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left: Matthew Rose, First Things contributor and a director and senior fellow at the Berkeley Institute (National Endowment for the Humanities) right: Samuel T. Francis (1947–2005), author and Chronicles contributor (FGF Books)
Short Views

Defaming the Dead

Two years ago, Matthew Rose wrote a lengthy article about Sam Francis in First Things (“The Outsider,” October 2019) that I responded to in these pages (“A Giant Beset by Pygmies,” December 2019 Chronicles). I had hoped that Rose would consider the information I presented and use it to paint a more accurate picture of Francis. Instead, Rose turned that article into a chapter in his new book, A World After Liberalism: Philosophers of the Radical Right, which reinforces his old errors about Francis with new ones. The time has come to point out Rose’s inaccuracies once again.

The only concession Rose appears to have made to those of us who objected to his earlier piece is to change his statement that Francis’s “published writings displayed no feeling for literature, art, music, philosophy, or theology” to “little feeling” for these disciplines. However, as I pointed out two years ago, “Far from being indifferent to art, Sam produced it himself—if literary criticism counts as art—as shown by his essays on the film The Godfather (1972) and the fiction of H. P. Lovecraft, which I count as two of the finest studies of film and literature Chronicles has published in its long and illustrious history.” Rose mentions neither essay in his book, but I will share two reactions to those pieces.

One, from a liberal friend, a former history professor and lawyer, who had never heard of the author. After reading the essay on The Godfather and Sam’s populist apologia “From Household to Nation,” he concluded Francis was a genius and asked for more of his work. In National Review, John Derbyshire reacted similarly to the Lovecraft essay. “Francis’s review is simply brilliant,” he wrote. “I only met Sam Francis once … Now I wish I had made a better effort to get acquainted.” I am confident no fair reader could come to Rose’s conclusions about Francis’s alleged tastelessness and cultural boorishness. Before Rose presumed to prejudge Francis, he should have read either of those two brilliant essays.

Rose then presents Sam’s concept of the Middle American Revolution as a conscious response to “‘the colored world revolution’ that both Spengler and [Bill] Clinton had glimpsed.” He writes that Francis:

never pretended, not even for a moment, that his was a matter of moral right or justice. It was a matter of power meeting power. ‘The issue,’ as he candidly put it, is ‘who in the wrecked vessel of the American Republic, is to be master?’

One is led to believe by Rose that the struggle for control in the “wrecked vessel of the American Republic” is between whites and nonwhites. In fact, the Francis essay he quotes, “Not Really a Republic” (August 1991 Chronicles), casts the struggle as one between “those Middle Americans who were the nucleus of the American Republic … and who now find themselves victims of the new imperium” and “the elite that now prevails.” It is Rose who boils this down to a racial struggle, not Francis.

Moreover, Francis would deny that this struggle has nothing to do with moral right or justice. Certainly, Francis’s writings opposing antiwhite discrimination and the outsourcing of American jobs—including, of course, those held by black and Hispanic Americans—contained appeals to higher ideals. Does Rose consider Francis’s opposition to affirmative action and globalization as racist or atavistic? It would seem so, by this logic.

Rose also disparages Sam’s criticism of the Religious Right of the ’90s, the leaders of which ended up picking Bob Dole over Pat Buchanan, who had long been a stalwart champion of social conservatism. In 1994, Francis wrote an essay criticizing this iteration of the Religious Right, dubbing it “the religious wrong” and asserting that many of its followers, although sincere in their religious beliefs, operated politically under a “false consciousness.”

Rose, though, tells his readers that “religious wrong” was what Sam “called conservative Christians” in general. That assertion is false. Sam championed all three presidential campaigns of a conservative Christian, Pat Buchanan, who found philosophical resistance to liberalism in his Christian beliefs, and who wrote for decades in a magazine largely written by other conservative Christians. Sam had occasional disagreements with Buchanan and with his colleagues at Chronicles, but those disagreements did not stem from the fact that they were practicing Christians.

Rose also wrongly suggests that Francis’ criticism of “the religious wrong” was principally about race. He writes that Francis believed Christian “theology deflects interest away from real cultural problems and allows believers to be morally reconciled to their own dissolution. Modern Christianity is no friend of white Americans.”

What Sam actually wrote in 1994 was that even if the Religious Right succeeded in outlawing abortion and restoring school prayer and achieving all its other religious and moral objectives:

The Christian Right would have done absolutely nothing to strip the federal government of the power it has seized throughout this century, restore a proper understanding and enforcement of the Constitution and republican government, prevent the inundation of the country by anti-Western immigrants, stop the cultural and racial dispossession of the historic American people, or resist the absorption of the American nation into a multicultural and multiracial globalist regime.

What the followers of the religious right needed instead, Francis concluded, was an end to “the domination by a hostile ruling class that uses state power to entrench itself and to wreck the country, the culture, and the middle class as well.” Francis concluded the essay by calling for a movement to challenge that ruling class and stated that it did not matter whether that movement was “religious or not in focus.”

This is a far cry from Rose’s characterization of Francis as possessing a generalized hostility to Christianity grounded in an obsession with race. In any case, the policy objectives that animated the Religious Right in the ’90s have not been achieved, and the advent of gay marriage has made their goals harder than ever to realize. Nor have the white, middle-class followers of the Religious Right otherwise prospered since 1994.

In fact, in an ominous trend largely ignored by the media, white men have seen their mortality rates increase as their share of the population has diminished. And now, under the rationale of the pseudo-academic field of Critical Race Theory, this shrinking segment of the population is increasingly blamed for all America’s problems. It is little wonder, then, that by 2016 and 2020 an overwhelming majority of white evangelicals and substantial majorities of white Catholics and white mainstream Protestants voted for a candidate who had spent decades ignoring religion, but who did promise to challenge the hostile ruling class identified by Francis.

White American Christians are increasingly thinking along the lines of Francis, even as pundits like Rose try desperately to present him as a racist fanatic.

It is true, as Rose notes, that in 2001, Sam wrote in a review of a book written by a practicing Catholic that “Christianity today is the enemy of the West and the race that created it.” But Sam still recognized that Christianity was an essential part of the West. Indeed, in 2004 he wrote that “Christianity remains the public religion of the nation—whether one believes it or not or likes it or not.” Sam also wrote in his 2004 syndicated column that:

It is precisely because Christianity is vital to our national identity that there is a war against it, and that’s the reason also there is now a nationwide resistance to that war by Americans who wish to conserve our national identity.

These revealing lines did not make it into Rose’s book. There we are told without any nuance that “Francis was not a religious believer and wrote critically of conservatives who thought Christianity could provide philosophical and institutional resistance to liberalism.” Further, Rose agonizes over the possibility that Americans might rally to “Francis’s call to build a political movement that dispenses with the false consolations of faith.”

Pace Rose, Francis never called for a political movement that dispensed “with the false consolations of faith.” Sam’s essay on “the religious wrong,” cited by Rose, explicitly states that it did not matter whether a Middle American political movement was “religious or not in focus,” so long as its goal was to replace the elite that had already done incalculable damage to America. Nor was Sam critical of conservative Christians who shared his belief about what should be done politically. Instead, he called his Christian allies friends and encouraged us in our faith. I also believe from reports that my friend Sam converted at the end of his life and died a believing Christian.

Matthew Rose would have been wise to do honest research on my longtime friend instead of recklessly slandering him.

Tom Piatak

Tom Piatak

Thomas Piatak is a contributing editor to Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He writes from Cleveland, Ohio.

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Clearly, Matthew Rose sold his soul to Cthulhu.
 
 

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