James Burnham

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Person.png James Burnham   Amazon C-SPAN NNDB Powerbase Spartacus WikiquoteRdf-icon.png
(philosopher, author, neoconservative)
James Burnham.jpg
Born22nd November, 1905
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
DiedJuly 28, 1987 (Age 81)
Kent, Connecticut, U.S.
Alma materPrinceton University, Balliol College (Oxford)
SpouseMarcia Lightner

James Burnham was a philosopher who has been described as "the first neoconservative,"[1] Giles Scott-Smith in a review of Daniel Kelly’s (2002) James Burnham and the Struggle for the World: A Life, [2] describes Burnham as “one of the most intriguing conservative intellectuals of the Cold War period”.

Significance to Conservatism

James Burnham wrote widely and prepared a series of books for the Office of Strategic Services World War II.[3] [4] and had an influence on Conservatism[5] can be traced to a series of books but it is mainly his (1941) The Managerial Revolution: What is Happening in the World, and the (1943) The Machiavellians: Defenders of Freedom: A Defense of Political Truth Against Wishful Thinking,which are cited as having had the greatest influence on the right and which are discussed below. Other works include: (1964) Suicide of the West: An Essay on the Meaning & Destiny of Liberalism, (1949) The Coming Defeat of Communism, (1947) The struggle for the world, (1954) The web of subversion; underground networks in the U. S. Government, (1967) The War We Are In: The Last Decade and the Next, (1959) Congress and the American Tradition. Burnham was best known during his life as an anti-Communist theorist of the Cold War who was involved with the Congress for Cultural Freedom and a founding editor of National Review.[6]


22 November 1905|28 July 1987|


  1. The reference is stated as a quote from Richard Brookhiser: see ISI Books: James Burnham and the Struggle for the World, Intercollegiate Studies Institute website.
  2. Giles Scott-Smith review of Daniel Kelly’s (2002) James Burnham and the Struggle for the World: A Life.
  3. https://www.toqonline.com/archives/v5n2/TOQv5n2Andrews.pdf
  4. http://www.marxistsfr.org/history/etol/writers/burnham/index.htm
  5. J.P. Zmirak (2003) America the Abstraction, The American Conservative, January 13, argues that "the neoconservative attempt to package the American ideal for export betrays our citizens at home and foments chaos abroad". It also states that: "In The Neoconservative Mind, Gary Dorrien traces the origin of abstractionist Americanism to the work of James Burnham—the great theoretician of “rollback” anti-Communism." This strong tendency towards pure abstraction, towards viewing national questions purely in ideological terms is illustrated when "Burnham made clear in his famous call to arms The Struggle for the World that he was more devoted to the abstract mission of America than to any of her concrete attributes."
  6. CIA (2007)Cultural cold war: Origins of the Congress for Cultural Freedom, 1949-50. This (redacted) CIA version of events (perhaps over-) emphasises that at the first Congress for Cultural Freedom conference the CIA "wanted [Melvin] Lasky and Burnham kept out of sight in Berlin for fear their presence would only provide ammunition to Communist critics of the event." And that although "Burnham took charge of the details for the American delegation" the CIA "ordered Lasky and Burnham removed from prominent positions in any ongoing project. Burnham was happy to step aside, agreeing that he made an easy target for Communist critics of the Congress."