About this Issue

Throughout the twentieth century, American libertarians have been drawn again and again to identify with the political right, a tendency known as fusionism. Many factors have contributed to this, including opposition to the New Deal and Great Society, opposition to communism abroad, and similar approaches to issues like gun control and taxes.

Yet a broader view shows a more complicated picture: Libertarians’ 19th-century roots are clearly on the left; most of the important 20th-century libertarian activists were aloof from the Republican Party; and quite a few issues separate libertarians from the political right. Not all of these center on drugs, either. Libertarians are notably more anti-interventionist in foreign policy. They commonly favor easier immigration. And they are skeptical of state-orchestrated projects to create a virtuous citizenry, whether on the Christian model or any other. (It’s not entirely unfair to mention that many of us have been influenced by Ayn Rand. As a result, we are skeptical about God and government alike.)

In recent years, the libertarian-conservative alliance has felt a good deal of strain. The last Republican administration was absolutely no one’s idea of libertarian government, and the conversations about how to fix the GOP after its electoral defeat haven’t always been so encouraging either.

Still, many on the right are quite open to libertarian ideas, including Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky and Represenative Justin Amash of Michigan. A new, more libertarian-leaning Republican Party could breathe new life into fusionism. Or not. We stand at a crossroads.

To discuss the present and future of fusionism, we’ve invited at team of young activists of varying viewpoints. Our lead essayist is Jacqueline Otto, who write for the American Enterprise Institute’s Values and Capitalism project. Joining her will be Jeremy Kolassa of United Liberty, Jordan Ballor of the Acton Institute, and Clark Ruper of Students for Liberty.

Lead Essay

The State of the Debate

There is a grey area between the well defined conservative and libertarian movements. Those of us building our ideological frameworks between the two have found it becoming increasingly crowded. Even though many of us on the Right describe ourselves as “conservative/libertarian-ish,” when we do we are often viewed as either squishy libertarians or overly hard-nosed conservatives, and we are viewed askance from either side.

It is difficult to articulate the relationship between conservatism and libertarianism and where we in between should fit. Many imagine a sliding scale of political ideologies, with totalitarianism on the far left, anarchy on the far right, and mainstream party positions delicately placed near the center. In this model, libertarianism sits to the right of conservatism, almost as an afterthought. Many political scientists think that separate scales are needed for social and fiscal issues, such as the famous Nolan Chart, which lends a more prominent placement for libertarianism.

These efforts, while helpful to some, are far too rigid for reality. The ideological spectrum, like a watercolor painting of ideas, bleeds around the edges. There are no thick black lines that surround the beliefs of libertarianism and conservatism, or that demarcate where an individual falls. There is plenty of room for variation within this bright spectrum, and the practice of keeping separate encampments for libertarianism and conservatism ignores that we are both camped on the same side of the war of ideas.

Our task would be easier if there were a more generally accepted term for those of us in the philosophical grey areas between conservatism and libertarianism. “Fusionism” has been suggested, with the adherents being “fusionists.” Of course, anything can be “fused,” but in this case we mean the mixing of conservatism and libertarianism.

This endeavor is our ideological inheritance, handed down to us by leaders on the right of the twentieth century—specifically by William F. Buckley. While libertarians do not readily accept Buckley’s leadership because of his rejection of Ayn Rand’s and Murray Rothbard’s unyieldingness, he was a prominent advocate for fusionism. In his beliefs and behavior, he showed that building a winning movement means practicing addition, not subtraction.

Fusionism requires an understanding of where the real ideological schism lies. Conservative commentator Jonah Goldberg defines the real political demarcation as one between those who have learned the lessons of history and those who have not.

The biggest disagreement between conservatives and liberals is about whether or not we stand on the shoulders of giants. Conservatives believe that we do, and that the process of trial and error known as civilization has worked out a lot of errors. Arrogantly, some now fail to appreciate this fact.

In the August/September 2010 edition of Reason magazine, Goldberg notes that “at the intellectual level… economic libertarianism remains largely synonymous with economic conservatism. The Mount Rushmore of libertarian economics—Hayek, Friedman, Mises, Hazlitt, et al—quite simply is the Mount Rushmore of conservative economics.”

I strongly agree with the opinion of Buckley and Goldberg that a long-view strategy for the Right requires a more open relationship between libertarians and conservatives. I understand that this is an argument of utility; such arguments I myself have criticized. However, the survival of the free market is at stake; as we watch the overall trend of my generation veering left, I fear the war for liberty may be lost while we on the right skirmish over degrees of freedom.

However, the differences between libertarians and conservatives are already well defined, and redefining them is not the purpose of this discussion. Instead, what I propose is that the way forward for fusionism is to celebrate the moral superiority of free markets and limited government and do a better job of making those moral arguments to religious conservatives.

This task will not be an easy one, as those who are both religious and libertarian-leaning face strong cultural and ideological headwinds in our religious and political communities.

Religious institutions’ opposition to libertarianism is not new. The debate over Ayn Rand in particular, the high priestess of the Church of Mammon, has been relentless within the faith community. Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism is inherently atheistic, and the debate persists over whether her limited-government and free-market beliefs can be extricated from Objectivism as a whole.

It is not just Rand who rankles the faithful. The entire laissez faire approach to culture problems does not comfort those teaching the social gospel. A religious organization on the left once papered Washington, DC with a warning that “God is Watching,” implying that eternal damnation should be a consideration in the debate over the debt crisis. These religious liberals believe that all people of faith should be on board with their mission of using the government for God’s purposes, and they are actively seeking to win over religious conservatives to their cause as well.

Of course, opposition to fusionism does not just come from religious conservatives. Many libertarians, in the vein of Ayn Rand, believe that religious faith and libertarianism are inherently antithetical. The crux for them seems to be that if you can accept an all-powerful God as the answer to life’s existential questions, it is a natural consequence to accept an all-powerful government as the answer to society’s intrinsic problems.

Those who would consider themselves religious and libertarian find themselves challenged by both associations. But this is wrong on both counts. Unlike Objectivism specifically, there is nothing about libertarianism more broadly that is inherently atheistic. Also, there are very real moral arguments in favor of limited government and free markets that are appealing to most faith traditions. The fact that these arguments are not being made more vigorously is a shame.

While I cannot speak for all religious traditions, I can convey the significance of liberty to a follower of Jesus Christ and briefly outline a moral argument for fusionism.

Even as a lay person, the call to liberty and voluntary service to society are inescapable for Christians. Christianity starts with the individual, celebrates the individual’s inherent dignity and opportunity for salvation, and grows outwardly into community and kingdom. One of the end goals of Christianity is freedom; a consistent theme of the New Testament is that “it is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1). As a result, the level of orders of earthly authority flow from individual governance to the authority of the state, with the individual as the highest level of government and the state the lowest.

Christianity is voluntary because social engagement, while an imperative of our Christian faith, is the course by which we develop individual virtue. Any social obligation put forth in the New Testament is voluntary. There are no calls for governments or even church leaders to force servitude, only encouragement to voluntarily serve others. The Apostle Paul said repeatedly, “though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone” (1 Corinthians 9:19) and “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.” (Galatians 5:13).

Capitalism, defined as free markets and limited government, is then compatible with Christian faith as it heightens personal responsibility in a manner that fosters morality within individuals. The father of free markets, Adam Smith, wrote in The Theory of Moral Sentiments that these morals include honesty, self-discipline, diligence, and trustworthiness.

This is what Jonah Goldberg referenced when he said, “the real threat to America is [Aldous] Huxley’s vision of Brave New World. When government gives people their every desire it creates hollow men, or as [English Christian apologist] C. S. Lewis called them, men without chests.”

The warning of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World is that the government can control people by giving them their every desire and removing from them any private sense of social responsibility. This mirrors what C.S. Lewis wrote in his social commentary The Abolition of Man: “in a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.”

Lewis speaks at length to the consequences of the atrophy of the “chest,” where moral principles including “valour and good faith and justice” are fostered. The building of these virtues is essentially important for Christians, for if our chests become irreversibly emaciated, we will lose our morals and we will lose our identity as free individuals.

These and many other themes in Christianity are echoed in other religious traditions which are very favorable to libertarianism. An example of what fusionism would look like between libertarians and religious conservatives is in the benefits that capitalism affords the poor. Presenting solutions to seek the eradication of poverty is an important place to begin because it is the singular issue which can most effectively deracinate the current political holdings of the religious Left.

The message needs to be clear that good intentions are never enough. Many who are motivated to help the poor are often persuaded to support government antipoverty programs because they are a very visible endeavor. We must not be satisfied with simply making a show of helping the poor. The case needs to be made that while you feel like you are helping the poor, statistics show that the poor might actually be helped.

A study from the Goldwater Institute looked at ten years of Census Bureau data (1990-2000) and compared the change in poverty rates in all 50 states. The results, even adjusted for immigration and economic catastrophe, showed that states with large poverty programs actually increased poverty over that time, whereas the states with the lowest levels of taxation and government spending drastically decreased poverty. The study’s author, Matthew Ladner, sums up the results saying, “although there are doubtlessly some who benefit from high state government spending, the poor do not seem to be among them.”

The study’s proposed solution is to stop passing legislation out of good intentions. Ladner says that “the failure of many government programs to reduce poverty should instill policymakers with a sense of humility. The causes of poverty have proven to be complex, and the ability of government programs to affect them has been limited.”

