Leviathan And Its Enemies: The Alt-Right’s Das Kapital

Samuel T. Francis, Leviathan and Its Enemies, Washington Summit Publishers, 2016, 765 pp., $48.00; $9.99 ebook

When I tell someone I don’t believe in equality, racial or otherwise, one of two things always happens: 1) They immediately tell me to go fuck myself, and the conversation ends. 2) They give me a look that reads “you’ve got some explaining to do.”

When given the opportunity to discuss the ideas further, I do alright, which isn’t to say I convince every normie who prods me. I can explain IQ, cite statistics and studies, am ready to rebut passages from Guns, Germs, and Steel, etc. Sometimes people are interested in my points, and sometimes people loop back around to scenario number one. Either way, my opening remarks are prepared, and a conversation can begin.

Much more challenging is when I am already deep into a conversation with someone on the Left, and we come to realize that we fundamentally disagree about who’s running things. Often times, I have had conversations come to an uncomfortable pause when I flatly say something like, “Well, there is no evidence that corporations are conservative, and even less evidence to suggest that Baptists have cultural influence.” Elucidating on these points has never come naturally to me, the way explaining inequality does–which is a problem, as the leftist never agrees with me, and trying to point them to documents showing them how the Ford Foundation and Walmart support La Raza is unconvincing.

It is a greater problem still because the belief that the world is run by Christian monopoly men, eager for war and thirsty for pregnant and barefoot women, is as central to the contemporary worldview as the belief in racial equality. As such, debunking leftists’ view of elites should be as important as debunking their view of the underclass. Unfortunately, I suspect I am not the only one who has trouble explaining convincingly why it is that an evangelical coup is not right around the corner. Yet for so long, no true guide to who runs the world and why was available, only snippets could be found here and there. As Gregory Hood told Social Matter in 2014:

[Sam] Francis, through his in depth analysis of the work of James Burnham, was really outlining what the Cathedral was years before anyone heard of NRx. Sadly, he never got to finish his magnum opus, but the columns and collections that survive are an invaluable guide to seeing how the Cathedral uses racial egalitarianism as a way to exercise power. He provides a way of understanding egalitarianism as an elitist strategy.

But now the magnum opus has been unearthed: Leviathan and Its Enemies. It’s a true godsend for those aching for a text articulating what we’ve long intuited: today’s elite is not the one Amy Goodman drolls on about. As even The Guardian conceded, “It is a sprawling text, more than 700 pages long, digressive, repetitive and in desperate need of an editor. It is also one of the most impressive books to come out of the American right in a generation.”

In meticulous detail, Francis lays out how societies became increasingly complex with exponentially growing populations and ever more intricate technologies, and how with these changes, a new elite began to replace the land barons upon which Marx and Engels had set their sights. Beginning in the late 19th century and rapidly gaining steam thereafter, the reigns of societal power were transferred away from aristocrats and feudalists to those with technical and bureaucratic specializations.

The new men of power were accountants, statisticians, foremen, lawyers, and the like. People who could conceptualize, plan, and direct the new interconnected masses slowly but surely became the ones running the mid-level show. Francis, drawing from James Burnham, called these new men “managers,” and their ascension to power the “managerial revolution.”

In the service of this book, Francis wielded his both his PhD in history and his sociological imagination like never before. Able to detect the signal and dispense with the noise of every theory and text, he draws from a dizzying number of sources to completely explain the implications of his theories, and the history upon which they rest. At its very base, Leviathan cites the classical elistist theorists Gaetano Mosca and Vilfredo Pareto, as well as the early sociologists: Max Weber, Pitrim Sorokin, and Talcott Parsons. From that foundation, he considers very deeply the interwar theorists of evolving power in the 20th century, like C. Wright Mills, Adolf Bearle, Gardiner Means, and of course most importantly, James Burnham.

Perhaps most interestingly, he also draws enormously from almost the entire clique of post-war liberal theorists and historians: John Kenneth Galbraith, Arthur Link, Daniel Bell, Arthur Schlesinger, Richard Hofstadter, Eric Goldman, and Seymour Martin Lipset. Mitigating their influence are conservative heavyweights: Kevin Phillips, Michael Oakeshott, Robert Nisbet and John Lukacs, with bits of Nietzsche and Spengler, as well. Of course, Francis’s favorite theorists are well represented throughout the text as well: Robert Higgs, Murray Rothbard, Gabriel Kolko, Christopher Lasch, Donald I. Warren, and Machiavelli. Another facet to remember is that Burnham had been a Trotskyite for much of his youth, and that forever left him with an eye for noting material interests and class conflicts.

