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Adam Minchew '12

Exorcising the Ghosts of Fusionism and Frank S. Meyer

By Alexandra Ossola '10  |  Contact Holly Foster 315-859-4068
Posted August 16, 2010
Tags History Levitt Research Fellow Robert Paquette Student Research
As recently as 50 years ago, the Conservative movement was completely different from its current incarnation. But Frank S. Meyer, one of the founding editors of the National Review, united conservatives and moved the party toward its current state. With a Levitt grant and guidance from Publius Virgilius Rogers Professor of American History Robert Paquette, Adam Minchew ’12 is investigating Meyer’s influence and legacy.

When Meyer was a young man, few would have expected him to later become an influential conservative intellectual and a driving force behind the growing conservative movement. When studying in London in the 1930s, Meyer was directly faced with the horrors of World War I and became an active member of the Communist party. Despite his leftist past, Meyer eventually broke with the communist party and devoted himself to the American conservative movement, becoming a founding editor of the National Review in 1955.

After his conversion to conservatism, Meyer used his influence at the National Review to speak out against the communist enemy, which he saw as the greatest evil facing American free society. Meyer berated politicians (like Kennedy) and authors alike who do did not take a strong enough stance against communism. “He truly believed that communism was awful because of his respect for Western Christian civilization, and the inability of democracy to coexist with a communist movement whose goal of world domination was irreconcilable with the United States constitution,” Minchew said.

One of Meyer’s most significant contributions was advocating a compromise that would come to be known as “Fusionism.” Fusionism was a strategy designed to unify divergent strands of conservatives to combat the “Liberal Establishment” after FDR and the New Deal policies of the 1930s and 40s. “Fusionism was Meyer’s way of taking strains of conservative thought and tying them together, forming a comprehensive political movement of different conservatives,” Minchew explained.

Meyer was primarily preoccupied with uniting traditionalists and libertarians, the latter of which he is most often identified with. “But Meyer saw himself as a third-party guy, looking at what’s going on and trying to find some cohesion,” Minchew observed. “The two factions of conservatives hated each other, and Meyer knew they had so much in common.”

Meyer attained the fusion he was looking for with what he called Tradition Operating within Reason. “Traditionalists look to tradition to formulate their views on society, politics, economics, etc. whereas libertarians look to reason to inform their decisions. Meyer’s ‘Fusionism’ is a compromise between the two, proposing that you need both tradition and reason in order to make the best decisions,” Minchew said. It was also around this time that conservatives became re-associated with the Republican Party and began gaining ground in politics with candidates like Barry Goldwater. “By Regan’s time conservatism had made huge strides since the ‘30s and ‘40s, due in part to Meyer putting [the party] together,” Minchew noted.

Today, much of Meyer’s influence — as well as the past division within conservatism — has been forgotten by contemporary conservatives. Minchew’s goal for his project is to prove or at least figure out Meyer’s legacy and how it fits into today’s spectrum of conservative thought.

Neoconservatism, although it carries the conservative name, is almost completely unrelated to the conservatism of Meyer’s era. Many scholars, including Sam Tanenhaus of The New York Times, assert that conservatism is dead, as many neoconservatives fall from the liberal camp and conservatism as we know it today is wildly different than it was even 40 years ago. “Part of the reason [neoconservatives] are identified as conservatives is because of their dominance in the Republican Party,” Minchew said. He hopes to exorcise Meyer’s ghost that lurks, unattributed, in contemporary American politics.

Minchew is a graduate of Mountain Lakes High School in Mountain Lakes, N.J.

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