Stephanie Slade on Fusionism

libertarianism american conservatism fusionism reason magazine

May 5, 2023

Stephanie Slade is a senior editor at Reason, the magazine of "free minds and free markets" and a fellow in liberal studies at the Acton Institute. Today we talk about fusionism, the fusion of freedom and virtue.

We talk about the necessary relationship between seemingly contradictory ideals and the importance of civil society. She explains to us the history of fusionism and the need for it in today’s current political environment.

Want to explore more?
Alex Byrne's Great Antidote Extra on this episode.
Slade wrote the lead essay in Liberty and Virtue: Frank Meyer's Fusionism, at the Online Library of Liberty.
Stephanie Slade, Is There a Future for Fusionism? in Reason Magasine.
Michael Munger, National Conservatism Wants to Use the Ring of Power, at EconLog.

Read the transcript.

Juliette Sellgren 
Science is the great antidote to the poison of enthusiasm and superstition. Hi, I'm Juliette Sellgren, and this is my podcast, the Great Antidote named for Adam Smith, brought to you by Liberty Fund. To learn more, visit 

Welcome back today on April 7th, 2023. Wow. It's April already. I'm excited to welcome Stephanie Slade onto the podcast to talk about Fusion, which maybe you guessed it is the fusion of two things. We're gonna get into that shortly. She's a senior editor at Reason, the magazine of Free Minds and Free Markets, and she's a fellow in liberal studies at the Acton Institute. Welcome to the podcast.

Stephanie Slade
Thank you, Juliette.

Juliette Sellgren 
So before we get started, what is the most important thing that people my age or my generation should know that we don't?

Stephanie Slade (1.05)
I wanna give you something in the sort of, um, career advice zone, and that is, I think that you should, uh, people your age should be willing to talk very openly about their goals. Uh, I think when you're first starting out, you don't necessarily know, or you're not sure quite how open you should be about where you're trying to get in life. Um, but I have found in my experience that people really want to be helpful. They wanna help you get where you're going. Uh, they're willing to really go, you know, many people are willing to go out on a limb for you, but they need to know what your goals are and what your interests are and where you're trying to get. And so I got my first job as a speech writer because I told all my professors in college that I was really interested in political speech writing.

And one of them heard about a member of Congress who needed some speeches written and recommended me, and I got hired, and then later I got my first op-eds published because I, I was working in political consulting and I told my boss that I was very interested in journalism and publishing. Um, and that was a little bit of maybe, uh, a risk that I was taking, um, doing one kind of work and telling my boss that I was interested in a different kind of work. Um, but what happened is that she was approached by an editor at US News and World Report who was looking for somebody to write some op-eds and wanted her to write them, and instead she sent him to me. And, um, I got my first op-eds published that way. So talk openly about your goals and where you're trying to go, um, because people wanna help you.

But they won't be able to unless they know, you know, what you want is for your name to be the first one that pops into their head when they hear about a great opportunity. And it, it's, it's not the case that what you know, doesn't matter. You know, there's that old saying, it doesn't matter what, you know, it matters who you know, that's not quite right. Um, what you matter does know, but who you matter knows as well. So you want lots of people to be, um, having your mind, your face, and their, your name at the top of their mind when they hear about opportunities that might be of interest to you.

Juliette Sellgren (2.48)
That's a very solid and actionable piece of advice. I feel like a lot of people my age or a lot of like the job search process, which starts for some sectors, even when you're a second year in college. Crazy in my opinion, but I don't know, you do you, I guess. Um, but it, it's funny because there are so many rules, like the institution is set of like, you follow this channel, this channel, this channel, but then you talk to a lot of people who have had jobs and like lived life a little bit longer and life never really follows a strict path. And so I, I think actually advocating for yourself, regardless of where you are in a given moment will help you get where you wanna go. I don't, it's just a good piece of advice that seems pretty straightforward, but the, the academic world of undergrads don't seem to understand that and I don't really understand that either. So thank you, <laugh>.

Stephanie Slade 
You're welcome.

Juliette Sellgren (3.53)
So Fusion, it was developed at National Review in the 1950s under their editorship. Wow. That word is a little difficult of, um, bill Buckley, William F. Buckley Jr. And is most identified with his associate editor Frank Meyer. So if I were to ask Frank Meyer to define Fusion, how would he describe it?

