Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Francis on Burnham:II

It's clear from Francis's writing that he felt that contemporary conservatism, in both its libertarian and "traditionalist" forms was incapable of dealing with the societal changes which occurred in the 20th Century. Francis felt the the libertarians had an "abstract" view of man which did not map onto reality and the traditionalists were still operating under the assumption that the fundamental nature of the world had remained unchanged. If Sam Francis was about anything, it was about the understanding of reality and how to navigate it, it was for this reason that Burnham appealed to him. 

Burnham regarded himself as an empirical student of power. Power as it is actually wielded rather than is theoretically expressed and hence the strong influence of Machiavelli, Marx, Mosca and Pareto in his thought.  His intellectual lineage put him outside the "tradition" of many conservatives who did not know what to make of him. On the other hand, Burnham himself felt that a conservatism which did not deal with the practical circumstances in which it found itself, and instead dealt with abstract principles only was an anachronism and destined to failure. Burnham's expositions of the ugly realities of power confused many who assumed that he was approving of them, which was not case. Burnham faced and stated realities regardless of how repulsive they were to himself.
The primary goals at which I aim in this column, as in most of the books and articles I have written, are fact and analysis. I do not accept any theory of class, national, ethnic, partisan, or sectarian truth. If conclusions I reach are true, they are just as true for Russians as for Americans, for pagans as for Christians, and for blacks as for whites.
For Burnham, historical and material circumstance had rendered traditional society obsolescent, in the same way that the internet is now rendering much of the media irrelevant, not by moral choice but by practical operation in the real world. And much like typesetters have become increasingly irrelevant, so too have the petit bourgeois capitalists in the modern world.
Yet the managerial regime did not evolve nor its elites become dominant in the economy, government, and mass society without a struggle. From the early twentieth century to the present, the social and political forces that resisted the formation of the managerial regime and the implementation of its agenda constituted a conservative, at times reactionary, influence. Small businessmen and entrepreneurs, the more parochial sectors of American society, lower middle-class elements, and groups that found the fiscal burden and social effects of the new regime a threat to their economic status and cultural identity provided the political base of the conservative resistance to managerial forces and ideas. The members of this base saw in the fusion of state and economy a threat to their own independent standing, endangered by the labor unions, regulations, and intervention imposed by the new managerial state in partnership with mass corporations. They saw their own values and institutions denigrated and undermined by the cosmopolitan ethic and egalitarian policies of the new elite. They suffered from the inflation and exorbitant taxation that financed the managerial state and from the crime and social dislocation that resulted from its social policies, by which the managerial regime subsidized an urban proletariat as its own political base. They were offended and often frightened by the globalist and, in their view un-American, international policies of the elite, which involved permanent intervention in world affairs, expensive foreign aid programs, the prospect of global war, and the renunciation of national interests in return fora cosmopolitan "one-world" that they regarded as both illusory and dangerous.
There's a lot to unpack in this paragraph of Francis's but I'm only going to concentrate on the main points.

Firstly, the battle is between the bourgeois and the current managerial elite.
Secondly, the strategy of the managerial elite is to squeeze the bourgeois middle by buying off the lumpenproletariat, who sell their votes to the highest bidder. This group are principally made up of the socially dysfunctional white and black lower classes in the U.S. who have been effectively "de-bourgeoised" by either genetic limitations or through adopting values which ensure their poverty. Kevin Williamson copped a lot of heat  for his article in the National Review--(there is a lot I disagree with)-- but he inadvertently vindicates Burhnam's and Francis's analysis:
Nationalism may speak to a longing for lost national greatness, but in our own time, it speaks at least as strongly to the longing after — the great howling lamentation for — the ideal family that never was lost, because it never was formed. The Mikes of the world may be struggling to make it in the global economy, but what they really are shut out of is the traditional family. The current social regime of illegitimacy, serial monogamy, abortion, and liberal divorce has rendered traditional families optional, at best — the great majority of divorces are initiated by wives, not by husbands — and the welfare state has at least in part supplanted the Mikes in their role as providers[ED], assuming that they have the wherewithal to fill that role in the first place. Traditional avenues for achieving respect, status, and permanence are lost to them.
The strategy of the elites was to buy the votes of the dysfunctional class. The cultural revolution of the Sixties effectively increased the pressure on the middle from the bottom.

