Meyer, Frank S. (1909-1972)
Frank Straus Meyer was a writer, a founding editor of National Review, and an advocate of “fusionism”—a political theory uniting libertarianism with strands of modern conservatism that shaped the American political right during the cold war.
Born in Newark, New Jersey, Meyer attended Princeton University before transferring to Balliol College, Oxford, where he earned a B.A. in 1932. He then attended the London School of Economics and was elected president of the students’ union, an office for which he campaigned as a communist. Expelled from England on account of his political activities, Meyer returned to the United States and settled in Chicago, where he met and later married another avowed communist, Elsie Brown.
Meyer and his wife grew increasingly disenchanted with the political beliefs he had embraced during the 1940s, and by the early 1950s, he began contributing regularly to periodicals popular on the political right, including the American Mercury and the Freeman. In 1955, he joined with William F. Buckley, Jr. to found National Review, the most influential magazine of the postwar conservative movement.
Although Meyer rejected the term, the theory that would later became known as fusionism reflected Meyer’s conscious effort to combine Russell Kirk’s traditional conservatism, which celebrated tradition and moral order, with the libertarian movement, which was grounded in reason. Meyer’s most important work was In Defense of Freedom: A Conservative Credo, published in 1962, which fleshed out many of the ideas and themes that Meyer had been espousing for years in his columns and book reviews.
Meyer elevated the principle of human freedom to the highest order. He saw the preservation of man’s freedom to be the “central and primary end of political society.” Although Meyer incurred the wrath of traditional conservatives who saw in his elevation of freedom a recipe for disorder, chaos, and libertinism, Meyer perceived that order would derive from free individuals exercising choices informed by reason, even if such choices were unencumbered by the conservatives’ notions of rights and duties.
Meyer regarded the state as necessary, but believed that the government should be carefully defined and its powers limited. He limited its functions to the use of military power in defense of its citizens from foreign threats, to the exercise of judicial power to resolve disputes involving competing rights, and to the protection of citizens against domestic violence.
Although Meyer was skeptical of cultural conventions and norms, after having abandoned his early communist sympathies, his views on religion softened, and he became far more sympathetic to organized Christianity. He saw in the virtuous, free-thinking individual the essence of moral man in God’s image. Born into Judaism, he converted to Roman Catholicism shortly before his death on April 1, 1972.
Meyer, Frank S. In Defense of Freedom: A Conservative Credo. Chicago: Regnery, 1962.
Rothbard, Murray N. “Frank S. Meyer: The Fusionist as Libertarian Manqué.” Freedom and Virtue: The Conservative/Libertarian Debate. George W. Carey, ed. Wilmington, DE: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 1984.
Smant, Kevin J. Principles and Heresies: Frank S. Meyer and the Shaping of the Modern Conservative Movement. Wilmington, DE: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2002.
Originally published .