Stephanie Slade (4.17)
Great question. Yeah, because I think today most people probably haven't heard the word at all in a political context. And if they have, they think, oh, fusion, that was the alliance that formed between libertarians and sort of, uh, social conservatives or religious conservatives during the Cold War era because, you know, if you're, um, a libertarian, you dislike the Soviet Union because it's militantly anti-capitalist. And if you are a social conservative or a religious conservative, then you dislike the Soviet Union because it's militantly atheistic. And so the two groups came together and they fused into this coalition. That's, I think what most people who have heard the term would say. Um, Frank Meyer would disagree. Frank Meyer, who is sort of, was sort of the godfather of this idea, he is the person who articulated the philosophy that came to be known as fusion, um, had a totally different understanding, which is not that it was a coalition of two different groups, but rather that it was a philosophy that said that both liberty and virtue are the pillars on which West Western civilization rests.

That they're both important, they're both critical, non-negotiable that we, um, ought to be, uh, committed to conserving and preserving both liberty and virtue. Um, and, and that that's what really it really means. He, he would've said to be a, a conservative in the American context. So it's not, it's quite different from what it would mean to be a conservative in say, the 19th century European context, but here in America a conservative is somebody who wants to conserve the American founding, which is classically liberal, which, you know, which prioritizes individual liberty. Um, but that also recognizes the importance of tradition in order and virtue, um, in life.

Juliette Sellgren (5.55)
Can you give us a short history of fusion in light of it not just being a marriage of convenience?

Stephanie Slade (6.04)
Yeah, there was a debate going on sort of in, in the po the post World War II era in America about what does America, what does the country stand for, what does it mean to be a conservative in this context? And there were people who were more libertarians, more focused on, you know, laissez-faire free market economic policy and that sort of thing. And there were people who were more religious traditionalists who were saying, no, we need to be promoting a virtuous society. It's not just about liberty. Um, there's more to life in that than being free. Um, Frank Meyer was one of the founding editors of National Review Magazine. As you mentioned, the magazine was founded in 1955. And Buckley, who was the, the founder, he brought in a whole bunch of people, smart people who were on all sides of this debate. So he, he went out and he got Russell Kirk to agree to write a column, and he got Hayek and Milton Friedman to agree to contribute.

And one of the people he, he brought in was this guy named Frank Meyer. And Frank Meyer wrote a column for the magazine in which he articulated this idea of, Hey, it's not about choosing one or the other, liberty or virtue. It's not about being a libertarian or a traditionalist. It's about recognizing that these two things need each other and they're mutually reinforcing. And if you only defend one or the other of them, then you're probably gonna end up having your society sort of collapse, because neither one is enough, right? They're both non-negotiable, necessary pillars. Um, so he was writing these, these, these ideas in National Review, and most people would say, I mean, he, it wasn't that he was, everybody immediately fell in line behind him. There were lots of debates happening in the pages of National Review Magazine and at conferences, you would go to the Philadelphia Society Conference and people would debate back and forth, is Frank Meyer Wright?

Is Frank Meyer wrong? Is unionism a coherent philosophy or not? Um, but overall, it was a, became this very influential idea. It clearly won over Buckley himself and became a sort of animating ethos that that was a really important part of the national, you know, what National Review stood for. Um, and a lot of the conservative movement, the American institutions, the, the Heritage Foundation and, um, ISI (Editor’s note: Intercollegiate Studies Institute) and TFAs (Editor’s note: The Find for American Studies) and all these organizations that were founded in the 20th century to advance conservative causes. They were all built upon this, this idea. They, I mean, almost all of them sort of, um, bought into this idea of yes, liberty and virtue are the two pillars. We, we are going to try to, to defend and promote both of them. So the whole conservative movement was built on this, this sort of idea of fusion as the fusion of liberty and virtue.

Juliette Sellgren 
Does your definition of fusion differ at all from Meyers?

Stephanie Slade (8.41)
Um, I think my understanding of it, I mean, I think the understanding, so the thing you should know is that Frank Meyer died in, in 1972. So he, he was this important figure for about, you know, 15 or 20 years. And then he, he sort of had this untimely death, and so other people had to take up the, you know, pick up the banner and, and take these ideas and be defending and articulating and developing them. So I think the ideas have developed a little bit over time. I wouldn't necessarily agree with a hundred percent of what Frank Meyer believed, um, but I think he set a really solid foundation for, for what the way we should think about, you know, what is a good society? It's a society in which we are both free and virtuous, ideally. That's what a good society is. And, and he also, um, I think he said that, or a thing that sort of comes out implicitly in his writing that I really love and that I think has been lost a little bit in, um, in sort of modern politics of the rite of center, is he said, okay, we have these two things, liberty and virtue.