Thirdly, the values of the managerial elite are different to the values of the bourgeois and there is an active displacement going on. This is going about through active exclusion from the decision making apparatus, economic pressure and cultural ostracism. According to Francis, the elites are effecting the destruction of the middle class.

Burnham, due to his historical determinism, felt that the managerial revolution was inevitable but what perplexed him was, unlike previous revolutions in the West, specifically when bourgeois society replaced the medieval one and which resulted in even greater civilisational advancement, the current elite was presiding over a civilisation that was dying. Burnham saw that the Elites were not just presiding over a new type of society but they were presiding over a society that had lost the will to live.
Burnham, though born a Catholic had been an atheist for much of his life. He recognised the "utility" of religion for a society but thought it one of Sorel's "Myths" that kept a society together. He did not believe in the truth of it. In trying to explain the West's loss of the will to live he tried to frame a different theory, one that both he and Francis did not seem entirely convinced of but one which I feel has a fair amount of merit. Francis writes in the Political Science Reviewer;
In his last book, Suicide of the West, Burnham was pessimistic about this ability and about the very survival of non-Communist civilization. Yet he was somewhat evasive on the exact causes of the contraction and decline of the West.[ED] It is true that the causes of the decline were not the subject of the book and that Burnham narrowed the possible causes to a failure of the will to survive within the governing elite, a failure rationalized by liberal ideology but more deeply associated, as Burnham suggested, "with the decay of religion and with an excess of material luxury". He did not pursue this suggestion further, however, and indeed it is too large a problem to be treated in Suicide of the West. 

It may be noted that Machiavelli had also attached central importance to the decline of religion and the rise of luxury as subversive forces in political society. Machiavelli had written in the Discourses, "there is no greater indication of the ruin of a country than to see religion contemned" and "in well-regulated republics the state ought to be rich and the citizens poor."' The decline of religion removes the principal unifying force in society able to rationalize sacrifices and suffering; the rise of luxury contributes to factionalism and the usurpation of the public interest by private groups and to the general softening and corruption of the physical and moral strength of the citizens. It is therefore not surprising that Burnham would have suggested these two phenomena as likely causes of Western civilizational decline, but he did not develop them.

Yet it is possible to reconstruct more clearly Burnham's views on the causes of the decline of the West and on the future of the West from the body of his published writings. Both problems in his mind were closely related to the internal structure and mentality of the Western governing elite. From The Managerial Revolution to Suicide of the West Burnham had predicted that the rising managerial elite would contain a heavy proportion of Class II residues [ED:Broadly analogous to alpha males, Class 1 residues are analogous to betas] and would be efficient in the use of force. Although he had regarded the totalitarian tendencies of the new elite as a serious threat to freedom and to the flexibilities that societal survival requires, he had praised the coming elite for its dynamism, its resoluteness, and its ability and willingness to seize leadership. In The Machiavellians he had written that "We may be sure that the soldiers, the men of force, the Lions, will be much more prominent among the new rulers than in the ruling class of the past century". In The Coming Defeat of Communism, published over a decade later, he again dwelt on the dynamism of the new elite and the decadence and vacillation of the old entrepreneurial class.

In Suicide of the West, however, he reversed this prediction and portrayed the managerial groups, under the influence of liberal ideology, as foxes, vacillating, unwilling and unable to use force, and relying on negotiations, propaganda, and opportunism. The correlation of liberal ideology with the managerial social forces was explicit, and it contradicted Burnham's earlier optimistic estimate of the new elite.

