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.