Friday, June 3, 2016

An irresistible temptation

Once upon a time conservative magazines of opinion were concerned with defining conservative principle. That was certainly true of National Review in the 1950s and '60s. One of the editors at the magazine, Frank S. Meyer, compiled a collection of essays by individuals some of whom were comfortable being called conservatives and others who had rather been known as classical liberals or libertarians. The contributors included F.A. Hayek, Gary Wills, Russell Kirk, Wilhelm Ropke, William F. Buckley, and Meyer himself.

I enjoyed reading the back-and-forth debates in the magazine and when I had a chance to get a second-hand copy of Meyer's What is Conservatism? I bought it. It remains for sale as a paperback and is available for Kindle. This is from Meyer's introductory essay "Freedom, Tradition, Conservatism." Meyer was an advocate of "Fusionism" wedding traditional conservatism with more libertarian economics. From the essay:
.... 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. ....

... Although the classical liberal forgot—and the contemporary libertarian conservative sometimes tends to forget—that in the moral realm freedom is only a means whereby men can pursue their proper end, which is virtue, he did understand that in the political realm freedom is the primary end. If, with Acton, we "take the establishment of liberty for the realization of moral duties to be the end of civil society," the traditionalist conservative of today, living in an age when liberty is the last thought of our political mentors, has little cause to reject the contributions to the understanding of liberty of the classical liberals, however corrupted their understanding of the ends of liberty. Their error lay largely in the confusion of the temporal with the transcendent. They could not distinguish between the authoritarianism with which men and institutions suppress the freedom of men, and the authority of God and truth. ....

...[C]ontemporary conservatism has inherited elements vital to its very existence. ....  Aware, as the classical liberals were not, of the reality of original sin, they forgot that its effects are never more virulent than when men wield unlimited power. Looking to the state to promote virtue, they forgot that the power of the state rests in the hands of men as subject to the effects of original sin as those they govern. They could not, or would not, see a truth the classical liberals understood: if to the power naturally inherent in the state, to defend its citizens from violence, domestic and foreign, and to administer justice, there is added a positive power over economic and social energy, the temptation to tyranny becomes irresistible, and the political conditions of freedom wither. ....
Frank S. Meyer, ed., What is Conservatism?, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1964.