James Burnham

From Powerbase
Jump to: navigation, search

The Machiavellians are the only ones who have told us the full truth about power . . . the primary object, in practice of all rulers is to serve their own interest, to maintain their own power and privilege . . . No theory, no promises, no morality, no amount of good will, no religion will restrain power. Neither priests nor soldiers, neither labor leader nor businessmen, neither bureaucrats nor feudal lords will differ from each other in the basic use which they will seek to make of power… Only power restrains power. . . . When all opposition is destroyed, there is no longer any limit to what power may do. A despotism, any kind of despotism, can be benevolent only by accident.

James Burnham (1943)The Machievellians, Defenders of Freedom[1]

James Burnham (1905-1987[2]) has been described as "the first neoconservative,"[3] Giles Scott-Smith in a review of Daniel Kelly’s (2002) James Burnham and the Struggle for the World: A Life, [4] describes Burnham as “one of the most intriguing conservative intellectuals of the Cold War period”.

Burnham's influence on Conservatism[5] can be traced to a series of books but it is mainly his (1941) The Managerial Revolution: What is Happening in the World, and the (1943) The Machiavellians: Defenders of Freedom: A Defense of Political Truth Against Wishful Thinking, which are cited as having had the greatest influence on the right. Burnham was best known during his life as an anti-Communist theorist of the Cold War who was involved with the Congress for Cultural Freedom and a founding editor of National Review.[6]


Early life

Burnham was born in Chicago in 1905, the son of Claude George Burnham, an English-born executive with the Burlington Railroad.[7]. He was educated at a private Catholic boarding school in Connecticut[8] and studied English literature and philosophy at Princeton, where he graduated first in his class in 1927.[8][7] He earned a Masters degree at Balliol College Oxford in 1929.[7]


In 1930, Burnham joined the philosophy department at Washington Square College of New York University, where he was to serve as professor of philosophy from 1932 to 1954.[9]

From 1930 to 1933, Burnham co-edited the literary review Symposium. One of the articles he published was a piece on Karl Marx by Sidney Hook, a colleague at the New York University philosophy department.[7]

Burnham was himself moving to the left in the early 1930s, but eschewed the Communist Party. Instead, under Hook's influence, he gravitated towards the left opposition. in 1933, he joined the American Workers Party (which later became the Socialist Workers Party), rising to become an important contact for Trotsky by 1938.[8]

World War Two

Burnham broke with Trotsky in 1939, refusing to support the Soviet invasion of Poland.[8]

In 1941, Burnham published The Managerial Revolution, which argued that a dangerous collectivist tendency was inherent in the growing bureaucratization of governments of all ideological shades. A follow up, The Machiavellians appeared in 1943.[8]

In 1944, Burnham wrote a paper on future Soviet aims for the Office of Strategic Services.[8] This may have been prepared for the Yalta conference.[7]

In a critical essay on Burnham's writings during this period, James Burnham and the Managerial Revolution, George Orwell noted that in 1941 Burnham had assumed that Germany would win the war, while by 1944, in the Partisan Review article Lenin's Heir he was arguing that Russia would conquer the whole of Eurasia. Orwell attributed these predictions to "the instinct to bow down before the conqueror of the moment, to accept the existing trend as irreversible":

Power worship blurs political judgement because it leads, almost unavoidably, to the belief that present trends will continue. Whoever is winning at the moment will always seem to be invincible. If the Japanese have conquered south Asia, then they will keep south Asia for ever, if the Germans have captured Tobruk, they will infallibly capture Cairo; if the Russians are in Berlin, it will not be long before they are in London: and so on. This habit of mind leads also to the belief that things will happen more quickly, completely, and catastrophically than they ever do in practice.[10]

Cold War

Burnham set out his strategy for western victory in the emerging cold war in the 1947 book, The Struggle for the World.[11]

Burnham secretly joined the CIA's Office of Policy Coordination (OPC) as a full-time consultant in October 1949, following an approach by Joseph J. Bryan III, a former Princeton classmate who now headed the OPC's Psychological Warfare Workshop.[12] He attempted to secure a similar position for Sidney Hook, who obtained some consultancy work but was never granted a full-time CIA role.[13]

According to E. Howard Hunt, "Burnham was a consultant to OPC on virtually every subject of interest to our organization":

He had extensive contacts in Europe and, by virtue of his Trotskyite background, was something of an authority on domestic and foreign Communist parties and front organisations.[14]

Burnham was regarded as an expert on emigré matters, and was employed as the CIA's main contact with the circle of Polish exiles around the Paris-based Kultura magazine.[15]

