by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
The modern conservative movement always has depended to some degree on an alliance of different elements: traditionalists, libertarians, and anti-communists among them. Movement historians often credit former National Review writer Frank Meyer with developing the term “fusionism” to describe the post-World War II conservative alliance.
A new book from former Reagan administration staffer Donald Devine, titled America’s Way Back: Reclaiming Freedom, Tradition, and Constitution, urges today’s conservatives to adopt Meyer’s fusionist principles. Like the fusionists of the 1950s, Devine advocates a return to the Founders’ methods for limiting government power.
[T]he Federalist vision was based on dividing power into an unheard-of variety of institutions: a divided legislature, a veto-wielding executive, a jealous court, numerous semi-independent states innumerable local governments, and a private sector larger and more varied than the rest combined. Society was made stable not through the primitive idea that a bridge must be made increasingly solid to prove strong but according to the insight that it should be made of intertwining and even loosely connecting cables and materials that provide flexibility to survive the most powerful winds of change. But progressivism demanded control, in effect cementing the modern bridge in the hope of solidifying it but in fact eliminating the essential flexibility. The only alternative to holding markets and governments too tightly is to loosen the grip on both. …
… Restoring a free market must be the center of any constitutionalist plan to unleash a prosperous and expanding economy. In 1920, 1981, and 1987, severe economic crises were met and solved by loosening the economy to let it hit bottom, allowing the market to adjust. Each time it was freed, it snapped back quickly and recovered vigorously. Markets likewise require regulations that are based on generally understood broad rules (rather than micromanaging), reasonably low taxation, and limited debt and spending. Indeed, the taxes people are willing to pay should set spending; the opposite is conventional government policy today. In the 1980s President Reagan proved that with sufficient commitment, the rigidities of overregulation, high taxation, and exploding government spending can be loosened to some degree.
As for government, the crisis in modern public administration requires a fundamental recasting of how administration is understood. Political scientist Vincent Ostrom made this point persuasively. The progressive view is that administration means tight management, which necessitates a national center of power to effectuate it. But Ostrom noted that even Max Weber recognized a fourth, if “marginal,” type of administration that he called democratic administration. This actually was the type Alexis de Tocqueville described as dominating in the early United States. Its central concept was federalism, the idea that administration was not top-down management but polycentric association based on free compact. Opening government administration to constituent preferences and local requirements explicitly rejects the Wilsonian insistence on a single scientifically correct solution.