In Defense of Fusionism

Earlier this afternoon, my colleague, Jeremy Kolassa, raised an important issue about fusionism between conservatives and libertarians. For what it’s worth, I share the frustration. In early June, I attended a local GOP meeting to hear some local candidates talk about the issues facing our county. Unfortunately, the county party’s chairwoman spent 10 minutes complaining about Ron Paul supporters and libertarians who “want to take over the Republican Party.”

The experience was deflating, though not entirely surprising. I wasn’t in attendence as a libertarian. I was there as a concerned citizen, who has twice had his home broken into, to discuss issues important to me.

It’s certainly true that many conservatives don’t find the importance of an alliance with libertarians. The Rick Santorums and Mike Huckabees of the conservative movement have certainly made that clear. Indeed, even CPAC worked hard to ensure a “libertarian-free” gathering earlier this year. But fiscal conservatives, including Sen. Jim DeMint, have offered us an olive branch so that we can work together on issues that are mutually motivating.

Earlier this year, DeMint explained in an interview with Reason that Republicans must listen to libertarians. While this get a passing acknowledgement from most libertarians, it’s important given DeMint’s stature in the conservative movement. At the same time, groups like FreedomWorks and the Club for Growth are influencing primaries and general elections to steer in a fiscally conservative direction. I know for a fact that FreedomWorks is sympathetic to libertarian views. After all, the group’s president, Matt Kibbe, openly indentifies as a libertarian. And former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, chairman of FreedomWorks, has also urged conservatives to reach out to libertarians.

Many of my libertarian friends are open to working with progressives on civil liberties. Personally, I don’t see anything wrong with that. But as much as we complain about Republican hypocrisy on government growth when they’re in power, Democrats are just as bad. President Barack Obama has done much to expand the police state and has taken the country unilaterally into war, and yet, our progressive friends have been eerily silent. If we can’t work with conservatives on fiscal issues, how can we work with progressives on civil liberties given the current state of their movement?

Also, part of our problem as libertarians is that we’ve allowed Ron Paul and his supporters to hijack the term. I would just call myself a “classical liberal,” but unfortunately the latter part of that term comes with too many preconceived notions. While I’m not saying that they aren’t libertarians, I am saying that the frequent confrontations at state GOP conventions have caused a headache for those of us that take our philosophy seriously. I respect the man and appreciate what he has done; but at least for me, being a libertarian didn’t begin, nor does it end with Ron Paul.

I’ll be the first person to tell you that I’m not entirely happy with the direction of the conservative movement. The rise of Rick Santorum in 2012, led by social statists, was symbolic of my frustration. And while you’re not going to catch me supporting Mitt Romney this year, but I’m not ready to take my ball and go home just yet. I’ll work with just about anybody promoting a limited government agenda.

Yes, we’re libertarians and we need to act like it, as my friend, Jeremy, explains. But let’s not cut off our nose to spite our face. We may have some influence as a swing vote this year, but we’re still a relatively small movement in the grand scheme of things. We have to form coalitions and alliances to advance our own agenda. That is, after all, how politics works.

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