It takes a nation to protect the nation
Burnham's diagnosis of liberalism (leftism) is spot-on. I'm sure you will agree that the contradictions and crises being thrown up by islam in the west since 1989 fit this analysis far better than the threat from communism in 1964. In his own way, I think he might be as important as Hayek (since Burnham is not concernted with the minutiae of economics and legality, but is surveying political movements from both above and as an active participant (first of Trotskyism, later of conservative politics and publishing).
Suicide of the West: An Essay on the Meaning
By James Burnham
James Burnham (1909-1987) ranks unquestionably as one of the most original and penetrating thinkers of the twentieth century, not alone in the context of modern conservative literature but in the history of Western thought in the twentieth century. Indeed, it was probably not until late in his career that Burnham regarded himself as a "conservative" at all--if indeed he ever did--for the reason that the term seems too warmly emotional to describe his dispassionate, nearly scientific attitude toward toward human affairs. The son of a wealthy New York City railroad executive, he became a Trotskyite and a member of the inner circle of Partisan Review before breaking with the Left and devoting the remainder of his life to resisting the Communist assault on the West. A man of vast erudition, Burnham was for many years Professor of Philosophy at New York University, and in 1955 became a founding editor of the young William F. Buckley, Jr.'s National Review, to which he contributed a regular column, "The Protracted Conflict," until 1977, almost the end of the Cold War. Had his career extended through another decade, Burnham might well have prevented NR's slide leftward into neoconservatism, where the magazine is presently moored.
As the dominant intellectual presence at National Review, Burnham was admired by staff and readership alike for his lucidity of mind and prose; though one could argue that, in abandoning the Marxist dialectic for conservative anti-Communism, he threw out the original content of his mind without changing its mold. In fact, the intellectual rigidity so characteristic of the man ("Who says A must say B..") may well have intensified in later life. In 1977, James Burnham suffered a crippling stroke that made reading and writing impossible for him thereafter. He died just two years before the collapse of his arch-enemy, the Soviet Union; yet it seems probable that, had he lived, the sudden demise of the system he had argued for thirty years was destined to rule the world would have caught him entirely by surprise.
Suicide of the West, first published in 1964, has affinities with Kenneth L. Minogue's The Liberal Mind, released a year earlier in England. While the two books make overlapping statements regarding the nature of liberalism as an ideology, as between the two, Burnham's is the more accessible to the general public, though written by a man with academic philosophical credentials to match Minogue's own. More importantly, Burnham, after delineating the logic of liberalism and analyzing the liberal mentality, goes on to suggest the implications pervasive liberalism has for the future of the United States, and for geopolitical arrangements in the coming decades.
Burnham tells us in his Preface that this is a "third generation" book, revised and expanded over a period of four years from two sets of university lectures. Following his classic The Managerial Revolution by nearly a quarter of a century, Suicide of the West reveals a more relaxed and humorous writer than the man who put his name to the earlier work. By 1964, James Burnham had worked as a journalist for nine years in the offices of National Review.Time and journalistic practice honed his polemical skills, while modifying somewhat the professorial pretence to scientific dispassion and disengagement. Suicide of the West is an eminently readable, mordantly witty, and genuinely unpleasant book, though it closes on a slightly more optimistic note than The Managerial Revolution does. "There are a few small signs, here and there," Burnham writes in his concluding lines, "that liberalism may already have started fading. Perhaps this book is one of them." (It wasn't.)
Burnham's thesis is straightforward. "Liberalism," he writes, "is the ideology of western suicide. When once this initial and final sentence is understood, everything about liberalism-the beliefs, emotions and values associated with it, the nature of its enchantment, its practical record, its future-falls into place. Implicitly, all of this book is merely an amplification of this sentence." That is not to say, Burnham adds, that liberalism is "'the cause'" of the contraction and probable death of Western civilization. ("The cause or causes have something to do, I think, with the decay of religion and with an excess of material luxury; and, I suppose, with getting tired, and worn out, as all things temporal do.") Rather, "liberalism has come to be the typical verbal systematization of the process of Western contraction and withdrawal; .liberalism motivates and justifies the contraction, and reconciles us to it." Liberalism's hold, furthermore, on public opinion and policy makes it extremely difficult for the Western nations to invent-and even to imagine-a strategy equal to the challenge to its existence by which the West is presently confronted.
