Beautiful Losers: Essays on the Failure of American Conservatism.

Author:Doherty, Brian

"AMERICAN CONSERVATISM IS A failure," writes Samuel Francis in this book's title essay. "Virtually every cause to which conservatives have attached themselves for the past three generations has been lost, and the tide of political and cultural battle is not likely to turn anytime soon."

This blunt assessment seems curious coming from Francis, a columnist for The Washington Times and Chronicles, both conservative publications. It seems especially defeatist in a book that presents an agenda for a counterrevolution of values generally identified as "conservative" in American political discourse. Francis stands for "a thunderous defense of moral and social traditionalism...a domestic ethic that centers on the family, the neighborhood and local community, the church and the nation as the basic framework of values." He is averse to "immediate gratification, indulgence, and consumption."

As an intellectual rather than activist movement, Francis's revanchism is best known as "paleoconservatism," a term he thinks clumsy and rejects. Pat Buchanan is its political figurehead and most famous exponent, but he is held back by his too-public role in the Washington insider axis as Court Right-Winger for CNN. Though these days Buchanan's columns and Francis's are almost indistinguishable in stance, Francis's tone tends to be sharper, less jolly, more vicious. In this sense he is truer to his principles than Buchanan. How can one be a cheerful warrior when the cause one must fight to the death for is lost? No wonder a chapter of this book is devoted respectfully to that glum crusader in defense of a decadent and defeated West, Whittaker Chambers.

The paleoconservatism that Francis represents has attracted considerable attention in recent years. Buchanan's failed presidential bid in 1992 under a largely paleocon banner brought him a disquieting level of support from libertarians and a wing of the Republican Party that is generally strongly anti-statist. As Francis's book shows, paleocons share with free marketeers and libertarians an aversion to the modern state, but the core of their anti-statism and the direction in which they want to move are far different.

FRANCIS'S MAIN THESIS IS DERIVED FROM his intellectual hero James Burnham: the notion that modern America is the victim of a successful "managerial revolution." As the institutions of American society--government, corporations, unions, cultural media--hypertrophied in the early 20th century, a new...

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