In Defence of James Burnham, Who Barely Needs It…

Conservatives tend to admire James Burnham for two books published around the middle of the 20th century: The Managerial Revolution and The Machiavellians. In the former Burnham argued that a class of corporate managers and governmental bureaucrats would become dominant in “managing” ever more complex modern societies, while in the latter he assessed the importance of political realism in the preservation of liberty. The New Republic‘s Jeet Heer attempts to discredit him by pointing out that he endorsed the Vietnam War.

Eh? Criticising a man’s theoretical arguments on the basis of his policy prescriptions can be fair if the latter can be shown to proceed from the former. (I believe I did this in the case of Murray Rothbard.) Heer does not attempt to show this and much of his essay thus amounts to an extended exercise in ad hominem. His comments on Burnham’s theoretical arguments are brief and dismissive…

The Managerial Revolution rests on the idea that the rise of a new technocratic class will displace capitalism, when the reality of the last few decades has been that capitalism has easily absorbed this new class. It’s still the people with money who call the shots, not their well-educated employees.

One need not endorse Burnham’s arguments in their entirety (I don’t) to see how superficial this is. Heer’s own magazine published evidence just two weeks ago of the collusion between financial executives and government authorities in forming Obama’s administration. How is that not a glistening example of the value of Burnham’s ideas? Heer does not look for the value of such ideas but for reason to dismiss them. This says more about his standards than anybody else’s.

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