Burnham categorizes liberalism, though a looser concept than Marxism and socialism, as ideological in nature--unlike its still more loosely conceived opponent, conservatism. Ideology, by his definition, is "a more or less systematic and selfcontained set of ideas supposedly dealing with the nature of reality (usually social reality), or some segment of reality, and of man's relation (attitude, conduct) toward it; and calling for a commitment [i.e agendum] independent of specific experience or events." Liberalism, heir to the "main line of post-Reaniassance thought" and dominated in its formative phase by Francis Bacon and René Descartes, is rationalistic by nature. Considering human nature to be plastic, rather than pure or corrupt, it finds no reason to believe humanity incapable of achieving the peace, freedom, justice, and well-being embodied in the liberal dream of the "good society," and rejects therefore the tragic view of man held by non-Christian, as well as Christian, thinkers before the Renaissance. It is also anti-traditional, believing that ideas, customs, and institutions held over from the past are suspect, rather than worthy of respect. Suspicion of hoary error and injustice makes liberalism progressive; a characteristic which, as John Stuart Mill observed, "is antagonistic to the law of Custom, involving at least emancipation from that yoke.."
"Professor Sidney Hook," Burnham remarks with goodhumored malice, "has squeezed the entire definition of liberalism into a single unintentionally ironic phrase: 'Faith in intelligence.'" The dig, despite its humorous intent, explains why liberalism's commitment to rationality has never precluded an exuberant irrationalism of its own: To the extent that modern liberalism has replaced reason with faith as its foundation, its faith in reason is unreasonable. Assured that all human wrongheadedness and intransigence can be cured by education, and that the social expressions of these undesirable qualities signify "problems" to be solved by political action, liberals envision politics as "simply education generalized" and the end of politics as social perfection (entailing, as Michael Oakeshott noted, social uniformity). Yet the human record demonstrates that human beings, individually and collectively, are not perfectible: also, that every attempt to prove experience wrong has had highly unpleasant effects. For liberals, the fact of human imperfectibility would be tragic--if liberal ideology were inclined to understand history as tragedy, which it isn't. The excessive rationalism of liberalism, moreover, commits it paradoxically to a relativistic theory of truth which holds that no objective truth exists-and that, if it does, we could never prove that objective truth was, in fact, what we had hold of. This reasoning amounts to a form of anti-intellectualism that is wholly unexpected from the premier intellectual tradition of modern intellectualism. It amounts also to what Burnham perceives as "an inescapable practical dilemma" for liberalism. "Either [it] must extend the [liberal] freedoms [of speech, conscience, association, etc.] to those who are not themselves liberals and even to those whose deliberate purpose is to destroy the liberal society or liberalism must deny its own principles, restrict the freedoms, and practice discrimination." This dilemma, Burnham notes, is particularly sharp in our own day, when liberal societies have been infiltrated by agents of aggressive totalitarianism. "Surely there would seem to be something fundamentally wrong with a doctrine that can survive in application only by violating its own principles." It is why, he suggests, so many liberals tend to shrink from any explicit statement of the fundamental principles of liberalism.
Liberalism, though surely a rational system, is not by virtue of its rationality a reasonable one. Liberalism amounts to a fasces of propositions (Burnham lists nineteen) not all of which all liberals assent to. So logical is the structure of liberal ideology, however, that if certain of these liberal beliefs can be shown to be false or problematical, logical argument based upon the chain of logical propositions simply dissolves. And so, "The liberals, whether they like it or not, are stuck with liberalism." As with Frank Sinatra, for them it's "All, Or Nothing at All"-a desperate situation in politics, as well as love.
