“The Evil Spirits of the Modern Daily Press,”
a cartoon from Puck magazine in 1888. (

The odd, psychologically conflicted
and politically divisive ideology referred to as
neoconservatism can claim many godfathers. Irving Kristol (father of
William Kristol), Albert Wohlstetter, Daniel Bell, Norman Podhoretz and Sidney
Hook come to mind. And there are many others. But in both theory and practice,
the title of founding father for the neoconservative agenda of endless warfare
that rules the thinking of America’s defense and foreign policies today might
best be applied to
James Burnham.

His writings in the 1930s provided a
refined Oxford intellectual’s gloss to the Socialist Workers Party, and as a
close adviser to Communist revolutionary Leon Trotsky and his
Fourth International, he learned the tactics and strategies of infiltration and
political subversion firsthand. Burnham reveled in his role as a “Trotskyist
intellectual,” pulling dirty tricks on his political foes in competing Marxist
movements by turning their loyalties and looting their best talent.

Burnham renounced his allegiance to
Trotsky and Marxism in all its forms in 1940, but he would take their tactics
and strategies for infiltration and subversion with him and would turn their
method of dialectical materialism against them. His 1941 book, “
Managerial Revolution
,” would bring him fame and fortune
and establish him as an astute, if not exactly accurate, political prophet
chronicling the rise of a new class of technocratic elite. His next book, “The
Machiavellians,” confirmed his movement away from Marxist idealism to a very
cynical and often cruel realism with his belief in the inevitable failure of
democracy and the rise of the oligarch. In 1943 he put it all to use in a memo
for the U.S. Office of Strategic Services (the OSS) in which his Trotskyist
anti-Stalinism would find its way into the agency’s thinking. And in his 1947
book, “The Struggle for the World,” Burnham expanded his
confrontational/adversarial dialectic toward the Soviet Union into a permanent,
apocalyptic policy of endless war.

By 1947 James Burnham’s
transformation from Communist radical to New World Order American conservative
was complete. His “Struggle for the World” had done a
French Turn
on Trotsky’s permanent Communist revolution and turned it into a permanent
battle plan for a global American empire. All that was needed to complete
Burnham’s dialectic was a permanent enemy, and that would require a
sophisticated psychological campaign to keep the hatred of Russia alive for

The Rise of the Machiavellians

In 1939 Sidney Hook, Burnham’s
colleague at New York University and fellow Marxist philosopher, had helped to
found an anti-Stalinist Committee for Cultural Freedom as part of a campaign
against Moscow. During the war Hook, too, had abandoned Marxism and, like Burnham,
somehow found himself in the warm embrace of the right wing of America’s
intelligence community during and after World War II. Hook was viewed by the
Communist Party as a traitor and “counter-revolutionary reptile” for his
activities and by 1942 was informing on his fellow comrades to the FBI.

Selling impoverished and
dispossessed European elites on the virtues of American culture was essential
to building America’s empire after the war, and Burnham’s early writings proved
the inspiration from which a new counterculture of “freedom” would be built. As
veterans of internecine Trotskyist warfare, both Burnham and Hook were
practiced at the arts of infiltration and subversion, and with Burnham’s “
The Machiavellians: Defenders of Freedom” as their blueprint, they set out to color anything the
Soviets did or said with dark intent.

As Burnham articulated clearly in
“The Machiavellians,” his version of freedom meant anything but intellectual
freedom or those freedoms defined by America’s Constitution. What it really
meant was conformity and submission. Burnham’s freedom only applied to those
intellectuals (the Machiavellians) willing to tell people the hard truth about
the unpopular political realities they faced. These were the realities that
would usher in a brave new world of the managerial class, who would set about
denying Americans the very democracy they thought they already owned. As Orwell
observed about Burnham’s Machiavellian beliefs in his 1946 “Second Thoughts”:
“Power can sometimes be won or maintained without violence, but never without
fraud, because it is necessary to use the masses.”

By 1949 the CIA was actively in the
business of defrauding the masses by secretly supporting the so-called
non-Communist left and behaving as if it was just a spontaneous outgrowth of a
free society. By turning the left to the service of its expanding empire, the
CIA was applying a French Turn of its own by picking the
best and the brightest, and the creation of the National Security Act of 1947
institutionalized it. Assisted by Britain’s Information Research Department
(the IRD), the CIA recruited key former Soviet disinformation agents trained
before the war who had managed non-Communist front groups for Moscow and put
them to work. As Frances Stoner Saunders writes in her book “
The Cultural Cold War,” “these former propagandists for the Soviets were
recycled, bleached of the stain of Communism, embraced by government
strategists who saw in their conversion an irresistible opportunity to sabotage
the Soviet propaganda machine which they had once oiled.”