Indeed, the causes of poverty are complex, which is something that religious conservatives inherently understand. In the Christian tradition, the demographics usually mentioned when discussing the poor are the “widows, the fatherless, and the stranger.” What made these groups poor was their lack of individual rights. Depending on the specific situation, they likely did not have property rights or legal standing. They often did not have the option to enter the job market or the opportunity to be entrepreneurial.

Throughout history, the denial of these rights has resulted in material poverty and defined what it really meant to be poor.

Economist Art Carden, Assistant Professor of Economics at Samford University, often articulates this desire to properly understand and accurately address the problem of poverty. “I want to see poor people made richer,” he has said. “A lot of ways that people go about doing that are wrong. I want to move people past simply meaning well, get them past thinking of benevolence only as hand-outs.”

Carden also recommended reading When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, a book that delves deeply into understanding the complicated nature of poverty.

One of the authors, Brian Fikkert of the Chalmers Center for Economic Development at Covenant College, argues that we are all poor. The Christian argument is that all men have broken relationships with God, with themselves, with others and with creation. The concept of a broken relationship with others is important to the discussion of poverty alleviation.

Another book recommended by Carden is Generous Justice. In it, the well-known Manhattanite Presbyterian pastor Timothy Keller points out that “helping ‘all people’ is not optional, it is a command. We must help, because doing so is key to the healing of our relationship with others.”

For those who are concerned with helping the poor, there is no validation in pursuing policies that on the surface appear to alleviate poverty, but that in the end do not. Anything that delegates the responsibility to help the poor to others or to government programs denies individual responsibility. Our direct help is what builds relationships with others; it is what prevents us from becoming Lewis’ hollow men.

This is best done through market interactions. The system of free markets and limited government not only has the best track record of alleviating poverty, but also of building personal relationships and improving individual virtue.

Large government programs have unfortunately provided a never-ending stream of data that demonstrates that well-intentioned legislation often has negative unintended consequences. We do not get credit for good intentions when we are headed down the path that is paved by them.

Such a path is unacceptable for people of faith, and specifically for religious conservatives. This is an area ripe for potential fusionism between libertarians and religious conservatives. While libertarians may believe in capitalism for different, more Randian reasons, the opportunity to reach out to religious conservatives must not be missed. We need not come to our free market convictions by the same path to agree on the superiority of capitalism.

The role of government in poverty alleviation is an issue that clearly unites and distinguishes conservative and libertarian fusionism from the left. Although I do not presume to know the place for fusionism in all areas (social issues chief among them), I am convinced that there is much more common ground for us to claim. It will be much harder to have this discussion if libertarians and religious conservatives continue down separate paths. By beginning with the issue of the negative effects of big government on the poor, we will clarify and sharpen our nuanced positions. As a result, we will provide solutions that are clearly distinguishable from the status quo.

Many religious liberals are actively marketing to religious conservatives (and in many ways winning them over) by appealing to their faith. If libertarians do not pursue fusionism with religious conservatives, we may find in time that liberals have succeeded in branding liberalism as the only religiously acceptable political ideology.

If that is the case, there would be no coalition on the Right. How then will there be enough of us to defend freedom?

Response Essays

An Unequal Treaty

Fusion. It sounds like such a great thing, the coming together of two or more different elements into one complete and harmonious whole. But don’t let the word fool you. The past several years, decades even, of fusionism between libertarians and conservatives has been anything but that. This fusion can best be described as an unequal treaty, with conservatives in control, while libertarians are told to sit down, be quiet, and just support whatever conservatives are pushing at the moment. That we are even having this discussion shows how far libertarianism has come, and how unworkable the current situation is.

While libertarians and conservatives may share some ideas in common, they come from fundamentally different philosophical foundations. In my mind, these foundations are, indeed, incompatible. As the name suggests, libertarianism is about liberty, specifically individual liberty. Conservatism, on the other hand, is about conserving as much of the past as possible, and having as little change as possible. Libertarians are excited about the future and the changes that await us, in technology, society, culture, and in many different fields. Conservatives, on the other hand, just shudder. Libertarians love freedom. Conservatives love tradition. These are not philosophies that we should expect to work well together.

In her opening essay, Jacqueline Otto makes several points about where libertarians and conservatives converge. But notice the elephant in the room: social issues. At no point in her essay does she write about gay marriage, drug legalization, civil liberties, feminism, or even foreign policy or immigration. These are serious issues, but ones where libertarians and conservatives frequently disagree. Instead, Otto writes solely about economics, as if that were the be-all and end-all of libertarianism. But it is only a part, not the whole.

Let us take an especially contentious issue, gay marriage. Libertarians are in favor of letting gay and lesbian couples enjoy the same legal benefits and recognition as heterosexual couples. Conservatives, on the other hand, have been against this and for relegating them to a second-class status, or just flat out not recognizing them at all.

For libertarians, this is a question of the individual’s right to rule his or her own life. That is, after all, what liberty is about. For a conservative, society to a great extent rules a person’s life. It is not always a question what the individual wants, but of what is right for the community. The community, in turn, is built on centuries-old traditions. Allowing gay marriage would break these traditions, which is why most conservatives are denouncing it as rampant immorality. Viewed in this light, conservatives are really just the other side of the progressive coin. Both put the community in charge.

When we end the Pledge of Allegiance, we do so with the words “Liberty and Justice for All,” not “Liberty and Justice for only those people we like.” Libertarians believe in the former, but conservatives mostly believe in the latter. That’s not something that can just be papered over. As I shall explain further on, being associated with it also greatly hampers the liberty movement.

And what about economics? Surely we can agree with conservatives there. But let’s be honest, Jonah Goldberg was incorrect in saying that Friedman, Hayek, et. al were the Mount Rushmore of conservative economics. Conservative economics is more aptly described by the term “trickle down”: By giving tax breaks and subsidies to corporations and those at the top, the wealth will flow downward and lift the boats of those at the bottom. But that is not increasing freedom or limiting government, it is merely tilting society in the direction of one group rather than another.

That’s not libertarian. A libertarian economic policy would be to eliminate all the subsidies given to businesses, give the tax breaks to everybody, and knock down the barriers that prevent newcomers from setting up businesses. Libertarianism is universalist, not top-down.

This highlights the major difference between “libertarian” and “conservative” economics. Libertarians are pro-capitalism. Conservatives are pro-business. While they sound similar, these ideas are emphatically not the same and never could be. Through the means of creative destruction, capitalism frequently tears down and destroys established businesses. Conservatism, however, in its quest to maintain the status quo, steps in to prevent this. The best example? 2007. If conservatives were truly pro-market, they would have never passed TARP, but they did and bailed out the banks. That’s a conservative, not a libertarian, economic policy.

All these things hamper libertarians when we try to explain liberty to Americans and expand the movement. People notice and remember them, and because we also like free markets, they regrettably associate free markets with these policies. And that smells like hypocrisy. It only makes our job of defending the free market so much harder.

Because of this unequal treaty, the American people commonly don’t realize that libertarians were against the war in Iraq, against the USA-PATRIOT Act, against the Department of Homeland Security, against the bailouts, and against the big-government big-spending ways of the conservative administration of George W. Bush. Only lately, with the rise of libertarians such as Ron and Rand Paul, Mike Lee, and Jeff Flake, have we been able to reach out and actually talk to people.

I concur with Otto that we need to act to save the free market today. However, I disagree with her on the reason why we’re in danger. It is not because of infighting or not presenting a united front. It is precisely because we have presented a united front that we’re in trouble. It’s because, with this unequal treaty between our two camps, libertarians have had no voice to combat the social conservatism that is dooming the free market. As long as libertarians are tied to conservatism’s backward social policies and pro-business defense of status quo, we’re not going to make headway with the American people—the same people who will then march blithely into a socialist doom.

If we’re going to save the free market and establish a truly limited government in America, libertarians need to come out from the conservatives’ shadow. We need to end the unequal treaty and emerge as a fully independent brand, on an equal footing. We need to make a case for liberty without caveats. Liberty for all, even those people I might not like so much. Such a consistent stance will win over Americans that the inconsistent conservative one hasn’t. We should no longer tolerate just being patted on the head by conservatives and told to be quiet. We’ve done that for years, and it has not gotten us any more liberty.

Before I conclude, I wish to make two quick points. First, when I speak of fusionism, I am political party–neutral. Specifically, I am Republican Party–neutral. I am focusing on political ideologies, on left and right, not on institutions or parties; to me, the party is a political tool. Having libertarians take over the Republican Party and work within it to effect change may—or may not—be the most effective strategy in politics. I do not know. That’s something for political consultants, campaign strategists, and the talking heads on TV to figure out.

Second, I should point out, lest one thinks that libertarians and conservatives should break permanently and become enemies, that I am not against ad hoc coalitions on certain issues. If there is an issue on which conservatives and libertarians largely agree, we should work together on it. But conversely, if there is something that libertarians and liberals agree on, we should work with together with them on it. Previously, this was anathema. Libertarians were never to work with “the other side,” even though we shared much in common with it. But this shortchanges us and hampers the cause of liberty by denying another avenue we can use to promote it. We should and must become political opportunists, working with anyone who agrees with us on the issue of the day. We will never agree with all the people all the time, but we do agree with some of the people most of the time—it just depends on who those “some” are.

Fusionism has long been presented as an equal alliance between partners, one that is strong and necessary to advance freedom. But it has not been equal, and it has not advanced freedom. The way forward seems clear to me: libertarians must stand on their own. Only by presenting an independent, consistent vision of liberty will finally win.