Um, how do you have two number one priorities? Well, he would say liberty is the highest political value. It is the thing that government exists to do to protect, it's our individual liberty. Um, but in the non-governmental sphere. And he drew this sharp distinction between the governmental sphere and the non-governmental sphere. When you step outside of questions of public policy and, and the use of, of coercive government power, and you think about all the many, many, many things that we do, um, in decisions we have to make in our, in our personal lives and our private lives and in civil society, um, their liberty is not the highest virtu, um, the highest value, uh, in fact, virtue living a virtuous life, seeking to be, um, good people and to build a good society and to cultivate a good, healthy culture, virtuous culture, these are the highest things that we should be, that we should be going for. Um, but that, so his point was you use coercion to, uh, the coercive power of the state exists to protect individual liberty. Um, but that then once we have that liberty, we have to decide what do we do with that? And, and in that non-governmental sphere, we ought to be pursuing virtuous lives. That's, that's the point of having, that's the whole point of having freedom.

Juliette Sellgren (10.45)
So I, I don't know, like, it, it's so different from even among libertarians the way that the general libertarian might go about defending liberty or talking about liberty. Many might cry, contradiction, that's impossible. Um, and I guess although there are different, there're priorities in different spheres of life, there's no way they don't interact. So how do the two priorities work together slash interact with each other?

Stephanie Slade (11.21)
I think that the, the insight here is that they really do need each other. That if you have, for example, um, a society that's not virtuous of people who are constantly lying, cheating, and stealing and trying to assault each other and steal from each other, um, where they don't believe in honesty and integrity and in having moral obligations to one another, if you have a society that's not virtuous where the people do not, are not sort of steeped in the ideas of classically understood what it means to be good person, right, right and wrong morality, um, it's gonna be very hard to sustain a limited government in that society because people are constantly trying to take advantage of each other and to hurt each other. And so other people in order to defend themselves from the stronger people in society are gonna demand a government that comes in and protects them.

So we have to have government that regulates but businesses and companies because we don't trust business people to be, you know, to, to play by the rules. And we, if we have a lot of violent crime, we're gonna want a larger police state, right? So you can't really sustain limited government, um, which is one of the, one of the, you know, things that, that libertarians and conservatives historically overlapped on. We, we want limited, we want a limited government. Um, if we want any government at all, we want it to stick to the things like protecting, um, life, liberty and property. Um, but you can't really have a government that's, that stays limited. Um, or you're unlikely to be able to maintain, to sustain that government if you don't have people who believe themselves to have moral obligations to each other, they, that they willingly take on and that they, and that they don't have to be coerced in every way to play nicely with each other in life.

Um, but we do it because we believe that we, that that's the world we wanna live in. So having a virtuous society makes having a, a, a limited government and a free society e easier, more, more likely to to be sustainable. And then conversely, I think the idea is that if you have, um, if you have a limited government in free markets and that sort of thing, then that, that promotes, that produces the conditions that allow us to pursue virtue more easily. So anytime you have, uh, material abundance in your society, the kind of thing that we see in free market societies as opposed to, you know, top-down command and control societies, um, it makes it easier to, to pursue higher things in life. Excellence in your private life when you're not just scraping by trying to survive and wondering how you're gonna, uh, you know, feed your children, you can pursue the higher things in life.

So it opens up this opportunity for us to be better versions of ourselves if we live in a, in a, a materially abundant society. And material abundance, as we know, is a function of free markets. Um, likewise, if we are trying to be good people to pursue virtue in our, in our private lives, um, we need to have the right to make choices for ourselves. You can't really be virtuous if every choice you make is micromanaged at the point of a gun. And, you know, we live in a sort of hyper surveillance state where all of our choices are monitored by the government, and anytime we step out of line, we're punished for it. You're not gonna learn to be virtuous people that way. That's, that that's not gonna be conducive to us. Cuz I think of virtue as like, as a muscle, you have to, you have to work it, you have to be able to make bad choices in order to learn to make good choices. So freedom is a condition for vir virtue and virtue is a condition for freedom. These are, this is the way that these two things, uh, under the sort of fusion philosophy, we would say these two things, you can see that they're, they actually work together to lead to a better society and a better, um, the conditions that lead to better lives. I, I wanna kind of take a step back

Juliette Sellgren (14.50)
For moment and take the advice from your first question and ask explicitly like what these goals are. Like what, so you say virtue, but what does virtue mean? What are these higher things that we should strive to with our freedom?

