National Conservatism Wants to Use the Ring of Power

Josh Hammer, speaking at the November 2021 National Conservatism Conference, said “Every important political issue in the year 2021 is a ‘cultural’ issue. ‘Fusionism’ and libertarianism are impotent, in light of this reality. Only national conservatism will suffice.”

Hammer is hardly an isolated voice. Natcons generally are reacting to what they see as the failure of “fusionism,” the always fraught alliance between libertarians and conservatives.  Many have written about fusionism, but my own go-to source is Stephanie Slade, of Reason, who wrote this OLL piece and also this article. Jonathan Adler had this piece on fusionism as federalism. One definition of fusion is that  American-style conservatism has a dual mandate to preserve both liberty and virtue. Trading off between them is an impoverishment of the ideals of the American founding and, indeed, a rejection of the ideals of Western civilization itself. On the other hand, if one must choose, virtue is the more essential value.

That kind of “why not both?” priority is a recipe for tension, at best. Conservatives are more likely to hold to some notion of virtue, based on cultural tradition, the application of right reason, or revelation of the sacred, and if virtue requires coercion so be it. Libertarians are more likely to hold to some notion of virtue as being defined by the individual and for the individual, so that values start with my own beliefs, and if we disagree that difference can never be a basis for coercion or force. The Frank Meyer synthesis in fusionism was the claim that the two notions of virtue and liberty cannot be separated. This is hardly a new idea; in The Spirit of the Laws, Montesquieu clearly had the same idea:

It is true that, in democracies, the people seem to act as they please; but political liberty does not consist in an unlimited freedom. In governments, that is, in societies directed by laws, liberty can consist only in the power of doing what we ought to will, and in not being constrained to do what we ought not to will. (Book 11, Chapter 3)

The problem with any view of America other than national conservatism, according to natcons, is that fusionists would say that all those value judgments that should properly animate the nation are consigned to the private sphere, left to the individual and his (or her) conscience. I don’t always use the “or her” addition, but since Hammer actually calls fusionism “effete, limp, and unmasculine,” it seems appropriate.

Hammer is clear about what must be accomplished: the goal is to fight, and win, the culture war, using all possible means of gaining and controlling political power.

The only way for the American right to [win] is to prudentially wield that power in the service of pursuing our ideal of the substantive good, and to reward friends of our just regime and punish enemies of our just regime within the confines of the rule of law…[which will] necessarily entail the institutional solidification of the political sovereigns equipped to achieve them, the bolstering of the bedrock social unit, the family, and the defeat of cultural wokeism and restoration of cultural sanity by partial means of the return of overt public religiosity.

This made me think of one of the key conflicts in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. (To be fair, everything else also makes me think of Tolkien, so it’s not that surprising). When Frodo has run away from the others in the Fellowship, Boromir comes up to Amon Hen, the “Seat of Seeing,” to talk about power. Frodo believes (with Lord Acton) that the absolute power of the Ring will corrupt the person who wields it; Boromir desires the Ring, but genuinely believes that he can use that power for good.

“The world is changing… [You say] Minas Tirith will fall, if the Ring lasts. But why? Certainly, if the Ring were with the Enemy. But why, if it were with us?”

“Were you not at the Council?” answered Frodo. “Because we cannot use it, and what is done with it turns to evil.”

Boromir got up and walked about impatiently. “These elves and half-elves and wizards, they would come to grief perhaps. Yet often I doubt if they are wise and not merely timid. But each to his own kind. True-hearted Men, they will not be corrupted. We of Minas Tirith have been staunch through long years of trial. We do not desire the power of wizard-lords, only strength to defend ourselves, strength in a just cause. And behold! in our need chance brings to light the Ring of Power. It is a gift, I say; a gift to the foes of Mordor. It is mad not to use it, to use the power of the Enemy against him. The fearless, the ruthless, these alone will achieve victory. What could not a warrior do in this hour, a great leader? The Ring would give me power of Command. How I would drive the hosts of Mordor, and all men would flock to my banner!”

The “elves and wizards” are those limp, unmasculine libertarian fusionists, folks. All we need to do is hand over the ring of power to the natcons, finally admitting that the strictures of the Constitution enable our enemies but fetter our own actions, we can win. Once the real conservatives are allowed retake our birthright, by wielding unlimited extra-constitutional power, but for good, all men will flock to their banner.