lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Jan 14 07:54:00 MST 2003
(Interesting that Burnham was "never for racism" but "merely vilified
its victims and critics". Sounds like Marc Cooper and company are
following in his footsteps with respect to the antiwar movement.)
Right and wrong
The elegant errors of conservative thinker James Burnham
By Michael Lind, 1/12/2003
IF JAMES BURNHAM HAD DIED in 1946, he might be remembered today as one
of the major thinkers of the 20th century. The son of a railroad
executive raised in an affluent Chicago suburb with an education from
Princeton and Oxford, Burnham in the 1930s led the kind of life that
left-wing intellectuals today fantasize about. While teaching at NYU, he
worked as a top deputy of Leon Trotsky, wrote essays for Partisan
Review, and acquired an enviable reputation during vacations as a chemin
de fer player at casinos near Biarritz. After breaking with Trotsky in
1940, he wrote "The Managerial Revolution" (1941), a worldwide
best-seller that Albert Speer at the Nuremberg trials cited as an
explanation of contemporary history, and "The Machiavellians: Defenders
of Freedom" (1943), an eloquent and controversial study of the nature of
power. George Orwell denounced him and Ezra Pound corresponded with him.
Burnham was often found on panels alongside the likes of Andr Malraux,
Reinhold Niebuhr and Arthur Schlesinger Jr.
But unfortunately for his reputation, Burnham lived until 1987, to the
age of 82 (he was disabled by a stroke in 1978). In the late 1940s, the
zealous anticommunism of Trotsky's former lieutenant led to his
marginalization by the liberal intellectual establishment. Even the CIA,
which employed Burnham briefly as an migr program consultant, found his
views too extreme. Contrary to popular belief, the career officers at
the CIA have often been political liberals.) Burnham, along with
Willmoore Kendall, a crotchety populist who was paid by Yale to
surrender his tenure rights and leave, and the self-described "Tory
Bohemian" Russell Kirk, became one of the mentors of the young William
F. Buckley Jr. Burnham worked at Buckley's National Review as an editor
from its founding in 1955 until his effective retirement in the late 1970s.
The largely unintellectual conservatives who preceded them before the
1950s, and succeeded them in the 1990s, have been surly, demagogic and
wrong about everything; in contrast, the mid-century "movement"
conservatives around Buckley were wrong about everything in a sprightly
and erudite way. They were never for racism, only against desegregation;
they did not support apartheid, they merely vilified its victims and
critics; they were not in favor of dire poverty, they just objected to
any and all government programs that might ameliorate it.
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