Burnham played a key role in planning the Berlin Congress for Cultural Freedom. He and his wife travelled to Germany on 15 June 1950, at the OPC's expense.[16] Burnham kept a low profile during the event, on instructions from OPC head Frank Wisner, to allay suspicions about the Congress's provenance.[17]

He nevertheless delivered a paper entitled Rhetoric and Peace, defending US atom bombs as "the sole defense of - the liberties of Western Europe" and delivering a stinging attack on the left:

The Communists have looted our rhetorical arsenal, and have bound us with with our own slogans. The progressive man of "the non-Communist left" is in a perpetual tremor of guilt before the true Communist. The Communist, manipulating the same rhetoric, but acting boldly and firmly, appears to the man of the non-Communist left as himself with guts.[18]

Melvin Lasky's conduct at the event angered Burnham, who suspected he was promoting the interests of the Mensheviks at the expense of other emigré groups.[19]

Along with Arthur Koestler, Sidney Hook, Irving Brown and Lasky, Burnham was instrumental in the passage of the fourteen-point Freedom Manifesto at the end of the Congress.[20] He was subsequently appointed to the steering committee established to put the Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF) on a permanent footing.[21] In November 1950, he attended a meeting which approved a functioning structure on the basis of proposals earlier drawn up by Lasky.[22]

Following the establishment of the Congress) on a permanent basis, the influence of Burnham and other ex-communists waned. Burnham opposed the organisation's focus on winning over the Non-Communist Left, and favoured harder-edged political warfare over cultural diplomacy.[23]

Burnhams desire for “offensive political-subversive warfare” against the Soviet Union was reflected in his 1950 book, The Coming Defeat of Communism.[11]

As a member of the CCF's American arm, the American Committee for Cultural Freedom, Burnham maintained a bitter rivalry with the more liberal Arthur Schlesinger, who was also reporting to the CIA.[24]

In 1952 Burnham published Containment or Liberation?, which called for an offensive strategy focused on rolling back Soviet power in Eastern Europe.[11] Schlesinger described it as "an absurd book by an absurd man."[25]

Frances-Stonor Saunders suggests that may have been involved in drafting a strategy paper for the Psychological Strategy Board (PSB) at around this time. The document, PSB D-33/2, was strongly criticised by PSB officer Charles Burton Marshall for emphasising elite power "in a manner reminiscent of Pareto, Sorel, Mussolini, and so on", preoccupations resembling those of Burnham's The Machiavellians.[26]

Burnham was employed by Kermit Roosevelt to write propaganda as part of the preparations for the CIA-backed coup in Iran in 1953.[27] However, the Agency terminated Burnham's contract in April that year.[28] Scott-Smith comments:

…one gets the strong impression that Burnham was by then too extreme for the CIA. By 1953, [Senator Joe] McCarthy, whom Burnham defended, was making inquiries about Agency personnel, something the director of the CIA, Allen Dulles, would not tolerate. The no-holds-barred schemes of OPC's early years had also been brought under a stricter rein. Someone like Burnham, adept at taking a controversial line on principle, was definitely expendable.[8]

In 1954, no longer bound by his ties to the CIA, Burnham led a walkout of right-wing ACCF members who believed the Committee had become too critical of McCarthy.[29] At around the same time, he ended his long-staqnding association with the Partisan Review.[30] In the same year, he authored The Web of Subversion an analysis of communist penetration of the US government.[25]

The National Review

Along with Frank S. Meyer, Burnham was one of two principal co-editors of William Buckley's National Review from its foundation in 1955.[31]

Joshua Muravchik recounts that:

Burnham served as a mentor to the younger Buckley, becoming, in Buckley's words, "the number-one intellectual influence on National Review."[31]

Muravchik goes on to note that:

Burnham and Meyer opposed the Supreme Court's 1954 decision against school segregation, opposed President Eisenhower's enforcement of integration in Little Rock in 1957, and then opposed the marches, freedom rides, and civil-rights legislation of the 1960's, including the Voting Rights Act. […] Burnham lamented that the high valence of the civil rights issue had rendered impossible "scientific and empirical investigation that might prove objectively, once and for all, whether and in what sense Negroes [were] inferior" — research whose likely purpose, considering the times, would have been to justify discrimination.[31]

This also notes that Burnham called himself an "anti-anti-McCarthyite," and that Burnham said George F. Kennan, the author of the cold-war doctrine of containment, lacked a sufficient "hatred for Communism."[31]

Saunders also quotes Burnham’s article in The National Review in 1967, written when the CIA had grown weary of subsidising the Non-Communist Left (NCL):

