Thursday, September 17, 2020

James Burnham and the Struggle For the World

The linked review is quite long and I believe accurate ... Burnham was a fearless, generally non-ideological intellectual genius. His life and thought presents a window into the largely leftist intellectual elite conflict of "control vs chaos" -- veers from being a Trotskyist, to a CIA employee, to a McCarthy sympathiser, to a prophet of "The Managerial Revolution", to an editor of the National Review with close ties to William F. Buckley. 

While he seemed to value not "settling" on any specific world view MUCH more than I, I do much respect his willingness to attempt to always have an open mind. In some cases, it seemed that his mind may have been so open that the brains fell out, his intelligence made his "above the fray of ideology / religion to be believable.  My perspective is that since his fear of being pinned down to a specific worldview became a fetish that was in fact much aligned with a worldview -- that the world is inevitably headed toward a specific ideology that is bureaucratic, "managed", and is quite close to Fascism. (Fascism is NOT "Nazism" -- it is bureaucratically managed collaboration between massive government and increasingly large corporations, with the "common man" increasingly disposed of (physically or metaphysically).   

I think he is essentially correct at a high level, though wrong on the specifics -- he thinks that Capitalism will be replaced by this "Managerial State". I believe what we see is that Capitalism remains as the "engine" that produces the wealth that supports the increasingly centralised worldwide bureaucratic state (Davos World). Trump and Brexit are either the last gasps of actual competition and freedom, or harbingers indicating that Capitalism and the Proletariat are much more elemental to humanity than Marx or Burnham believed. I pray for the latter. 

From the linked review on the Burnham path from Trotsky to "management". I am reminded of one of the things that tech people used to say about the last and supposedly greatest management "Flavor of the Day" idea to "improve"  -- "Management for management's sake". Hey, they needed to feel that they were doing SOMETHING! 

Kelly writes, “It is tempting to write off Burnham’s Trotskyist phase as wasted time, a six-year detour into the sterile world of left-wing sects. But this judgment would be wrong” because “the involvement prepared him for what would be his real career” (pp. 87–88). In 1940, Burnham’s first major work appeared and sold well. Called The Managerial Revolution, it showed the influence of Machajski, Rizzi, Berle, Means, Veblen, Thurman Arnold, and Lawrence Dennis, as well as of Trotskyism (pp. 95–96). Burnham argued that bureaucratic management was the wave of the future, even if it took such forms as fascism, communism, and the New Deal, depending on circumstances. Only a cold, empirical, social-scientific approach could tell us where we were headed.

This quote from the linked is a valid summary of the book -- though, as always, the map (summary) is NEVER the territory! 

Burnham’s books do have interesting and important insights—especially The Managerial Revolution, Congress and the American Tradition, and Suicide of the West—but the Cold Warrior Burnham constantly undermined the conservative Burnham (if conservative is the right word). He embraced empire, constant frontier wars, managerialist determinism, and the warfare state, while complaining occasionally about Caesarism, the decline of Congress and other intermediate institutions, the growth of federal bureaucracy, and the loss of traditional liberties. This circle could not be squared. Burnham seldom considered that anything other than big impersonal historical forces might be causing the things he bewailed, that actual human agents might be driving some of the seeming inexorabilities. As a result, his rather willful disregard of economic theory and his battles against “doctrinaires” such as Frank Meyer look like symptoms of a larger failure of vision.

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