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This is from a long and interesting article in the latest Harper's. You are entitled to read one free one per month and this one is an eye-opener:
The Dark Knight overflowed with antiquarian theories and gleanings. His thoughts kept circling back to the midcentury right-winger James Burnham, a hallowed figure among the NatCons. Burnham’s trajectory perfectly matched the moment. He’d begun his career as a mild-mannered professor of philosophy, a genteel Princetonian whom one student described as having walked out of a T. S. Eliot poem, but some vision amid the Great Depression had changed him. Though he was dazzled by his Marxist colleague Sidney Hook, and by his encounter with Leon Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution, which he interpreted as a coming attraction for America, it still took a car ride through Detroit, the epicenter of the Depression, to clinch Burnham’s conversion. “The class struggle, the starvation and terror in act” that he witnessed among the city’s autoworkers convinced him that capitalism was ruined forever; he wanted to be a part of what came next.
At NYU, Burnham still lectured on Aquinas and Dante, but he was increasingly occupied with drafting strategies for Communist Party discipline. His attacks on Franklin Roosevelt, whom he accused of being an incipient totalitarian, were even more vitriolic than the conservative attacks on the New Deal. Trotsky, in exile on the island of Büyükada off Istanbul, was so taken with Comrade Burnham’s agitprop that he marked him as a protégé. Some organizers around Burnham were put off by his tailored suits, his taste for champagne and baccarat, and his dry patrician monotone, but this was also part of what made him useful; he lent American Marxism a dignified patina. Burnham broke with the Trotskyites over the question of whether the Soviet Union was in fact a worker’s state. Trotsky thought it still qualified despite the corruptions of Stalinism; Burnham thought it did not. From his reading of New Deal critics of the modern corporation, such as Adolf Berle and Gardiner Means, Burnham came to believe that the Soviet Union and the United States were converging on a kind of managerialism: two only marginally different planned economies, with little place for individual freedom. He started drifting to the right, and eventually wound up as the in-house guru of William F. Buckley’s National Review. But his professional life did have some coherence over the decades. It was spent taking up positions from various crumbling ideological ramparts to get a better shot in at his lifelong enemy: the liberal elite. Burnham could summon a good word for the Black Panthers, LSD, and Woodstock, which had at least sent some shockwaves to Vital Center Command Control.
Refreshingly, the NatCons [the Nationalist Conservatives that includes Trump, Tucker Carlson, et al] and the Dark Knight [the nickname the author gave to an alt-right computer engineer named Curtis Yarvin, who I had never heard of] were interested not in Burnham’s avowedly right-wing phase—when brittle treatises such as The Suicide of the West (1964) appeared—but in his earlier, more ambivalent wartime output, The Managerial Revolution (1941) and The Machiavellians (1943), which were written in an era when Burnham was still contending with “remnants of Marxism.” These books, invoked by NatCons throughout my days in Washington, worked like a back door through which they could smuggle materialism into their program. Other phrases that I did not associate with conservatives were brought out like worn old pieces of family furniture, each brokered by trustworthy conservative middlemen. “The ruling class” was often cited at the Ritz, or, just as commonly, “the ruling class, as Angelo Codevilla calls it”—a reference to the intelligence analyst, conservative professor, and writer for the Claremont Review of Books.
Burnham’s chief idea—adopted by Yarvin—was that the American elite had become a managerial class that acted as guardians over institutions, the academy, and the professions. They were not aristocrats, nor were they capitalist tycoons, but rather an office-bound species that merely understood the techniques of governance and as a class no longer bothered with questions of their own legitimacy. Burnham had counseled a kind of equanimity in the face of this technocratic elite—the best you could do was to pit elites against one another in order to create space for concessionary freedoms. But Yarvin was more intent on destroying it. He believed that the United States was simply a more advanced form of totalitarianism than China. It had decentralized its despotism, spread it among different sectors, but the totalitarian imprint was still there: Americans who watched Fox News were captive to one narrative, and those who watched MSNBC were captive to another. But for Yarvin the trouble was that the original mythology of American democracy was breaking down. One could keep believing in it for only so long, just as it had required herculean myopia to continue to believe in Third World liberation long after its expiration date. Did anyone really still believe in American postwar innocence? Yarvin played at drawing the stench of the firebombing of Dresden into his nostrils. Did anyone still believe that liberal elites wanted equality in education? And so Yarvin had identified a groaning gap in the conference. “It will be interesting to see what kind of elite they come up with,” he said.
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