Meyer’s Fusionism (pt. 1)
Here’s how National Review senior editor Frank Meyer described his “fusion” of libertarian and traditionalist concerns — though he didn’t use the words “fusion” or “fusionism,” terms that other people tended to apply to his position:
Closely related to the false antithesis between reason and tradition that distorts the dialogue between the libertarian emphasis and the traditionalist emphasis among conservatives is our historical inheritance of the nineteenth-century European struggle between classical liberalism and a conservatism that was too often rigidly authoritarian. Granted there is much in classical liberalism that conservatives must reject–its philosophical foundations, its tendency towards Utopian constructions, its disregard (explicitly, though by no means implicitly) of tradition — and granted it is the source of much that is responsible for the plight of the twentieth century, its championship of freedom and its development of political and eocnomic theories directed towards the assurance of freedom have contributed to our heritage concepts which we need to conserve and develop, as surely as we need to reject the utilitarian ethics and the secular progressivism that classical liberalism has also passed on to us.
Nineteenth-century conservatism, with all its understanding of the preeminence of virtue and value, for all its piety towards the continuing tradition of mankind, was far too cavalier to the claims of freedom, far too ready to subordinate the individual person to the authority of state or society.
The conservative today is the inheritor of the best in both these tragically bifurcated branches of hte Western tradition, but the divison lingers on and adds to the difficulties of conservative discourse. The traditionalist … tends to reject the political and economic theories of freedom which flow from classical liberalism in his reaction against its unsound metaphysics. He discards the true with the false, creating unnecessary obstacles to the mutual dialogue in which he is engaged with his libertarian alter ego. The libertarian, suffering from the mixed heritage of the nineteenth-century champions of liberty, reacts against the traditionalist’s emphasis upon precedent and continuity out of antipathy to the authoritarianism with which that emphasis has been associated, although in actuality he stands firmly for continuity and tradition against the rising revolutionary wave of collectivism and statism.
All that sounds, for the most part, innocuous enough. I’ll post some more excerpts over the weekend, though, to show why fusionism didn’t philosophically satisfy either libertarians or traditionalists, though it worked well enough as a makeshift credo for conservative activists… (The quotes are from Meyer’s 1964 essay Freedom, Tradition, Conservatism, first published in the Meyer-edited lib-trad anthology What Is Conservatism? and reprinted in the Liberty Fund edition of In Defense of Freedom. What Is Conservatism? is a bit a hard to find these days; I wound up paying about $30 or $40 for a well-worn copy just recently.)Explore posts in the same categories: Conservatism, Liberty