Liberty Matters

Virtuecrats versus Liberty for All

Henry Olsen appears to aspire to be the Russell Kirk of 2021 to Frank Meyer’s defense of fusionism. A worthy aspiration I suppose in many ways. But just as Kirk had it wrong, so does Olsen. Slade and Adler have already argued here that Meyer thought the first choice when confronting a public issue should be the choice for freedom and individual action. To turn too quickly to the state for resolution of a problem is to forego the creativity of personal choice. Furthermore, there is no certainty that state actors will be honest in their claims or able to accomplish their proclaimed ends. Indeed, they argue that power, even in the hands of righteous men, is likely to go astray. They also point out that Meyer was a federalist, arguing especially against national crusades for perceived popular ends such as a national trade policy, or the promotion of population growth, or some vision of social welfare and the public good. “Virtuecrats”, acting from good intentions, are especially liable to misuse their power. Olsen argues that Americans have never been, nor ever will be fusionists. They have always been willing to use government for a version of the common good. But Olsen’s own, and sometimes strange examples (e. g., the southern secessionists as defenders of virtue,) neglect to mention how politically divisive these policies were at the time to the detriment of liberty for all.
On these points, let me turn to a few of Meyer’s own words from his 1955 essay “Collectivism Rebaptised”.  “. . . . men will always be found, who if they possess the power, will attempt to force their interpretation on other men.”  “(Kirk) can write feelingly of the dangers of the concentration of power without ever indicating by what standards overconcentration is to be judged and to what limits it is to be retrained.” “If indeed our society ever completes the fearful voyage on which it has embarked ‘from contract back to status” . . . it will not be the doing of Providence but of men.” “Only the principles of individual freedom . . . can call a halt to the march of collectivism. The New Conservatism, stripped of its pretensions, is, sad to say, but another guise for the collectivist spirit of the age.”
A good warning, I think, to Olsen, and to a number of prominent, conservative political figures of our own day.
Should a reader want to pursue these matters further, the Liberty Fund edition of In Defense of Freedom and Other Essays, contains a bibliographic essay that lists many of the historical articles out of which this controversy originally arose.