For several decades before his death in 2005, Samuel T. Francis was a major voice of Chronicles and paleoconservatism in America. He was widely admired as an outstanding public commentator, winning awards for his incisive and eloquent writing. Unfortunately, he was attacked by neoconservative apparatchiks with hardly a fragment of his learning, perception, and eloquence in the latter part of his career.
Francis began working on his last book, Leviathan & Its Enemies: Mass Organization and Managerial Power in Twentieth-Century America, in the 1990s, although it was not published until 2016 by the efforts of admirers, to little notice.
But its description of the future course of our ruling elite is as accurate as if the author were reacting to today’s news. Few thinkers in our time have proven so prescient, which is why his work and insights merit the renewed interest they’ve enjoyed recently. There is yet much to glean from the mind of this Middle American radical.
Like his muse, the political theorist James Burnham, Francis’s main interest as a historian was power and its real locus, the ruling class—those who give orders but do not obey any superior, those who possess control of society’s wealth and privileges.
Following Burnham, Francis referred to the incumbent ruling class as the “managerial elite,” a group called to power in the 20th century with the technical skills to manage the vast organizations of production, consumption, finance, media, education, electoral politics, and government that characterize the modern world. Those at the top are a class unified not by material conditions but by ideology. They think alike and move with ease between the public and private spheres.
The modern West had two previous elite classes, the feudal and the bourgeois. They governed in their own interests, just as does the managerial elite, but had an ethic of service—a sense of noblesse oblige that sometimes made them useful to society as a whole. They wanted stability so that their position could be passed on to their descendants. Religion and culture retained influence. And local and independent power persisted in the lives of most people during their rule. They could not consolidate power in their hands as our managers have done.
The managerial elite has a power that is more total over society and none of the virtues that restrained previous ruling classes. Unlike other elites that primarily governed through force, the managerial elite mainly relies on forms of deceit, such as manipulation and fraud, to retain and expand its reach, which is unconstrained by national boundaries. Southern roots deeply motivated Francis’ interest in the regime’s power.
Our present ruling class relies on control of public discourse by “soft” suppression of dissent and a pseudo-moral belief that technology and education of the masses will bring future relief to all human ills. It requires cultivating an interchangeable population attuned to rootless hedonism with no private or local life of any force. The utopian future it promises is merely a gimmick to gull us into prolonging its hegemony. It also requires ideological homogenization down to the lowest common denominator that wears the name of “democratic consensus.”
But there are signs from various directions that this hegemony is weakening. Manipulation, as Francis knew, has its limits.
The regime must find justifications for its continued existence and expansion. It is incapable of stability. It relies on further deceits—chimerical concepts like “white privilege” and “global democracy.” It strives to wield minorities and aliens as foot soldiers as Middle Americans, instilling in them a perpetual sense of victimhood and violent resentment. And in a phenomenon Francis called “anarcho-tyranny,” the institutions of law and order are increasingly hard on the law-abiding but easy on the lawbreakers.
Our rulers, however, have proven incapable of dealing with realities like Russia and China that they cannot successfully manipulate with empty declarations of moral superiority. The disastrous war in Ukraine is another indicator that their global hegemony has been weakened under President Joe Biden. Meanwhile, the regime is increasingly forced to take more overtly repressive measures as domestic instability grows, revealing the iron fist behind the velvet glove every time it strikes at deplorables.
Sam Francis was prophetic. More than anyone else, he understood the regime and how it works to dispossess all those under its heel and what may yet lie ahead in the turbulent waters of these dark times.
Image: Sam Francis (George McCartney Jr. / Chronicles Magazine)