Stephanie Slade (15.09)
So the thing about fusion is that it really, and, and Frank Meyer was an interesting character because he was not super religious himself, although he converted to Catholicism at the end of his life. Um, but he believed that we are the inheritors of the Judeo-Christian sort of Western tradition. And so when he talked about virtue, he didn't just mean, I mean he, it wasn't, this wasn't arbitrary for him. He said, we've inherited a tradition that, that, you know, over centuries human beings have, through trial and error, figured out what works and what doesn't work. And we, we have learned through, um, through, through, through these religious sources what is right and wrong, what is good and bad, what is the, what is the natural law or the moral law look like? What are the types of behaviors and choices that, that again lead to a good life that make us happy and make us good people?

And what are the things that lead, lead us astray? And so he had this very traditional Judeo-Christian understanding of, of what virtue means. So if you read your Bible, if you study the Judeo-Christian tradition, you'll, you'll see these, these, these lessons and these, um, this guidance about what it means to live a good life. And he would say, that's what we're talking about. That's kind of, we ought to be respectful of, of the wisdom of an inherited tradition. So, um, respect for our elders and, um, just the idea that we have moral obligations to each other. Um, and just because something was done freely doesn't mean that it, that it was a good choice. Um, this is virtue, this is, uh, the pursuit of excellence to try to be the best human beings that we can be as opposed to, um, just always doing what feels good in the moment.

Juliette Sellgren (16.46)
It's, it's funny because the absence of that is a lot of what I think I see and what I, I think a lot of people acknowledge that this is kind of what the, the Catholic, postliberal, integralist, whatever you want to call them, um, what this group is kind of responding to is the lack of that. Um, and for some reason realizing that is like the missing piece in the puzzle. Like kind of like clicks and makes sense. Um, and I mean, I guess on that note, what about this current moment kind of jump started this renewed interest or, uh, striving towards fusion?

Stephanie Slade (17.31)
Yeah. Well, so it's interesting. I'm trying to revive fusion, and I do think there's interest in, in that, but, um, part of, part of why I think it's necessary that project is necessary is that it was lost a little bit, you know, it was this very influential idea in the middle of the 20th century. And like I said earlier, sort of all the institutions of the American conservative movement were built upon this idea. It was taken as a given, it was sort of a consensus. Um, but at some point, you know, after the Cold War ended, and I don't know, over time, um, people stopped talking about Tism <laugh>, uh, you know, you know, among, among conservatives, you, you don't hear that word very much anymore. Um, and I think it was a sort of lost idea. And that's why I feel like it needs to be brought back because, um, because we, we, we lost sight of it.

We, nobody, nobody learns about this anymore. Um, I think what we have seen, and this is where the, the what I call the new, right, the post liberal, right, the, the Catholic integralist, the what I call will to power conservatives, um, what they're reacting to is, and they're not entirely wrong about this, the many ways in which virtue has diminished in our modern society in which we have become more liber, more hedonistic, more relativistic, morally relativistic in this society where, um, these traditional values and, uh, uh, and understanding of virtue have kind of become out of fashion. Um, and the many ways in which that, that, that fact that that, um, change has led to all kinds of social dysfunctions. I mean, they're looking around and they're saying all kinds of things. They're seeing marriage rates, um, down and divorce rates up and people aren't having kids anymore, and there's suicide and drug overdoses, right?

And, um, pornography addiction and all, they're looking around and they're saying, this is not the world that we wanna live in. And they, and they look, it's libertarians and they say, this is not what you promised would happen if we, uh, went along with your, um, sort of, uh, political agenda of individual liberty. And so we tried your libertarianism, we tried your classical liberalism, we tried your individual liberty and your limited government, and it brought us to this dystopian, they would say dystopian, uh, place where there's no virtue, you know? And people who believe in traditional traditional religious values are, um, socially ostracized and sometimes maybe even at, uh, risk of losing their jobs if they say the wrong thing about gay marriage or trans issues or something. Um, we try your libertarianism. We don't like where it got us, it's time for us to embrace this is what they would say, muscular government, government.

We need to be willing to use the power wield the power of the state to destroy our enemies and to re reorient society to the common good to these what we understand to be true virtue. So I would say they're not entirely wrong about their diagnosis of the problem, but they're very wrong and, and terrifyingly wrong in what they wanna do about it. So their prescription to abandon classical liberalism or individual liberty, um, and she wield state power to try to destroy their enemies and forced the country to be virtuous again, is so misguided, right? For both pragmatic reasons and moral reasons, both it's, it's running the risk of, I mean, it, it quite literally says, we don't care what the people want. We are gonna impose our conception of right and wrong on them. I think that is morally problematic. Um, but also just like from a practical matter, it's like, what makes you think that you are going to be able to be the ones in power, willingness, power, <laugh>, um, you know, what, where, where do you h how do you imagine that you're going to be able to, are you going to forcibly shut down businesses on Sundays because you think that everybody should be in church instead?

