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There is in America life a strain of callow brutality. This betrays itself no less in the lynching and gangsterism at

home than in the arrogance and hooliganism of soldiers our tourists abroad. The provincialism of the American

mind expresses itself in a lack of sensitivity toward other peoples and other cultures.



Books by James Burnham

The Struggle for the World / The War We Are In / The Managerial Revolution / The Machiavellians: Defenders of Freedom

Containment or Liberation / Congress and the American Tradition / Bear and Dragon

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Editorial Note: Though written over 66 years ago this article by James Burnham seems highly relevant in light of today's international scene in which United States power seems unrivalled and with much talk of America's imperial sway and its Coalition of military forces and the imposition of American democracy in the Middle East, especially the conquered territories of Saddam's Iraq.

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World Empire and the Balance of Power

A Post-WWII Commentary by James Burnham


A World Federation initiated and led by the United States would be, we have recognized, a World Empire. In this imperial federation, the United States, with a monopoly of atomic weapons, would hold a preponderance of decisive material power over all the rest of the world. In world politics, that is to say, there would not be a "balance of power."

To those commentators who feel that they are displaying a badge of political virtue when they denounce the "balance of power," the prospect of its elimination ought to seem a prime asset of the policy here under discussion. Those who are not impressed with the rhetorical surface of politics will be less pleased.

At whatever level of social life, from a small community to the world at large, a balance of power is the only sure protection of individual or group liberties. Since we cannot get rid of power, the real political choice is between a balance of power and a monopoly of power. Either one power outweighs all the rest, or separately located powers check and countercheck each other.

If one power outweighs all the rest, there is no effective guarantee against the abuse of that power by the group which wields it. It will seem desirable and necessary to buttress still further the power dominance, to take measures against any future threat to the power relations, to cut off at the source any trickle of potential opposition.

It will seem right that those with the overweening power should also receive material privilege commensurate with their power ranking. Only power can be counted on to check power and to hinder its abuse. Liberty, always precarious, arises out of the unstable equilibrium that results from the conflict of competing powers.

As a solution for the present crisis, might it not therefore seem that there is little objective reason to prefer a world federation under United States leadership to a communist World Empire? Of course, we might, not altogether cynically, reflect that even if our choice is only between jailers to preside over our common prison, that is still not an occasion for indifference. But is anything more at stake? Would not the United States also, if it became world leader, turn out in the end to be world tyrant?

We must begin by replying, as we have so often: it might be so. There can be no certainty against it. We must say even more than this. There is in America life a strain of callow brutality. This betrays itself no less in the lynching and gangsterism at home than in the arrogance and hooliganism of soldiers our tourists abroad. The provincialism of the American mind expresses itself in a lack of sensitivity toward other peoples and other cultures.

There is in many Americans an ignorant contempt for ideas and tradition and history, a complacency with the trifles of merely material triumph. Who, listening a few hours to the American radio, could repress a shudder if he thought that the price of survival would be the Americanization of the world?


We have already observed that the idea of "empire" carries with it a confused set of associations that  is only remotely related to historical experience. There have been many empires, of many kinds, differing in almost every imaginable way in their social and political content. the only constant, the factor that leads us to call the given political aggregate an "empire," is the problematicperhaps only to a very small degreeof a part over the whole.

It is by no means true that all empires are tyrannies. the Athenian Empire of the 5th century B.C. was for the most of its history little more than a strengthened federation. Within the imperial state, Athens itself, there flourished the most vigorous political democracy of the ancient world, and in some respects of all time. Though Athens controlled the foreign policy of the federated cities and islands, in many instances she used her influence to promote democratic changes of their internal regimes.

The hand of England has been heavy on India, Malaysia, Ceylon, but she can hardly be accused of destroying there a liberty which never existed. And in what independent states has there been  found more liberty than in her loosely dependent Dominions?

The imperial rule of Rome, especially of compared to the pre-existing regimes of the areas to which it was gradually extended, was far from an unmixed despotism. For hundreds of years it was centered in an imperial state which was itself a Republic. many of the cities and states which were added by force or maneuver were, upon affiliation, cemented by the grant not of slavery but of Roman citizenship. It would be hard to prove that Roman power meant less liberty for the inhabitants of Egypt or Thrace or Parthia.

