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above: Sam Francis

Editorials

In Defense of Sam Francis

Open season has been declared on the late and longtime Chronicles columnist Samuel Francis. Evidence for this can be found in, among other places, a diatribe recently published by political journalist Michael Lind in Tablet, “The Importance of James Burnham.

Lind started his essay by analyzing Burnham but then segued into unkind remarks about Burnham’s chief exponent, Francis. He was bothered, he says, by the way Francis casually referred to himself in conversation as a “fascist.”

But allow me to move from 1988, where Lind places this incident, to an earlier discussion at my home in Bethesda, Maryland, in 1987 between Francis and Lind, both of whom had been invited for a cookout. There, as our two guests engaged in friendly banter in the living room, Francis described himself jokingly as a “fascist,” and Lind responded with an amiable smile. There was no indication that he took umbrage, and the two left together, from all appearances, as friends. Indeed, from Lind’s remarks, it would seem they saw each other again.

Pace Lind, as a longtime friend of Francis, I don’t remember him teeing off on Hispanics; and I doubt that he was doing anything but joking or trying to get Lind’s goat in this exchange that supposedly took place at their get-together in 1988:

When the subject of immigration came up I pointed out that Mexican Americans were assimilating and intermarrying at the same rate as European immigrants had in the past, so that while there might be economic consequences of unskilled immigration from Latin America, it was not a threat to the continuity of American culture. Francis glowered and said emphatically, ‘They are not our race!’

Although Francis notoriously wrote on the American historic nation and bewailed immigration from the Third World, from the many hours I spent with him, I don’t recollect his views on Hispanic Americans. He may have offered them elsewhere, but never in my presence.

But even if Francis had said something approaching what Lind ascribed to him and did so with conviction, why should I give it special attention? Is this the worst expression of “racism” we’re encountering? What about professors today giving speeches at Yale or Duquesne calling for the disappearance or execution of the hated white race, or urging American whites to commit collective suicide? Why must Lind and other self-described conservative authors like Matthew Rose treat Francis abusively, as Tom Piatak writes in his column in this issue, by misrepresenting his positions on religion, culture, and race? Rose may be trying to justify a stereotype rather than exploring Francis’s work independently of received opinions. The question we must ask ourselves is, “Why?”

I noticed that in an otherwise generous review of my new book on antifascism in the Washington Examiner, the reviewer did not object to my respect for Herbert Marcuse as a social critic. But he was upset that I had kept “unsavory” friends, like the “brilliant essayist” Sam Francis. Why exactly should a reviewer in what presents itself as a conservative newspaper be more offended by my relation to Francis than my expression of indebtedness to a far leftist, indeed someone who shamelessly rationalized the Soviet oppression of Eastern Europeans?

The attacks on Francis have become increasingly ritualized. Such activity allows those who are trying to avoid cootie-contamination to distance themselves from “the radical right.” After all, respectable conservatives are just trying to dialogue with nice leftists, the kind who appear on Fox News to engage in clumsily contrived debates. A bolder right is not welcome in these theatrics. The “far” or “radical right” is only dragged out of limbo to be periodically excoriated, which may help explain the intermittent denigrations of Francis.

Conservatives preoccupied with the intellectual scarecrow of white racism—rather than the concrete reality of antiwhite racism promoted by our state, educational system, and media—are misguided. Indeed, most of what Francis produced on that delicate subject was in response to the mind-deadening repetition of antiwhite tirades on the left. Moreover, Sam lived in a house that he knowingly purchased in Seabrook, Maryland, where he was surrounded by black neighbors. From all accounts, this supposed raging racist got along well with the blacks all around him, and he died in a nearby hospital used largely by blacks.

But let’s say, arguendo, that Francis really believed whites have a right to dominate blacks because they are cognitively and culturally more advanced—which, I emphasize, he did not believe. Here he would be saying what just about every figure of the Enlightenment openly stated, including Thomas Jefferson, David Hume, Immanuel Kant, and Voltaire.

Of course, Francis’s brilliance as a social thinker and most of his scholarship, like his posthumously published Leviathan and its Enemies, had nothing to do with racial themes. Contemporary figures of the right, like Christopher Caldwell, Michael Anton, and Chronicles Associate Editor Pedro Gonzalez (who is both a devoted Francis disciple and a Mexican American) praise him primarily as a critic of managerial society and post-national elites. I doubt that any of these devotees care what Lind claims Francis said over lunch back in 1988.