Are you gonna be going to people's houses and putting a gun to their head and making them go to church? Like, what exactly do you think that the, the root to this, um, to the, to this outcome that you want is, um, they're tend to be very cagey about what exactly they would do with their power. They just say, we need to be willing to wield power. They don't wanna tell you exactly how they would wield it. And that's because it gets really scary once you start trying to nail down the specifics. So I would say I agree with them in some, in some ways, in many ways about some of the ways in which our society has lost sight of the importance of virtue. But I think that we absolutely, there's just no shortcut or yeah, there's, there's no way around the fact that we have to rebuild the culture and change hearts and minds and use persuasion, um, and, and civil society to try to, to, to solve this problem. Um, that if you turn to the coercive power of the state, it's gonna end badly. Not just, um, I mean, it's not just that you're, that you're gonna be, uh, you know, violating people's freedom, but it's probably gonna end badly for you because you're probably not gonna always be the ones using that in, in, in power. The ones wielding that power.

Juliette Sellgren (22.05)
Maybe it's just me being the type of person where if I was the one who wielded the gun, as we often, uh, diminish government into being as, uh, free marketers, uh, I would use the gun to make it so other people couldn't use the gun. You know, I would like use the gun against itself. And so maybe this comes from that, but it seems a little silly. This notion, not silly, silly, kind of makes it seem less, less valid than it might be. But it seems a little naive that people believe that, oh, if only I had the gun, I if only I had the gun, then I wouldn't have to worry about who uses the gun after I use the gun, because when I have the gun, it'll work. But like, the gun always changes hands, you know,

Stephanie Slade (22.53)
<laugh>, this is, this is the insight that Lord Acton, you know, famously gave us, that power has a tendency to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Um, we, everybody wants to think that while they would use the power, they would wield the power responsibly. Um, it wouldn't corrupt me, but it basically always does.

Juliette Sellgren 
So I guess we, we've, we've kind of covered the, the diagnosis might be right. The, the reaction to things that are being observed in modern society is not necessarily unfounded. Um, but do you have a theory as to why virtue in society is diminished? Well,

Stephanie Slade (23.35)
I think actually both of the fusion pillars have been faltering a little bit over time. So it's not just that we are not focused on, um, virtue that virtue is sort of out of fashion in the modern era. Um, it's also that, you know, the other pillar of illusionism is that the whole purpose of government is to protect individual liberty. And, um, when, and not to venture beyond that, that that that legitimate purpose, um, but our government does, you know, in so many ways, um, venture beyond, it's what we would consider to be the, the, the minimal, um, the, the purpose, the legitimate purpose of government to protect people's freedom and their basic rights so that they can then pursue good lives. Our government does so much more than that. It inter, it interferes in the economy in so many ways. It tries to make us virtuous in so many ways, and in, in many cases, it's not using the traditional Judeo-Christian understanding of virtue, but rather a sort of, um, woke left leftist, um, conception of virtue that's sort of reigning in the zeitgeist today.

Um, it just does so much more. So we don't, we have neither the, the limited government, um, pillar of fusion that says that government, the highest political value is, is virtue, is, um, liberty, excuse me, nor do we have this sense that the whole purpose of freedom is for us to then pursue virtue in, in, uh, rightly understood in our personal lives. So we're not doing either one. And in some cases, I think, you know, we talked at the beginning about how these things, there's an interaction between them when government doesn't just stay limited to the things that it should be doing, protecting our, our basic rights, um, when it instead tries to solve all of our problems for us coercively, it can actually undermine the ability for people to be virtuous. So one of the, one of the very famous, um, concepts that I think is relevant here is the idea of crowding out of civil society.

I think that we as individuals and as members of communities have an obligation to look out for those in our community who can't look out for themselves. And when somebody falls on hard times or when somebody is, um, disabled or, um, elderly and can't provide for themselves, um, we probably have a, a duty out of charity to help them in some way. But I think that that should be done through voluntary and private and non-coercive means when government instead says, well, I'll just create a bureaucracy that's gonna solve that problem. I'll just launch a new government program that we will, that will coercively take your tax dollars away from you and run them through a bureaucracy and then spit them out and, and use them to try to solve this problem of helping people in need. It ends up crowding out the ability of us to think creatively about how we might have solved that problem, sort of on the street level, face-to-face with the person in our community who needs us.

