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September 1, 2006

TT: Burnham's Laws

Some of you have inquired about the source of the piece of advice proffered by James Burnham that I occasionally like to quote. It's one of a set of maxims that Burnham handed down many years ago to his colleagues at National Review:

1. Everybody knows everything.
2. Who says A must say B.
3. Just as good, isn't.
4. You cannot invest in retrospect.
5. Wherever there is prohibition there's a bootlegger.
6. In every project there's a Schlamm.
vii. You can't divorce yourself.
viii. Every member must pay his dues.
ix. No excuse, sir.
10. If there's no alternative, there's no problem.

According to Burnham's son, these were "a series of observations about the world that provided the basis for living honestly." The first law "centers on the notion that the way in which one conducts oneself in personal relationships or business or politics can never be a secret from those who matter." The sixth law refers to Willi Schlamm, a journalist who was briefly and unsatisfactorily involved in the launching of National Review, of which Burnham was a founding editor. (The seventh, eighth and ninth "laws" are numbered differently because they are exhortations, not universal principles.)

I like the first and last ones best, but they're all exceedingly provocative, as was Burnham himself. If you don't know who he was, you can read about him here. In addition, you can read "Second Thoughts on James Burnham," George Orwell's 1946 essay, by going to this page on a Russian Web site that contains, among other things, downloadable online versions of Orwell's writings.

Posted September 1, 2006 12:00 PM

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