Super PAC Era Links Back to Early James Burnham
At a time when corporate America is exploring and exploiting its new Supreme-Court-bestowed role in the management of American election results, an earlier transformation in the composition and political role of American business leadership should be recalled. This was the replacement of the Gilded Age capitalists and industrialists -- audacious, rapacious and innovative, who created the post-Civil War American industrial economy -- by the early 20th-century professional managers who took their place.
The young Burnham, after
In 1941, he caused a considerable international stir with his book, "The Managerial Revolution." It was the only important American contribution to the Marxist debates surrounding the Crash and Great Depression -- although in George Orwell's view (writing in 1946), Burnham was actually more a Machiavellian thinker than a Marxist.
Orwell did not live to see Burnham's ultimate conversion to aggressive American nationalism.
Burnham's Trotskyist period ended with a declaration in 1940 that he had decided that Marxism was merely a form of imperialistic class politics, and he proposed a new theory which said that the managerial class was the new force in the class struggle, seizing privilege and control over society. Capitalism, he said, as a form of social organization, was finished. His new managerial class was taking over in German Nazism, Soviet Stalinism and in F.D.R.'s New Deal.
This idea had been heard before in Trotskyist circles. As
Orwell accused Burnham of an inordinate fascination with power, which led him to predict that
This predilection for both colossal error and world-historical theory never left Burnham. By the end of the Second World War, he was an anti-Soviet rightist, author of such books as "The Struggle for the World" (1947) and "The Suicide of the West" (1964) -- national suicide allegedly the result of the malign influence of America's liberals.
Burnham was a great influence on
Burnham's theory that a new class of professional and technocratic managers were taking control of modern economies accompanied another phenomenon of the wartime and postwar years in the U.S. Intellectually moribund university business schools were reawakened by the influence of "scientific" and strategic management theories and practices developed by military staffs and at such institutions as the
This combination eventually gave us the version of global finance and industry that has given us world crisis. It generally is run by managers who, without necessarily investing a farthing of their own money, control the American (and increasingly European) economies, enriching themselves by assigning to one another titanic emoluments as rewards for having been hired, for carrying out executive duties that earlier professional managers performed for unexceptional rewards and eventually rewarding themselves for leaving their jobs.
These individuals usually are not founders or creators but hired hands, graduates of American business colleges. They form the American plutocracy today, and the
Since American elections, in contrast to the 1930s, tend to be decided by broadcast political advertising, and during the Reagan administration the legally mandated "Fairness Doctrine" that since 1934 had required impartiality in broadcast political debate was ended, it would seem that this plutocratic power is permanently installed in the
The apparently imminent installation in
While Burnham later changed his mind, the prescience of his earliest books must be saluted.
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Super PAC Era Links Back to Early James Burnham | Politics
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