The ideology of reason, Burnham shows, in reality lives by faith; the ideology of rationality harbors deeply irrational tendencies. Guilt, Burnham argues, is integral to liberalism, in which it is a motivating force. But while the liberal's conviction of his own guilt in the face of oppression and misery may or may not bespeak some moral obligation on his part, neither the guilt nor the obligation can be derived from liberalism's own principles, since liberal theory is atomistic and rejects the organic view of society on which the notion of collective guilt depends. Therefore, liberal guilt is not only irrational, it is irrational "precisely from the point of view of the liberal ideology itself." The genius of liberalism in relieving the burden of personal guilt--though without ever absolving anyone from it, and forebearing to exact penance-- is, Burnham concedes, a "significant achievement, by which [liberalism] confirms its claim to being a major ideology." Nevertheless, in the context of his argument and of the condition of the Western world today, the problem of liberal guilt comes down to this: "that the liberal, and the group, nation, or civilization infected by liberal doctrine and values, are morally disarmed before those whom the liberal regards as less well off than himself."
The element of guilt, added to liberalism's egalitarianism, universalism, and internationalism, is the activating ingredient that makes the liberal compound such a deadly one for the Western world. Guilt, when it becomes obsessive for the liberal, flowers as a generalized hatred for his own country and the wider civilization of which it is a part; it is hatred that causes him to sympathize with their enemies, toward whom he is already inclined by the fact of liberalism's intellectual kinship with socialism and communism. The relationship (which is instinctively felt by liberals, though never acknowleged by them) explains why, for the liberal, the implicit rule of thumb is "Pas d'ennemi à gauche"-which translates as "No enemy to the left" and means, "The preferred enemy is always to the right."
This inclination, Burnham insists, "is in a pragmatic sense a legitimate and inevitable expression of liberalism as a social tendency. It is not merely arbitrary prejudice or quirk of temperament." A partial explanation has to do with liberalism's anti-statism in the nineteenth century, before it was the state; and the discomfort-even disbelief-experienced by an historically anti-establishment movement in having become the establishment, after seizing the apparatus of government and accepting the role of despised authoritarian from the Right. (Something else to feel guilty about, perhaps). Be that as it may, it remains a fact of history that liberalism, both as an active movement and an ideological doctrine, has nearly always opposed the existing order. In result, Burnham says, "Liberalism has always stressed change, reform, the break with encrusted habit whether in the form of old ideas, old customs or old institutions. Thus liberalism has been and continues to be primarily negative in its impact on society: and in point of fact it is through its negative and destructive achievements that liberalism makes its best claim to historical justification."
Universalism, relativism, materialism, moral perfectionism, guilt, self-criticism amounting to self-hatred, ideological reflex self-disguised as scientific thinking, anti-establishmentarianism, perpetual social and spiritual restlessness, endless reform and the ceaseless sturm und drang accompanying it-plainly, liberalism is not the governing philosophy appropriate to a beleaguered civilization engaged in the greatest struggle for existence in its history. What is wanted, rather, is confidence arising from a proud sense of self-appreciation and self-worth, and a value system transcending affluence and comfort, such as men are willing to die for. "Quite specifically, [what the West needs is] the pre-liberal conviction that Western civilization, thus Western man, is both different from and superior in quality to other civilizations and noncivilizations..[Also it requires] a renewed willingness, legitimized by that conviction, to use superior power and the threat of power to defend the West against all challenges and challengers."
Such conviction and willingness are things liberalism by its nature is incapable of providing, even in the face of what Burnham identifies as the three crucial challenges to civilization: the "jungle" overtaking society; explosive world population and political activization in the Third World; and the Communist drive toward world domination. Against these dangers, Burnham sees, liberalism in its Gaderene stampede from reality is worse than ineffectual: It is, quite literally, suicidal. For him, the mixture of utopian social policies at home and a foreign policy whose survivalist instincts were often confused and sometimes negated by moralistic and ideological tendencies amply demonstrates that fact.
