On Fusionism

Thursday, August 2nd, 2012

Sancho asks:

Why do you think self-identified libertarians skew so much to the right?

I’m in Australia, where political-ish people tend to grab leftover ideology from the dominant superpower and treat it like original thought (I’m probably as guilty as anyone), and where “libertarian” means, in almost all cases, far-right wing beliefs including support for massive government intervention in pursuit of traditional conservative ideals. It’s the classic case of conservatives who like pot choosing to repackage themselves as iconoclasts.

I don’t know much about libertarians in Australia, but some American libertarian history seems in order. I hope Sancho can offer more of his own experiences to help complete the conversation.

In the 1950s, fascism was all but dead, and communism was by far the biggest worldwide threat to liberty. Many in the American left either currently were or else had recently been sympathetic to foreign communist governments, including Stalin’s. The right may have made too much of it at the time, but this was a fact. Radical leftists would sympathize with communism well beyond the 1950s, often hoping that Mao would do better than Stalin. (He didn’t.)

The friend of an enemy is an enemy, of course, so the fledgling libertarian movement was unlikely to side with the left. But is the enemy of an enemy a friend? That’s more complicated.

Eisenhower mostly reconciled Republicans to the New Deal, and this was a problem, but there were a few from the so-called Old Right still around. The Old Right opposed the New Deal and remained skeptical about American involvement abroad. Eisenhower’s farewell address was a welcome nod to their views. It was also spot-on accurate, as later events would prove.

The members of the Old Right were unquestionably anti-communist, but they weren’t about to blow up the world to prove it. Many of them — people like Robert A. Taft and Rose Wilder Lane — thought that the Soviet Union, while evil, was a paper tiger militarily.

Clearly one can argue with this; if anything, the Soviets did more to beat the Nazis than we did. But in any case, an alliance was born. The name for it was “fusionism,” and there’s a very good book laying out some of the primary documents from this never-entirely-cordial alliance. (For one, Russell Kirk despised libertarians.)

It’s important to remember, too, that the libertarian movement was still barely formed. A lot of things could have gone differently (contingency again, a favorite theme of mine). The Road to Serfdom appeared in 1944. It was a very strange book for its time, and contemporary reviewers seem not to have understood it. Human Action came in 1949, and Atlas Shrugged only in 1957. Milton Friedman was a respected economist but not yet a significant public intellectual; his Newsweek column began in 1966.

It’s interesting to speculate on how the libertarian movement might have proceeded if fascism had won in Europe, and if communism were defeated instead. In that world, the American right would have looked a lot more fascist — think Charles Lindbergh and Father Coughlin — and the left would have looked much less communist. My intellectual ancestors might even have tried a left-fusionism, like the one that may be happening today. We were, after all, the original liberals.

What does this have to do with today? Libertarianism’s alliance with the Old Right would remain long after it was tactically useful, and long after “Old Right” ceased to have any functional meaning. In particular, I can’t understand how right-fusionism could have survived Nixon. But somehow it did, and far-right elements seeking a home have often come to libertarian groups — who are, alas, often starved for members and resources.

To this day, many far-right authoritarians still try to claim the libertarian label, which they absolutely do not deserve. Some of these recommend stoning homosexuals and heretics. Others would align libertarianism with the neo-Confederate movement. And some would even align us with monarchism and the neo-Nazis.

To put it mildly, this isn’t what I signed up for. What I believe is very well expressed in Virginia Postrel’s The Future and Its Enemies. There are really two social principles acting in the world: One consists of stasis, authority, and central control; the other, of dynamism, autonomy, and letting-go. Those are the only real choices for me.

Stasis and dynamism do not map onto left and right. Stasist conservatives would return to authority structures from the past; stasist liberals would set up new ones. But whenever we can possibly do so, I believe that we should choose dynamism instead.

We’re not going to recreate the past, nor should we want to. And the centralized, technocratic futures of the left are equally misguided. The future I look forward to is free, peaceful, decentralized, market-oriented, and constantly improving. I don’t think that either left or right fully does it justice.