The CIA mounted most of these activities in the perspective of "the non- Communist Left." […] The CIA estimated the NCL as a reliably anti-Communist force [but] this political estimate is mistaken. The NCL is not reliable. Under the pressure of critical events the NCL loosened. A large portion — in this country as in others — swung toward an anti-American position, and nearly all the NCL softened its attitude toward Communism and the Communist nations. Thus the organizational collapse is derivative from the political error. The political error is the doctrine that the global struggle against Communism must be based on the NCL — a doctrine fastened on the CIA by Allen Dulles. Cuba, the Dominican Republic and above all Vietnam have put the NCL doctrine and practice to a decisive test. A large part of the organizations and individuals nurtured by the CIA under the NCL prescription end up undermining the nation's security.[32]

Roger Kimball writing in the New Criterion notes that the publication of Burnham's The Struggle for the World happened to coincide with President Truman's speech announcing what came to be known as the Truman Doctrine. This coincidence gained the work much publicity — much of it negative. It also aroused the interest of the newly formed CIA. Burnham, recommended by George F. Kennan was invited to head the Political and Psychological Warfare division of the Office of Policy Coordination which was itself a semi-autonomous covert branch of the CIA. According to Kimball Burnham took a leave from NYU — to do "research" the university explained — and moved to Washington.

Kimball, also responding to Kelly's biography, argues that Burnham's greatest contribution while working for the CIA was to help found the Congress for Cultural Freedom:

The liberal element of the Congress cannot be overemphasized: this was an effort to win over the liberal intelligentsia — forgive the pleonasm — to the cause of anti-Communism. Accordingly, in 1950 at the Congress's inaugural conference in Berlin, patrons and speakers included Bertrand Russell, John Dewey, Benedetto Croce, Karl Jaspers, Jacques Maritain, Herbert Read, A. J. Ayer, Ignazio Silone, Sidney Hook, and Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. Burnham was one of the few hard-liners. In his talk, Burnham tackled head on "neutralism — what we have come to call "moral equivalence"- the "denunciation on equal terms of American and Soviet barbarism". Burnham admitted the demotic nature of American pop culture. But tawdriness was better than tyranny: Coca-Cola might be bad, he said, but "not quite in the same league with [the Soviet labor camp] Kolyma."[33]

For Kimball, Burnham's tenure with the CIA came to an end over the issue of "McCarthyism," and Burnham's ambivalence represented an understanding that anti-McCarthyism was often "a screen and cover for the Communists and ... a major diversion of anti-Communist efforts."[34] Reflecting on the phenomenon after McCarthy's death, Kimball states that Burnham noted that:

McCarthy became the symbol through which the basic strata of citizens expressed their conviction ... that Communism and Communists cannot be part of our national community, that they are beyond the boundaries: that, in short, the line must be drawn somewhere. This was really at issue in the whole McCarthy business, not how many card-carrying members were in the State Department ... The issue was philosophical, metaphysical: what kind of community are we? And the Liberals, including the anti-Communist Liberals, were correct in labeling McCarthy the Enemy, and in destroying him. From the Liberal standpoint — secularist, egalitarian, relativist — the line is not drawn. Relativism must be Absolute.[35]

For some writers, when the Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF) disappeared, "the core group later came to be known as the neoconservatives,"[36] and there certainly are continuities between members of the CCF (and the UK's Information Research Department) and those who gathered round the National Review, The Philadelphia Society and the network represented by the Institute of European Defence and Strategic Studies and other organisations funded by or influenced by the Heritage Foundation. The founding circle of National Review was composed largely of former agents or men otherwise associated with the CIA, including Buckley, Yale Professor Wilmoore Kendall, and Burnham. William Casey, rooted in OSS activities and later to be named director of the CIA, drew up the legal documents for the Review, Buckley also served under E. Howard Hunt of Watergate fame.

Final Years

Burnham was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Ronald Reagan on 23 February 1983.[37] He died in 1987.[38]

Crozier & Burnham’s residue

According to Joseph D’Agostino Brian Crozier “is yet another ex-leftist who has dedicated his life to fighting communism [...] and met devout Communists who had a profound influence on him”.[39] In an interview Crozier stated “Before World War II, I had a left-wing phase, unfortunately [...] So did Bob Conquest [...] But I never joined any Communist Party.” What dissuaded him is said to be James Burnham’s (1943) The Machiavellians, Defenders of Freedom, and ironically Crozier succeeded Burnham in writing the National Review column, ‘The Protracted Conflict’ (originally called “The Third World War”) in 1978 (Crozier would write the column for the next 18 years). D’Agostino writes:

Crozier ascribes an enormous amount of the credit for the fall of the Soviet empire to Ronald Reagan. “One of the turning points was the invasion of Grenada. It was the first strategic and tactical retreat of the Soviet Union,” Crozier said. “The effect of it was very startling.” He told a surprising story about British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. “I had an appointment with Margaret on the day of the invasion,” he recalled. “She was furious with Ronald Reagan... ‘He didn’t even have the decency to ring me and tell me what he was doing.”’[40]

David Rees’ (1985) Student of subversion, for the National Review, states that Crozier was a “self-acknowledged disciple of James Burnham”, and explores his debt to Burnham, which it argues comes from ‘The Machiavellians’, which it describes as Burnham’s fundamental contribution to political thought more than the Managerial Revolution, but again we return to Mosca and Pareto.

It was in this book that Burnham made his famous distinction between real and formal meaning [...] Thus, Crozier goes on, “it is the job of the political commentator or analysts to discern the real behind the formal meaning . . . the truth behind the rhetoric, the facts behind the myth, the intentions behind the promises.” In Burnham’s view, Machiavelli and his modern successors, such as Michels and Pareto, were “defenders of freedom,” because, as Crozier summarized, “it is only when the people are told the truth that their interests are safeguarded.” It was not for his cynical advice to his Prince “but for his scientific observation of political realities” that Burnham praised Machiavelli and the tradition he had originated.[41]

Rees argues that Crozier borrowed Burnham’s method of analysis and contention in the introduction to (1947) The Struggle for the World,[42]that “the Third World War” began with the Communist-sponsored mutiny in the Greek navy in Egypt in 1944, “waged by Moscow against the West in line with Leninist teaching.” Rees places Burnham’s and Crozier’s concern with the ‘politics of reality’ as part of a wider strand of modern political writing, common to both Britain and America, which he terms “conservative realism.” This may be traced back to:

Admiral A. T. Mahan, the famous analyst of sea power, to Henry and Brooks Adams, and to Walter Lippmann (in his younger years). It was Lippmann, for example, who pointed out during the First World War that President Wilson’s stated motives for entering the war, however idealistic, were in fact inseparable from the strategic necessity of preserving the “Atlantic system” linking American and British interests.[43]

British counterparts, are given as “Milner or a Cromer [...] Sir Charles Dilke, J. A. Froude, and Sir J. R. Seeley” in terms of their work’s relation to the British Empire: with Dilke, for instance, arguing that “British rule in India rested not on force but on self-confidence.” Crozier’s (1970) Since Stalin, is presented as his “most able synthesis, accurate in diagnosis and prophetic in analysis:”

It is an examination of the power realities inherent in Soviet strategy at the end of the 1960s. Brushing aside the fashionable view that the cold war was over, Crozier looked at the new reality of Soviet global power. By the end of the decade, the USSR, having achieved nuclear parity with the United States, was ready to take advantage of Chancellor Willy Brandt’s readiness to improve relations with Moscow, and of France’s withdrawal from the integrated military machinery of NATO (though not from the treaty). Flexing its newly developed naval power, the USSR was already preparing to fill the impending American power vacuum in Southeast Asia. In the Western Hemisphere, the Soviets were bringing Fidel Castro more fully under their control in the interests of a more effective strategy in Latin America. The Soviet Union was thus now in a position to challenge the West in Africa, Southeast Asia, and Latin America.[44]

It is also argued that Crozier’s biography of Franco, makes the judgment that the order Franco “created in Spain in the 1950s and 1960s made possible modern industrial—and democratic—Spain”; His biography of De Gaulle argues that he “endangered France’s allies” and Crozier’s (1978) Strategy of Survival, explores the tension between East and West in terms of Burnham’s “Third World War,” although it also describes this as a polemical work. In Crozier’s view, Burnham’s ‘Third World War’ is a war of “politics and subversion, terrorism and psychological warfare” although it fails to mention Crozier’s connections to covert propaganda and the Secret Intelligence Service and the CIA.