These assaults on Sam’s character make me aware of the utter incongruity between what we and other Western societies now face: unremitting war on its white Christian core population and the civilization it built, and the compulsive virtue-signaling indulged in by those who have both the funds and media power to combat our civilizational gravediggers. Why should those who face a powerful, intolerant enemy on the left devote so much energy to marginalizing those on the right who displease the left? I haven’t noticed Joe Biden or Chuck Schumer denouncing members of the socalled “squad” in a desperate effort to become acceptable to conservatives. Why do soi disant conservatives strain themselves to go after the “radical right” (presumably there is no “radical left”), while the left continues to build its forces and cancel its opposition?

I doubt that anyone but a dissembler or fool believes that Francis, even in death, represents a looming far-right threat. And a threat to whom or what? It’s not like his followers control armies or TV channels, or hold positions at major universities, or sit on the boards of woke corporations. Sam’s value to his accusers in an imaginary right lies in the social and professional advancement that comes from besmirching his memory. Never mind that he told the truth about what’s going on in this country and where we are headed with a left which no longer faces significant resistance! Never mind that the attorney general of our post-constitutional leftist state has been instructed to treat parents who protest the teaching of racist Critical Race Theory in our public schools as dangerous terrorists!

We are supposed to believe that dead social theorists on the right who did not believe in equality—something that our antiwhite ruling class certainly does not believe in, either—are an urgent political and moral problem. Perhaps Lind would like to balance his broadside against Francis by commenting on the article, “Abolish the White Race,” in Harvard Magazine. There we are told that “whiteness” is a dangerous “social construct,” the persistence of which injures the black race.

Besides Francis, other members of the post-World War II conservative intellectual movement held views on racial matters that should distress Lind and Rose. As Joshua Tait points out in the Washington Post, William F. Buckley, Jr., and most of the early writers for National Review said things about racial differences, the Confederacy, and other forbidden subjects that today would get them banned from the public conversation. These figures never regarded themselves as “scientific” racialists; and they never shunned individual blacks, whom they often befriended.

But they viewed the civil rights movement with fear and trembling and worried about the effects of the Voting Rights Act. They certainly believed that black voters collectively were a threat to the constitutional order; and some contributors to National Review were opposed to imprudent federal interference with stateenforced racial segregation in the South.

Perhaps sensitive conservatives should start writing books denouncing their predecessors, while continuing to call for the removal of whatever Confederate memorial statues have not yet been pulled down. Their efforts to ingratiate themselves with a rampaging, hateful left—e.g., David French coming out for the teaching of critical race theory in public schools as an exercise in procedural neutrality—borders on the lunatic or crassly opportunistic.

Sam Francis is not a continuing moral problem for the right. He was the supremely eloquent prophet of every political disaster that is now befalling us; and the view that he expressed on racial questions were for the most part what National Review had been saying before its turn to the left, which began in the 1970s. I am neither praising nor condemning those opinions. But given the present acceptability of the most vulgar, Nazi-like forms of antiwhite racism being inflicted on us by the state, our media, and “educators,” it seems ridiculous to agonize over what conservatives might have once said about racial disparities.

We are now facing the historical crisis that Sam grimly predicted in our magazine. We should celebrate him for his prophetic understanding, not cancel him for being politically incorrect.

Paul Gottfried

Paul Gottfried

Paul Gottfried is editor in chief of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is also the Raffensperger Professor of Humanities Emeritus at Elizabethtown College, where he taught for 25 years, a Guggenheim recipient, and a Yale Ph.D. He is the author of 13 books, most recently Fascism: Career of a Concept and Revisions and Dissents.

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First, thank you, Dr. Gottfried, for rising to the defense of a great American. I too look back to earlier years of conservative opinion. My reaction (pun intended) is somewhat at variance with that of others. For instance, I see a Bill Bennett campaigning in California during the early 90s against Prop 187 and in support of state benefits for illegal aliens, thus facilitating the demographic transformation and political disaster which have befallen the Golden State. Bennett continues to bloviate, his conservative credentials unquestioned. I see Victor Hanson pontificate on “Dying Citizens” even though he collaborated with the anti-white racists when he mentored Hispanic and minority students at CSU-Fresno and helped them to get into the Ivy League, even though he already knew from his own personal experience that whites would be discriminated against striving for the exact same academic advancement. Such magnanimity served VDH and America no better than similar gestures of appeasement served Chamberlain and the English, as the historian should have known had he not been blinded by MLK-inspired ecumenical egalitarianism. But he, like Bennett, is not asked to recant his prior sins, not been castigated for them like the late Sam Francis. But I remember.
 
 

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