Libertarianism as I conceive of it is the heir to the Enlightenment and to its project of universal human freedom and betterment. The victories that we should claim as our own include the great battles for the freedom of conscience and the press, the abolition of slavery, the promotion of worldwide free trade, and the defeat of communism. And fascism.

We may not know exactly our destination; we may disagree on the particulars, even — but to the last of us, libertarians ought to say — “More of this, please.” Every single time that we have abolished some type of coercion, some type of arbitrary power of one person over another, humanity has had cause to rejoice, and never once to regret.

by Jason Kuznicki

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71 Responses to “On Fusionism”

  1. #1 |  Duracomm | 

    Other Sean,

    When it comes to the democrat’s bad record on civil liberties it is difficult to sort the trolls from the the sincere but utterly clueless true believers.

  2. #2 |  Jesse Walker | 

    I don’t know where this idea came from that the libertarian/conservative alliance was a product of 1950s anti-communism. I hear it a lot but I see no evidence for it at all. Classical liberals started to ally themselves with the right in substantial numbers in the 1930s, not the 1950s. The cause wasn’t the Cold War; it was the New Deal.

    Meanwhile, a great many libertarians opposed the Cold War. This was one of the great sources of tension between libs and cons. It was libertarian support for draft resistance and opposition to the Vietnam War that led to the big YAF split in 1969, which arguably gave birth to the modern libertarian movement. Virtually all of the major libertarian institutions that emerged from the ’60s on — leaving aside those groups that simply didn’t deal with foreign policy as a part of their mission, such as IJ — opposed the Cold War. The Cato Institute, the Mises Institute, the Libertarian Party…really, the only significant exception that I can think of is Reason, and even then the pages of the magazine were open to anti-Cold Warriors. If you look at conservative attacks on libertarians in that period, they were at least as likely to center on foreign policy issues as they were on, say, drug policy. It was the end of the Cold War that allowed oddities like the “paleo” alliance to appear, precisely because people like Murray Rothbard and people like Pat Buchanan no longer had the issue of communism dividing them.

    Yes, you had Cold Warriors like Frank Meyer arguing that libertarians should join forces with conservatives. But the people who followed that advice were a part of the conservative movement, not the libertarian movement; they didn’t ally themselves, they subsumed themselves. And for part of the period when they were subsuming themselves — during the 1960s and ’70s — libertarian/left fusionism was resurgent. A big reason for that libertarian/left alliance was, naturally, opposition to the Cold War. The main thing that killed it off was the rise of Reagan. I don’t mean to suggest that most people considered libertarian “left-wing” in this period, of course — just that left fusionism was not any less peculiar than right fusionism.

    In the 1970s and ’80s, libertarianism was widely perceived as a third way between left and right, in part because the libertarian group that got the most coverage was the Libertarian Party, which presented itself as an alternative to both Democrats and Republicans. The LP is such a shadow of its former self these days that’s it’s hard for people to remember that in, say, 1983, if you read the word “libertarian” in the newspaper, it was most likely to be in reference to a group that was trying very hard to distinguish itself from the Reagan Republicans.

    As for why libertarians are more likely to lean right these days, I give you this non-exhaustive list:

    1. Because there are a lot of economically focused institutions that allow libertarians and free-market conservatives to work together, and not as many (or not as big) civil liberties and anti-imperial groups where it is similarly easy for libertarians to work together with anti-authoritarians of the left. The chief exception to this is groups dedicated to ending the drug war.

    2. Because in that environment, a conservative who is 80% libertarian is fairly likely to identify himself as a libertarian while a leftist or liberal who is 80% libertarian is not. (The one place I can think of where this generalization about the left isn’t true is — surprise! — among activists opposed to the drug war. See #1, above.) I know plenty of Whole Earth Catalog types who are basically in our corner, but when they hear “libertarian” they think “Randroid.”

