Nietzsche once observed, "Socrates and I are so close, we are forever fighting." In a similar vein, the sibling rivalry between paleoconservatives and neoconservatives goes on and on with no obvious end in sight. Paleoconservative Sam Francis’s Beautiful Losers (1993, University of Missouri Press) constitutes another brush war in that unending rivalry; indeed, he spends much of the book sticking his finger in the eyes of neoconservatives. The thesis of his book is that conservatism has failed (thus conservatives are "beautiful losers") largely because the neocons have co-opted conservatism and become "the dominant faction on the American Right."
The failure of conservatism makes for an entertaining thesis in light of the Republican sweep in the 1994 election and the advent of the Newt World Order. Francis’s critique of mainstream conservatives as presidential supremacists sounds somewhat quaint in light of Gingrich’s exploitation of the bully pulpit of the speakership and the powerful new Speaker’s assertion of "congressional government." Similarly, the author’s harsh attack on Reaganite conservatives for failing to dismantle the liberal welfare state rings a bit hollow in light of the 1995 House Republican revolution. Ultimately, however, what makes the culture war within the pages of Beautiful Losers fascinating may be Sam Francis’s role as the house intellectual of Patrick Buchanan’s 1996 presidential campaign. Those more familiar with Buchanan than with Francis may be struck by the similarity in temperament and tenor between the speeches of the former and the essays of the latter.
Perhaps liberals can be forgiven for not celebrating the "failure" of conservatism since they currently perceive themselves as barely surviving a reign of terror perpetrated by House Republican freshmen. Nevertheless, Francis assured them prior to the 1994 election, "[v]irtually every cause to which conservatives have attached themselves for the past three generations has been lost, and the tide of political and cultural battle is not likely to turn anytime soon." No wonder Pat Buchanan is so angry! Democrats are also not likely to find much solace in Francis’s insistence that as a big government conservative, Newt Gingrich is really a liberal. Liberal Democrats will, however, be enthralled by much of Francis’s thesis. Simplifying only slightly, if at all, that thesis includes the notion that the neocons are merely the vanguard of liberalism and its "managerial regime" in the 20th century. Moreover, liberalism differs from communism only in degre
e since both promote "managerial globalism."
Francis credits conservative intellectual James Burnham for much of his own understanding regarding the 20th century drift toward "managerialism." Francis criticizes the rise of big government and corporate capitalism, including the growth of bureaucracy in both the public and private spheres. Yet criticism of the managerial state is something neocons and paleos share in common. Neocons and paleos must part company elsewhere.
Francis’s lists of heroes and sworn enemies is telling. Heroes seem to include Joe McCarthy, Generalissimo Franco, George Wallace, and, of course, Pat Buchanan. He admires the effort of McCarthy (and Wallace) "to build a mass anti-establishment movement as opposed to an elite cadre of intellectuals." This "populism of the Right" he also notes in the 1992 candidacies of David Duke, Pat Buchanan and Ross Perot. Enemies, or at least individuals he sharply criticizes, include Martin Luther King, George Will (whose "ideology is consistent … with the agenda of liberalism"), Abraham Lincoln, and Ronald Reagan, whose "revolution" it seems was little short of fraudulent. Naturally, Francis reserves a special place in hell for neoconservative intellectuals in general.