The Death of Fusionism

Jacqueline Otto argues that there are issues and demographics that are ripe targets for cooperative work between conservatives and libertarians. These may bring a message of free markets and individual liberty to a wider audience, especially the religious. I concede that point as readily as I point out the opportunities for cooperation between libertarians and liberals on many issues. 

However, the issue at hand is not cooperation between two groups but fusionism, an explicit alliance that has been the dominant strategy for libertarians over the past fifty years. While libertarians have been placed generally on the right in recent history, fusionism is ultimately a losing strategy because an explicit alliance closes us off from prime audiences on the left, center, and elsewhere on the political spectrum. A few words on the history and nature of fusionism will be informative for this discussion.

The term fusionism was popularized in the early 1960s by William F. Buckley and Frank S. Meyer of the National Review. These were the early days of both the conservative and libertarian movements as we now know them. Both were growing in the context of and in response to the Cold War consensus, in which both major political parties and most public intellectuals believed that the New Deal had fixed the problems of capitalism and that the government should manage a mixed economy. Anyone outside of this worldview was something of a radical, and a lonely radical at that.

To make a long and more complicated story short, Meyer and Buckley worked to combine these small but growing forces into a broad conservative movement. Evidence can be seen in Buckley’s assistance in creating Young Americans for Freedom, an explicitly fusionist organization — as can be seen in its founding Sharon Statement. Meyer sought to give philosophical justification to this alliance with his 1962 work In Defense of Freedom, where he claimed that liberty is essential to the pursuit of virtue, and that virtue is necessary for the maintenance of social order. He saw harmony between the libertarian and conservative positions.

The alliance had three main branches, which can be thought of as the legs of a stool. One leg featured the traditionalist conservatives influenced by the teachings of Russell Kirk and primarily his 1953 book The Conservative Mind. Kirk advocated a Burkean conservatism, emphasizing respect and adherence to religious, cultural, and political traditions.

Composing the second leg were the anti-communists, led by organizations such as the John Birch Society, which was created to reveal communist conspiracies to overthrow the government. While most Americans opposed communism, the fervent anti-communists tended to argue for stronger fighting against communist ideas at home and for actively destroying the USSR abroad. They were the strongest numerically of the other partners in fusionism.

The third leg was made up of classical liberals, later to take the name libertarians, and drew influence from a number of economists and philosophers. Inspirations for this group included Ludwig von Mises, F.A. Hayek, Milton Friedman, and Ayn Rand to name a few (as Otto mentioned, there are very few noted free market economists who are not libertarians). In general they advocated for extreme limits to governmental power and maximization of individual liberty. While they lacked in numbers they brought the strongest intellectual components to the alliance.

I make time for this historical tangent because it is important for understanding where we are today. Over time some libertarians dismissed fusionism to chart their own course. Ayn Rand and Murray Rothbard come to mind. In the 1970s the Libertarian Party was formed; in the 1980s the Cato Institute grew into a successful and respected think tank; and libertarianism increasingly became a self-aware and sustaining movement. Still, with exceptions fusionism was the dominant strategy for libertarians for the past fifty years. While I take issue with fusionism today, it makes sense that libertarians embraced in the latter half of the 20th century.

Let’s return to the present, where the dynamics have shifted dramatically. Communism, an existential threat to the United States and to freedom everywhere, gave a common enemy to conservatives and libertarians. It has almost entirely crumbled under its own weight and inefficiency. Where once libertarians and conservatives could debate intelligently on the pages of National Review, now the traditionalists are all but forgotten, replaced by pandering to social conservatives who see heroes in the likes of Rick Santorum. Once we could unite behind Barry Goldwater, but for years now those on the right have taken their marching orders from the imperialist big government neoconservatives under George W. Bush and the puppet master Karl Rove. The fusionist stool is irreparably broken. Fusionism is dead, and conservatives killed it.

While the conservatives have spent the past 20 years destroying their credibility with moderates and young people, the libertarian movement has been gaining traction. We now have our own institutions ranging from think tanks and academic centers to student groups and grassroots networks. There is a line from Jacqueline’s essay which I find particularly inaccurate: “the survival of the free market is at stake; as we watch the overall trend of my generation veering left, I fear the war for liberty may be lost while we on the right skirmish over degrees of freedom.” This is just wrong. Young people are not moving “left.” They are just moving away from conservatism. Stephen Moore recently cited a study by the conservative Young America’s Foundation in the Wall Street Journal, saying “One important finding is that it’s no longer cool to be conservative on college campuses. For example, the term ‘conservative’ is a turnoff to the young, viewed favorably by 28% and unfavorably by 32%, though terms like ‘free markets,’ ‘entrepreneurship,’ and ‘limited government’ are viewed positively.” What this study shows is that the libertarian elements of conservatism remain popular; the rest has become toxic to young people.

While youth are turned off by conservatism, the student movement for liberty has grown at a rapid pace. Spurred on by the electrifying Ron Paul campaigns as well as dissatisfaction with the Bush-Obama big government continuum, college students are not just embracing libertarian ideas but taking up the cause of spreading them on campus. The first Students For Liberty Conference in 2008 featured 100 people. This past February’s International SFL Conference showcased over 1400.

Beyond these shifting dynamics and demographics, it is worth stating with emphasis that libertarians are not “on the right,” and it is harmful for us to think so. Our ideas are accepted across the traditional spectrum and inform elements of any political philosophy. From gay marriage to the drug war to the failure of social security to a respect for individualism and entrepreneurship, Americans hold pro-liberty positions. What makes libertarians unique is that while others may hold these beliefs casually, we advocate them absolutely. We are not left or right, but occupy the radical center of political discourse.

David Boaz of the Cato Institute made a very insightful comment at the 2013 International SFL Conference that explains why young libertarians are so concerned about social issues and as such are moving away from conservative fusionism:

The Republican party reacted very negatively when black people started demanding their civil rights. And now republicans wonder why black people do not want to vote for them. The Republican Party reacted very negatively when women started demanding the right to have careers and be involved in politics and economic life. And now republicans are reacting really really negatively to gay people demanding simple legal equality. Equality under the law. So my advice if there are any republicans watching is: don’t do the things today that will cause you 20 years from now to say “how come gay people won’t vote for us?

This is a fundamental problem for the conservative movement, and why libertarians would do well to put distance between our two camps. Libertarians should not remain silent on social issues or allow ourselves to be placed “on the right,” for that is a losing brand saddled with intolerance and hypocrisy. A close fusionist alliance with the right closes libertarians off from moderates and social liberals who are prime targets for our ideas. Where are the most exciting libertarian victories being won right now? In marriage equality and drug legalization. We should focus on those issues just as much if not more than economic freedom.

We are witnessing the maturation of the most libertarian generation in recent memory. There was a time when we needed conservatives for numbers and for institutional support. But now we have our own libertarian institutions and our numbers are growing every day.

This is not an argument against working with a political party, or against reaching out to different groups, or against identifying as a conservative-libertarian, progressive-libertarian, or any other type. The possible permutations of libertarianism are numerous, and that is a very good thing. It is the diversity of our movement that gives it strength. My argument is against a formal alliance of conservatism and libertarianism, against saying “the liberty movement is a branch of the conservative movement.” My argument is for building our own libertarian movement with our own institutions, centered on a youthful and forward-looking libertarian brand.

Avoiding Confusionism: Liberty and Civil Society

It’s my honor to round out the initial panel of essays on the worthy topic of libertarian and conservative fusionism today. We have, I believe, in the first three pieces by Jacqueline Otto, Jeremy Kolassa, and Clark Ruper, excellent representations of both the centripetal and the centrifugal forces at play in the fusionist project, which ultimately turn on different conceptions of liberty itself. Ruper’s essay in particular helpfully contextualizes the historical backgrounds for the contemporary fusionist debate. Otto articulates in impressive fashion the moral, and specifically religious, and even more specifically Christian, foundations for the free society. Too many simply dismiss fusionism as chimerical because they view the relationship between religion and liberty as antithetical rather than complementary, and Otto makes a convincing case for their principled connection.

Kolassa, by contrast, is inclined to juxtapose traditional religious morality with liberty. A main task of libertarianism, he says, is “to combat the social conservatism that is dooming the free market.” Ruper makes a similar assessment with regard to demographic trends: “the libertarian elements of conservatism remain popular; the rest has become toxic to young people.” Kolassa paints in broad strokes what “conservatives” and “libertarians” are like and are for and against; his view strikes me as overly simplistic. Neither conservatism nor libertarianism is monolithic, and so it is instructive to see what Kolassa sees as the real key or center of each and judge accordingly. Thus, writes Kolassa, “the individual’s right to rule his or her own life” is “what liberty is about.” By contrast, “conservatives are really just the other side of the progressive coin. Both put the community in charge.”

These characterizations bring to mind Russell Kirk’s dismissal of libertarians as “chirping sectaries.” I do not think Kolassa’s perspective ought to be dismissed, but it is important to recognize that both conservatives and libertarians have their sectaries. To some extent, both Kirk and Kolassa show a penchant for lumping together diverse groups and perspectives under an umbrella like “conservative” or “libertarian” to dismiss the other viewpoint as simply bad. So if libertarianism has its “chirping sectaries,” then conservatism does too. Neither strike me as a fruitful starting point for dialogue, much less the construction of a political project.

