In 1993, “paleoconservative” Sam Francis gave a talk entitled “Anarcho-Tyranny, U.S.A.” that was reprinted in the July 1994 and more recently in the January 2023 issue of Chronicles magazine—not to be confused with these present Chronicles—having recently been brought to the attention of conservative circles by Tucker Carlson. (The reader who can bear the scatological leftism of Mother Jones can read about this history in a piece by Noah Lanard in the September-October 2023 issue entitled “Anarcho-Tyranny: How the New Right Explains Itself” .) Having read Francis’ talk, I was struck on the one hand by its similarity to my own analysis of the contemporary Democratic-progressive coalition, and on the other by a very sharp difference that Mr. Lanard not unexpectedly does not remark on, given his unique focus on the race question.
Francis’ own focus, whose racial implications must be extrapolated from his talk, is the contradiction within our political system between passing laws to “keep us safe” that wind up punishing peaceful citizens who run afoul of them, and simultaneously doing very little to keep real criminals off the streets. He opens with the example of a Mr. Sanders, who became Exhibit A in a police demonstration to publicize a new seat-belt law in North Carolina. The Raleigh police department was assigned to a campaign to make an example of a driver riding without his seat-belt, and poor Mr. Sanders was the chosen victim. In another example Francis mentions, Congress had recently passed several laws to increase the number of federal offenses that merit the death penalty; but as he points out, the federal government had not executed a single person since 1963 (the Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, executed in 2001, broke that string, but Major Nidal Hasan, the killer of 13 soldiers at Fort Hood in 2009, sentenced to death in 2013, is still among the living).
Francis’ choice of this second example, which is followed only later by others more relevant to our era, demonstrates the enormous change in our attitude toward crime over the past 30 years. In New York City, 1993 was the last year of Dinkins, to be followed by the era of Giuliani and Bloomberg. At the time, street crime in New York and other large cities was a scandal and would soon be reduced through proactive policing following J. Q. Wilson’s “broken windows” formula. (When was the last time you heard that expression?) And even if Congress didn’t really intend to enforce all these death penalty laws, at least they paid lip service to the “tough on crime” principle. The era of Wokeness, in this domain at least, had not yet begun.
Which is to say that although aggressively fighting crime had become an agreed principle, Francis was complaining that the police found it easier to focus on the law-abiding citizen who occasionally strayed by forgetting to buckle up than on those who made their living through crime and were as a consequence much more difficult and dangerous to catch. Hence the “tyranny” of restrictive laws that were easily enforced against white-collar criminals whose criminality was dubious and marginal was paired with the “anarchy” inherent in the ease with which the criminal underworld was allowed to function. That this anarchy would be greatly curbed over the next decade or so was something he could not have anticipated.
But all that has changed. One can only imagine what Francis would have said about Soros-sponsored DAs such as Manhattan’s Alvin Bragg who refuse for clearly ideological reasons to punish “petty” criminals even when arrested, dismissing charges or letting the accused go on his own recognizance without bail. While Mother Jones predictably judges opposing such efforts as “racist,” dismissing the fact that the large majority of crimes committed by minority members involve minority victims, this behavior from the legal authorities must be understood as anarchistic, no longer simply in effect but in principle: it is a key component of the desecration of Western civil society that is the conscious aim of Wokeness.
As his conclusion makes clear, Francis’ primary purpose in this piece was less an overall critique of the government than a plea to maintain the Second Amendment and above all for each individual to exercise his or her right to bear arms. Today this right must still be defended, but clearly the specific reason for the revival of Francis’ piece today is that “anarcho-tyranny” has come to describe a problem far broader than law enforcement’s preference for easy targets over real criminals. As I suggested in Chronicle 784, today the ideologically based refusal to target the latter goes far beyond the kind of negligence referred to by Francis and constitutes one of the focal points of “progressive” government: the alliance between globalist billionaires and what used to be called the lumpenproletariat against the “poor but honest” working and middle classes. The scandalous open-border policy of the current Administration is transparently a means both of supplying cheap labor to the first group and adding Democrat voters to the second.
