David Brooks has a must-read column today on the prescience of the late Sam Francis, a paleocon godfather. He points out that Francis was a fringe figure in the 1990s, when he did his most important work, but it turns out that he saw the future that others on the Right did not. Excerpt:
In a series of essays for conservative magazines like Chronicles, Francis hammered home three key insights. The first was that globalization was screwing Middle America. The Cold War had just ended, capitalism seemed triumphant and the Clinton years seemed to be an era of broad prosperity. But Francis stressed that the service economy was ruining small farms and taking jobs from the working class.
His second insight was that the Republican and conservative establishment did not understand what was happening. He railed against the pro-business “Economic Men” who thought G.D.P. growth could solve the nation’s problems, and the Washington Republicans, who he thought were infected with the values of the educated elites.
In 1991, when his political mentor, Pat Buchanan, was contemplating a presidential bid, Francis told him to break with the conservative movement. “These people are defunct,” Francis told Buchanan. “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 anymore.”
His third insight was that politics was no longer about left versus right. Instead, a series of smaller conflicts — religious versus secular, nationalist versus globalist, white versus nonwhite — were all merging into a larger polarity, ruling class versus Middle America.
Read the whole thing. And I strongly urge you to read Michael Brendan Dougherty’s 2007 profile of Francis, published two years after Francis’s death. Excerpts:
According to Francis, every elite — and the groups and individuals composing or attached to it — protects itself from exploitation by use of the power it exerts against others. Conservatism as it had been understood since 1789 had been tasked with the defense of tradition and authority against revolutionaries and the eroding forces of modernity. Francis found this wanting. The managerial revolution had already occurred, and the elite that came to power with it were implacably hostile to everything Francis sought to conserve. In Francis’s analysis, Russell Kirk and the conservative movement had blundered. Instead of playing defense, those who wanted to conserve Western tradition and culture needed to become an insurgent political force. He wrote, “While we find much in the conservative tradition to teach us about the nature of what we want to conserve and why we should want to conserve it, we will find little in conservative theory to instruct us in the strategy and tactics of challenging dominant authorities.”
The question for Sam Francis was, How might a conservative elite rise up to challenge the managerial elite?
If you read the whole thing, you’ll see a portrait of a fascinating, irascible, repugnant man … who was, for better and for worse, ahead of his time.
Sam Francis was a racist, or, as he would have put it, a racialist: he believed in white nationalism, and that public stance earned him a lot of criticism even among his paleocon friends. He was also astonishingly radical. I used to work at The Washington Times when Francis was there. On the day the Murrah Building was bombed in Oklahoma City, I stood with a scrum in the newsroom, watching the first reports coming to us live over CNN. Francis, standing next to me, muttered to no one in particular, “Good. The revolution has begun.”
Like I said, a repugnant man. But then, so is the contemporary French novelist Michel Houellebecq, yet I am convinced he is one of the true prophets of our age.
I read these two Sam Francis pieces this morning in tandem with this quietly gripping Granta essay called “Trollhättan,” sent to me by Charles Featherstone. The title is the name of the small, boring Swedish town the author, English journalist Andrew Brown, lived in. Excerpts:
The world that we lived in then was boring partly because it was so exceptionally safe. Trygghet, a word normally translated as ‘security’, was what society promised to deliver. You were protected from economic storms – from uncertainty – and held tightly in a mesh of mutual obligation and duty by the state. For instance, if you purchased a bottle of wine, but dropped it before you could get it home, the systembolag would replace it, free, if you returned the smashed top with the cork or cap still in place. Society was compensating you for an accident that was not your fault.
If you lost your job, it was understood that there would always be another. If a family broke up, the state would pay maintenance, although it would also demand it back from delinquent fathers later. It was understood that no one should suffer through no fault of their own. Sickness, of course, was the business of the state. The health service was brusque and unfriendly, but it was always there. Television was a state monopoly, absurdly conformist and astonishingly boring. It was all for our own good.
The origins of this society lay in the convulsive economic and political revolutions of the preceding century. A poor, rural, Christian society had been transformed into a rich and largely urban one, in which science and social democracy had assumed the authority of the church. It was still ordered and hierarchical, but now the root of power was supposed to lie at the bottom, with the workers, and not at the top.
Sweden’s passion for security can’t be understood without imagining the titanic insecurities the upheaval of industrialisation and social democracy caused. Work, schools, housing, and families – all the anchors of everyday life – had been hauled up from their old places and lowered onto strange new grounds. It’s no wonder people clung to an idea of safety, order and discipline.
Then came the 1960s, prosperity, social democracy, the end of that world — and immigration. More:
Nonetheless, the formation of an immigrant ghetto in Trollhättan had been well under way by 1980. An area of new housing to the east, Kronogården, cut off from the rest of the city by the main road to the north, was slowly filling with Finns, and, later, Yugoslavs and Chilean refugees from the coup that overthrew Salvador Allende. The rest of the town appeared to continue as if Kronogården did not exist. After the Chileans came the first Middle Eastern refugees – Kurds and Assyrian Christians from the Iran/Iraq wars, then Lebanese fleeing the Israeli incursion. Bosnians, Macedonians and Kosovans followed during the Balkan war. Somalis started to arrive and rapidly established themselves in Kronogården. All these people were fleeing genuine persecution, or at least war and poverty, but there were many more of them than anyone had planned for or foreseen and there were jobs for very few.