Rather than jumping in to debate concrete policy proposals or particular issues that may separate conservatives from libertarians, let’s step back and examine a bit more carefully what points of principle may or may not divide us. Space does not permit a full explication of the philosophical and intellectual foundations of conservatism and libertarianism and their overlap and divergence, so an assertion of the difference will have to suffice. The essays from Otto on the one side and Kolassa and Ruper on the other display two different conceptions of liberty itself. If these views are irreconcilable, then it is hard to see how fusionism can be stable for any significant period of time.

What these differing conceptions of liberty amount to, in my view, is this: one views liberty, particularly political liberty, as an important and yet limited good, while the other views liberty as an end in itself, in fact the highest end of human life itself. The former view of political liberty is primarily that it is an instrumental good that is a necessary condition for the realization of even greater goods in other spheres, like the family, the church, voluntary associations, markets, and so on. The latter view holds liberty in the political realm to be, in some significant sense, the highest expression of human good and a codification of the freedom of choice as a good as such. To put it bluntly, one views liberty as the freedom to do what we ought, while the other views liberty as the freedom to do what we want.

The dynamics between the two perspectives might be helpfully extrapolated from a quote from Lord Acton, who said, “Liberty is not a means to a higher political end. It is itself the highest political end.” Now if politics were in fact the highest end of human existence, then it would follow that liberty is humankind’s highest end. So a great deal turns on our understanding of that little modifier political as well as our understanding of the term liberty.

And here, I think, we run into a helpful way of discerning the difference between the two views of liberty. One emphasizes the limits and the instrumental value of the political as such. It is a view of liberty that particularly emphasizes the limits of government. This can be contrasted with a kind of libertarianism that places liberty at the center not merely of a political philosophy but indeed at the principled core of an entire world-and-life view. This version of liberty as humanity’s highest end sans modifiers is on display in something like Kolassa’s criticism of Otto’s focus on economics, “as if that were the be-all and end-all of libertarianism. But it is only a part, not the whole.” Indeed, for Kolassa, it seems libertarianism is a comprehensive or totalizing ideology with implications not simply for political order but for all of life.

With the brief space left for this initial foray, and with the caveat that a great deal of what I have already said needs to be unpacked and critically examined in greater detail, I will conclude by moving from the diagnostic to the prescriptive.

First, we need to move beyond monolithic caricatures of what “conservatism” and especially “libertarianism” represent. The series of videos by Nigel Ashford on “Schools of Thought in Classical Liberalism” is a good place to start to get a sense of the varieties of what is labeled “libertarianism.” The coherence of these schools is to me an open question, and if it is the case that libertarianism as such is not unified, it seems unrealistic to expect there to be coherent fusion of conservatism and libertarianism. The Bleeding Heart Libertarians, for instance, who aim at the unity of “free markets and social justice,” seem to me to be a particularly intriguing phenomenon in discussions related to fusionism.

Next, while I have cited Kolassa’s claim that conservatism and progressivism are mirror images, flip sides of the same statist coin, I’d like to propose that there’s a real sense in which atomistic or even “rugged” individualism and statist collectivism are actually two sides of the same coin. A core principle for many libertarians, the view that there is nothing between the individual and the state, has arguably done more to permit, if not promote, tyranny, and to undermine true liberty, than pragmatic reliance on state power in pursuit of a particular social agenda.

This returns us to the question of the political and its limits. There is no more effective and indeed principled way to limit the reach of government than to focus not on government but rather on one another. When we turn our eyes away from government and towards our neighbor, we radically limit the scope of political power. We are no longer individuals bound together solely by our relationship to the government. We are, instead, bound to one another, and these associations in turn mediate the influence of government in our lives. When the political is the primary lens through which we view reality, then the victory of statism is inevitable.

We should begin with the importance of non-governmental institutions, including but not limited to the market, as sources of vitality, authority, and liberty. This perspective has much in common with what the economist Arnold Kling has described as “civil societarianism” in contrast to the exaltation of “the independent individual.” A significant older stream of classical liberalism emphasizes the importance of civil society as constituted by mediating structures that limit the government and its influence upon individuals. These institutions are a middle ground not only between the individual and the state, but also between the individualism of an Ayn Rand and the collectivism of a Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Lord Acton’s definition of liberty as the highest political end was connected with his view that the government’s role in protecting and promoting liberty was “for security in the pursuit of the highest objects of civil society, and of private life.”

It’s a view that has also been associated with figures like Alexis de Tocqueville and is consonant, I believe, in large part with conservatives who emphasize the importance of the free market and the liberal order. On this thick view of society—including individuals, institutions of civil society, as well as government—free markets and democracies greatly depend upon virtues and structures that they do not produce themselves. Free societies are dependent upon more than the proper order of economic and political institutions. There is more to life than is captured in the dichotomy between the market and the state on the one hand, or between the individual and the state on the other. Here we might consider thinkers like Michael Novak, Gertrude Himmelfarb, and more recently Yuval Levin.

It’s worth considering, too, the example and wisdom of Edmund Burke, who accepted Adam Smith’s economics as his own, and at the same time held to the vital significance of mediating institutions, his “little platoons,” for the free society. In such a way, conservatives and libertarians may well be able to come to agreement on particular and narrow questions of economics and public policy, and we should seek such opportunities for co-belligerence and cross-fertilization wherever possible. However, I am dubious that there is a possibility to substantively fuse together two different views of liberty, the relationship between the individual and the state, and the importance of politics, without falling into an incoherent “confusionism.”

The Conversation

A Strategy for the Brand Management of Libertarianism

It would be abhorrent and wrong to strip away the ideological identity of libertarians and force them to comply with a dominant conservative agenda. Even in the name of presenting “one complete and harmonious whole,” to use Jeremy Kolassa’s critical words. Which is exactly why that is neither the type of fusionism I support nor the one for which I argued in my previous essay. Clark Ruper does an excellent job of articulating the history of fusionism from the 1960 to the present, and I agree with his diagnosis of why that model of fusionism does not work today.

That is why I proposed that “the way forward for fusionism is to celebrate the moral superiority of free markets and limited government and do a better job of making those moral arguments to religious conservatives.” This seems like the “ad hoc coalitions on certain issues” that Kolassa says he could support. This approach specifically celebrates free markets and appeals to the skills at which libertarians have proven to excel—teaching free market economics to young people.

I repeat that I do not know the place of fusionism in all areas, social issues chief among them. When I earlier made that point, I was agreeing that fusionism need not be what Ruper calls “a formal alliance,” as it was understood to be in the past. Operating under the assumption that I was making the opposite case, Kolassa seems to be countering by arguing for a type of libertarian purism in which the tenets of libertarianism are already determined, and you are not welcome to consider yourself a libertarian unless you pledge fidelity to all of the points of faith.

In my experience, there is still a vibrant discussion going on amongst libertarians, Objectivists, and other free-market capitalists on the very social issues that Kolassa brings into the debate. There is no reason, other than the sectarianism mentioned by Jordan Ballor, to argue that one cannot believe in free market capitalism if they do not agree with the Cato Institute, or Ayn Rand, or whoever else is your chosen ideological standard bearer on issues of gay marriage, drug legalization, civil liberties, feminism, foreign policy, or immigration.

More so than the libertarian purists, I believe that libertarians can and should find areas of commonality with other ideologies. I argued at length that an important area for this is in reaching out to the religious conservatives and making a case for the benefits that free market capitalism affords the poor.

While I agree with Kolassa and Ruper that if we discover areas of commonality with the left, we should exploit them, I would caution those looking for these areas to temper their exuberance. As I wrote previously, a difference in worldview divides conservatives and libertarians on one side and liberals on the other. Conservatives and libertarians have ideologies based on learning the lessons of history and improving and perfecting our attempts at governing a free people, whereas liberals do not believe we “stand on the shoulders of giants.” Any areas of commonality with them would be isolated and auxiliary, not leading to any long-term partnership.

Kolassa took particular issue with the assertion that conservatives and libertarians share an ideological ancestry. He writes, “as the name suggests, libertarianism is about liberty, specifically individual liberty. Conservatism, on the other hand, is about conserving as much of the past as possible, and having as little change as possible.” This definition of conservatism is in stark juxtaposition to what conservatism actually is, which is to learn from the mistakes of the past and prevent them in the future. A rather optimistic and forward-looking approach if properly understood.

Ruper concludes, “my argument is for building our own libertarian movement with our own institutions, centered on a youthful and forward-looking libertarian brand.” Interestingly, Kolassa also mentions the need for “a fully independent brand” for libertarianism. One of the most fascinating insights I have learned in studying marketing is that an effective brand is not only distinct and recognizable, but permeating. An effective brand becomes a subconscious element of a person’s life because the brand represents the entire social context with which that person identifies. A successful brand strategy for libertarianism requires a constant flow of the ideas of freedom into a person’s life, where it is not abrasive, but rather something that can—through persistence—be absorbed into a person’s ideology.

Russell Roberts, now of the Hoover Institution, and one of the greatest modern communicators of free market economics, is said to have called this phenomenon “drops on rocks” in a speech to the Koch Associates Program: One drop on a rock won’t do anything. Two drops on a rock won’t do anything. One thousand drops on a rock still won’t do anything, but millions and millions of tiny drops on a rock will eventually split the rock. If we want to make the world more free, we have to understand that even our best efforts are like drops on the rocks of people’s lives.

Our goal should be to create as many drops as possible to make a brand for libertarianism that will permeate society so effectively that we see massive political change in the direction of freedom. This cannot be accomplished by libertarian purism. It must be accomplished by fusionism, even if only in limited areas, by those who share a forward-looking ideology.

