August 18, 2004


The Fusionist Path (Kenneth Silber, 08/18/2004, Tech Central Station)

Like the man who's surprised to learn he's been speaking prose all his life, the fusionist is a political category whose members may operate without much awareness of their label. Fusionism is the idea, named and developed decades ago by Frank Meyer of National Review, that conservatism and libertarianism share a common agenda. Thus, the fusionist believes that conservatives and libertarians ought to be allies -- and indeed that their respective philosophies are largely or essentially combinable into a coherent body of thought.

Fusionism, whether going by that name or not, has long had both adherents and detractors on the rightward side of the American political spectrum. Columnist William Safire has frequently called himself a libertarian conservative (or even, with a linguist's flair, a "libcon"). Columnist George F. Will once wrote that people calling themselves libertarian conservatives have embraced "a label a bit like 'promiscuous celibates.'" [...]

Does fusionism have a future? I believe it does. For one thing, the publication you are now reading has a distinctly fusionist coloration. Moreover, "libertarian conservative" (unlike "promiscuous celibate") is in fact coherent. It describes someone who thinks libertarian institutions are worth conserving (and that a country embracing such institutions is worth defending). It implies a consistency in advocating both social and economic freedoms, and a recognition that both types of freedoms require responsibility and virtue.

Libertarian institutions? It is to laugh.

Here's Russell Kirk, a devoted foe of fusionism, on the conservative moment in which we find ourselves:

About 1950, the emerging conservative thinkers had perceived the character of national adversity long before the general public became aware of the difficulties into which the United States was sliding. Thus a measure of conservative imagination and right reason already existed as the public rather slowly and confusedly began to turn its back upon the politically dominant liberalism. The handful of conservative writers and scholars, and those public men capable of serious reflection, offered an alternative to the exploded dogmas and measures of liberalism. Those fresh or renewed conservative ideas, which can have consequences, worked upon the public's discontent with the circumstances into which liberalism had brought the country: this union of thought and circumstance brought about the present conservative movement.

At this point we require some definition. Any intellectual and political movement, if it is to achieve more than ephemeral popularity and influence, must possess a body of common belief. I do not mean that it must, or should, possess an ideology. As H. Stuart Hughes wrote once, "conservatism is the negation of ideology." Ideology is political fanaticism and illusion; as John Adams defined it, ideology is the art of diving and sinking in politics. Instead, I mean by "a body of common belief" those general convictions and healthy prejudices derived from long consensus and social experience.

Such a body of common belief still exists in the United States-perhaps more than in any other land. Here are some of its elements: persuasion that there exists a moral order, of more than human contrivance, to which we ought to conform human laws and customs as best we can; confidence in the American constitution, both the written constitution and the underlying unwritten constitution of tested usage and custom; attachment to representative government; suspicion of central direction in most matters; preference for an economy in which work and thrift obtain their just rewards; love of country-a love which extends beyond the present moment to the past and the future of the country. And there are other elements which have not lost their vitality.

These are conservative beliefs and impulses. Their roots are not altogether withered. I have sketched the origins of this body of common beliefs in my book The Roots of American Order. This being still the common American patrimony (even though, of course, the average citizen could not express these beliefs very coherently), it is not surprising that in a time of tribulation and discontent, the American public begins to listen to conservative voices.

In short, this present hour is an hour of conservative opportunity.

The promiscuity of the libertarians, their social permissiveness, is a denial of the moral order and an attack on the traditional institutions of society. It makes fusion impossible. What's more important though is that it is undesirable, because that permissiveness undermines the very virtue that liberalism requires.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 18, 2004 2:12 PM

The fission of fusion will not come until the common enemy -- socialism (d/b/a "liberalism," "progresivism," "post-modernism," etc.) is dumped in the ash bin of american politics. The time is coming,but it is not yet here.

If Kerry augers in as hard he can on 11/2 and takes the Senate with him, the time may arrive.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at August 18, 2004 6:44 PM

Libertarians are conservatives who take what conservatives say seriously.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at August 18, 2004 10:23 PM

Conservatism is concerned with society, libertarianism with the individual. That's why pretty much only wealthy single white males are libertarian.

