America’s Way Back

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Friedrich Hayek once noted that “A successful free society will always in large measure be a tradition-bound society.” In pursuit of Hayek’s wisdom, this podcast with Donald Devine, author of America’s Way Back: Reclaiming Freedom, Tradition, and the Constitution focuses on his attempt to revive fusionism by harmonizing freedom and tradition in the manner once proposed by Frank Meyer.

While conservatives and libertarians have long been fractured, Meyer attempted in a series of essays almost fifty years ago to find the principles that would unite them. He observed that individual freedom emerges from the religious and moral heritage of the West. However, this freedom presupposes virtue that individuals must practice in order to be free. This heritage of freedom and its underlying principles forever remove the state from possessing a comprehensive ordering role in the lives of its citizens. So the state should not and cannot make virtuous individuals, but freedom, Meyer argues, requires virtue and the commitment to excellence in the use of one’s choices. Freedom is high drama and welcomes family, religion, and the arts of association for its support. Believing that we are a nation exhausted by the size of government and the inefficacy of our major parties to defend the American tradition of liberty, Devine discusses why we need to recover Meyer’s fusionism today.

Constitutional Conservatism

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This Liberty Law Talk is with Hoover Institution fellow Peter Berkowitz on his new book Constitutional Conservatism: Liberty, Self-Government, and Political Moderation. The book deepens Frank Meyer’s conservative fusionist project by adding an Aristotelian and Burkean challenge to both libertarians and conservatives in America. Both groups must lead with political moderation, Berkowitz counsels. One example of such moderation was Ronald Reagan, Berkowitz observes, and this explains much of his success. But this sounds odd, surely Reagan stood for something.

Berkowitz’s understanding of moderation, however, is not that of the mealy-mouthed variety, but is found in the application of principles to the politics that public opinion will bear. Moderation may involve, relatively speaking, appearing extreme as one insists on refusing to compromise certain principles. But the substantive point is the bringing to bear of principle within the time and circumstances given to the statesman. Politics, it follows, cannot be reduced to various theoretical commitments like the natural law, free market theories, or autonomistic individualism. And this, I think, most obviously has not been done by many on the Right consistently enough. To do so is to take political representation seriously. Finally, Berkowitz leaves us with the formative role of tradition in a liberal society that liberty and progress must remain in dialogue with or risk dissolution at the hands of the Left, for whom the clock is always behind schedule.

Peter Viereck: Traditionalist Libertarian?

The Post-World War II American intellectual conservative movement was a philosophically jerrybuilt political alliance. Its ideas were greatly influenced by William F. Buckley’s National Review, which started in 1955. The magazine’s chief ideologue was senior editor Frank S. Meyer. He propagated a rather paradoxical notion of conservatism, which he summarized as the individualism of John Stuart Mill without its moral utilitarianism. To become conservative laissez-faire liberalism only needed to be leavened with what Meyer called “an objective moral order.” This ideological stance, called “fusionism,” was typical of National Review in that it fudged, or simply ignored, issues of far-reaching philosophical importance.

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