Are Historical Arguments Un-Libertarian?

Clark Ruper provides an excellent overview of the recent history of fusionism and includes an argument about the historical significance of the opportunity to advance liberty among the young today: “We are witnessing the maturation of the most libertarian generation in recent memory.” Jacque Otto grounds much of her reflection on the Christian moral tradition.

I’d like to juxtapose some of this historical sensibility with a claim Jeremy Kolassa makes in his attempts to distinguish conservatism and libertarianism. Kolassa writes that “libertarianism is about liberty, specifically individual liberty. Conservatism, on the other hand, is about conserving as much of the past as possible, and having as little change as possible. Libertarians are excited about the future and the changes that await us, in technology, society, culture, and in many different fields. Conservatives, on the other hand, just shudder. Libertarians love freedom. Conservatives love tradition.”

What should we make of attempts by libertarians to find some historical grounding for their views? Consider as just one example, Rothbard’s An Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic Thought and specific claims about the seventeenth-century School of Salamanca. And of course Lord Acton has been dubbed the “historian of liberty.”

Are such historical arguments a form of appeal to “tradition” that are by definition (Kolassa’s at least) more conservative than libertarian?

Liberalism and the Individualist Worldview

One of the common arguments I hear in favor of fusionism, although not one made in this series so far, is that conservatives and libertarians are natural allies. In theory we are united by valuing the individual in the political order, as opposed to the communists, socialists, progressives, etc. who are all various forms of collectivists. While libertarians and conservatives may disagree on the extent to which the state should support and control important social institutions, at least we are not collectivists, and in that we can find common ground.

However, as I pointed out previously, this alignment is a byproduct of historical coincidence. Libertarians and conservatives formed a fusionist alliance that made sense in the context of the 1960s. Communism posed an existential thread abroad and central economic planning was widely accepted within the New Deal Consensus at home. Fusionism made sense then, but times have changed.

With those dynamics gone, is there still a deeper connection between the conservative and libertarian positions? Can we still unite around respect for the individual? I stumbled upon a series of psychological studies that provide counter evidence to that claim that conservatives are the natural allies of individualists. I do not offer them here as hard evidence to prove my case; after all, they are just a handful of studies, but they are interesting and potentially informative to our conversation.

The studies focus on how we view ourselves as individuals, exploring whether there is a difference in how people in different social contexts build conceptions of themselves. The conclusions are that yes, people do conceptualize the self differently, especially those of us in the western industrialized regions of the world. The researchers used the acronym WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic) to identify unique demographic characteristics of people who hold a robustly individualist worldview. Apparently we WEIRD people tend to be much more analytic and focus on objects themselves as opposed to the contextual relationship between objects. The purpose of these studies was to see if results from psychological studies of western nations could be extrapolated to other populations, which apparently is unwise because WEIRD people are a tiny minority on earth.

Later a group of researchers at the University of Virginia wondered if these findings applied within countries as well. Are there various combinations of WEIRD people within countries, using the United States and China as test cases? They put together a series of word and shape association tests to see if the subjects thought more analytically or holistically (read more about the process here).  The study produced some interesting results, but I will focus on the political implications. Boston University researcher Connor Wood summed up the results at Patheos.com (a global resource on religion with a section focused on the relationship between science and religion):

The students also completed questionnaires that asked about social and political ideology. As expected, students who indicated they were more conservative also tended to pair words on the basis of their functional relationships, while more liberal Chinese students relied on abstract categories – exactly the same pattern as in the WEIRD world…

Across these studies, interestingly, analytical and holistic thinking was strongly associated only with social ideology – economic conservatism or liberalism was mostly unrelated. What’s more, libertarians – who typically side with conservatives in elections – were more similar to liberals, strongly preferring analytical cognitive patterns. Talhelm and the other researchers argued that this was because libertarians and social liberals are very similar when it comes to one important dimension of social life: they tend toward individualism, and distrust the authority of tradition. Social conservatives, on the other hand, tend to value tradition and to see themselves primarily as members of groups.

Again, I offer this not as conclusive proof but as an interesting discussion point. It does however reinforce my belief that libertarians have more in common with liberals that most modern political commentators would imagine. Historically, libertarians and modern liberals share an ideological ancestry, both tracing our roots to the classical liberal tradition of Locke, Hume, Smith, Mill, and others. In the 19th century, the classical liberals triumphed by advocating the primacy of the individual against the status quo of monarchy, mercantilism, aristocracy, theology, slavery, and the like. While the progressive movement stole our liberal terminology in the early 20th century, modern liberals and libertarians today still share that same valuation of the individual in society. This is most easily seen today in the issue of marriage equality, where social conservatives try to use the power of the state to control marriage because it is an important social institution, while liberals and libertarians focus on the importance of marriage in the lives of all individuals. It is the same core conflict between a holistic worldview that emphasizes tradition against a more analytic worldview that prioritizes the individual.

I will repeat a point from my previous essay because it is easy to get carried away in these conversations: I am not arguing against libertarians working with conservatives on the issues we agree on. There is plenty of important work to be done in those areas. What I am arguing for, and what the cited studies support, is that there are equally valuable opportunities to work with liberal communities. We share qualities not just in terms of policy but in deep psychological similarities.

There may be ways to draw similarities between conservatives and libertarians, but I do not see anything that could draw some deep individualistic connection between the two camps. Conservatism by its very nature has no fixed definition; it shifts over time depending on context. Conservatism is fundamentally a matter of valuing tradition and institutions, and the conservative political alignment will shift depending on what those institutions are. In the 19th century classical liberals and libertarians were the enemies of conservatives defending the status quo. Murray Rothbard made this point in a direct letter to Frank Meyer, defining a historical conservative as: “Someone who identifies himself with the historical Conservative parties of the 19th Century in Europe. In that case, it means to identify oneself with authoritarianism and hatred of individual liberty and laissez-faire capitalism. The Prussian Conservative Party was formed to block emancipation of the serfs, and to maintain protective tariffs; the Conservative Party in England imposed Corn Laws and Factory Acts, and crushed Ireland.”

If we take a longer view of history, we may very well find ourselves looking back at fusionism 100 years from now as a quaint historical accident. There is nothing about conservatism that fundamentally aligns it with the libertarian values of individualism, freedom, equality before the law, free exchange, and peace. The libertarian movement should continue to grow beyond the recent historical anomaly that is fusionism. We have just as much to gain by working with the left as with the right. We have the unique ability to place ourselves in the radical center of political discourse, reaching out to both sides equally, pulling young people from both to build our uniquely libertarian movement and a freer future for all.

We Don’t Agree on What We Ought to Do

In his response essay, Jordan Ballor argues as follows:

What these differing conceptions of liberty amount to, in my view, is this: one views liberty, particularly political liberty, as an important and yet limited good, while the other views liberty as an end in itself, in fact the highest end of human life itself. The former view of political liberty is primarily that it is an instrumental good that is a necessary condition for the realization of even greater goods in other spheres, like the family, the church, voluntary associations, markets, and so on. The latter view holds liberty in the political realm to be, in some significant sense, the highest expression of human good and a codification of the freedom of choice as a good as such. To put it bluntly, one views liberty as the freedom to do what we ought, while the other views liberty as the freedom to do what we want.

There are two serious problems with this viewpoint.

The first is that Mr. Ballor is making an error when he assumes that libertarians do not have an interest in “greater goods in other spheres.” This criticism comes up frequently, with the assumption that libertarians say “It’s liberty or civil society, one or the other.” But this is most emphatically not true. Libertarianism is about the choice between voluntary and non-voluntary. It’s about liberty vs. coercion.

It is not about social vs. isolated. Indeed, most libertarians recognize the power of civil society and hope to strengthen it as a bulwark against government excess. Arnold Kling, when he wrote his essay on “civil societarianism,” was of this view.

The second problem is found in the phrase “views liberty as the freedom to do what we ought.” I then have to ask: who decides what we ought to do? The church? There are a thousand and one different churches, each with a slightly different view of what we ought to do. Voluntary organizations? Each one has their own code of ethics and its own agenda. I can go on and on but in the interest of brevity will stop here.

The problem is that we don’t really agree on what we ought to do. In fact, that’s why politics exists in the first place: because people have different concepts of what the good life is and what we ought to do, and usually they use government to promote their view. The raucous disagreements between left and right on issues such as sexual liberation, immigration, race relations, gender equality, and Kevin Sorbo vs. Matt Damon show that there is really no consensus on what we ought to do at all.

By contrast, by putting liberty first politically, we simply recognize the obvious: that people have different views of the good life, and we let them pursue those views through peaceful means. There is some ought to do within libertarianism, but it’s rather minor: don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t kidnap, don’t censor, and the like. It is merely recognizing other humans as ends in themselves, not as the means to an end. That’s a necessity for modern society.

Given a choice between a view that said we need liberty to do the things that we ought to do, and then gave a list of those things—and another view that gave us liberty because liberty is a value, and let us choose what things we think we ought to do on our own, I would chose the latter unhesitatingly. Yes, I would put liberty as the goal, because without liberty, without the ability to choose for oneself what the good life is, life itself is pointless.

