This is a review of Samuel T. Francis' posthumous book Leviathan and Its Enemies.
The fate of Samuel T. Francis in a conservative movement that has ceased to be in any socially significant sense more than an extension of the Left has been exactly what one might expect. Save for some isolated references (some of them from the Left) to Dr. Francis as a precursor of contemporary American populism and the Trump presidency, he has been conspicuously ignored—or else among neoconservatives, treated as an embarrassing reactionary. Supposedly Sam held unacceptable views about issues on which authorized conservatives have been running to acknowledge their movement’s past insensitivity. To his professional disadvantage, Sam never followed in their direction. He noted ethnic and cultural solidarity in framing his concept of an “historical America.” And he never held back in mocking the virtue-signaling of the “conservative” movement.
Not incidentally, Sam was by far the most brilliant social theorist produced by the American Right; and I say this after having studied and in some cases known other great social theorists on the onetime real Right. His mastery of Western history and the history of both Anglo-American and continental social theory was breath-taking; and as indicated in both my blurb and afterword to this posthumously published collection of papers on the managerial state and its operation, Sam was one “of the few intellectual giants of my acquaintance who could express himself lyrically and forcefully.” He could also sound like a Marxist when he wrote about social structure; and one would have to look to the traditional Left or else to the Southern Agrarians to find a more biting critical analysis of corporate capitalism than the one found in Leviathan and its Enemies.
For those looking for contemporary relevance in this sprawling text of over 700 pages, I would strongly recommend the concluding chapter, “The Prospects of the Soft Managerial Regime.” Here we learn how the managerial elite that “administers” our political affairs and creates and applies “social policy” (yes we are speaking about the Deep State), operates without the overt use of physical coercion. In this chapter Sam focuses on two groups that resist bureaucratic manipulation, one in which public education and more recently the media have come to play key roles. One of these groups are “blacks and other non-white racial groups” that “have largely retained the status of an internal proletariat in a soft managerial regime and exhibit considerable alienation from it, despite their acquisition of political leverage.” Although these groups show “widespread rejection of managerial liberalism” and are attracted to “charismatic racial nationalist leaders,” they are incapable of revolt. That is because of their “continuing dependence on the economic, legal, administrative and political services that the managerial regime provides.”
There is, however, a second, more promising source of resistance to what Sam describes as “soft” tyranny, albeit one that could turn brutal once faced by serious opposition. This is “the postbourgeois proletariat,” representing “an attitudinal cluster that occupies a lower middle class and working class position on the social and economic spectrum.” This group of rebels “was strongly supportive of both the presidential candidacy of George Wallace and various causes of early New Right activism.” Moreover, attitudinally, this second group is “defined by hostility to both the elite and its institutions as well as to the underclass, and by their characteristic belief that elite and underclass are in alliance against their interests.” This white semi-proletariat, for which Sam borrows the designation of the sociologist Donald I. Warren, “Middle American Radicals,” identifies its interests as “national or American” interests. Those who dominate and belittle them, moreover, are not seen as belonging to the “nation.”
One needn’t strain too hard to see in this description of MARS (Middle American Radicals) a foreshadowing of the Deplorables who came together to elevate a New York real estate mogul to the presidency in 2016. It is entirely possible that Sam would not have been satisfied with the result, particularly the tendency of the current administration to give priority at the highest level to neoconservative celebrities and GOP leftovers from earlier Republican administrations. What seems undeniable, as John Judis, Rush Limbaugh, and others have noticed, is the predictive value of Sam’s statements about the explosive potential of MARS voters. And the author, who died in 2003, didn’t make those statements recently. He was working on his magnum opus and developing his ideas when I first met him in the early 1980s.