In a review of Burnham’s “The Modern Machiavellians”, from a Marxist perspective when it appeared in the 1940s, Paul Mattick observed:

Mosca, like all Mechiavellians, Burnham says, rejects any monistic view of history because such theories do not accord with the facts. In his search for truth – which is the purpose of all Machiavellians – Mosca discovers as the primary and universal social fact the existence of two “political classes,” a ruling class – always a minority – and the ruled. And he believes that not only has this always been and is now the case, but that it always will be.[45]

Mattick also observes that before dealing with Michels and Pareto, Burnham discusses Sorel and the function of myth and violence, arguing that Sorel thought that a socialist take-over of governmental power would lead to the substitution of a new elite as ruler over the masses, and is thus Machiavellian. A ‘real’ revolutionary program “could be carried out with the help of an all-embracing myth, which would arouse the masses to uncompromising action.” A true Machiavellian, Burnham argues according to Mattick, separates scientific questions concerning the truth about society from moral disputes over what type of society is most desirable. This is related to the assertion that it can be scientifically demonstrated that organising a classless society is impossible and that a tendency toward oligarchy is inherent in organisation itself and is thus a necessary condition of life:

The autocratic tendencies are neither arbitrary nor accidental nor temporary, but inherent in the nature of organization. This iron law of oligarchy holds good for all social movements and all forms of society. It makes impossible the democratic ideal of self-government.[46]

Pareto’s general analysis of society contains distinctions he makes between “logical” and “non-logical” conduct which relates to his concepts of ‘residues and derivations,’ with ‘Residue’ meaning classes of stable, common elements in social actions, permanent human impulses, instincts, or sentiments. Pareto, according to Burnham, is not concerned with the question of where residues come from as with the fact that social actions may be analyzed in terms of them, whatever their origin. The derivations, according to this formulation of Pareto (and the question arises to what extent Burnham’s formulation has become the accepted formulation) are the verbal “explanations, dogmas, doctrines and theories with which man clothes the non-logical bones of the residues.”[47]


Christopher Lasch's (1969)The Cultural Cold War: A Short History of the Congress for Cultural Freedom, argued that the former Communists who gathered at the first meeting of the Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF) expressed themselves in "formulations that were themselves derived from the cruder sort of Marxist cant." Of Burnham specifically, Lasch adds that The Managerial Revolution "passed for Marxism in left-wing circles of the thirties." Not all reactions to it were so trusting however. Richard Gillam's (1981) White Collar from start to Finish: C. Wright Mills in Transition, argues that Burnham's "mordant vision" of an emerging "managerial" society exerted a decisive if negative influence upon C. Wright Mills:

In his best-selling tract of 1941, The Managerial Revolution: What Is Happening in the World, ex-Trotskyist Burnham had proposed that a new kind of society-one beyond the ken of older social theory — was irresistably emerging within the world's superstates. Control of this future social order would rest in neither a ruling nor a working class but in a functionally indispensable elite of managers. This was of course only the most recent version of an argument previously advanced by Thorstein Veblen, Adolf Berle and Gardiner Means, Max Shachtman, and others before them. But The Managerial Revolution appeared at a crucial historical moment and had great influence as a frightful forecast of things to come. Burnham gave theoretical expression to the deepest apprehensions of the age; his vision fascinated even as it repelled. For it must be stressed that, despite his emphasis upon knowledgeable elites, he actually advanced a radically deterministic theory of power and intellect as deriving from a system both preordained and permanent. Burnham's managers were not the masters but the servants of a massive social mechanism that could not be changed in any basic way. This anti-intellectual variant of new middle class analysis thus negated the old liberal-marxist hope that the human lot could be rationally improved. History was to end not only in a social condition of permanent inequality between elites and masses but with people little more than mindless objects — cogs in a machine. For Mills as for many others this was less a theory than a nightmare, and it excited furious resistance.

Gillam also argues that the young Mills almost certainly conceived White Collar in direct response and opposition — as an "answer" — to the Burnham thesis. he also states that Mills' first published reference but one to "white collar groups" appears in the collaborative attack upon The Managerial Revolution he and Gerth had mounted in a 1942 review-essay, "A Marx For the Managers." Gillam adds that Mills often dated the inception of White Collar almost precisely from the moment of this essay and states that he believes this points to the anti-Burnham impulse — "the resistance to deterministic gloom" — as fundamental to his work and that Mills also identifies managerialism as "an analysis that had to be disproved".

