Tuesday, September 26, 2017

From Trotsky to Buckley

A view from the far Left. From The Jacobin:
When James Burnham published his best-selling The Managerial Revolution: What is Happening in the World in 1941, he had already ditched the far left but was still generally regarded as a radical, even a neo-Marxist. By the time he wrote The Struggle for the World six years later, he was flirting with obsessive anticommunism.

Too often, however, people rush to apply a version of black swan theory to Burnham’s shocking political conversion. With the benefit of hindsight, a complex evolution appears as an easily explicable U-turn.

For the Left, Burnham epitomized the petit-bourgeois weakling who cravenly succumbed to the pressures of alien class forces — a Marxist version of “filthy lucre.” For the Right, he heroically completed a pilgrim’s progress from the darkness of totalitarianism to the enlightenment of tradition. The center’s view has been most influential: Burnham proves the batty affinity between far left and far right.

Twinning these so-called extremes has become especially popular today among centrist pundits like Michael Bloomberg, who argue that the symmetrical “populisms” — Sanders and Corbyn on the left, Trump and Le Pen on the right — are destabilizing the West. Similarly, in his lively 1975 book Up From Communism: Conservative Odysseys in American Intellectual History, John P. Diggins concludes that Burnham went “from the revolutionary Left to the militant Right without so much as pausing in the ‘Vital Center.’”

A more patient reading of the record shows that Burnham inhabited — albeit uncomfortably — the anticommunist center-left for a bit longer than he was a Communist and Trotskyist. Streamlining Burnham’s life to bolster an argument for the ideological kinship between revolution and reaction — including New Republic editor Jeet Heer’s claim that “Burnham took Trotsky’s idea of a world revolution and inverted it” — obscures more than it reveals. (Read more.)

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