Suicide of the West bears directly on a contemporary internecine debate sparked by the left wing of the anti-liberal alliance, members of which have recently claimed this distinguished social critic, political commentator, and geopolitical strategist as "the first neoconservative." The case for Burnham as a "neocon" appears limited to his frequent advocacy of global interventionism-armed, if necessary-by the United States to protect and forward American and Western security. This tendency (so the argument goes) places him squarely in the camp of the global democrats, multinational capitalists, and "American Greatness conservatives" of the present day, all of whom are eager for Washington to impose American values and institutions upon a reluctant world. A closer look from a less parti pris standpoint suggests otherwise.
Burnham, to begin with, was concerned with the survival of the United States and the West, and not with the welfare of the world. He wished Third World and other backward countries to be controlled by the West in the West's best interests, not reformed by it, and doubted that most--if any--of these so-called developing nations were capable of being trained up to civilization at the Western level. While James Burnham called for the preservation-not the exportation--of Western civilization, there is no evidence that he considered consumer capitalism and mass culture, American style, to be among its glories. Unlike the neoconservatives, Burnham did not read the Founding Fathers as sharers in the European Enlightenment's optimistic (that is, liberal) view of human nature. Rather, he seems to have taken them at their word on the subject, as when John Adams wrote that "human passions are insatiable;" that "self-interest, private avidity, ambition and avarice will exist in every state of society and under every form of government;" and that "reason, justice and equity never had weight enough on the face of the earth to govern the councils of men." For himself, James Burnham, espousing the tragic view of history, had no use whatever for neconservative triumphalism. So far from believing the United States would prevail over all, he appears to have expected it, and with it the West, to become something other than the West-that is, to perish. Burnham in maturity was a realist rather than an optimist, a thinker rather than a careerist. He never told you what he thought you wanted to hear, or what it would make him rich and powerful to say. He gave you the truth as he saw it, and went on to write another book.
A review of a biography of Burnham.
Daniel Kelly’s James Burnham and the Struggle for the World is a very useful study of his subject’s life, contributions, and intellectual trajectory over a long career as a writer and public intellectual.
James Burnham was born in Chicago in 1905 to a Protestant father and a Catholic mother. He finished his secondary schooling at Canterbury School in New Milford, Connecticut, and in 1923 entered Princeton University, where he majored in English. He also took French, Latin, Greek, and all the available philosophy courses. As an undergraduate, Burnham regarded himself as a follower of T. S. Eliot. Graduating at the top of his class, he earned a second B.A. at Balliol College, Oxford, in 1929. Strangely enough, he studied Old English under J. R. R. Tolkien.
On his return to the United States, Burnham coedited the journal Symposium with Philip E. Wheelwright, his former philosophy teacher at Princeton, and taught philosophy at New York University (NYU). At NYU, Burnham fell under the influence of Sidney Hook, who was busily grafting John Dewey’s philosophy onto Marxism—a doctrinal blend with all the charms of a coral snake crossed with a rattler. Thus, from 1932 or so, Burnham took up Marxism, gravitating to the Trotskyist movement. From this vantage point, he characterized the New Deal as “fascist”—a judgment Kelly seems to find eccentric—and became the faculty adviser to the Young Communist League at NYU.
Kelly follows Burnham through the ins and outs of sundry Trotskyist splinter groups and sketches Burnham’s relationships with Joe Cannon, Max Schachtman, and Leon Trotsky. Burnham’s literary efforts continued, and he edited the New International with Schachtman. He wrote against the New Deal and, of course, against Stalinism. Kelly notes the tone of “finality” in these essays: throughout his career, Burnham always posed as a hardheaded analyst of inevitable trends.
