James Burnham’s “The Machiavellians”

“James Burnham's 'The Machiavellians'" (as William Ferry), Enquiry, July 1943. (A review of The Machiavellians: Defenders of Freedom by James Burnham.)


The atmosphere, these days, contains a good deal more of what is called ‘realism’ than is usually considered desirable for healthy progress. In some measure this is a natural symptom of the ebb of insurgent liberal-socialist thought. The prospects of large-scale reform having been largely dissipated in the past two decades, a new starting point, with a more stringent perspective, is sought. The war too is taking its toll, withering at contact all attractive formulations as to its ultimate purpose, so that alternatives are constantly being narrowed between greater evils and slightly lesser ones. The Union for Democratic Action has now progressed to that point where the delineation of the future balance of power in Europe is a prime programmatic concern, while Ely Culbertson’s”’practical” nonsense is mouthed by leftist politicos-prelude to a new Congress of Vienna. Illusions are discarded, political self-consciousness prevails-‘-Or so it seems. But where do political illusions begin, and where end? What is the locus of realism, and what are its lessons?