James Burnham and the Struggle for the Worldby Daniel Kelly
From his pre-World War II days as Leon Trotsky's leading American apologist to his postwar role as mentor to William F. Buckley Jr. at National Review, James Burnham (1905-1987) was, at different times, one of America's most important intellectuals on both the Left and Right of the political spectrum. This meticulously researched volume, the first full-length biography of Burnham, should establish him as one of the twentieth century's outstanding thinkers.In 1929, Burnham accepted a teaching post in the New York University philosophy department as an Oxford-trained Thomist. Under the tutelage of his friend and colleague Sidney Hook, Burnham soon developed Marxist sympathies. He became a dedicated follower of Leon Trotsky and a leading organizer of various communist political parties. But in 1940 Burnham broke with Trotskyism and began a slow journey to the Right, moving beyond the residual Marxism of his fellow Partisan Review intellectuals to become a founding editor at National Review. He would remain at Buckley's magazine until stricken by a debilitating stroke in 1978. As Daniel Kelly's absorbing biography makes clear, Burnham's political and intellectual influence was far-reaching. In his books, articles, and columns, Burnham foresaw the rise of the bureaucratic "managerial state"; he warned of the advent of an imperial presidency; and he was an astute geopolitical analyst who issued dire warnings about the degeneration-or "suicide," as one of his most famous books put it-of the West. George Orwell was both attracted to and disturbed by his work. Ezra Pound was moved to write him. Arthur Koestler and André Malraux, among many others, befriended him. As Richard Brookhiser once observed, Burnham was arguably the first neoconservative. His modern, empirical, and secular mode of thought, combined with his fervent anticommunism-Burnham was, for example, intimately involved with the CIA-orchestrated Congress for Cultural Freedom-foreshadowed the methods and concerns displayed by the neoconservatives during their intellectual ascendancy in the 1960s and 1970s. Including fascinating vignettes involving characters as diverse as Dwight Macdonald, Lionel Trilling, and Whittaker Chambers, Kelly's lively and definitive narrative must be read not only by those interested in the life of this seminal conservative thinker and Cold War strategist, but also by anyone who wants a better understanding of the forces behind the most important ideological clash of the modern age.
Daniel Kelly taught modern European history at New York University's Washington Square College and York College of the City University of New York for three decades until his retirement in 1996. Richard Brookhiser is a senior editor at National Review, a columnist for the New York Observer, and author of numerous books, including Alexander Hamilton, American.
- ISI Books
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