It makes us feel like we're no longer on the front lines. It's no longer our obligation to help those in need around us because, well, I don't know the government, it's the government's job to do that. I'm already paying my taxes, right? Like, if something could be done to solve this problem, surely the smart people in Washington would be doing it already. So it's not up to me to do this. So it makes us actually feel less of an obligation to our neighbors. Um, it makes us less, um, be be sort of less creative in terms of thinking about how we could try to band together with our, uh, neighbors that solve problems. It makes us less virtuous, right? Over time. And it fostered dependency on the part of those that it's supposedly helping, and it often makes their problem source on that end as well.

So the virtue, the virtue, um, part of it I think is cultural for sure. Again, virtue in the traditional sense is, has fallen out of fashion. It's out of style, style right now, you know, in the post sexual revolution era, for example. Um, but that I think we can work with that we can, we can use, again, social pressure and persuasion and storytelling and community building and institution building to try to change a culture that has gone astray. Um, that's the way that that problem should be tackled. Um, but it, it's very hard when you have the government that's crowding out all of your ability you know, the ability and the, um, awareness that people have that they're supposed to be trying to solve these problems because it's doing, it's taking your money through taxes and it's doing all the things that it shouldn't be doing, um, in the first place.

And in some cases it's even, this is, um, a thing that I spent a lot of time writing about earlier in my career. In some, in many cases, the government is actually actively attacking the private alternatives to government programs. So it's going after Catholic hospitals and Catholic adoption agencies, for example, because they're trying to live out their, uh, understanding of right and wrong, uh, and saying, you know, we're, we're gonna, we're gonna, um, shut you down because you don't wanna, you know, you, you're not willing to sort of yield to the, the left wing or the, uh, ascendant modern sense of what virtue is. Um, we're gonna, we're gonna actually forcibly prevent you from operating, using the power of the State Force. You forcibly force you out of the marketplace. Um, you know, this is the kind of thing that happens that, that happens all the time. Um, when you, when you allow government to metastasize beyond its, its minimal legitimate functions.

Juliette Sellgren (28.39)
Well, it's funny to me because regardless of what you think about how much taxes we should be paying, what programs we should support, if you look at strictly you are paying taxes to support who knows what, like you don't really know where your money is going, you're paying it to a faceless bureaucrat that you don't know, and then down the line of faceless somebody that might be in your community might not be that you don't know, versus the civil Society channel where you know the person's face and you actually are invested in their lives. In a way it seems kind of evident in human nature that we would be more compelled and more, i, I don't know the right word necessarily. It would mean more to us and to them when it's face-to-face in a way. Um, so I don't know, shout out to civil society and, uh, shout out to my interview with Rachel Ferguson on classical liberalism and Civil society. Love, if you guys wanted to check that out,

Stephanie Slade (29.38)
<laugh>, definitely check that out. She's wonderful. And you know, a thing I would add too is, uh, part of the sort of progressive capital p progressive argument for replacing civil society with bureaucracy, with go with government programs is this idea that, well, you know, we, we believe in, um, economies of scale, right? They can do it more efficiently if it's done all in one place. Um, instead of there being a patchwork of small community level, um, you know, different types of programs and institutions and charitable efforts to solve a problem. But I think one of the things that, uh, there was this story during the covid years that was really striking to me, um, which was when you, when you have one government agency that's supposed to be solving a problem and all that whole patchwork of civil society institution sort of dries up as a result, then you have one point of failure.

And so if, for example, the Social Security office in your community shuts down for two and a half years because of a pandemic, everyone's who would've otherwise, um, been relying upon services that are available through that social security office will be, uh, will be screwed, right? You're, you're, you're gonna all suffer as a result of that. You actually have a much more robust, um, ability to respond to crises when you have that patchwork of lots of different small scale, um, approaches to trying to solve a problem where when one fails, another one can step up, right? This is much more in keeping with the idea of a marketplace, um, than the idea of, uh, we need one big, um, efficient, cold, efficient, you know, far away bureaucracy that will solve the problem for us.

Juliette Sellgren (31.10)
It, it's also a little ignorant of public choice, which I guess like whose, whose fault is that? Not many people know or learn about public choice especially, I mean, U V A is one of the three or four universities I think that has public choice at the undergrad level, which is fascinating to me because it's like my favorite thing ever. But, um, and like it's, so it's, I think it's ignorant of public choice and of Hayek's idea of prices like a, a conveyor of knowledge because we, we all kind of know, like government isn't very aware of like whatever, they're, they're not in tune with prices because they can't be. But then you also have nonprofits, and you see this in the nonprofit world, but the closer you get to the people, the more localized the, the organization, the charity, whatever it is, um, the better the results in a way because the, the better you can know what to do and what that society actually needs. So it kind of fights against this, i, I don't know, this blockage, this severance from the beauty and functionality of prices, right? Um, which I guess is why you having competition is good in that sense. 

