by Peter Franklin
Wednesday, 16
September 2020
Seen Elsewhere
07:00

Why fusionism failed

by Peter Franklin
The fusionism project was sealed with Margaret Thatcher’s election win

Where does one begin with ‘The Rule of Six’? There are just so many absurdities to choose from.

But writing for The Post yesterday, Mary Harrington reaches past the peripheral nonsense and identifies the core contradiction:

Charitably, Johnson seems to be trying to square the circle of Thatcherite economic liberalism and today’s calls for greater social solidarity. He’s doing so by telling us we have a communitarian obligation to curb our private social activities, so we don’t have to curb our economic ones.
- Mary Harrington, UnHerd

This is a prime example of what Americans call ‘fusionism’ — i.e. the decades-old alliance between conservative political parties and the advocates of untrammelled capitalism.

For a guide to the rise and impending fall of fusionism, I’d recommend a new essay for Quillette by Grant Wyeth.

It should be said that pre-fusionist conservatism was not implacably opposed to personal freedom or private enterprise. Indeed, true conservatives tend to see these as desirable… in their place. However, as Wyeth explains, fusionism elbowed aside the instinct for balancing economic liberty against other considerations:

With the elections of Ronald Reagan in the US and Margaret Thatcher in the UK, the project had fully taken root; conservatism was the advocacy of ever-freer markets.
- Grant Wyeth, Quillette

How can this be reconciled with the traditional role of conservative parties, which in Tom McTague’s words is to defend “the little man from those seeking to impose a different way of life upon him without his consent”?

Well, it can’t, says Wyeth:

…with their evangelical advocacy of freer markets these parties have achieved the very opposite, they have brought a regime of wholesale and incessant change into the house of the little man. And he has become incredibly unhappy about it.
- Grant Wyeth, Quilette

Hence the rise of populism and the disruption of conventional politics, including conservative politics.

There’s nothing I disagree with here, but two things need to be added.

Firstly, while fusionist political parties embraced the disruptive forces of modern capitalism, they did not unleash them. Global capitalism as we know it today was always going to happen — and even in those countries that opted for alternatives to Thatcherism it did happen.

These non-Anglo-American models dodged some of the mistakes made by the US and UK, but they developed dysfunctions of their own — just look at the ruinous distortions of the Eurozone or the stagnant, debt-laden Japanese economy.

Secondly, capitalism hasn’t just undermined conservatism, it has undermined itself. Its own unchecked dynamics are squeezing out competition and innovation while generating wealth-destroying externalities — like climate change and pandemic disease.

In co-opting conservatism as its number one cheerleader, capitalism lost what it really needed — which was a super-ego or conscience. While most political movements are either about change or resisting change, conservatism is alone in being, first and foremost, about the regulation of change — and the management of risk.

By neglecting that role, the fusionists have done incalculable damage to the things they thought they were bringing together.

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  • September 16, 2020
    I'm a simple man. Sometimes I wonder if 'experts' (who know everything?) and the really 'clever media' journalists who have to write to earn a living, ever think that copying every new 'ism' and fad that is of the moment actually has any meaning? Almost all we read and hear nowadays is media... Read more

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