Thursday, July 28, 2016

IN MEMORIAM: JAMES BURNHAM by HUBERT COLLINS

In Memoriam: James Burnham

James Burnham died July 28th, 1987 — nearly three decades ago, and just before the arrival of the current age. Born in a Catholic 1905, he quickly delved into Marxism in his college days. But Kapital couldn’t keep him, and he quit the party in 1940, and the next year wrote his post-Marxist, and criminally underappreciated book, The Managerial Revolution. In brief, the book spelled out how the rulers of our day are not the cliched nobles and aristocrats, nor the triumphed pioneers and businessmen, but the technocrats, the pencil-pushers and the “experts” behind the scenes in our ever more complex society.
That book, popular in its day, put Burnham on the map, and he wrote quite a few books thereafter: The MachiavelliansCongress and the American Tradition, andSuicide of the West to name just three. He became a titan within the burgeoning conservative movement — writing regularly for National Review and The Freemanand reaching prominence enough to be a target of George Orwell’s ire from all the way on the other side of the Atlantic. However, for all his new found glory in William F. Buckley’s posse, Burnham never “purged” his mind of his early influences like Niccolo Machiavelli, Max Weber, Vilfredo Pareto, and Gaetano Mosca — thus ensuring that his thinking always remained above the echo chamber of Republican politics.
But not with a bang, but a whimper, did he fall from the limelight. Largely debilitated by a stroke in 1978, he was largely left in the dust by his conservative colleagues, and one by one his books fell out of print. Though a recipient of the Medal of Freedom — from Ronald Reagan no less, today his mentions are few and far between, certainly nothing in comparison to his contemporaries Russell Kirk and Whittaker Chambers.

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