The residual Trotskyism of Burnham fully transmuted to Francis, means that readers will find positive citations of both Antonio Gramsci and Herbert Marcuse, in addition to digressions on propaganda pioneers like Edward Bernays, that could have come straight out of Noam Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent. 

While Burnham’s Managerial Revolution is a fine book, it is not without its imperfections, and has become undeniably dated. Francis spends much time updating it, explaining its failures, and bringing its thesis into the post-War era and through the early ‘90s. The Managerial Revolution came out in 1941, a time when the revolution was still unfolding and still had the potential to play out in more than one way. But Francis took it to heart when Marx said, “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.”

While the first two thirds of Leviathan explain the managerial revolution and all its implications; the real telos of the text is in the last third: on the potential to undo it all and why past anti-managerial movements failed.

Here we move from lions and foxes to Middle American Radicals. Readers get a tour of those beautiful losers, who tried to send an arrow into Leviathan’s eye–like Joe McCarthy and George Wallace, but Francis shows great maturity in considering the New Left as well, the Bern Victims of his day. Many of you may know Francis by his enthusiasm for, and involvement with, the insurrectional candidacies of Pat Buchanan throughout the ‘90s, but Leviathan precedes that, and ends in a considerably different tone than his more paleoconservative books like Revolution from the Middle. Instead of a call to arms to join “Pat’s peasant army,” Francis dwells on the general breakdown of American society. He saw an alienation and loneliness in American society not limited to whites in Kansas, but present throughout all non-elite sectors of the country.

Individuals working and living in metropolitan areas (as well as in many rural regions) move, think, and communicate in a continuous interdependent web of routines that discipline and manipulate their work, leisure activities, residence, transportation, consumption, relations with government, political beliefs and voting behavior, family life, care and education of children, and mental and emotional responses.

The standardization, impersonality, and unresponsiveness of mass organizations derive from their reliance on routinization, which replaces the move flexible and informal disciplines of the compact and autonomous social institutions and contributes to the alienation and frustration of the social groups and individuals enveloped in them…. The results of managerial social destruction and routinization are evident in the brutalization of contemporary social life — the increase of violent crime, divorce and desertion, illegitimacy, deviance, the use of drugs and stimulants, and social irrationalism and destabilization.

While the routines imposed by the soft managerial elite serve to enhance its own power and to regulate the mass population within the apparatus of mass organizations, they are insufficient replacements for the informal, personal, private, and social institutions the regime has weakened. The managerial routines are designed to enhance the dominance of the soft elite and the operations of the mass organizations it controls, not to provide stable and satisfying psycho-social bonds and functions for the subordinate society.

Francis thought this inherent instability could lead in plenty of different directions. Yes, one of them was a Middle American uprising, which he briefly noted would be in no way libertarian or even anti-managerial per se, but Caesarist, and interested in remaking the managerial order to benefit themselves. But another was simply complete societal decay. He wrote the book at a time of steadily increasing crime, when it was becoming clear that street gangs and illegal drugs were now a permanent facet of urban life in America. Divorce was clearly not a passing fad of the “liberated,” but a common occurrence. The rise of the militia movement and terrorist groups like “The Order” were also clear signs that America did not have much in the way of a working social fabric. Francis blamed all of these issues squarely on Leviathan, writing, “the entire structure and composition of the soft managerial elite compel it to pursue strategies of dominance that encourage the fragmentation and eventual destruction or extinction of the society it rules.”

Interestingly, shortly after the book was completed in the mid-’90s, many of these problems abated. But in the last few years, they have come roaring back, with the white death, mass-shootings by lonely natives, terrorist strikes by Islamic immigrants, the highest suicide rates of a quarter century, and the Ferguson Effect. Now, like then, there seems to be a choice between a possible redeemer on the Right, and a continued managed decline into anarcho-tyranny, with easily accessible drugs and pornography to blunt (no pun intended) the edges. This makes the final third of the book quite timely, while the first two thirds are timeless — and if we ever win could serve as a textbook for students of the future seeking insight into America’s fall.

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One Comment

  1. Great summary, thanks.

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