Remembering Sam Francis
Now that Barack Obama has all but thrown his halo into the ring, we could use a little skepticism. He makes an awfully good first impression, like a champion high-school orator, but what has he done to excite such messianic hopes in so many people especially journalists?
His outstanding quality is his lack of experience. Other politicians have given experience a bad name, and here is a liberal without baggage neither a Bush nor a Clinton. Thats all it takes to make journalists swoon like Iowa matrons having their hands kissed by Cary Grant. At the moment, hes the Tiger Woods of American politics, a one-man diversity roster, of rather indeterminate race, religion, ideology, and style.
What this calls for is a Sam Francis. Unfortunately, Sam died two years ago, leaving no successor among skeptics. Nobody was so thoroughly immune to liberal enthusiasm as Sam. He was a prize-winning editorial writer for the Washington Times, until he proved too conservative for that allegedly conservative paper and was given the boot.
I am happy to say that some of Sams writings more than 300 pages of them are now available again in Shots Fired: Sam Francis on Americas Culture War, edited by Peter B. Gemma (FGF Books; www.shotsfired.us).
Sam was severely allergic to phony conservatives, especially the neoconservatives, which made him uneasy with the Republican Party. He spoke of the neocon mafia and referred to the GOP as the stupid party; his sardonic mention of neoconservative sex god Irving Kristol gives you some idea of how he would have described the current adulation of Obama (an Obamination, perhaps?).
To Sam, democratic politics was the high art and science of fooling some of the people some of the time. His attitude toward racial diversity is succinctly expressed in his comment on a local high school: the school becomes more diverse, the school declines in academic performance, and the whites leave. Everything liberalism regards as progressive, Sam tended to see as decadent: The final and unpredictable irony of our history may be that we were more civilized at the beginning of it than at the end of it.
Like his philosophical mentor James Burnham, Sam was inclined to pessimism, though he would call it realism; for him, optimism was usually an illusion. His aversion to the Republican Party went back to its origins: Despite his contempt for the Bushes, father and son, he argued that Abraham Lincoln was an ill-prepared man who has a strong claim to being the most incompetent president in American history. Lincoln was a mediocrity whose presidency was a disaster, not only for his own generation but for posterity as well.
For Sam, the Civil War was still a live issue. A cause wasnt sanctified merely because it had prevailed by force, or discredited because it had been defeated. In history, the bad guys often win. It has been observed that the American mind is averse to the very idea of tragedy; in that sense, Sam was un-American.
His mind, in fact, was wide-ranging and well-stocked. After his death I learned that he was steeped in English poetry, as well as European history. No wonder he was so resistant to fads. His manner was dour, as a rule, but it could also be jolly. He couldnt stay cynical; he enjoyed the ironies of things too much. When most of the world took one side, you could count on Sam to take the other; he was a natural reactionary, aware that everything has its obverse.
Sam was willing to take a position even if he was the only one taking it; he never ran with the pack. It was this solitary character that made him interesting and, paradoxically, won him devoted readers.
But such a man is bound to antagonize those who do run in packs, and the neocons had it in for him. They did much to hurt his career and keep him isolated. It says much for Sams determination that he kept writing in his uncompromising way to the end. He never wrote a word he didnt mean.
We could use more like him. But there was only one Sam Francis.
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