    3. Because Randroids. Not all Randians, mind you. Just…well, you know the kind I’m talking about.

  3. #3 |  Jesse Walker | 

    Note: all of the above is in reference to the United States. I know that things played out differently elsewhere.

  4. #4 |  Tam | 

    @31 “…free from state coercion as well as the coercion inherent in wage labor.

    I know, right?

    I hate it when someone puts a gun to may head and coerces me into voluntarily exchanging my time and/or skill for valuable cash and prizes…

  5. #5 |  Sancho | 

    I’m happy to discuss the subjects raised in posts #49 to #51, but my question remains conspicuously unanswered.

    Again: if leftists relinquished their supposed control over academia and the media, retired from activism and debate altogether, and allowed the right to order the developed world as it sees fit, would Jason enjoy the same freedoms as a heterosexual American nationalist?

  6. #6 |  Jason Kuznicki | 


    I definitely neglected the elements of the libertarian movement that have tilted leftward. I wasn’t trying to build the case for left-fusionism, only to explain the roots of right-fusionism. As I see them, anyway.

    I probably should have said something about Barry Goldwater. Rothbard wasn’t a fan, but plenty of other libertarians were and are. If we consider him and Reagan, I can’t think of a single Democratic presidential candidate in the postwar era that commanded similar libertarian support. And I think a lot of it had to do with their vocal defense of free markets against socialism and communism.

    I’m not going to deny any of your facts, but I still think anti-communism was a very important factor in associating libertarians more with the right than the left.

  7. #7 |  Helmut O' Hooligan | 

    #54 Tam:
    “I know, right?
    I hate it when someone puts a gun to may head and coerces me into voluntarily exchanging my time and/or skill for valuable cash and prizes…”

    Huh huh, huh huh. Bet you got high fives from the boys at the hedge fund for spewing that old slogan. Jesus Titty Fucking Christ I hate that god damn cliche. I can’t even believe I’m responding to this intellectually lazy turd of a post, but you caught me in a bad mood. Just got back from work, in fact.

    The “gun to the head” argument is evidence of the rather limited view of freedom that most “libertarians” have. If you really think that any transaction not conducted at gunpoint is totally voluntary then I would suggest that you are not the rebel that you think you are. Yours is the ideology of the corporate yes man, not the radical.

    You’re comment also suggests that you have never been a wage worker or you are brainwashed by ideas from neo-classical economics. Or maybe you’ve been a desk jockey for so long that you don’t remember the days of punching the clock.

    You would argue that I voluntarily accepted my position. Really, so unemployment sounds like a viable option to you? What about dumpster diving? Yummy! Have you seen too many old hobo movies? And after being hired would you claim that my employer (a large healthcare organization) and I have equal bargaining power. Well, hopefully you aren’t THAT delusional, because I sure as fuck am not on equal footing with my employer. Ah, you sense the hostility I have for my employer, don’t you. The typical right-wing response would be, “well, if you don’t like your job you can quit.” No shit. I COULD quit. Actually, I am trying to move on as we speak. But quitting before I have the chance to rent my services to another master, err, employer, would mean eating up my savings. Does that sound like a viable option? How would you like to try it?

    Newsflash Tam. I put up with my job so that I can pay my debts. So don’t give me that fucking fairy land “voluntary exchange” nonsense.
    Libertarians like you are defending an indefensible system and siding with the powerful. You aren’t fooling me and most working people would see right through a glib motherfucker like you. So when I get the old paternalistic “nobody puts a gun to your head” speech I think of the following story from Malcom X:

    “There was two kind of slaves. There was the house negro and the field negro. The house negro, they lived in the house, with master. They
    dressed pretty good. They ate good, cause they ate his food, what he left. They lived in the attic or the basement, but still they lived near their
    master, and they loved their master, more than their master loved
    himself. They would give their life to save their masters house quicker
    than their master would. The house negro, if the master said “we got a
    good house here” the house negro say “yeah, we got a good house here”.
    Whenever the master would said we, he’d say we. That’s how you can
    tell a house negro. If the master’s house caught on fire, the house negro
    would fight harder to put the blaze out than the master would. If the
    master got sick, the house negro would say “What’s the matter, boss, we
    sick?” We sick! He identified himself with his master, more than the
    master identified with himself. And if you came to the house negro and
    said “Let’s run away, Let’s escape, Let’s separate” the house negro would
    look at you and say “Man, you crazy. What you mean separate? Where
    is there a better house than this? Where can I wear better clothes than
    this? Where can I eat better food than this?” There was that house

    Hey Tam, sounds like you’ve been living in the house a little too long! Now go wipe the boss man’s gizz off your upper lip.

  8. #8 |  Cynical in New York | 

    I once supported fusionism but that came to end when conservatives showed their true colors which is that they love government jackboots as long as they’re in charge of them. The TEA Party movement is an excellent example on how once a libertarian movement started getting steam in the national discussions, conservatives (both Neo and Paleo) worked their damm hardest to drive us out. There is a book titled Tea-O-Conned: The Hijacking of Liberty in America: Exposing the Neoconservative Infiltration and Takeover of the 21st Century Tea Party Movement.



    At the very least Buchanan and his Paleos flat admit they hate us (which I personally love). Personally I rather be viewed as enemy of CONservativism than be their lap dog which they’ve viewed us for years.

  9. #9 |  CyniCAl | 

    “I hope it doesn’t have to be pointed out that you don’t live in a communist society.”

    ROFLMAO! Of course we live in a communist society! It’s just not totalitarian.


    “America has only one problem: America is a communist country. And has been since before you were born. And probably before your mother was born. Earl Browder was right: communism is as American as apple pie.”

  10. #10 |  Roberta X | 

    Hooboy, Helmut, you didn’t do your homework. Tam is a freelance writer, former manager, former clock-punching wage slave.

    …And you’re just as free as any other critter. The ant and squirrel must work or die, too. And you could buy a patch and scratch out a living, too — you just don’t want to go live where land is cheap, the hospital and supermarket are a long distance away, and the work is hard. Nobody is coercing you to enjoy the benefits of civilization; you can go be nasty, brutish and short if you really object to “wage slavery.”

    Sancho: If Jason had enough money, the Right would let him be. That’s one of of the ways the Right beats the Left: you can usually get them to leave you alone if the price is right. –It is easier to get around most kinds of Right-wing asshattery than Left-wing asshattery.

  11. #11 |  Helmut O' Hooligan | 

    #59 Roberta X: “Tam is a freelance writer, former manager, former clock-punching wage slave.”

    Well how nice for Tam. I am all for self-employment. It keeps the bosses away! If he is a freelance writer, then he should have been able to come up with something better than a cliche. And I would suggest you put emphasis on “former clock-puncing wage slave,” because it sounds like he may have forgotten his roots.

    ” The ant and squirrel must work or die, too. And you could buy a patch and scratch out a living, too — you just don’t want to go live where land is cheap, the hospital and supermarket are a long distance away, and the work is hard.”

    Well no, I’m not a primitivist. I do enjoy some modern conveniences and I won’t apologize for that. Should we all have to be poor if we want to be free? I hope not! If I wanted everyone to be poor I’d advocate State Socialism instead of libertarian socialism (I look forward to Tam replyhing, “dude that’s like a total oxymoron cuz someone on Mises.org told me it was!”).

    Look, Tam set me into full rant mode because I just get tired of hearing those throw away phrases. Conservative libertarians like you and Tam offer substandard options and you just act like its completely natural. Like wage employment dropped from heaven and things like the enclosure movement, corporatism and other historical developments had nothing to do with it pushing people into the factories. Again, you want people to believe “there is no alternative.” All I’m doing is calling bullshit, but I usually do it in a more diplomatic manner than I did today.

    I advocate a gradual end to states and capitalism (the two systems feed off each other, course). If this scenario came about, I would not interfere if you wanted to set up a capitalist community. I just don’t think people would be interested in wage employment in such a society. Meanwhile, I would be happy working for myself or in some kind of worker-managed organization. This would be a truly voluntary scenario, unlike wage work.