Although Burnham never explicitly accounted for his change of opinion, in Suicide of the West he suggested an explanation for the change that is entirely consistent with his earlier Machiavellian formulation of the theory of the managerial revolution. While it remained true that the social transformation has led to a greater presence within the elite of, and a greater reliance on, military leaders, the very nature of the managerial revolution, with its shift from small-scale, personal leadership to mass-scale, bureaucratic leadership, altered the character of the new military elite.
Technological change brings into the military force more and more persons exercising "civilian skills" (administrative, technical, scientific) that lack the in-bred immunity of the older, narrower military vocation to liberal ideas and values.
Two years later, in a highly controversial article in National Review on Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara, Burnham made the point more explicitly. Burnham praised McNamara, "a perfect exemplar of the top level of the new managerial class," for trying to "make the defense establishment as closely as possible an integral element of our advanced managerial economy." 'A Much of the criticism directed at McNamara Burnham saw as originating from traditional, entrepreneurial elements in American society and from traditional military types in the armed services. These critics were resisting the technical modernization of the armed forces as pan of their general social resistance to the managerial revolution and the new class that was leading it. Yet Burnham was not entirely laudatory of McNamara and the elite he represented. He cited a letter-perhaps apocryphal-from a naval electronics technician who commented that he had seen no proof that "McNamara & Co. have an intuitive feel for the use of force: they seem to be more foxes than lions."' Burnham, then, was aware that military leadership by foxes or Class I residues may lack the qualities of command, combativeness, and endurance that lions would exhibit. "There are things in war," Burnham commented, "not dreamt of by IBM's computers.
The point that Burnham was making was that managerial society, perhaps by its very nature, requires or finds useful the residues and psychic forces of the fox, not those of the lion. As he had written of the Class I residues in The Machiavellian
it is this residue that leads restless individuals to large-scale financial manipulations, merging and combining and re-combining of various economic enterprises, efforts to entangle and disentangle political units, to make and remake empires. (MDF, 187) 
These are precisely the traits needed by those who manage mass-scale organizations-whether economic, political, educational, religious, social, or professional in function. They are traits that lead to success in the mastery of technical and administrative skills; the use of language in argument, negotiations, and propaganda; and the disciplines of modern organizational life. The traits of the lions or Class II residues-fierce loyalties and hatreds, a capacity for violence or brutality, and a willingness to endure suffering and sacrifice-are not required by modern managerial society to any great degree. Thus, managerial society, even in its military organizations, tends to promote and encourage those elements of the population that exhibit Class I residues and to demote, exclude, and discourage those that exhibit Class II residues. It also has an affinity for derivations such as liberalism that reflect Class I values and ideas, and an aversion to derivations such as conservatism that do not reflect Class I values and ideas and to some extent reflect those of Class II. 
Burnham's psychological analysis of the implications of managerial rule raises a dilemma. If managerial society requires for the control of its internal power structure the psychic forces that are efficient at managerial and verbal skills but have an aversion to force, then there is a contradiction between the internal requirements of managerial power and its external requirements, which demand skill in the use of force. Hence it is that the principal threat to the survival of a managerial society, in which Class I forces predominate, must come from outside it or from below, from Class II residues consigned to the lower strata of society. Pareto had made this contradiction explicit, and Burnham had quoted his lengthy statement of it in Suicide of the West. Burnham's final formulation of the theory of the managerial revolution in Suicide of the West recognized the importance of Class I residues in the governing elite, and this recognition implied a different estimate for the future of the West under managerial rule. Whereas Burnham's earlier discussions of appeasement, retreat, and decline had associated these phenomena largely with the decadent entrepreneurial elite, he now linked them with the managers. The implication was that the phenomenon of decline was not a passing phase that would be reversed by the new elite but a permanent feature of the dominant managerial class. "The decay of religion and the excess of material luxury' were not so much the causes of Western decline, in this analysis, as part of the syndrome of phenomena associated with an elite of foxes. Pareto himself had correlated the rise of religious skepticism and the increase of wealth with the accumulation of Class I residues in the elite.
Burnham's argument essentially is that as society becomes wealthier, it's managerial elite becomes less "jock" like and more nerd "like" with a commensurate inability to fight external attacks. Burnham wasn't the first to notice that rich societies goes "soft" and while I think this is only partial explanation for the decline, I do think it is one with considerable merit. On a variety of metrics, I think that there has been failure of masculinity in the West which I think partially explains the lack of its assertiveness and it's inability to combat simple threats, however the explanation is incomplete.

Burnham also recognsied that explanation was incomplete and had to include the embrace of Liberalism, a position he came with the help of Whittaker Chambers. He realised that Liberalism was the poison affecting the elites though he could propose no antidote and thus became pessimistic of the West's Future. The problem with Burnham's approach to power is that while it deals with how to best arrange society based upon the empirical observations of the past, it does nothing to to explain why that society should want to chose to live.  But Burnham, presumably because of his scientific Atheism could never see religion as anything more than a "useful" social glue but which was ultimately "unscientific" and therefore beyond the scope of his analysis.

Whittaker Chambers did not make that mistake.