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Every Man His Own Burnham:
Samuel T. Francis’ Leviathan & Its Enemies

[1]2,219 words

Samuel Francis
Leviathan and Its Enemies: Mass Organization and Managerial Power in Twentieth-Century America
Arlington: Washington Summit Publishers

Leviathan and Its Enemies has the subtitle Mass Organization and Managerial Power in Twentieth-Century America, which seems curious, given that it was first published in 2016. But then you quickly learn that the author’s last draft (on 3.5-inch disks, discovered after the author’s death in 2005) was from 1995, while he dated his own Preface in August 1991. Twentieth Century it was!

It appears that Sam Francis labored on this for a number of years, but never saw fit to publish it. Perhaps he considered it a sort of academic-research project that few others would care about, or possibly he noticed his draft typescript was highly abstruse and needed extensive pruning and rewriting. It should be noted that its core subject, the political philosophy of James Burnham, is a hard nut to crack, one that Mr. Francis hammered upon early and often. It’s hardly surprising if Mr. Francis was never entirely satisfied with his effort.

Fortunately for us, the book comes with two forewords and an afterword (by Fran Griffin, Jerry Woodruff, and Paul Gottfried, respectively) as well as that 1991 preface. Together these provide a good abstract of what the book is about and how Mr. Francis came to write it. Writes Jerry Woodruff in his introduction:

I believe this manuscript partly grew out of a desire to correct an intellectual deficiency Sam perceived on the Right. . . . No one ever seems to wonder or explore why the Left is ascendant culturally and politically, while the Right (or at least the real Right) is consigned to the powerless fringe. The Right lacks a pathology to explain the power of its opponents — and shows no interest in finding one. (p. 10) [1] [2]

Well now, that’s just a little bit glib and unfair, isn’t it? Even in the 1980s, querulous voices on the Right were wondering aloud. Some of them (e.g., Joe Sobran) explored and wondered too much and got kicked out of the pen, as would happen to Sam Francis and Peter Brimelow a few years later. Conservatism, Inc., as exemplified by National Review and the Washington Times, wanted only tame Rightists in its corral. It was in the mid-80s, in fact, that Mr. Francis himself outlined the metastasizing pathology of both liberalism and neoconservatism (for they are basically the same thing, with different labels) in an essay called “Neoconservatism and the Managerial Revolution.” [2] [3] As that Burnhamite title suggests, this article is like a micro-mini version of Leviathan (and certainly much more approachable and digestible).

Paul Gottfried’s afterword gives an ironical overview of the Sam Francis career. Gottfried recalls surprising a Leftist acquaintance with the information that Sam was very much an outcast from the “conservative” movement, but this wasn’t because Sam’s political analysis could sometimes seem a bit Marxian to the uninitiated. In fact, “Sam had been booted out of ‘Conservatism, Inc.,’ not as a Marxist, but as a ‘right-wing extremist’ . . . Even if Sam had been a classical Marxist, which he was not, this would have placed him somewhere to the right of our authorized conservatism on social issues.”

Elsewhere, as if apologizing for the uncharacteristically dense style of this book, Gottfried notes:

Sam was one of the few intellectual giants of my acquaintance who could express himself both lyrically and forcefully. But in Leviathan his prose lumbers along and is reminiscent of the person who put it together. . .

It does indeed lumber along, thanks to the author’s two motivations in writing this book, which were not always in sync. The primary one was to get to the kernel of James Burnham’s philosophy. As Sam Francis says in his preface, he is attempting to “revise and reformulate” Burnham’s theory of the managerial revolution, in accordance with its meaning and applicability “today.” Burnham expounded his thesis in several books, but Mr. Francis is primarily concerned with the first, 1941’s The Managerial Revolution, or, What is Happening in the World Now[3] [4] Sam Francis is not the first to walk this road, by any means. Back in the Forties, Burnham’s Partisan Review colleague George Orwell spent many thousands of words critiquing Burnham (here [5] and elsewhere), as well as writing an extended parody of him in the middle section of Nineteen Eighty-Four [6].

