategy that could bring the Right out of its philosophical clouds and political archaism and point toward a realistic and popularly based challenge to managerial power.
I had never heard of Kendall, knew a bit a Burnham and know Chambers very well and of the three Kendall seems the odd one out, however, nowhere is there a mention of Der Furher, Evola or Chamberlain. Francis was simply a cut above the rest. Of those three, the one with the most influence was by far James Burnham, whose studies into the nature of modern power provided both an analytical framework with regard to understanding the power of the Left and provided a intellectual tool by which strategies could be developed in order to combat it.

14 comments:

Wanda Sherratt said...

This sounds very interesting. I've ordered a used copy of 'Beautiful Losers' from AbeBooks, based on your review.

I'm nearly 57, and have never thought of myself as anything but conservative. But this last year has finally brought me to the realization that just waiting for the inevitable victory of conservative truth over leftist error is pointless. We're not winning. And I'm shocked and angered by the conservative opinion-leaders I've always trusted, who insist that we have to keep doing what isn't working. Suddenly I'm aware that they're not disinterested experts, as I'd thought. What isn't working for me is working very well for them, and they want the status quo to continue for their own benefit.

Samuel Nock said...

For more on all of these three people and others, I highly recommend Jeffrey Hart's "The Making of the American Conservative Mind: National Review and it's Times". Hart was an early disciple of Kendell, and essentially joined conservatism through his contact with Kendell. Also has very interesting perspectives on the entire old NR crowd.

The Social Pathologist said...

@Wanda

But this last year has finally brought me to the realization that just waiting for the inevitable victory of conservative truth over leftist error is pointless

Agree. A an active defense needs to be mounted.

@Sam

Thanks. Related to Alfred?

Samuel Nock said...

Inspired by Albert J.

MK said...

Suddenly I'm aware that they're not disinterested experts, as I'd thought. What isn't working for me is working very well for them, and they want the status quo to continue for their own benefit.

Wanda, this last year has been amazing, hasn't it? I always knew the Right was corrupt, we are all sinners, but had NO idea how deeply in bed with the media and liberals the Right is. It's the elite versus the rest of us.

I never would have believed what I've seen in the last 6 months from conservatives against Trump. They don't even pretend to be honest anymore. I'm wondering just how clueless I really am, and have been, about our leaders.

The Social Pathologist said...

@Mk

I never would have believed what I've seen in the last 6 months from conservatives against Trump.

I've got to admit, the spectacle has been both amazing and horrifying. Horrifying in the sense the the rank and file are treated with such open contempt by GOP leadership when their status is challenged. The GOP in the U.S. and its equivalents in the Anglo-sphere are not really "Right" at all, rather they're just the slow moving version of the Left.

Greg said...

"James Burnham, whose studies into the nature of modern power provided both an analytical framework with regard to understanding the power of the Left and provided a intellectual tool by which strategies could be developed in order to combat it."

Are there any particular books of his, that focus on that, that you'd recommend?

TSP's . said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Social Pathologist said...

@Gregg

Still going through them, but I'd really recommend the book I'm currently reviewing, Beautiful Losers. I've also ordered Revolution from the Middle and hope to digest a bit more of his work.

Wanda Sherratt said...

MK - It's hard to describe just how upside-down things have become in the last 6 months. Like you, I'm facing the idea that I've just been a dupe for years. I blindly believed almost everything I was told by the "Buckley Conservatives", as the Z-Man has dubbed them on his blog. And of course we'd win, because "our ideas work". Of course, it seemed to be taking a bit of a long time, but what was the alternative?

Then Trump came along, and the reaction from the National Review intelligentsia and political leaders left me stunned. Finally I was forced to do some stock-taking, and the bottom line just did not add up. Loss after loss in the culture wars, bringing us to a present situation that the conservatives of 1984 would have regarded as as dystopian as Orwell's fictional world. Yet those who "run" the conservative movement not only are unashamed of this appalling record of the last quarter century, they're angry that we're not grateful to them for their efforts! Their naked hostility toward "the benighted", as Jonah Goldberg has termed the conservative base who've turned to Trump for rescue, was the moment the idol toppled for me.

Maybe this is what they call as "preference cascade", but it feels bigger somehow. I wonder if there wasn't a moment like this in all revolutions. That moment when a person thinks, "My God, if they've lost MY support..." It's like I find myself in uncharted waters, and I don't care. I'm not going back to the way things used to be - I can't. I was living in a dream world, and now I'm awake.

MK said...

Wanda, I blindly believed almost everything I was told by the "Buckley Conservatives"

At least you have an excuse. I'd rather have been blinded by ideology than be a fool who thought he was "objective". I'm like a poker player thinking he's bluffing somebody only to find out he's the one being bluffed.

But I learned a lot on this one. And that's clearly something.

Anonymous said...

What we are experiencing is a paradigm shift, as defined by Thomas Kuhn in "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions". That is, the old paradigm (worldview, a description that adequately and correctly addresses the empirical facts) is no longer sufficient to describe what is taking place. Those most heavily invested in and/or benefiting from the old paradigm and their place in it are no longer sufficiently able to assert the old paradigm to dismiss the new empirical observations. When the dam breaks, it doesn't take long for the collapse to be total.

Wanda Sherratt said...

Yes. A paradigm shift - that's what it is. Because it's not just a failing of one part of the mechanism, the whole thing is seizing up, everywhere. It's as if we were on a journey somewhere, and the car broke down. We're standing on the side of the road, trying to fix the motor using the usual tools and methods which ought to work. Then suddenly we discover that this thing isn't a car, it's a sewing machine! Well, no WONDER all our efforts weren't working! This just can't do the job we need it to do.

I pay attention to American politics, even though I'm Canadian, because it seems as if the issues are amplified and in better focus in the U.S. But it isn't really any different up here. This week the federal Conservative Party was having its convention in Vancouver. My husband mentioned it in passing, and I said, "Didn't I hear something on the radio about the Conservatives approving gay marriage?" He said, "Well, they decided to drop their opposition to it." I said, "And this is supposed to be our *conservative* party?" He couldn't answer.

We don't have a Trump figure here to act as a magnet for people like me, who've been left stranded by the collapse of-- I don't know just what to call it. Normality, it seems like.

The Social Pathologist said...

Wanda, I'm here in Australia, but as rule of thumb, the Political Anglosphere is closely related and hence the applicability of Francis's views.

Social decay seems to have accelerated at a far greater rate in U.S compared to the rest of the Anglosphere with the exception of the U.K. Hence the rise of Trump. I imagine that similar figures will arise in our respective countries should financial conditions deteriorate.