Leviathan and Its Enemies: Mass Organization and Managerial Power in Twentieth-Century America
Arlington: Washington Summit Publishers, 2016
Note: this article is a revision of a review previously published at American Renaissance.
Sam Francis’ most important work was not published during his lifetime. Found on his computer after his death, Leviathan and Its Enemies is a defense, development, and application to twentieth-century American history of James Burnham’s (1905-1987) leading ideas.
As Francis points out, the roots of Burnham’s thinking were unusual for an American conservative. Beginning as a Marxist in the 1930s, he came to believe that the capitalist bourgeoisie that dominated the society and politics of the 19th century had been displaced from power not by Marx’s proletariat, but by a new elite of managers and technicians: men with the expertise required to direct the large enterprises typical of the 20th-century economy. Burnham developed this theory in his best-known book, The Managerial Revolution (1941).
Burnham subsequently gravitated toward elite theory, as developed by the Italian thinkers Vilfredo Pareto, Gaetano Mosca, and Robert Michaels, believing it provided a better foundation than Marxism for understanding the managerial revolution he had described. The heart of elite theory is the principle that all human organizations are necessarily oligarchic in structure. Dictators, e.g., cannot truly rule by themselves, but are always dependent upon a group of men who accept their authority; these men, and not merely the dictator personally, constitute the ruling elite of such societies. In democracies, it appears that the broad masses of the people choose their leaders, but according to the elite theorists, it is really the leaders who get themselves chosen by the people. Even political parties advocating radical forms of democracy are forced, if they wish to be effective, to take on an oligarchic form, with a small party elite commanding the allegiance of a larger base. This has been called the iron law of oligarchy.
But elites are not permanent, of course. Politics is a continual process of circulation of elites. Much of nineteenth-century history, for instance, can be interpreted as a process whereby entrepreneurial capitalists (the “bourgeoisie”) displaced the aristocratic landed elites inherited from feudal times. And, said Burnham, the managerial revolution of the late 19th and early 20th centuries was a process whereby the bourgeois elite inherited from the 19th century was replaced in its turn by a new managerial elite which continues to rule us to this day.
During the 19th century, the success of entrepreneurial capitalism resulted in a revolution of mass and scale within Western societies. This involved a dramatic increase in populations, intense urbanization, and a growth in the scale of almost all forms of organized human activity, including producing, consuming, governing, communicating, fighting, and even worshiping. Traditional private and local forms of social organization proved unable to cope with this growth. But at the same time, new technologies were making larger organizations feasible — not only physical technologies such as telephones and business machines, but also the application of psychology and the social sciences to human behavior (“scientific management”).
In Francis’s words: “The rearrangement of human societies within and under mass organizations was necessary to contain, discipline and provide services for the new mass populations and the exponential growth of social interaction.” Francis distinguishes three principal forms of organized human behavior in which this transformation occurred: the business corporation, government, and what he calls “organizations of culture and communication.”
Managerialism in the Economy
As Francis says, the managerial business corporation is “probably the best understood of these three kinds of mass organization.” Early capitalist enterprises of the sort Adam Smith wrote about were generally small enough to be personally managed by their owners, whether individuals, families, or partnerships. But over the course of the 19th century, new industrial techniques came to demand heavier capital investment than such enterprises could conveniently summon. In the steel industry, e.g., the introduction of the blast furnace meant that the small enterprise employing ten or a dozen workmen became an anachronism. Similar processes were at work in businesses such as mining, shipping, banking, and perhaps most importantly, the new railroad industry. To provide the capital required for such vast undertakings, businesses increasingly turned to the sale of shares, i.e., stocks.
The modern, publicly traded company is owned by widely dispersed stockholders who may have little interest in the running of the company so long as their stocks grow in value or pay dividends. The day-to-day operation of such firms are the responsibility of managers, hired by the owners for this purpose. This new class of managers includes the technical specialists with expertise in the complex equipment and processes characteristic of modern industrial production. Neither the decision-makers nor the technical experts need own a single share of stock. The distinguishing feature of the modern corporation is thus the separation of ownership from control.
The managerial elite, though its individual members may be descended from the bourgeois elite, acquires a different and conflicting power base, and different and conflicting structural interests and goals, and through the dispersion of ownership, the managers are able to make their interests and goals predominate over those of the stockholders.
The most important and fascinating aspect of the managerial revolution as explained by Francis is the shift in mentality and ethos effected by the rise of the managers and the corresponding decline of the entrepreneurial capitalists. The older type of businessman was a “rugged individualist” who championed an ethic of self-control (“a penny saved is a penny earned”) and personal responsibility. He had a strong interest in limiting the power of government and maintaining property rights.