A secondary purpose for this subtle and elusive work was to diagnose the “pathology” we mentioned above. You might say Sam Francis wanted to “get under the hood” (maybe he’s a mechanic, not a doctor) and find out where conservatism, or the American Right, went wrong. He thought he might locate the answer somewhere in Burnham’s thesis, which is that a “managerial elite” of technocrats and ideologues have been replacing the traditional ruling class. Mr. Francis expanded upon Burnham, comparing theories of organizations, politics, and ruling elites that came from a baffling assortment of figures, ranging from Gaetano Mosca and Vilfredo Pareto to Daniel Bell and J. K. Galbraith. And so this search for the philosopher’s stone (I guess Sam was also an alchemist) turned into a vast personal research project: knowledge and theory hunted and studied for its own sake.

Anyway, so far as the “American Right” question goes, he answered that question to many people’s satisfaction, in many reviews and essays, usually without getting too abstruse about class struggles and ruling elites. You can open up a book of these almost at random and find the issue dissected with wit and insight. For example, there’s that 1993 volume, Beautiful Losers, the same book in which “Neoconservatism and the Managerial Revolution” is collected. There we find a hilarious review of a new book by Kevin Phillips (The Politics of Rich and Poor, 1990) that eviscerates all the Ronald Reagan groupies who refused to see that their traditional middle-class values had been stolen and subverted during the Gipper years:


You can buy Greg Johnson’s White Identity Politics here. [8]

What really makes the Gipperites gasp, however, is not just Mr. Phillips’s prediction that Reaganism is scheduled to fail politically but also that Good Old Dutch and his “revolution” were in large part fraudulent — that, far from helping the middle-income strata of the electorate who enabled Reagan to win and hold the White House, the economic, fiscal, and regulatory policies of the 1980s gave these very groups a fat lip, while allowing the corporate rich, a cadre of felonious financial wizards, and a select band of well-fed “conservative populists” to become opulent. . .

Here the reader nostalgic for the 1980s may trip down memory’s lane to such triumphs of “populism” as Malcolm Forbes’s birthday party in 1989, complete with Moroccan horsemen. Here he may revisit such glowing symbols of Mr. Reagan’s Augustan age as the teeth of Ivan Boesky, the modest couture of Nancy, and the cultural renaissance spawned by the baby-boomers. Here too the reader may glimpse through the glory of the Reaganite dawn such misty vestiges of the old America as family farms now repossessed by banks and sold to corporations in New York and Japan, mines and factories now idle, and endless tracks of American land and buildings once actually owned by Americans themselves. [4] [9]

What a devastating indictment of that “Reagan revolution” so beloved of the Conservative, Inc. crowd. Such insights did not begin with Messrs. Phillips and Francis, and they are still evergreen, fresh as harvest day. Similar remarks appeared in last year’s The Age of Entitlement [10] by Christopher Caldwell. You can put a Burnhamesque spin on it and call this situation a classic case of the managerial New Class bumping the gullible bourgeoisie by being fake conservatives. Or you can be like me and put it all down to plain old avarice and scheming.

One of the funny bits to that review is Sam Francis telling us how angry the Reagan hacks got when the Kevin Phillips book made the bestseller list in 1990. David Brock “of the Heritage Foundation” sneered at it in the Wall Street Journal as “Anti-Reagan sophistry.” This is indeed the very same David Brock who built a career as a “conservative” agitprop-meister, then switched sides (sort of) and founded the far-Left propaganda mill called Media Matters for America. The amoral Brock is an excellent example of how the “managerial elite” have no bedrock values. You may pose as a conservative or a neocon or a Left-liberal, whatever is convenient for you; your caste will protect you so long as you don’t threaten their ideology. No need to change your spots at all, Mr. Leopard.

