Tuesday, February 24, 2009

James Burnham: Prophet


I knew about Burnham's history, but I shoulda read the book. Here George Marlin, a Chestertonian extraordinaire, writes about the Gudge described by Burnham.

In 1941, New York University philosopher James Burnham published a prophetic book, The Managerial Revolution: What Is Happening in the World, to critical acclaim. Fortune called it the most debated book of the year. Time had it on its annual most notable list. And it made The New York Times best sellers. It was translated into a dozen languages.

Burnham (1905-1987), an ex-Trotsykyite who became a founding editor of National Review and returned to the Church late in life, held that self-destructing capitalism would not be replaced by socialism, which he thought “a mythical dream,” but by a managerial class that administers corporate policy.

Uh-huh. Details?

In times of economic crisis, Burnham argued, the capitalist class – bankers, industrialists, merchants – will gradually be replaced by a new class of self-confident government managers. These administrative experts, directing engineers, and technocrats, will control ever-expanding government bureaus, agencies, and commissions that dictate how resources will be distributed. They will stress the state over individuals, will talk about planning more than free initiative, `jobs over opportunity, and as “economic conditions progressively decay, the reward allocated to the finance-capitalists [will] seem inordinate and unjustified.…”

And with familiar rhetoric, too:

The managerial society will be promoted as the salvation of mankind ushering “in an age of plenty, sweetness, and light..."

How can one accomplish that goal? Well, here's one way:

The Roosevelt administration created scores of federal agencies that governed by fiat. The National Recovery Administration (NRA), for instance, determined prices and wages throughout America until it was declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. Subscribing to a “high wage” theory that assumed efficient cost-cutting measures were bad, NRA managers created volumes of price codes; every business, big or small, had to comply. Policing the nation for violators, NRA agents actually jailed a Cleveland couple who owned a dry cleaner “because they cleaned suits for five cents less than the NRA codes provides.”

Not exactly the NRA we know and love today, eh? 'S OK--the OLD NRA was replaced by the Minimum Wage police--and a helluva lot more than that:

The emerging managerial class that Burnham described in the 1940s has continued to expand – even during Republican ascendency in the last third of the twentieth century. Today there are more than 400 Federal agencies, programs and activities ...(ACYF), (APHIS), (CRS), (ERA), ...

(More at the link, if you have the stomach for it.)

...The present economic crisis opens whole new vistas to managerial types.

Oh, goodie goodie gumdrop!!

...Don’t expect the agenda of this professional governing class to be limited to economics. They will reach into every home and church. Catholics should be especially wary of them. Their significance in the world hinges on the transformation of America into a Ward Three nation. For them, liberty means obedience to the enlightened values of a managerial elite, which is also becoming international in scope.

Some of them may still believe in God, but He lives in a different neighborhood, has odd views not shared by the very best people, and anyway there are multiple crises to deal with – and managerial opportunities

Yah. Clinging to His Bible...and all that.


Shoebox said...

Who is John Galt?

Steve Burri said...

It also reminds me of Robert McNamara and that bunch that attempted to micromanage the Viet Nam effort.