Even the Ottoman Empire, which, entering from outside, took over the rule of the enfeebled Byzantine states in Asia minor, the Balkans, and parts of Africa, is hardly responsible for the end of liberties which had never grown on Byzantine soil. Under the Ottoman Turks, the Christians, permitted the free practice of their religion, and eligible through the peculiar devices of the slave household of the capital to the highest military and administrative positions, were more free than had been heathens or heterodox Christian sects under the Byzantine powers.

I am not, certainly, trying to suggest that building an empire is the best way to protect freedom. the empires of the Mongols, of the Egyptians, the Incaic and Aztec and Babylonian and Hittite empires will scarcely be included among the friends of liberty. It does, however, seem to be the case that there is no very close causal relation between empire and liberty. 

The lack of liberty among the Andean or Mexican Indians, the Egyptians or Mongolians or Hittites, cannot be blamed on the imperial structures into which their societies were, at various periods, politically articulated. Within their cultures, social and political liberties, as we understand them, did not exist at any time, whether or not they were organized as empires. the degree of liberty which exists within an empire seems to be relatively independent of the mere fact of the imperial political superstructure.

The extension of an empire does, by its very nature, mean at least some reduction in the independence, or sovereignty, of whatever nations or peoples become part of the empire. This is sometimes felt as a grievous loss by these nations or peoples, almost always so felt by the governing class which has previously been their unrestricted rulersperhaps their tyrants. 

But this partial loss of independence need not at all mean a loss of concrete liberties for the population, may even mean their considerable development, and may bring also a great gain to civilization and world political order. Untrammeled national independence is a dubious blessing, consistent with complete despotism inside the given nation, and premise of an international anarchy that derives precisely from separatist independence.

I did not attempt to deduce the totalitarian tyranny of a communist World Empire from the mere fact that it would be an empire. This conclusion was based upon the analysis of the nature of communism, as revealed in ideology, organization, and historical practice. Though it must be granted that an imperial world federation led by the United States might also develop into a tyranny, the fact of empire does not, in this case either, make the conclusion necessary.


The development of an industrial economy world-wide in scope, the breakdown of the international political order, and the existence of atomic weapons are, we observed at the beginning of our discussion, the elements of the world crisis as well as the occasion for the attempt to construct a world imperial federation. This world federation is made possible by the material and social conditions, is demanded by the catastrophic acuteness of the crisis. The nature of the federation cannot be deduced from definition, but must be understood in relation to the historical circumstances out of which it may arise.

From the point of view of the United States, and of the non-communist world generally, the world federation is required in order to perform two inter-related tasks, which cannot be performed without the federation: to control atomic weapons, and to prevent mass, total, world war. With United States leadership, and only with its leadership, a federation able to perform these tasks could be built, and built in time.

With the performance of these tasks, the federation would be accomplishing what might be called its "historical purpose"; it would be fulfilling the requirements which prompted its creation. the minimum content of the "American world empire" would thus be no more than of a protective association of nations and peoples in which, for a restricted special purpose, a special power--the power of atomic weapons--would be guarded in the beginning by one member of the association.

At first there would be, perhaps, little more to the federation than this minimum contentwhich, after all, would not be such an unmitigated blow tot he liberties of mankind. It is not, however, to be expected that the federation would remain long at this bare level. It would develop; the content would deepen. How it would develop is a question not decided in advance. If the direction might be toward a tyrannous despotism on the part of the initially favored nation, there is no reason to rule out a development in a quite opposite direction, toward the fuller freedoms and humanity of a genuine world state and world society.

The danger to liberties would be the power predominance of the United States in the beginning of the federation. Fortunately for liberty, there are objective factors of very great weight that would operate against any attempts by the United States to institute a totalitarian world tyranny.

Not unimportant among these factors is the historical tradition which is the past of the United States social present. I have mentioned the brutality, provincialism, and cultural insensitivity which are not infrequent in United States behavior. These are, however, characteristics to be expressed in a young and "semi-barbarian superstate of the cultural periphery" (I use, again, Toynbee's phrase). There is nothing totalitarian about them. Their rather anarchic, somewhat lawless, disruptive manifestations are on the whole anti-totalitarian in effect.

Americans do, most of them, have a contempt for ideas; but that very contempt gives them a certain immunity to mental capture by an integral ideology of the totalitarian kind. It is less easy for a nation to escape from its past than many optimists, and pessimists, imagine. The past can be a millstone around the neck, but it can also be an anchor bringing safety. The United States may become totalitarian. It seems to me unlikely, however, that this will come about through a natural internal evolution. Totalitarianism would have to be brought from without, as it would have been by a world-victorious Nazi Germany, as it will be by the communists, if they are allowed to continue.