Lasch's account of the CCF meeting also notes that it broke up in a 'spirit of rancour':

A resolution excluding totalitarian sympathizers 'from the Republic of the Spirit' was withdrawn, 'Professor Hook and Mr Burnham,' according to Trevor-Roper, 'protesting to the end'.[48]

Lasch also notes that Burnham resigned from the advisory board of the Partisan Review, because William Phillips and Phillip Rahv (adapting a cold war slogan) argued that there should be "no room on Partisan Review for neutralism about McCarthy."[49]



Books and articles

Books and articles about Burnham include:

  • George Orwell's James Burnham and the Managerial Revolution Essay, originally from New English Weekly, (May 1946) and also published as "Second Thoughts on James Burnham" in Polemic No 3 in May 1946 and in various essay collections. It is thought that the Managerial Revolution was an influence on 1984. Orwell summarises Burnham's thesis thus:
Capitalism is disappearing, but Socialism is not replacing it. What is now arising is a new kind of planned, centralised society which will be neither capitalist nor, in any accepted sense of the word, democratic. The rulers of this new society will be the people who effectively control the means of production: that is, business executives, technicians, bureaucrats and soldiers, lumped together by Burnham, under the name of ‘managers’. These people will eliminate the old capitalist class, crush the working class, and so organise society that all power and economic privilege remain in their own hands. Private property rights will be abolished, but common ownership will not be established. The new ‘managerial’ societies will not consist of a patchwork of small, independent states, but of great super-states grouped round the main industrial centres in Europe, Asia, and America. These super-states will fight among themselves for possession of the remaining uncaptured portions of the earth, but will probably be unable to conquer one another completely. Internally, each society will be hierarchical, with an aristocracy of talent at the top and a mass of semi-slaves at the bottom.
From the writings of Niccolo Machiavelli, Gaetano Mosca, Georges Sorel, Robert Michels, and Vilfredo Pareto, Burnham deduced that:
1. All politics is concerned with the struggle for power among individuals and groups;
2. genuine political analysis involves correlating facts and formulating hypotheses about the future without reference to what ought to happen;
3. there is a distinction between the "formal" and "real" meaning of political rhetoric, which can only be discovered by analyzing the rhetoric in the context of the actual world of time, space, and history;
4. “political man” is primarily a “non-logical” actor driven by “instinct, impulse and interest;”
5. rulers and political elites are primarily concerned with maintaining and expanding their power and privileges;
6. rulers and elites hold power by “force and fraud;”
7. all governments are sustained by “political formulas” or myths;
8. all societies are divided into a “ruling class” and the ruled; and
9. in all societies the “structure and composition” of the ruling class changes over time.

It also notes that:

The Machiavellians is the most complete exposition of Burnham’s approach to the study and analysis of politics. Samuel Francis judges it to be his "most important book,” and opines that “virtually all of Burnham’s writing since The Machiavellians must be understood in reference to it.” Brian Crozier agrees, calling The Machiavellians “the most fundamental of Burnham’s books,” and “the key to everything he wrote subsequently." Joseph Sobran calls the book “the key to Burnham’s thought.” John B. Judis believes that Burnham’s approach to analyzing power politics as set forth in The Machiavellians “informed his tactical understanding of the Cold War….”
Marx, incidentally, had a proper appreciation of Machiavelli as a thinker; but Marx placed him properly as a forerunner whose horizon was necessarily limited to the early beginnings of capitalism, even to the period of the rise of nations. Burnham, rejecting Marxism, has to go back for inspiration to Machiavelli and to those who continue on the sole basis of his thought in the modern period. It is the acceptance of the Machiavellian “theory” that leads Burnham to conclude that the next stage in history must yield the managerial society. All history of the past shows that there are rulers and ruled, that the power of the rulers is embodied in the state, which is nothing but organized force and fraud. (History is the study of organized force and fraud). Ergo: there will always be what has always been, rulers (an elite) and ruled, exploiters and exploited. Hence Burnham looks carefully around to see what the next type of rulers will be like, and he finds them among the “managers.” His “awe” before the managers is typical of intellectuals who have never been inside a factory, do not know its organization and how it runs in reality, and attribute truly magical powers to the administrators at the top. The true nature of the social cooperation involved in modern industry evades him, and that includes the “planning” which Burnham attributes, entirely erroneously, to the tops alone. In any case, Burnham was being perfectly “objective,” in his own view, when, he predicted the new managerial “social” revolution. He did not even take sides, he merely observed; it was not a question of desire or morality, it was a question of inexorable fact. All forms of government” were undergoing the same inner changes, the tempo alone varying. The administrative “letter” bodies used by Roosevelt under the New Deal were interpreted as the counterpart of Hitler’s corporate state and Stalin’s planning commissions. Burnham predicted boldly that these war measures of the New Deal would become permanent aspects of American life. Never again would there be a return to “free enterprise.” Possibly Burnham considers it a mistake on the part of the American rulers (are they bourgeois or managerial?) to have dissolved these bodies. Let it be again emphasized that Burnham disowned all responsibility or preference for what was happening; he was a mere reporter recording without prejudice objective truth.
Burnham depicts liberalism as more than a set of ideas: It is a syndrome that holds its adherents in a tight grip and prevents them from understanding either reality or the mindsets of those who are not liberals.
  • James Burnham (1956) End of the Masquerade, National Review, July 18. This contains elements of Burnham's attacks on Kennan:
And as they rolled over Polish bodies the Communist tanks flattened also the soft rhetoric of our George Kennans and Stewart Alsops, our experts and smug journalists, who have been telling us how the Soviet regime has come to be accepted by its subjects, how (in Kennan's servile words) "there is a finality, for better or worse [sic], about what has occurred in Eastern Europe."
Had his career extended through another decade, Burnham might well have prevented NR's slide leftward into neoconservatism, where the magazine is presently moored.

