With the election of Donald Trump, the conservative movement has gone through intense debates over what conservatism is, what conservatives believe, and if the conservative movement can move into the future with the same values and ideas it once had. Among the newest debates is the one over the role of fusionism.
The debate began with an essay written by Sohrab Ahmari in the publication First Things called, “Against David French-ism.” In his essay, Ahmari criticises the beliefs of National Review’s David French, viewing French’s attitude toward both the culture war and the role of government as wrong. Ahmari writes, “For French, the solution to nearly every problem posed by a politics of individual autonomy above all is yet more autonomous action.” Meanwhile, Ahmari presents a different goal for conservatives, wanting “to fight the culture war with the aim of defeating the enemy and enjoying the spoils in the form of a public square re-ordered to the common good and ultimately the Highest Good.”
This article represents the biggest debate going on within the conservative movement right now: the future of fusionism. When the conservative movement sprung out in the 1950s and 1960s, there were two different strands of conservative thought. There was the more “traditional” conservative, who focused more on spreading virtue instead of freedom, making them social conservatives. On the other side was the more “individual” conservative who was more focused on individual freedom than on virtue, making them more of what is known as libertarian.
These two strands alone would not be enough to have influence over the direction of the country and make conservatism what it is today.That is until Frank S. Meyer came up with his idea of Fusionism.
Fusionism was the way of making the more traditionalist conservatives and the more individualist conservatives realize that they were actually two sides of the same coin. In his essay titled, Freedom, Tradition, Conservatism, Meyer writes, “The belief in virtue as the end of man’s being implicitly recognizes the necessity of freedom to choose that end; otherwise, virtue could be no more than a conditioned tropism.” Wrapped around this was perhaps the biggest way in which these two strands of conservatives were united: staunch anti-Communism.
Fusionism made the traditionalist and the individualist conservative understand that each of their respective views was not a zero-sum game. Fusionism made it clear that the libertarians wanting economic and political freedom needed the traditionalist view of morality. Meyer made this quite clear: “But the only possible basis of respect for the integrity of the individual person and for the overriding value of his freedom is belief in an organic moral order. Without such a belief, no doctrine of political and economic liberty can stand.”
Another way of understanding fusionism is the response to a problem. It is not a philosophy, but more of an organizational chart. As Jonah Goldberg writes, “A better way to think about fusionism is as a useful tool for identifying where principles are in conflict.” The two principles can be either political or moral, and the response to the principal is whether what goal, virtue or freedom, is to be pushed for. Frank Meyer explained it this way, “That in the moral realm freedom is only a means to whereby men can pursue their proper end, which is virtue…. [I]n the political realm[,] freedom is the primary end.”
Fusionism has been the tool by which the conservative movement has been unified, strengthened, and organized for the last nearly seventy years. Without it, conservatism would have been a temporary movement instead of a lasting coalition. Unfortunately today, many conservatives want to move beyond fusionism and split up into the ideological battles that were seen pre-Frank Meyer. Populism has returned to the forefront of American politics ever since Donald Trump announced his 2016 presidential campaign. Many conservatives today, like Sohrab Ahmari, are calling themselves “post-liberals” who blame the problems in America today on fusionism. As Ross Douthat wrote for The New York Times, “Ahmari…speaks for the cultural conservatives who believe that the old conservative fusionism mostly failed their part of the movement-winning victories for tax cutters and business interests while marriage rates declined, birth rates plummeted and religious affiliation waned.” These post-liberals view American culture and politics now and feel as if “something else is needed.”
Something else is not needed. What is needed today is for conservatives to solidify their beliefs in the classical liberal ideals of our Founding Fathers and fight hard for the principles that conservatism seeks to conserve. Conservatism does not need to move beyond Fusionism; it needs to use it.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.