Posted by: oj at August 18, 2004 11:00 PM

Most of what you (OJ) say about libertarians is accurate. That said, many of these people are allies who actually ARE concerned with society.

The "fusion" post above, while glossing over many important differences, does make an important point. There are enough places where our different goals overlap to see wach other as allies.

I'm of the view that there will always be a collectivist element to battle. If so, having libertarian allies is more of a benefit than a liability.

Posted by: BB at August 19, 2004 12:18 AM

Libertarians are concerned with society, and think that taking what conservatives say seriously has much going for it.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at August 19, 2004 6:20 PM


No they aren't, they're concerned with themselves.

Posted by: oj at August 19, 2004 6:25 PM

Libertarians are drug-addicted conservatives or cheap liberals. Take your pick.

Posted by: Vince at August 20, 2004 3:02 PM


I'm a middle of the road libertarian, and take seriously the Protestant assertion of individual autonomy and responsibility with respect to God.

So, as a libertarian concerned with society, I am convinced that the best path towards a decent society is where private organizations use persuasion, not coercion, to effect individual conduct.

Some time ago, you asserted it was OK for a Jehovah's Witness to forego a life saving blood transfusion.

Either you were wrong then, or JWs religious convictions are under your thumb. I'm not sure how you can square the latter with religious liberty.


Libertarians are those who find government uniquely disqualified to make personal decisions.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at August 21, 2004 12:07 PM


Great! But there's no such thing as individual autonomy. You are ordained to God and governed by your fellow men.

Posted by: oj at August 21, 2004 12:19 PM

Jeff, that is all so wonderfully utopian, but very often people's so-called personal decisions end up causing a whole lot of problems for others.

Posted by: Vince at August 21, 2004 6:01 PM

No, I am not ordained to God--He told me so.

The government that governs best governs least. Intruding in personal decisions is not, by any stretch of the imagination, governing least.

BTW--just how do you square that Jehovah's Witness circle?


How about giving some for instances?

In the case of smoking, the taxation grossly exceeds the net cost to society of the habit, especially considering it is likely nil.

Do you to reserve to yourself any personal decisions?

OJ regularly excoriates modern government for establishing itself as the source of everything, relegating people to dependant supplicants.

Putting govt in the position of invoking a particular sectarian version of "ordained," and thereby claiming a "right" to decide for people what they do to themselves is a perfect example of that.

What better thing for promoting the overweening state then getting people in the habit of negotiating with government for what they may do, or see, or read, or believe?

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at August 22, 2004 9:03 AM


There's not a sectarian version of ordained--all are ordained.

There are no negotiations--there are laws.

If a Jehovah's Witness chooses not to have a blood transfusion we're not going to force him.

That government which governs least requires a people who govern themselves most, something that secularists eschew, thereby making greater government necessary, as witness Europe. What we religious are trying to avoid is that exact process which you seek to hasten.

Posted by: oj at August 22, 2004 9:12 AM


Sorry, that isn't what God told me, so you must be wrong.

Your assertion there aren't negotiations is ridiculous--the more and more decisions the government assumes for people, the more they have to approach the government to find out what they are allowed to do.

You'll force people to do all kinds of things because of the risk, but not a JW? The stench of hypocrisy is overwhelming.

Either government rules the people, or the people rule themselves (which includes the ability to make decisions you don't like--that's the price of freedom, in case you hadn't heard). In advocating the governments nose in people's personal lives, you clearly favor the former.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at August 22, 2004 10:13 PM

People rule the people--that's what laws are.

One needn't have an invasive procedure, just as one needn't be forced to ride a motorcycle. If you choose to have the procedure or to ride we're entitled to establish some rules.

Posted by: oj at August 23, 2004 12:03 AM


That's silly. Some operations require transfusions for to be successful, and sometimes the alternative to the operation is death. Although in this case it would be suicide.

It is hypocrisy pure and simple to impose upon others a restriction you wouldn't impose upon yourself.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at August 24, 2004 5:36 AM

Everyone in our family is required to wear a helmet to bike, never mind to motorcycle.

Posted by: oj at August 24, 2004 7:37 AM