The Volokh Conspiracy

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On the Continuing Relevance of Frank Meyer's Fusionism

Liberty and virtue are not merely compatible, but complementary, or so I would suggest.


This month, Liberty Fund's "Liberty Matters" focuses on Frank Meyer's "fusionism," and whether his attempt to reconcile individual liberty and moral virtue remains relevant in the 21st century.

Reason's Stephanie Slade has the lead essay, "Freedom and Virtue: Masters of Their Own Domains."  My own contribution, "Is Fusionism a Zombie Ideology?" was just posted. My essay begins:

In "Freedom and Virtue: Masters of Their Own Domains," Stephanie Slade adroitly summarizes the late Frank S. Meyer's "fusionist" political philosophy, highlighting Meyer's insight that liberty and virtue, properly understood, are not in conflict with each other. To the contrary, true virtue can only be achieved under individual liberty.  Accordingly, a proper concern for virtue is not merely compatible with an individualist political philosophy, it requires it.

The key question, and one to which Slade devotes inadequate attention, is whether Meyer's fusionism retains any contemporary relevance. Some of Meyer's specific policy views seem outdated and out-of-place in 21st century America, as Slade readily concedes. This is no surprise, as the issues of the day in the 1950s and 1960s, when Meyer did most of his writing, seem quite distant from the discrete policy fights of today. Accordingly, one may be tempted to discard Meyer's fusionism as something of a Cold War relic that provides little guidance for today's political questions, a zombie philosophy that survives in some corners but lacks any enduring insight. This view may be tempting, particularly for those who believe we have a new nationalist age, but it is mistaken.

In the days ahead, Liberty Matters will post additional contributions by Henry Olsen and William Dennis, followed by some rejoinders. While I largely agree with Stephanie's take, I am not sure that will be true of everyone in the exchange.

For more on Meyer and fusionism, here's a 2006 post from the VC archives and a paper I wrote for Publius on fusionism and federalism.