Know Your Enemy: Frank Meyer, the Father of Fusionism

Know Your Enemy: Frank Meyer, the Father of Fusionism

A deep dive into the life and work of Frank S. Meyer, the longtime senior editor at National Review who became most famous for his theory of “fusionism,” which combined the traditional and libertarian strains of the conservative movement.

Frank S. Meyer testifying before the House Un-American Activities Committee on July 21, 1959 (Flickr)

Know Your Enemy is a podcast about the American right co-hosted by Matthew Sitman and Sam Adler-Bell. Read more about it here. You can subscribe to, rate, and review the show on Apple Podcasts and Stitcher, and receive bonus content by supporting the podcast on Patreon.

Matt and Sam dedicate an entire episode to an underappreciated but indispensable figure in the founding of post-war conservatism: Frank S. Meyer, the father of “fusionism.”

Meyer was a man of contradictions: an ex-communist ideologue who longed for consensus; a cantankerous, unyielding debater who kept his friends and rivals close; a bohemian, individualist Jew who argued vociferously for freedom and against repressive orthodoxies, but who converted to Catholicism on his death bed. In this episode, we explore his life, work, and legacy—including his most famous book, In Defense of Freedom: A Conservative Credo. Along the way, we ask some big questions: Why was it so important for Meyer to find a philosophical justification for fusing the traditional and libertarian strains of the conservative movement? How did he go about doing it? And did it work?

Today, many—especially younger—conservatives consider fusionism to be a dead consensus, a marriage of erstwhile convenience in which economic libertarians got everything they wanted while Christian traditionalists saw unfettered capitalism and licentious liberalism destroy the things they had hoped to conserve: church, family, and community. As the seams of the fusionist alliance fray, we look back to the man who conceived it in the first place.

Sources and further reading:

Frank S. Meyer, In Defense of Freedom: A Conservative Credo, Regnery (1962)

George H. Nash, The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945, Basic Books (1976)

Jeffrey Hart, The Making of the American Conservative Mind: National Review and Its Times, ISI Books (2006)

Garry Wills, Confessions of a Conservative, Doubleday (1979)

Kevin J. Smant and M. Stanton Evans, Principles and Heresies: Frank S. Meyer and the Shaping of the American Conservative Movement, ISI Books (2002)

Various, Against the Dead Consensus, First Things (2019)

Frank S. Meyer, The Twisted Tree of Liberty, National Review (1962)

L. Brent Bozell Jr., Freedom or Virtue, National Review (1962)

…and don’t forget you can subscribe to Know Your Enemy on Patreon to listen to all of our bonus episodes!