In 1934, Burnham married Marcia Lightner, also a midwesterner, and in 1936 a daughter was born to them. They acquired a farmhouse as their permanent home. Also in 1936, Hook and Burnham founded the Marxist Quarterly. By 1937, Burnham had adopted the theory that Soviet socialism was actually a form of “bureaucratic collectivism.” Through the late 1930s, he sought to build an American Marxism. Expressing his modernist sensibility, he began writing for Partisan Review. He was developing heretical views, writing that dialectics was only metaphor. In 1940, he fell out with Trotsky over the latter’s defense of the Soviet Union and not long afterward dropped out of the Trotskyist movement.
Kelly writes, “It is tempting to write off Burnham’s Trotskyist phase as wasted time, a six-year detour into the sterile world of left-wing sects. But this judgment would be wrong” because “the involvement prepared him for what would be his real career” (pp. 87–88). In 1940, Burnham’s first major work appeared and sold well. Called The Managerial Revolution, it showed the influence of Machajski, Rizzi, Berle, Means, Veblen, Thurman Arnold, and Lawrence Dennis, as well as of Trotskyism (pp. 95–96). Burnham argued that bureaucratic management was the wave of the future, even if it took such forms as fascism, communism, and the New Deal, depending on circumstances. Only a cold, empirical, social-scientific approach could tell us where we were headed.
After Pearl Harbor, Burnham, who had opposed U.S. entry into the world war, became a dedicated war leftist. His 1943 book, The Machiavellians, sought to ground the study of politics on the empiricism of Machiavelli, Pareto, Mosca, and Michels. As in The Managerial Revolution, his view in this book was that great impersonal forces were driving history along. Increasingly concerned about Soviet power, Burnham wrote The Struggle for the World in 1947, in which he called for an “American empire” with “decisive world control” and a “European Federation” under U.S. auspices. The English-speaking powers and the Eurofederation “would become a Toynbeean ‘Universal State,’ with the United States in the role of the peripheral, semibarbarian, unifying power.” This could be sugar-coated as “the policy of democratic world order” (qtd. on pp. 125–26). Much political will would be needed in this struggle.
Kelly notes the “ire of isolationists” against Burnham’s book (p. 131). He mentions that Burnham was working at this time with Alfred Kohlberg, “an importer of Chinese textiles [!]” (p. 133). Kelly is being coy here: Kohlberg was the main operator of the famous China Lobby (see Ross Y. Koen, The China Lobby in American Politics [New York: Harper and Row, 1974]). Burnham’s The Coming Defeat of Communism (1949) demanded even more political will, along with better propaganda. The United States should support Muslims in the USSR (p. 141) and launch “political-subversive warfare” (“polwar”). As for American business, it was “too cowardly” in relation to the Cold War (p. 144).
Burnham soon resigned from NYU and joined the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to help carry out political-subversive war. He took a leading role in the Congress for Cultural Freedom, a CIA-sponsored anti-Stalinist front made up of former Trotskyists, former communists, socialists, and New Deal liberals, including such worthies as Sidney Hook, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., John Dewey, Karl Jaspers, Max Eastman, Melvin Lasky, and Jacques Maritain. His open enthusiasm for bombing the Soviets provoked a bad reaction from the pinker anti-Stalinists (and rightly so).
Somewhat predictably, in Containment or Liberation (1953), Burnham called for more American will. He specifically wanted “winged soldiers, air cavalry, able to raid two thousand miles behind the lines tonight and be gone before the defense arrives tomorrow, ready to liberate a Siberian slave labor district this week, spearhead a revolt in the Caucasus the next, and blow up an enemy powerhouse over the weekend” (qtd. on p. 176). Incredibly, Kelly speculates that had Burnham’s suggestions been taken up, “the Soviet collapse might have come much sooner than it did” (p. 179). Burnham was consulted on the toppling of Mosaddeq in Iran, but in April 1953 he was ousted by CIA liberals for being too right wing—under the emerging redefinition of that term. His Web of Subversion (1954) added to his “McCarthyite” credentials. His Cold War liberal friends deserted him.
