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Burnham wrote this book in 1964, and was at that time concerned about the 'contraction' of the West and its values. In that sense, this book is somewhat dated, since more of the opposite has happened. However, what makes this book a classic is his analysis of the liberal mind. In fact, this book is what helped me to understand the confused mind-set that is characteristic of leftists. Burnham is obviously very influenced by Michael Oakeshott (author of the classic _Rationalism in Politics_); he agrees with Oakeshott's belief that two of the main characteristics of leftists are the belief in 'reason' to solve all problems and to refashion society, and its collary, the denigration of tradition. Since 'rightists' see the limitations of reason, and understand the importance of thousands of years of evolved tradition in supporting society, they of course then logically become the main enemy of leftists. Rightists usually see leftists not as evil, but merely goofy; leftists on the other hand see rightists not merely as mistaken, but as evil. This is the book that clued me in as to why these beliefs are held. For anyone interested in politcal science, this is a must-read book.
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This book was written in 1964 but is as relevant (if not more so) today than it was when first published. Since that time, modern liberalism has moved further leftward and worldwide Communist revolutionary impulses have only marginally declined, notwithstanding the collapse of the Soviet Union. Red China is becoming the new Red menace and Russia is in the midst of potentially dangerous changes. The very premise of this book has played out on the world scene since its writing. The liberal approach towards Communism (i.e. appeasement) in the 1970s had weakened the Western resolve to contain Communism just as Burnham predicted it would. On the other hand, the 1980s demonstrated the efficacy of the opposite approach, namely mustering the will and resources to rollback Communism. And the 1990s served to remind us all once again how ill-equipped liberalism is in containing Communism as the Red Dragon raised its ugly head and the Bear grew restless. Burnham spends the first two-thirds of the book describing the liberal worldview in intellectual and moral terms. He begins by first outlining the major tenets of liberalism and shows from whence they arose. He then demonstrates how some of these tenets are intellectually weak due to their internal inconsistency, mutual incompatibility, and failures in application. Burnham then shifts to the moral/psychological aspect of liberalism, specifically the role of values in liberal ideology; and the priority that liberals give to those values. He also explains the sentiments that drive the commitment to liberalism and explains how, in many cases, those sentiments are inconsistent with the intellectual tenets of liberalism. He also describes the powerful role guilt plays in the liberal impulse towards egalitarianism.Read more ›
James Burnham's useful little volume, originally published in 1964, is not so much a book about the impending death of Western civilization as it is a treatise against liberalism and the sins of liberals. Burnham justifies the book's title by tying liberal domination to what he recognizes as the mortal peril in which Western civilization finds itself, but he is reserved enough to state in the end that liberals and liberalism are not the cause of the decline of Western civilization but the cause of the West's suicidal reconciliation to its decline and of its failure to take restorative measures. And Burnham takes a balanced historical approach which is incompatible with that of the polemicist. He discusses the history of liberalism, starting with the early days, during which liberalism indeed represented advocacy of human liberty and ending with the post-New Deal era, in which liberalism has come to mean liberty for liberals only and servitude for everyone else. The ugly double standards that liberals practice when distinguishing "us" from "them" are elaborated on, as is the liberal enshrinement of all allies on the left, including Communist dictators, no matter how dangerous or offensive, and demonization of all opponents on the right, no matter how inefficacious. Political correctness and affirmative action are exposed here, even though these phrases have not yet become part of the American lexicon. For while the themes are familiar, this book was written in an era that seems quite removed from that which we live in now - in the shadow of JFK's death and prior to Khrushchev's ouster and to the Tonkin Resolution which expanded America's role in Vietnam.Read more ›
I read this book in 1979. It is a classic. Mr. Burham's observations on liberalism have helped me to understand the liberal mindset through the intervening years. Some chapters will not help the modern reader, as events have overtaken them, but the analysis of the liberal mistake is still valid. Mankind will not be made perfect by laws or governments. The world is not imperfect because we have failed to write and enforce our laws correctly. No system of carrots and sticks designed by man or government will replace the dictum: teach them correct principles. Read also Michael Oakeshott on civil association.
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