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The Machiavellians: Defenders of Freedom Audio CD – Audiobook, CD, Unabridged
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About the Author
James Burnham (1905-1987) was an American popular political theorist and a noted author, lecturer, editor, and commentator. He was the founding editor of the National Review, founder of the Congress for Cultural Freedom, and director of the Free Europe University. He was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Ingersoll Foundation's award for his contributions to the conservative movement. His books include The Managerial Revolution, The Machiavellians, The Struggle for the World, and many others.
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In a certain sense, I can understand why this book is out of print. Realism in politics is hardly popular. What most people seek for in political theory is not reality but a rationalization for their own wishful thinking.
Some comments have been raised that maybe Burnham downplayed his intellectual debt to the Polish leftist Jan Waclaw Machajski and the American 'fascist' Lawrence Dennis. Both made thoroughly 'machiavellian' critics of communist and other movements of the early 20th century, before Burnham, and Burnham would have been familiar with their work. This debate may seem a little arcane but it does reflect the intellectual forment of 1930s America.
Burnham sees his collection of "machiavellian thinkers" as forerunners of his own "managerial revolution" ideas. Before his later decades as one of the editorial team of William F Buckley's "National Review", James Burnham, was at one time America's leading Trotskyite theoretician. He even rushed to Trotsky's death bed in Mexico following the Soviets' assasination of their former military leader.
Burnham de-marxified (or more exactly de-marxist-leninist-ised) the Trotskyite critique of the Stalinist Soviet Union and broadened it into a genuine revision and amendment of marxism. In Burnham's analysis, the bourgeoisie would be replaced, not by the proletariat, but by the Managerial class of managers, bureaucrats, experts etc. Penned in the late 1930s, Burnham saw this class as already having come to power in Germany, (Soviet) Russia and (New Deal) America.
Burnham's "Managerial Revolution" in it's day was probably considered his most important, much debated and influential book. Today it's thesis has been so thoroughly absorbed that his analysis, once seen as radical and non-conformist, is now seen as such a commonplace and mundane observation that "everyone knows it". But the obvious was not always obvious. "Managerial Revolution" is thus delegated today to gather dust. "The Machiavellians" in contrast is perhaps a timeless book and, who knows, may ultimatelty be considered Burnham's genuine classic.
"The Machiavellians" is not just a readable survey and synopsis of the ideas of several great political philosophers, it also describes the lessons Burnham believed needed to be assimilated if liberty and human dignity are to survive in an era of great central power.
The "Machiavellian" writers Burnham discusses span a rather diverse spectrum of views (with Machiavelli and Pareto the only ones who could be called "conservative" in any real sense). What they have in common is an objective, scientific approach to politics that avoids allowing wishful thinking, or ideas about what ought to be, to impede their discernment of what is.
I disagreed with Burnham's tendency to dismiss religious ideas as inherently irrationalist. Also, his clarification in response to Machiavelli's reputation ignores the fact that Machiavelli did, after all, offer some amoral advice, not just non-moral analysis. While some of Burnhams predictions proved correct only in the short run, his method contains within itself the the capacity for self-correction, which is part of the whole point of the book.
This book remains a must-read for all who seek to develop a scientific understanding of politics, regardless of their philosophical persuasion.