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In American politics, fusionism is the philosophical and political combination or "fusion" of traditionalist and social conservatism with political and economic right-libertarianism.[1] Fusionism combines "free markets, social conservatism, and a hawkish foreign policy".[2] The philosophy is most closely associated with Frank Meyer.[3][4]

Intellectual founding and positions[edit]

The philosophy of "fusionism" was developed at National Review magazine during the 1950s under the editorship of William F. Buckley, Jr. and is most identified with his associate editor Frank Meyer.[3][4] As Buckley recounted the founding, he "brokered" between "an extraordinary mix" of libertarians, traditional conservatives and anti-communists to produce the ideas and writings that composed modern conservatism.[5] He identified Meyer's synthesis as the most likely best solution of defining conservatism.[6]

In his most influential book, In Defense of Freedom, Meyer defined freedom in what Isaiah Berlin would label "negative" terms as the minimization of the use of coercion by the state in its essential role of preventing one person's freedom from intruding upon another's. The state should protect freedom but otherwise leave virtue to individuals. The state has only three legitimate functions – police, military and operating a legal system, all necessary to control coercion, which is immoral if not restricted. Virtue is critical for society and freedom must be balanced by responsibility but both are inherently individual in form. Coerced values cannot be virtuous. Freedom by itself has no goal, no intrinsic end. Freedom is not abstract or utopian as with the utilitarians, who also make freedom an end rather than a means. In a real society traditional order and freedom can only exist together. The solution is a philosophical synthesis of both freedom and tradition, the solution to the dilemma is "grasping it by both horns" and accepting the tension between the two.[7]

Fusionism's most famous advocate was Ronald Reagan as an early admirer of National Review and associate of both editors.[citation needed] On assuming the presidency in 1981, he met with conservative leaders around the country in Washington and reminded them of their intellectual roots. After listing "intellectual leaders like Russell Kirk, Friedrich Hayek, Henry Hazlitt, Milton Friedman, James Burnham, [and] Ludwig von Mises" as the ones who "shaped so much of our thoughts," he discussed only one of these influences at length:

It's especially hard to believe that it was only a decade ago, on a cold April day on a small hill in upstate New York, that another of these great thinkers, Frank Meyer, was buried. He'd made the awful journey that so many others had: he pulled himself from the clutches of 'The [communist] God That Failed,' and then in his writing fashioned a vigorous new synthesis of traditional and libertarian thought – a synthesis that is today recognized by many as modern conservatism.

As he recalled him, the new president outlined the ideas Meyer synthesized as the principles for this new conservative movement.

It was Frank Meyer who reminded us that the robust individualism of the American experience was part of the deeper current of Western learning and culture. He pointed out that a respect for law, an appreciation for tradition, and regard for the social consensus that gives stability to our public and private institutions, these civilized ideas must still motivate us even as we seek a new economic prosperity based on reducing government interference in the marketplace. Our goals complement each other. We're not cutting the budget simply for the sake of sounder financial management. This is only a first step toward returning power to the states and communities, only a first step toward reordering the relationship between citizen and government. We can make government again responsive to the people by cutting its size and scope and thereby ensuring that its legitimate functions are performed efficiently and justly. Because ours is a consistent philosophy of government, we can be very clear: We do not have a separate social agenda, separate economic agenda, and a separate foreign agenda. We have one agenda. Just as surely as we seek to put our financial house in order and rebuild our nation's defenses, so too we seek to protect the unborn, to end the manipulation of schoolchildren by utopian planners, and permit the acknowledgement of a Supreme Being in our classrooms just as we allow such acknowledgements in other public institutions.[8]

Political history[edit]

Fusionism saw its height during the presidency of Ronald Reagan, who had brought together the divided factions after Gerald Ford's loss in the 1976 election.[citation needed] In the immediate aftermath of the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994, fusionism was also at its height.[citation needed] The social conservative element of the Republican Party was seen on the ascent (at least with respect to domestic politics) during the presidency of George W. Bush. Increased spending angered traditional conservatives, fiscal conservatives, and libertarians.[9] In addition, the long-standing tensions between neoconservatives and paleoconservatives bubbled over in the wake of the Iraq War.[9]

While both these principles are traditionally conservative, the equal emphasis of traditional morality and free markets is a characteristic of fusionism.

Following the Republican Party's defeat in the 2006 midterm elections, some were calling for a new "fusionism" between libertarians and liberals in the Democratic Party to address what is seen as increasing governmental interference in private activity.[10] The results of the 2008 elections and the financial crisis of 2007–2008 have brought renewed tension between the libertarians and the social conservatives with centrist economic views.[9]

Fusionists tend to see the unpopularity of George W. Bush's "compassionate conservatism," such as in his new entitlement prescription drug program, and his party's following defeat by President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, as reasons requiring a fusionist renewal if conservatism was ever to regain the presidency.[11]

Long-term shifts in American conservative thinking following the election of Trump have been described as a "new fusionism" of traditional conservative ideology and right-wing populist themes.[12] These have resulted in shifts towards greater support of national conservatism,[13] protectionism,[14] cultural conservatism, a more realist foreign policy, a conspiracist sub-culture, a repudiation of neoconservatism, reduced efforts to roll back entitlement programs, and a disdain for traditional checks and balances.[12]