This also draws comparisons with Burnham's Suicide of the West, first published in 1964, to Kenneth L. Minogue's The Liberal Mind, released a year earlier in the UK.


  1. James Burnham (1943)The Machievellians, Defenders of Freedom.
  2. Mark A. Uhlig, JAMES BURNHAM IS DEAD AT 82; FOUNDER OF NATIONAL REVIEW, New York Times, 30 July 1987.
  3. The reference is stated as a quote from Richard Brookhiser: see ISI Books page for: James Kelly, James Burnham and the Struggle for the World Intercollegiate Studies Institute website.
  4. Giles Scott-Smith review of Daniel Kelly’s (2002) James Burnham and the Struggle for the World: A Life.
  5. J.P. Zmirak (2003) America the Abstraction, The American Conservative, January 13, argues that "the neoconservative attempt to package the American ideal for export betrays our citizens at home and foments chaos abroad". It also states that: "In The Neoconservative Mind, Gary Dorrien traces the origin of abstractionist Americanism to the work of James Burnham—the great theoretician of “rollback” anti-Communism." This strong tendency towards pure abstraction, towards viewing national questions purely in ideological terms is illustrated when "Burnham made clear in his famous call to arms The Struggle for the World that he was more devoted to the abstract mission of America than to any of her concrete attributes."
  6. CIA (2007)Cultural cold war: Origins of the Congress for Cultural Freedom, 1949-50. This (redacted) CIA version of events (perhaps over-) emphasises that at the first Congress for Cultural Freedom conference the CIA "wanted [Melvin] Lasky and Burnham kept out of sight in Berlin for fear their presence would only provide ammunition to Communist critics of the event." And that although "Burnham took charge of the details for the American delegation" the CIA "ordered Lasky and Burnham removed from prominent positions in any ongoing project. Burnham was happy to step aside, agreeing that he made an easy target for Communist critics of the Congress."
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 Francis P. Sempa, The First Cold Warrior, Part One, American Diplomacy, Fall 2000.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 8.6 Giles Scott-Smith, If There's No Alternative, There's No Problem, H-Diplo, May 2005.
  9. Obituary of Mr James Burnham, The Times, 4 August 1987.
  10. George Orwell, James Burnham and the Managerial Revolution, Polemic 1946, archived at george-orwell.org.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 Francis P. Sempa, The First Cold Warrior, Part Two, American Diplomacy, Fall 2000.
  12. Hugh Wilford, The Mighty Wurlitzer: How the CIA Played America, Harvard, 2008, pp.74-75.
  13. Hugh Wilford, The Mighty Wurlitzer: How the CIA Played America, Harvard, 2008, pp.76-77.
  14. Frances Stonor Saunders, Who Paid the Piper? The CIA and the Cultural Cold War, Granta, 2000, p.87.
  15. Hugh Wilford, The Mighty Wurlitzer: How the CIA Played America, Harvard, 2008, p.75.
  16. Hugh Wilford, The Mighty Wurlitzer: How the CIA Played America, Harvard, 2008, p.78.
  17. Hugh Wilford, The Mighty Wurlitzer: How the CIA Played America, Harvard, 2008, p.80.
  18. Frances Stonor Saunders, Who Paid the Piper? The CIA and the Cultural Cold War, Granta, 2000, p.78.
  19. Hugh Wilford, The Mighty Wurlitzer: How the CIA Played America, Harvard, 2008, p.7247, n.41.
  20. Frances Stonor Saunders, Who Paid the Piper? The CIA and the Cultural Cold War, Granta, 2000, p.82.
  21. Frances Stonor Saunders, Who Paid the Piper? The CIA and the Cultural Cold War, Granta, 2000, p.87.
  22. Frances Stonor Saunders, Who Paid the Piper? The CIA and the Cultural Cold War, Granta, 2000, p.88.
  23. Hugh Wilford, The Mighty Wurlitzer: How the CIA Played America, Harvard, 2008, p.81.
  24. Hugh Wilford, The Mighty Wurlitzer: How the CIA Played America, Harvard, 2008, p.89.
  25. 25.0 25.1 Francis P. Sempa, The First Cold Warrior, Part Three, American Diplomacy, Fall 2000.
  26. Frances Stonor Saunders, Who Paid the Piper? The CIA and the Cultural Cold War, Granta, 2000, p.149.
