Dallas Fellows 2017: Session Five

Conservatism, Libertarianism, and Fusionism

Date: Tuesday, October 10, 2017
Guest Discussion Leader: Reihan Salam, Executive Editor, National Review and Policy Fellow, National Review Institute

Contemporary conservatism has been marked by an enduring tension between a “conservative” defense of tradition and moral virtue (and of legitimate government authority) and a “libertarian” emphasis on the dangers of statism and the need for an expansive realm of personal freedom. Where some see an enhancement of human freedom, others see the erosion of the crucial moral and cultural prerequisites of a free society. These readings will also explore efforts to “fuse” traditionalism and libertarianism that were near and dear to National Review over the years. One reading deals with the decidedly “unconservative” thinking of Ayn Rand whose thought remains influential in some radically libertarian circles.

Required Reading:

“Uneasy Cousins” by Robert Nisbet
“What is Libertarianism?” by Murray Rothbard
“The Twisted Tree of Liberty” by Frank Meyer
“Libertarianism or Libertinism?” by Frank Meyer
“Ayn Rand: Engineer of Souls” by Anthony Daniels


Session Five Reading

Discussion Questions

1. What is the common ground between libertarianism and conservatism, according to Robert Nisbet? And what are the sources of tension and opposition between these two currents of non-Leftist thought?

2. How do conservatives envision moral and social authority in contrast to the radical individualism at the heart of libertarian thought?   

3. What is “fusionism,” according to NR editor Frank Meyer? What are its necessary metaphysical or philosophical foundations? Is fusionism a viable enterprise?

4. What are the prospects for a “fusionist” project today? Has conservatism become too influenced by a relativistic and radically anti-statist version of libertarianism? Or is the advance of libertarian assumptions a positive step forward? 

5. What are some of the illiberal aspects of Ayn Rand’s objectivism? Is her thought compatible with conservatism in any form?

6. Why do some contemporary libertarians want to liberate libertarianism from an alliance with conservatism? What might such an emancipated libertarianism look like?