The manager, by contrast, is an “organization man” mainly interested in expanding the size of his operations, e.g., by absorbing or driving out of business his entrepreneurial competitors. He is far less opposed to governmental regulation and less devoted to the maintenance of property rights because his own wealth comes not from private property but from the high salaries which specialized skills command. He likes centralization, uniformity, and homogenization:
Mass production requires not only homogeneous goods and services but also homogeneous consumers, who cannot vary in their tastes, values, and patterns of consumption, and who must consume if the planning of the corporations is to be effective. The moral formula of managerial capitalism is [therefore] a justification of mass, the legitimization of immediate gratification of appetites and desires, and the rejection of frugality, thrift, and the postponement of gratification. Mass advertising serves to articulate an ethic of hedonism, and modern credit devices and the manipulation of aggregate demand serve to encourage patterns of hedonistic behavior in the mass population.
Managerialism in the State
The managerial revolution in the economy was accompanied by the progressive movement in politics, which was in many ways an analogous phenomenon also driven by rapid population growth.
Slums, illiteracy, poverty, unemployment, disease, crime, and the general insecurity and brutality of the developing mass society threatened to dissolve the social fabric and contributed to the radicalization of the masses. The willing encouragement of the growth of government was partly due to the new ideologies associated with mass society and to humanitarian concerns but also to the sheer pragmatic realization that the state was the most obvious instrument for coping with what appeared to be otherwise irreconcilable and destructive challenges.
The First World War furthered the cause of the managerial state, especially in Europe:
Warfare itself became a mass phenomenon, requiring mass armies equipped with mass produced weaponry, uniforms, housing, provisions, and services. War required revolutionary expansion in the scale of state financing and taxation, the number of civilian and military personnel and offices, the technical sophistication of state personnel, and the complexity and scope of the administrative functions of the state.
Broadly speaking, local government and the legislative branch were the bastions of the older bourgeois forces, while managerial forces looked to the central government and the executive branch:
The vehicle for the managerial centralization of power and the reduction of the legislative assemblies is managerial Caesarism, the reliance on a single leader allied with the mass population against the intermediary institutions and structures of the bourgeois order.
In America, bourgeois forces remained strong enough even after the First World War to give us the Republican administrations of the 1920s, but Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal marked the definitive triumph of the managerial state. Since then, rule by unelected administrators has largely replaced the rule of law. “The difference between law and administrative procedure,” writes Francis, “is that the former is formulated for general purposes and the latter to implement specific policies.”
The variability of administrative procedures is one reason why bureaucratic administration and the rules it formulates are so many, so complicated, and often so contradictory. Each procedure is applied to specific situations rather than to general relationships, and specific situations are necessarily variable. The variability of procedure also enables the managerial elite to disregard legal principles inconvenient to its interests and to rely on “social needs” (which happen to correspond to the interests of the elite).
Furthermore, because law deals with general relationships, it recognizes that some specific situations are beyond the remedy of law. Administrative procedures recognize no such limit. Every problem, complaint, and situation is believed to lie within the competence of the expert to solve through the application of technical expertise. Thus, crime, war, ignorance, poverty, disease, slums, etc., become “problems” to be “solved” by management.
Managerialism in Culture and Communications
The late 19th and early 20th centuries also witnessed a revolution in the Western world’s institutions of culture and communication, including the news media, the entertainment industry, advertising, education, publishing, and even organized religion. Francis considered this the most important aspect of the managerial revolution as a whole. On this point, he was following the Marxist theoretician Antonio Gramsci, who taught that cultural hegemony was an essential precondition for political hegemony.
In communications as in government and business, the tendency of managerialism is toward expansion, centralization, and homogenization:
The very nature of mass media involves a uniformity of content and style in the communications disseminated through them, and in order to receive the uniform contents of mass communications, their audiences must be uniform in the values, tastes, manners, body of knowledge, and aspirations it harbors. Thus, the mass media must break down the social, economic, moral, intellectual, and emotional distinctions that diversify the bourgeois order and promote the homogenization of society to create a uniform mass audience susceptible to the discipline of mass communications.
The power of the communication elite is well expressed in a passage Francis quotes from sociologist Dennis Wrong:
The owners or controllers of printing presses, radio and television transmitters possess enormous persuasive advantages over the individual citizen. He cannot argue back, but can only switch off the TV or radio, or refuse to buy a particular newspaper, and under conditions of modern urban life he cannot avoid completely becoming a member of a “captive audience” exposed to the mass persuasion of those who control the ubiquitous communications media.
This “power of the megaphone,” as columnist Steve Sailer has called it, has been attenuated somewhat since the time Francis was writing by the spread of the internet. Ritual denunciations of internet “hate” in the older media are an expression of elite awareness of the threat that this new, more democratic form of communication poses to their power.
Managerialists have hit upon education as the great means of redesigning society in accordance with their interests:
Managerial elements, through control or establishment of the institutions of elementary education, child development, family planning, and social work, are able to challenge the processes of bourgeois socialization. The educational bureaucracy seeks, often deliberately and boastfully, to usurp the functions of the bourgeois family and to instruct the juvenile bourgeois in the anti-bourgeois ideologies, values, and styles of the managerial regime.