In a polemic, the traditional conservative philosopher Russell Kirk, quoting T. S. Eliot's expression, called libertarians "chirping sectaries". He added that although conservatives and libertarians share opposition to collectivism, the totalist state and bureaucracy, they have otherwise nothing in common.[15] He called the libertarian movement "an ideological clique forever splitting into sects still smaller and odder, but rarely conjugating". Asserting a division between believers in "some sort of transcendent moral order" and "utilitarians admitting no transcendent sanctions for conduct", he included libertarians in the latter category.[16] Kirk had questioned fusionism between libertarians and traditional conservatives that marked much of post-World War II conservatism in the United States.[17]

Kirk also berated libertarians for holding up capitalism as an absolute good, arguing that economic self-interest was inadequate to hold an economic system together, and even less adequate to preserve order.[18] He said that by glorifying the individual, the free market, and the dog-eat-dog struggle for material success, libertarianism weakened community, promoted materialism, and undermined appreciation of tradition, love, learning, and aesthetics, all of which he believed were essential components of true community.[18]

Author Carl Bogus stated that there were fundamental differences between libertarians and traditional conservatives: Libertarians wanted the market to be unregulated as possible while traditional conservatives believed that big business, if unconstrained, could impoverish national life and threaten freedom.[19] He said libertarians also believed that a strong state would threaten freedom, while traditional conservatives believed that a strong state, properly constructed to ensure that not too much power accumulated in any one branch, was necessary to ensure freedom.[19]

Fusionism has come under significant attack since 2014, especially by Catholic integralists.[20][21] In 2018, these critiques have also been taken up by mainstream conservative commentators.[22][23]

List of critics[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ E.J. Dionne, Jr., Why Americans Hate Politics, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1991, 161
  2. ^ Speer, Sean (2023-07-29). "The conservative consensus is over. The consequences for the Canadian Right will be profound". The Hub. Retrieved 2023-08-06.
  3. ^ a b Frank S. Meyer, In Defense of Freedom and Other Essays, Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1996
  4. ^ a b Sitman and Adler-Bell. "Know Your Enemy: Frank Meyer, the Father of Fusionism". Dissent Magazine. Retrieved 16 August 2022.
  5. ^ Rago, Joseph (2005-11-12). "Old School". Wall Street Journal. ISSN 0099-9660. Retrieved 2022-03-13.
  6. ^ William F. Buckley, Jr. Did You Ever See a Dream Walking: American Conservative Thought in the 20th Century (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Books, 1970), p. xxxiii.
  7. ^ In Defense of Freedom, pp. 74–121
  8. ^ Ronald Reagan, "Address to the Conservative Political Action Conference," March 20, 1981, "Our Philosophy | the American Conservative Union". Archived from the original on 2012-01-10. Retrieved 2012-01-29.
  9. ^ a b c [1] Archived 2011-05-14 at the Wayback Machine"The end of republican fusionism?". RealClearPolitics. March 1, 2008. Retrieved February 5, 2011.
  10. ^ "What Is (or Was) "Fusionism"?". Archived from the original on 2008-11-06. Retrieved 2008-11-07.
  11. ^ Donald J. Devine, America's Way Back: Reconciling Freedom, Tradition and Constitution (Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2013); Brandon James Smith, "Time for a Return to Fusionism," Public Discourse, February 19, 2014, http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2014/02/11937/ Archived 2014-02-28 at the Wayback Machine
  12. ^ a b Ashbee, Edward; Waddan, Alex (13 December 2023). "US Republicans and the New Fusionism". The Political Quarterly. 95: 148–156. doi:10.1111/1467-923X.13341. ISSN 1467-923X.
  13. ^ "The growing peril of national conservatism". The Economist. February 15, 2024. Archived from the original on February 15, 2024. Retrieved February 15, 2024.
  14. ^ "The Republican Party no longer believes America is the essential nation". The Economist. October 26, 2023. Archived from the original on February 13, 2024. Retrieved February 14, 2024.
  15. ^ Bogus 2011, p. 139.
  16. ^ Kirk, Russell (Fall 1981). "Libertarians: the Chirping Sectaries" (PDF). Modern Age. Wilmington, DE: Intercollegiate Studies Institute. pp. 345–351. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2009-09-02.
  17. ^ "The Volokh Conspiracy – Russell Kirk, Libertarianism, and Fusionism". volokh.com. Archived from the original on 2019-04-03. Retrieved 2018-02-23.
  18. ^ a b Bogus 2011, p. 17.
  19. ^ a b Bogus 2011, p. 16.
  20. ^ The Eclipse of Catholic Fusionism Gallagher, Kevin. American Affairs.
  21. ^ Deneen, Patrick. Why Liberalism Failed. Yale University Press, 2018.
  22. ^ Interview Archived 2018-11-20 at the Wayback Machine Sunday Special, Ep 26: Tucker Carlson. The Daily Wire.
  23. ^ "Understanding Conservative Anti-Capitalism". Areo. 2020-01-22. Retrieved 2022-03-13.
  24. ^ Ahmari, Sohrab (July 21, 2020). "American Conservatism Is A Failure". The American Conservative. Washington, DC. Retrieved Aug 18, 2021.


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