Based on a piece Burnham wrote in 1955, Kelly says that his subject sometimes displayed “libertarianism à outrance” (p. 206). Yet Burnham opposed laissez-faire and favored the Tennessee Valley Authority (p. 207). Thus, he must have kept his “libertarianism” under severe restraints. Kelly is on stronger ground when he writes that Burnham’s outlook “foreshadowed neoconservatism of the 1970s” (p. 208).
Burnham wrote occasionally for The Freeman, a magazine editorially torn between so-called isolationists and the new Cold Warriors. In Burnham’s mind, the free market was “a far less urgent matter”(p. 209) than most of The Freeman staff considered it to be. Thus, he was ready when William F. Buckley Jr., another writer with CIA connections, set up the National Review.
The new magazine’s editors and writers were an odd collection of Cold Warriors (many of them former leftists), new conservatives, and libertarians who had embraced the Cold War. Burnham’s regular column, “The Third World War,” focused naturally enough on foreign affairs. Burnham waged the High Cold War from the beginnings of the National Review in 1955 until his retirement in 1978. His pragmatic drift toward the political mainstream sometimes caused trouble with his colleagues at the Review. He always favored Nelson Rockefeller as the ideal Republican Party candidate and was favorably impressed with Henry Kissinger and Robert McNamara. Kelly’s discussion of his subject’s views on the Middle East—oil and Israel—seems a bit thin, and in discussing National Review views on desegregation he whistles past the graveyard very quickly.
For slightly more than two decades, Burnham concerned himself with cultural conflict and Cold War strategy, occasionally surprising his colleagues, as with his suggestion—triggered by the Hungarian Revolution in 1956—that the United States and the USSR should negotiate withdrawal from Europe—that is, Austrianization.
Over the course of his career, Burnham had worried from time to time about Bonapartism, Caesarism, and bureaucracy, and he developed these themes in Congress and the American Tradition (1959). Kelly raises an obvious question: “How did he think the need to wage the Cold War, indispensable to Western survival, could be reconciled with the need to stem the growth of Caesarism, a phenomenon he attributed partly to twentieth-century wars, both hot and cold?” (p. 242).
Burnham was not distracted for long, however, and soon he was complaining that America’s European allies were growing effete and cared too little about “empires, crusades, colonies, liberations, wars in distant places, justice for others [!], dim future threats” (qtd. on p. 258). In the 1960s and 1970s, he also commented on Cuba, European withdrawal from Africa, the U.S. space program, and the Vietnam War. His attacks on libertarians are given about a page, less than Kelly gives to his defense of Rhodesia (pp. 309–11).
Based on this corpus of work, one might begin to think that there were two James Burnhams. His Suicide of the West (1964), shorn of Cold War material, wears very well and is full of insights about the “verbalist” classes, liberal guilt, and related themes. But he could also deliver advice of a questionable kind—for example, this advice on how to win in Vietnam: “biological and chemical weapons should be used. North Vietnam’s rice crop could be wiped out, while an ‘incapacitating gas’ might prove ideal for ridding South Vietnamese villages of Vietcong infiltrators, since the latter could be seized without risk to friendly locals. Nuclear devices also could be put to use, e.g., cobalt dust to create a radioactive barrier between the two Vietnams… . To permit irrational taboos to block the use of such weapons was unpardonable” (qtd. on p. 313). Absent the will (my term, not Kelly’s) to commit such war crimes, a “staggering defeat” loomed (p. 315).
As the United States withdrew from Vietnam, Burnham wanted the U.S. government to threaten that Hanoi and Haiphong would be “immediately and totally atomized” if massive reprisals took place against Vietnamese who had fought the communists (p. 337). With the coming of détente, he even wrote that Americans needed a replacement for Cold War! One wonders why.
Kelly offers much more in this interesting biography—accounts of Burnham’s travels, private life, hobbies, and last years—but we must draw some conclusions.