But the most significant aspect of this policy is, as I pointed out in the previous Chronicle, its deliberate undermining of civil society, the essential “middle-class” reality that used to unite virtually the entire population, including the black population even in the days of segregation, in what might be called “respectable” attitudes and behaviors: family formation, serious child-rearing, respect for law and order. The blacks who marched with M. L. King had far more in common with his white supporters than any of today’s pro-Hamas demonstrators with the archetypal law-abiding citizen. Not that the latter do not continue to exist, and indeed still form the majority of the productive population. What has been lost is not their numbers, but their exemplarity.
And it is this loss of exemplarity in the face of such phenomena as “smash and grab” robberies and unimpeded shoplifting that is the real sign of decadence, which is nothing more than the loss of community. Those who decry the decline of organized religion generally make use of theological arguments to describe what is indeed a desecration; what generative anthropology helps us to understand is that the function of religious beliefs, as the etymology of the word “religion” makes clear, is to bind together communities to resist the anarchy of detached individuals. The term civil society refers to the everyday interactions among people who encounter each other casually in public places or businesses. As an example of its violation, the idea of allowing shoplifters to pursue their activity without interruption goes well beyond anything mentioned in Francis’ article; it constitutes not only criminal activity but a violation of the communal norms of civil society. Aside from the loss to the business in question, ordinary shoppers encountering such behavior suffer from their crime as law-abiding citizens forced to witness an outrage to their sense of decency.
Which is to say that the most significant change from 1993 is that today not only are criminals not being punished regularly and severely as they should, but the very idea of punishing “petty criminality”—and not so long ago in a number of places, the very idea of having a police force at all—is no longer taken for granted by the reigning ideology. While in contrast, behaviors previously considered deviant, such as drag queen exhibitions, are not only tolerated but held up as exemplary even in elementary schools, where children risk being taught that the very notion of “normality” is a sign of racism.
As for the political implications of Francis’ talk, what was at the time implicit has become explicit in ways he could hardly have anticipated. What might have been called occasional harassment of the middle or respectable class has become its active denigration as the bearer of “white privilege,” a privilege that does not apply to Wokeness’ wealthy sponsors if only because they have virtually no contact with the general public. How often does one encounter a billionaire in the everyday world of the middle class? Back in the 1960s, first class airline tickets were something like 150% the price of coach; now they are more like 1000% and involve seating and service of an entirely more elaborate kind; and the same can be said for luxury goods of all kinds, from restaurants to clothing to automobiles…
Thus Francis’ concluding recommendation that Americans all learn to “fight for themselves” on the example of The Magnificent Seven will hardly do the job; there is a lot more to fix in our republic than “taking back [our] own streets [our]selves.” What underlies Francis’ call for self-defense is his sense that the official guardians of order have stopped caring about us; he could not have anticipated that thirty years later, the police themselves would have come under attack as agents of the racist clingers and deplorables—in contrast to the higher echelons of police power like the FBI arresting the “insurrectionists” of January 6, whose multiyear sentences, unlike those of common criminals, let alone the seldom disturbed Antifa rioters of recent years, reflect tyranny rather than anarchy.
And yet, for the moment, in the life of the average citizen, “anarcho-tyranny” is still a phenomenon of isolated incidents, tragic for those who suffer from them, but not sufficiently pervasive to have displaced or even deeply perturbed the civil society that surrounds the average middle-class life, while the troublesome signs of national weakness revealed in Iran, Afghanistan, and Ukraine remain on the fringes of our lives.
Yet this sense of security shows itself every day to be a bit more illusory. Not just the US but the entire West seems unable to supply Ukraine with sufficient armaments to progress against Russia, whose GNP is a fraction of ours. For the real sources of power are increasingly indifferent to local conflicts; globalism needs only the degree of order that permits production, exchange, and profit. What Francis called “tyranny” is less about legally harassing arbitrarily selected individuals than promoting virtue-signaling climate boondoggles in societies of increasing delinquency and drug abuse—passively encouraging the atomization of civil society in the face of technological gigantism.
But our malaise should not distract us from the core of the West’s increasing danger: the de-structuration—the desecration—of the hierarchical edifice of human community from the family to the nation and beyond. If this structure cannot soon recover the strength to reproduce itself from one generation to the next, its fabric will continue to dissolve. And we cannot avoid fearing that our enemies will before long take advantage of this dissolution to create, first anarchy, and then tyranny tout court.**
**For a not altogether improbable nightmare scenario, see Kurt Schlichter’s “Our Incompetent Elite Is Opening Up America to Attack”