His use of words also is telling. Francis has a special fascination for words that end in -ion, -ism, and -ist. One sometimes is left wondering whether such words are meant to enlighten or obscure. There is a sinister, and even conspiratorial tone when he speaks of "Wilsonian millenarianism," "globalist millenarianism," or "environmentalist Pelagianism." One can almost hear the black helicopters coming to enforce NAFTA when he suggests that rather than "a national interest-based foreign policy, what both major parties now endorse is a universalist and millenarian globalism that acknowledges the role of the United Nations as an international arbiter and prepares the nation and the world for evolution into the transnational order of a borderless and bureaucratically managed global economy.’" Echoing the language of sociologists’ "power elite" theory, he denounces the existing "power structure," the "managerial elit
e," "managerialization" in general, the "managerialverbalist class," and of course, the "establishment." Similarly obscure is his criticism of Abraham Lincoln for the past president’s seemingly insidious
Unfortunately, the effort to take Francis’s ideas seriously runs into a serious roadblock: he doesn’t seem to take seriously the role of ideas in politics. He says, for example, in borrowing from Burnham and others, "I place more emphasis on the concrete forces of elites, organization, and psychic and social forces such as class and regional and ethnic identity than on formal intellectual abstractions and their logical’ extrapolations as the determining forces of history." In discussing the paleo/neocon war of words, he concludes, "there was more to the disagreement between the two factions of the Right than mere ideas." He explains: "the quarrel between the Old Right and the neoconservatives arose not so much from intellectual and philosophical conflicts as from social, ethnic, political, and professional differences between them, and the philosophical differences were, in fact, expressions of these social divisions." Ultimately, he attributes the
success of neocons in defeating paleos to their money and pursuit of power.
Similarly, "the ideology or formula of liberalism grows out of the structural interests of the elite that espouses it." One gets a clear impression that ideas are epiphenomenal. Ideas are mere ex post facto rationalizations for interests; ideas are mere weapons. For example, the idea of equality is "a convenient political weapon." Ultimately, ideas count less for victory than "social and political forces." Francis traces the thought of his mentor, James Burnham, to Nietzsche and "a worldview that centers on conflict, power, and human irrationality." Apparently, the irrational rules; life is "the will to power." Those who disagree with Francis are, he believes, motivated by the libido dominandi. This may explain, though it certainly does not justify, his tendency to attack the motives of his intellectual opponents, rather than addressing their ideas.
Amidst the gloom of this depressing book, Francis does sight one ray of hope in what he calls a "message from MARs". The "managerial elite" of 20th century liberalism may yet, he hopes, find its match in the abiding sense of "resentment and exploitation" of "Middle American Radicals" (aka MARs). In other words, the masses are about to challenge the establishment; Francis is pining for a real revolution. With eery echoes of Nietzsche’s Uebermensch, Francis intones: "the choice between the present elite and its challengers is not merely between one power and another. It is a choice between degeneration and rebirth, between death and survival, for survival is not a right or a gift freely granted by the powers that be. Survival, in the jungle or in political society, is a hard-won prize that depends ultimately on power itself. In this world, wrote Goethe, one must be the hammer or the anvil. The essence of the message from MARs
is that the messengers want to work the forge." One is tempted to ask if there is any difference in his mind between the jungle and political society. Can this really be the intellectual ground of grounds for the Buchanan candidacy? Francis’s dream is for a "resurgence of the heartland" instigated by a leader willing to polarize and radicalize middle Americans. Pat Buchanan may be that man. Middle American revolutionaries should attack the "hedonistic, pragmatist, relativist and secularized cosmopolitanism" of "managerial globalism" and its "elite." The goal should be to "disperse" and "dismantle" this "managerialverbalist class" rather than the comparatively tepid effort of the neocons to persuade and educate what they dub the "new class" to the virtues of the American regime. At bottom, is Pat Buchanan’s "culture war" really concerned with cultural conservatism and the revival of ci
vil society and civic virtue? Or is it an effort to ignite class and group warfare? One can only hope that Sam Francis is right in so sharply distinguishing his brand of conservatism from the dominant strain in America today. While some conservatives may be more at home in opposition, following the 1994 election the GOP can no longer afford the luxury of merely playing opposition to a supposedly dominant liberalism. Today conservatism cannot afford to be reactionary. As Speaker Gingrich knows, House Republicans’ "permanent minority" days are behind them. It’s time to govern. If Republicans hope to advance as the majority party in 1996, they need an affirmative vision and a governing philosophy. Conservatives can no longer remain content in opposition. It is no longer enough to be a "beautiful loser."
William F.Connelly, Jr. teaches politics at Washington and Lee University and is co-author (with Jack Pitney) of Congress’ Permanent Minority?