In higher education, the managerial revolution arrived only after the Second World War, with the GI Bill and the exponential growth of colleges and universities:
The dependence of mass universities upon large student bodies and the increasing financial and physical assets to accommodate them contributed to the gradual abandonment of bourgeois codes of conduct and deportment, the erosion of traditional intellectual disciplines, the adulteration of academic requirements, the guaranteeing of academic success, and the multiplication of academic disciplines, faculty, students, and functions.
In place of the older curriculum came “an emphasis on new disciplines in the physical and social sciences, professional studies, and programs in technical and applied subjects.” These served to transmit managerial and technical skills to the rising generation of the managerial elite. In addition, educational institutions serve to disseminate to the rising generation as a whole an ideology that defends and justifies managerial rule. This ideology is cosmopolitan liberalism:
The underlying myth or idea of the managerial orthodoxy is that human potential is most nearly fulfilled in collective or mass activities that reflect the transcendence of or emancipation from traditional, particularistic, and separative identities, loyalties, and individualist selfishness through cosmopolitan interaction, liberation from obsolete and restrictive morality through a hedonistic and eudaemonian ethic, and the amelioration of society, man, and the world through the meliorist or utopian engineering of social, economic, and political arrangements by the manipulative application of managerial skills.
It is clear from Francis’s analysis that the conservative movement — with its call for limited government, the rule of law, and personal responsibility — is the ideological rearguard action of a bourgeois social order that now belongs irrevocably to the past. Francis would not dispute that the bourgeois ideal of delayed gratification, e.g., is more likely to bring out the best in human beings than credit-fueled consumerist self-indulgence. What he does dispute is that such a bourgeois ethic could ever regain hegemonic status in a mass society, no matter how good a case its supporters make in its favor. Nor could any conservative political victory hope to restore the dominance of bourgeois values in a society now irreversibly managerial in structure.
This is not, however, meant as a counsel of despair. Although the old bourgeoisie will not rise again, the managers have no more hope of perpetuating their rule eternally than did the bourgeois or aristocratic elites which preceded them. Elites will continue to circulate. The task for opponents of cosmopolitan liberalism is to learn to think sociologically, to seek out not merely superior ideas or candidates for office, but rising social forces which might serve as the basis for a challenge to managerial hegemony.
Francis believed he had discovered such a force in the Middle American Radicals studied by sociologist Donald Warren in his book The Radical Centre (1976). Many of these Americans supported George Wallace in the 1960s and 70s, and as “Reagan Democrats” went on to form an essential component of Ronald Reagan’s winning coalition in the 1980s.
The Middle American Radicals are overwhelmingly white, but otherwise very unlike the bourgeois WASP elite of the 19th century. Many are Catholics who trace their ancestry to Southern or Eastern Europe. They find themselves alienated by the “squeeze play” of managerial Caesarism which unites the elites and the lower classes in opposition to their interests.
It is impossible to win their support with calls for cutting social services in the name of limited government, because middle Americans are themselves dependent on such programs. They are not the financially independent bourgeoisie of an early age, but a product of the creeping proletarianization brought about by the managerial revolution. For this reason, Francis describes them in his newly published work as a “Post-Bourgeois Resistance.” The political formula which can win them over is not free-market libertarianism, but Right-wing populism.
As Francis’s literary executor Jerry Woodruff notes in his introduction to Leviathan and Its Enemies, however, references to Middle American Radicals became less frequent in Francis’s writings in the years around 2000. Perhaps the rise of Donald Trump would have encouraged him to go back and have a second look.
The revolution of mass and scale has placed unprecedented strain on a species that evolved in small groups and is stuck with a finite capacity for extending the attachments naturally nourished within such groups. Middle American Radicals are not the only ones who feel alienated by mass society: even Left-wing anti-globalists seem inspired by many of the same concerns, though their preferred remedies would often make matters worse.
And the managers themselves are increasingly running up against obstacles to further extension of their techniques and disciplines. Notably, today’s international elite has set itself the task of integrating even Islam into its system of managerial control and cosmopolitan liberal thinking. Islamic radicals, however, are doing an excellent job of teaching all but the willfully blind that this nut is just going to be too tough for managerialism to crack.
If the indifference to facts and psychotic hatreds of Black Lives Matter are any indication, race is also proving to be beyond the capacity of managerial techniques to discipline and contain. And race is no mere “bourgeois” particularism, but an inescapable fact of nature. Later in life, Francis increasingly turned to race both as a natural source of identity and as an obstacle to the homogenizing tendencies of managerialism. Although there is little explicit discussion of race in Leviathan and Its Enemies, it is clear that the doctrine of “racial equality” is of one piece with the other homogenizing tendencies of managerialism.
The most effective means of striking a blow against the monstrous Leviathan which rules over us will probably involve appealing both to racial identity and to the economic interests of the postbourgeois proletariat.
* * *
Counter-Currents has extended special privileges to those who donate $120 or more per year.
- First, donor comments will appear immediately instead of waiting in a moderation queue. (People who abuse this privilege will lose it.)
- Second, donors will have immediate access to all Counter-Currents posts. Non-donors will find that one post a day, five posts a week will be behind a “paywall” and will be available to the general public after 30 days.
To get full access to all content behind the paywall, sign up here: