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JOHN WEICHER, A “ Fusionist ” Approach to Freedom 1 - Ralph Raico, New Individualist Review 
New Individualist Review, editor-in-chief Ralph Raico, introduction by Milton Friedman (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1981).
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A “Fusionist” Approach to Freedom1
FOR A LONG TIME Frank S. Meyer has been seeking a synthesis between the two main streams of contemporary conservative thought: streams which have their sources in the conservatism and liberalism, respectively, of the last century. In Defense of Freedom is his most ambitious effort to achieve that synthesis, which is a “combination of freedom and moral authority,” or a “simultaneous belief in objectively existing moral value and in the freedom of the individual person.” Meyer is not satisfied with asserting that this “combination” is the generally-held view of most American conservatives today; his book attempts to prove that such a combination is theoretically sound. Since a good many books and articles recently—by those both within and without the conservative “movement”—have maintained that such a synthesis is not sound, it is good to have someone willing to argue at some length that it is.2
Meyer’s synthesis is that freedom and objectively existing moral value are
. . . axioms of different though interconnected realms of existence. How can true ends be established elsewhere than in the intellectual, the moral, the spiritual order? Where can the conditions for freedom be established but in . . . the political order? A good society is possible only when both these conditions are met: when the social and political order guarantees a state of affairs in which men can freely choose; and when the intellectual and moral leaders, the “creative minority,” have the understanding and imagination to maintain the prestige of tradition and reason, and thus to sustain the intellectual and moral order throughout society.
Of these two conditions, however, only one is to be fulfilled by political means: the establishment of freedom. Deciding which ends are true, is left, by implication, to the creative minority; Meyer says no more about this problem, except that the creative minority cannot impose its decisions by force upon the rest of the population.3
This seems to me to be a perfectly acceptable position. Whether it is a synthesis is another question. Most libertarians will probably say that this has been their position all along. As long as no one is compelled by the creative minority to accept the “true ends” as determined by that minority—or is compelled to believe that “true ends” exist at all—where does this good society differ from that of the libertarians? Libertarians are not going to object to anyone else’s belief that there are objectively determinable moral values, whether or not the libertarians share that belief, in the absence of any effort to compel agreement.
Before we welcome or condemn Meyer to the ranks of the libertarians, however, there are several points in his book which need clarification. For instance, the only specific discussion of religious freedom occurs in a footnote to a chapter on “The Locus of Virtue,” in which Meyer maintains that virtue exists only in individuals and can only be inculcated by individuals, and not by organizations or institutions. That footnote says in part:
That no civilization can come into being or develop without being informed by one kind or another of relationship between the men who make it up and God, I am certain; that Christianity, which informs Western civilization, is the highest and deepest relationship to the Divine that men can attain, I am also certain; but I am not able to say that any single institutional church is the bearer of God’s spirit on earth. And this makes it impossible for me to discuss the church in the terms of this book. At the very least, it is of the category of those institutions which fulfill a function that is necessary, but which can be fulfilled in a number of different ways. If, however, it should be true that a single church is the direct expression of God’s love for men, then that church would be, like the state and the family, necessary in its essential form to human existence.
The basic problem in that paragraph is the meaning of “necessary in its essential form to human existence.” If a particular church is “necessary,” does Meyer’s good society permit freedom of religion? He does not say. Or, going back to the beginning of the paragraph, does the good society exclude atheists? After all, no civilization can exist “without being informed by one kind or another of relationship between the men who make it up and God.” This question too is unanswered.
Much earlier, it is true, Meyer has said, “freedom can exist at no lesser price than the danger of damnation; and if freedom is indeed the essence of man’s being, that which distinguishes him from the beasts, he must be free to choose his worst as well as his best end.” This and similar statements appear to imply that the freedom to choose the wrong religion, or none, is included in the good society, and perhaps Meyer means the earlier statements to be applicable to the question of religious freedom. Perhaps he thinks further repetition of the need for freedom would be superfluous in that footnote. However, at the point at which he says, “freedom can exist at no lesser price than the danger of damnation,” Meyer has not mentioned religion at all; nor has he discussed the state and the family, the other two institutions which are necessary in their essential form to human existence.