The only publicly admissible attitude was straightforward and very widely – though not universally – shared: all immigrants were welcome and would be cared for until they could contribute. Anyone who disagreed with this was regarded as some kind of neo-Nazi. Some of them actually were.
The far right, in the form of a party called the Swedish Democrats, grew in standing, Brown says, because Swedish society was coming undone under the pressures of economic globalization and migration, plus the collapse of the old model. The mainstream parties and media refused to confront what was actually happening in their country —
but the far right did. Brown talks about how in official Swedish culture, no one was allowed to speak out loud about the crime and other problems the immigrants brought with them. (In 1994, incidentally, I was visiting Norway on a reporting trip, and heard from a friend that the rape stats from immigrant men to that country were sky-high, but it was considered taboo to talk about them, on pain of being labeled a racist.)
In 2015, there was a mass murder at a school in Trollhättan. The killer was a young white Swedish male named Anton Lundin Pettersson. His victims, all killed by a sword, were two school officials and one student, all brown-skinned immigrants. Brown went back to his old town to look into what happened, and to try to understand it:
When I came to Trollhättan three months later, no one would talk to me about what had happened, no one would help me see beneath the surface. The fact of the killings stood alone. I had the police report. I sat in the deserted cafeteria, at the table where (I later realised) Ahmed Hasan had been sitting when he was attacked. I walked for a while in the cemetery, trying not so much to think as to sense myself into an understanding of the story. It’s almost like parkland, with a small lake in the middle. There are few trees except along a small ridge above the lake with a menhir, about waist high, at its summit.
Close to the lake the older tombs had weighty old Swedish names carved in black into pale granite, often with crosses and quotes from the bible. Further out, the Swedish graves grew less demonstratively Christian. Then I came to a region of Middle Eastern names; some had Christian symbolism but Arabic inscriptions; Orthodox Christians with Slavic names and then the Bosnian Muslims, still with their inscriptions in Roman script. In the Muslim section all the graves were turned in the same direction, towards Mecca where the sky would never be this grey and cold.
Right at the edge of the burial ground the grave of Ahmed Hasan had been kept fresh and raw: a scalloped, irregular mound of earth, patterned by rain, with no grave marker but a little sign asking that no flowers or markings be laid by it. Next to it was the grave of Nazir Amso, buried under a vast heap of white and yellow flowers, stuffed animals, and messages to the dead man.
Beyond the Muslim graves, the cemetery field stretches on towards distant houses. There was room for as many people again as lay buried from all the preceding centuries. Who would fill those spaces? There was a future there, waiting to be written in. I thought that almost all the Swedes I had spoken to were frightened of what would come. Their refusal to talk to me was not just the product of a natural distaste for journalists, and a wish not to be made into entertainment or instruction for strangers to whom the town owed nothing. There was also, I think, a fear of something nameless that would be summoned if it was ever named. In a graveyard, perhaps, such thoughts come easily.
The only people who did speak openly about their fear of the future were the Sweden Democrats, but their fear was uncontrollable and apocalyptic.
Brown ends with a reflection on the fact that the police investigation turned up no particular motive for Pettersson’s murders. This nihilism, Brown concludes, is what we in the deracinated West have to deal with today:
The other is the question that echoes at the edge of hearing, which has to do with the opaque banality of his life: the sense that beneath all the social explanations, and even all the psychological ones, there is just a blank. This anomie is hardly new. I remember the (white) teenagers who used to stand around the entrance to what was then the only shopping mall in Gothenburg in 1977. They looked at once completely lost and completely at home. As blankly as a CCTV camera, they watched the respectable people who passed before their eyes. ‘There is no accusation in their shallow eyes’, I wrote after seeing them one day, without any idea of what I could do with the sentence.
Please read it all. I don’t have a hot take on any of this. If you do, you’re probably wrong. Live with this essay a bit, and think about it. This is where we are in the West today — in Europe, most acutely, but also, to some extent, in the US. Which is why it makes sense to reflect on the meaning and message of Sam Francis along with the meaning and message of Trollhättan.
UPDATE: Andrew Brown comments:
I’d urge people to read my essay at length on the Granta site, but it is absolutely and importantly true that Sweden is a far safer country than the US. The murder rate is far lower, and there is nowhere in the country where I wouldn’t walk around confidently in a way that I’d be crazy to do in parts of the US and even parts of London. There are problems in particular areas, and these are connected with immigrant cultures — I use the plural deliberately, since Somali and Croat gangsters have different patterns. But there is nowhere in Sweden remotely as dreadful as the Baltimore of the Wired, and I hope there never will be.
I was very careful in my piece to say that the rise in violent crime (to mid-European levels, not Cormac McCarthy ones) was correlated with immigration, not caused by it. So far as I can tell — and I have known the country more or less intimately for 40 years — this is true. Most of the rape stuff seems to me just racist hysteria whipped up by people with no understanding either of Sweden or of crime statistics.
People seriously interested should read my earlier book about life in Social Democratic Sweden, Fishing in Utopia.