I’ve been thinking about Frank Meyer lately. Among other things, Meyer was one of the founding editors of National Review and played an outsized role in the mid-century conservative disputes, arguing for—and winning—a synthesis, or fusion, between the traditionalist and libertarian camps. Meyer himself was more of a libertarian, but he argued that while traditionalists emphasized certain aspects of conservatism and libertarians emphasized others, no contradiction or repudiation was required. It’s a fascinating history, and I recommend George H. Nash’s The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945 to learn more.
Fusionism won at the time, but we know that a non-insignificant number of contemporary conservatives, perhaps especially the young, view it as defunct. Maybe, maybe not, and I’m not here pursuing that problem. However, I would suggest a read of his 1956 essay, “Freedom, Tradition, Conservatism,” not only for his take on fusionism, but for his description of the great tension facing conservatives in his time—namely, when we live in a time of Revolution, the conservative tendency to preserve, continue in tradition, and maintain pious modesty about our cultural accomplishments is largely defunct. In Revolutionary times, when institutions are corrupt and custom and habit off-kilter, we cannot, he suggests, rest in “natural conservatism” but must give rise to new attempts to preserve ordered liberty, even though these attempts differ from what we are used to seeing.
No one doubts that conservative thought has fragmented, and we are seeing an explosion of new schools of thought. This is to be expected, and is perfectly normal response to our age of Revolution. Some efforts will be more profitable than others, some will fail, some are unwise, but in many ways these efforts are to welcomed. We are thinking again. We are attempting to respond. We are attempting a struggle against a dehumanizing revolution—but we really are all pushing or attempting to overcome the same common threat. Civilization saving isn’t easy.
At Public Discourse, we intend to play the role of moderation and calm. We know our society is in the middle of a Revolution—and not a good one—and we know conservatives are experimenting and fracturing in their responses. We try to read and understand all the trends, all the possibilities, and stay calm and reasonable as we host debate and conversation about the best way forward.
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This past month we continued this work. A great example was Kelly Hanlon’s interview with Samuel Gregg on “America’s Commercial Republic, and Its Detractors.” A good many contemporary conservatives aren’t so sure about free markets and free trade, and Gregg is someone to take seriously as he considers the issues.
Our Long Read was from Baylor’s Thomas Hibbs, tackling the evident problem of contempt in online exchange and suggesting much of this anger stems from the sadness, isolation, and fear experienced by so many Americans. This is not an internet problem so much as a human problem, and the wisdom of the past, including from Thomas Aquinas, offers us sound advice.
If you can’t keep up with the publishing houses output of excellent books, you might enjoy Matthew J. Franck’s review about a book on a giant of constitutional law, James Bradley Thayer, or Richard Garnett’s review of Philip Hamburger’s Purchasing Submission, or Terence Sweeney on Michael Lamb and Augustine’s political thought. Joshua Katz provides an excellent commentary on John Agresto’s new book on liberal education. Of course, it’s always worth the time to read Matt Franck’s column, “The Bookshelf.” This month on the idea and challenge of inclusion, a word much in the news.
And be sure to read some of my favorites of this month:
- Theodore Camp on why the military isn’t meeting its recruitment goals, and the virtues that the military actually requires.
- The latest addition to our Who’s Who series, providing short introductions to influential political theorists, this month featuring Alex Priou on Leo Strauss.
- James Hartley is working through great works of literature to further our understanding on economics. Economics with literary flair—who knew?
- Capital punishment remains a live debate, as evidenced by the substantial exchange between John P. O’Callaghan and J. Daryl Charles.
- Don’t miss Fran X. Maier’s beautiful reflection on death and how to live in its presence.
From Our Archives
Since I’ve been reflecting on Meyer, I also took some time to re-read “Toward a New Consensus,” an invitation from the Public Discourse editorial team to thinkers from the various conservative schools to lock themselves into argument. Argument is not cheap tricks, online scores, or “owning” anyone. Argument is fundamentally a sign of respect and equality, a commitment to the view that you and I both are capable of the common good of truth and knowledge. We at PD haven’t changed our view on that, and I don’t think we ever will.
What We’re Reading around the Web
- Micah Watson, “C.S. Lewis on the Specter of Totalitarianism,” Acton Institute
- Serena Sigillito, “Feminism’s New Wave Is Here,” Fairer Disputations
- “Sex-Realist Feminism: A Symposium,” Fairer Disputations
- Jon Haidt, “Why the Mental Health of Liberal Girls Sank First and Fastest,” The Free Press
- Richard Mouw, “I Don’t Want to Be a Universalist,” Christianity Today
- Tal Fortgang, “No, the Jewish Tradition Does Not Support Transgenderism,” National Review
- Samuel Gregg, “Reimagining Fusionism,” AIER
- Julius Krein, “The Last Gasp of an Ideology,” The American Conservative
We have two announcements. First, to our readers in Washington, DC: on Monday, April 24 at 6:00pm we are hosting a panel with the Catholic Information Center featuring Mary Harrington on her new book, Feminism Against Progress. Alexandra DeSanctis, Christine Emba, and Leah Libresco Sargeant will offer responses. Registration will open shortly, and we will send out a link once it’s available. For readers not in DC, we will publish everyone’s remarks as a symposium shortly following the event.
Second, we’ve put together a reader survey, which is quick and easy to complete. We’d be extremely grateful if you’d click here to share your views. Because we value your input and your time, readers who complete the survey will be offered the opportunity to win two books, along with a Public Discourse bookmark and mug. We will select ten readers who will each receive these items.
R. J. Snell
Editor-in-Chief, Public Discourse