Roger’s Rules

Quiz Time: The Thirty-Nine Articles of James Burnham

Students of ancient history will recall that, back when the Anglican Communion described a form of the Christian religion, there were thirty nine articles universally promulgated within the faith.  These declarations were meant to describe the basic elements of the confession, and paid up members of the confraternity were expected to assent in their hearts (and sometimes publically, by an oath) to the substance articulated therein. You can get a good feel for what the thirty-nine articles required by savoring the first two:

  1. Of Faith in the Holy Trinity.
There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body, parts, or passions; of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness; the Maker, and Preserver of all things both visible and invisible. And in unity of this Godhead there be three Persons, of one substance, power, and eternity; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.
  2. Of the Word or Son of God, which was made very Man.
The Son, which is the Word of the Father, begotten from everlasting of the Father, the very and eternal God, and of one substance with the Father, took Man’s nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin, of her substance: so that two whole and perfect Natures, that is to say, the Godhead and Manhood, were joined together in one Person, never to be divided, whereof is one Christ, very God, and very Man; who truly suffered, was crucified, dead, and buried, to reconcile his Father to us, and to be a sacrifice, not only for original guilt, but also for actual sins of men.

Quaint, what? James Burnham was perhaps the most underrated political philosopher of the twentieth century. A month or two back Encounter Books published a new edition of his Cold-War classic Suicide of the West: An Essay on the Meaning and Destiny of Liberalism. The book has a great deal to recommend it. Though published in 1964, when the Soviet colossus had yet begun to teeter, it is if anything more pertinent to our situation today, circa 2015, when Communism is hibernating but totalitarian Islam is on the march.  Burnham’s book was Janus-faced: one the one hand, he had a lot to say about the totalitarian threat of Soviet Communism. Mutatis mutandis, what he says there applies also to the threat of militant Islam. But in his efforts to account for the “contraction of the West,” Burnham the diagnostician also looked inward, at the beating heart of liberalism.


Who were the liberals Burnham was talking about? He proposed a list of thirty-nine propositions as a means of identification. Readers were invited to look them over and say whether they agreed or disagreed “by and large, without worrying over fine points.” I invite my readers to take the same quiz.

 1. All forms of racial segregation and discrimination are wrong.

2. Everyone is entitled to his own opinion.

3. Everyone has a right to free, public education.

4. Political, economic or social discrimination based on religious belief is wrong.

5. In political or military conflict it is wrong to use methods of torture and physical terror.

6. A popular movement or revolt against a tyranny or dictatorship is right, and deserves approval.

7. The government has a duty to provide for the ill, aged, unemployed and poor if they cannot take care of themselves.

8. Progressive income and inheritance taxes are the fairest form of taxation.

9. If reasonable compensation is made, the government of a nation has the legal and moral right to expropriate private property within its borders, whether owned by citizens or foreigners.

10. We have a duty to mankind; that is, to men in general.

11. The United Nations, even if limited in accomplishment, is a step in the right direction.

12. Any interference with free speech and free assembly, except for cases of immediate public danger or juvenile corruption, is wrong.

13. Wealthy nations, like the United States, have a duty to aid the less privileged portions of mankind.

14. Colonialism and imperialism are wrong.

15. Hotels, motels, stores and restaurants in southern United States ought to be obliged by law to allow Negroes to use all of their facilities on the same basis as whites.

16. The chief sources of delinquency and crime are ignorance, discrimination, poverty and exploitation.

17. Communists have a right to express their opinions.

18. We should always be ready to negotiate with the Soviet Union and other communist nations.

19. Corporal punishment, except possibly for small children, is wrong.

20. All nations and peoples, including the nations and peoples of Asia and Africa, have a right to political independence when a majority of the population wants it.

21. We always ought to respect the religious beliefs of others.

22. The primary goal of international policy in the nuclear age ought to be peace.

23. Except in cases of a clear threat to national security or, possibly, to juvenile morals, censorship is wrong.

24. Congressional investigating committees are dangerous institutions, and need to be watched and curbed if they are not to become a serious threat to freedom.

25. The money amount of school and university scholarships ought to be decided primarily by need.

26. Qualified teachers, at least at the university level, are entitled to academic freedom: that is, the right to express their own beliefs and opinions, in or out of the classroom, without interference from administrators, trustees, parents or public bodies.

27. In determining who is to be admitted to schools and universities, quota systems based on color, religion, family or similar factors are wrong.

28. The national government should guarantee that all adult citizens, except for criminals and the insane, should have the right to vote.

29. Joseph McCarthy was probably the most dangerous man in American public life during the fifteen years following the Second World War.

30. There are no significant differences in intellectual, moral or civilizing capacity among human races and ethnic types.

31. Steps toward world disarmament would be a good thing.

32. Everyone is entitled to political and social rights without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

33. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and expression.

34. Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

35. The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government.

36. Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security.

37. Everyone has the right to equal pay for equal work.

38. Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions.

39. Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.


How did you do? A “full-blown liberal,” as Burnham notes, will tick “Agree” next to most or all of these propositions. A convinced conservative, by contrast, “will mark many or most of them, a reactionary all or nearly all of them, Disagree.

I don’t think I know anyone who occupies the full reactionary position: even my most conservative friends (even I) disagree  with some of these propositions.  But I know many, many people who would agree wholeheartedly with every one of them.  So did Burnham. He found that result disquieting.  He was right to. 

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