"At CPAC, the Future Looks Libertarian," read a dispatch on Time magazine's website. "CPAC: Rand Paul's Big Moment," proclaimed The Week magazine. Meanwhile, the New York Times headlined its story about the annual conservative political action conference "GOP divisions fester at conservative retreat."
George Will, a man who actually knows a thing or two about conservatism, responded to the NYT's use of the word "fester" on ABC News' "This Week." "Festering: an infected wound, it's awful. I guarantee you, if there were a liberal conclave comparable to this, and there were vigorous debates going on there, the New York Times' headline would be 'Healthy diversity flourishes at the liberal conclave.'"
Will went on to note that social conservatives and libertarian free-market conservatives in the GOP have been arguing "since the 1950s, when the National Review was founded on the idea of the fusion of the two. It has worked before with Ronald Reagan. It can work again."
Will was right as far as he went, but I would go further. Fusionism was an idea hatched by Frank Meyer, a brilliant intellectual and editor at National Review. An ex-communist Christian libertarian, Meyer argued that freedom was a prerequisite for virtue and therefore a virtuous society must be a free society. (If I force you to do the right thing against your will, you cannot claim to have acted virtuously.)
Philosophically, the idea took fire from all sides. But as a uniting principle, fusionism worked well. It provided a rationale for most libertarians and most social conservatives to fight side by side against communism abroad and big government at home.
What often gets left out in discussions of the American right is that fusionism isn't merely an alliance, it is an alloy. Fusionism runs through the conservative heart. William F. Buckley, the founder of the conservative movement, often called himself a "libertarian journalist." Asked about that in a 1993 interview, he told CSPAN's Brian Lamb that the question "Does this augment or diminish human liberty?" informed most of what he wrote.
Most pure libertarians and the tiny number of truly statist social conservatives live along the outer edge of the Venn diagram that is the American right. Most self-identified conservatives reside in the vast overlapping terrain between the two sides.