March 1, 2008


The End of Republican 'Fusionism'? (Robert Tracinski, 3/01/08, Real Clear Politics)

The idea that was supposed to hold up this conservative "big tent" was the theory of "fusionism." Buckley didn't originate fusionism (it was articulated by Frank Meyer), but the idea was vigorously promoted by National Review. Fusionism was the idea that the three wings of conservatism could not only find common cause but could cobble themselves together into a semi-integrated ideology. The theory was that the religionists would defend traditional American values, which would provide cultural support for the ideals of limited government and American patriotism.

This ideological coalition first found expression with the 1964 presidential campaign of Barry Goldwater, which failed to win the presidency but succeeded in launching a political movement. And the long-term legacy of that movement was the presidency of Ronald Reagan, who succeeded not only in winning two terms in office, but in braking America's descent into socialism and precipitating the collapse of the Soviet Union.

So it would be churlish to say that the fusionist agenda was a political failure or that the conservative coalition was only "temporary"; something that shapes American politics for nearly half a century is hardly temporary. Fusionism lasted because it tapped into a much longer American tradition going back to Alexis de Tocqueville in the early 19th century and arguably all the way back to the Founding Fathers, though they would not have embraced it in Buckley's traditionalist form: the idea of a connection between religious belief and the advocacy of liberty.

But fusionism is ultimately untenable, and there is an irony in the fact that Buckley died at the conclusion of the 2008 Republican primary--a contest which offers a profound warning of the inherent instability of the fusionist coalition.

The truth is that the fusion never occurred in the first place, though paleocons and libertarians did hate communism enough to support the GOP for most of the Cold War. But consider that Richard Nixon faced a challenge on the Right from George Wallace, Reagan from John Anderson, GHW Bush and Bob Dole from Ross Perot and W from Pat Buchanan -- not to mention that the libertarians always field a candidate of their own -- and it's evident that even during this period of conservative resurgence and domination there has not been a unified coalition. Libertarians and Darwinists are just too estranged from the universalist Judeo-Christianity that informs the Party's governing vision. The Zeus-worshippers are ultimately too absorbed by self to be an integral part of a larger movement. Republicans can welcome them but can never count on them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 1, 2008 8:50 AM
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