  27. Stephen Dorril, MI6: Inside the Covert World of Her Majesty's Secret Intelligence Service, Touchstone, 2002, p.588.
  28. Hugh Wilford, The Mighty Wurlitzer: How the CIA Played America, Harvard, 2008, p.83.
  29. Hugh Wilford, The Mighty Wurlitzer: How the CIA Played America, Harvard, 2008, p.90.
  30. Frances Stonor Saunders, Who Paid the Piper? The CIA and the Cultural Cold War, Granta, 2000, p.208.
  31. 31.0 31.1 31.2 31.3 Joshua Muravchik, Renegades, Commentary, October 2002, p.85.
  32. Frances Saunders (1999) Who Paid The Piper? The CIA and the Cultural Cold War, (p.401).
  33. Roger Kimball (2002) The power of James Burnham, New Criterion, September 1.
  34. Roger Kimball (2002) The power of James Burnham, New Criterion, September 1.
  35. Roger Kimball (2002) The power of James Burnham, New Criterion, September 1.
  36. Center for Libertarian Studies (1997) Neoconservatism: a CIA Front?
  37. Frances Stonor Saunders, Who Paid the Piper? The CIA and the Cultural Cold War, Granta, 2000, p.422.
  38. Frances Stonor Saunders, Who Paid the Piper? The CIA and the Cultural Cold War, Granta, 2000, p.423.
  39. Joseph D’Agostino (1999) Conservative spotlight: Brian Crozier, Human Events, Nov 26.
  40. Joseph D’Agostino (1999) Conservative spotlight: Brian Crozier, Human Events, Nov 26.
  41. David Rees (1985) Student of subversion,National Review, Dec 31.
  42. James Burnham (1947)The Struggle for the World, The John Day Company, Inc., this states:
    THE THIRD WORLD WAR began in April, 1944. The details of an incident that then took place have not been disclosed. The incident itself, even less dramatic than the dropping of a small bomb on a Manchurian bridge, was hardly noticed behind the smoke of clashing armies and the rubble of cities falling.
    The few ships of the remnant of the Greek Navy, operating as a unit under the British Mediterranean Command, were in harbor at Alexandria. The Greek sailors, joined by some Greek soldiers sta­tioned near by, mutinied. It was not a serious revolt, in either num­bers or spirit. A few shots were fired, a few lives lost. The British rounded up the mutineers and placed them, for a while, in concen­tration camps. A few leaders were punished; but soon the trouble was patched up and forgotten. It was recalled briefly by some when, later, a short, bitter civil war broke out in Greece proper.
    We do not know the details of what happened in the mutiny; but the details, important as they may be for future scholars, are unnecessary. We know enough to discover the political meaning of what happened, and for this details are sometimes an obstacle. The mutiny was led by members of an organization called ELAS. ELAS was the military arm of a Greek political grouping called EAM. EAM was a seemingly heterogeneous alliance of various Greeks with various political and social views. But EAM was directed by the Greek Communist Party. The Greek Communist Party, like all communist parties, is a section of the international communist move­ment. International communism is led, in all of its activities, from its supreme headquarters within the Soviet Union.
  43. David Rees (1985) Student of subversion,National Review, Dec 31.
  44. David Rees (1985) Student of subversion,National Review, Dec 31.
  45. Paul Mattick (1943) James Burnham’s “The Modern Machiavellians”, New Essays, Vol. VI no. 4.
  46. Paul Mattick (1943) James Burnham’s “The Modern Machiavellians”, New Essays, Vol. VI no. 4. For a refutation of the 'iron law' see Alvin Gouldner (1955)'Metaphysical Pathos and the Theory of Bureaucracy', American Political Science Review, vol. 49 , pp. 496-507.
  47. Paul Mattick (1943) James Burnham’s “The Modern Machiavellians”, New Essays, Vol. VI no. 4.
  48. Christopher Lasch (1967) "The Congress for Cultural Freedom," The Nation (11 September). Lasch's essay is also reproduced in (1969) The Agony of the American Left: One Hundred years of Radicalism, Pelican.
  49. Lasch's essay is also reproduced in (1969) The Agony of the American Left: One Hundred years of Radicalism, Pelican, (p.80).