  12. #12 |  Tam | 

    Helmutted Gherkin,

    You’re comment also suggests that you have never been a wage worker…

    Pretty much all my life you campus-infestin’ armchair radical.

    Well how nice for Tam. I am all for self-employment. It keeps the bosses away!

    What, you think those freelance writing checks come signed “The Anarcho-Syndicalist Commune”?

    Not that I’m expecting an answer, but what of value do you contribute to society in exchange for the roof over your head? (Or is your mom vacuuming the other side of said roof as we speak?)

  13. #13 |  Jesse Walker | 

    I probably should have said something about Barry Goldwater. Rothbard wasn’t a fan, but plenty of other libertarians were and are. If we consider him and Reagan, I can’t think of a single Democratic presidential candidate in the postwar era that commanded similar libertarian support.

    There isn’t. Goldwater inspired a lot of young people who later left conservatism for the libertarian movement; and Reagan reabsorbed a lot of libertarians into the GOP. It’s not for nothing that the glory years of modern left/libertarian fusionism is 1965-1980.

    But my point isn’t that left fusionism was a big thing. It’s that the independent libertarian movement that perceived itself as being beyond left and right was a big thing, and that one of the most important gaps between it and the conservative movement was the Cold War.

  14. #14 |  Other Sean | 

    Speaking only for this particular libertarian…the main effect of the Cold War wasn’t to make conservatives look like potential friends, it was to make leftists look like confirmed enemies.

    Anyone who remembers the apologist misadventures of “liberals” in the 1970s and 1980s can be forgiven for refusing to ever forgive them. It wasn’t just a question of Che shirts and Mao posters, although those were disgusting enough. There really was a determined effort to obscure the truth of history’s greatest democide, and to deny the suffering endured by millions of Soviet and Chinese slaves.

    I remember one of my teachers saying: “The kids in East Germany have certain freedoms you don’t, and you have certain freedoms they don’t. Some people like Coke, some like Pepsi. It’s not a question of right and wrong.”

    If I live a thousand years, I’ll still hate that guy. Fuck him, and everyone like him. They can all feel free to go fuse themselves with eternity.

  15. #15 |  Helmut O' Hooligan | 

    #62 Tam:

    Dear William F. Buckley ghost,

    Q: “Pretty much all my life you campus-infestin’ armchair radical.”

    A: Ooh good one Rush Jr. Or were you making your squinty Sean Hannity face when you typed that. I’ve clearly touched a nerve. You obviously didn’t like my suggestion that you’d forgotten where you came from. Perhaps there’s hope for you! FYI, I’ve been out of college and gainfully employed for 10 years, massa Tam. Can’t send the vagrancy POlice after me!

    Q: “What, you think those freelance writing checks come signed “The Anarcho-Syndicalist Commune”?

    A: Nope. From the sound of it, I’d say they come from Fox News, The National Review or The Weekly Standard.

    Q: “Not that I’m expecting an answer, but what of value do you contribute to society in exchange for the roof over your head? (Or is your mom vacuuming the other side of said roof as we speak?)”

    A: Here’s your unexpected answer: I am a healthcare security officer at a large medical center. On any given day I might be assisting a stranded motorist in the freezing cold (or blazing heat), responding to fire or panic alarms, wrestling with a combative drunk or just walking around wearing off shoe leather and chatting with people. Not as cool as being a freelance writer, I’m sure, but in spite of the headaches it’s been decent experience. Aside from that I am married and my wife and I rent an apartment that is getting too expensive. And my mother doesn’t vaccum for us because she’s dead, but thanks so much for asking. For such a radical I lead kind of a conservative existence, don’t I.

    Hope that clears up your questions, such as they were. If you would like to have an actual debate on my views and why I hold them, I’d be open to that. As a regular commenter on The Agitator, I do that pretty regularly. But if you just want to throw Ted Nugent-esque slogans around I don’t think we’ll have much to discuss.

