Burnham Agonistes

“Who says A must say B.”

—James Burnham

Most adult conservatives as well as many educated people know that James Burnham was an anticommunist author and columnist for William F. Buckley’s National Review; a number of others will be aware that Burnham’s name seems to flap through the corridors of early 20th-century American intellectual history, though they may not be able to explain just who he was or what he did.  

Born in Chicago in 1905 to a well-off railroad executive, Burnham was educated at Princeton and Oxford and, by his 20’s, had sprouted into a leading figure in literary criticism and philosophy among the New York cognoscenti.  During the Depression, Burnham became a Marxist (of a sort) and a major presence in the Trotskyist movement.  Breaking with the far left in 1940, he developed distinctive political theories of his own in The Managerial Revolution (1941) and The Machiavellians (1943) and acquired an increasing influence as a spokesman for a militantly anticommunist foreign policy in the late 1940’s and 50’s.  After a brief period with the CIA, Burnham joined with Buckley at National Review and, for the next two decades, turned out a series of books, columns, and articles on both foreign-policy issues and conservative political...

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