In Search of Augustinian Fusionism

A piece by Gerard N. Casey, “Can Conservatives Be Libertarians?” saliently addresses a number of the questions raised in this issue’s initial round of essays as well as the follow-up conversation. Casey argues that it is significant that “A libertarian may choose to be a libertine, but there is nothing in libertarianism to constrain him to be one.” This gets essentially at the conservative critique of what is perceived to be the libertarian view of liberty as man’s highest end as such. Casey provides some answer to that from Murray Rothbard, “whose credentials as a libertarian none can doubt.” Rothbard once “remarked that ‘Only an imbecile could ever hold that freedom is the highest or indeed the only principle or end of life,’ and he agreed with Lord Acton’s dictum that ‘freedom is the highest political end, not the highest end of man per se.’” Casey goes on to make an important distinction between what I call libertarianism as a political philosophy and libertarianism as a world-and-life view: “Misunderstandings can arise from a failure to recognize the severely limited ethical scope of libertarianism. It is not intended to be, nor is it, a complete ethical system; it is rather an overarching constraint on any such system. Libertarianism does not imply that all modes of conduct are equally valuable or have equal merit.”

So do conservatives and libertarians actually agree on the place of liberty in the political order? No, there is still some disagreement, and in fact, it would seem, fundamental disagreement. On Casey’s construal, liberty is the “most fundamental, a sine qua non of a human action’s being susceptible to moral evaluation at all.” In this way, for a libertarian freedom is the “hard core” not only of moral action but of social life itself. The conservative, by contrast, values liberty, but only instrumentally: “The conservative values order and virtue above all else, while liberty is only one value among others and is in no way preeminent.” This roughly corresponds in a more nuanced fashion to Jeremy Kolassa’s distinction between the ultimate values of justice and liberty corresponding to the norms for conservatives and libertarians, respectively.

We may have clarified a real point of disagreement between conservatives and libertarians in their relative valuation of liberty. Is there still hope for some kind of fusionism, however limited? Casey seems to think so, although he points out that “While on some issues there are factual overlaps between the two schools of thought, especially in the area of trade, business and economics, in other areas conservatism and libertarianism diverge sharply.” He goes on to explain why he thinks libertarianism is the preferable starting point

But I would like to point to an older source as an example of how to see a possible fusion, however limited, temporary, and temporal, between conflicting visions of society and the highest good. Saint Augustine, a major influence on the development of theology and political thought in the Christian West, addressed something like this in his City of God. He outlines the two cities, of God and Man, as having different norms or highest loves, corresponding to the eternal peace of the celestial city and the temporal order of the earthly city, respectively.

At a critical point in Augustine’s argument, he takes up the definition of a people or society provided by Scipio in Cicero’s De Republica. He concludes that according to Scipio’s definition of “a republic as the weal of the people,” then “there never was a Roman republic, for the people’s weal was never attained among the Romans.” The conclusion follows:

Thus, where there is not true justice there can be no assemblage of men associated by a common acknowledgment of right, and therefore there can be no people, as defined by Scipio or Cicero; and if no people, then no weal of the people, but only of some promiscuous multitude unworthy of the name of people.  Consequently, if the republic is the weal of the people, and there is no people if it be not associated by a common acknowledgment of right, and if there is no right where there is no justice, then most certainly it follows that there is no republic where there is no justice.

Where there is no common good to be agreed upon, or “common acknowledgment of right,” there is no people in the sense that Scipio and Cicero uses the term. We might make the same judgment, mutatis mutandis, to the American republic today.

Augustine moves on, however, to provide an alternative definition of a people that would allow his analysis to move forward: “But if we discard this definition of a people, and, assuming another, say that a people is an assemblage of reasonable beings bound together by a common agreement as to the objects of their love, then, in order to discover the character of any people, we have only to observe what they love.” From this Augustine bases his distinction between the two cities and their two objects of supreme love, either God or themselves. And yet for Augustine, that does not mean that there are necessarily two actually different societies or polities manifest in the civil order. Despite their different loves and basic orientations, the residents of the city of God and the city of Man live together in a single polity. Augustine recognizes the value, then, of “the temporal peace which the good and the wicked together enjoy.” The citizenries of the two cities use this same peace for different ends, but the peace is still common to both:

But the families which do not live by faith seek their peace in the earthly advantages of this life; while the families which live by faith look for those eternal blessings which are promised, and use as pilgrims such advantages of time and of earth as do not fascinate and divert them from God, but rather aid them to endure with greater ease, and to keep down the number of those burdens of the corruptible body which weigh upon the soul.  Thus the things necessary for this mortal life are used by both kinds of men and families alike, but each has its own peculiar and widely different aim in using them.

Perhaps we may make a similar move with regard to conservatives and libertarians today. They do not share the same highest love, perhaps, and in this way might be regarded as two distinct peoples in some sense. But even so, they must live together in temporal peace, even if they make use of these temporal goods for different purposes. Augustine goes on to summarize this temporal peace as involving those things “such as we can enjoy in this life from health and safety and human fellowship, and all things needful for the preservation and recovery of this peace, such as the objects which are accommodated to our outward senses, light, night, the air, and waters suitable for us, and everything the body requires to sustain, shelter, heal, or beautify it.”

These temporal goods are then the things that we can emphasize in common and agitate for in our political advocacy, and they remain the most fruitful areas of possible fusion between conservatives and libertarians today.

Ron and Rand Paul: Beyond Fusionism

The cover image for this discussion series includes a picture of Rand Paul, who one could argue stands as the strongest point of evidence in favor of fusionism. He and more his father have been very successful working within the GOP to spread libertarian idea. However I would argue that Ron and Rand are executing a strategy beyond fusionism.

Fusionism has been both a philosophical and practical alliance of libertarians with conservatives presenting a united front in opposition to the challenge of socialism. Frank S. Meyer and William F. Buckley argued that freedom and virtue are not only compatible but both necessary for the functioning of a free society. While they argued for the mutual benefits to all parties involved, the alliance has been detrimental to libertarians through an overemphasis on market issues as opposed to social issues and an over reliance of libertarians on conservative institutions. The institutional problem is most clearly seen on the youth level where until very recently (with the rise of Ron Paul) libertarian students relied on conservative organizations such as the Leadership Institute and Young Americas Foundation for support, thus limiting the scope of their activism to conservative free-market issues.

A recent example of fusionism was Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels’ proposed truce between libertarians and conservatives on social issues. He argued that the market and the debt are critical issues, and that as advocates of free markets “we’re going to need to unify all kinds of people, and we’re going—freedom is going—to need every friend it can get.”

Another example up until recently would be the Charles Koch Foundation’s focus on economic freedom. Until an immigration forum a few weeks ago, many affiliates under the Koch umbrella focused their attention narrowly on the area of economic freedom, such as their educational project of that name. While the project is valuable in its narrow scope, it is an example of libertarians avoiding social issues to work with conservatives on market issues.

There is nothing wrong with an organization or individual advocating narrowly for economic freedom in and of itself. It is important for people to leverage their comparative advantage and use customized messages to reach out to different groups. More power to them. However, it becomes problematic when it is the primary or only strategy for the libertarian movement. An overemphasis on markets ties libertarianism to conservatism in the public eye. Fusionism also creates a problem of institutional inertia where think tanks and grassroots organizations just focus on markets. There is an opportunity cost problem here. The narrow focus of these organizations and reliance on conservative donors limits professional libertarians’ ability to work with the left or even talk about social issues.

So what do these limitations of fusionism have to do with Ron and Rand Paul? The difference between what they are doing and traditional fusionism lies in their promotion of a broad libertarian message as opposed to just areas where they agree with conservatives. In practice what we have seen with fusionism is conservatives setting the terms and libertarians going along with it, with libertarians prioritizing markets over social issues. There have been libertarians working on social issues such as the Cato Institute’s work on the drug war, but these are the exception. Our movement is dominated by free market organizations: I am a young professional libertarian in DC, and a majority of my libertarian peers work at organizations that focus exclusively on market issues.

This is where Ron Paul was a game changer. He was not afraid to stand up to conservatives on social issues and foreign policy. He became famous for challenging Rudy Giuliani on the issue of Blowback during the 2008 presidential debates. He gained legions of young followers by consistently championing libertarian issues like the drug war, civil liberties, and privacy. He proved that libertarian issues beyond markets are popular, that we do not have to narrow our focus to markets or kowtow to conservatives.

As I alluded to earlier, his principled libertarian campaigns of 2008 and 2012 have sparked the student movement for liberty. He was able to leverage the soap box of a political campaign to spread libertarian ideas. While he lacked in legislative victories, he is a prime example of a Hayekian second hand dealer in ideas. As Brian Doherty chronicled in his recent book Ron Paul’s rEVOLution, tens of thousands of students showed up to Paul’s 2012 campus rallies while Mitt Romney’s crowds were counted in the hundreds. Just a few years ago you could count the number of openly libertarian student groups in the tens. Now the Students For Liberty global network is over 900 strong. Ron Paul was not the only cause of this growth, but he was definitely the spark and inspiration.

Now Rand Paul has picked up that mantle. From his filibuster against executive power and drone strikes to calls for immigration reform and a restrained foreign policy, Rand Paul is pushing the envelope on issues beyond markets. This is the key difference. He is telling conservatives that if they want to remain relevant they need to become more libertarian, not the other way around.

Now conservatives have taken note. They have realized that Americans are more libertarian on social issues than ever before. Shifting demographics and the GOP failure in the 2012 elections make it imperative that conservatives change their strategy. This past year’s CPAC schedule had numerous sessions on how to re-brand and market conservatism to young people. But it is not just about a messaging campaign. The ideas matter, and that is what the Pauls understand. It is because they have advocated libertarian ideas across the spectrum that they have the youthful momentum that the GOP desperately needs.