    In solidarity (HA!),

    P.S. It was nice of Roberta X to go to bat for you earlier. She did a better job of speaking for you than you did speaking for yourself. If you were her puppet we would get along much better.

  16. #16 |  Roberta X | 

    Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Capitalism overthrown by Internet flame war!

    Helmut, just as soon as you work out a better system than exchanging value tor value, using some stable token(s) to mediate the process, you let everybody know, mmmkay?

    In the meantime, look up “merchantilism.” Compare and contrast with “capitalism.”

  17. #17 |  Duracomm | 

    Liberals / democrats absolutely positively refuse to acknowledge the plain fact that bad regulations exist and these regulations cause harm.

    This is another reason libertarians tend to lean right.


    “”Contemporary liberals will say, as someone did at dinner in DC, that they are against stupid regulations like the controls on trucking abolished in the late 1970s. And I’m glad for that.

    But finding liberals who oppose any new regulation is almost impossible–no matter what the perverse consequences.

    Unfortunately, once you are ideologically committed to the idea of regulation, you can’t say that a given regulation is bad–or, worse, that maybe doing nothing new would have been the best course.””

  18. #18 |  Helmut O' Hooligan | 

    #66 Roberta X
    Actually I don”t have a problem w/ mediums of exchange. I tend to disagree w/ anarcho-communist notions of a “moneyless society” People may certainly barter if they wish, but I think many people would still want some form of currency to eliminate confusion and minimize arguments over value. This is essentially why people speak common languages, so it seems perfectly natural.

    I will follow your advice and explore mercantilism v. Capitalism more than I have before. It could be that our argument is more over semantics than I have realized. Without the state, the differences in economic approaches may be more about personal preference than anything else.

    Today is a new day, Roberta. The flame war is over now. I’m not interested in being angry and slinging mud anymore. Now I will attempt to learn from you. If you have time I would recommend reading about cooperatives and the idea of worker managed firms. These ideas interest me and I think society would benefit if these firms were more prevalent. I don’t want to force people into anything, I just want them to know that their are alternatives out there. Thanks.

  19. #19 |  Richard | 

    I think it important to distinguish between Fascism of the militaristic kind and Fascism of the economic kind. Three books not mentioned come to mind: “As We Go Marching” (1944) by John T. Flynn; “Americas Emerging Fascist Economy” (1975) by professor Charlotte Twight; and “Dependent on DC the Rise of Federal Control Over the Lives of Ordinary Americans” (2002) by professor Charlotte Twight. These books show that economic Fascism is alive and well in America and that it is not restricted to the political left but has been the policy of both major political parties.

  20. #20 |  Roberta X | 

    Gracefully put!

    Most such disagreements come down to semantics — and worse, the subtle shadings of connotation and denotation.

    I would suggest that very large, low-skill worker-managed businesses frequently suffer the same problem that trips up many traditional, quarterly-performance driven enterprises: an inability to take the long view. (There are striking exceptions, like the lunch delivery co-ops in India; determining why would be a useful effort, I think.)

  21. #21 |  el coronado | 

    Saaay, Speaking of Aussies,who’s up for a subtle and sophisticated Aussie joke, courtesy of P.J. O’Rourke? (clears throat)

    Ladies and Gentlemen, an Anecdote Illustrating Something of the Australian Character:

    An Australian asks his girlfriend to fight, but she says she doesn’t want to because she isn’t feeling well.
    “Whattya mean, not feeling well?”, he asks.
    “You know”, she says, “I’ve got my time of the month”.
    “Whattaya mean, time of the month?”, he says.
    “You know”, she say. “I’ve got me period.”
    “Whattaya mean, ‘period’?”, he says.
    “You know”, she says. “I’m bleeding down here.” And she opens her pants to show him.
    “Jaysus Chroist!”, he says. “They’ve gone and cut your cock off!!”

    An interesting country, Oz. _Excellent_ people, despite all of the native wildlife being deadly poisonous & are fearless death machines that have up to 7000 teeth and nine assholes. Would move there in a *second*.