James Burnham

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James Burnham (1905-1987) was a leading American conservative of the 1950s, and an editor of National Review magazine.

He is best known as a proponent of Rollback against Soviet Communism, which he promoted in the late 1940s. Opponents warned it would lead to nuclear war. It was adopted by Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, and Soviet Communism collapsed.

In the 1930s he was a Communist of the Trotskyite anti-Soviet variety, but was attacked by Trotsky himself and expelled by the Socialist Workers Party in 1940.

  • “Modern liberalism, for most liberals, is not a consciously understood set of rational beliefs, but a bundle of unexamined prejudices and conjoined sentiments. The basic ideas and beliefs seem more satisfactory when they are not made fully explicit, when they merely lurk rather obscurely in the background, coloring the rhetoric and adding a certain emotive glow.” [1]


The Managerial Revolution

In 1941, Burnham published one of his best known books, The Managerial Revolution, which created "quite a stir" in both England and the United States.[1] In The Managerial Revolution, Burnham lists four Managerial Ideologies:[2]

The book was (and still is) unusual for its focus on the underside of the Administrative State, or managerial state, as Burnham makes the case that "Under the centralized economic structure of managerial society, regulation (planning) is a matter of course".[2] Commonly, writers separate the various ideologies apart based on the nature of their master plans without examining their core use of Central planning.

Further reading

  • Francis, Samuel. James Burnham: Thinkers of Our Time‎ (2nd ed. 1999) 164 pages
    • previously published as Power and history: the political thought of James Burnham‎ (1984)
  • Kelly, Daniel. James Burnham and the struggle for the world: a life (2002) 443 pages; the standard scholarly biography

Primary Sources

  • Burnham, James. The Managerial Revolution: Or What is Happening in the World Now (1940), highly influential study of capitalism
  • Burnham, James. The Struggle for the World (1947)
  • Burnham, James. The Coming Defeat of Communism (1950)
  • Burnham, James. Containment or Liberation? (1952).


  1. Orwell, George (1946). Work : Essays : James Burnham and the Managerial Revolution.
  2. 2.0 2.1 (2003) The Managerial Revolution: What is Happening in the World. New York: John Day Company, 185-205. 
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