Two years after Sam Francis’ untimely death, Michael Brendan Dougherty wrote a long essay about Francis titled “The Castaway.” The title came from an email Francis sent to friends (including me) after William F. Buckley described him as one of the “castaways” from the conservative movement. This was Francis' response to Buckley: “As I have mentioned before, a ‘castaway’ is someone like Robinson Crusoe who managed to save himself after the ship on which he was traveling was wrecked . . . It is not someone cast out or away from a ship. That is called being marooned (Ben Gunn in Treasure Island is an example, as was Alexander Selkirk on whom Crusoe is based). The word ‘castaway’ as applied to me by [Buckley] implies that the conservative movement was the ship in which I was traveling, that it wrecked and I survived."
Earlier this week Dougherty again wrote about Francis, this time arguing that his essay “From Household to Nation,” published in the February 1996 issue of Chronicles, had accurately predicted the rise of a campaign like Donald Trump’s. Many people found this persuasive, including Rush Limbaugh, who told his listeners yesterday that Francis had indeed understood the forces giving rise to Trump.
It is hard to imagine many other political writers who could be profitably read two decades later, much less accurately credited with predicting events two decades later, but Sam Francis was just such a writer. (Francis did more than predict the rise of someone like Trump; he told attendees at the Fall 2004 meeting of the John Randolph Club that someone named Barack Obama had a bright political future, a theme he explored in the March 2005 issue of Chronicles). Like so much of what Francis wrote, “From Household to Nation” seems as fresh today as when it was written. In it, Sam saw the critical dividing line in American politics as running between “Middle America” and the “Ruling Class,” with the principal issue dividing these groups being globalization: “As champions of the globalist right like Jack Kemp, Phil Gramm, Steve Forbes, Newt Gingrich, Ben Wattenberg, George Gilder, Robert Bartley, Julian Simon, and George Will never tire of explaining, globalization means the disappearance of nationality, of cultures closely linked to national identity, probably of national sovereignty itself, and even of the distinctive populations of which nations are composed. By signing on to globalization, then, the right has effectively metamorphosed itself into the left and forfeited the sole grounds of its appeal to the nationalism and social and cultural conservatism that continue to animate Middle Americans.” Nationalism continues to animate Middle Americans today, which is why Trump’s criticisms of foreign trade and immigration and his pledge to “Make America Great Again” have proven so potent.
Pitted against these paladins of globalism in 1996 was Pat Buchanan, whose “[p]rotectionism . . . follows from his economic nationalism, reflecting the economic interests and identity of the nation, just as a defense and foreign policy follows from his political nationalism, reflecting the political interests and identity of the nation. So, for that matter, does his support for curtailing through a five-year moratorium, all immigration, legal as well as illegal.” Francis did not predict that Buchanan would win the Republican nomination, but what he did predict makes startling reading today: “If Buchanan loses the nomination, it will be because his time has not yet come, but the social and political forces on which both his campaigns have been based will not disappear, and even if he does lose, he will have won a place in history as an architect of the victory those forces will eventually build.”
Francis also recounted the advice he gave to Buchanan before the 1992 New Hampshire primary, advice reflecting the same view of the conservative movement Francis expressed in the “castaway" email cited by Dougherty: “I told [Buchanan] privately that he would be better off without all the hangers-on, direct-mail artists, fund-raising whiz kids, marketing and p.r. czars, and the rest of the crew that today constitutes the backbone of all that remains of the famous 'Conservative Movement' and who never fail to show up on the campaign doorstep to guzzle someone else's liquor and pocket other people's money. '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.’”
If it proves nothing else, this year’s campaign does vindicate Francis’ dim view of organized conservatism. The grandees “of all that remains of the famous ‘Conservative Movement’” have issued numerous ineffectual fusillades against Trump. Those grandees include some of the globalists cited by Francis in 1996, such as George Will, and their disciples, such as Jonah Goldberg, former intern to Ben Wattenberg, and Paul Ryan, former intern to Jack Kemp. During the entire time Trump has been denounced by the likes of Will and Goldberg, he has continued to rise in the polls. Of course, Trump may fail to win the Republican nomination. But if Trump does fail, it will not be because of the denizens of organized conservatism, none of whom foresaw Trump’s rise and all of whom have proven powerless to stop him.
Thomas Piatak is a contributing editor to Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He writes from Cleveland, Ohio.