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The ISI Experience

Conservative Thought

In a recent Gallup poll, 42 percent of Americans identified themselves as conservative, while 20 percent called themselves liberal. That is the highest discrepancy since Gallup started measuring such trends in 1992. But what does the term conservative mean? More important, do self-styled conservatives know the principled basis of their own conservatism?

This month’s installment of “The ISI Experience” highlights the leading thinkers and camps of the postwar conservative revival, which many have argued is the single most significant political and intellectual development of the last half of the twentieth century. Here you will encounter the various founding wings of the conservative movement—libertarians, traditionalists, anticommunists, neoconservatives—as well as some of their leading exponents: Friedrich Hayek, Russell Kirk, Whittaker Chambers, and Irving Kristol. Some of the videos and short readings discuss “fusionism,” the effort to reconcile philosophical disagreements among the movement’s different wings to beat back the threats of statism at home and communism abroad. Fusionism was the brainchild of Frank Meyer, one of the leading editorialists at William F. Buckley Jr.’s National Review, the definitive voice for intellectual conservatism for decades.

Conservatism gained political power under Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, but soon it entered a new phase. Anticommunism had long been the glue that held together the conservative movement. When the Iron Curtain fell and the common enemy disappeared, a predictable “de-fusion” occurred. Organizations that could speak for each camp had matured, and a new star in the conservative constellation—the Religious Right—had emerged with its own priorities. The philosophical divisions among the various factions became more pronounced. Now, in the age of Obama, thoughtful conservatives are wondering whether a “new fusionism” is necessary—or possible.

We hope this month’s multimedia presentation will deepen your understanding of the principles and virtues that make America prosperous, moral, and free.