We do not get any help when we turn to his discussions of these other two institutions. In regard to the state, “Some form of order is a human necessity. Without it, freedom itself is impossible. The state . . . is therefore an institution called into being by the very nature of men’s existence.”4 Meyer has said at the outset of the book that “innate freedom is of the essence of [man’s] being.” But now freedom is impossible without the state.5 It is not at all clear where this puts the anarchists. Do they have the right to advocate the abolition of the state? Or does the fact that man cannot realize the essence of his being without a state, mean that those who would prevent him from realizing this essence, are themselves to be prevented? Man must be allowed to choose to be damned, but a state is necessary for him to have the opportunity to make that choice. There are some people—anarchists—who do not believe that a state is necessary. Thus, apparently, they would prevent men from choosing. Can man choose not to have the opportunity to choose salvation or damnation? Once again, the question is not answered.6 But without some kind of answer to all these questions, Meyer’s synthesis is incomplete.
THERE IS A MORE fundamental problem in Meyer’s exposition. The statement quoted above, that “innate freedom is of the essence of [man’s] being,” is an assumption. In fact, it is more than an assumption; it is the “central axiom on which this critique of political thought is founded.” The argument rests on the validity of this axiom. But all Meyer says in support of it is: “No objective methodology, however strict, can disprove the existence of the autonomous self and validate determinism.” This statement “rests upon data derived from apprehension of the external world.” The only description of these data seems to be that the study of human beings is “a study where we are richly provided with direct knowledge of consciousness.”
Much more needs to be said about this axiom. Meyer cites Marx, Freud, and one or two contemporary social scientists who disagree with it, but he does not attempt to refute them; he simply asserts that they are wrong. This axiom, however, is what the argument is really all about. Meyer’s critiques of collectivist liberalism and New Conservatism both depend heavily upon it.
Meyer’s criticism of New Conservatism is largely a criticism of Russell Kirk. He specifically states that he is not criticizing a number of other writers—Leo Strauss, Eric Voegelin, Willmoore Kendall, Richard Weaver, Frederick Wilhelmsen, and a number of European writers—on the ground that they differ from New Conservatism by “the high value they place upon the faculty of reason for the establishing of conservative principles,” while the New Conservatives “insist upon the undifferentiated virtue of tradition, not merely as guide and governor of reason, but over against reason.” (In addition to the “central axiom,” Meyer further “assumes that the primary mode of achieving understanding in the study of man . . . is the use of reason operating within and upon tradition, reason deriving extended conclusions from simple apprehensions of the nature of man.”) But Meyer’s book is a defense of freedom, not reason, and one can cite quotations from several of these writers which would indicate that they do not share his view of the essence of man’s being.7 Meyer seems to have no argument with, e.g., Kendall and Wilhelmsen, as opposed to Kirk, because much of his argument against Kirk is a defense of the second axiom, which he shares with Kendall and Wilhelmsen. But when he argues for a free society against Kirk’s stress on “community” or “society,” as independent entities separate from the individuals within them, he is arguing on the basis of the “central axiom.” Because he says so little about it, we cannot be sure whether Kendall and Wilhelmsen and the others do share it with him. Clarification here would be useful.
I HAVE GIVEN disproportionate emphasis in this review to those parts of Meyer’s book with which I disagree, and I do not want to end on a critical note. In large part the book is an eloquent defense of freedom, and one which deserves to be widely read. Meyer’s critiques of liberalism and New Conservatism are both cogent, and should lead to an interesting and instructive discussion, at least with Kirk and other New Conservatives. As far as his synthesis has been spelled out, I think most American conservatives can support it as the kind of society that they are trying to establish, while they wait for the further development and clarification of Meyer’s views, which will be well worth waiting for.
[1 ] A review of In Defense of Freedom, by Frank S. Meyer. (Chicago: Henry Regnery Co., 1962.)
[* ] John Weicher is an Associate Editor of New Individualist Review.
[2 ] Two recent publications on the other side are The Conservative Illusion, by M. Morton Auerbach, and “Freedom or Virtue?” by L. Brent Bozell, in the September 11, 1962, issue of National Review. Bozell’s article, though published earlier, often seems to be a reply to Meyer’s book.
[3 ] “Given the most elevated intellectual, moral, and spiritual understanding, the subordination of the political order to the enforcement of that understanding, the denial to men of the freedom to accept it or reject it, would make virtue meaningless and truth rote.”
[4 ] Italics mine.
[5 ] It should be stressed that Meyer’s state has the sole functions of supplying justice and national defense.
[6 ] Similarly with the family, into which children are born involuntarily. It is a voluntary contract between individuals. But there is no discussion of whether a man may form such a voluntary contract with two women simultaneously, or whether a member of the creative minority may advocate polygamy, wife-switching on alternate nights, etc. Is the family “necessary” only to the child who is an involuntary member?
[7 ] See, for instance, “Baloney and Free Speech,” by Willmoore Kendall, and “ ‘My Doxy is Orthodoxy,’ ” by Frederick Wilhelmsen, both in the May 22, 1962, issue of National Review.