Stephanie Slade (32.27)
Believe it or not this, uh, there's a concept that comes directly out of Catholic social teaching, um, that speaks directly to this. It's subsidiarity is this idea that we should not take away. Um, we should not take away the ability of a lower level of society to solve a problem. This, you know, this, the level of social society that's closer to the people who are suffering should be the first ones to try to solve that problem, as opposed to preempting them and moving it up to the higher levels of moving from a local community to the state government or from the state government to the federal government. You move, you become, you become, you know, you become estranged from the actual problem on the ground. This comes directly out of Catholic social teaching with, which many people tend to intuitively think is of as lefty left wing economically. Um, so I like to point out that there's lots of stuff in Catholic social teaching that is, um, beautifully compatible with a sort of istic fusion, you know, limited government, uh, idea of what is the proper role of the state.

Juliette Sellgren (33.21)
You hear that Integralists <laugh>, maybe not, um, <laugh>. So I guess like what, what are you doing and what is your entire project to revive Fusion? What have you been up to <laugh>?

Stephanie Slade (33.10)
Um, mostly, I mean, I'm a journalist, so mostly I've been writing about the, what I consider to be the turn away from fusion within the conservative movement. So the rise of this new, right, the will to power conservatives that I, that I mentioned earlier, which includes the Catholic integralists, although they're actually a pretty small number of them, <laugh>, I think there's a lot more in the national conservatism movement. Um, there's the neoreactionary movement, there's the alt-right obvi. One of the things that all these different groups, um, have in common is that they kind of reject that idea that liberty is the highest political value and that the purp, you know, that we wanna have a limited government, that that protects basic rights and liberties so that people can then use their freedom to pursue higher things. They these new right all rejects that they want, again, they wanna seize control of government.

They want conservatives to get comfortable embracing a quote unquote muscular state. They thing say things like, um, we should be willing to use public power, political power to reward our friends and punish our enemies. Um, so it's a rejection of this idea of limited government of, um, decentralized government, of, uh, government that just is there to protect our freedom where all the rest of this stuff should be in the non, you know, should be situated in the non-governmental sphere. Um, and so I've been covering these ideas, um, this, this new right movement, the different factions and the interactions between them. Um, and, but now I'm trying to, uh, move toward not just pointing at what I think has gone wrong in our politics, but reminding people that there is this, this older, um, sort of tried and true alternative understanding of, of how conservatives, um, people on the rite of center ought to approach politics, which is, you know, grows out of fusion. And so I'm right now, um, in the early stages of working on a book about fusion to try to make the case for, to tell the history of this idea, um, kind of where we started, and, um, to make the case for why, you know, it's wrong to think of fusion as a thing that was suited the 20th century and the Cold War era, but is not, um, appropriate today. I think it is actually, uh, a timeless idea that we, we need to recover.

Juliette Sellgren (35.46)
What I thought was super interesting that you mentioned earlier and that kind of recurs in a few of your pieces is that, is the idea that conservatism in America is the conservation of classical liberal values, the values of the founding, um, and that, I don't know, like, it, it's almost, I guess like how do we use that to our advantage not to think this is a war? I, I don't like the, the whole, it's a culture war, it's a political war. Like we are all, okay, at the end of the day, we still live in America, and I'm pretty sure it's gonna be fine, but maybe I'm just an optimist, but I guess like everyone always tells me learning history and knowing history is the most important thing, <laugh>, how do we use history? And the fact that we understand and know this history to better defend fusion in these sorts of ideals.

Stephanie Slade (36.38)
One of the challenges we face, I think in this country is that the word liberal has, uh, you know, it has just historically come to take on a meaning, essentially opposite of what it started out meaning. So liberty liberal, um, one time at one time and, um, in other parts of the world still to this day, invokes the idea of prioritizing individual liberty, um, limited government rule of law, free markets, that sort of thing. But in this country, of course, we have the word liberal is associated in most regular people's minds with left of center, the Democratic party, um, progressive policy. And that's actually an inversion of, uh, in many ways of what it originally started out meaning. So they think we want, they want bureau, they, they like centralization of power, bureaucratization, they want to redistribute wealth. Um, the, the idea of what it means to be liberal in America has taken on this thing that's the opposite of what it once meant.