A second factor on the side of liberty is the inadequate power of the United States. The United States has today very great power, greater than its own spokesmen realize, great enough to build a world federation, to defeat communism, and to ensure control of atomic weapons. It does not have enough power to impose a totalitarian rule on the rest of the world. Even if the United States could concentrate enough in the form of purely military power, it lacks sufficient manpower and sufficient political experience.

What this means  is that the United States can lead only by accepting others as partners, only by combining the methods of conciliation and concession with the methods of power, only by guarding the rights of others as jealously as its own privileges. If the United States refuses this mode of leadership, if it should try instead to be world despot, it might still, for a short while, subdue the world beneath an atomic terror. But the end would be swift and certain. mankind would be avenged, and the United States destroyed. The only question would be whether all civilization would be brought down in the process.

Looked at somewhat differently, this indicates that in the projected world federation the principle of the balance of power would not in reality be suspended. At the one, narrowly military level, a balance would be replaced by United States preponderance. But military force, especially in the technical sense which is alone at stake in the control of atomic weapons, is by no means the only form of social power.

In terms of population, material resources, cultural skills and experience, the United States would not at all outweigh the other members of the federation. Within the framework of the federation, divided powers would continue to interact. through their mutual checks and balancings, they would operate to prevent any totalitarian crystallization of all power.

A third, ironic protection of liberty is the unwillingness of the United States to rule the world. No people, pushed by forces they cannot control, ever entered on the paths of world power with less taste for the journey, with more nostalgic backward glances. This distaste, indeed, is so profound that it is primarily significant not so much as a protection against the abuse of United States power, but rather as a tragic handicap to the sufficient utilization of that power.

There is a fourth major factor which will challenge any despotic presumption on the part of the United States. In the world today there are many millions of men and women who know the meaning of totalitarian tyranny, often through the frightful lessons of direct experience, and who are resolved, if any chance is given them, to fight against it. They are within the United States itself, as within every other nation, not the least firm among them silent for the moment under the stranglehold of the communist power. the loss of liberty teaches best, perhaps, its meaning. Though they are now, after so many betrayals and vain hopes, close to despair, they are still ready to act again.

They are ready, since there is no other way, to accept and follow the leadership of the United states, but only if they are given reason to believe that United States leadership will bring both power and justice: power so that there will be a chance to win, and justice so that the victory will be worth winning. They will follow not as subjects of the United States, but, in their own minds, as citizens of the world. For them, all governments and all power are suspect.

They will be--they are--stern judges of the United States; they are acquainted with the symptoms of tyranny; they will observe and resist every invasion of liberty. If experience should prove to them that their hope in the United States is also empty, then they will abandon the United States.

The United States cannot compete in tyranny with the communists. the communists have cornered that political market. The peoples of the world will reason that if it is to be totalitarianism anyway, then it had might as well be the tried and tested brand. The United States will not win the peoples to her side--and the struggle in the end is for them, is not merely military--unless her leadership is anti-totalitarian, unless she can make herself the instrument of the hope, not the fear, of mankind.

Source: James Burnham. The Struggle for the World. New York: The John Day Company, Inc., 1947


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Samuel Francis. James Burham. Thinkers of our Times (1999)


Samuel Francis is the premier theoretician of the paleoconservative movement and has for years studied and applied the thought of James Burnham to today's politics.

Burnham was unique among conservative thinkers. Unlike conservatives who based their theories on religion, tradition, or natural law, Burnham was rigorously empirical in his approach to political problems. Nonetheless, this led him to conservative conclusions. Heavily influence by the so-called "realist school" of politics (Machiavelli, Michels and Pareto), Burnham sought to discover universal laws of politics and apply them to foreign policy and cultural change.

This is an enjoyable introduction to Burnham's thought and a model of organization. Francis discusses Burnham's overall philosophy and analyzes his thought chronologically, book by book. Francis also refutes a couple claims widely made about Burnham. First, he shows that (contrary to Rothbard) Burnham did devote considerable time to objecting to the growth of state power. Although Burnham was hardly a libertarian or even a minimal government conservative, he was generally supportive of free enterprise and limited government. Second, contrary to contemporary neoconservatives (and libertarian foreign policy writer Justin Raimondo), Burnham was not a proto-neocon. Burnham supported an "interventionist" foreign policy to fight the Soviet Union and communism, but his writings in this area can hardly be seen as a blueprint for a neocon New World Order.