Early in the story, Kelly quotes Matthew Josephson on how Burnham the Trotskyist would wax enthusiastic about “vast bloodbaths that would attend the overthrow of our society” (p. 36). It would seem that Burnham simply transferred this apocalyptic vision to his views on foreign policy. This move seems to undercut, more than a little, Kelly’s notion that Burnham had an “Augustinian sensibility” all his life.
Burnham’s books do have interesting and important insights—especially The Managerial Revolution, Congress and the American Tradition, and Suicide of the West—but the Cold Warrior Burnham constantly undermined the conservative Burnham (if conservative is the right word). He embraced empire, constant frontier wars, managerialist determinism, and the warfare state, while complaining occasionally about Caesarism, the decline of Congress and other intermediate institutions, the growth of federal bureaucracy, and the loss of traditional liberties. This circle could not be squared. Burnham seldom considered that anything other than big impersonal historical forces might be causing the things he bewailed, that actual human agents might be driving some of the seeming inexorabilities. As a result, his rather willful disregard of economic theory and his battles against “doctrinaires” such as Frank Meyer look like symptoms of a larger failure of vision.
Kelly seems to believe that reconciling the right-wing movement to pragmatism and big government was Burnham’s signal contribution. Burnham was constantly calling for Americans to conjure up will. Now that we have “conservative” leadership with far more will than brains, the struggle of the next decades will be to summon up some won’t.
James Burnham’s legacy seems very mixed indeed.
James Burnham’s legacy seems very mixed indeed.
I agree. Some of his ideas are inspirational, but he seems to have been a fundamentally unbalanced individual, searching to find an outlet for his extremism. When he couldn't find it successfully in Trotskyism (because that began to conflict with his underlying moral view and it failed in practice in the USSR), he migrated it to anti-collectivism, and nationalistic interventionism, amongst other things.
I'll post the biography of Chilton Williamson, who is following in some of Burnham's ideological footsteps, as its a more inspirational life story.
About Chilton Williamson, Jr.
Chilton Williamson, Jr. was born in New York City and raised there and on the family farm near South Windham, Vermont where he acquired a lifelong love of nature and of the outdoors, horses, fishing, and hunting.
At Columbia College, he majored in European History and studied voice privately for some years, training to become an operatic tenor. Having given up a musical career, Williamson did four years of graduate work in American history at Columbia before becoming History Editor for St. Martin's Press in New York. During his three years with St. Martin's, he contributed numerous essays and book reviews to many publications, including Harper's, The New Republic, National Review, Commonweal, and The Nation.
In 1976 Williamson became Literary Editor (later Senior Editor) for National Review. The following year he moved to Block Island, Rhode Island, where he spent an isolated winter, gathering material for his first book (Saltbound: A Block Island Winter: Methuen, 1980) and commuting every other week to the magazine offices in New York. In Saltbound, Williamson interwines the history of the island from colonial days down to the present with a narrative account of his own experiences and adventures to depict an isolated traditional community transformed over three centuries by the forces of modernization and "progress."
Williamson moved to Kemmerer, Wyoming in the summer of 1979 to begin work on what he originally planned as the Western equivalent of Saltbound. Still on the payroll of National Review,commuting bi-monthly to his office in New York for four days at a time, he went to work with a crew on a drilling rig in the famous Overthrust Belt, in those days the symbol of the Energy Boom, the Sagebrush Rebellion, and the New West. From his lodgings in the Regency Apartments in Kemmerer, Williamson edited his reviews section, wrote his columns, worked long hours as a rigger and afterward at his desk making notes of all he had seen and heard that day, and completed his education as an outdoorsman begun years before in Vermont. By paying close attention to experienced people who had something to teach him, he learned to shoot a rifle fast and with accuracy, to navigate and survive in the backcountry, to break his own horses and train them to the mountain trails, load a packhorse, and butcher and pack big game. The literary result of his first year in the Rocky Mountain West is Roughnecking It: Or, Life in the Overthrust (Simon & Schuster, 1982): a thoroughly reprehensible work that has been described as a "kickass" book. Inspired by Mark Twain's classic, Roughing It, the book's theme is how the New West was foreshadowed by the Old, and how the Old West lingers on in the New. Roughnecking It was excellently reviewed, and is said to have found its way into the syllabus of a University of Wyoming course devoted to the study of social problems in Wyoming. Best of all, from the author's point of view, it won acceptance in the West as a kind of Oilriggers' Bible. Though presently out of print, it is still in demand by oilpatch veterans twenty-four years after its publication.