So that's a challenge for us because when, when I say, um, you know, America was sounded on liberal ideals, what I mean is we were, we were, um, declaring our right to be free from arbitrary government power, right? And to be self-governing and to, and for individuals to, um, have the right to solve problems themselves individually and in in community with each other, but non coercively. Um, and that's not what the word means for most people. So this, this is a challenge, it's a rhetorical challenge when, um, pointing back to the importance of liberty at the founding and saying, therefore what it means to be a conservative who wants to conserve the American founding, um, is in a sense to be a liberal. But what we mean by that is it is to prioritize, to cherish, uh, individual liberty. Uh, that telling that story, reminding people of that is important.

The other side of it though, that the, the fusion in me, um, feels compelled to mention is that what we don't wanna do is be caricaturists where we say America has a liberal, was, you know, had a liberal founding, we're a liberal country, therefore conservative shall be liberals. Um, end of story. Well, that overlooks the, the sort of deeply rooted importance of virtue and religion and tradition that goes back to the American founding as well. Um, so you, you maybe are familiar with the famous, um, quote by John Adams where he said, you know, our constitution was made for a moral and religious people, and it is totally inadequate to the governance of any other kind of person. Um, the, the religion, reli, religiosity and idea of traditional values and traditional morality and virtue in, in that Judeo-Christian sense was also a really important part of our history. And I think if we, if we, I think we have tended both among libertarians and I, I cut myself as a libertarian, um, and on the left for sure to wanna ignore that piece of the history as well, which then just emboldens the illiberal, right? The, the new right. Um, to say, well, you're falsifying history, um, so I don't have to take your arguments seriously.

Juliette Sellgren (39.32)
Yeah, it, it's almost like, like you take the Tocqueville observations out of, out of the equation when you look at history, because to me, Tocqueville kind of just documented what American social civil society looked like. Like obviously he talked about government a bit, but he, he commented extensively on the free associations, and that is kind of what made America, as much as we talk about the ideals of the founding, they're dependent on this free association, which is, I guess very fusion. Um, and it's just kind of interesting, like to look at something without an essential piece of context is kind of to make it devoid of any actual meaning because it's just not real. Right? <laugh>

Stephanie Slade 
I don't know. That's right.

Juliette Sellgren 
<laugh>. It's a little word vomity of me, but, uh, you know. Okay. Thank you so much for taking the time to comment on my podcast. I wish that we had more time, um, but you have given us a whole lot. And, uh, I wish you the best in your journey in your project to revive Fusion. I hope this podcast helps. Um, I have one last question for you. What is one thing that you believed at one time in your life that you later changed your position on and why?

Stephanie Slade (40.52)
So, my position on abortion has evolved. Um, I am maybe most well known, um, for a piece I wrote back in 2015 called Why I am a pro-life libertarian. And I'm still a pro-life libertarian. I still believe that abortion is a tragedy. Um, and I would even say that I still think that in an ideal world, abortion would be illegal, and I look forward sort of with hope to a future in which I would live in a world where abortion is, is not, um, uh, endorsed by the law. Um, however, a thing that, that sort of being steeped in libertarian ideas has shown me over the years is how important it is for culture cultural change to come first. Um, if you try to impose a change at the legal at, of, in the legal regime on a culture, on a, on a population that doesn't accept the underlying moral foundations of that law, um, then you end up with all the same dysfunctions and, and horrors associated with every other kind of prohibition, alcohol, prob, prohibition, you know, in the 1920s, the drug war today, when you try to outlaw a thing that there's still a lot of demand for at the cultural level, you just, you produce and enable and empower black markets, organized crime, you know, a lot more death and destruction.

So I don't think that the right way to go about, you know, I say this again as somebody who believes that life begins at conception and that abortion is a tragedy, but I think that we ought we, that those of us who are sort of start with those, um, beliefs like me, ought to be much more focused on cultural change, on changing public opinion, on reaching people, you know, at the hearts and minds level, um, as opposed to imposing law on society from the top down. Um, I do think that actually the, the, the recent Supreme Court job decision, overturning Roe v ma, Wade, and returning, um, the locus of control for abortion law to the state level is probably a step in the right direction because it means that in any given state, the law is gonna be able to be more closely aligned with where the center of gravity in terms of public opinion and culture is in that state. Um, and so we're gonna have fewer, um, of those terrible un unintended consequences that come from prohibition under this current regime. Um, so I'm not, again, I'm I'm not necessarily, um, you know, I haven't, I certainly have not changed my view on abortion itself, but I think that I have a more, I have, I'm more skeptical than I once was of the idea that we can use the law, um, without first having changed the culture.

Juliette Sellgren (43.25)
Once again, I'd like to thank my guest for their time and insight, and I'd like to thank you for listening to the Great Antidote podcast. The great antidote is sound engineered by Rich Goyette. If you have any questions, any guests or topic recommendations, please feel free to reach out to me at the great antidote Thank you.