This book should be supplemented by Kelly's recently published biography of Burnham, JAMES BURNHAM AND THE STRUGGLE FOR THE WORLD, which presents the neocon "take" on Burnham.Steve Jackson

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Daniel Kelly. James Burnham and The Struggle for the World (2002)


Best remembered for his first book The Managerial Revolution (1941) and as senior editor of the National Review, James Burnham spent his life struggling to rid the world of totalitarianism and liberalism in all their forms. In his comprehensive biography, James Burnham and the Struggle for the World, Daniel Kelly, who taught modern European history at NYU until 1996, narrates in minute detail Burnham's development as a political thinker from his college days at Princeton and Balliol College, Oxford, to his work as a Trotskyist in the 1930s, to his eventual disenchantment with socialism and swing to the right. He supported imperialism and defended U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Kelly's turgid prose and exhausting detail make for tiresome reading, but a small circle of readers will find this chapter of political history engrossing. Publishers Weekly

James Burnham (1905-1987) may be the "forgotten man" of the Conservative movement. Although he has been the subject of a few monographs and chapters in various books on the conservative movement, his name is not well known in the conservative world. Many who have heard of Russell Kirk, Whittaker Chambers and William Buckley probably know him only as a writer of apocalyptic anti-Communist books in the 50s and 60s.

Burnham's life was fascinating, and this book is a well-written, enjoyable biography. Born to a wealthy railroad executive, Burnham attended Princeton where he studied philosophy and literature. There he first became associated with Philip Wheelwright (he was also at Princeton at the same time as Cornelius van Til - another Wheelwright student -- but Kelly makes no mention of whether they were acquainted). He attended Oxford where he met Tolkien and Brand Blanshard. In the 1930s, Burnham became a Communist (of sorts) and an advisor to Leon Trotsky. In the late 1930s, Burnham rejected Communism and ultimately became a conservative. He even worked for the CIA for a few years.

Burnham began writing for National Review from its inception in 1954 where most of his writing concerned foreign policy and winning the Cold War. Burnham continued with National Review until he suffered a stroke in 1977, which impaired his short-term memory.

Burnham is not easy to pigeonhole. He was neither a member of the Old Right nor the Neocon Right, but shared characteristics of both. While sympathetic to free enterprise, he wasn't a doctrinaire believer in laissez faire. He rejected isolationism, but his internationalism was largely limited to anti-Communism. For example, he opposed US involvement in the Middle East.

Burnham's views on Congressional supremacy, his partial support for Sen. Joseph McCarthy and his views on racial matters would place him, broadly speaking, on the paleoconservative spectrum. Burnham rejected neoconservatism when it first appeared as a distinct ideology in the 70s and his last public appearance, in 1983, was to accept an award from The Ingersoll Foundation, which is associated with a paleoconservative think-tank. In light of all this, it is a stretch for Mr. Kelly to suggest that Burnham was a proto-neoconservative.—Steve Jackson

*   *   *   *   *'s 25 Best Selling Books



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Sex at the Margins

Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry

By Laura María Agustín

This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label 'trafficked' does not accurately describe migrants' lives and that the 'rescue industry' serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice. "Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality."—Lisa Adkins, University of London

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Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power

By Zbigniew Brzezinski

By 1991, following the disintegration first of the Soviet bloc and then of the Soviet Union itself, the United States was left standing tall as the only global super-power. Not only the 20th but even the 21st century seemed destined to be the American centuries. But that super-optimism did not last long. During the last decade of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st century, the stock market bubble and the costly foreign unilateralism of the younger Bush presidency, as well as the financial catastrophe of 2008 jolted America—and much of the West—into a sudden recognition of its systemic vulnerability to unregulated greed. Moreover, the East was demonstrating a surprising capacity for economic growth and technological innovation. That prompted new anxiety about the future, including even about America’s status as the leading world power. This book is a response to a challenge. It argues that without an America that is economically vital, socially appealing, responsibly powerful, and capable of sustaining an intelligent foreign engagement, the geopolitical prospects for the West could become increasingly grave. The ongoing changes in the distribution of global power and mounting global strife make it all the more essential that America does not retreat into an ignorant garrison-state mentality or wallow in cultural hedonism but rather becomes more strategically deliberate and historically enlightened in its global engagement with the new East.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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