What Is (or Was) "Fusionism"?

With all of this talk about the demise of the conservative-libertarian "fusion," and the potential for "liberaltarianism," I thought it would be worthwhile saying a little bit about the origins and content of "fusionism."

In post-war American conservatism, the term "fusionism" is most closely associated with Frank S. Meyer, a conservative intellectual who was a senior editor at National Review, where he penned the column "Principles & Heresies." Meyer argued American conservatism was a distinct philosophy that blended a traditional conservative emphasis on value, virtue, and order, with a libertarian political outlook. Whereas some post-War conservatives argued that virtue was a necessary precondition for freedom, Meyer maintained that virtue required free choice. Wrote Meyer, "the belief in virtue as the end of men's being implicitly recognizes the necessity of freedom to choose that end." And:

acceptance of the moral authority derived from transcendent criteria of truth and good must be voluntary if it is to have meaning; if it is coerced by human force, it is meaningless.
Freedom means freedom: not necessity, but choice; not responsibility but the choice betwen responsibility and irresponsibility; not duty but the choice between accepting and rejecting duty; not virtue, but the choice beween virtue and vice.
Meyer was no "I'm okay, you're okay," relativistic libertarian - he endorsed traditional conservative notions of virtue and morality - but he nonetheless desired a minimal state in which individual freedom had the widest range of potential expression.

Meyer's philospohy, dubbed "fusionism" by Brent Bozell, was outlined in his best-known book In Defense of Freedom: A Conservative Credo (available from Liberty Fund in this collection of Meyer's writings edited by William C. Dennis). The aim of the book, in Meyer's words, was "to vindiciate the freedom of the person as the central and primary end of political society." Yet Meyer saw his work as both prescriptive and descriptive, and believed "fusionism" was a distillation of a unique American variant of conservatism that embraced America's founding on classical liberal ideals.

Here for the first time a polity was established based upon the freedom of the person as its end and upon firm limitation of the powers of hte state as the means to achieve that end.
Meyer believed American conservatism was based upon seven principles:
  • "the existence of an objective moral order based on ontological foundations;
  • the primary reference for political thought and action is the individual, not the collective";
  • anti-utopianism;
  • the limitation of government power;
  • opposition to state control of the economy;
  • "firm suppord for the Constitution of the United States as originally conceived";
  • anti-communism.
Meyer, a former Communist himself, wrote at the height of the Cold War. No doubt that influenced his thinking, and may have some bearing on whether his fusionism remains a relevant political philosophy today. But before anyone writes fusionism's obituary, it is worth exploring what was meant by the term.