Turning back to Leviathan, we can find some passages where Mr. Francis seems amazingly prescient. This one “lumbers along,” dry as dust, but there is a nice payoff at the end:

It is probable that the persistent and restraining power of the bourgeois forces and ideologies and their influence on and penetration of some elements of the managerial elite itself have serviced to retard the development of the managers as a class. It is also probable, however, that the continuing decline of the bourgeoisie and its power and its inability to reverse the course of the managerial regime will eventually remove this constraint on the managers. If so, they will then develop a more explicit and overt class consciousness and identity, which will be expressed in a more sophisticated and formalized managerial ideology. (p. 115)

“A more explicit and overt class consciousness and identity”! “Formalized managerial ideology”! How did Sam Francis foresee all this in today’s world, with the overweening power of Silicon Valley and the mainstream media? And the fad Leftism of the “wokerati,” along with their persecution of conservative, traditional, and Right-wing viewpoints? Their insistence on pushing “diversity training” and support for the Black Lives Matter scam?

In truth, I believe the modern dystopia was completely beyond his imagining. He was like a Gregor Mendel detecting genetic inheritance in pea plants, but completely unable to visualize DNA or genomes. Sam Francis foresaw the outlines of our creeping corporativist-totalitarianism, but couldn’t visualize the specifics.

One of the barriers to understanding Burnham and Francis when they talk about rival classes is that their jargon is often arbitrary and misleading, with more than a whiff of Marxist cant from a century or more ago. When they speak of a “bourgeois order” or “bourgeois elite,” they really mean the dominant political class of roughly 1860 to 1930: the people whom Bolsheviks liked to call “capitalists,” and promised to overthrow. It happens that Sam Francis considers them the Good Guys because he associates them with the traditional order, the solid Americans of a century ago who have long been under attack. Although by rights he should not like the term at all, since as a traditionalist he naturally favors the aristocratic, hierarchical society of the South that was overthrown in the 1860s by the bourgeois kleptocracy of the North. But he agrees to use “bourgeois” anyway, for the sake of clarity, in much the same way that some Rightists of recent decades declare they want to preserve the Capitalist Way of Life.

Moreover, “bourgeois elite” is a vague concept and not very helpful because what it describes is, I believe, an imaginary construct. I doubt whether such a unitary, dominant class really existed, as opposed to assorted interests who occasionally collaborated. Burnham and Francis endorse the concept because they want to frame their managerial-vs.-bourgeois story as a class struggle. But even then they widely disagree on what “bourgeois” and “managerial” really mean.

James Burnham accepts the Marxist notion of a transitory “capitalist” or “bourgeois” society, which the March of History will inevitably replace with something else. He imagines this will be a “managerial” oligarchy of bureaucrats and technocrats, in control of both government and corporate enterprise. For Sam Francis, as I said, “bourgeois” is just a placeholder term for the old order; while ”managerial” stands for anything that seems insidious, alien, and ideologically driven, with destruction of the old order as its main object. In the end, these are merely abstractions, things that can’t be pointed to or visualized from his text, the way you would know what was meant by, say, “the Stalinist terror-state.”

It’s this lack of concrete reference that makes Leviathan often a chore to read, along with its length (over 440 pages in hard-copy or PDF, nearly 700 pages in Kindle). But the author wrote about the same subjects more felicitously and briefly in many other places, and I recommend those as an alternative.

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    [1] [11] Samuel T. Francis, Leviathan and Its Enemies: Mass Organization and Managerial Power in Twentieth-Century America (Arlington: Washington Summit Publishers), 2016. Note: page numbers listed here refer to this online text [12] at the Internet Archive.

    [2] [13] Collected in Francis’s Beautiful Losers: Essays on the Failure of American Conservatism. (Columbia, Missouri: University of Missouri Press), 1993.

    [3] [14] James Burnham, The Managerial Revolution. New York: Day & Co. and London: Putnam and Company, 1941. Internet Archive PDF of the London edition is here [15].

    [4] [16] Francis, Beautiful Losers.