He was a controversialist. As a literary critic he argued with T.S. Eliot, and as a Trotskyist he quarreled with Trotsky himself. Almost alone among the ex-Communists, he made the full journey to a conservative world view, and before his death he returned to the Catholic faith.

He wrote many books, some of which will not be soon forgotten: Congress and the American Tradition, The Suicide of the West, and The Managerial Revolution. This last, written just after his defection from Communism, remains the most powerful theoretical analysis of the coups d’etat that overtook the governments of Germany, Italy, Russia, and the United States. Moderate defenders of the welfare state shudder—and rightly so—when Burnham’s name is mentioned. He knew a revolution when he saw one and recognized the New Deal for what it was, the American version of national socialism.

In his later years, as senior editor at National Review, Burnham became the most trenchant of cold warriors. For him containment could never be a solution. The free West had to commit itself to driving the Soviet Union back within its borders.

There was no cant in him, and if he had little patience for political philosophy, it was because political theories were so often little better than slogans designed to cover the libido dominandi. He frankly called himself a Machiavellian, and his name would be worth commemorating if his only accomplishment had been to introduce the insights of Machiavelli, Pareto, and Mosca into contemporary political discourse.

Burnham has few followers today. The halfhearted anti-Communists who twitter about democratic globalism would have affected him with equal measures of disgust, amusement, and despair. Of those who presume to follow his footsteps, Samuel Francis may be the only really faithful disciple, and Francis’ Power and History remains the best introduction to Burnham’s thought.

I met James Burnham only once for a brief moment at the Ingersoll Prizes banquet in 1983, when he was being honored as the first recipient of the Richard M. Weaver Award for Scholarly Letters. The Eliot winner that year was Jorge Borges. There they were in an extravagant Chicago hotel, standing together, two grand old men with visions of the world so powerful, so lucid, and so terrifying that few of us in this enfeebled age dare dart a glance at them. (TF)