By its own admission, the CIA’s
strategy of promoting the non-Communist left would become the theoretical
foundation of the agency’s political operations against Communism for over the
next two decades. But the no-holds-barred cultural war against Soviet Communism
began in earnest in March 1949 when a group of 800 prominent literary and
artistic figures gathered at New York’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel for a
Soviet-sponsored “Cultural and Scientific” conference that would sue for peace.
Both Sidney Hook and James Burnham were already actively involved in enlisting
recruits to counter the efforts of Moscow’s Communist Information Bureau
(Cominform) to influence Western opinion. But the Waldorf conference gave them
an opportunity for dirty tricks they could only have prayed for.

Demonstrators organized by a right-wing
coalition of Catholic groups and the American Legion heckled the guests as they
arrived. Catholic nuns knelt in prayer for the souls of the Communist atheists
in attendance. Gathered upstairs in a 10-floor bridal suite, a gang of
ex-Trotskyists and Communists led by Hook intercepted the conference’s mail,
doctored official press releases and published pamphlets challenging speakers
to admit their Communist past.

In the end the entire conference
became a twisted theater of the absurd, and Hook and Burnham would use it to
Frank Wisner at the CIA’s Office of Policy Coordination on taking the
show on the road.

The Congress for Cultural Freedom:
By Hook or by Crook

Drawing on the untapped power of the
Fourth International, the coming-out party came on June 26, 1950, at the
Titania Palace in occupied Berlin. Named for Hook’s 1939 concept for a cultural
committee, The
for Cultural Freedom’s
“Freedom Manifesto” was to identify the West with freedom. And since everything
about the West was said to be free, free, free, then it went without saying
that everything about the Soviet Union wasn’t.

Organized by Burnham and Hook, the
American delegation represented a who’s who of America’s postwar intellectuals.
Tickets to Berlin were paid for by Wisner’s Office of Policy Coordination
through front organizations and the Department of State, which helped arrange
travel, expenses and publicity. According to CIA historian Michael Warner, the
conference sponsors considered it money well spent, with one Defense Department
representative calling it “unconventional warfare at its best.”

Burnham functioned as a critical
connection between Wisner’s office and the intelligentsia moving from the
extreme left to the extreme right with ease. Burnham found the congress to be a
place to inveigh not just against Communism but against the non-communist left
as well and left many wondering whether his views weren’t as dangerous to
liberal democracy as Communism. According to Frances Stoner Saunders, members
of the British delegation found the rhetoric coming out of the congress to be a
deeply troubling sign of things to come. “
Hugh Trevor-Roper was appalled by the provocative tone. … There was a speech
Franz Borkenau which was very violent and indeed almost hysterical. He
spoke in German and I regret to say that as I listened and I heard the baying
voices of approval from the huge audiences, I felt, well, these are the same
people who seven years ago were probably baying in the same way to similar
German denunciations of Communism coming from Dr. Goebbels in the Sports
Palast. And I felt, well, what sort of people are we identifying with? That was
the greatest shock to me. There was a moment during the Congress when I felt
that we were being invited to summon up Beelzebub in order to defeat Stalin.”

The Congress for Cultural Freedom
didn’t need Beelzebub. It already had him in the form of Burnham, Hook and
Wisner, and by 1952, the party was just getting started. Burnham worked
overtime for Wisner legitimizing the congress as a platform for the
Machiavellians alongside ex-Communists and even Nazis, including
Gen. Reinhard Gehlen
and his German army intelligence
unit, which had been brought into the CIA after the war intact. E. Howard Hunt,
and famous CIA dirty trickster,
remembered Burnham in his memoirs: “Burnham was a consultant to OPC on
virtually every subject of interest to our organization. … He had extensive
contacts in Europe and, by virtue of his Trotskyite background, was something
of an authority on domestic and foreign Communist parties and front

In 1953 Burnham was called upon
again by Wisner to reach beyond Communism to help overthrow the democratically
elected Mohammed Mossadegh in Tehran, Iran, apparently because Wisner thought
the plan needed “a touch of Machiavelli.” But Burnham’s greatest contribution as
a Machiavellian was yet to come. His book, “The Machiavellians: Defenders of
Freedom,” would become the CIA’s manual for displacing Western culture with an
alternative doctrine for endless conflict in a world of oligarchs. In the end,
it opened the gates to an Inferno from which there would be no return.

Copyright – 2022 Fitzgerald &
Gould All rights reserved

Paul Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Gould are authors of Invisible History: Afghanistan’s Untold Story, published by City Lights (2009), Crossing Zero The AfPak War at the Turning Point of American Empire, published by City Lights (2011).
Their novel
The Voice , was published in 2001. Their novelized memoir, The Valediction Three Nights of Desmond was
published by TrineDay (2021) and
The Valediction Resurrection was published by TrineDay (2022). For more information
invisiblehistory , grailwerk and valediction.net