Sunday, December 04, 2011

The return of James Burnham

James Burnham (1905–1987) was an American political theorist, best known for his "The Managerial Revolution" (1941). That book advanced conjectures about the new form of society ostensibly emerging to replace capitalism. Controversially, Burnham saw many common features that linked the economic formations of Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia, and the United States under Franklin D. Roosevelt with his New Deal.

More generally, Burnham held that a new society had emerged in which a ruling elite of managers--not a ruling class in the traditional sense--had began to amass all power and privilege. In a later book "The Machiavellians," he acknowledged that the emerging new élite would seek to retain some democratic trappings or camouflage — political opposition, a nominally free press, and a controlled "circulation” of the cadres of dominant individuals.

Writing in 1941, Burnham took note of the early victories of the Axis powers. He concluded that Germany was bound to win the war in Europe, with Japan becoming the major force in Asia. Separated from the Old World by its oceans, the US would remain independent, perhaps retaining Britain as an outpost. At the time George Orwell took careful note, incorporating the idea of the three great powers into his powerful novel "Nineteen-eighty Four."

Most observers thought that Burnham’s geopolitical predictions had been falsified. As he himself noted, the Soviet Union survived and triumphed over Nazi Germany.

Today, however, the USSR is no more, and Germany is resurgent. To be sure, the center of Asian power has shifted to China. It does appear, though, that the world is ruled from three great power centers: Berlin, Beijing, and Washington DC. (Possibly to be termed, BBB--Berlin, Beijing, and the Beltway.)

In essence Burnham seems to have been right after all,



Blogger Burk said...

Interesting. But this managerial class, while perhaps having entered through the side door of meritocracy or bureaucracy, has rationalized its "alignment" of interests with those of the owners by way of outrageous pay / bonus / stock aggrandizement, and is thus fast on its way to becoming a typically oligarchical class. It is the oldest story in the book, really.

We are heading into banana republic territory in the US, unless this process is reversed.

10:18 AM  
Blogger Dyneslines said...

I agree, as a supporter of the Occupations.

But again, Burnham appears to have been right. Maybe not fatally so, but that remains to be determined.

10:24 AM  

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