Williamson made his permanent residence in Kemmerer after arranging with National Review to become a long-distance editor and contributor, working from his home. In 1989 he left NR for a similar position at Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture, published by the Rockford Institute in Rockford, Illinois. Early in 1994, Williamson inaugurated a regular Chronicles column, "The Hundredth Meridian," that continues today. Here he has recorded, for more than a decade now, espisodes from his life and adventures as a Westerner-hunting, fishing, horsepacking, backpacking, pushing cattle, breaking horses-and his travels throughout the West, in particular the southwest and northern Mexico and including the great Indian reservations where he has many friends and acquaintances. (The first twenty-two columns, deliberately planned as a serial book, have recently been published by Chronicles Press as The Hundredth Meridian.)
Williamson's first two novels, Desert Light (St. Martin's, 1987) and The Homestead (Grove Weidenfeld), are both set in southwestern Wyoming. However, the setting of his subsequent novels and short fiction (appearing from time to time in "The Hundredth Meridian"), is the American Southwest and Mexico, reflecting Williamson's fascination with the region for its stark desert scenery and its intermixture of Latin, Indian, and "Anglo" cultures. (An aficionado of thecorrida, or bullfight, Williamson has witnessed many such fights at the Plaza Monumental in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico.) In 1997, he moved from Kemmerer to Las Cruces, New Mexico, where he lived for two years gathering impressions and material forThe Last Westerner, Mexico Way, A Place You've Never Been, The Prince of Juárez, and his latest work, The White Indian an historical novel inspired by a regionally famous incident concerning the kidnapping of a six-year-old white boy by an Apache raiding party after the raiders had killed his parents on the road between Silver City and Lordsburg, New Mexico, in 1883.
In 1999, Williamson moved back to Wyoming, settling this time in Laramie, on the opposite side of the state from Kemmerer. In Laramie, he remet and married an old acquaintance from his New York days: Maureen McCaffrey, of
Sam Francis, an exponent of Burnham's views, is now being cited (along with Burnham) as the people who predicted Trump would appear and take over.
Last night on Newsnight they were discussing Trump's speech in Poland -- an establishment presenter for the coporatist Ministry of Truth (created at the height of Fascism in the 1920s), along with some Whitehouse commentator (I refuse to call them journalists) and an academic at Columbia University.
Since Trump's speech was so far off the normal terrain of political correctness and the multicult cult, they were trying to frame where Trump was coming from. They blamed "the alt right" (a concept that came into existence 18 months ago), Samuel Huntington and "the clash of civilisations", James Burnham, and finally white nationalism. I even shouted out Burnham's name before they came to it -- I knew where the (pre-arranged) discussion was going.
What had Trump said that was so beyond the pale that it required this eclectic mixture of names & concepts that no-one had heard on Newsnight in the past 20 years? Trump asked: does the West have the will to survive in the face of "radical Islamic extremism"? Trump's framing of the issue was only microscopically off-narrative i.e. he'd stated that "radical Islamic extremism" was an actual threat to the West.
Remember though that I was banging on about Burnham and the power elite at a time when no-one was talking about him or the deep state, etc. I'd like to think I had some causative effect, but I can't see how I did. I wish I'd written a book on Burnham and the elite back in 2013 and 2014. I would now be seen as the zionist puppet-master pulling Trump's strings.
Ah well, I'd better just accept my position as a nobody.