Wednesday, March 8, 2023

The Machiavellians: OSS/CIA James Burnham’s Fascist Italian Defenders of Freedom


neocons fascism technocracy totalitarianism CIA Machiavellians

“[James] Burnham…the real intellectual founder of the neoconservative movement and the original proselytizer, in America, of the theory of ‘totalitarianism’.”

– Christopher Hitchens, For the Sake of Argument: Essay and Minority Reports

In an interview with Washington Post columnist Mary McGrory in 1950, Burnham described the new narrative he was to give to the masses to explain the new face he had chosen for himself. The Virgil to his Dante, had become Machiavelli, which he credited for his new ‘revelations’ in his The Managerial Revolution. This made for a very convenient segway to the ‘modern Machiavellians’ of his day. Robert Michels, Vilfredo Pareto and Gaetano Mosca, who referred to themselves as the “Machiavellians.” Georges Sorel, who had influence over this group would also have great influence on Burnham who revealingly gushed over Sorel in his follow-up book The Machiavellians, Defenders of Freedom (1943).

What linked the Machiavellians first and foremost, was their belief in the possibility of a ‘science’ of society. Second, they believed in the nonrational in politics and that ruling classes were governed by a ‘political formula’ which presumed a nonrational belief, such as the concept of the ‘divine right of kings’ or the ‘sovereignty of the people’, that was intended to justify their power.

Burnham first read the Machiavellians in the 1930s at the urging of Sidney Hook, who supposedly wanted to introduce Burnham to intelligent criticism of Karl Marx. In 1972 he told Charles Lam Markmann that before he had discovered the Machiavellians he had not been significantly influenced by any other political theorists. Because of the influence of the Machiavellians, Burnham claimed he had come to understand “more thoroughly” something he had long known only intuitively that “only by renouncing all ideology can we begin to see the world of man.” One could also say that Burnham’s full thought would have gone something like this: “And thus by renouncing all ideology, we are free to use it as we choose. Those who can see through ideology, but can use it successfully to manipulate the masses, will in turn become their God.”  (more...)

The Machiavellians: OSS/CIA James Burnham’s Fascist Italian Defenders of Freedom

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