Now is not the time to back track and hide under the conservative umbrella. We libertarians are winning on issues such as marriage equality and the drug war. Libertarians were out in front on these issues well before either major party, but now both are coming to understand the need to modernize on these issues. We should not just be celebrating these issues but leading the charge on them. We need more libertarian organizations working on social issues and building coalitions with the left. We should learn from the success of Ron and Rand Paul, but not just by working within the GOP but with Democrats, independents, and everyone across the spectrum. We are uniquely positioned to reach out to the left, right, and center with our message of personal and economic freedom. Where under fusionism libertarians have taken marching orders from conservatives, Ron and Rand have flipped the script and shown us that we can set the agenda. A libertarian agenda.

Libertarianism as Radical Centrism

I have used the term “radical centrism” in this series a few times. Before we wrap it up I would like to explain where I think libertarians fall on the political spectrum if we are not going to be “on the right.” The following is adapted from my entry in the upcoming book Why Liberty.

The left-right political spectrum is the standard introduction to political thought: if you believe X, you are on the left, and if you believe Y, you are on the right.  What X and Y represent varies depending on with whom you speak; its invocation encourages people to place themselves someplace on that spectrum, even if their views don’t locate them on one spot on that spectrum.  It’s made especially absurd when we’re told that “the two extremes meet, making the spectrum into a circle,” with rival forms of violent collectivism at each end.  So when you first hear of classical liberalism or libertarianism, you may ask yourself on which side of “the spectrum” the philosophy falls.

It doesn’t. Inherent in the ideas of liberty is a rejection of the standard left-right spectrum.  Libertarianism questions and challenges the use of political power. Instead of a choice between government intervention in this area or in that area, libertarianism sees politics as a struggle of liberty against power. Libertarians take very seriously the lesson of the historian Lord Acton: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”[1] Libertarianism does not fall onto one side or another of a spectrum with advocates of one kind of coercive power or another on each side.

So which is coherent and which incoherent, libertarianism or the left-right spectrum, with Communism on one end and Fascism on the other, with tobacco prohibition on one side and marijuana prohibition on the other, and with speech codes on one side…..and speech codes on the other?  You can decide for yourself.

In a sense, if one were to insist on a linear spectrum, libertarians could be said to occupy the radical center of political discourse. Libertarians are radical in our analysis – we go to the root (Latin: <em>radix</em>) of the issues – and we believe in the principles of liberty.  One could call us centrist in the sense that from the center we project our ideas outward and inform political parties and ideologies across the spectrum. As a result, libertarian ideas pervade both the center-left and the center-right, providing them with their most appealing qualities.  Moreover, an increasing percentage of the publics in many countries should be seen as libertarian, rather than as on the “left” or the “right.”[2]

Libertarianism is a political philosophy centered on the importance of individual liberty.  A libertarian can be “socially conservative” or “socially progressive,” urban or rural, religious or not, a teetotaler or a drinker, married or single…..you get the point. What unites libertarians is a consistent adherence to the presumption of liberty in human affairs, that, in the words of the Cato Institute’s David Boaz, “it’s the exercise of power, not the exercise of freedom, that requires justification.”[3] Libertarians are consistent defenders of the principle of liberty and are able to work with a wide variety of people and groups on issues in which individual liberty, peace, and limited government are implicated.

The libertarian radical center has shaped much of the modern world. As journalist Fareed Zakaria observed:

Classical liberalism, we are told, has passed from the scene. If so, its epitaph will read as does Sir Christopher Wren’s, engraved on his monument at St. Paul’s Cathedral: “Si monumentum requiris, circumspice.” If you are searching for a monument, look around. Consider the world we live in – secular, scientific, democratic, middle class. Whether you like it or not, it is a world made by liberalism. Over the last two hundred years, liberalism (with its powerful ally, capitalism) has destroyed an order that had dominated human society for two millennia – that of authority, religion, custom, land, and kings. From its birthplace in Europe, liberalism spread to the United States and is now busily remaking most of Asia.[4]

Libertarianism (the contemporary name for principled classical liberalism) has already profoundly shaped the modern world. In much of the world, many battles have already been won: separation of church and state; limitation of power through constitutions; freedom of speech; debunking of mercantilism and its replacement with free trade; abolition of slavery; personal freedom and legal toleration for minorities, whether religious, ethnic, linguistic, or sexual; protection of property; the defeat of fascism, Jim Crow, apartheid, and communism.  Intellectuals and activists made those victories possible, and they are far too many to name. They made the world better – more just, more peaceful, and more free. They made the libertarian position on those and many other issues the baseline for reasonable political discourse. But we are not content to rest on our laurels. As always, old battles must often be fought again.  And, for the youth of today, as was the case for preceding generations, there remain many battles to fight and freedoms to win.

How have libertarians managed such influence while operating largely outside of the party structure? Sometimes we do form our own parties, as evidenced by the various (classical) liberal parties in Europe and other countries today. Sometimes we work within minor parties, as with the Libertarian Party in the United States, whose 2012 candidate Governor Gary Johnson educated millions about the harm caused by the war on drugs and other government programs.  Sometimes we work within existing party structures, exemplified by Ron Paul’s presidential campaigns as a Republican in 2008 and 2012. He was able to advance many libertarian principles by using the soap box of a political campaign to reach thousands of young people, not only in the United States, but around the world. While our political activism takes many forms depending on the country and the context, our ideas inform the political spectrum.

Consider 1960s America, regarded as the golden age of radical student activism in the United States. On the right you had the conservative Young Americans for Freedom (YAF). Their founding Sharon Statement, which was adopted in 1960, claimed, “That liberty is indivisible, and that political freedom cannot long exist without economic freedom;  That the purpose of government is to protect those freedoms through the preservation of internal order, the provision of national defense, and the administration of justice; That when government ventures beyond these rightful functions, it accumulates power, which tends to diminish order and liberty;”[5] Their hero, Senator Barry Goldwater, famously stated, “I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue. ”[6]

At the same time, the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) was emerging on the left as leaders of the antiwar movement. In their Port Huron Statement, which was adopted in 1962, they affirmed “We regard men as infinitely precious and possessed of unfulfilled capacities for reason, freedom, and love.  The decline of utopia and hope is in fact one of the defining features of social life today. The reasons are various: the dreams of the older left were perverted by Stalinism and never recreated … the horrors of the twentieth century, symbolized in the gas-ovens and concentration camps and atom bombs, have blasted hopefulness. To be idealistic is to be considered apocalyptic, deluded.”[7] Former SDS President Carl Ogelsby recalled in his memoir Ravens in the Storm, “Libertarianism is a stance that allows one to speak to the right as well as the left, which is what I was always trying to do…Why go to rightists on this theme when there were so many leftists to choose from? Because you made the strongest case against the war if you could show that both right and left oppose it.”[8] Moreover, “I had decided early on that it made sense to speak of ‘the radical center’ and ‘militant moderation.’ I meant that we should be radical in our analysis but centrist in reaching out to conservatives.”[9]

While they varied in their areas of emphasis, YAF on economic freedom and opposition to socialism, SDS on civil rights and peace, taken as a whole they can be regarded as pioneers of libertarian activism in the modern age. The leaders of those movements went on to become the teachers, journalists, professors, politicians, and other figures who drive the public discourse today.  They claimed allegiance to the left and the right, but their best intellectual arguments and energy came from their underlying libertarian impulses. 

The war on drugs is increasingly being acknowledged as a disaster.  Libertarian think tanks such as the Cato Institute have documented for decades the deadly costs of the drug war and the benefits of personal responsibility and personal liberty. Libertarian economists, notably including Milton Friedman, have explained the perverse incentives created by prohibition.[10]  Moral philosophers have argued that a society of free and responsible individuals would eliminate prohibitions on victimless crimes, an argument going back to Lysander Spooner’s 1875 pamphlet, Vices Are Not Crimes: A Vindication of Moral Liberty.[11]  Because libertarians blazed the trail by pointing out the harmful effects of prohibition – on morality, justice, and crime rates, on families and on social order – more and more political leaders are speaking out about the consequences of the war on drugs without fear of being smeared as “pro-drugs.”  They include presidents of Mexico, Guatemala, Colombia, and Brazil, countries that have suffered from the crime, violence, and corruption brought by prohibition. In the United States, these figures include governors, former secretaries of state, judges, police chiefs, and many others.[12]

This is how libertarians change the world. We are radical in that while others may hold particular pro-liberty beliefs casually or on an ad hoc basis, libertarians advocate them from principle. Libertarians are found on the leading edge of issues that are first seen as extreme but through our advocacy are later taken for granted. We are centrist in that we are neither left nor right, but instead we project our ideas outward to inform the entirety of the spectrum.

There is a great opportunity at hand here. Ideological battles and elections are not won on the extremes; they are won in the center. As Boaz and Kirby’s research shows, “10 to 20 percent of Americans are fiscally conservative and socially liberal—libertarian. And over the past decade, unlike loyal Democrats and Republicans, they have been swing voters.” Most of these people are with us in preferring both economic and social freedom, they just do not know that makes them a libertarian yet. If we libertarians stand up and proudly occupy the center then we will hold incredible influence in both the short and long term. We can show people that they do not have to pick a side, that the traditional spectrum is a joke, that we present a desirable alternative to the broken status quo.

