April 17, 2014


Reagan's Philosophical Fusionism : Conservatism's political power derived from its ideas, not the other way around. (DONALD DEVINE, April 4, 2014, American Conservative)

Reagan's image of a three-legged stool was urged as a graphic way of describing the successful effort of Frank Meyer and William F. Buckley, Jr. to turn a movement from a sort of philosophical debating club into a political force. They thought that people who differed on some important policies or emphasized very different issues could be persuaded to work together. Meyer called it "fusionism" and argued successfully that these factions shared basic values--freedom, free markets, and traditional values--and the same enemies... equally threatened domestically by a growing and intrusive government... and internationally by the world communist movement.

Notice that these different ideologies were called factions that needed to be convinced to work together. But they also supposedly shared basic values. Which is it? Traditionalism was mentioned in the quote but it was not given content and otherwise was ignored in discussing policies or preferences. There was talk of "values and principles" but none about community or family. Communism was mentioned as the glue that held the three-legged stool together, but now conservatives are divided on national defense too. The only value cited that they did agree upon was: "It worked--fractious as ever, conservatives began to come together and actually elect people to public office." That is what conservatives were to fuse upon once again. The city on the hill needs public officials and the job of the conservative movement is to elect them.

That exhortation had little to do with principles. Beneath some rhetoric, it was about power, force, elections. Conservatism was specifically distinguished from a debating club on philosophy and was congratulated for moving beyond one to become a political force. Here conservatism was not about an ideal city, which was a hoped-for result, but about creating a political coalition. Coalitions do not require principles at all. In fact, the idea of a natural coalition between libertarian-individualists and traditionalist-conservatives was developed by the great political scientist Aaron Wildavsky, who was a Democrat. He argued there were four types of political cultures and the liberal-egalitarians and nationalistic-fatalists were naturally in coalition against libertarians and traditionalists, although circumstance and practice could divide the types differently. As the conservative spokesman noted, libertarians, traditionalists, and others can be persuaded to work together, if only to defeat enemies both consider worse. It is valid to label this fusing a conservative coalition, but a coalition that is based on power rather than principles, on votes rather than values. Philosophical principles and values are something entirely different.

We won; get over it.
Posted by at April 17, 2014 6:26 AM

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