Once you start down the Crazy path, forever will it dominate your destiny

Came across an interesting essay tracing the rise and fall of Samuel Francis. Francis was a conservative thinker and writer whose early writing was marked by a certain abrasive insight. But as time went on, he drifted out toward the fringe and sailed right over the border into Crazytown. The article describes a highly intelligent but… odd man who had a tendency to take good political points and taint them with bizarre, sometimes racist ideas.

When the conservative establishment started distancing itself from him, he just took his alienation as confirmation that his theories (and his sense of victimhood) were correct. By the time he died, the weirdness and racism of his waning years understandably clouded out any positive contributions his writings might have made:

Sam Francis came to Washington as one of the bright young minds of the New Right in the late 1970s….

But Francis was not a good soldier in the conservative movement. His personality and evolving ideological interests led him into direct conflict with the very movement that had nurtured his early career. He became the house intellectual of the Buchanan breakaway campaigns and the theoretician of the anti-Bob Dole, anti-George Bush paleoconservative movement. And, as he became estranged from mainstream conservatism, he veered into the “racial creepiness” racialism of journals like The Occidental Quarterly.

This was my first exposure to Francis’ story; perhaps some of you are more familiar with him. Francis’ life story is a reminder that even smart people can get obsessed with crazy ideas—and furthermore, a smart person’s belief in crazy ideas doesn’t make him or her less smart; it just means that his or her good ideas are now hopelessly bound up with the crazy ones. And it illustrates some of the weird appeal of the fringe right, which for all its creepiness seems to attract some genuinely smart people.

I stumbled across this via a Ross Douthat post about the Ron Paul racist newsletter controversy. Douthat observes that once you’ve waded out into the political fringe and taken up common cause—willingly or not—with the crazies you find out there, it’s awfully hard to ever return to the mainstream again.

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