In his first intellectual incarnation as a conservative, Sam fell under the spell of one-time Communist James Burnham, then writing for the conservative journal National Review. In retrospect, it’s difficult to ignore the materialist, if not Marxist, nature of the categories both men employed in trying to understand the hidden grammar of American political life. Sam, as a result, saw politics not as part of a universal logos according to which “human beings can order their common life through rational deliberation, but as an arena in which they seek to dominate one another or escape domination by others.”
Leviathan and its Enemies, Francis’s posthumous work, does not describe his own development because Francis wrote it in the early 1990s, long before he was expelled from the synagogue of mainstream conservatism. Instead, “Leviathan describes the historical process by which American liberalism captured the institutions of government, education, and media, rendering itself invulnerable to conventional conservatism—but exposed to nationalist populism.” According to Francis, the managerial revolution was “one of the major inflection points in postwar American politics” and as such comparable to world-historic events like “the neolithic transition from subsistence hunting to farming.”
The bourgeois elites which dominated American life from the Civil War until World War II were replaced by the new managerial elites who showed more competence in running the gigantic industries and corporations which the American Empire now required. Liberalism was the ideology which rationalized and justified the rule of the new oligarchic minority, which ruled through a “homogenization” which set out to destroy all of the intermediary structures which protected the individual from the Leviathan liberal state.
In Leviathan and its Enemies, Francis confronts not only the managerial elites who rule via liberalism, but also the conservative opposition which proved too obtuse or too feckless to oppose their tyrannical rule effectively. Abandoning the American conservatism which had become little more than “the obsolete ideology of a vanquished class,” and “an anachronism whose only function is to provide a veneer of ideological diversity to American public life,” Francis placed his hopes in a group he referred to as “Middle American Radicals” (MARs), a term he borrowed from sociologist Donald Warren, whose analysis of “voter surveys in the 1970s had produced a profile of a group of voters, then making up about a quarter of the electorate, who had not been closely studied before.” MARs were:
white and earned incomes in the middle and lower-middle income brackets. They had not attended college, and they held jobs in skilled and semi-skilled professions. Warren found that their political views, though consistent across elections, did not correspond to the platforms of either major party. On the one hand, these voters defended entitlements and union membership and were skeptical of large corporations and free trade. On the other hand, they opposed welfare and school busing and held conservative views on social issues, especially those involving race.
Francis spends a good deal of time trying to define this group of people because he saw them as the avant garde of the revolution against the tyranny of the managerial elites. In order to identify a group which he claimed was “defined principally by its ideology,” Francis had to specify definite “socio-economic correlates” based on objective criteria like income levels, education, and, most importantly, religion: “MARs had an annual family income of $3,000 to $13,000.” Warren went on to claim “that northern European ethnics and Italians were strongly represented among them, that they were nearly twice as common in the South as in the north central states, that they tended to have completed high school but not to have attended college, were more common among Catholics and Jews than among Protestants and among Mormons and Baptists than among other Protestant sects, and were likely to be males in their thirties or their sixties.
Kevin Phillips had to make use of similar criteria to define the same group, which Ronald Reagan inherited from Richard Nixon. Reagan’s coalition, according to Phillips:
coincides with the traditional populist and anti-elitist component of U.S. political geography. . . . Moreover, the coalition’s critical new religious adherents—Northern Catholic right-to-life and Southern fundamentalist Protestant—represent constituencies whose traditionalist morality, over the last fifty years, has been complemented by support for the New Deal and economic activism.
The “New Majority” of which Nixon wrote had “its roots mainly in the Midwest, the West, and the South,” and included “manual workers, Catholics, members of labor union families, and people with only grade school educations” who “had never before been in the Republican camp” and “had simply never been encouraged to give the Eastern liberal elite a run for its money for control of the nation’s key institutions.”
More recently, Matthew Rose attempted to describe the same group in his own words:
MARs feel they are members of an exploited class—excluded from real political representation, harmed by conventional tax and trade policies, victimized by crime and social deviance, and denigrated by popular culture and elite institutions. Their sense of grievance points both upward and downward. They believe they are neglected, even preyed upon, by a leadership class that favors simultaneously the rich and the poor over the middle class.
These “working-class whites” were not necessarily conservative and so they found no easy fit in the political system in which conservatism as “measured by the orthodoxies of conservative think tanks and the Republican donor class,” because that group attempted to define their identity by fiat so that they could control them rather than by trying to identify them as they are so that they could represent their needs and aspirations.
After describing this group in his book The Emerging Republican Majority, Kevin Philips got them to leave the Democratic Party and support Richard Nixon in 1968 and 1972. Patrick Buchanan attempted to mobilize them in his unsuccessful bids to become president in 1992 and 1996. Buchanan, however, was successful in resurrecting the term “America First” from what Richard John Neuhaus referred to as the “fever swamps” of isolationism and anti-Semitism, and it was Steve Bannon, who used a now rehabilitated version of America First to propel Trump into the White House in 2016.