Friday, May 23, 2014

Order and liberty

A high school debate partner introduced me to National Review. A short time later I discovered the back files of the magazine dating from its creation in the college library. Those early issues of the magazine differed from the magazine today in some of their emphases. There was comment on the political issues of the day as there has always been but also a lot of space devoted to defining what exactly was American conservatism. William F. Buckley, Jr., the editor, was attempting to bring together several strands of political and economic thought and the contributors to the magazine were fairly diverse. Their debates were interesting to me, and fun to read. There were traditional conservatives like Russell Kirk and Garry Wills (as he then was). There were libertarians like Murray Rothbard. And then there were those who argued for "Fusionism," for an approach that reconciled the contesting positions, the most prominent of which was Frank S. Meyer. That was the version I found most persuasive. Those tensions remain today. In "Fusionism As Foundation" Brandon James Smith argues that Fusionism remains the best solution to these tensions and quotes one of Meyer's summaries of the position:
Frank Meyer provided the basic elements of what he described as the American Conservative Position. These shared principles are:
  1. Belief in objective moral order
  2. Acknowledgment of the individual “as the necessary center of political and social thought”
  3. Rejection of the use of the State to impose uniform ideology
  4. Rejection of collectivism and central planning
  5. Support for the Constitution, and by extension, the limitation of government power
  6. Strong defense of Western civilization against Communism
Though these principles were often stated differently, Meyer accurately described these principles as a “consensus among divergence.” The divergences among those on the right are little more than differences in the emphasis placed on particular principles, according to Meyer. .... [more]
These debates in the pages of National Review were my introduction to political theory, led me to books providing a more in depth understanding, and finally to a subject that has occupied much of both my formal education and subsequent reading.

The book What Is Conservatism? edited by Frank S. Meyer, collecting some of the essays, was published in 1964. I bought it second-hand a few years later.