Libertarianism is not a philosophy of the right or of the left.  It is the radical center, the home for those who wish to live and let live, who cherish both their own freedom and the freedom of others, who reject the stale clichés and false promises of collectivism, both “on the left” and “on the right.”   Where on the left-right spectrum does libertarianism stand?  Above it.



[1] John Emerich Edward Dalberg, Lord Acton, Historical Essays and Studies, by John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton, edited by John Neville Figgis and Reginald Vere Laurence (London: Macmillan, 1907). Chapter: APPENDIX, Letter to Bishop Creighton http://oll.libertyfund.org/title/2201/203934

[2] For the case of American voters, see David Boaz, David Kirby, and Emily Eakins, The Libertarian Vote: Swing Voters, Tea Parties, and the Fiscally Conservative, Socially Liberal Center (Washington, D.C.: Cato Institute, 2012).

[3] “An Introduction to Libertarian Thought,” video at http://www.libertarianism.org/introduction.

[4] Fareed Zakaria, ‘‘The 20 Percent Philosophy,’’ Public Interest 129 (Fall 1997), pp. 96–101, http://www.nationalaffairs.com/doclib/20080709_19971299the20percentphil….

[5] “Sharon Statement,” available at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sharon_Statement.

[6] Barry Goldwater’s 1964 Acceptance Speech, available at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/daily/may98/goldwaterspee….

[7] Port Huron Statement, available at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Port_Huron_Statement.

[8]Carl Oglesby, Ravens in the Storm, A Personal History of the 1960s Anti-War Movement (New York: Scribner, 2008), p. 120.

[9] Carl Oglesby, ibid, p. 173.

[10] Milton Friedman, “It’s Time to End the War on Drugs,” available at http://www.hoover.org/publications/hoover-digest/article/7837; Jeffrey A. Miron and Jeffrey Zwiebel, “The Economic Case Against Drug Prohibition,” Journal of Economic Perspectives, Vol. 9, No. 4 (Fall 1995), pp. 175-192.

[11] Lysander Spooner, Vices Are Not Crimes: A Vindication of Moral Liberty, available at http://lysanderspooner.org/node/46.

[12] An array of law enforcement officials who are willing to speak out on the disasters of prohibition can be found at Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, http://www.leap.cc.






Distinguishing Morality and Legality: The Practical Fusionist Possibilities of Thomas Aquinas

Jeremy Kolassa has rightly identified a central difficulty with the modern liberal order: we don’t agree on what the “good” is. From this the question of authority follows: “who decides what we ought to do?” I have highlighted some ways in which an Augustinian sensibility might inform a more limited vision of compatibility between conservatives and libertarians as focused on matters related to temporal peace.

We must then ask how we adjudicate questions of what practically promotes such peace. A significant and fundamental distinction needs to be made on this score concerning the relationship between legality and morality. By this I mean that we ought to properly understand how the realm of positive law fits within the larger structure of morality.

This distinction correlates with my earlier claims about the limitations inherent in libertarianism when conceived as a political philosophy as opposed to a world-and-life view. For instance, the non-aggression principle (NAP) may well be an important principle of political economy, but it hardly suffices as a principle for morality qua morality. A kind of Hippocratic Oath for policy (“first do no harm”) can be an important principle for governing, but it doesn’t get adequately at the positive obligations that we have towards other people on an individual (and even communal) level.

In this way, the context that Thomas Aquinas provides for distinguishing between morality and legality is quite helpful in determining when to make law and even what kinds of law to make. In addressing the question, “Whether it belongs to human law to repress all vices?” Aquinas answers negatively. He accepts that positive law has a pedagogical function, but also recognizes the limitations inherent in a finite and fallen humanity. Thus he writes, “laws imposed on men should also be in keeping with their condition.” This is the nature of positive law, in fact, as a mutable expression and reflection of the natural law. In this way, “human law is framed for a number of human beings, the majority of whom are not perfect in virtue. Wherefore human laws do not forbid all vices, from which the virtuous abstain, but only the more grievous vices, from which it is possible for the majority to abstain; and chiefly those that are to the hurt of others, without the prohibition of which human society could not be maintained: thus human law prohibits murder, theft and such like.”

Addressing the question of the law’s pedagogical function, which many libertarians are loathe to acknowledge, Aquinas limits the applicability of this purpose: “The purpose of human law is to lead men to virtue, not suddenly, but gradually. Wherefore it does not lay upon the multitude of imperfect men the burdens of those who are already virtuous, viz. that they should abstain from all evil.” He goes on to provide a kind of prudential rule for how to determine what laws are good and bad. Some laws, he says, try to restrain vices that are beyond the ability of people to bear, and thus “the precepts are despised, and those men, from contempt, break into evils worse still.”

The payoff of all this is that Aquinas distinguishes morality and legality in a way that can helpfully inform conservative understandings of the purpose of law. That is, to permit something legally is not the same as acknowledging it as morally permissible. Legal toleration is not the same as moral approbation. For libertarians, however, this distinction should also inform an understanding of the gradation between legal toleration and legal promotion. For Aquinas, and much of the classical tradition, the legal order has no warrant for actively promoting or subsidizing vice, even in cases where it might be merely tolerated or not legally proscribed.

It seems to me that much of what is often distinctive of libertarian political activism falls into this category. A particularly notable example might be the work by many libertarians to have same-sex partnerships recognized as “marriage” under an argument for equal treatment. As Clark Ruper writes, this kind of advocacy is deeply progressive: “modern liberals and libertarians today still share that same valuation of the individual in society. This is most easily seen today in the issue of marriage equality, where social conservatives try to use the power of the state to control marriage because it is an important social institution, while liberals and libertarians focus on the importance of marriage in the lives of all individuals.” Alternatively, many libertarians are arguing that government should get out of the business of defining or recognizing marriage altogether. However, a strong case can be made for recognizing the significance of civil social institutions, most particularly the family, such as argued by Sherif Girgis, Robert P. George, and Ryan T. Anderson that “marriage privatization would be a catastrophe for limited government.”

An understanding of the distinction between morality and legality would thus help identify places where libertarians and conservatives might practically work together, while informing their respective understandings of the purpose and limits of law. Conservatives and libertarians ought to recognize that positive law is not meant to repress all vices or to promote all virtues. Its scope is far more limited, and rightly so. This gives us some hope and some guidance for how a temporally focused and practically limited fusionist agenda might be advanced.

Let’s Not Settle for Less

Shockingly, dedicating a month to the discussion of libertarian-conservative fusionism has not resulted in agreement. It has, however, articulated some excellent arguments and, in my view, proved one point of my opening essay – that libertarians and conservatives should collaborate where they can to reach young people for the preservation of freedom.

To this end, I utterly reject Clark Ruper’s position that libertarians might have more in common with modern liberals than with conservatives. Certainly liberals today celebrate individual liberty in specific social issues, and if libertarians want to align with liberals in these limited areas, that is understandable. But concessions of personal choices by modern progressives are nothing more than Huxleyan opiates designed to appease and entertain while the fundamental structures of our freedom are destroyed. There is nothing about modern liberalism that ideologically matches the holistic approach to freedom that defines libertarianism.

The key word here is “modern.” The discussion in this forum has delved deeply into the intellectual traditions of libertarianism, conservatism, and liberalism in an impressive fashion. But this escape pod of knowledge is rocketing away from our modern, 21st-century reality. I have argued that libertarians and conservatives believe we stand on the intellectual shoulders of giants, and I think the impressive name-dropping of historical figures here bears it out. We know the ideas of Augustine, Rousseau, Burke, Locke, Hume, Smith, Mill, Aquinas and more recently Rand, Rothbard, Kirk, Buckley, and the Pauls. We have studied, and we will work to improve our society based on both their mistakes and on what they got right.

This is not an activity shared by the modern progressives, who suffer from the arrogance of now and believe they can solve the world’s problems because we have invented the smart phone.

That young people are moving away from conservatism is correct, but it misses the larger picture that young people are moving away from caring about politics at all. The minority that does care about politics is indeed rejecting conservatism in favor of libertarianism or progressivism. This is not because of their understanding of the intellectual history articulated in this forum by my colleagues – it is because they reject the modern standard-bearers for conservatism. They are embracing the opiates of personal choice, which they find in libertarianism and modern progressivism.

Ruper at one point says, “If we take a longer view of history, we may very well find ourselves looking back at fusionism 100 years from now as a quaint historical accident.” In the same spirit, I agree that a few generations hence will not know or care much about libertarian-conservative fusionism. This is because in my worst dystopian fears, our children’s children don’t know anything about freedom. The prophetic warnings of authors such as Huxley, Bradbury, and even Rand are that humanity will settle for tyranny far too easily if they don’t understand and value freedom.

To quote C.S. Lewis, as conservatives are wont to do, “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

To those who say that fusionism is possible between modern progressives and libertarians, and to those who want to reject conservatives for simply believing in virtue, I would say that you are far too easily pleased.

Now, those who are familiar with Lewis know that he is not putting away all temporal things, but he is making a very Christian argument, similar to Jordan Ballor’s argument, that individual freedom ought not to be our end goal. He is saying that we should strive to use our freedom to pursue good. Jeremy Kolassa points out accurately that not all libertarians and conservatives are in agreement about how to define “good.” The point to keep in mind, though, is that we can continue to debate what free people ought to do, but we should agree that people ought to be free.

I challenge you to adopt a modern concept of fusionism, one that focuses on the structure of limited government and freer markets within which we can debate personal choices. Let fusionism perhaps even be forgotten in time, as long as freedom does not become a footnote in history.