I am going to channel Burnham by applying his 1940 analysis of capitalism to its successor social order, managerialism.
Burnham claimed that the capitalism versus socialism framing inherited from Marx’s analysis of 19th century industrial capitalism omitted the social class best poised to take control over production in the 20th century, namely the managerial class. He left them out because this class emerged as a result (and cause) of the exponentially compounding complexities of industrial production. They were not significant enough as a class for Marx to consider them as rivals to the proletariat as inheritors of production after capitalism collapses.
Burnham’s claim is that with the onset of the Great War, capitalism did collapse, and that instead of the worker’s revolution promised by Marx, the world got, instead, a manager’s revolution. This is why Soviet Russia never got anything anywhere near a free, classless society, but instead something nobody could quite nail down. It certainly wasn’t capitalism, but society remained just as classist.
It only became thinkable once this third class, the managerial class — the new dominant class, was considered, and treated as a dominant class with sharply differing class interests from that of the capitalist class and the working class.
Most “leftist” managerial class members still imagine their interests as aligned with the working class, and when workers accuse the managerial class of being oppressive and contemptuous, ask themselves “What’s the matter with Kansas?” with no intention of letting anyone besides themselves answer. (And of course, refusing to listen to objections and entertaining their validity, preferring instead to diagnose the objectors as deluded, manipulated, vicious and afflicted with false consciousness is precisely the kind of contempt that so infuriates the working class.) But these interests are the furthest thing from aligned, and the better the managerial class did, the worse the working class has fared.
Burnham claimed WWI was the end of capitalism and that WWII was the first great managerial class war. He saw Russia and Germany both as rapid and radical managerial revolutions, which accounted for their violence. He saw the New Deal as a primitive beginning of a managerial revolution in the United States, and that full entry into the war (still over a year away at the publication of his book in early 1941) would accelerate the process.
I believe Burnham was largely right. Much of what he predicted did happen. I’m too lazy to list it all out, but if you are curious, I do recommend reading the Managerial Revolution. It is fun to read — as long as you aren’t attached to popular managerial class ideological narcissism that has well-educated, well-compensated pampered managerials situated on the side of justice. Ain’t so — but nobody can force you to see what you don’t want to see. Not so far, anyway. Keep “doing the work” of misdirection if that helps you continue seeing yourself as a good person, and not as a decadent overclasser seeking moral entertainments as relief from your anomie!
Here is my theory, and it blatantly rips off all of Burnam’s coolest moves.
Managerialism has ended. It fell when the World Trade Center buildings fell. It continued falling when the economy collapsed in 2007-2009. What has been replacing it is a new order that has little and decreasing need for a managerial class.
The managerial class has been in spiritual decay for decades. The postmodernism that electrified universities throughout the 80s and 90s only set the stage for intellectual collapse in the new millennium. As far as I can tell, anyone whose university education happened in the new millennium has experienced only one viable political ideology their entire lives and is seized with existential dread and willful incomprehension when faced with any truth not carefully processed and formatted for their effortless moral consumption. Such people are unequipped to diagnose their own political condition. Instead, they interpret the symptoms of class decline in the most naive way possible, projecting their class despair on any surface suitable for projection. The world is ending in myriad ways. In this unprecedentedly safe time, everything is a physical threat — violence!
What is happening is the emergence of a new social order with no more need for white collar workers than for blue collar workers. And a new social class of technology elites — with class interests at odds with the managerial class and the working class — developed within the managerial class, has separated from it, and is now poised to displace the managerial class.
The technological overclass has less and less need to compromise or to feign goodwill toward either the managerial class or the working class. In some ways, this could look like a return to capitalism, but one with diminishing need for human exploitation. If you have AI, robotics and new, low-labor fabrication technologies what good is a large population? They strain the planet, and are a potential source of unrest. Once again, a few hyper-wealthy individuals can own and directly control all production, without human intermediaries.
Liberal arts education has shifted focus (to put it mildly) from pluralism to an impotent, decadent and sentimental monism. The only students who get rigorous training are in technological fields, because this is all that is useful to the rising overclass.
It appears to managerial class members that they are helping vulnerable identities — nearly all of whom, incidentally are members of the managerial class, but whose essential identity is erased so they can become proxies for actually oppressed underclassers. Likewise, with class erased, underclassers who, to ideologically-formatted eyeballs resemble hyper-rich information technology elites, can be attacked and abused as effigies, without any sacrifice of safety or comfort. And these same people, for a variety of reasons, are childless, and help the managerial class approach its optimal size: zero.
If you are a managerial class member and want to really be on the right side of history (though perhaps not as you imagine it) there are two main ways to approach this goal, depending on your tastes and inclinations.
If you are roughly average in intelligence and courage, continue embracing the progressivist ideology. Keep seeing everything in terms of the standard canon of identities. Direct your hatred at the underclass who are prejudiced against these identities. This legitimizes your hatred and gives harmless vent to your class anxieties, and it also gives the underclass a legitimate target for its anger. This is convenient for the new overclass, who would prefer the obsolete classes to fight among themselves instead of uniting against them. Whatever directs their hostilities away from the technology overclass is good. And if it helps reduce the world population to sustainable levels, that is double-plus good.
And do continue celebrating marginalization, powerlessness and victimization. The more we managerials practice admiring these virtues, the more we can retain some self-respect as a class when dress rehearsal ends, and our everyday reality is one of actual marginalization, powerlessness and victimization. In the future the ability to see what is most degraded, unattractive, useless and weak as what is most admirable will be an essential survival skill. We should be proactive about this. We should find absolutely the most non-admirable people and insist on celebrating them as the very pinnacle of humankind.
If you are smarter than average or have a weakness for daring or transgressive ideas, you can replatform yourself on transhumanism, and be an early adopter of the technology elite’s own ideology.
I hope I’m wrong about all this. I probably am. This, however, is how things seem to me at this strange moment in history.